The film was cowritten by my friends Derek Haas and Michael Brandt, who have been en fuego in the screen trade for well over a year now. And now, as if to rub it in, Derek has just come out with his first novel, entitled The Silver Bear.
You should buy it.
I know, you’re thinking “Enough with forking over money to this Haas guy. I saw Wanted. That should be enough.”
Yeah, well, dip back into the wallet, because you like being entertained, and I’ve read Derek’s book. It’s a ton of fun, and without going into spoilers, I’ll simply say this: if you liked Wanted, you’re definitely going to like The Silver Bear.
Screenwriters working as novelists aren’t anything new (I’ve got David Benioff’s terrifically-reviewed book City Of Thieves on my nightstand), but it’s not a given thing that someone successful in one discipline can also do well in another. For every William Goldman, there’s a bookshelf full of crappy novels from screenwriters desperate to prove they’re not hacks.
Maybe not trying to prove something is the first step toward a successful novel.
Regardless, Derek doesn’t have that problem. Great read, great guy, his pact with Satan is obviously paying off in spades, he’ll burn in hell for eternity, but you get the pleasure of watching a big hit movie and then reading an excellent novel to boot.
Crazy talk isn’t.
Patric Verrone has written a letter to the FCC, demanding that they address the “problem” of product integration (when product sponsorship is written into a storyline, rather than simply placed visually in the frame).
In a letter to Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin, WGAW prexy Patric Verrone urged the agency “to establish guidelines requiring onscreen, real-time disclosure on TV programming where product integration occurs to make viewers aware of the range of products they are overtly — and more often covertly — being sold.”Okaaaaay. The government is going to screw up our shows by running a frickin’ banner or something on the lower third?
Because our OWN GUILD tells them to?
But wait…is this “our” guild, or merely an extension of Patric’s personal preference?
Verrone said that the guild’s preference would be a complete ban on product integration but conceded that it may be too late for such a measure.The guild’s preference? Really? The hell he says. As a matter of fact, just about every writer with whom I’ve spoken is dead set against any kind of limitation or elimination of product integration for one very good reason: it gets them real money for their budget.
Here’s one creator/showrunner’s response:
Wow. That blows. What does one do about that? Not that anyone listens to Patrick at the FCC, I suppose…
My show exists because of a product integration deal that bridged the gap between the license fee and the budget. Product integration pays for a lot of our guest stars. If I want my characters to drive around in a particular brand of car so that I can make the show I want to make, then what the fuck business is it of the WGA?What the fuck indeed. And just to be clear, the showrunner also made it clear that “brand of car” situation was true integration, i.e. the main character extolled the virtues of the car, etc.
You know what?
HIS SHOW, okay Patric?
If he wants to pimp out a few minutes of screentime in order to get some financial breathing room on his show, that’s HIS choice.
But wait a second.
I’ve been remiss. I’ve tacitly endorsed the notion that product integration is somehow wrong. So let me go on the record.
I have ZERO problem with it.
The entire PURPOSE of free television (network, basic cable) is to use entertainment to SELL SHIT. That’s why the medium exists.
Is the WGA leadership so high off of labor union vapors that they’ve lost sight of the nature of the medium for which so many of us write?
The WGA ought to be defending this practice, particularly in an era where traditional advertising is dying, and writers are losing the principle engine that powered the financial base from which they’re paid.
Ah, but wait.
Brace yourselves, cuz this one’s particularly neat.
Currently, a sitting member of the Board of Directors of the WGAw is chairing a private enterprise, partially funded by other sitting members of the Board of Directors of the WGAw…and guess what that private enterprise is largely designed to do?
But of course.
Create new media episodic series designed to sell sponsors’ products through….ta daaaaa…product integration.
So I ask you all:
Why is product integration on network and cable bad, to the point where it should be banned or warnings against it should mar the broadcast of writers’ work…
…but product integration on the internet is a dandy idea that members of the WGAw board are supporting with their wallets?
Ain’t it obvious?
Just another bluffy poke at the AMPTP. And while I appreciate the desire to kick ‘em in the nards, here’s the thing about taking principled stands against things.
1. They shouldn’t trample the creative freedom of writers in ANY way, and
2. They need to be consistently held, or
3. Everyone will think you’re full of shit, and
4. No one will back you up.
This fight against product integration isn’t just the typical brand of expensive but doomed-to-fail Verrone crusade. It’s also dishonest, inconsistent and a clear threat to the creative freedom of writers.
Boy, this post would have been better had I been drinking a delicious Diet Coke while writing it. I think I’ll go get one now.
Nothing refreshes like Diet Coke!
(hey…did you get that? did you see that? or should I have added a warning….cuz without a warning….you would have missed it, right?)
Mind you, I don’t suffer from writer’s block, or, at least I don’t think I suffer from writer’s block. But whatever this is, I have to assume it’s worse.
I face it when it’s time to imagine a story. Writing the story isn’t bad. Occasionally it’s frustrating, and sometimes it’s humbling, but it’s never bad. Imagining the story is the awful part.
Okay, not awful. But hard. Hard for me, at least.
No, I was right the first time. It’s awful.
Here’s how it would go for me for a long time. I’d face the task of imagining a story, realize there were millions of choices, find all of them nauseating…my head would ache, I would question whether or not I should be allowed to imagine anything at all much less a story, I would go to bed miserable and sleep fitfully, I’d walk around aimlessly trying to figure out why the story wasn’t right…
…and then it would be right.
Clouds part, sun shines in, and the writing begins.
Then I took what was supposed to be a brief hiatus from traditional screenwriting to immerse myself in the grand ZAZ tradition of spoof. That’s a whole ‘nother challenge, but spoof stories don’t challenge the way traditional stories do, and I had a 4 year respite.
That respite is over.
And on my latest project, I went to the bad place again.
I think I’ve finally boiled down all the misery to its essence: when I don’t know the story, the part of me that wants to tell the story is scared. I’m like a guy who has been hired to deliver a speech, but I don’t have it. And people are staring at me.
Even though it’s me just staring at me.
Of course, I also understand that you can’t have the story until you have the story, so not having the story is a fundamental requirement to eventually figuring it out. I have to not know it. I have to have the wrong ideas. I have to fail.
I know this. I’ve written about it before. I embrace the failure.
Oh, but um, let’s be honest.
I mean, the failure itself is really awful. If you have a love of narrative symmetry, of thematic harmony, of good characters moving convincingly and interestingly through a beautiful unfolding plot, then you’re also going to have a nauseated response to your inability to have that in your mind.
In fact, I’m just going to go ahead and call the failure “nausea,” because that’s pretty much what it is.
Great. So apparently I have to be sick before I can be well.
Is it just me?
It could be just me.
On the off chance it’s not, here’s the only palliative I can offer. The nausea is probably a good sign. It means your artistic mind is functioning. It means your inner critic is alive and well. It means you’re not a slack-jawed self-congratulatory fraud who thinks everything your precious little snowflake mind spurts forth is sheer genius.
No, not ever writer has to experience the nausea, but if you, I think it’s safe to say you’re one of Us.
And, happily, you will prevail. The answer will come. The story will come. And when it does, it will seem bizarre to you that you didn’t have it before. But it was born, in part, from the nausea.
I’m there now, having gone into the dark mind and come out again.
This is going to happen again, though.
Each time, I’ll tell myself the next time will be a little bit better.
Occupational hazard folks. Hope your next trip inwards isn’t as awful as one of mine.
Variety features an article about the upcoming credits proposals, and the overall effect is…
Let’s decipher the spin.
Their headline is:
WGA may simplify credit procedures – Rewrite teams could benefit from changesWrong and incomplete.
We’re not looking to simplify credit procedures. At least, not so this go-round. We’re simply looking to make them fairer and better. Yes, rewrite teams in which one member is a hyphenate could benefit from changes, but spec writers could also benefit, as well as spec teams, as well as single subsequent writers…why…every kind of writer could benefit!
I know. Boooooring! “Every writer” sounds too safe and cuddly. “Rewrite teams” definitely sounds scarier.
The Writers Guild of America plans to hold a referendum next month in a bid to simplify its Byzantine procedures for determining writing credits.Again, that’s not the purpose, and hats off to Variety for blending editorial (Byzantine!) and reportage. How…Brooks Barnesian.
The proposals are likely to stir debate within the WGA.Because Variety says so. Those of you who’ve read all two of the comments on the blog I posted with the proposals can really feel the heat coming off this stuff! It’s crazy controversial!
Of course there will be disagreements, but these proposals are (to me) far less divisive than some of the ones that have caused unionwide conflict in the past.
If you’re a member in good standing of the WGA, try and attend one of our outreach meetings. We’ll answer any and all questions, and we’ll also be taking notes on your ideas for the next go-round.
And when it’s over, you can Ankle Meeting.
Along with Robert King and Stephen Schiff, I co-chair the WGA Credits Review Committee for theatrical credits. Our committee has put forth three proposed rule changes to the membership. I’ll reprint our committee’s letter to the membership here.
It’s important to note that while Robert and I are on opposite sides of the philosophical divide over credits, we both agree that all three of these proposals are very good. While we’re far from perfecting our system, these proposals are good for writers of all stripes. We hope the membership passes them. Our next set of proposals will likely be more sweeping, but for now, we believe these are smart moves that advance the causes of both fairness and accuracy.
Credit for authorship goes to the very heart of what we do. It is an emotional topic, and at times the debates over credits have created schisms where unity is desperately needed.
The Credits Review Committee comprises writers like you, who are keenly aware that our system needs improving. How to improve it has always been the difficult question. In the past, some Credits Review Committees struggled to find common ground between disparate groups of writers.
This Credits Review Committee is different.
Composed of WGAW and WGAE members, the Committee is a philosophically diverse group appointed to fairly represent all theatrical film writers with differing viewpoints on credits, the role of the first writer, the role of subsequent writers, the role of “production executives,” and the manner in which credit arbiters perform their duties.
We are happy to announce three proposed changes to our Screen Credits Manual. This Committee has approved each of these proposed changes unanimously. Final approval rests with you. These proposals certainly don’t solve all our credits issues, but we believe them to be a strong first step, and we’re resolved that with your counsel and participation there will be more improvements to come.
The first proposal requires arbiters to consult with each other via teleconference in all cases where a decision is not unanimous. Currently, arbiters are not allowed to discuss their views with each other or communicate in any way. The Committee feels that by talking over their decisions in an anonymous, Guild-hosted teleconference, the arbiters will have an opportunity to give the reasons for their decisions to their peers and consider other interpretations of the material and the rules.
The Committee believes this proposal will go a long way toward improving the quality of our arbitrations and decreasing the number of split decisions.
The second and third proposals may appear to deal solely with “production executives” (writers who are also directors or producers), but in many ways, these proposals are designed to fix rules that are, in practice, hurting the very writers they were intended to help.
Currently, if you are a first writer on an original screenplay, our guidelines afford you certain protections. You are entitled to an “irreducible shared story credit.” In addition, you are only required to demonstrate a contribution of more than 33% to the final screenplay to earn screenplay credit, whereas subsequent writers must reach a threshold of 50% in order to receive screenplay credit.
If, as the first writer, you also direct or produce your own original screenplay, you lose much of your first writer protection. In such a case, according to a rule most members have never heard of, subsequent writers no longer have to reach a 50% threshold or even a 33% threshold. Rather, the Arbitration Committee may accord any other writer screenplay credit for “any substantial contribution” to the final screenplay.
The Committee is proposing that we eliminate the “any substantial contribution” rule. Instead, we propose that writers receive screenplay credit only if they can show a contribution of more than 33% as a first writer or a writer of an adaptation, or 50% if they are a subsequent writer on an original screenplay. In this way, first writers—including those who take on an additional role on their project—will not lose their protection.
Similarly, we have a rule that states that where a subsequent writer is a production executive team (where one or more members of the team is a hyphenate), the team must meet a threshold of “substantially more than 60%” for screenplay credit—even if one of the writers isn’t a production executive at all. We propose changing this threshold for production executive teams to more than 50%. The Committee strongly feels that if any writer or team proves they contributed more than half of a final screenplay, they deserve credit.
Today, many writers are becoming increasingly entrepreneurial in order to gain greater control over their material. Nevertheless, the Committee believes in continuing to protect writers who are not hyphenates. Hyphenates (and teams that include a hyphenate) will still need to meet a more than 50% standard as subsequent writers on adaptations and originals. Similarly, hyphenates will continue to trigger automatic arbitrations so that independent arbiters can ensure that the final writing credit is fair and accurate. In short, these proposals still hold hyphenates to a higher standard while preserving the special privileges that recognize the unique efforts of the first writer.
We know you’ll have questions. Please come join us at one of the upcoming information meetings to discuss these proposals. The meetings will also be an excellent opportunity to pass along any and all suggestions for the future. Our committee’s work never stops. Your input is both welcome and necessary to bring about the credit system we all deserve.
Robert King, co-chair, WGAW Craig Mazin, co-chair, WGAW Stephen Schiff, co-chair, WGAE Peter Atkins Neil Cohen Gloria Katz-Huyck Brian Koppelman Eddie Pomerantz Phil Alden Robinson Bob Schneider Garner Simmons
Every project or room ought to have one, comedy or drama.
The Logic Nazi’s job is to do what most of us usually do after we see a film. “How did the villain even know he had the jewel in his pocket?” “Why would he refuse to fight that one guy when we’ve already seen he’s willing to fight bigger guys?” “Why are they going out of their way to find someone to help them rob the bank when one of them already has the means to do it on his own?”
Every movie probably suffers from logic flaws. The goal, of course, is to avoid crossing the threshold of tolerance. There are some flaws in The Godfather, for instance. If Tessio can figure out where Michael is meeting The Turk and have enough time to plant a gun, why can’t he plant a few guys in the back kitchen? Or in a back alley? Have them do the murders…and not put Michael on the hook?
But…the logic flaws in The Godfather simply don’t cross the threshold of tolerance. Because they don’t, no one really gives a damn. In fact, many people will instinctively argue that the logic flaws aren’t flaws at all.
I call this the Illusion of Intention. Audiences are primed to believe that everything they see in the film was always meant to be exactly as it is. You and I and everyone who makes movies knows that this is far from true. Studio notes, an off day with an actor, a directorial screwup, a problem with a visual effect, a scratch in the negative…hell, a million things can go wrong, leading to a segment of film that is not perfectly representative of the filmmaker’s intentions, but is, in fact, a mistake or compromise they have to live with.
So we gloss by logic errors in films that don’t cross the threshold of tolerance, because they haven’t done enough damage to shake the illusion of intention.
But…you can only suffer so many shots below the waterline before the ship starts to sink. If the audience’s illusion of intention is repeatedly or grossly challenged by logic problems, they will revolt.
Okay, so what?
Well, when we’re writing, we’re faced with a consistent choice across all scenes. How important is logic to this scene? Sometimes, logic must be suspended in order to achieve something dramatically or thematically powerful. The aforementioned scene with Michael Corleone is a good example. Having a bunch of nameless thugs kill Solozzo would have been boring and inconsequential, whereas when Michael does it, it’s the moment Vito stops being the titular character, and Michael starts.
Sometimes you have to forgo logic for the better moment.
Most drama and action requires tight logic to really make people feel like the movie is in charge of itself.
Comedy, in particular, craves logic. If there’s any question whatsoever about the logic of a setup, then the resulting punchline just won’t work. We shot a scene where the original setup rested on the notion that Leslie Nielsen’s character wouldn’t recognize his own wife’s face. Well, his characters are definitely confused, but not that confused. It crossed the line into illogic. Once we altered the setup editorially to maintain logic, the punchline worked great, and the audience laughed.
Similarly, when writing in fantasy and sci-fi, internal logic is paramount. Make up any rules you’d like for your fictional system, but adhere to them. For instance, in the latest Indiana Jones film, the crystal skull is presented as an object so magnetic, it can literally attract metal shavings out of the air from hundreds of feet away.
But sometimes, it doesn’t seem to be magnetic at all. Like when it’s in a jeep. Or near guns. Or bullets.
That was a glaring logic flaw that pulled a lot of people out of the moment, including myself.
On the other hand, the filmmakers were smart to include a fast shot of the words “lead-lined” on the refrigerator that Indy climbs into just before the nuclear blast goes off. That’s enough to satisfy the Logic Nazi.
Note that problems of logic are different than problems of suspension of disbelief.
For instance, I have no problem suspending my disbelief when the film suggests that there are crystal alien skulls that have powers…or that a hero can survive a nuclear blast by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator. It’s possible given the fantasy tone with which I’m being presented.
When writing, be your own Logic Nazi, but if you feel like you need a little break from it, take one. Just make sure it’s a very little break, and above all, make sure that it’s a mild logic flaw. Pad around it. Do what magicians do, and misdirect (the fact that Tessio barely has time to get that gun in there helps obscure the obvious alternative that whoever left the gun could have just hung out there with the gun and done the shooting himself). Set off chaff and flares, and hope no one notices that you might have forsaken Occam’s Razor in favor of something a little more interesting or fun.
Don’t worry about the skeptics out there who insist that space explosions shouldn’t be fiery, heroes can’t get shot in an arm and keep raising it to fire a gun, etc. Just make sure everything adheres to the internal logic you’ve set up, as well as the basic rules of the world in which you set your film.
Because if you do cross that threshold…
…well, I’m still wondering about that magnetic thing.