History’s Scariest Story

Last night I scared my wife telling her about the horror movie I’m outlining. She couldn’t sleep; I felt bad. But that’s not the scariest story I know. The scariest story I know starts like this:

Well-wrought this wall: Weirds broke it.
The stronghold burst…
Snapped rooftrees, towers fallen,
the work of the Giants, the stonesmiths, mouldereth.
Rime scoureth gatetowers
rime on mortar.
Shattered the showershield, roofs ruined,
age under-ate them.
And the wielders and wrights?
Earthgrip holds them—gone, long gone,
fast in gravesgrasp while fifty fathers
and sons have passed…. read more

Make This Journalism Adventure Flick?

I’m a fan of newspaper procedurals. There’s something obviously heroic about the search for truth.  I loved the way Lou Grant and The Hour would break a story every episode. I loved how the internal office dynamic was used in The Newsroom and All The President’s Men to add conflict, raise stakes, and build emotional investment. I even loved it in the somewhat maligned season 5 of The Wire where a new part of the scrivener’s drama was existential: the collapse of the industry around them. My friends who work at The Times are amazing human beings. My grandfather who worked at a paper was amazing. So I wonder: read more

Europe’s The Spiral is Great TV 2.0

With American TV borrowing so much from Scandinavia, England, and Israel for our best TV shows, how about we borrow from Europe’s best transmedia television phenomenon: The Spiral.

What a sensational experience.
American TV has a long history of adapting foreign TV shows. From classics like All in the Family, Cheers, The Office, to even American Idol and Survivor. Some of the smartest, most original shows are imports. In Treatment, The Killing, Homeland, Shameless and more. I don’t know if it’s Hollywood risk aversion / underestimation of American audiences, but innovative TV often comes to us from abroad. read more

Syfy’s Defiance and Transmedia TV Gold

My interest in transmedia storytelling exists at the intersection of my obsessions with participatory culture, new media, and entertainment. I believe storytellers can create deeper experiences for their audiences when they unfold a story and its world via multiple venues, and when they invite audiences to participate meaningfully in that world—especially when storytellers strategize the unfolding of the adventure on multiple media from the outset of the project.

High engagement yields high-payoffs. In politics, this would be like when you turn your orgs’ mission statement into a narrative that reads like a DIY movement. The Dean campaign was that kind of thing. Similarly, Sleep No More is my kind of theatre project. And on TV, Syfy‘s Defiance is what I want to see more of. There’s a lot more TV shows with cool transmedia integration every season. And the demand is growing. read more

Transmedia, TV Time and the Brain

So what the hell is Transmedia? It is not watching a TV show on an iPad. That’s “watching TV.”

It is not telling many stories in the same universe on one TV screen. That’s “franchising,” like the Marvel Universe movies.

Ideally, transmedia is the telling of a story on multiple platforms. By this definition, the earliest example of transmedia storytelling is with the Bible: a book, plays, music, paintings, stained-glass, sculpture, and meetups (designed to trigger every one of our five senses) all helping tell the story. read more

Source Code to Pull a Stargate (Please)?

There’s two paths forward with a TV series based on  Source Code.

Tidy Procedural

One is to do a police procedural where everything that happened to Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) in the movie has no bearing on the show. Simply introduce some nearly dead federal agents who work for Project Source Code who are transported into the bodies of civilians killed in devastating events. The agents do quick police work and stop the perpetrators from committing future atrocities. It’s like Quantum Leap or, more closely, the time-traveling procedural Seven Days – which also saw government operatives traveling back in time to prevent disasters. read more

Preventing Cut and Paste TV

Clay Shirky wrote a great article that contained another example of how we must adapt or die:

Fifteen years ago, a research group called The Fraunhofer Institute announced a new digital format for compressing movie files. This wasn’t a terribly momentous invention, but it did have one interesting side effect: Fraunhofer also had to figure out how to compress the soundtrack. The result was the Motion Picture Experts Group Format 1, Audio Layer III, a format you know and love, though only by its acronym, MP3.
The recording industry concluded this new audio format would be no threat, because quality mattered most. Who would listen to an MP3 when they could buy a better-sounding CD at the record store? Then Napster launched, and quickly became the fastest-growing piece of software in history. The industry sued Napster and won.
If Napster had only been about free access, control of legal distribution of music would then have returned the record labels. That’s not what happened. Instead, Pandora happened. Last.fm happened. Spotify happened. ITunes happened. Amazon began selling songs in the hated MP3 format…
The people in the music industry weren’t stupid, of course. They had access to the same internet the rest of us did. They just couldn’t imagine—and I mean this in the most ordinarily descriptive way possible—could not imagine that the old way of doing things might fail. Yet things did fail, in large part because, after Napster, the industry’s insistence that digital distribution be as expensive and inconvenient as a trip to the record store suddenly struck millions of people as a completely terrible idea. read more

Parks & Rec Transmedia Wins

Parks & Recreation is great. And it’s also doing a lot of transmedia storytelling right.
I watch TV with a device on my lap, and when Amy Poehler’s character ran for City Council, I went looking for her campaign website because that’s literally my background: I used to do transmedia storytelling strategy in politics. I was happy to find that NBC, the production company, and/or the writers had a funny site up and running. Bravo.

The site’s full of great callbacks to jokes from previous episodes. There’s funny writing in character voices. And like any real campaign website, you can sign up for election updates, newsletters, you can take actions for the campaign, you can even buy real merch, and they invite you to follow the characters on social media. The characters have twitter accounts. read more

Product Placement in the Remake of “Crazy People”

I pulled this out of the memory hole:

Free Publicity In ‘Crazy People’ Costs Advertisers Some Pride
April 19, 1990 | By Yardena Arar, Los Angeles Daily News.

The new Paramount comedy, “Crazy People,” starring Dudley Moore as an adman fixated on truth in advertising, is filled with fake ads for real-life goods and services-none of which paid a penny for the exposure.

Of course, the exposure isn’t exactly a real-life advertiser’s dream.

“Would the Hindenburg have paid for placement in the newsreel?” AT&T spokesman Burke Stinson asked rhetorically during a conversation about the AT&T ad in the film. read more

5 Pitfalls of John Cusack’s Rush Project

As in Rush Limbaugh.

Script not done – well see what it’s looks like – could be good hollywoodreporter.com/news/john-cusa…

— John Cusack (@johncusack) November 4, 2012

I can only hope this focus on Private Parts in leaks to press is a head fake designed to keep dittoheads interested. The model of Private Parts is problematic because that was a fully authorized underdog hagiography. And if Rush doesn’t endorse the project (which I doubt he’d do unless he’s EP and/or gets huge gross points) then no dittoheads will pay Cusack to see it. Neither do I see reality-based Americans going to see it unless to gloat in the schadenfreude were it a tragedy, or to boo at his villainy. read more

Film & TV 2.0

Around 2003, after Democrats were walloped in the midterms, and the established liberal advocacy organizations in D.C. proved unable to register any victories against President Bush, the Professional Left was desperate. So desperate that many Dems and lots of orgs actually hired a bunch of bloggers and technology geeks to try something new – anything new. I was one of those strategy kids. I always brought my background in theatre/film to the table, stressing the need for a coherent story with respect to “the battle of narratives” element of politics. However much I stressed story stuff like identify the bad guy, or choose conflict, our essential challenge was to figure out how to use the nascent internet to do good, and do it well, in D.C. read more

Stephen Colbert Wins

He won a Peabody. His winning “Super PAC” segments embody some of my favorite rules – both from writing and improv:
He says his responsibility is to the story.
Whenever possible, discover the story along with the audience.
Find the complications, break through them with logic and humor.
Own the character, even when you wink in an aside.
The truth is funnier than fiction.

If you ask me, the Legal Dept. at Comedy Central deserves this award as much as Colbert and his writers. Greenlighting that bit took guts. read more

What The World Needs Now Is…

More of this, please.

If you don’t know what this Goya riff is working from, behold: the future.

From Eater: The owner of a café in the center of Madrid, Spain has become a hero of sorts and internet phenomenon after standing up to riot police and allowing protestors to seek refuge in his establishment. The incident took place yesterday, when thousands of protestors took to the streets to demonstrate against the government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. The man, Alberto Casillastells Eco Diario that he saw the whole drama unfold near the Neptune fountain, when police finally charged protestors and people began to flee the scene. “I saw a boy who was being beaten up by the police — he was bleeding — and I went to help him,” said Casillas, who let protestors inside his café. “I then stood in front of the restaurant and didn’t let the riot police in.” He also fed all of the protestors that had flocked to his business.

What’s New in Hollywood

Rarely is very much new.

Of the 45 films Warner Brothers released in 1940, 15 of them were remakes including Bette Davis’ The Letter and Errol Flynn’s The Sea Hawk. Remakes, reboots and sequels have always been a big part of what is produced.

Is Hollywood producing more reboots and remakes than before? Possibly, maybe, slightly.
Are large audiences as willing to spend their money on an unknown story? Apparently not.

What might be new are the “properties” that get spun-off into movies now. Battleship, for instance.  Have you heard my pitch for Hungry Hungry Hippos: The 3D Experience? read more

That Jeff Buckley Movie Thing

This one hurts. It’s not that they’re making a Jeff Buckley movie, nor that they’re making two – but it’s that one of them is the movie I always imagined.

In 2002, David Browne’s dual biography of Tim Buckley and Jeff Buckley “Dream Brother” was published and I’ve daydreamed about the dual biopic ever since. The book looks to be the inspiration of this:

I used to marvel at Jeff’s mom, Mary Guibert, repeatedly turning down life rights to producers, and rejecting scripts. I guessed that the reason was a mother’s protective instinct to erase the long shadow of drug abuse that haunted both Buckleys. read more

We’re On To Something

A few years ago I wrote a 10 minute play with Chris from my old improv group that The Dare Project in NYC was kind enough to produce. Our play was about a video game character who is sick of being the unappreciated villain, so she decides to go “game jumping” in order to become a hero. Because it was a 10 minute play, we set our play primarily in a group therapy session where she is talked back to her senses by other video game baddies.

While writing it, we explored about how fun it would be to bust her free, to expand her journey out into other game worlds, but the 10 minute limit kept us on target for a tidy finish. I bring this up because Disney is releasing this: read more

Miramax Should Flood Broadway

The recent Tony wins for the stage version of Once got me thinking again about my old musical TV programming ideas. I chatted about it with a music & movie aficionado J. Bolotsky who also had a bunch of great ideas — some of these could be pretty good as stand-alone stage plays:

Velvet Goldmine: the musical. Substitute some of the derivative works for the real songs by Iggy Pop, New York Dolls, and David Bowie (who are conspicuously missing from the soundtrack). Add more Marc Bolan.

Wonderful Tonight, a new musical based on the memoir by mod scene model Pattie Boyd about her MOST INSANE love triangle as the wife of best friends George Harrison and Eric Clapton, both of whom wrote #1 songs for Pattie. Rights would cost a bazillion dollars. read more

A Clinton-Gore Buddy Story

I saw a few news items…

New York Magazine:  “After the 2000 campaign, the Clinton-Gore relationship plummeted into a downward spiral. On Gore’s side, there was a bedrock belief that, as one of his friends puts it, “if Clinton hadn’t been impeached, Al Gore would be president and the world would be a different place.” And on Clinton’s side, there was certainty that had Gore been even a modestly competent campaigner, the impeachment wouldn’t have mattered—a view the Clinton people (and Clinton himself) liberally spread around. By the time Clinton and Gore left the White House, each was nurturing such grave resentments that they were no longer speaking.” read more

Jeffrey Wright as Crispus Attucks

It happened when I saw Jeffrey Wright in the play Topdog/Underdog. That night, in my head, I cast Wright as Crispus Attucks in the script I decided to start writing. My story became a “people’s history” of the inciting event in the American Revolution: “The Boston Massacre.” Great title.

When British troops opened fire on a crowd of Bostonians in 1770, a former slave-turned-whaler-turned political activist was the first man killed. His name: Crispus Attucks. Total badass. Our hero was part of the same terrorist caucus as Paul Revere. The two were buds in the North End. One was an outsider because his father was French (the universal enemy in the 1700s) the other was an outsider because he was part African American and part Native American. read more

“Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

Time to turn back and descend the stair…

A nice image in that line. Which, since reading A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments by Roland Barthes, has made me think of Treppenwitz. Literally, ‘the wisdom of the stairs’. The striking reply that crosses one’s mind belatedly when already leaving, on the stairs.

Though, I’ve always preferred Cynthia Ozick’s version of the word: Treppenworte. The words one didn’t have the strength or ripeness to say when those words were necessary for one’s dignity or survival. read more