Another Show Nobody Wants to See Coming to DVD

MGM is releasing the flop series version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN on DVD. I think they release shit like this just to make me crazy wondering why shows I worked on like SEAQUEST, MARTIAL LAW, and SPENSER FOR HIRE remain in the vaults (are they any worse than THAT’S MY MAMA, RENEGADE, AIRWOLF or BEASTMASTER? I know what it is…it’s me. I’m the reason why they aren’t being released).

Tod’s “Keen Voice and Profound Insight”

My brother Tod got a rave review in today’s LA TIMES.

"I am in The Contraption. My eyes, which the doctor has dilated, are pinned
open."

"I’m in a sex shop in San Francisco watching my father buy a
leather jumpsuit for his gay lover."

"I was fourteen when I saw the Loch
Ness monster."

"My picture of Elvis is bleeding."

Simplifysm_1"Ira looked
out over the field of combatants, all fifteen hundred of them, and wondered
when, exactly, he’d lost his mind."

It’s generally agreed that the
writers’ code of etiquette stipulates time shares in hell for blabby book
reviewers who give away endings. But one trusts that succumbing to the urge to
quote first sentences is at worst a venial offense. In the case of Tod
Goldberg’s new story collection, "Simplify," these lines serve not only to show
how a seductive pull can radiate from a handful of words, they also stand as
markers for certain traits shared among the 12 stories in the novelist’s first
collection: They are almost all told in the first person, the
narrator-protagonist is a boy or young(ish) man, and there is an omnipresence of
bizarre apparitions, as well as uninvited drop-ins from beyond reality.

Read moreTod’s “Keen Voice and Profound Insight”

Staying Sharp

Lee0001Here are some photos from my day of whirlwind signings with the irrepressible, and potentially lethal, Zoe Sharp. Lee0013The first is from the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood CA, the second is Zoe and I with Jane and Heidi, two of the hot Lit-babes who own Mysteries to Die For in Thousand Oaks, CA. You can order signed copies of our books from either of these fine establishments while supplies last. (Click on the photos for larger images)

The Face of E-vil

PhantasieThe Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy novels tackle some E-book covers…and the results are laugh-out-loud funny. Here’s a sample, referring to the book cover on the left:

Beavis: Whoa!

Butthead: WHOA!

Beavis: She’s like, naked! With armbands!

Butthead:Huh huh. Yeah.

Beavis: And she’s gonna get stabbed by that CHURCH! YEAH!

Butthead: Huh huh.That’s cool.

Beavis: Stab her! Stab her in the BUTT!

Butthead: Huh huh huh huh. Tell her to move her hand first so we can see her boobs.

Beavis: Yeah! BOOBS

Butthead: Yeah. Huh huh.

Me, I’m curious about the author’s name. "Kit Tunstall?" What kind of name is that? It sounds like a particularly unpleasant procedure involving the colon.

The Budget THRESHOLD

I couldn’t help but notice the significant production differences between the THRESHOLD pilot and their first, regular episode.

The pilot was filled with special effects, action, and  multiple interior and exterior locations. The first regular episode was considerably downsized. There were only two real locations — the "standing sets" (the sets/locations used every week) and a military academy (USC? UCLA?). Of the six member cast, four were stuck on the standing sets delivering exposition while two others were on location doing most of the "action,"  which was limited to running up and down hallways (one cast member otherwise relegated to standing sets was seen in a restroom that was supposedly at a fast-food place. The restroom was clearly a swingset built on the soundstage or a practical location found at the military acadamy which, I suspect, was also where they dressed as space to be the fast food place).

There were no special effects and virtually no exteriors,  save a couple of walk-and-talks and one scene in a parked car, which was shot so tight, with so many other parked cars in view, that I suspect it was shot outside the soundstage.   

I enjoyed the episode, but it was a lesson in the budgetary restraints that always come into play once the pilot, full of bells-and-whistles, is sold as a series. I’m sure there will be some effects-heavy/location-heavy episodes down the road (particularly during "Sweeps"), but to pay for them/amortize them, more often than not each week you will see a  clear balance between "standing set" scenes with the bulk of the cast members and one or possibly two other locations with the rest of the regulars.

I don’t think the average viewer registers the differences but, as a producer/showrunner, I always find it fascinating and instructive.  Why do you think the castaways on LOST moved from the beach into a cave? To give them a standing, interior  set.  Usually, just by watching a handful of episodes, I can get a pretty good sense of how many days they shoot, they budgeted ratio of days on stage/on location, the number of locations they can afford, and what their casting budget is like (in terms of number of guest cast in speaking roles as opposed to how much they have to spend on individual name actors).  Watching television is often the best way to learn about television.

Pitching a Series

I just got back from a pilot pitch over at CBS.  It went about as
well as you can hope for. I was happy, enthusiastic, and energetic in
the pitch and the execs we met with were laughing and engaged and
asking all the right questions. When we left, they thanked us for the
pitch and said it was "exhilirating," which is exactly the feeling we hope
the series — if they order a pilot script — will evoke. I don’t know whether or not
they’ll buy it, but at least I know we left a good impression that will
serve us well the next time we come in.

Speaking of pilot pitches, screenwriter John Rogers talks today about pitching TV series and working the room.

Remember what a pitch is for. You are a writer. If they were hiring you based on
your writing, then you’d know what the hell to do. Once you’re typing, you’re in
your element. But this is you convincing them to pay you to write the script.
The pitch has to be a very clean little description of an idea so intriguing,
they want to read the script for it. Yes, it has to make sense as a show, too,
but focus. Don’t let the pitch become bigger in your mind than it is.

In
its purest form TV pilot pitch addresses two questions: “Why should we put this
show on the air?” and “How will this show stay on the air?” *

Start, as always, with your hook.
Be it the high-concept pitch sentence, a vivid description of the opening shot –
PUNCH. No longer than a short paragraph.

I agree with almost everything he says in his post, though I think
he’s still coming at this like a screenwriter first, TV-writer second.
A series is 22 stories a year for five years. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend opening your pitch with the opening shot of the pilot. Nor do I think you should pitch the plot of the pilot. You’re pitching the series… the franchise…not
one single story (unless that opening shot is what sets up the entire
series, like, say aliens invading earth or the hero getting his
super-powers). I tend to focus on the story-engine (the conflicts and
situations that will drive every episode) short sketches of the
characters (who they are and how they relate to the franchise) and,
more than anything, trying to get across the feel of the show, so they have the visceral sensation of watching it as I’m pitching it (though without a specific plot or story).

If you boil your pitch down to the punchiest bits, you’ll find that you’ll be
able to move at a comfortable, confident clip regardless of reaction. If the
execs keep interrupting you to ask questions – well then, you should be so
lucky.

That’s great advice. In fact, John is loaded with great advice. If
you’re trying to get into the screenwriting or TV game, I highly
recommend frequent visits to his blog.

The Self-Deluded, Part II

It’s amazing to me the extent to which vanity press authors  delude themselves into thinking they aren’t vanity press authors. The latest example comes from the current issue of CRIMESPREE magazine, one of my favorite publications. Sandra Tooley wrote a column entitled "Self-Publishing Myths," in which she attempts to debunk "the misconceptions about self-publishing." The astonishing thing is that, rather than debunk the "myths," she manages to substantiate every one of them.  I’m sure Sandra is a very nice lady, but reading her column is a painful and cringe-inducing experience. It’s like watching a fall-down drunk arguing that he’s sober even as he vomits on your shoes.

The first "myth" she targets is that "writers self-publish because no one else will publish them." She says the real reasons  come down to time ("not all writers have the finances or time to devote toward promoting a large print run..and they have home and family obligations"), age ("playing the query-letter two step game for ten or fifteen years just isn’t in some writer’s goals for the future"), patience ("you can have your book out in six months or less"), total control ("Self-publishing allows the writer the creative freedom to publishwhat he wants when he wants") and rights ("A self-published author can keep all the rights").

Let’s tackle her first argument — that self-published authors simply don’t have the time and money to devote to promotion (but they do have the bucks to pay to have their work printed in book form).  If you "publish" (and I use that term loosely)  a POD novel, it’s not going to sell if you don’t promote it. So what’s the point of doing it in the first place…besides printing your manuscript in book form for yourself? She’s arguing that there are authors out there who would would rather pay to print their book POD  than be  paid  by Simon & Schuster for the right to publish and widely distribute their work… just to avoid having to do any promotion. That hypothetical author would have to be a complete moron. 

The other arguments about age, patience and control simply justify what has  always been said about vanity press authors — they have neither the patience nor the perseverance to be professional writers. They just want to see their work printed in something resembling a book as quickly as possible so they can call themselves authors.

That said, Sandra later contradicts herself in many respects.

She says that "print on demand is a printing process NOT a publishing process," and on that point, we agree. So why do vanity press writers consider themselves "published authors" and get pissed off when they aren’t accorded the same respect as authors published by traditional publishers?

Sandra goes on to say that when going the POD route, "marketing is mostly up to the author." Wait a minute…I thought authors went the POD route, not because they can’t sell their book to a publisher, but because they had neither the time nor money to devote to marketing and promotion?

And finally, she concludes her column with:

"…to the determined writer who refuses to believe his book is too similar to THE DAVINCI CODE to be marketable, and to all frustrated writers buried in form rejection letters, take heart knowing giving up is no longer an option."

In other words, if no one else will publish you, you can self-publish.  So what’s her final conclusion? That the "myth" that writers self-publish because no one else will publish them is true! (Did she even read her own column after she wrote it??).

This kind of labored reasoning — no,  self-delusion — is typical among vanity press authors. It’s   truly sad to see…unless you work for iUniverse, PublishAmerica, and xlibris.