Me on TV…again

I’m back again as a guest on Steve Murphy’s INSIDER EXCLUSIVE with NY criminal defense attorney Laura Miranda. I come in about mid-way through the episode to talk about MONK, DIAGNOSIS MURDER and  my daughter’s literary aspirations. And stick around after he says good-bye to me…because I come right back, teaming with Laura.

And if you missed me on INSIDER EXCLUSIVE with famed criminal defense attorney Tom Mesereau, you can see it here.

On The Way

Howdy from the British Airways first class lounge in Heathrow. This lounge feels like a low-end Las Vegas buffet…and is more crowded than the terminal. It also smells like split pea soup. Luxurious, huh? I am grabbing a newspaper, a scone, and heading for my flight.  The next time you hear from me, I will be back in L.A., working on my tan and my jet-lag.

Playing with Toys

Greetings from Berlin…

Here’s the latest scoop from the production of FAST TRACK, the two-hour movie/series pilot that I wrote and am exec producing for ProSiebenSat1 and Action Concept.

I spent the day in meetings with our director, the line producer, the second unit director, stunt coordinator and the driving supervisor discussing how we are going  to do the races and chases in FAST TRACK. 

These are the professionals who have  been doing  the hit  German series ALARM FOR COBRA 11, so they really know their stuff when it comes to doing incredible car action. But what we are going to be doing in FAST TRACK is stylistically very different from COBRA 11…and, we hope, from what viewers have seen in the FAST AND THE FURIOUS movies (for one thing, we don’t have $60 million to spend!).

We want to  create a unique look that is entirely our own. It starts with character, character and more character…and then cool driving stuff.  So we got out a box of toy cars and began talking about how we are going to do it.

There we were, a bunch of grown men, sitting around a table playing with cars.

Vroom! Crash! Boom!

And in that moment, I was a kid again with my Hot Wheels and Matchbox toys, dreaming of being a writer some day…

I’m such a lucky guy.

Soon the toy cars we’ll be playing with will be real ones!

I finally had a good night’s sleep last night…so, naturally, tomorrow I am leaving for L.A. so I can get hit with jet-lag going the opposite direction and attend casting sessions for two of our four lead roles.

Coming to Life

Typepad recovered my earlier, lost post about the first few days of pre-production on FAST TRACK, so that saves me having to tell you all about that again. So here’s the latest news…

I love the prep period. That’s when the project finally feels real to me…figuratively and literally. Unlike writing a book, TV  is a collaboration. For example, the production designers are showing me sketches and concepts for the places that only existed before in my imagination…. how they will make those places real. But more  than that, these artists are bringing so much that’s new and
fresh, that comes  from their own talent and experience. I enjoy seeing
how my work has inspired them… it  makes me feel great. 

On Monday, I went to visit our production office for the first time (all my meetings so far have been in cafes and hotel rooms). It’s a building in  an  industrial  area of Berlin. I saw the two floors of empty offices and the adjoining buildings that will serve as the construction shop, car-tuning shop, etc. It’s a big complex…and within days, it will start  to fill up with people working on the movie. By the end of next week, it will be a bee-hive  of activity, everyone working towards a common goal — making what I wrote alone in my home-office into a movie.  But for the moment, it’s just the line producer,  his assistant, and me. I picked out a spot for myself and my assistant and tried to imagine what it’s going to look like in two weeks when it’s full of furniture, white boards, computers, printers, and shooting schedules. I felt both excitement and anxiety. There’s  so much work to do…and so many decisions to make.

I spent the day with my director, talking in detail about the pilot script and the hoped-for series…and about how I see the world and the characters and how he sees them. Then we met with the last candidate for production designer, played some Playstation racing games, and made some final hiring decisions.  That night, I reviewed more DVDs of actors, costume designers, etc. and prepared for my meeting today in Munich with the network.

The meeting went very, very well…we are amazingly in-synch about what the show is and will be…and about the people we’d like to hire to make it happen. But they are more than just a network, they are our production partner in this project so it’s a much closer working relationship, at least on a creative level, than you usually have in a "supplier and buyer" situation. I’m so lucky to have a clever and articulate network executive on the project whose creative contributions consistently make the show better. We decided on the production designer and costume designers  we wanted — and the network agreed — so  tomorrow we will close their deals and get them on-board.

Tomorrow I meet with the second unit director and stunt coordinators to have our initial concept discussions about the racing sequences…and then I return to L.A. for casting.

I have been having trouble sleeping. It’ s not just the jet-lag — I have  so much on my mind that it’s hard to "shut down." I know what I am about to say is a cliche, but….there’s just not enough hours in the day.

Oh, yesterday I also looked at the suite my family and I will be staying in when I return on the 30th and for the duration of production. It’s beautiful and perfectly located. The U.S. actors will also be staying at the same place and I think they will be very happy there. The location in Berlin can’t be beat. It’s going to be fun for my family and I hope an exciting experience for my daughter.

I apologize for rambling….I’ll try to report back again once more before I fly home.

This is Why Producers Like Shooting TV Shows in Canada

The Drake Hotel in Toronto is offering sex toys on the room service menu, according to USA Today. Vibrators, massage oils, condoms, velvet restraints and how-to videos can be sent up the guests. The "pleasure kits" start at $35:

The 19 room Drake is a boutique hotel that attracts artists and actors. The aim is service that complements the hotel’s artsy image.

"We see ourselves as a bit of a trailblazer," owner Jeff Stober says. The racy room service menu […] is "in keeping with the theme of sex that has always played a role in artistic works. We are embracing that artistic spirit."

Actual embraces cost extra. They aren’t the only Toronto hotel that’s added sex-centives. The Grand Hotel, where our MISSING directors liked to stay, provides two channels of free, 24-hour porn, for their guests (for the record, I stayed at the Cambridge Suites, which offered no such goodies).

If Governor Arnold wants to keep movie production in California, he can forget about tax incentives and renegotiating with unions. Free vibrators for every member of the film crew! Sexual surrogates sent to the door of every screenwriter faced with a production rewrite!

It Begins

Sorry I haven’t posted much … it’s been an exhausting few days.

My flight to Berlin on Thursday was stuck on the ground at LAX for two
hours while workers tried to fix some mechanical problem. We made up
most of the lost time in flight, but about an hour before landing in
Heathrow, the passenger in the aisle across from me collapsed. The
stewardess got on the intercom and asked if there were any doctors on
board. Within minutes, there were about half-a-dozen doctors rushing up
to First Class to deal with the unconscious man.  I guess he was okay,
because he walked of the plane to the waiting paramedics when  we landed.

The security checkpoint in Heathrow is chaos…and takes forever. They
only allow passengers one carry on, and for women that *includes* the
purse, and I guess a lot of people weren’t told about that before
getting on their planes to London. It  was ugly. I managed to make my
connecting flight to Berlin…in fact, I even had a few extra minutes
to pick up the INSPECTOR LEWIS dvd boxed set at an airport store.

I was met in Berlin by my line producer, who took me to my hotel and
then to a long dinner to discuss the script, some of the production
challenges it presents, and to tell me about the potential production
designers, casting directors, costume designers, writers, etc. that I’d
be meeting over the next few days. We start shooting the pilot on May
20, and this is a very stunt-heavy show, so there’s lots of work to do.
On top of that,  I also have to develop the storylines  for the first
eight episodes and deliver them to the network before we start shooting
the pilot…so I am really feeling the pressure and so is he.

I got back to my hotel around 10 pm and by 11 I was in bed. I managed to
get a solid eight hours sleep, which was  a relief after 28 straight
hours without rest. I figured I’d be firmly on German time the next morning.

It was one interview after another. By the time the day was done,
though, I settled on a casting director and hired my assistant/script
coordinator.  We went through through dozens of actor show-reels and I
watched some of the work done by our top choice to direct the pilot.
After great dinner with the line producer and his girlfriend, I returned
to my hotel to watch more DVDs and pick some scenes for our American
casting director to use for auditioning the U.S. actors. I was exhausted
and fell into bed at midnight….and was still awake at 1:30 am. I
finally fell asleep some time after two…and awoke at 5 am. I couldn’t
get back to sleep…and finally gave up trying around 7:30. I got up,
showered and took a long walk to Checkpoint Charlie, Potsdamer Platz,
Brandenburg  Gate and the Reichstag. It really hit me — I am in Berlin
preparing a movie that I wrote and will produce. Holy shit!

Today, I interviewed potential costume designers at one cafe after
another, just to keep things fresh and enjoy a change of scenery. It was
very exciting to see designers’ initial ideas for how the characters
will look. Talking about the characters with the designers has also
sharpened my own vision of the show and what I want the look to be, the
sound to be, etc.

I believe every aspect of this show — the cars, the clothes, the
locations, the music, the background "sound" etc —  has to convey
character and our franchise.  So I have to convey my vision of who these
characters are, and how I’d like to see those characters expressed, to
each of these artists. And, of course, I am very interested in hearing
their vision/interpretation of what I’ve written and what they see. I
need to know what they are going to bring to the show…I want to hear
their ideas, their interpretation of the characters, their sense of what
the franchise is.

For instance, the central set on our show is a garage.  But  it has to
be so much more than a garage. It’s where our characters live, where
they work, and where they make love. It’s their home. It’s the center of
their universe. And it better be an interesting place to be for the
viewers, too.  It needs to be special.  So, for me, a big test for the
production  designers is what they can tell me about their vision for
this set — what do they have in mind?

There’s a lot of car racing in this show. But the way those cars are
driven must be an extension of character…I want the viewer to be able
to tell, without seeing the driver, which of our characters is driving
the car. The cars themselves — which models, how they are painted, etc
— are also a reflection of character. So when I talk to our potential
action directors & stunt coordinators, I want to hear more than cool
moves…I want to know how those moments will reveal character and
further the story.

I don’t know shit about fashion. But I do know these characters — who
they are, what they want, and how they see themselves. The clothes they
wear need to reflect that. So it’s fascinating to me to see what the
costume designers have in mind — and it tells me if they see the
characters the way I do…or see things about them that I missed. And
the best of our candidates have been able to tell me very clearly who
these characters are and why they’d be wearing what they are wearing. It
has been a fascinating give-and-take for me. But the wardrobe doesn’t
exist on it’s own…it also has to fit with the production design, the
cars, etc. All the department heads have to communicate, work together,
and compromise. So I am also looking for people who enjoy collaboration.

I’m also interested in something else in these meetings with possible
department heads.  I want to get sense of them as people — can I work
with them? Do I like them? Do we "click?" It’s exciting, inspiring, and
exhausting. But I am loving it.

I got back to my hotel with a shoulder bag full of DVDs at 4:30, ready
to collapse…which I did. I set my alarm for a short nap…but slept
through the buzzer.

I woke up a 8 pm, took a walk to a supermarket for bread, meat, wine,
and chocolate, then  settled in to watch DVDs to see the work of  the
people I met and to prepare for my meetings tomorrow with more
production designers and the director.

It’s  2:15 am now, and the car is picking me up at 9, so I’ll be getting
into bed in a minute…and I hope I can clear my head of everything
that’s on my mind and get some sleep. (On top of all this, I still have
a MONK novel to finish writing!).

I’ll report back soon…

The Lady with the Great TV Series Idea

Since I’m out-of-town, and you all seemed to enjoy my recent re-post about the San Francisco Writers Conference, here’s a rerun of a 2004 post about an experience I had at Sleuthfest in Florida…

I was a guest at Sleuthfest in Florida a few years back and after one of my panels, a woman approached me saying she had a great idea for a television series. Even better, she already had 22 scripts written and a list of actors she felt were perfect for the parts.

All I had to do, she said, was sell it and we’d both be rich.

I get this a lot.

So I asked her, what if I was an engineer from General Motors? Would you approach me with a sketch of a car and expect me to manufacture it?

“No, of course not,” she said. “That would be stupid.”

So was her suggestion that I run out and try to sell her TV series.

And I told her so. Politely, of course.

The thing she didn’t understand is that networks don’t buy ideas. They buy people.

Or, as the old saying goes, ideas are cheap and execution is everything.

Take NYPD Blue, for example. It’s about a bunch of cops in a precinct in New York. Not the greatest, most original idea in the world, is it? But that’s not what ABC bought. They bought Emmy winning writer/producer Steven Bochco doing a series about a bunch of cops in a precinct in New York.

The network was buying Bochco’s track record and experience in television. The idea was a distant second.
When the network buys a series, they are investing $50 million. They aren’t going to hand the kind of cash to somebody who hasn’t proved they can write, produce and deliver 22 episodes a season.

So, that’s what I said to her.

She told me I wasn’t listening. She already had the idea and the scripts. All she wanted me to do was sell the show. And produce it. And send her the big bags of money for her great idea and brilliant scripts.

I could see it from her point of view. She wanted a short-cut into television and finding a producer to hitch herself to seemed like a good one. A lot of other people have had the same idea, which is why I get pitched series all the time. From my mother. My gardener. My pool guy. The rabbi at Bill Rabkin’s wedding.

I even got pitched during a proctology exam. In middle of a very delicate procedure, the doctor started telling me his great idea for a TV show: the thrilling story of a proctologist who’s actually a suave, international jewel thief.


The truth is, it’s highly unlikely that any TV producer wants to hear your ideas, whether it’s after a panel at mystery convention or while you’re shoving a camera up their rectum.


Well, for one thing, it’s rude.

For another, television is a writers’ medium. The majority of TV producers are writers first and producers second. Every one of us wants to sell a TV series of our own. It’s the dream. It’s the chance to articulate your own creative vision instead of someone else’s. It’s the chance to not only write scripts and produce episodes, but also have a piece of the syndication, merchandizing, and all the other revenue streams that come from being an owner and not an employee. It’s the chance to become the next David E. Kelly, John Wells, J.J. Abrams, Stephen J. Cannell, Dick Wolf, Aaron Spelling, Donald Belisario, Glen A. Larson, Steven Bochco, or one of the other members of that very small, very elite, very wealthy club of creator/owners.

Getting to the point in your career that networks are interested in being in the series business with you isn’t easy. You have to write hundreds of scripts, work on dozens of series, and build a reputation as an experienced and responsible producer (Or you have to write and produce a huge hit movie, which often leads to an invitation to work your same magic in television). The point is, you don’t work that hard just to share the success with someone else who didn’t have to work for it.

Which brings us back to the basic rule of television: ideas are cheap, execution is everything. We want to sell our own ideas to the networks. Producers like me aren’t interested in your idea unless, of course, you’re asking me to adapt your best-selling novel or hit movie into a TV series. But that’s different, because you’re bringing something valuable to the deal, a pre-sold commidity with commerical and promotional value.

I told her all of that, too.

She just glared at me.

“You just don’t get it,” she said to me. “I’ve got a great idea. I’ve got 22 terrific scripts. You won’t have to do any work.”

No, I said, you’re the one who doesn’t want to do any work. You don’t want to learn the craft of screenwriting. You don’t want to struggle to get that first freelance script assignment. You don’t want to compete to get on a writing staff. You don’t want to work for years on a series, moving up from staff writer to producer, gaining experience and skill and becoming someone the networks want to be in business with. You want to bypass all of that and go straight to having your own series on the air.

“Well,” she said. “Yeah.”

At that point, I gave up. I did what anybody in my position would do. I pointed across the lobby at Jeremiah Healy.

“Go tell him your idea,” I said. “Maybe there’s a book in it.”

And then I ran away.

Forgive me, Jerry!

Getting Read

There’s a great interview at UKSFBookNews with IAMTW member Steve Saville about his nomination for a Scribe Award. Here’s a short excerpt: 

UKSFBN: Do you think these awards are going to help raise the
profile and respectability of tie-in novels and boost sales, or is it
more of an intra-industry back-slapping exercise?

SAVILLE: Sorry, I can’t help but chuckle at the idea of the awards existing
to boost sales when as a general rule of thumb most media tie-ins
outsell traditional SF and Fantasy novels quite considerably – and I
don’t mean one or two thousand more copies, I mean twenty or thirty or
fifty thousand copies and often more.

I find it quite interesting, but tie-in writing is often seen as the
‘ghetto within the ghetto’, which is just absurd when you consider %