The Business: “The Handmaiden’s Tale”

On May 6th, 2017, Kim Masters spoke with Margaret Atwood and Bruce Miller on the new Hulu series based on Atwood’s novel of the same name. “The Handmaiden’s Tale” (1985) tells the story of a woman attempting to survive in a totalitarian regime.

Atwood noted that the book was something that she did not expect to take off and due to the numerous adaptations, she was happy to be working with a television writer, because she had numerous problems with the 1990 film. “Harold Pinter, who wrote the script, wrote in voice over, which the director then took out, after the actress had played against her own voice over. That left, as you might have imagined, her looking quite flat, where as [Bruce Miller] put it back in…” (Masters, Atwood, and Miller 2017).

In the wake of the election of President Donald J. Trump, showrunner Bruce Miller noted that he was worried about his own safety when it came to writing the show. Margaret Atwood states rather correctly however, that even though she, and consequently Miller, benefit from the relevancy of the show due to the themes that it portrays and the sentiment of some people in the country carry: “It’s quite a horrible admission… it’s a mixed benefit, because of course we’re all part of society and if society doesn’t benefit and you’re part of it, then we’re ultimately not going to benefit” (Masters, Atwood and Miller 2017).

Shows such as “The Handmaiden’s Tale” may be relevant now because of the political polarization that exists in the United States, but it is important to remember a keyword that the podcast seemed to not say: Hope. It’s going to be okay, it’s not the end of the world. The extremist regime of this fictional story cannot happen because of Congress and The Constitution, besides, that extremist regime already exists in North Korea. So yes, it’s relevant in that sense.


Work Cited

Masters, Kim, Margaret Atwood, and Bruce Miller. “The Business .” Audio blog post. The Business. KCRW, 6 May 2017. Web. 10 May 2017.

Scriptnotes Episode 299: The Vision as a Writer/Director and Handling Rejection

On May 9th, 2017, Craig Mazin hosted a live Scriptnotes podcast at the Arclight Theater with special guests Diana Fox, Rob McElhenney (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Rian Johnson (Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) where they discuss breaking into Hollywood, handling rejection, and keeping the vision as a writer and a director.

The podcast began with Rob McElhenney, who writes, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”. He mentioned several times throughout that he absolutely hates writing and notes that desperation helped him get through the sluggish lulls. “I was working in every bar and restaurant in New York City… I was not getting any jobs, so, I was encouraged very aggressively by my agent to stop bitching and write something myself” (Mazin, Fox, McElhenny and Johnson 2017).

Rian Johnson meanwhile spoke of keeping a vision as a director and he hinted that sometimes when you’re trying to break into the industry and someone hands you an opportunity for a script that you’ve written, but, they wish to change things, sometimes your gut may tell you to leave that opportunity alone  and wait for the right one.

At the end of the discussion, there were questions from the audience. Diana Fox noted that when it comes to writing a screenplay and dealing with strikes: “A little practical advice too, take your pajamas off, because if you don’t look like you’re at a job, you won’t feel like you’re at a job, and if you don’t have real pressure, create fake pressure that’s so fucked up that you actually start believing in” (Mazin, Fox, McElhenny and Johnson 2017).

The main take away from the podcast though is this: it is always best to follow your skill set instead of your dreams, because sometimes your dreams don’t transcend into reality. Sometimes you have to wake up and live a life and whatever you life you choose, be sure to be good at it. That’s probably the best advice most of us will ever hear.


Work Cited

Mazin, Chris, Diana Fox, Rob McElhenney, and Rian Johnson. “Scriptnotes 299 – It’s Always Sunny in Star Wars.” Audio blog post. Scriptnotes. N.p., 09 May 2017. Web. 10 May 2017.

Box Office: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Weekend Box Office Expectation

On May 5th, 2017, Variety’s Dave McNary and JD Knapp reported on Marvel’s newest film to be released and 2017’s summer kickoff, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”, stating that on Thursday alone, the film received $17 million in gross, making it the third-largest title for Marvel after “Age of Ultron” ($27.6 million), and “Civil War” ($25 million). The film is also the biggest preview number so far for the year (McNary and Knapp 2017).

As a follow-up to the sleeper 2014 hit, the film has some large shoes to fill. The first film garnered record-breaking numbers- opening at $94 million ending up with $333 million in domestic gross and $440 million internationally (McNary and Knapp 2017).

““Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” opened in 53% of the international marketplace with $106 million last weekend and a foreign total of $167 million as of Thursday. It debuted in South Korea on Wednesday with $3.3 million ($4.4 million including previews) for the biggest opening day of 2017. The film opened with $2.8 million on Thursday in Russia, 41% ahead of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It’s launching in China on Friday, so the worldwide total this weekend should be in the $250 million range” (McNary and Knapp 2017).

So far, the film has impressed Rotten Tomatoes critics, who give the film 82%, but Disney, while wanting to impress the critics with the spectacle of the film, are hoping that this film helps the rest of the box office for the remainder of the year. Paul Dergarabedian a comScore senior media analyst, notes that 2016 was a bummer for the box office, but with the reboots, sequels, and original content coming this year, there is hope for a better box office.  “Year-to-date, 2017 has already seen $3.75 billion in the domestic box office as of May 3. That number is up 3.5% from the same time in 2016” (McNary and Knapp 2017).

Time will tell if the box office will gain what is expected for this film, most likely, there will be impressive numbers, but not exactly equally to that of the first film. The reason is because the film’s budget is $232 million, which means that if these predictions are correct, the film would have just made it’s budget. However, it needs to do much more than just barely surpass the budget, but to make a decent profit and do better than the original, which, according to history, is not exactly in the film’s favor. However, it is Marvel, but we shall certain keep our eyes on this as it develops.


Work Cited

McNary, Dave and Knapp, JD. “Box Office: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ Heading for $150 Million Weekend in U.S.” Variety. N.p., 05 May 2017. Web. 05 May 2017.

Scriptnotes Episode 298 – How Characters Move and Speak in Scripts

On May 2nd 2017, John August and Chris Mazin speak on the Scriptnotes podcast with character movement and portraying character physicality. They spoke of how to go about employing such technique in screenplays in both senses – in terms of writing in general, and then in terms of having characters say something without verbal communication (i.e. body language).

August admits that as he goes along, he generally does not think about this consciously, and generally blocks that characters, but doesn’t do much else: “Thinking through what character movement’s could be and when it’s helpful to call them out, because a lot of times, I’ve seen them in my head, but I haven’t bothered to describe them on the page” (August and Mazin 2017).

Mazin notes this reaction is normal and that sometimes it isn’t always necessary. “It will always be necessary for an actor to make a choice about their own physicality…. but in key moments it’s important for us to think about it and you can kind of break it down into two categories – one is situation and one is constitutional” (August and Mazin 2017).

They discuss motion, but they note that a physicality of a character can indicate certain aspects and how a character moves through a space, such as posture, strength and weakness, a slight limp. They use the example of “No Country for Old Men” where a character limps, which becomes important to his character. “99% of writers will not really go there” Mazin notes. “But they should, it doesn’t mean that you should always do something like that… but when you’re creating a monster and give him a slight imperfection, calling back to Frankenstein’s monster, it could be really interesting” (August and Mazin 2017).

They mention behavioral ticks, such as “um’s” and suggest that writer’s listen to people and watch people with the sound off in their head – what are the things that people do. Mazin continues by saying: “Those little things sometimes tell us so much, and the audience enjoys [this]. They know that that character really isn’t aware of it… we’re learning something about them that they don’t want us to know” (August and Mazin 2017).

The two then go on to three reader submissions where they go over three important points of each three-page submitted script:

  1. Action and dialogue can sometimes go on for too long. Writer’s essentially need to show us what we need to know, but not everything we see.
  2. You can sometimes nix the INT./EXT. to create a voice for yourself, but know that they will be put in at some point.
  3. Make sure that dialogue has a purpose and relates to the action. Attempt to do something different with tropes such as characters riding off into the sunset.

Work Cited

August, John, and Chris Mazin. “Scriptnotes 298: How Characters Move.” Audio blog post. Scriptnotes. N.p., 2 May 2017. Web. 3 May 2017.

Follow Up: WGA Strike Likely

Dave McNary of Variety reported on Sunday, April 30th, 2017, that leaders of the Writer’s Guild of America prepare for a strike to take place on Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017. History will once again repeat itself as it did a decade ago, with picketing and rallies taking place at eight studios (McNary 2017). Chris Keyser, one of the chairmen of the WGA committee, notes that everyone is having anxiety over this:  “We’re asking everyone to live in the anxiety with us for the next few days.” Still though, there is hope for there to be negotiations between the WGA and AMPTP occurred Sunday, with a possible extension on midnight May 1st deadline, but this is unlikely.

An unofficial memo was sent out to the WGA from a strike organizer, and a spokesperson from WGA West clarified: “The Writers Guild has not issued any memos to members or updates on the status of negotiations.”

The memo calls for hope in negotiations but in case the negotiations fall through, the memo instructed recipients to gather any materials they had in the office, to invoice studios before Tuesday (May 2nd) for any money owed, and to prepare to strike.

This is main problem I personally have with unions, while I agree that every person should be paid a fair amount and that striking can be effective to gain certain rights and privileges; from an economic standpoint however, everyone loses when it comes to a strike. Persons participating in the strike lose a paycheck or receive a lower one depending on how long the strike goes, and businesses can lose profitable persons and ideas. There is a reason though that the WGA is hesitant. Clearly, no one wants to strike, but they feel that they do not have any choice in the matter. It all depends on what happens at midnight and then tomorrow. Hopefully, we shall not have a repeat of what occurred in 2007 with a standstill of production and the creation of mediocre prime-time programming.


Work Cited

McNary, Dave. “Memo Tells Writers Guild Captains to ‘Be Ready to Strike Tuesday’.” Variety. N.p., 30 Apr. 2017. Web. 01 May 2017.

History Repeats Itself: The WGA Strike 2017

In 2007, the Writer’s Guild of America conducted in a strike that lasted from November 5th, 2007 to February 12th, 2008, resulting in a massive loss of $287 million in compensation for writer’s, the cancellation of several prime-time programs, loans were taken to make a living, not to mention the financial crisis that was the collapse of the Housing Bubble later that year.

It appears that history is going to repeat itself, at least from the WGA side of things. On Monday, April 24th, 2017, with a 96% approval from 67.5% of Guild Membership, authorized a strike with 6,310 being totaled over the week, according to Variety‘s Dave McNary.

On March 13th, negotiations began between the WGA and the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) and on April 5th, the WGA reported that the strike could have a significant effect on the prime-time programs this season. April 17th marked a suspension of negotiations so that the ballots could be cast (McNary 2017). With an approval for a strike, this could be devastating to film production and the industry in general, with similar reasons as the previous strike in 2007:

“The guild is asking for raises in minimums and script fees in an effort to offset changes in the nature of TV series production that have hit writers’ earnings. It’s pushing for parity for the payment structures for those working on shows for cable and SVOD outlets, where fees remain lower than those for traditional broadcast network TV, along with an increase in employer contributions to the guild’s health plan, which has been operating at a deficit” (McNary 2017).

With both the WGA and AMPTP bent on keeping the industry going, it seems apparent that no one wanted this strike to happen if it could come to terms. Upon the vote, the AMPTP released a statement: ” “The companies are committed to reaching a deal at the bargaining table that keeps the industry working…. We remain focused on our objective of reaching a deal with the WGA at the bargaining table when the guild returns on April 25th” (McNary 2017).

Hopefully by day’s end, we shall see a resolution to the problem that caused the death of programs, the loss of jobs, and various other issues that resulted in a stagnation of growth within in the industry from a writer’s perspective.


Work Cited

McNary, Dave. “Writers Guild Members Vote for Strike Authorization With 96% Support.” Variety. N.p., 24 Apr. 2017. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

Scriptnotes: Inside the Writer’s Room with Damon Lindelof

On April 18th, 2017, John August spoke with Damon Lindelof, show-runner of Lost, and writer of The Leftovers speaks to the motions of the writer’s room, going through the processes of gathering a writing team to creating ideas and how an outline, in terms of a television series, forms into a script and how everything works with the network/studio.

To begin, Lindelof notes that how a show-runner selects someone to be in the writer’s room is based on the spec that was written but also based on whether that particular writer has the correct personality for the room as a whole: “So you read somebody’s sample and that gets them in the room, but the intangible is, you set down with them for an hour and ninety minutes, if the interview is going particularly well, and you ask yourself: can I hang out with this person in a room for 9=10 hours a day and enjoy hanging out with them? And that’s just a gut instinct, there are some amazing writers, incredible on the page,who just had an awkward interview” (August and Lindelof 2017). Lindelof continues by saying that the room, to use a buzzword, has to be “diverse”, particularly with people of color and gender, and as a de-facto rule, Lindelof says that the writer’s room has to be 50/50.

Of course, even though the show-runner makes the decision on who is in the writer’s room, it is ultimately the studio who has a voice in the room. August asked a question of how scripts are read and Lindelof notes that it was the studio or the network. “If they’re staffing a show that had just gone done or they have deals with talent, probably less so than before, or someone that they’ve been monitoring that they’re big fans of… [with The Leftovers] they came from a whole spectrum- some of them were playwrights, some of them were novelists, very few had television experience before and I think the thinking was like let’s put people in this room who haven’t done it before because they’ll come up with more out of the box ideas” (Lindelof and August 2017).

The next step, once the writer’s room is put together, is to brainstorm on a white board, at least for Lindelof and after ideas are bounced around, a detailed outline is created and then the script is written. All of this takes place in roughly the span of three weeks due to Lindelof and another writer from the room working on a script with everyone working on the outline (that the studio executives see) (Lindelof and August 2017).

A question from a listener came in: “I wrote a co-pilot a few years ago… one of the major studios loved it… a few days, the deal fell apart when it went to business affairs because of a production company attachment we had that the studio did not want, their attachment deal has now expired and we have full control of the project again, but the development people that wanted the show are no longer there and we’re starting from scratch. [Our agents are telling us] once a project comes around once, it is old news and no one wants to look at it again. In your experience is that true and do we have any shot at reviving this?”

Lindelof answered with: “Yes and yes.” The industry, he notes, has a bias towards anything that is rehashed or old news (this begs the question of reboots and remakes then). Usually people want to be the first to say that something started because of their enthusiasm for a project rather than to pick something up that was rejected. Ultimately Lindelof answered: “Strong material, if available, people will snap it up” (Lindelof and August 2017).

The moral of this story that Lindelof ultimately gets to is that it is not the end of the universe, it is possible to revive or re-purpose something. Mr. Robot, for example, was originally a film script, but it was re-worked as a television script and was picked up. The same is true for Mad Men. Working in a writer’s room is a tough business, but similar to film, you are dealing with studios who make the decisions for you and sometimes that could be a pain and heartbreaking, but it shouldn’t be taken personally or as the end of something. You can always bounce back and return with a little elbow grease involved, to use a phrase.


Work Cited

August, John, and Damon Lindelof. “296 – Television with Damon Lindelof.” Audio blog post. Scriptnotes. N.p., 18 Apr. 2017. Web.

Apple and Disney: The Pros and Cons

Over the past week, amidst the chaos of world politics, there was a possible business deal being made on the side. The Apple Corporation is in serious talks to purchase The Walt Disney Company, according to Todd Spangler, a Digital Editor for Variety on April 13th. The acquisition of The Disney Company by Apple boasts benefits, including having a competition with streaming giant, Netflix, an integration of Apple technologies into the Disney theme parks worldwide; and, acquiring global streaming sports rights of ESPN and BAMTech (Spangler 2017). This information was gathered by two RBC analysts, Steven Cahall and and Leo Kulp, who stated that Apple is more focused on content and that Disney offers diversification without harming the hardware side that Apple is known for (Spangler 2017). The deal is in talks due to recent bids and acquisitions that did not work out as planned:

“Apple execs met with Time Warner honchos in late 2015 in a discussion that raised the possibility of a merger — before AT&T moved on its $85 billion bid for Time Warner… The Apple-Disney M&A chatter comes as analysts in the last few months have debated the possibility that Disney would make a move to buy Netflix — a highly leveraged transaction that some view as needlessly risky” (Spangler 2017).

Here come the cons to this deal. If Apple decides to acquire Disney, the deal would be worth $237 billion, if Apple shareholders are too wearisome though, Disney could spin off ESPN and theme parks to make the deal sweeter for Apple. Spangler also noted:

“Apple would need U.S. regulators to give it a “tax holiday” to repatriate offshore cash to fund an acquisition of Disney. Assuming Apple could obtain a 9% tax rate, it would effectively have access to cash of $223 billion, RBC noted: ‘Even though investors might expect higher cash returns in form of buybacks/dividends, strategic uses are likely to take precedence’” (Spangler 2017).

To give this even more credibility, according to Business Insider’s Rob Price, Apple (theoretically) has the money for the deal, “[Apple] has about $230 billion stashed overseas and is waiting to repatriate it back to the US” (Price 2017). While the taxes could be high, Apple CEO Tim Cook remains optimistic.

While this deal is speculative, it makes logical sense for the deal to come to light. The reason is due to the history the two companies share. Steve Jobs invested money into Pixar in the early 1990s, and the two giants have always been close and collaborative in terms of business.  We shall have to wait and see if this shows any merit; at least the stocks for both companies are doing well at least.


Work Cited

Price, Rob. “Analysts are speculating about Apple buying Disney: ‘A tech/media juggernaut like no other'” Business Insider. Business Insider, 13 Apr. 2017. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.

Spangler, Todd. “Could Apple Buy Disney? Wall Street Revives Rumor of Mega-Deal.” Variety. N.p., 13 Apr. 2017. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.

 

Scriptnotes: Abusive Managers

On April 11th, 2017, Craig Mazin and special guest, former producer of Empire, Malcolm Spellman, spoke on the Scriptnotes podcast on abusive managers, sexual scenes in films and television, parentheticals, marital arts, writing credits, and other questions revolving around scripts in general.

However, an interesting note relates to how the manager and client relationship, specifically lawyers, agents, and managers and the abuses that are faced.

Craig and Malcolm received this question:

Up until about three hours ago, I was working with an extremely unprofessional and volatile manager. I never signed a contract, as I’ve always had a bad feeling about them. Today, after threatening to assault my writing partner, I sent him a very calm email, explaining why we should no longer work together. Duh, the dude repeatedly used the phrase, quote: ‘I’m gonna punch him in the fucking face’ (That’s the manager to her writing partner) The manager is now firing off a series of misses, demanding commissions on projects that have yet to sell. He wrote: ‘As is customary in our business or sale happens in the next twelve months, I am entitled to commission for the life of the deal.’… Is there any validity to his claim?

The answer, thankfully, is no. Mazin and Spellman emphasize the importance of having a lawyer and/or an attorney to deal with these issues. “If your manager has done anything to violate the Talent Agency Act,” Mazin says, “which would include, for instance, procure you work, or attempting to procure you work, then not only do you not have to pay him for the rest of your life, now that he’s fired, on anything you make, but you can file a grievance with the Labor Commissioner with the State of California and actually get him to cough up money that you have paid to him” (Mazin and Spellman 2017). Mazin further explains a concept known as “on-the-wheel, off-the-wheel” which is essentially a deal that allows the manager to collect commissions while working with a client (known as “on-the-wheel); however, once a manager is no longer working with a client, they cannot collect commission, hence they are “off-the-wheel”:

“The deal is, that unlike agents, who earn 10% of the deals they negotiate, and who collect that money even you fire them the day after they close the deal. They collect that 10% because their 10% is based on what they negotiated. Managers really are service employees. You are paying them while they service you as a manager, they’re on the wheel, when you fire them, they’re off the wheel…. They are not entitled to the money that keeps coming out. The idea is that the commission simply paying them for the work they’re doing while they are your manager, not a moment after” (Mazin and Spellman 2017).

Both of them acknowledge that  people who are starting out, come to Hollywood because they are looking for validation, the work that screenwriters and other artists matter to them and they want that work to matter to the people who run the business, and certain managers take advantage of this naivety: “It’s in their interest [managers] to make us feel afraid and it’s in their interest to make us feel like we need them… it’s an abusive-spouse relationship when it gets like that. You actually don’t need a single manager, attorney, or lawyer, you need a agent, you need a lawyer, you might feel you need a manager. But there is no specific individual one that is going to change your life or make a huge difference. Your work will. Your work got you this manager, your work will get you another manager. If anybody in your professional life is treating you in any kind of abusive way- get out” (Mazin and Spellman 2017).

Managers generally are necessary, agents are necessary, and lawyers are vital to success in the film industry. However, you need someone who is going to work for your best interest and not for the selfish needs of themselves alone. You need someone who knows the business and is good with negotiating deals that work for both themselves and most importantly for you. When a relationship with a manager occurs that is not fruitful, best to be rid of the bad fruit and look for another garden to pick from that can be worth your time and money. Mazin and Spellman go onto other topics related to screenwriting, but this caught a specific interest due to the recent dealings of the in-and-outs of entertainment lawyers and the workings of ‘the deal’.


Work Cited

Mazin, Craig, John August, and Malcolm Spellman. “Scriptnotes 295 – The Return of Malcolm.” Audio blog post. Scriptnotes. N.p., 11 Apr. 2017. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.

The Oscars: Animated Voting Procedure Change

On Friday, March 7th, 2017, Awards Editor for Variety Kristopher Tapley examined the changes made to the voting system in regards to the animated film category. Noting: “Going forward, nominations in the animated feature category will be open to anyone in the Academy willing to join a nominating committee” (Tapley 2017). Normally, the Academy’s committee of voters: “was supposed to be a 50/50 composition of animators and members from other branches” (Tapley 2017), and due to declining voter turnouts, the Academy hopes that this shift will promote animated films.

Tapley notes one of the main issues with the Animated Film Category is the inclusion of short films along with the features, which usually splits the vote. The splitting up between animated shorts and features has been talked about but the talks at the moment are simply opening up to a wider selection of persons to vote if they so chose (Tapley 2017).

“The big studios have no doubt been annoyed by scrappy indies that have found purchase in recent years because of the die-hard traditionalists that permeate the branch” (Tapley 2017).

The die-hard tradtionalists, or animators that follow the original Disney formula using traditional animation, or use traditional animated techniques in general, allow the category of Best Animated Feature to be “diverse” (a word that is over-used to describe essentially everything that is “different”).

“Will the studios come roaring back? I’ve heard they lobbied for these changes and I’ve heard they didn’t, but either way, they could ultimately benefit from them. More people certainly have a potential say in the process now” (Tapley 2017).

What this rule means is that bigger productions, such as “Finding Dory” and “Moana” will have the potential to generate a Win in the Category as opposed to a piece like “Ernest and Celestine” (2013) (which lost to “Frozen” anyway) but paved the way for more recent nominees to come pouring in, i.e. “Song of the Sea”, “The Red Turtle”, and the like.

The troubling issue is the entire category all together, Best Animated Feature. While a fantastic idea and a loving labor, should not be a category in the Oscars, in face, the archaic nature of the Oscars should be in question (see this year’s mix-up between “Moonlight” and “La La Land”). The Awards is an arbitrary accolade that simply exists because it’s been there since Hollywood’s origins. Originally starting out as a grand idea, but now it seems superficial and… stupid, to use a word. Will this move hurt small independent animation? Yes. Will there be more independent animated films coming out? Of course there will. The problem now becomes- how with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which was co-founded by Mary Pickford (who’s 125th birthday is today), handle the situation in a fair manner as they should or do as they always have done and become a pit of lobbyists. However, that is more so disdain for the Academy than the move itself. Frankly, the move is not necessarily needed, much like the Academy itself, but only time will tell if this action will bear any fruit.


Work Cited

Tapley, Kristopher. “Oscars: Will New Animated Voting Procedures Hurt Smaller Films?” Variety. N.p., 07 Apr. 2017. Web. 08 Apr. 2017.