Thursday, June 16, 2016

Len Update

I haven't updated the Blog in too long!  I just realised that the top post for more than a year has been the #1word post from when Len Wein had his bypass surgery.  More than a year ago.  Rather than leave you all in suspense, let me assure you that Len recently celebrated his birthday, and published his latest run of Swamp Thing issues.  Unstoppable!  He alive dammit!

You can see the most recent picture on our friend Maria's instagram.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Len Wein #1word1thought1moment

Len Wein being his unique self in the hospital.
Photograph by M.C. Valada

I just came from visiting with Len Wein at the hospital. If you don't know who Len Wein is, I can wait while you Google it.  He's most famous as the creator of Wolverine and Swamp Thing, but there's hardly a comic book character this man hasn't had a hand in in some way, as writer or editor -- including recent contributions to The Simpsons and Doctor Who.  
But more importantly, Len is one of the sweetest, funniest, truly good people you will ever have the pleasure to come across.  He and his wife Christine are a nexus for other smart, funny, geeky people. I have been lucky enough to call them both friends for something close to 20 years now.
Len is having triple bypass surgery, most likely on Tuesday, Feb 10. And because he's a person who loves people, who thrives on company and connection, he would like to be carried into that surgery on waves of positive energy.  So please, send up your prayers, your white light, your Yops of any kind -- Len can use it all. 

Like when Martha Jones saved the world by getting everyone on Earth to think of The Doctor all at once.

So, let's reach out to everyone who knows Len or knows his work.  (So... everyone.)  Let's use that "telepathic field, binding the whole human race together" that Martha spoke of. Let's all share one word, one thought, at one moment: Len Wein.

Surgery is scheduled for Tuesday, February 10, 2015, at 7:30 AM PST.  Please be thinking of Len then.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


David Gerrold turned 70 this week.  And because I couldn't be there in person to shower him with praise and chocolates, I want to take a moment here to honor him.  He's been a part of my life for 30 years, even when he didn't know it.

I've discussed before how David's columns in Starlog and his "Making of" books, particularly "The Making of the Trouble with Tribbles," taught me everything I knew about the realities of TV production before I got behind the curtain myself.  I learned about script formatting and timing and production rewrites long before I ever set foot in a writer's room or a production meeting -- thanks to David.  I didn't go to Film School, I learned on the job, and he gave me a head start.

Then, in 1993, when I was a very junior writer -- I'd sold 2 scripts and was still working full time as a script coordinator -- I sat on a panel at WorldCon with David Gerrold.  It was my first panel on the pro side of the podium.  He mentioned that he was teaching Screenwriting at Pepperdine, and I tracked him down after the panel and asked if I could take the course.  With his permission, I was able to enroll as an auditor. I made arrangements with my boss on Highlander to leave a little early on class nights to make the commute out to Pepperdine.  The same David Gerrold whose work I'd been following for years was now my teacher in a class of only 20 or students.  It was like having tickets to see Springsteen play the pub on the corner.  Every Tuesday.

When David asked us to introduce ourselves in class and say why were there, I told the story of how he'd already been my teacher for years, through his writings.  I remember him telling the class, "See, that's why she'll do well; she acknowledges her debts."

Which is what I'm doing again today.  For the record.

Friday, August 9, 2013

"Truth" and Gender

Primeval: New World’s mid-season gamechanger, “Truth,” airs on Syfy in the US this week.  In light of the major revelations the episode contains, one of my favorite things about the episode tends to get lost in the shuiffle:  its kick-ass women.

This is a show that was never in danger of failing the Bechdel Test* – the parent series had strong, smart women; the Executive Producers on the show are 50% female, as were the writing staff; the development executives at studio and Network, 100%.  Which is not to say that a gender breakdown of the creative team is any guarantee;  I’ve seen  amazing female characters created and developed by men, and I’m sure we could name sexist, reactionary storylines guided by women.

But beyond the minimum bar of Bechdel, one of the things I’m most proud of about the version of Primeval: New World we made is the number of times the female characters were put under threat of sexual violence: zero.  Look, I understand that violence against women is real and that ripped-from-the-headlines shows, cop shops and legal shows and medical shows, all have to address it.  But sometimes it feels like the “fate worse than death” card is being constantly played against female protagonists – and rarely against males. 

Primeval: New World is 50% women on-screen, as well.  No single character is asked to embody all of womanhood.  

In “Truth,” the women come together to save the day.  I absolutely adore the matter-of-fact way director Amanda Tapping staged the scene between Dylan, Toby and Ange in the Tank.  These are pros facing a crisis; supporting each other and kicking each other’s asses into line. They arm up, they gird their loins, they do what needs to be done, just like a thousand sequences  you’ve seen before – except  for the gender.  The closest thing to a “damsel in distress” in this episode is Mac. 

This is also the episode that walks a fine line with Ange -- her storyline here does hinge on her relationship with Evan, and it was important to us all that she not be diminished by that reality.  One of my favourite lines in the entire season is her last line in this episode: "I'm not angry.  And I'm not staying."  Because even as she's recognizing that this situation has become untenable for her, she's also acknowledging that it's no one's fault; relationships can become toxic even with the best of intentions on all sides. Two of the key songs on my playlist for writing Ange's arc were "Heaven Help My Heart" from Chess and "Fine Fine Line" from Avenue Q.  Give them a listen and you'll see why.

*For those not familiar with it, this is a litmus test for movies (and now TV) that poses the following questions: 1) Are there at least two named female characters, who 2) talk to each other, 3) about something other than men.   This isn’t a test of quality, but it does make for an interesting metric.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Weaving the Tapestry

Had dinner last night with a group of friends from a show I worked on a few years ago.  Being on a show is like Summer Camp, or like University, in that there are lots of circumstantial friendships -- you like each other, you're in the trenches together, you chat and you share meals, but then you don't see each other again until the next show.  But when you're lucky, there are a few people you stay friends with, and see on your own time.  If you're very lucky, someone in the group is an organized producer-type who makes the gatherings happen.

In discussing the challenges of writing serialized shows with a couple other writers/directors/showrunners around the table, we were talking about the changed expectations that have come about in the last decade or so.  We're all old enough to have begun our careers in a more episodic time, when the process was suited to the content: The writers would move one episode at a time along a conveyor belt, from concept to index cards ("beats") on the board to outline to first draft, then hand it off to production and turn their attention to the next script in the sequence.  This works great for episodes with standalone A-stories and minor internal histories to weave in along the road from ep 1 to ep 22 (because yes, 90% of the shows I have worked on had 22-episode seasons, not the now-standard 13).

But these days, the 13 episodes tend to tell not 13 stories (or 12 with big 2-part finale), but one story, broken across 13 hours. Instead of climax and revolution at the end of a given episode, false resolution of a single issue comes midway in the hour, followed by the set up of a new escalating problem, and episodes end on the kind of cliffhanger that used to be an Act Break. 

I don't think the underlying stories are that different, in terms of how the characters are tested and put through their paces.  But the structure is different.  The 25 or 30 index cards that would once have been the skeleton of, say, episode 5, are spread more thinly across the canvas of the season, with those beats stretching from episode 3 to episode 7, with maybe a foreshadowing card back in episode 2.  Meanwhile the cards from other stories, that in the old system might have been sequestered as episodes 6 and 8, are interspersed and overlapping and co-mingling.  It starts to look less like a grid of neat lines of cards, and more like a word cloud or like this image of  Verified Twitter Connections

Which all seems completely reasonable, if you have the luxury of breaking all 13 stories on 13 whiteboards, and then swirling the index cards around like marbleizing a batter.  But you don't.  You only have a few weeks of writing before filming begins.  You know the overall arc of your season-long story, but you only get to fill in the detailed beats of the first episodes before cameras start rolling.  That means that you're filming what would have been Act One of the old-school episode 5, which is now scattered throughout episode 3, without having written Act Three.  By the time you're wrapping up that story a few weeks later, you're already filming the beginning scenes of what would have once been a stand-alone season finale.  

As one of the dinner companions said, it's like weaving a tapestry from the bottom up, without any reference art.  You're making feet -- hopefully finely crafted feet -- without having mapped out the rest of the image. You know, or think you know, what the faces are supposed to look like, but you don't have a Weaver's Draft to keep all the threads on track.  And that doesn't even take into account the midstream course-corrections -- whether organic to the story, or arising from external forces -- that mean somebody's knees are going to take a weird-ass bend to get them where they need to be. 

This is when experience gets tested.  Because when you have to make your best guesses on incomplete information, it helps to have been through it before.  

This is also where a lot of TV veterans quit to go write novels, where you can have the unbelievable luxury of writing the last chapter before publishing the first.  

Monday, July 1, 2013


These are the prizes for the little promotion I had this week on Twitter for people to spread the word about Primeval New World and then post their favorite quotes from Saturday's episode on Syfy.  The winners, chosen at random, will choose their prizes from this selection.  Thanks for playing, everyone, and we'll do it again soon!

ITEM 1: "I'm Fine" t-shirt from Bad Idea t-shirts, size XL -- the same t-shirt that was given as a gag gift to cast and key crew members, including Geoff Gustafson and Danny Rahim, pictured above, during the first weeks of filming. 

ITEM 2: Promotional postcards of the cast, printed by the SPACE Channel for Vancouver Fan Expo 2012.  Crystal Lowe and Geoff Gustafson have signed their cards. 
CLAIMED by Twitter fan @dweirs, whose favorite quote was  "seriously, you've never hotboxed?"

ITEM 3: Toy "Albertosaurus," signed on the tag by Executive Producers Gillian Horvath and Martin Wood.

ITEM 4: Primeval New World season one crew gift cap, extremely limited edition.  Size S/M. 

ITEM 5: Eyeglass case handrafted from material salvaged from the set of Sanctuary when the studio was closed.  This material was used as the "stunt double" curtains for Helen Magnus' office in the post-apocalyptic version of the Sanctuary in the episode Pavor Nocturnus.  Comes with a lenticular "Helen Magnus Business Card" that was a promotional item for the original Sanctuary webseries at ComicCon in 2007.
CLAIMED by Twitter fan @sam1helen, whose favorite quote was  "We are going to need a bigger box"

ITEM 6: "The Adjuster" prop hat used onscreen in the Sanctuary episode "Hero II: Broken Arrow." Comes with a lenticular "Helen Magnus Business Card" that was a promotional item for the original Sanctuary webseries at ComicCon in 2007. 

ITEM 7: Sanctuary pen and notepad that were promotional item for the original Sanctuary webseries.  Comes with a lenticular "Helen Magnus Business Card." 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The New World

5 years ago I was watching this cool little show on BBC America as a break from work.

3 years ago I was having my first conversation with the production company that was bringing the show to Canada.  

1 year ago I was on my way to meetings in London, about to start my full-time show-runner gig.

Now it's about to hit the screen.

"Oh, it's not easy.  Not even a little bit."  

But it's worth it.