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Archive for the ‘science fiction’ Category

It NEVER gets any easier.  Inevitably, the jubilation of convening with your fellow writers and hashing out a terrific story is extinguished by the prospect of having to actually write the damn script.  You sit down, type FADE IN and then…What?  Oh, you know what the scene is going to be (You just broke it the other week) and you can imagine the great version (Not the actual words, mind you, but the reactions of people who read it or watch the finished product.  Best Scene Ever!), but actually realizing it to its fullest potential…now that’s where things get sticky.

I once worked with a writer who would force out a first pass, no matter how half-assed, just to get something down before returning to it for countless rewrites, revisions that – in theory – would develop and improve on what he’d written. Sure. And I once worked with another writer who’d always tell me: “Shit don’t take a good buff.”  In other words, you can polish that half-assed pass all you want but, in the end, all you’ll end up with is a polished half-assed pass.  Which is why, when I sit down to write a script, those first few lines have to be tight.  I’ll work through a variety of false starts – a dozen, often more – before finding the right opening exchange, then develop the scene from that promising beginning.  I’ll pace (or drive or shower or eat or feign interest in the conversations going on around me) and run the scene in my head, over and over, building the beats, the dialogue, the set-ups, the pay-offs until, satisfied, I’ll finally sit down and actually, physically, start writing.  And, once I have it all down, I’ll re-read and reconsider and revise and rewrite and, once I’m satisfied, I’ll move on to the next scene and repeat the process.  Then, the next morning, I’ll start from the top: re-reading, reconsidering, revising and rewriting – all the while reflecting, with a certain wistfulness, on how nice it had been to sit in company and create something.

So, today I completed the Tease of episode #2 and I’m at the point where I’ve gone over it so many times I can almost recite it by heart.  I pushed ahead and wrote the first two scenes of Act I, hitting and surpassing my “5 pages a day” target.  It’s interesting how the characters seem to take on a life of their own on the page.  It’s early and, as much as I struggle to maintain quality equality, I already do have my favorites.  I think the key, as I progress through this first draft, is to find those unique instances of humor in each of the crew members because humor, I’ve always felt, goes such a long way toward humanizing characters, making them a little vulnerable and, thus, so much easier for the viewers at home to connect with them.  I think back to my time on Stargate and characters like Jack O’Neill, Vala Mal Doran, Rodney McKay, Eli Wallace – even Teal’c, Ronon Dex, General Hank Landry, Todd the Wraith, and Richard Woolsey.  All funny in their own distinct way.  It’s just a matter of finding, and drawing out, those distinct instances in each.

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What do you think?  What humorous instances endeared you to a particular Stargate character?

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Another day, another story.  This episode, like episodes #7, 9, 10, and 11, was envisioned as a tough one that would take a couple of days to break.  But, like episodes #7, 9, 10, and 11, we ended up breaking it over the course of a single day.  And that leaves us with one final story remaining: episode 13, the big season finale.  As we were heading out to our cars this afternoon, one writer remarked that this one probably WOULD take us a couple of days due to its complex plot. Maybe.  But, then again, maybe not.  I have the tease, tag, all five act breaks, and the major moves in my head.  In fact, I’ve had them in my head for over a year now.  After writing the pilot, THIS was the episode my mind automatically went to whenever I imagined getting the green light on the series.  The big closer, the Holy Sh*t! season finale that will trigger the colossal fan forum meltdown after its eventual airing.  As my buddy would say: “It’s gonna be bananas!”

Alas, as you may have noticed, there was no official announcement at Comic Con. Apparently, they’re still crossing the last t’s, dotting the final i’s, and executing the finishing squiggly flourishes that accompany most official-looking signatures.  So…soon.  Soon.

In the meantime, it’s full speed ahead.  I’d like to see a revised pilot and first drafts of episodes #2, 3, and 4 by end of August, first drafts of episodes #5, 6, and 7 by end of September, and first drafts of #8, 9, and 10 by the time I touch down in Toronto in early November.  We’ve already generated a list of potential directors while, internally, we’ve started talking about casting.  We’ve got quite a few colorful roles to cast and finding the right people isn’t going to be easy – but we do have a few familiar faces we’d like to bring in for an audition.  Or two.  Ultimately, we’ll be looking for actors who are not only good, but good to work with.  And we know a few. :)

Damn, I’m going to miss going into the office to spin stories.  I’d like to say it’s been hard and rewarding work but, the truth is, it’s simply been a hell of a lot of fun.

We HAVE to do this again.  Next season!

Jelly is out like a Chicago White Sox designated hitter.

After an exhausting day of waiting for me to come home, Jelly is out like a Chicago White Sox designated hitter.

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Today, we finished breaking episode #10 of my new SF series.  It’s a little rougher than the preceding stories with a few TBD’s, but it’s great fun and ends with a jaw-dropping sequence that will no doubt have this blog buzzing when it eventually airs.

Can’t wait until next year?  Want a hint as to what to expect?  Well, okay.  Check out the above diagram, lovingly-rendered by one of our writers.  And – spoiler alert! – here are two more:

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Let the speculation begin!

I was informed yesterday that we have the conference room until the second week of August but, at this rate, I doubt we’ll even need it past this Wednesday.

Also, yesterday, we were treated to two surprises:

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Surprise #1: Former Stargate Special Features Producer Ivon Bartok who dropped by to experience our awesome spinning skills.  And eat our chocolate.

Surprise #2: A gift basket of fruit and chocolate from blog regular Gilder (Thanks, Gilder.  Very kind of you.).

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Tomorrow, we reconvene to discuss Episode #11.  Can’t wait to find out what other surprises you guys have in store for us.  Pizza?  Homemade cookies?  Matching macrame vests for the entire writing department?

We’ll see…!

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While we’re on the subject…

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SUPER DIMENSIONAL FORCE MACROSS

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ANDROMEDA ASCENDANT

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STARBUG

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SERENITY

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THE BATTLESTAR GALACTICA

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SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO

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VORLON CRUISER

Moya

MOYA

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STAR DESTROYER

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ASGARD SHIPS

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THE BEBOP

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ANCIENT AURORA CLASS BATTLESHIP

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THE ARCADIA

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THE USS SULACO

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THE MILLENNIUM FALCON

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THE DESTINY

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USS ENTERPRISE NCC-1701

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THE NOSTROMO

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KLINGON BIRD OF PREY

valdore-screen

ROMULAN WARBIRD

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Another day down, another story done.  That makes 8 out of our 13 first season episodes broken in less than three weeks.  I feared today’s episode would prove tricky, but I got in early this morning and hashed out a rough outline.  My writing partner, Paul (aka Captain Logic) had surprisingly few problems in the early going and we positively breezed through the first three acts.  “Wow,”he marveled.  “We’re moving quickly!”  “Sure,”I said, “but I’m sure that we’ll eventually come to that sticking point.”  And we eventually did, sometime after lunch and somewhere in the fourth act – but, thankfully, it wasn’t one of those “Let’s sleep on it” bumps.  We talked it through, came up with some great scenes, and completed our beat sheet in record time.  Sadly, not quite fast enough for us to roll right into episode 9, but still.

Today, we also received some early concept designs.  I love this part of my job: weighing in on space ships.  We had a choice of five sketched variations and then three color models.   They were all terrific, but Paul and I preferred #2.  I’m not a big fan of winged ships in general, but I do love armaments: gun turrets, plasma cannons, etc.  This ship should be bad-ass, retrofitted with all sorts of illegal weaponry, and Bart’s first pass is a huge step in that direction.  Very exciting.

While considering the different looks, I hopped online to do a little research and came across this interesting rundown of The Top 75 Spaceships in Movies and TV. A pretty solid list – but Stargate: Universe’s Destiny is conspicuously absent. Given the fact that this list was published back in July of 2009, however, I’m willing to cut the gang at Den of Geek some slack:

http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/286589/top_75_spaceships_in_movies_and_tv.html#indexmain

SFX came up with their own list, this of The top 51 Sci-Fi Spaceships where Stargate is well-represented:

http://www.sfx.co.uk/2012/12/02/top-51-sci-fi-spaceships/

And if you’re wondering how they all compare, check out this chart by Dirk Loechel comparing vessels from various SF worlds.  Damn impressive!

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http://dirkloechel.deviantart.com/art/Size-Comparison-Science-Fiction-Spaceships-398790051

So many terrific designs.  Which are YOUR favorites?

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The thing I miss most about my days on Stargate is the writers’ room: the camaraderie, the laughs, the heated discussions and, every so often, the occasional creative accomplishments.  Don’t get me wrong.  It was hard, sometimes frustrating work but, when all was said and done, they were productive sessions that generated some great television.  And fun times.  We were lucky.  A successful writers’ room has as much to do with talent as it does personality.  Being good at what you do is important, but so is getting along with others.  And, in the case of Stargate, we were fortunate in that respect.  We didn’t always agree, but we got along and, in the end, I like to think it showed in the shows we produced – while I was there, some 340 hours of television.

BUT while the writers’ room can offer exhilarating highs, it can also mete out crushing lows.  In the case of the former, take last week’s creative output for example.  We ended up breaking an episode a day, a blistering pace that is not only impressive but almost unheard of in most rooms.  On the flip side, you need look no further than today’s disappointing gathering that wasn’t just unproductive but actually counter-productive in that the basic story we agreed had merit last night suddenly evaporated over the course of the morning, leaving us with NO story heading into the weekend.

Yep, it can be damn frustrating, but it DOES happen.  And the reasons why it happens are the following:

1. The story is deemed too similar to something that has come before.

This is a tough one because, if you look harder enough, anything can be deemed similar to something that has come before – especially when you’re talking about science fiction.  The Purge was an episode of the original Star Trek series, but that didn’t keep it from making $64 million.  Elysium was another movie with similarities to an old Star Trek episode.  It made $93 million.  Hell, South Park even did in an episode called “Simpsons Already Did It!” in which we are reminded that, just like science fiction, the world animation is fraught with the dangers of unintended imitation.

Closer to home, one of our very first episodes of Stargate: SG-1, “Window of Opportunity”, was unabashedly inspired by the movie Groundhog Day, but that didn’t stop us from producing what turned out to be one of the franchise’s most beloved episodes.  And, in the end, the admitted similarities to Groundhog Day, while enormously entertaining, were less important than how OUR characters responded to them.

So, yes, stories involving time loops and bleak alternate realities and emotional robots have been done before.  But that doesn’t mean they can’t be done again – so long as you can make them unique to the world and characters you have created.

2. Logic issues.

Even in the far-out world of science “fiction”, you must operate within established parameters.  A theoretical FTL drive wouldn’t work that way.  You can’t perform an EVA without a space suit.  Difficult to argue against these.

3. Suspect character motivations.

This one’s a little tricky because it often comes down to a matter of opinion.  “I don’t believe this character would do that.” can be neatly countered with: “Well, I do.”  Sure, there are instances where certain actions would be completely out of character – but in these instances, you’re presumably dealing with an idea from a writer who doesn’t know the show.  For the most part, character motivations come down to proper set up.  Would mercenary Character X risk his life for the robot?  At first blush, probably not.  But what if the robot just saved his life – AND holds the key to solving the shipboard mystery that could pay off handsomely?  Then, maybe he just might.

4. Bias

Yes, it happens.  Sometimes, someone just doesn’t like the story or is grouchy and in a combative mood – in which case they’ll attempt to argue #1-3.

Two of the best writers I’ve ever worked with were Brad Wright and Robert Cooper who had two very different approaches in the room.  Brad always excelled at pinpointing the heart of the story and finding a way to make it work.  To him, the bells and whistles were less important than the emotional crux of the narrative (ie. how it affected our characters on a personal level).  Once he could identify that, he would work tirelessly to build a great episode.  Robert, on the other hand, was a straight shooter who never shied away from telling you what he felt wasn’t working – BUT, invariably, ALWAYS offered alternative solutions.  No one could spin ideas like Rob.

All this to say I miss those guys and could have really used their expertise today.

No story brainstorming for me this weekend.  I’m taking a break to revise the pilot and put together overviews of our first six episodes covering synopses and production requirements (sets, locations, significant props, and visual effects) for each.  It’s all preliminary but it’s designed to ensure we’re all on the same page moving forward.  And, hopefully, steers them in the proper creative direction as we head into prep.  After all, we’ve got a spaceship to build!

 

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The-Man-Trap-star-trek-the-original-series-19286718-694-530

Hello and welcome to our Star Trek: The Original Series re-watch.  Cookie Monster and I will be your co-hosts.  We’ll open the casual discussion on the show’s first five episodes, then ask you to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

THE MAN TRAP

Me: A rocky start for the Enterprise and its crew in an episode that is at turns silly and confounding, yet enjoyable for the many classic elements established.  It’s an interesting premise with a nice emotional hook involving Dr. McCoy and his former love, but there are logic bumps throughout that make this one a little tough to watch.  For instance, the salt monster seems highly intelligent, yet can’t resist snacking on the unwary members of the away team, opening itself up to all sorts of trouble.  Presumably it wasn’t starving since the scientist shows Kirk his salt stores have yet to be depleted, yet it simply can’t help itself.

Cookie Monster: Me empathize.  If Enterprise crew bodies contain traces of cookie element, dey be VERY hard to resist.

Me: Still….

Cooke Monster:  Mebbe salt monster tink Kirk not bother to stick around since he have emergency pepper shipment to deliver to other planet!

Me:  Doubtful.  But you bring up a great point.  Throughout this episode Kirk demonstrates a wide variety of impressive abilities, from carefully hand picking peppers for delivery to some interesting evasive maneuvers -

But what I found most surprising about the episode was that a secondary character, McCoy, drives the heart of the story.

Cookie Monster: Who?

Me: Dr. McCoy.  Bones.

Cookie Monster: You mean Plum?

Me: Yes, Plum.

Cookie Monster: Plum on receiving end of best line in episode: “Stop tinking wit your glands!”

Me: Yeah, that horn dog!

Cookie Monster: And what about scientist on planet?  What kind of “arrangement” he have wit salt creature?  It be his planet wife?

M_113_Creature

Me: Possibly.  He did seem unusually attached and at one point all but says the creature requires salt…and love!  On the one hand, it’s a hideous alien creature that killed his wife.  On the other hand, it’s probably a great spooner.

Cookie Monster: Speaking of killing, it interesting to note dat original red shirt aktually wear blue shirt.

Me: Yes, the costume choices in the first few episodes are interesting.  It’s almost disconcerting to see Spock walking around in that beige turtleneck uniform instead of his science blues.

spock-3d-chess

Cookie Monster: And dat guy in beekeeper uniform.  What de deal wit dat? Enterprise have its own bee colony?  Me bet Kirk gather his own honey too!  Dere be nothing dis guy can’t do!

Me: Except use common sense to contact a fellow crew member.  Kirk and McCoy discover the second body, then walk around shouting for Green.  Is there any particular reason they couldn’t just use their communicators to contact him?

Cookie Monster: Could be Green not on Friends and Ship and Family plan.

Me: Can I just say that one of the high points of this episode is the introduction of Sulu.  George Takei is terrific and his character is an interesting and integral member of the crew from the get-go.

Cookie Monster: Gertrude, not so much.

Me: Gertrude being the alien plant.

Janice_Rand_and_BeauregardCookie Monster: Alien planet?  Sure.  But more likely just Chekov hiding under table wearing big pink glove.  He notorious practikal joker!  Anyway, it be very weird.

Me: Sure, but not as weird as Kirk on the bridge snacking on crudités before heading down to the planet’s surface.  I mean, really?  Couldn’t he have just swung by the mess hall?

Cookie Monster: Mebbe he be hypoglycemik!  Or he really need to carb up before big showdown wit salt creature!

Me: Actually, if anyone needed to carb up before the showdown, it would’ve been Spock.  Look at him deliver those two-fisted wallops!

“If she were Nancy, could she take THIS?!”  The ancient Vulcan alien-identification test?

Cookie Monster: And big twist come at de end when it revealed Nancy really…

image5 …De Abominable Snowman from de Land of Misfit Toys!!!

Me: Yeah, didn’t see that one coming.

Cookie Monster: Also, while we on de subjekt of toys…dose shots of de Enterprise in space!  Hooboy.

Me: Okay, yes, scifi television has certainly come a long way, but I nevertheless find those less-polished visual effects somehow endearing.  Which is how I feel about this episode in general.  A little rough around the edges -

Cookie Monster: And center!

Me: But nevertheless entertaining for its nostalgic elements.

So, what did you all think of The Man Trap?

We continue our Stargate TOS re-watch tomorrow when we’ll reconvene to discuss Charlie X!

Also, one week from today, we’ll begin discussion on the next five episodes on our viewing schedule: Mudd’s Women, What Are Little Girls Made Of?, Miri, Dagger of the Mind, and The Corbomite Maneuver.

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