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All posts for the month May, 2014

I wasn’t sure I wanted to write this post. But right now I’m not sure I could write about anything else. Because there’s an important conversation happening right now, and while it’s happening I can’t seem to see the point of writing a 2000 word blog post about the trailer for the Flash series.

Which I could. I absolutely could. But not today.

So… here goes. And yes, this will contain course language. This will get a little angry in the middle.

Confessions of a former “Nice Guy”

Real talk: there was a time when I bought into the whole “Girls say they want nice guys but only date jerks, I know this because I’m nice and girls aren’t magically falling for me” myth. I also once believed in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and a sinister organization with nothing better to do than orchestrate traffic to slow down my commute, but of all of these, it’s the “nice guy” thing I feel dumbest about believing.

Because seriously, I know it’s crazy, but sometimes that one pedestrian running into the intersection right in time to keep me from turning before the gap in traffic closes just feels a little choreographed, you know?

But as I was saying. Maybe it’s movies and televisions repeatedly hammering in the message of “You’ll win her over eventually” or “Nice guys get the girl from being nice, not by being confident and charming and actually asking her on dates,” maybe it isn’t, but I totally bought it. I blamed being single on girls not liking nice guys, not my crippling anxieties that make even talking to a woman at a party my own personal Everest, or my lifelong inability to tell a woman I like her, due to the fact that the first time I tried I picked the worst way I could have imagined. And I can imagine quite a bit.

Now I see the light. Now I’m aware that if a woman isn’t magically attracted to me, it’s probably more my fault than hers. I could probably stand to work out more often and make more than zero effort to convince her I’m worth her time. I can be rejected by a woman and not blame her entire gender for failing me as a person.

So why can’t the rest of us do that.

“Not all men,” but WAY too many

The other week, even before the tragic events in Santa Barbara, I came across a series of memes on Twitter making fun of those who pop into discussions of sexism and misogyny to shout that “not all men are like that.” Example:

Um, sure, fine, but now the boat is sinking. Jerk.

And at first, as someone who abhors rape, thinks women should be able to discuss comic books on the internet without threats of violence, and at the very least leans feminist, I wondered. I certainly don’t want to get lumped in with the asshats who spread misogyny and rape culture, so is saying that not all men are that awful really so bad?

Fortunately, instead of registering with tumblr in order to annoy the people posting these memes with my questions, I thought about it for ten seconds and the answer became clear. Saying “not all men are misogynists” does nothing to address the drooling mass of men who are. And that is the actual problem, a problem made all the clearer by Elliot Rodger’s shooting spree.

In short, if someone’s trying to have a conversation about how all women (Yes, all women, as the new hashtag says) are at some point on the receiving end of misogyny, and how maybe we should be doing something about that, shouting “Not all men” is just derailing the conversation, attacking the woman for bringing it up, rather than the fedora-wearing, slut-shaming, geek-girl-mocking, woman-hating, “nice guy” fromunda stains causing the problem.

And you shouldn’t want that.

Finding a better target

You can’t make violence against women go away by silencing the women who speak out against it, and you shouldn’t want to try. You should want the claim to not be necessary.

If you’re like me, and want geek casting news to be concerned with finding the best actor to play, say, Doctor Who, and not which minority/gender boxes said actor checks off, don’t attack the people saying “why not cast a woman or minority instead,” get angry at the waves of idiots who scream to the heavens at the very idea of casting anything but a white male as Batman. They’re the ones making diversity in movies, TV, and whatnot an argument, when it should be a no-brainer. They’re the ones who don’t get that Idris Elba would be the best James Bond possibly ever because his skin contains an inappropriate quantity of melanin. When the idiots are silenced, then we can begin to defend Peter Capaldi being cast instead of Helen Mirren in calm, rational tones.

Getting tired of hearing people complain that women are underrepresented and/or badly written in comic books and video games? Don’t yell at Anita Sarkeesian, blame the industries that refuse to change, that can’t accept that women might be half of their potential audience. And then blame the dickheads who turned Wonder Woman wearing pants into a controversy that shook the goddamn heavens. Because if you can’t enjoy a comic about Power Girl if her costume doesn’t include a chest window, you need to sit in the corner and be quiet for a while.

Don’t want that cute woman at the club acting like you might try to rape her? Don’t blame her for worrying, blame the irredeemable cockstains who have ensured that all women everywhere have to worried that they might get raped. Blame them, and get angry. Get angry that we live in a world that blames the victims, and refuse to live in a society where only three percent of rapists will be punished for their crimes. Shout down the slut shamers saying “she was asking for it,” drown out those who would say “but sometimes they just make it up,” because if you’re actually more concerned about the tiny number of women who pretend to be raped than the thousands of women who are attacked and receive no justice, we cannot be friends.

We need to go after these wastes of human potential. The sexists, the rapists, the “nice guys” who think holding a door excuses having less respect for women than Fox News has for Obama. The idiots telling feminists “shut up and make me a sandwich.” The MRA activists angered that anyone might want as large a slice of the pie as white men get. The cocksacks drowning women’s blogs in angry comments and rape threats. The men defending Elliot Rodger. In short, the Fedoras. We need to turn on them, tell them they won’t be tolerated. Drag them into the light, tell them their ideas are wrong, that history will not mourn their passing. Because every day, somewhere, somehow, they are hurting people, and it has to stop.

And saying “Not all men do these things” doesn’t do a goddamn thing to stop it.

Hurgh. That’s a lot of vitriol. Let’s see if I can’t impart something positive to wrap this up.

Nice is different than good

As I said in the beginning, I used to think of myself as a “nice guy.” But I’ve had to reassess that over the years. Reading about “nice guy” behaviours and their sense of entitlement led me to think about some of my own actions, and discover that I may have thought I was being nice, but I wasn’t being very good.

And so I’ve taken some advice from Wil Wheaton, in his awesome speech to a couple’s baby girl on why it’s great to be a nerd.

I am not “nice.” I am kind.

Being kind is about understanding that each person you’re talking to is a human being, filled with turmoils and frustrations and fears of their own. Some of them are just jerks, to be sure, but there’s too many of them already, so we can’t afford to add to their numbers.

A “nice guy” performs an act of basic human decency because he thinks it earns him something. When you’re kind, you do nice things for people because you want to live in a world where doing nice things is the rule, not the exception.

Of course, here’s where I’ll lose the Fedoras of the world, because being kind doesn’t magically make women fall for you either. That’s not the point. If you do something nice and expect to be rewarded for it, that’s not an act of kindness, it’s an act of commerce. Being kind is about doing something kind because it’s a better way to live.

I am kind to the people in my life (well, save for the few I’m close enough to that we can safely enjoy a fair amount of friendly teasing). I was kind to the volunteers at Calgary Comic Expo, even if they were telling me I couldn’t enter the Highlander panel. I was kind to the media guests, even if they were charging me for an autograph. I am kind to customers at my work, and to strangers I interact with. And I see the inherent contradiction in saying all these things right after advocating a distinct lack of kindness towards Fedora-kind. But I have my limits.

They hurt my friends. They hurt women I wish were my friends. One day they might hurt my niece, and I can’t have that. They make it harder to build a better world. And they ruined the fedora hat.

I fucking liked fedoras.

Being kind means that I, personally, am not adding to the pool of misogyny drowning our world… but it’s not enough. We gotta drain that pool. Because as long as all women, yes all women, face this sort of abuse throughout their lives, we’ve got work to do.

Salvage wasn’t the only script I managed in 2003. Before it was even done being edited, I had another first draft ready to go. Well, sort of ready to go. Salvage was chosen to perform first because it was thought to be closer to ready for the stage. And they weren’t wrong: my other script from that year was when I truly learned to love the editing stage, as there were a whole lot of rough spots needing to be reworked.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Ladies and gentlemen, dear readers, The Spy Who Left Me.

What’s it about?

Five years ago, Tommy Wexland (why am I this bad with last names? I can’t explain it) suffered a blow when his wife Alexis disappeared without warning. Today, he’s juggling Mr. Kane, the new executive visiting from Chicago, his on-again off-again girlfriend Fiona visiting from England, and his overprotective little sister Devra, who’s wondering why Alexis has started getting mail delivered at Tommy’s apartment again.

Soon the invitation to a party delivered to Tommy but addressed to Alexis is unraveling the truth: Alexis was a spy who went rogue, Fiona is an MI6 agent out to bring her in, and the man from Chicago is behind everything. And Devra would like it known that she totally called that something was off about Tommy’s ex.

PREMISE!

Well it didn’t sound that weird at the time.

Why did that happen?

The weird thing is that at the time, if you’d tried to tell me I was writing this script as a way to deal with my wife and I splitting up, I’d have not only denied it but actually believed you were wrong. So let’s leave aside the obvious answer of “Impending divorce” and look at what I thought were the reasons I wrote this play.

Simply put, it’s Len Deighton‘s fault.

As my marriage was crumbling, I’d been reading Len Deighton’s classic 80s cold war spy novel trilogies, Game, Set, and Match and Hook, Line, and Sinker. The two trilogies (which apparently were followed by a third, Faith, Hope, and Charity, which I should really track down) deal with Bernard Samson, a jaded, middle-aged secret agent working for MI6, and a complicated chess game of defections and double agents between his employers and the KGB, particularly the East German branches. In Game, Set, and Match, while trying to recover agents from behind the Iron Curtain and recruit high-level defectors, Bernard begins to suspect that his wife, Fiona (influence on the script already apparent), might have been turned by the KGB. In Hook, Line, and Sinker, he learns that the truth is far, far more complicated.

From this came the story of Tommy, learning that his wife’s life was far more bizarre than he ever guessed, her abrupt departure from his life, and her return, which brought with it even more chaos than her leaving.

And once I’d finished the first draft, I finally read Spy Sinker, and realized that I’d come at this entire project wrong. You see, while the first five novels are told from Bernard’s point of view (in the first person, no less), Spy Sinker retells the entire story from Fiona’s perspective. And that made it clear: I’d been writing Alexis all wrong, letting the more colourful spy antics of Alias’ Sydney Bristow shape her, rather than the bleaker, more grounded world of Bernard and Fiona Samson. Alexis hadn’t been on a fun adventure the last five years. Alexis had been in hell. Her life must have been exhausting even before she went on the run, and that meant that I had to rewrite the entire second half to correct this.

At which point, the script became too weighted against poor Fiona (my character Fiona, not Fiona Samson… lord that makes this more confusing than it has to be). Now my test-readers were convinced that Alexis was the one to root for, and Fiona was no good. (Well, except one reader who kept her draft-one dislike of Alexis and now hated both of them) I felt this was too easy, and thus had to rewrite the first half to make Fiona more sympathetic and level the playing field.

The Devra scenes worked fine, though. Minimal edits there.

How’d it turn out?

Last year, on a Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo panel I was doing on writing, someone in the audience asked what were our most embarrassing moments as playwrights. I forget what my colleague Ben said, but for me, there was only one answer: the night my ex-wife came to see this play. Suddenly the veil was lifted, and I was like I was seeing it for the first time. All the people rushing to assure Tommy that he was a good man, that he didn’t deserve all the things that had happened to him, and the fact that this ordinary schlub had two women–no, two glamorous secret agents fighting over him… the post-divorce wish fulfillment was oozing out of every pore of this thing and I could not unsee it.

Aside from that, though.

Other significant changes were needed to ready this thing for the stage. I had to ditch the narration, because once again having the leads narrate their story between scenes was just terrible, I mean god-awful, but unlike Jade Monkey I managed to figure that out before we started rehearsing. Kane’s comic henchmen, Rose and Stern, had to be made less wackily inept. But the end product was… pretty okay, I think? Sorry, I cannot see past the grotesque wish fulfillment aspects far enough to give any sort of judgement on overall quality. And maybe that tells you everything right there.

Would you stage it again?

Can’t say that I would. Not without a top-down rewrite. Back then I did a lot of “quiet, everyday guy dragged into bizarre circumstance” stories because that’s what Neil Gaiman did in Neverwhere, and I love the crap out of Neverwhere, but man I was not good at it. Instead of an everyman on a classic Hero’s Journey like Neverwhere’s Richard Mayhew, I came just shy of writing an Alias fanfic in which Sydney Bristow meets an obvious author-surrogate and falls for him because he has such a rich inner life despite the fact that he barely leaves his apartment. It’s sad it what it is. I can’t go back. I won’t.

No, if Spy Who Left Me were to return, it would have to change drastically. Tommy and Devra would still be at the center, but the story couldn’t revolve around Tommy. Other than existing as bait, the larger spy plot shouldn’t give two shits about Tommy. Also, around draft three, I had to make a choice. Either the play should be a straight-up wacky comedy, with villains right out of the Dukes of Hazzard, or it could be serious enough that ending in a shootout wouldn’t be a jarring change in tone. I picked the latter. Maybe I should have gone the other way. Maybe that’s how this play would work.

Also, I just learned that in 2011 the title got jacked by the first in a series of romance novels called the “Ex Agent” books. Not sure if that impacts this play or not, but… don’t love that turn of events…

Repeated Theme Alert

  • The Quiet, Shy Protagonist The Ladies Still Unaccountably Love rears his whiny, stupid head again. And once more I took a moment to make sure everyone knows he’s good at sex. I had friends, I don’t understand why they didn’t try harder to stop me.
  • Funny yet menacing villains round three. Kane was the heavy, Rose and Stern his comic henchmen. Rose and Stern were born from my regret that I didn’t make Supervillain’s unnamed henchmen the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (see what I did there?) of that play. They’re not terrible, but they do clash tonally with everything else happening.
  • So how was this one about your divorce? We… I think we covered that, didn’t we? I mean, how is it not?

Next time on Danny Writes Plays, a break from divorce-based therapy-writing to do something ridiculous.

Last time I talked extensively about geek TV projects coming to television next season, which were exciting, and briefly why. Today, I have some specific requests from those shows.

Now, I’m not saying that any TV executives are, in any way, listening to me. I’m not insane. Well, not that brand of insane. But two years ago, as part of an interview process for an entertainment website, I wrote an article about things I wanted from Arrow (it wasn’t actually called “Ways to be better than Smallville” but could have been), and pretty much all of them happened. And then I said “This show would be even better without that voice-over,” and they cut the voice-over a few weeks later.

So what the hell. Here’s my wishlist for some of the shows I’m excited for next year.

Flash: slow build the right things

One of the big stories that will be part of The Flash was set up when Barry Allen was introduced on Arrow: the fact that his mother was killed by something mysterious, his father went to jail for murder as a result, and Barry is on a quest to figure out the truth and exonerate his father. This is based on a recent addition to Flash lore: when Geoff Johns, executive producer on the show, reintroduced Barry to comic readers a few years back, this quest to find his mother’s true killer was one of the twists he added. And then solved.

Which means that comic readers know that this mystery has only two possible answers: either it was the Reverse Flash, travelling back in time to screw with his nemesis’ entire life, or it’s Barry himself, forced to allow his mother to die in order to save the entire world (see The Flashpoint Paradox, now out on DVD, or the Flashpoint graphic novel, for how that makes any sense).

The point is, let’s not make the same mistake Agents of SHIELD did with “How is Coulson alive” and drag things out too long. Mention it from time to time, sure, but as soon as it becomes central to the story, get moving. Don’t linger too long. Fortunately, the showrunners have already discussed the fact that working on Flash Forward taught them that audiences don’t have the same patience for drawn-out mysteries that they had prior to Lost, so this shouldn’t be a problem.

What they should take their time in doing is introducing and building up some of the most complex and interesting supporting characters the Flash has: the Rogues.

The Sinister Six might get their own movie. These guys actually deserve one.

The Sinister Six might get their own movie. These guys actually deserve one.

 

Captain Cold, Weather Wizard, Mirror Master, Heatwave, and the Trickster. And to a lesser extent, Captain Boomerang and Kadabra. When Geoff Johns first started writing the Flash (years ago, when Barry was still dead), he turned Flash’s Rogues Gallery from a bundle of villains so lame they had to hunt in a pack to deadly menaces whose complicated ethics and deep characterization meant they were almost as much fun to read as Flash himself. Each of these characters could be just as fun a recurring character as Arrow’s Malcolm Merlyn or Slade Wilson, so don’t rush their intros. Make a meal of these guys.

And then use the Suicide Squad to set up a crossover with Arrow. Do a damn crossover with Arrow, you’re the only ones who can.

Constantine: plenty of magic users available

Constantine is not going to be crossing over with the Arrowverse, nor the big-screen Justice League. And that’s okay. It’s not my preference, as I may have indicated, but 300 issues of Hellblazer teach us that John Constantine doesn’t need a larger universe of superheroes surrounding him to be interesting. Hell, as much fun as he’s been in the Justice League Dark, Constantine’s kind of better used in a world without Batmen or hooded archer vigilantes. A world where no Justice League is going to swoop in when things get bad.

There are, however, still DC characters that I’d like to see turn up.

There’s the Nightmare Nurse, a recent addition to DC’s magical line-up. She’s the person to turn to if you need healing from a bad spell or curse, the magical equivalent of the doctor who runs an off-the-books clinic where you can get a gunshot treated without a lot of questions or police. Tell me that wouldn’t be worth having in this show.

There’s Andrew Bennett, star of I, Vampire, a character that made a well-received return to the comics after a few decades of absence. I don’t know if Constantine intends to include vampires amongst the things-that-go-bump the main characters will be locking horns with, but if they do, a repentant vampire trying to protect innocents from his psychotic ex, Mary, Queen of Blood, might be a fun way to do it.

With an aversion to sunlight and shirts, apparently.

With an aversion to sunlight and shirts, apparently.

And there are others. Detective Chimp, a chimpanzee magically given speech and heightened intellect, was a fun part of DC’s magic books a few years back. If they find themselves with extra budget to throw around, Constantine has a long history with the Swamp Thing. Want to give John a contact in the spirit world? Why not Deadman? (Assuming they’re not still trying to give him his own series) But there is one character who, more than anyone, I want to see on this show.

Zatanna.

Mistress of Magic.

For reasons besides the obvious.

Zatanna is one of DC’s longest-running magic characters, a sorceress who uses her ability to cast spells by speaking backwards to fight evil while maintaining a career as the world’s most popular stage magician. Done right, she’s also one of their most powerful characters, since she can do practically anything, as long as she can say it backwards. And she’s got an on-again, off-again romantic history with Constantine, often acting as his surrogate conscience in recent years. I shouldn’t even have to suggest that she’d be a brilliant addition to the show. It should be staggeringly obvious. Sadly that doesn’t mean that it is.

Gotham: Watch the Wire and take notes.

Gotham has already taken great strides to ease my initial dislike of its very existence by promising to avoid the teen soap melodrama that made Smallville a show I watched but never endorsed, and by releasing a not-terrible-looking trailer. Instead, we have a show about the early days of the future Commissioner Gordon and the people who will one day become the Penguin, the Riddler, and Poison Ivy. Also they are threatening to include the Joker, even though the Joker can only be the Joker if Batman already exists, and maybe I’m too hung up on the Killing Joke, but a Joker who wasn’t already a vicious criminal when he fell in the acid works so much better.

I digress.

My point is, this show may focus on Gordon (and, sure, tween-Bruce Wayne), but the villains are also a big part of the proceedings. Oswald Cobblepot’s climb to the top of the underworld is just as much a part of the show as Gordon’s rise in the GCPD. So, if I read the trailer right and know my Batman lore, we have a show based on the cops and criminals of a city beset with crime and police corruption, in which a few select cops are trying to redeem the force and save the city while criminals scheme to gain greater control of the underworld. Turns out, there’s a great show you can learn from that did pretty much all of that, as well as any TV show ever has.

Not something that frequently enters conversations involving Batman.

Not something that frequently enters conversations involving Batman.

The Wire is widely believed to be one of, if not the best, TV shows in recent memory. Possibly ever. And it contains all the elements you need to make Gotham a success. Watch the cops who form a special task group to oppose the Barksdale Organization’s drug trade have to swim upstream against a corrupt and budget-stricken police force driven more by statistics than justice, and see if it can’t instruct you on how to approach Gordon’s working relationship with the GCPD. Want to keep us hooked on the crime side of the story? Check out the clash between gangster kingpin Avon Barksdale and his right-hand man, Stringer Bell, who’s looking to take their drug revenues and build an empire that stretches beyond fighting over street corners. And if you need a new take on the Joker… maybe give Omar Little some thought.

Now even though I’ve started to admit Gotham might not be as bad as I feared, I see little way it could be as good as the Wire. That feels like a pipe dream. But the guy in charge of the series also brought us the excellent HBO show Rome, so despite a few years of slumming it running The Mentalist, I believe he still has something special in him.

Agents of SHIELD: you’re a new show now, act like it

17 episodes into Agents of SHIELD, everything changed. SHIELD collapsed, leaving the central team with no backup, no resources, and little hope. And man does that make for more exciting television. Finally there was a sense of high stakes, which the show had severely lacked up until then. The CGI touchscreen computers that solved every puzzle were gone, replaced with 60s-style spy gear salvaged from a former Howling Commando’s estate. And the dullest character was revealed to be Hydra, making him 500 times more interesting.

So the worst thing they can do now is backslide on all of that.

It’s still unclear what Agents of SHIELD will look like next year. Apparently their sister show, Agent Carter, will involve Peggy Carter running missions for Howard Stark, as she’s been shut out of the post-war spy business. Maybe Agents of SHIELD will involve them doing covert ops for Tony Stark, via his new employee Maria Hill. But hopefully they continue to grow and evolve as a series, rather than sink back into the so-so NCIS: Marvel Universe… no, they were too afraid of using anything Marvel… NCIS: Funky Sci-Fi that they wasted over two-thirds of their freshman season being, while wondering why their ratings were in a tailspin.

Arrow: Now go nuts.

So there was one thing I really wanted from Arrow that the second season not only didn’t provide, and actually hinted it never would: to be part of the same universe as Man of Steel. That’s apparently not happening. DC isn’t trying to have all of their properties connect: the movies will be one world, the Arrowverse another, and all other TV series and animated DVDs will pretty much keep to themselves.

There is a potential here.

For the longest time, DC kept its properties separate and allowed no overlap. Smallville reportedly couldn’t use Bruce Wayne because the powers-that-be thought it would conflict with Batman Begins. But that’s no longer happening: if Gotham is a success, then Batman will be hitting the big screen in whatever Man of Steel 2 ends up being called right as Gotham’s Bruce Wayne is hitting his teen years. Flash will be turning up in Justice League while a younger Flash is still running around on the CW.

So the seal is broken. Multiple worlds, multiple versions of the same characters. Which I posit means you should be able to bring whatever and whoever you want into the Arrowverse. Especially since the Flash is adding the existence of powers into the world, something not present in the first season. So why not go for it, Arrow? Start name-dropping the big guns.

You’ve mentioned companies like STAR Labs (DC’s ubiquitous R&D company), Kord Industries (founded by Ted Kord, known in the 80s and 90s as the Blue Beetle), and Ferris Air (employers of Green Lantern), now name-drop the big boys… WayneTech and LexCorp.

I’m not saying you should start casting the Arrowverse Superman and Batman, in fact hold off on Superman until we see how well superspeed gels with this more grounded world, but lay some groundwork. Let us know that Gotham and Metropolis exist in the same world as Starling City. And while you (hopefully) keep up your great work in building your own little DC Universe, get a little out there. Introduce some more heroes, even ones with powers like Black Lightning or, since Markovia exists, it’s prince, Geo Force. Season two took everything that worked in season one and cranked it up: I can’t wait to see you do that again.

So this week was the network upfronts, when the US networks announce what new shows will be hitting screens next season, and what bubble shows have gotten the axe. And I have… some reactions. There was enough good news (for me, at least) to file this one under My New Favourite Thing… save for one piece of news. But we’ll call the upfronts this week’s New Favourite Thing just the same.

Allons-y.

Gotham

Okay. I have spoken out against this show in the past. “Smallville but about Batman” seemed like a woefully bad idea. But the trailer… the trailer does not look awful.

And I just want to get this out of the way: yes, I complained about the series existing. Yes, I was afraid of watching another Smallville. But that’s because I knew, deep down, that if this show made it to air, I was going to be watching it. And the trailer not being terrible doesn’t dissuade me from that being an inevitability.

As a bonus, it may not be full-on Smallville. It certainly helps that it’s on a network other than the CW, which seems contractually obliged to slather a minimum amount of teen soap-opera and pretty 20-somethings on anything they air. So it may not be about Bruce Wayne going through puberty and moping over not being able to ask out Selina Kyle because he needs to focus on his Batman training. It’s more about the struggles between the cops and the criminals, in particular Jim Gordon, freshly arrived in the GCPD, and young Oswald Cobblepot, climbing the ranks from low-level henchman to, ultimately, the Penguin. And there might yet be some material to mine here.

Will it turn out that Bruce’s parents’ death is part of a larger mystery? Maybe. Would that be a stupid thing to do? Yes, absolutely. The whole “Become a bat” thing hinges on the fact that his parents were killed in a random street crime, thus to make sure no other child suffers as he did he needs to take on all criminals, not because they posed a threat to some sinister organization. (Although if the showrunners wanted to sneak the Court of Owls into the works, I wouldn’t complain.)

But there is a chance that I won’t have to hate myself too much when I ultimately start watching it in September.

The Flash

This one, on the other hand, I’m nothing but excited for.

THE-FLASH-Full-Suit-ImageTwo years ago, I learned that the CW, looking to replace Smallville, had greenlit a TV show based on Green Arrow, albeit a new take on the character and not the continuing adventures of the Smallville version. That a TV show based on Green Arrow, a character I like but not exactly an A-list DC superhero, would even exist seemed improbable. That it would a legitimately good, sometimes great series was nothing short of miraculous. And now the producers have gotten the go-ahead for their spinoff featuring Barry Allen, the Flash.

Arrow has been soaked in DC lore, filled with Easter eggs and reference characters, and Flash looks to be even more so. There are already three supporting characters pulled right out of the comics. Eddie Thawne of the Central City Police sounds like a play on Eobard Thawne, better known as Flash’s arch-nemesis Zoom, the Reverse Flash (that is not going to sound less ridiculous out loud but he actually is pretty deadly)…

If you were paying attention, they already foreshadowed him on Arrow.

Laugh at his name and he might run into the past and kill your parents right in front of you.

STAR Labs scientist Caitlin Snow sounds like she may be destined to become her comic book counterpart Killer Frost…

Not a good guy. If that wasn't clear.

Not a good guy. If that wasn’t clear.

And her associate Cisco Ramon has been making a comeback lately as Vibe, once upon a time the most regrettable Justice Leaguer.

Made Aquaman look like Batman with a lightsaber.

Made Aquaman look like Batman with a lightsaber.

With his uncomfortably over-the-top Latino streetwise attitude and powers derived from… erm… breakdancing, Vibe has long been seen as a cautionary tale about trying to create new superheros while freebasing cocaine, as I’m pretty sure was standard practice for most of the 80s. Not just comics creators, pretty much everyone was on cocaine in the 80s. DC head honcho/Flash executive producer Geoff Johns is on a mission to redeem Vibe, having rebooted him in the comics…

LESS lame, I'll give him that...

LESS lame, I’ll give him that…

…and now sneaking him onto TV. We’ll see how this goes.

So yes, absolutely I’m excited to see the Flash return to TV. I enjoyed it in the 90s (that show holds up better than I expected), I enjoyed the Arrow two-parter that introduced Barry , and I’m excited to see actual super powers added to the Arrowverse, which remains the best comic property on TV. Yes, by all means, give me The Flash as a companion show to Arrow.

Elsewhere, also on the CW…

iZombie

I don’t know much about the comic iZombie. I read a preview for it that looked intriguing, but never got around to picking it up. Basically, a young med student finds herself turned into a zombie, needing to consume brains. So she feeds off corpses, and in the process also absorbs the dead person’s memories. Which gives us our TV show’s premise: she helps solve murders, using the victim’s memories to help her. Not entirely unlike Pushing Daisies, where Ned the Piemaker could revive the dead just long enough to ask who killed them. And it’s from the creator of Veronica Mars, and co-stars Mr. Sark from Alias, so what the hell, I’m on board.

And there’s still more comic-based news…

Marvel’s Agents of stuff

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is back for a second season, and will be joined on ABC by Marvel’s Agent Carter, a spinoff series for Captain America’s love interest from his first movie. Now, Agents of SHIELD did not exactly hit the ground running. Their larger plots moved too slow, they spent too long being weirdly reluctant to use anything from Marvel comics, their villains made the killers-of-the-week from Hawaii Five-0 look like Heath Ledger’s Joker (We’re pagan anarchists, so we’re smashing things! Because, um, anarchy! Right?), the high-tech touchscreens they used to solve every problem were dull, and their cast was a little bland, especially leading man Grant Ward.

Gonna spoil some stuff now.

But then came Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Then came the fall of SHIELD, following the revelation that they had been utterly, thoroughly infiltrated by Hydra, since the very beginning. And for Agents of SHIELD, everything changed. And it suddenly became a show worth watching for something other than Agent Coulson. Bill Paxton gave an amazingly compelling face to their season-long nemesis, the Clairvoyant. The head of the AIM-from-Iron-Man-3-knockoff Centipede was not a precog, just a high-ranking SHIELD agent who was actually Hydra the whole time. Even more amazing? Agent Ward finally became interesting once they revealed that he, too, was Hydra. It took them 17 episodes, but Agents of SHIELD has finally become a show worth renewing, so I’m interested to see where they go from here (with SHIELD dismantled, backsliding to the show they used to be is pretty much impossible).

And Agent Carter might be okay as well. Peggy Carter was no Phil Coulson, and I worry that they’ll feel a need to remind us she kind of dated Captain America for a bit way more often than they need to, but we’ll see how they do.

Okay, that’s Marvel (who could probably cut back on putting “Marvel” before the name of everything they do… “Marvel’s The Avengers” was necessary for copyright reasons, but “Marvel’s Agent Carter” is pushing it). Back to DC, because there’s still more.

Constantine

Ever since bringing him out of their mature readers line and back into their mainstream comics, DC has been milking John Constantine, magician and conman who sometimes begrudgingly saves the world from demons and monsters, for all he’s worth. And now he will officially be coming to NBC in his own show. I have to say, they have nailed his look…

Not that it's hard to do.

Not that it’s hard to do.

…and the descriptions of the show imply they’re capturing his edge as best they can on a broadcast network. Okay, fine, they didn’t cast Mark Shepard (still time to get him in as a recurring villain), and unlike Flash it’s basically guaranteed to never cross over with Arrow, likely existing in isolation from all other DC properties. But I’ll allow it. Constantine doesn’t need crossovers to be cool. And it might not be on HBO, but just look at what NBC lets Hannibal get away with. Oh, hey, that reminds me…

Hannibal

Third season! Despite being chronically low-rated, Hannibal has scored a renewal once again. I’ve already discussed my love for this show, despite its overwhelming grimness, and the opportunity to get more, to see the show continue to inch its way towards the events of Red Dragon, is definitely good news. I’m used to losing the shows I love: Fox lives to cancel geek-friendly shows, and I still recall the year ABC cancelled six shows I liked or loved in one season. But NBC… NBC gave Chuck five seasons when the ratings never fully justified it, so they’ve earned some love from me.

Even though not all their news thrills me.

Community

After five seasons on the brink of cancellation, two of them as a mid-season replacement with vague commitments to air eventually, Community has finally come to an end.

I’m of mixed feelings. At it’s best, Community was the sharpest, funniest, and smartest comedy on television, with gags ranging from broad to so subtle you barely see them, and one of the best ensemble casts in recent memory. At it’s worst, it was a desperate attempt to trade on mass-market quirkiness, inside jokes and references to fan-favourite episodes. Season four, in other words. The year NBC thought they could live without the series’ creator, Dan Harmon.

A year ago the only reason anyone would have been sad to see Community go was that it would be a shame for a show that used to be so brilliant to end on the worst episode they’d ever done. But then, miracle of miracles, Dan Harmon was re-hired to run the show, and they pulled themselves back from the brink. They weren’t at their peak, especially after Donald Glover left, but they were Community again. But now that’s over, with our final sentiment being Abed’s claim that if they weren’t back soon, it was because an asteroid had hit the Earth and killed everyone. “And that’s canon.”

Maybe it’s for the best. Maybe Community should end now, while they were still a show worth loving, before sinking back to where they were a year ago, somewhere between self-parody and Community fan-fiction masquerading as the real thing. I’ll miss the Greendale gang, to be sure, and if a cable network throws them a lifeline (something that gets rumoured every time a cult favourite gets cancelled but only rarely happens), I’ll follow them, but for now… you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Right now we can believe the sixth season (and the movie) would have been hilarious. An actual sixth season might have proved us wrong, especially if losing John Oliver (again) and Jonathan Banks (surprisingly effective replacement for Chevy Chase) hurt the show as much as losing Donald Glover or Dan Harmon.

That said, if a Kickstarter titled “Fine then, FIVE Seasons and Movie” turns up, I’m on board.

Any or all of the shows I’ve mentioned could be joining Community on the scrap heap by Christmas. But hopefully they don’t, because most of them sound fun.

 

 

 

I’ve talked a fair amount about plays I’ve written on this blog. And because I started at the beginning and have been working my way forward, it’s easy to mistake these entries for the equivalent of sharing your most embarrassing drunken college party stories rather than the history of the thing I do I’m most proud of. But I’ve tended to focus on how the plays turned out, rather than a more in-depth look at how they came to be. Something I aim to correct this year, by sharing the process as I piece together what will hopefully be my next script.

I’d say “hopefully my next award-winning script” but sweet calamari of Alpha Centauri is that a pretentious thing to say. If I read that in a blog, I’d rededicate myself to finding the author and punching him in his stupid face, and I am just not hard enough to track down to be tempting fate on that score.

Also, my primary concern has always been “Hopefully it’s not so bad that people who read it are compelled to knock me over and spit on me.” They typically aren’t, I mean that’s never actually happened to my recollection, but it’s not a concern that’s easy to shake.

So let’s begin our journey from idea to script that’s hopefully stageable with the earliest steps: the moments of inspiration.

Finding the Idea

The worst thing you can do as a writer is sit around waiting for “The Muse” to strike you. Ideas for stories don’t just drift out of nowhere, drag you to a keyboard, and work your hands like a puppet. But before you can write a story, you have to figure out what that story is going to be.

Sometimes I get an inspiration from a dream. Four times, to be precise. I’ve covered two of them. In other cases, there’s a notion I want to play with, be it the theory that the Devil gets the best one-liners, the shadow government of Earth, or the Biblical Apocalypse. Doesn’t matter what, specifically, it is, some idea or notion kicks me out of my usual between-script panic of “didn’t I use to be a writer” and into the early stages of script creation.

In this case, it came from an unexpected source. Scorpio’s technical director glowered at me over beers (his default expression is a surly glower, at least with me it seems to be) and said “I want to do a farce. You should write a farce.” And I thought to myself, it has been a while since my last (and first) farce, hasn’t it? And that one turned out pretty good. The last script I wrote, which is still in development, was more serious. Well, as serious as a noir-style murder mystery featuring Alice from Wonderland, Dorothy from Oz, and Wendy from Neverland as central characters can be.

Which is pretty serious if you’re willing to put in the effort. I hear it’s quite good, someday we’ll see if audiences agree.

But a proper farce… they’re a challenge, to be sure. Can’t hide between scene changes, can’t pause for backstory (not that I ever should, it murders the pace every time), need to build the hilarity consistently, but when it all works, man but you have created something special. I have seen my share of live theatre, from smaller fringe plays to the giant spectacle musicals, but there are few I treasure quite so much as Noises Off in 2003 or The Play That Goes Wrong a year ago. So if I have another farce in me, I owe it to myself to find out.

Refinement

I have never really gone right from inspiration to hammering out a draft. I need to ponder and polish the idea, make sure it has legs. Figure out the basic shape of the story, and see if it still inspires me to write it. I’ve had a few ideas die on this particular vine. Original Prankster, about a prankster god who… would have done stuff, I’m not sure I ever got that far, had what I thought was a clever title but zero story worth telling. Johnny Black, in which a hitman would have had to tell his childhood best friend what he did for a living, sprung from a particularly badass line the Video Vulture said in a rehearsal, but I never managed more than ten pages without getting bored of it, and besides which John Cusak did that idea fifty times better in Grosse Pointe Blank. Star-crossed would have involved a writer battling against an anthropomorphism of the narrative convention of star-crossed romance itself, but it was suggested I might want to ease the throttle a little on all of the meta-stories.

In this case, it’s all well and good to say “I want to write a farce,” but before you can put metaphorical pen to hypothetical paper, you need a little more than that. You need to do the legwork on the key elements of the story:

  • What is the setting? Where do we start? What does an average day for our central characters look like? For instance, Noises Off is a touring farce in its final rehearsals, and Rumors by Neil Simon is a group of wealthy New Yorkers attending what should be a birthday party for the Deputy Mayor.
  • What new element breaks the status quo? Something needs to happen early on that alerts the main characters’ lives forever. In Funny Money, it’s Henry accidentally swapping his work briefcase for one filled with money.
  • What’s to be gained, and what’s at risk? Farces are driven by people needing to commit outrageous acts to keep a secret. Outrageously hilarious, for preference, otherwise you’re not a farce, you’re Breaking Bad. They do this either because they have something incredible to gain, or are facing a large enough danger that they have to keep digging in to their ridiculous lies and deceits. In Rumors, they go from “We must shield our friend from scandal” to “Now we might actually all go to jail.” In Funny Money, it’s a matter of “If we take this money and run, we’re set for life. If we don’t run fast enough, bad people will come looking for it.”
  • How does everything resolve? You need an ending, and since this is a comedy, it probably shouldn’t be a Hamlet-esque bloodbath. People are not prepared for that.

My last farce, Dying on Stage, was set backstage of a comedy/variety show. The status quo was shifted by two things: first, legendary star of stage and screen Gareth Gardner has agreed to do the show, giving them a sold-out house and a chance to turn around their ailing fortunes, and second, someone starts killing members of the company. But since a scandal would sink them right when they’re about to break out, they try to keep everything hidden from both the audience and Gareth. And there it all is: a setting established, a crucial change to the status introduced, and huge stakes set to compel the characters to do hilarious things.

Or, as I’ve said in the past, establish premise (“This is our struggling variety show!), hijinks ensue (“Someone in the company is a killer!”), with sexy results (“We need to cover up murders to save our company!”). So before I can start hammering out a new farce, I need to establish as much of that as I can.

Do we have a plot yet?

And here’s where I’m at. I can’t tell you everything, some details will shift and others I’m going to want to keep under wraps, but clearly I should share some details or why am I even writing this.

  • The setting: an event management company, run by a duo and… some employees. We’ll see how many characters I need. At least one. I considered an event venue, but ultimately thought it left too little room for the proper stakes.
  • The new element: due to a miscommunication, they’re running two events simultaneously in one venue: a high-profile wedding and a sci-fi convention. Both of these could lead to huge business, but something occurs that puts both events, and our event planners, at risk (I know what it is, and it was the key to getting this idea out of first gear, but you’ll have to wait and see).
  • The stakes: high. And that was key. “The events might go wrong and the company will get bad reviews online” wasn’t nearly enough stakes, so I found a way to ratchet them up, and now I’m confident we’ve got a plot. Throw in a bride having a panic attack, a best man who’d rather be at the sci-fi con, and shenanigans involving celebrity guests, and we’ve got ourselves a farce.

Once the final pieces of the plot puzzle fell into place, I was convinced I had my story, and was ready to tear into it. Then I had a mortality-based panic attack and lost my mojo for the night, but soon… soon I’ll get into this.

So in addition to volunteering and trying to cram as many nerdgasmy experiences as possible into three days, I was also there as an exhibitor of sorts. My company, Scorpio Theatre, was there to promote ourselves and our upcoming production of Who Knows, a Doctor Who tribute show we’re putting up… later this month. Wow. I guess that’s the case now…

This means that for the second year, I was a panelist at the Expo.

We ran four panels over the week, three of which I participated in. Here’s some highlights.

Writing Workshop

On Thursday, myself and the head of the Alberta Playwrights Network were running a script workshop for aspiring writers. The basic plan was that people would send us their scripts, we’d read them, and then give feedback. The amount of scripts we received would determine how long each person got and if we’d have time for walk-ins. We did end up having a walk-in.

The trick was that this panel was at 5:00 on a Thursday. Which meant leaving work early, fighting traffic, finding somewhere near the Stampede to park, finding my panelist badge, and getting to my room. Which I managed… 11 minutes late. And as I burst into my room, I found out that we had an audience.

Wasn’t expecting that.

I’d read the scripts we’d had submitted, and was ready to give thoughts and tips and feedback. I was less prepared to be entertaining while that happened. So, I had to improvise a little. Use specific examples from the submitted scripts to impart general lessons. I also invited some people onstage to do a reading of one of them, because that’s the “workshop as group activity” plan I know.

Ultimately it went well. By hour three it was just us and the remaining writer, but I think we imparted something valuable, and there was definitely one screenplay I hope to eventually see performed (I’d tell you the details but I don’t know how okay the author would be with their synopsis being spread around). Afterwards, we were free to sneak into the acting workshop Scorpio was running next door, see how that was going.

Writing and Directing

This one was excited for. Me and four friends swapping stories and giving tips on writing and directing. Similar to my panel on script writing last year, which was super fun.

Just a couple of things we hadn’t considered.

First, the script writing panel the previous year had just been the three of us. Now there was five. A little bloated, maybe…

Second, writing and directing are fairly separate entities. There’s not a great deal of overlap between them.

Third, this panel involved some of the most verbose people in the company. People who tend to take their time making a point or telling a story. Which is most cases is good, because we usually have pretty cool or interesting things to say.

In fact all of these problems would be minor to the point of not being worth mentioning if it weren’t for the fourth issue: we had 45 minutes.

There’s nothing we can do about that last one. Every panel from Friday on gets 45 minutes. The improv troupe, the professor doing an apparently impressive talk about the narrative similarities between Aliens and Beowulf, Bill freaking Paxton gets 45 minutes and then he’s done. But put that many people who have a difficult relationship with brevity on one panel, and you might not be able to field a lot of questions.

Still, it went well, we had fun, and although it cost me my chance to see the Highlander panel, I’d say it was worth it.

Who Knows

Now this was the big one. The Expo graciously agreed to give us a full panel to plug Who Knows, which was awesome enough in and of itself. They also put us in the second largest room they had, the Boyce Theatre. Well, the second biggest based on last year. There was now also the Expo Pavilion. Not sure which one of those was bigger. But in essence, there’s the Corral, the venue that seats thousands, that gets used for Nathan Fillion or Matt Smith or the Game of Thrones cast, and then there’s the Boyce, that gets used for Wil Wheaton, the cast of Highlander, and now, apparently, us.

Our first order of business: unveil our first promo video.

Second: introduce selected cast members. Third: try as hard as I could not to dominate the entire panel with elaborate answers about all the Who lore this show is soaked in.

Now this one was fun. The audience wasn’t full, but definitely had enough people to justify a larger room. We got some decent laughs on the video, fielded questions from the audience, and hopefully convinced some folk to come see the show. Since, you know, that was the whole point.

I don’t often get to give my thoughts on a project to a seated audience. And I have to say… it’s pretty satisfying.

Expo’s always a good time for me. I get tired from the long days, sore from spending so much time wandering the concrete floors, and it’s by no means cheap, but every time I’m left satisfied and excited for next year.

Maybe I should sneak up to Edmonton when their Expo happens in September… maybe.