Danny Writes Plays: Tyler and Selena

So, we’re entering the final stages of pre-production for a webseries that two friends and I have been working on for a year now. Soon, very soon, we start filming, which is exciting. The chance to see these scripts we cranked out brought to life, and to share them across the Internet. Which of course will be followed by months of stress about how we’re going to get people to watch them, but that’s a tomorrow problem.

Day’s gonna come when I’m going to be talking a lot about the show on this blog. The obvious starting point seemed to be to do a “Danny Writes Plays” entry on the script that we adapted into the series, but… well, I haven’t made it that far, and skipping ahead seems like it kills the flow. So, may as well start catching up.

Which brings us to this: The Very Long Night of Tyler and Selena.

 What’s it about?

Office drone Tyler Jenkins is trying to juggle a special dinner with his girlfriend Cindy and prepping for a big meeting the next morning, when Cindy unexpectedly (to Tyler, at least) breaks up with him, and instead of dinner Tyler leaves to drink alone. At the bar, a woman named Selena bursts in trying to stay unseen. Selena, and her duffel bag of unknown but unpleasant contents, are on the run from notorious killers Vic and Jess, and after trying to do her a favour, Tyler finds himself stuck in the middle, with little choice but to stick next to Selena until he can find a way out… a plan Selena doesn’t care for at all. They run from hideout to hideout, finding safe haven where they can with Selena’s friends and informants, but it slowly becomes clear that there’s no easy way out for either of them, and they’re in for a very long night.

So why’d that happen?

So, remember a while back, when I talked about The Course of True Love and the Curse of the Jade Monkey, and how it had so many flaws I saw no choice but to burn it down to the basic premise and start over on a white piece of paper? Well, here we are. This is when that happened. Average guy, woman of mystery, dragged into quest, hopefully with a few layers of stupid and terrible scraped off.

Step one: I made Selena basically the anti-Maya. Where Maya was instantly and inexplicably attracted to Jordan, inserting herself into his life, Selena basically wants nothing to do with Tyler, but puts up with him out of a shred of respect for the fact that he’s only in this mess because of his misguided attempt to help her.

Step two: no more globetrotting. I saw a play at the Vancouver Fringe called The Doctor is Sick, in which a doctor, who was prepping a lecture on the evolution of cockney rhyming slang, escapes from a hospital and goes on an adventure among the underbelly of the city. I thought, if this show could have constantly changing locations and taxis and whatnot done through minimalist set, surely I could too, and made this story take place over a single night, albeit many, many places.

Step three: realizing that the Macguffin doesn’t matter. The Jade Monkey had a complicated and ridiculous backstory, but neither Tyler nor the audience ever learns what’s in the duffel bag, only that it’s both valuable and terrible.

Step four: no Travis. Well, I ended up backsliding on this one. Intrepid reporter Travis Thompson does, in fact, make a return appearance, but what’s important is that this time he wasn’t given his own subplot. Travis exists solely to advance Tyler’s story: indicating that all was far from well between Tyler and Cindy, then returning to give Tyler key information. He services the plot, rather than trying to steal the spotlight.

Step five: better villains. I’d been experimenting with “funny yet menacing” villains for a while, but for this one… for this one I finally admitted to myself why. And the reason was, I was trying to find my own spin on Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. I didn’t want to just copy them, so I tried Helena Von Drax and Manservant, Big Jim the mafia henchman, and Rose and Stern the goons. But then Terry Pratchett wrote The Truth, his 25th Discworld novel, which certainly seemed to have characters based on, or at least modeled in a similar vein to Croup and Vandemar, so I said “screw it, then,” and thus came Vic and Jess, Things Dealt With. Vic, short for Victoria, was the chatterbox, and Jess the strong, silent partner. Although I did what I could through reputation and unseen fights to imply that neither of them were to be trifled with.

Step five: less exposition. Not no exposition, just… less. Well, it was a start.

The concept for this show started coming to me almost immediately after Jade Monkey wrapped for the second time. But regular readers will remember, that’s also when I started work on Heracles for the 2004 Fringe tour. So I had to sit on this idea until Heracles was ready to rehearse. Which took around nine months. The second it was done and rehearsing, I jumped into Tyler and Selena. First draft was done in 11 days. Might be a personal record.

How’d it turn out?

Astute readers will also remember that the thing that started me down the road to scrapping Jade Monkey in favour of Tyler and Selena was the idea of doing it as a movie. And the movie idea was very clearly still in my head, because despite all that stuff I said about The Doctor is Sick, this is a screenplay. It is a screenplay that I shoehorned onto a stage.

That said, it mostly works. The staging difficulties caused by writing a screenplay for the stage do their damage, as every scene requires some exposition about where Tyler and Selena are, but I made that as organic as I could. The wit still mostly works. The characters are still good. It’s still a fun show. Not one of my crown jewels, but not one of my embarrassments, either.

Would you stage it again?

It could use some touch ups… the pacing’s not quite where I’d want it, there is still a clunky “Let’s swap backstories” scene, and Selena could use more of a story. Right now she’s drifting close to Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory, only there so that Tyler can learn about himself. I’d want to fix that before anyone did something with this script, or at least try to.

Also, it’s a screenplay. There’s no getting around that. As a stage play, it lacks the visceral energy that The Doctor is Sick had, something it needed to make the cross-town adventure work right on stage. In a movie, you could get that energy by actually having the characters able to move any amount of distance. Well, and I could punch up the script a bit. That pacing issue I mentioned.

Of course the real issue is that I know nothing about making movies. Permits, equipment, and most importantly distribution are all mysteries to me. So after at least one go-nowhere attempt to film this thing, I’ve started replying to any query about doing this or any of my scripts as movies with “Sounds great, let me know how it works out.”

Repeated theme alert

  • Something something pop culture reference: Aaron Sorkin once wrote the line “Good writers borrow from other writers. Great writers steal outright.” I hope he meant it, because on page 6 I stole a line from Sports Night.
  • Let’s sit and exchange backstories for twenty minutes like that doesn’t kill the pacing! There had to have been a more engaging way to convey how Selena ended up with this bag.
  • Tyler isn’t quiteThe quiet, average guy the ladies unaccountably love,” because for most of the play Selena’s tolerating him at best… but he’s close. Still, at least he actually does things to earn affection.
  • The funny yet menacing villains: a friend said to me, after reading the first draft, “You’ve done it. You’ve mastered the villains who are funny yet menacing. Now stop.” Good advice.
  • So how is this one about your divorce? A huge part of Tyler’s arc is about realizing he’s not in love with Cindy anymore, and that’s okay. So this one’s about letting go.

When next we visit this series, prepare for the return of some old friends from old scripts.

Favourite Things Speed Round!

There’s something missing from my life.

Who Knows, the Doctor Who tribute play I’d been directing since March, came to an end a week and a half ago. And for all my attempts to stay busy and avoid the typical post-show crash of depression… I miss it. I miss seeing my delightful cast every day. I miss waiting for the gasps from the audience when the Dalek made its appearance. I miss the cheers we’d get from certain houses when a notable costume turned up, like when Roger entered as the Master at the top of act two, or when Sarah James emerged from the vent in Amy Pond’s kiss-a-gram outfit. I miss it all… but I can’t have it back.

So, rather than dwell on things left behind (after all, first rehearsal for Frost/Nixon is but 12 days away), let’s do a speed round of Favourite Things that never really seemed worth a full post.

Allons-y! (Damn it, now I’m just depressing myself…)

Welcome Back, Potter

I would do a whole piece on Cracked Studios, and attempt to review each of their three (thus far) series, but every time I try I lose steam something hard. It’s like, “Why am I writing this down, and why would anyone read it?” So instead, let’s just cover everything I like about the latest (and most publicized) series, Welcome Back, Potter.

First, let’s be real, I find Michael Swaim and Daniel O’Brien hilarious, and Katy Stoll to be funny, engaging, and super cute. Put these three together in a parody of anything and I’m going to watch it.

One of my favourite After Hours episodes, also written by Swaim, is the one where they tear apart Harry Potter. It’s not that I dislike Harry Potter (I don’t), but whether we’re talking books or movies, that series has some holes, and Swaim knows how to exploit them for laughs. The notion that 12 year-old Harry Potter (should have been 11, but whatevs) would, upon learning he’s destined to fight the most evil wizard who ever lived, simply book it for America and hide tickles me. As do various other shots at Potter lore, from wondering if they tried to fight Voldemort with anything besides young orphans to the fact that wizarding school gives you zero prep for life in muggle world, to the fate of the Dursleys in a world where Harry lacked adult supervision (they had a run-in with some water moccasins).

It’s a fun series, and Daniel O’Brien’s take on Ron Weasley as a Jersey Shore guido (“I deeply regret so much of how I look and act. OH!”) is reliably amusing. Michael Swaim has been pushing it with behind-the-scenes videos and articles, so he clearly want to make more, and I’m hoping he gets to. Thus, me plugging it.

5-second Films

The mission statement of 5-second Films is a simple one: wasting your time, but not very much of it. For several years, the team put out a video every day, each lasting only five seconds (well, plus two seconds of opening credit and one second of closing). Somehow I managed not to hear about them until just recently, despite the fact that they got popular enough to feature guest appearances from Patton Oswalt, some of the Cracked staffStan Lee, Larry King, Weird Al, and Freddie Wong.

Look, this one’s pretty simple. And if all of those links aren’t swaying you, here’s a sampler.

Their output has diminished recently, as they’ve been working on a feature length film based on one of their videos, Dude Bro Party Massacre Three. Or maybe they actually were concerned that the rise of Vine made them obsolete. I don’t know. I’m not internet-famous enough to have spoken to them personally. But it’s probably the movie thing.

That said, if you’re just discovering them, like me, there are hundreds upon hundreds of five second comedy films to check out (and five really depressing ones from Bummer Week), so have at.

The Flash Trailer

I watch this a lot.

Okay. Lightning round.

  • Even people I know who don’t watch Arrow are talking about how good this looks. For me, a massive fan of Arrow? I cannot wait.
  • Harrison Wells (guy in the wheelchair, aka JD’s brother from Scrubs) seems to have a secret room somewhere. Six to five and pick ’em he’s betraying Barry by the end of season one.
  • Some people complain that they’re giving Flash his own team right off, instead of building it organically like Arrow did. On the other hand? One of his team is Caitlin Snow, better known to comics fans as Killer Frost, so between her and Wells this might not be the reliable inner circle that Oliver Queen has.
  • They call the bad guy, generally believed to be classic Flash villain Weather Wizard, “Clyde Mardon,” which is actually the Weather Wizard’s brother, and the man he stole his weather powers from. So if he doesn’t survive the pilot, don’t panic. I’m sure the Rogues are coming.
  • Barry’s father is being played by John Wesley Shipp, the star of the last Flash TV series. Come on, that’s cool.
  • The addition of legit super powers to the Arrowverse is everything I’ve been waiting for.
  • I’m not saying that if enough people watch this, they will cross over Arrow and Flash into the Justice League movie (in fact it is all but assured that they won’t), but it could not hurt.

My webseries films soon

It’s coming, dear readers. Writers’ Circle: the Web Series is mere weeks from rolling. When that starts happening, you’re going to be hearing about it. A lot. I’m not sorry. It’s just what has to happen.

Also, it’s going to be amazing, so you’re going to want to be in the loop.

Next time… I don’t know. I’m hoping by next time I’m past this “Nothing seems worth blogging about” thing and ranting about nerd stuff again. Or, you know, something like that. Well. Until then.

Danny G Writes Plays: Heracles: The Mythologically Accurate Adventures

Real talk: today is not going to be a happy day. Who Knows, the play I’ve been directing since March, came to an end on Saturday, and the empty feeling that was sure to follow is settling in. But that’s okay. That’s good. If this is the price to be paid for three incredible months of endless joy working on an amazingly fun play about one of my all-time favourite TV shows with some incredible people, so be it.

And on the plus side, today I get to tell you about one of my old scripts without the usual round of self-flagellation. Because today, dear readers, today… we talk Heracles.

What’s it about?

A laugh-a-minute (minimum) tour through the original myths of Heracles that inspired the legends of Hercules, but with none of the whitewashing and all of the accidental-family-murder and general unheroic behaviour kept intact and, by and large, made funny. After a quick summary of Zeus’ ascension to the throne of Olympus, Heracles is conceived (Zeus attempts to seduce his mother as a swan, then switches to her husband when that doesn’t work), battles serpents that his step-mother Hera threw in the crib to kill him, doesn’t quite learn a lesson about not killing music teachers, decides to be a hero… a lot. A lot of stuff happens. Let’s move to the next section. It’s a better story.

So why did that happen?

It’s a play I wrote over nine months stretching from September of 2003 to spring of 2004, but to trace its origins we have to go aaaaalllllll the way back to June of 1997. The Amazing and Almost Accurate Adventures of Trigger Dandy had just wrapped its one-night-stand debut, and everyone involved was riding high off the buzz of the laughter and cheers that were still ringing in our ears. So of course, the topic weaving its way through the wrap party was “What’s next? Let’s keep this Mind the Walrus thing going! Do another show! We could do this so much better now that we’ve learned a few things! What’s next?

And with Two Guys, a Couch, and the Fate of the World still a few weeks away from conception, we didn’t have a firm answer. Until an idea rooted itself in some of our heads. Somehow the champagne-fuelled conversation turned to the fact that nobody really gets Greek myths. People don’t even know, by and large, that Hercules isn’t the son of Zeus: Hercules is the Roman name of Heracles, so Hercules would be the son of Jupiter. And there’s a show we could do, we thought… dig up the original myths, warts and all, and make a Trigger Dandy style comedy about them. We even envisioned one of the scenes: Heracles would fight the Hyrda, the serpent who grows two new heads every time one is cut off, but get so into cutting off heads that the stagehands would start running out. Actual prop heads would give way to pool noodles, which would be replaced by paper plates, shoes, etc. until the stage hands finally gave up.

We did some research, looked up some myths, but ran out of steam before long, especially once Jason and I started breaking the idea for Two Guys. But I never let go of the idea. It was always in the back of my head, something I would eventually get to, time permitting. Hell, once Mind the Walrus was into its second season, I was envisioning a “greatest hits” play, the Mind the Walrus All-Stars, that would team up Trigger Dandy, Two Guys’ Dirk Rhombus, and Heracles against an alliance of their various nemeses, plus Ted the Devil from Date With an Angel, Coffee With the Devil. It was explained to me within seconds of theorizing this script that it was a horrible, horrible idea, and I never spoke of it again (until now), but what’s really interesting there is that despite not having written a single word of what I’d decided would eventually be called “The Mythologically Accurate Adventures of Heracles” (really, I do not know what my thing was with long titles), I was so convinced that it would happen that I had already included the main character in the Walrus All-Stars.

Anyway, years passed. In 2003, The Course of True Love and the Curse of the Jade Monkey went to the Edmonton Fringe. It was, shall we say, not a raging success. Small houses and brutal reviews that the cast told me not to read. None of that is surprising now, given the many, many flaws of that script, but after it was over, I started thinking about all of the sold-out hits I’d seen at the Fringe, and tried to figure out why they were hits and mine was not. Part of that process involved taking a long look at the script itself, and we’ll look at the results of that in the next instalment, but it also involved figuring out what the big hits had in common.

It seemed to me that the ingredients of a successful Fringe show, especially touring Fringe shows, were 1) one hour long; 2) fast-paced; 3) funny; 4) portable, meaning minimal set. So I tried to figure out what I could do that would fit the profile, and Heracles popped back into my head. Write it so that the whole thing could be done with three to five people, avoid set pieces, and make sure the jokes keep flying. The following month, while I was on my “impending divorce” vacation to London (trips to London help ease the pain), I stopped by the British Museum’s library to do some research on the myths, then bought myself a notebook at the Globe Theatre’s gift shop and started writing over dinner–that sounded really pretentious and I’m sorry. Those were the places I was when I broke ground on this script. I used geography for narrative inspiration. I’m sure I’m sorry.

Also I changed the title to Heracles: The Mythologically Accurate Adventures, so that the key word of the title wouldn’t get lost if the title turned out to be too long for the program again. You know, like “Jade Monkey” did.

And you’re damn right I used that hydra scene I mentioned. That scene was GOLD.

Now it wasn’t a quick process. As I said, it took nine months to get a draft of this script written and typed up, a process spurred somewhat by us getting into the Montreal, Winnipeg, and Edmonton Fringe Festivals. And when it was done, I had ninety minutes of material for our sixty minute show, so there were a lot of edits to be done by the time we reached Montreal.

And a few more edits once we got there and found out we were two minutes heavy.

And a few more edits once we got to Winnipeg, and our audiences quintupled, and the additional laughter once again pushed us to 62 minutes. (The Edmonton techs were more chill, they’d just signal us if we needed to speed up the climax)

How’d it turn out?

Awesome. Purely awesome.

We remounted this one back in 2009 and it was still funny. Even in a total blackout, with no lights but a keychain flashlight, it was still funny. Maybe not every joke lands in every performance, but there are so very many that DO work that we never had a dud show. After the Montreal leg of the tour, I had to take over the role of Heracles myself, and let me tell you… having a sold-out crowd cheering a show I wrote, directed, and starred in was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The 2004 Heracles tour was exactly what I needed that summer, and the 2009 remount was a delight as well.

Would you stage it again?

The only reason I’m not saying “Yes, of course yes, can we do it now?” is the sad knowledge that if Heracles makes a comeback, someone else is going to be playing the title role. I had my fun. It’s someone else’s turn now. That said, yes, of course yes, can we do it now?

Next time: the play that had been festering in my head for the nine months that it took to write Heracles.