Writing in a Vacuum

Strange, this writer’s life. The only time I feel like I’m actually writing for television is when I’m on the set, the scene to be shot sucks, bad dialog is actually rearranging the actors’ teeth it’s so clunky and we’re losing the light. Then, when I have to whip out the pencil I never seem to have (“Hey, who’s got a pencil?!”) and grab the back of an envelope to try and work out, untangle, cut and recreate the moment, the nut of the scene that worked so well three, five, ten months prior in a first written-in-the-heat-of-creation draft... where was I? Oh. Right. Short version: I like bad scenes because they give me something to do. They fill me with nostalgia for what might have been.
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They’re like suddenly discovering you’re riding a tiger (that’s been gnawing your leg) when all along you thought you were on a horse and now, hey look, who’s got a tourniquet?! As much as I dread on-set rewrites I also welcome an actor coming to me and saying, “Um... huh?” Once I get past the “how dare they” moment it’s kind of interesting (see tiger). One of the best experiences I’ve had working with an actor was with Paul Blackthorne on THE DRESDEN FILES. Before each week’s work he would call me from Toronto (where the show was shot) and we would go through the script, page by page (and not just his scenes) working out the truth of the moments. Paul was always looking for a way to say less and mean more. What a blessing. I vomit words sometimes just to see if there are any bits of goodness worth the effort. If an actor can come along and keep me from puking by simply making my point with a smile, a look, an eye roll or a drop of the head then please, God, eye roll. Sometimes... well, most times great writing is not writing. Great writing is setting up a thought-circus then opening the gates and letting the audience in to wander at will. Actors are those midway barkers. But they’re not barking if they’re doing their jobs right. They’re winking or hooking a finger. “C’mere. Something to show you. No pressure.” You look. Without comment from the writer, actor or director. You simply see and the real circus happens in your head. Later, if the circus is revealed to be a little flat, someone will come along with the “perfect” score to shove you into phoney-emotionville or wow-wasn’t-that scaryland? But sometimes (see THE WIRE) the circus is perfect. I’ve yet to build the an even close-to-perfect circus but it’s great fun trying.

So, anyway, the vacuum thing. I’ve been working on a pilot for the Sci Fi Channel.
WAREHOUSE 13. And this week, as the cut was being prepared for audience testing (yikes) I’ve been working on a story for a possible episode should the series get ordered. The story hits the beats promised in the pilot’s premise. Characters behave consistently (well, more consistently once the actors wrangle them). And, to toot the horn, I think it’s a pretty good yarn. But I dunno. I never know. For so long now I’ve let other people define what’s good and bad about my writing that I’ve sort of taken my ego out of it. Kind of have to to make a living doing this. Does it fit the container the network is trying to sell or doesn’t it? But for now this outline is finished and it’s been handed in for review and criticism. So it’s time to go get some fresh air.