Midwinterish

December 23rd, 2009 | daybook

This is me with local musician Carolina Fasalo of The Voronas. Caz dumped a load of old photos on to her Facebook account and turned this up. Last summer, I think?

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I was reading this interview with David Simon the other day — he gives good interviews, see if you can find the one he did with THE BELIEVER magazine sometime — and something he said stuck with me a little bit. As it often does in Simon interviews, as he’s good with a bon mot or two. I’ve hacked some connective tissue out to present it as a complete thought:

There would be a series of planning sessions. First, at the beginning of every season, we did a sort of retreat with the main writers, the guys who were going to be on staff the whole year. We’d discuss what we were trying to say… we weren’t cynical about having been given ten, 12, 13 hours — whatever we had for any season from HBO. All of that was an incredible gift.

So goddamn it, you better have something to say. That sounds really simple, but it’s actually a conversation that I don’t think happens on a lot of serialized drama. Certainly not on American television. I think that a lot of people believe that our job as TV writers is to get the show up as a franchise and get as many viewers, as many eyeballs, as we can, and keep them.

What we were asking was, “What should we spend 12 hours of television saying?”

Which, yes, should sound blatantly obvious. But it’s easy, when working in fast and deadline-intensive serial formats, to forget that bit: to trust to the process of pulp writing and the form’s innate effect of whatever you’re really interested in leaking out into the work regardless. It’s easy to forget what you turned up for.

It’s also an interesting process note. A good 95% of longform serials, I’d guess, turn up not knowing what they want to talk about. Sometimes they don’t discover what they showed up to talk about until the third or fourth season. And I don’t mean so much the working out of what’s now called "show mythology," the actual overarcing storyline — and we can all name shows that suddenly realised they’d payed out all the rope they had and they didn’t know where the plot went next. I mean the serials where they finally open their mouths and nothing comes out. They made the show because they were allowed to make the show.

In other news, Karl Urban has apparently been signed to RED. This brings the cast up to something like the eight thousand most popular actors in the world.

Tonight I am mostly clearing the house. Not enough strength left in me for proper writing. I’d actually really like to be digging into the outline I wrote for the GRAVEL film, and fixing all the stuff in it that looks broken. I’m delivering it at the end of the second week in January, so there’s plenty of time, and it’s actually in reasonably good shape overall. But the thing about distance from a thing — and this is actually not bad advice for any new writer — is that it gives you essential and often surprising perspective once you’ve been away from it for a few days. Walking away from something for a few days or a week is sometimes the best possible thing you can do for a piece. Again, not something we always have time for in the deadline game.

I’d also like to be working on the animated series I have in development, but, like I said. Burned way the fuck out. So I’m going to content myself with clearing the house, catching up on my RSS feeds, scheming about getting a new phone out of Vodafone, and making a few notes on loose ideas. Proper writing can wait a couple of weeks, now.


7 Responses to “Midwinterish”

  1. Thanks for all the communication and info. Have a great break and awesome new year.

  2. It will be lonely without you. Enjoy your break and holidays and come back to us refreshed.

  3. This is exactly what I was thinking while recently watching the entire run of ALIAS (never caught it during its first TV run)… That it was an entertaining spyish/thrillerish/actionish show, but it went to a lot of trouble to say nothing at all….

    I got the distinct impression that the writers sat down at the start of every script and asked themselves “how can we f*ck with the viewers this week?” rather than “what is the story we’re trying to tell?” or as above, “what do we want to say?”

    Also, happy holidays Mr. Ellis!

  4. Holy fucking Christ… What beautiful eyes you have. I shit you not. Holy Christ, those beautiful peeps are attached to that tortured brain? My god.

    Merry Christmas, Mister Ellis. Thank you for the guts, the words, the vitriol and the venom.

    Thank you for the laughter, the cure.

    I miss the BAD SIGNAL, but hey, DO ANYTHING is back and whoa, it is fine, it is strong… as are you. The stories and the tales, I need them. I need GOOD MORNING INTERNET SCUM, THIS IS WARREN FUCKING ELLIS DOT COM.

    I’ll shut up, now.

    Merry Christmas, WE. MERRY FUCKING CHRISTMAS, YOU WARPED SICK TWISTED BASTARD whom I, like, well, fucking love. Jesus, doesn’t love SUCK?!

  5. When I read that Simon interview a few days ago it reminded me of a lot of the things that seem to resonate with you. Thanks for noting that Simon did an interview with the Believer. I wouldn’t have gone looking for it otherwise (http://www.believermag.com/issues/200708/?read=interview_simon)

    I’m going to miss the Signal, but I look forward to more of this longish stuff in this space.

    Merry Christmas.

  6. >>>It’s easy to forget what you turned up for.

    I’ll be posting that as a quote from you and linking here. Just to warn you ahead of time.

    Don’t know if you happened to catch Paradox on BBC, just ended yesterday. Wikipedia originally said it was to be six episodes. BBC did just five. Which given the “finale” last night, really fucked up my head with, “What? Did they cut an episode? WTF kind of ending is THIS?!” I don’t know. Somehow related to your point. Not enough caffeine in me yet.

    Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and I hope all goes well for you and yours.

  7. Ultimately, I wound up putting you in the Paradox post, because it fit!
    http://ebooktest.wordpress.com/2009/12/23/bbc-tv-paradox/