I be a good righter.

Monday, January 26, 2009

(Not so) Happy Town.

So, for the past two years I've been working on a pilot called DEATH OF A SMALL TOWN. It takes place in Minnesota. You'll be able to see it on the small screen next Fall on ABC. Except, the show you'll see on ABC isn't mine. It just happens to be a very similar premise in the exact same location.

There's this great part of DEATH, which isn't in HAPPY TOWN, about some freaky folks who are opening up a museum. That was an episode of LIFE a few week's back. I didn't write that either.

I'm heart-broken.

And I'm sick of being a nobody.

A nobody who can't pitch their ideas to anyone.

A nobody who's got a lot of great ideas and knows it because people keep doing her ideas.

Guess it's back to the drawing board. But seriously, guys, it's getting harder and harder to pick the bootstraps up.

X Marks The Spot.

There've been a lot of developments in my internship. Like the phone call where I was told I couldn't do it. That sucked. Turns out that I couldn't do it because I'm not a student. And California Law doesn't allow slavery, I mean, unpaid servitude. I mean, unpaid internships... unless you're a student.

Being a thinker, I called up UCLA, where I take a lot of classes. And got myself enrolled into an internship class. The pre-requisite for enrolling in this class is that you have an internship already set up (you also have to have $600, so there's that). For those of you who think my life so glamorous that you want to emulate it to a T. This is how you do it. Add red lipstick, and you're good to go.


I also need to meet with the internship coordinator at the Studio. I need to bring my paperwork (a letter from UCLA confirming I'm enrolled), myself... and a lipstick gun?

The reason I ask is I think I'm not actually going to a studio. I think I'm being recruited into the CIA. Here are my directions:

You’ll be entering the studio via the X Gate. Have a photo ID ready for the gate guard; he/she will instruct you on where to park and direct you to our location. After parking, make your way across the lot to the X building. Upon entering, head left following the sign to XXX Studios/Xth Floor Reception. Take the elevator to the Xth floor and use the desk phone to dial X-XXXX to notify us of your arrival. Someone will then greet you and guide you to our location.

It's really the penultimate and the last sentences that convinced me. I'm surprised there's no retinal scan.

This message will self-destruct in:






Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Obama.

Because I had to be somewhere at 9:30 PST, I listened to the swearing in of President Barack Obama in my car. I'll admit that, because I'm a big baby, I pulled over at one point because I had some things in my eyes. They're called tears.

That didn't last long because of the commentary. Look, I get that the commentators are paid by the word. Or something. But seriously guys, think before you speak.

FEMALE COMMENTATOR: And Marine One has taken off.

MALE COMMENTATOR: Uh, it's not called Marine One if the President isn't on it.


MALE: He's not the President anymore.



FEMALE COMMENTATOR: And the biggest highlight of today is seeing those girls skip across the stage!

Now. I didn't see it, so I can't say for sure that it wasn't the biggest highlight. But, I'm fairly certain it wasn't. I'm fairly certain that honor goes to our new President being sworn in (some slight mishaps there, but, you know).


President Obama. I am not going to tire of hearing that for, like, ever.

President Barack Ofuckingbama.

Congratulations America. I'm proud to be one of yours again.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Third installment. This one's going to be weird, because I've only seen the episode once. And that was when it was rerun on TNT, back when I was writing a LAW & ORDER spec. So, 2002 - ish. During that time, I watched the show three times a day -- or, you know, every time it aired. Which means that most of the plot has vanished into a weird amalgamation of a million L&O plotlines. Yet, it was the biggest revelation of my not-yet illustrious writing career.

LAW & ORDER -- "Blood"
Written by Craig Tepper and René Balcer

I've been looking around for a synopsis of it, because I barely remember the story. I can't find a detailed one anywhere. The best I can find is from tv.com:

"The paternity of a black baby given up for adoption by a white mother who later fell from an apartment balcony might provide a clue to her murderer, but it also unearths some long buried family secrets that it seems more than one person would kill to keep hidden."

What I vaguely remember about it is the at the get-go, we think the white victim was having an affair -- as evidenced by her giving birth to a black baby (both she and her husband are white). Perhaps tried to hide it from her husband. I believe the victim was an extremely wealthy, upper-crust white woman. What I do know is that she came from racism. And held racist beliefs. I believe that her husband killed her because she found out his secret. And was going to divorce him. And that would leave him penniless. I think.

Here's what I do remember of the episode: The husband was black. He just looked white. He passed as white. And he kept his history a complete secret. I know it was well-written. I know that I was thinking at the time that this was the writing level I needed to achieve if I was going to get anywhere in TV writing.

I also remember thinking: Fuck. This should be my story.

See. I'm half-Indian. But I don't look it. I look as though I just leapt out of a Guinness ad. All pale skin, freckles, red hair. And yet, my mother is from India. I grew up Indian; lived in India when I was younger (don't even get me started on the arguments my mother and I had over American clothes v. Indian clothes). I've also enjoyed the benefits of being ethnic, I got switched to a grade school that was closer to our house because of my ethnicity. And for the diversity programs, well, I'm diverse.

There was a time before the election when tensions were getting heated that I got embroiled in a fierce racial debate with an online group. At one point a person mentioned that I was "passing" as white. I've always thought of the term "passing" as a derogatory term. As though one's ashamed of their ethnicity and makes the conscious choice to go with the group that looks most like them and the group they're not ashamed of.

Basically, I was offended by the notion. Even though it's clear that's what I wanted to do when I was younger.

But, that is what this guy in this episode was doing. I think being black, for him, was some secret shame. And I understood the character's feeling. Because, when I was younger, and I was trying to fit in, I dressed American. And I "passed."

I can't imagine marrying someone who was a racist. But this character did. I think, on some level, he was as racist as his wife. He hated black people just as much as she did.

I thought about this character a lot. And I was reminded of him when I got that "passing" comment. I was reminded of him when I interviewed at CBS for their mentorship program and the woman asked me about three times if I was sure I was Indian (I am). There was even an awkward moment where the woman asked me if my mother, perhaps, was English and moved to India and... she isn't. And she didn't. (I didn't get into the program. It wasn't a huge surprise).

But, I get it. I don't look Indian. I don't have a dot on my head. Nor am I wearing a sari. Oh, and I don't have dark skin.

The "passing" comment. My experience with CBS. Growing up in a white neighborhood, being embarrassed of my heritage. The looks on people's faces when I tell them I'm Indian. All of this is fodder for some interesting stories, I think. But I never thought about it. Because to me, it's just normal that I'm a mixed chick who ended up white. It seems completely mundane and boring to me.

Or it did.

Until I saw "Blood." And saw my story. A mixed-race person who looked white. And all the potential secrets that could come out of it when a baby comes out black (based on the Punnett square, my hubby and I have a one-in-four chance of having little brown babies).

It was like that damned window in "The Friendly Skies." Because I'd lived it (or seen it a million times), it didn't occur to me that there was something interesting about it.

"They" say "write what you know." This is the episode that taught me how to do it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Genius Writer Emailed Me.

It was a loooooooooooooooooooong day yesterday. Between work work and my work and posting and surfing the 'nets and emailing and work work it was just... long.

And then, it was a long drive home.

But, I finally got here. And, as I do every night, I get back on the computer. Last night was a little different. I was a little bleary-eyed as I was checking my email. There was this weird one that was titled, "from Bradley Thompson, BSG." I assumed it was someone posting a comment (that's how Ye Olde Blogger works when you have the securities turned on) about one of the writers I'd mentioned.

Then I got to the content.

Dear BooM -

Thank you for the lovely things you said about "Downloaded." I'm glad it motivated you to get better. We also experienced moments on screen that made us want to hang it up, they're just so frakking good. Gallipoli, The Wire -- etc. We see that and believe we'll never be as good as... well, Ron Moore, who blows us away every time he comes into the room.

And sees more than one side to any argument.

Best wishes,

-Bradley Thompson
Supervising Producer, Battlestar Galactica

I don't know about you guys, but I can see his brilliance just from his email. Of course, I already had a writer's crush on him (and his partner). Apparently he's honored that I wanted to post his email. But, you guys, *I'm* the honored one. Knowing that there are people at his level who still get humbled by brilliant TV? I'm just glad it doesn't go away. Because if it did, then writing for television would sound like a J.O.B.

I have also broken Mr. Thompson down by begging, pleading and general grovelry to the point that he's actually agreed to answer some questions I posed to him about writing the episode (and hopefully more) and about how he and his partner broke in!

He's a busy bee, so you'll have to wait a bit -- basically you're still stuck with me for a while. Blame him, he's being all genius-y.

Oh, and... recently, a friend wrote on her blog about her favorite movie. How it was fantabulous. And how it made her SQUEE! with glee. I happened to know the writer of said movie and directed the writer to my friend's site. Which reminded me that I should start thinking about who reads my sleepy little blog here. Like, how I should watch my fucking language. I totally forgot. I consider myself fucking reminded.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Instead of murdering eleven pages of my most precious darlings, here is installment two of the long-winded unnamed series about, uh, episodes that changed my writing life.

Written by David Weddle and Bradley Thompson

I was very late to the BSG fandomery. Hungover in Ireland (a national pastime, I believe), I had little left to watch. But we had downloaded the entire series. It'd been designated as "To Be Watched Some Day." And that day had come. And we devoured it. I think it was currently airing season three. There were many great episodes. But, I was completely in love with it. Not nearly as much as my husband was, but close.

But, night after night, when surfing our four channels (we couldn't hook up Sky TV or whatever it was called -- or so we thought. We found out right before we moved that we could have gotten it... ain't that always the way), it always became a choice of live Snooker, Cash in the Attic or BSG. BSG quickly won out.

Now here's the thing. If you don't watch BSG, I can't really explain Seasons One and Two to you well enough to convey how much of an impact this episode had on me. With MIRACLES it was easy. It was a standalone episode that didn't need too much set up. Let's just put it this way, we've spent seasons one and two hating, I MEAN HATING Cylons. Cylons are machines. And they blew the planets on which all humans were living to high fucking hell. The only people who remain are the thousands who were aboard ships in outer space.

Not only do these humans HATE the Cylons. They fear the hell out of them. And what's worse? The Cylon's look like you and me. They look human. The bleed human. They aren't Terminators. They're way more complex than that. They are monotheists. They appear to have feelings. You get the idea.

So, there's this weasly little genius guy who's hotter than hell. He's a human. His name is Gaius Baltar. And he's just a bit crazy. For the entirety of Seasons One and Two, he's been having long talks with his girlfriend. Who's dead. She died when the Cylons obliterated the fuck out of his planet. Except, it turns out, she was a Cylon. If you haven't seen BSG, this is a really piss-poor retelling of it. And please, if I've turned you off of ever seeing it, PLEASE give it a chance. Because it's awesome.

Anyhoo. The hubby and I were getting near the end of the second season, and I was really liking the show. But then, I saw Downloaded and became a die-hard fan that will defend BSG until the Cylons blow us up.

It's told pretty much entirely from the point of view of the Cylons. On one of the planets, Caprica, where they'd killed almost all of the humans. And it turns out that 6, Gaius' girlfriend, is there. She's been "Downloaded" into a new body -- the exact same actress, mind you; she looks the same, talks the same, etc. I don't remember if this was the first time we found out that Cylons didn't die.

In any event, all of the things that 6 felt for Gaius, all of 6's memories are downloaded into this new 6. Now called Caprica 6. And, like Gaius up on Galactica who sees and speaks to her, she sees and speaks to Gaius. But they're not linked. It seems to be an imaginary thing. Maybe. I'm not sure.

But these things. These Cylons. We hate them. We revile them. They've tried to kill off the human race!

But spend an hour with them. Spend an hour with Caprica 6. Feel what she's going through. What she's remembering. See what she has to do to survive. See how she stands out among the rest of them.

Seeing this episode took my breath away. Took away my will to write. At least for that moment. Because I knew, then and there, that there was no way I was ever going to top that episode. On any show. No matter how hard I tried.

I literally (figuratively; for all you HIMYM fans out there) had to sit myself down and be okay with not being able to write as well as that. I'm still not over it, I don't think. I try. But there's always that voice inside my head (perhaps it's Gaius, perhaps it's Caprica 6) who reminds me of this episode. It makes me push myself to be better. I hope I never lose that.


That night, as I watched this episode, with the ensuing depression and humility and awe, I realized that there ARE two sides to every story. That the villain IS the hero of his own story. And that I couldn't -- SHOULDN'T -- take that for granted.

Lesson learned.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Friendly Skies

I've been thinking a lot about the shows that have inspired me. Sure there are overall series that are incredible. But, when speccing something, I always try to emulate a little of what I've learned from specific episodes that have made me pause and question my own ability when in the face of such brilliance.

MIRACLES -- "The Friendly Skies"
Written by David Greenwalt, Richard Hatem, Chris Brancato, Albert Salke

MIRACLES was a short-lived show on ABC. It got preempted a lot. I think maybe six episodes aired (of 13). And I think each of those six episodes aired on different nights and different times. So, you know, you had to love it to look for it. It was ABC's X-Files -- but with a priest! Paul Callan (Skeet Ullrich) who joins a merry band of Scoobies .

The pilot episode showed that this show was going to present you with things, that on the face looked straight forward, but later, you'd find out that if you look at them in a slightly different light, there might be something a little more sinister at work. A small example of this is a bunch of people who all saw the same words when experiencing some sort of miracle:

God is now here.

Okay, you know, we've got a priest, and religious stuff happening. It makes a lot of sense, in the grand scheme of miracles, that is. Except, as one of the Scoobies, Alva Keel (Angus MacFadyen) tells Paul, what happens when you take out the space between the "w" and the "h?" Well, you get:

God is nowhere.

That clinched that this was going to be my new favorite show (it actually ended up being my most favorite show of all times, no thanks to ABC). That small moment.

But that wasn't the moment that changed my writing life. That moment happened in the second episode, "The Friendly Skies." In this episode a plane full of people go through some sort of supernatural pocket. Whatever they were thinking right then, that's what they became. A young girl wished that she was a grown up. Lo, she was. I mean, she was still a little girl, but she was an adult. This was proved by her desperately needing a cigarette.

A woman who wished herself dead, died.

And so on.

The plane landed and the passengers were herded into a hangar, where they were questioned. The little girl finally got her smoke. The woman who was dead was autopsied. There was a man who clearly wanted to be smarter, he now had every fact ever in his head. Including a lot of Top Secret stuff. And then, there was another woman. I don't remember why she was on this plane. Or why she was alone. Because she had been in an car accident many years ago and she had no motor skills, no speech skills. She was a vegetable. So, again, I don't know why she was on the plane. I'm sure they covered that, though.

This woman must have been thinking about being normal again when the plane went through that patch. Because, suddenly, she could walk again. Talk again. It was as if she'd never been in an accident.

As with most airplane passengers, there are people waiting for their plane to arrive. The passengers of this plane, however, their spouses, friends, family had to wait at the terminal. They were told there was a delay of some sort, and that it shouldn't be long.

Meanwhile, Paul is speaking with the accident woman. She's talking about her husband. And how he takes care of her. And her embarrassment when he has to clean her up. And her love for him. And how much she appreciates everything he does for her, and how she's grateful he never put her in a home. And we cut from her to him, waiting. Planes taking off on the runway in front of the windows near where he's sitting. It's just about dusk at this point. And he's impatient, worried for his wife.

She continues to talk to Paul. She wants to see her husband. But no one's letting anyone from the plane out of the hangar. And finally, fed up, she sneaks out. There's a great chase scene, in the dark, on the tarmac, as she runs from the hangar to the terminal. She manages to find her husband in a window, but not a way in. She pounds on the window, calling out to him. It's fucking heartbreaking. Because he doesn't hear her. Nor does he turn his head and see her. And then we go inside with him. And we see what he does. The window merely reflects what's inside the terminal. It might as well be a mirror. Because, when it's dark outside, and the lights are on inside, you can't see out unless you cup your hands around your eyes and go in close.

He can't hear her because planes are taking off. And landing. And the terminal is busy and noisy. But something in him hears her. And he goes to the window. And she's pounding and screaming and crying. He cups his hands around his eyes and peers outside and sees nothing, but a couple of official men carting a woman away. The husband shrugs and goes and asks when he can get his wife.

In the end, everyone reverts back to their original selves. The woman becomes a vegetable again. Unable to tell her husband anything (Paul sends him a tape recording of their interview, that the husband listens to while his wife sits beside him, trapped in mind and body). The little girl becomes a little girl again. The dead woman, well, she remains dead because she's been autopsied -- if she hadn't, she'd still be alive. And the man who knows everything? He gets carted away, because the government can't risk his knowledge getting out there.

It is, I think, the best episode of television I've ever seen. Every single moment. And I cry every fucking time that woman is at the window screaming for her husband.

But what changed my writing life about this episode? I mean, it's great and all, but what was so earth-shattering? Well, it was that damned window. I remember waiting for my dad to pick me up from Mom's at night. I remember having to cup my hands around my eyes and get really close to the window. I've done it tons since then, but this is an instance where I distinctly remember doing the actual act.

And I never thought about turning something that mundane into something that dramatic. Something from every day life. I'd never thought about what could be outside the window when I don't have my nose pressed up against it. I'd just never looked at anything like, brushing my teeth, sitting in a chair, drinking a glass of wine, whatever... I'd never thought of how you could take something so simple and turn it on its head like that.

I believe I've become a better writer because of that small moment. But I also know that there will be a time when I'll see another moment like that and it will shatter all illusions I have of being any kind of decent writer.

There are two other episodes I can think of that changed my perception of what it takes to be a great writer. I'm hoping to create a little series here and get to those later. But for now, I think I'm going to go re-watch "The Friendly Skies."

If any of you know any of the writers personally, and are close enough to them to find out who actually wrote that window scene, I'm dying to know. I love all of the writers of this episode. But there's clearly one I've got to thank for his brilliance.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Side Door

Recently, on Facebook, I've been friended by folks I haven't seen in years. Decades. This Age of Teh Internets is all kinds of stalker-y. The reality is, it's pretty great (with the odd defriending thrown in once in a while).

Anyway, in all of this reacquainting, I find I'm telling my story over and over. And seriously, if you're not in the business, how do you tell someone you've been trying to break in to TV for this many years and YOU ARE STILL TRYING! To the outsider, I'm fucking retarded. To you, perhaps not-so-much. Or maybe even more.

Hey, when I started out, I was convinced it'd take me about three years tops. It hasn't. It's taken double that, and I'm still not there. So, I'm forced to put some sort of positive spin on it when telling people about it. Here's what I've come up with:

"I've tried for years to break into the front door of TV writing. Now I'm trying the side door."

Because that's exactly what I'm doing. I've done the contest route, with great success and greater heartache. In the past three years, since the greatest heartache of my career (and perhaps life; I'm lucky that's the worst), I've lived in Dublin, the writers have gone on strike, and the writing rooms have shrunk. The time to have broken in was when I was poised to. That didn't happen.

When the heartache happened, I posted about it around the interwebs. A cautionary tale. My friends told me to shut up about it. I took their advice. Thing is, people got pretty pissed off about what had happened to me. One person in particular. She and I have become great friends now. And it's awesome.

She has taken it upon herself to help me to the best of her ability. And she really has.

See, when I first started out, people were telling me, NETWORK! So, I did that. They told me to enter contests, so I did that. People told me to get an agent, so I did that. People told me to get an assistant position, so I tried that. And all the time I'm writing/rewriting/writing/rewriting.

Basically, I listen to the advice. And then I do more. Like the Teaching Days during the strike. My little brainchild spawned into a huge event that people seem to love. Which led to me being invited onto the WGA Genre Committee, organizing events that follow the template I created for the Teaching Days.

I had no idea what to do next, so I went back to interning. In the office where my friend works. If it hadn't been for her, I'd probably have given up hope by now.

However, it just so happens that the people I'm interning for are about to film a pilot, based on a book. And back in 2007, I was working in this same office for these same people and I was doing some research for them on what turns out to be this pilot.

Nowadays, I'm just concentrating on doing a great job for them. Which has resulted in me doing some personal work for one of them. And some research for another one of them. And some research and notes on consult calls for another one of them. Going above and beyond. In exchange, I'm learning a shitload of things that I'd never have occasion to learn just sitting in my home office.

So, now the production office is staffing up. And two of the three (the two involved in the pilot) forwarded my resume, for office P.A. Yeah, six + years to get to office P.A. This is what the dream is. EXCEPT. I will have to refer you back to here.

Because... I don't have the experience they need. They have no doubt I could do the job (hey, man, I could have half my brains and be able to do the job), but they don't have the time to "train" me. So, I didn't get the job. But, I've been working my ass off in the writers' office. For free. For a long time. And they know this. And they appreciate it. So, even though I offered to be an intern on the show, the show wasn't going to have interns.

I will again refer you to here.

Because how the hell was I going to get the experience if they wouldn't take a chance on me?

I'll tell you how. I worked my ass off for free. I became part of their family. And I adore them. And they adore me. They created an internship for me. So that I could get the experience. Because, they explained, if the show goes to series, there's a spot for me there. What was unspoken, however, was that I'd need experience in order to work on the show. So, they're creating an opportunity for me to get that experience. On a show that I predict will be the best. show. ever. And that's not just me saying it. Word from friends who work at the network? This is the most buzzed about show. The pilot (script) is fucking awesome. The book was fucking awesome. I'm totally jazzed about this show.

ASIDE: I asked one of my bosses for career advice. He brought me into his office to talk to me. He kept on talking about IF the show goes to series. I kept on talking about WHEN the show goes to series. Hell, I'm already planning my spec for the show. I'm long lost into uber-geek fandom.


Mine's a long-term plan that's already a bit long in the tooth (like this post). But it's what's working for me. And that's what no one ever told me. It's going to be a different road for everyone. Some will break in with their first script. Some will have overnight success after ten years of writing. And some will have to go through the side door.

Like me.