I’m packing for the move in a week, dealing with boxes of papers in the storage room that haven’t been opened since the last move, a pretty good hint they need to at least be considered for the dump.
Above is a betacam tape of one of my Headline News shows from 1997, looks like a day when I was producing a full live hour, with this half directed by Bruce Daniel (who still works there, and whose wife is a good friend of Kelly’s). I think I kept a couple of these tapes just in case I needed them for pursuing another producing job, though the rigid format of Headlines back in that day meant that one producer’s show really ought to look pretty much like anyone else’s, so there really wouldn’t have been much value showing anyone this tape, short of pointing to the back of my head in the control room on the show-opening Camera One zoom and saying “see, that’s me!”
One thing about the format is that different producers still had flexibility within the format to pick their packages (with the guidance of a supervising producer) and fill out their 13-minute news block however they saw fit. We had one associate producer (which is what I was) who, when he did live hours, tried to give the audience something different by using cold opens, or effecting through some VOs with a “in this half hour”, or stuff like that.
I rarely did that, but what I often tried to do was to get more new stories into the system by digging through the wires (especially state wires, features, business, and Reuters’ “odd” wire) and, if I didn’t have enough writers to take on extra work beyond the necessary updates, I’d just write it myself. There was a full-blown producer named Alicia who also did this. We thought it was good for the Headlines ecosystem as a whole, because the new stories could be duped into later shows, so there’d be more variety in the next 23.5 hours. But in retrospect, the downside of this approach is that were writing from the wires instead of writing to available video, and usually ended up only having a box right for our new read. So on the one hand, we had new content in a textual sense, but were we really creating new “television”? My older self argues against my younger self on this one: today, I think I would have used the time to look through the feeds and see if I could find some good unused video, even if the story wasn’t as good.
So, also in the boxes of vanity, I found this little embarrassment:
Yep, I tried to write a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine spec script. Not that I was alone. Trek was the only show that regularly accepted spec scripts from unagented writers. To wit:
As they point out, 99.9% of spec scripts are sent packing with a “thank you very much”, though a few writers were able to break through this way, and it’s to Paramount’s credit that they were so open to new writers, and to their fan base, in this way.
I didn’t submit this script, in fact, because I knew then that it was bad (and can’t bring myself to read it today). I had about two acts plotted out and started writing, which ended up pretty much how you’d expect: somewhere in the middle of Act IV, I was just throwing words on paper, not knowing what the fuck I was doing or where I was going. In fact, the only reason I don’t trash all remaining copies of this (for fear of my children finding it in my effects 30 or 40 years from now), is the fact that I also found some notes where I was radically re-breaking the story for a thoroughly overhauled second draft:
A rewrite might not have made it good, but it would certainly have made it better.
Before drifting into CNN, I think I ended up writing maybe four total spec scripts. Clearly not enough, and it was not something I did often enough for the process to get easier. Maybe you have to write 10 scripts before you write a good one, but if you don’t truly think the first 9 can be any good, how the heck do you turn them out?
I’ve felt this in an accelerated way with iPhone work since getting the SDK earlier this year. My first couple were tentative, confused, and sometimes appealed for Java analogies that weren’t there. Two things that helped were trying to do some ambitious work early on (my still-broken web radio client) rather than just “screwing around” with the SDK, but then getting into a groove of creating a number of projects and getting familiar with the process of creating an XCode project and being increasingly purposeful with where I wanted to take the code.
Writing an application and writing a screenplay have certain strange similarities. Aside from having to start with an empty “new document” window and needing to bring life to the void, there’s also a sensation that when things are set up right, they just run themselves. In code, those are methods, delegates, and program states. In writing, it’s character and situation (indeed, plot is sometimes defined as character plus situation… define both of them well enough and your story writes itself).
As for my spec scripts, they fell by the wayside while I worked at Headlines. I tried to write a Home Improvement spec to keep the Hollywood screenwriter dream alive, but aside from having some gags and a general premise, I could never get the feel for the straight sitcom. My two half-way decent specs are animation (a spec for Animaniacs which got a nice read from WB and a copy of a real script from the show, sort of a gentle “do it more like this”), and an off-the-wall sitcom pilot we did in grad school called Public Access, which was a finalist in a couple of competitions, but not a winner. It still has some of my favorite gags, the recurring show-within-a-shows like “Can You Fit A Hamster Through A Funnel?” and “Show Dyslexia The”.
Had I taken my chances in LA rather than playing it safe at CNN, I might have taken the next step beyond these scripts, but then again, I might also have crashed and burned and wasted even more time. Guess we’ll never know… short of finding a way to an alternate universe where things played out that way. Which, I think, is what my DS9 was about.