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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

MY FAVORITE TV OF 2009 (UPDATE 2)

UPDATE 2.

Everyone keeps mentioning some great shows -- Dexter, Breaking Bad, 24, Generation Kill, etc. I've watched episodes from all these shows and think they are great. But I don't return for more. In some cases, I'm too far behind the story and will have to catch up on DVDs. In other cases, I think they are too similar in tone to Sons. Watching them is a little too much like going to work. You can tell by the things on my list that I use TV like most of you do -- to escape.

UPDATE 1.

I forgot to check the DVR in the bedroom. There were several guilty pleasures I watch with my wife. The additions are *** below.

It's not a"top ten" list, it's not the "best of" list, it's just the shit that I enjoyed watching this year. I don't watch a lot of television. I try to sample the new shows on both network and cable. That sampling very rarely leads to a desire to watch again. So these are the things that ended up on my DVR this year (SOA not included). No particular order, no compelling reason.

HOUSE HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL

Katey and I watch it religiously. It's our escape fantasy. We dream of quitting everything, liquidating our assets, putting the kids in boarding school and moving to the south of France, northern Italy or a Greek Island.

ROBOT CHICKEN

Irreverent, ridiculous and fucking funny. It's fifteen minutes of juvenile escapism.

THE DAILY SHOW

Jon Stewart is my only news source. If it wasn't for him, I'd have no idea what's going on in the world.

NURSE JACKIE

Took me a few episodes to embrace the adulterous junkie caregiver with the heart of gold, but by the end, I was wanting more. Edie Falco is a writer's dream -- she turns a six on the page into a ten on screen.

*GLEE

Katey started watching. Got my daughter, Sarah hooked. I begrudgingly watched an episode with them. Shaking my head in a manly, "C'mon" manner the whole show. Then, when Katey was out of town, I watched every episode. I laughed, I cried, I sang, I danced.

ENTOURAGE

Some critics hate it, but I still love hanging out with these guys. It ain't brilliant, but it's entertaining and addictive.

HUNG

Episodes were uneven, but the overall narrative arc and the acting were very compelling. And yes, an average Joe with a huge penis that every woman wants to fuck... and then pays him, does appeal to my ego-righteous sense of "I could do that... if my penis was four inches longer and I was good looking."

FAMILY GUY

Nothing else in the world makes me laugh more. Nothing.

KIDDIE SHOWS

My three-year old only watches television with her daddy. Twenty minutes in the morning, twenty minutes before bed. These are her favorites in order of dvr requests:

Mio Mao

Bonnie Bear

Musti

Sesame Street

Sponge Bob

LOST

The only network drama I watch. Not just because my wife is on it. Damon and Carlton have me on a string. It's appointment television for the whole family.

IMPORTANT THINGS WITH DEMETRI MARTIN

Love this guy's stand-up. The show is still finding its way, but I watched every episode. And laughed.

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM

I thought I'd be tired of Larry by now, but he still makes me fucking cringe with laughter. Some of the episodes felt derivative, like spec scripts of the show, but there were several shows this season that rivaled the first year in their ingenuity and irreverence. The Seinfeld arc was classic Larry.

TRUE BLOOD

Sexy, intriguing, totally over the fucking top. I'm in, Alan. Can't wait for next season.

MAD MEN

I had to force myself to watch the first half of the season. I was having a hard time relating or caring about ANYBODY. (spoiler ahead) After the grandfather died, I finally started plugging in. The finale was awesome. Looking forward to seeing Don Draper with a sense of purpose next season.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

I watch it for Andy Samburg's Digital Shorts and anything with Kristen Wiig and Kenan Thompson.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

SAM CROW MEN OF GINGER

My Christmas gift from the beautiful and kind Winter Ave Zoli (Lyla). Happy Holidays.
video

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

NOT SO GOLDEN GLOBES


Now that my angry tweets are all over the net and I continue to bolster my reputation as the most dangerous showrunner in Hollywood, I figured I'd briefly weigh in.

I was actually in a pretty Zen place about the Globes.  I knew from our press guy that we were off the radar and weren't gonna win.  Basically Fox couldn't afford to buy us an award too.  I was cool.  But when I woke up and I saw who/what actually got nominated, I just got really pissed.  Actually, not pissed, insulted.  I think all those years of being ignored on The Shield is having a cumulative effect.  I get it, the Globes are a sham (Nikke Finke breaks it down best), but they are still a valuable marketing tool and as shallow as it sounds, those golden statues boost an artist's ego.  So when I saw actors like Courtney Cox getting nominated for fucking Cougar Town and Kyra Sedgewick for The Closer (both talented actors but the performances in these vehicles are just not award worthy), I snapped.  Look, I know she's my wife and I know there in no way in hell I can be objective, but Katey's performance not being recognized is a little offensive, no? 

For the record, I called the Foreign Press old, tired and lazy.  That was a heated opinion based on very little research, any resemblance between my appraisals and persons living or dead, although intentional, is purely coincidental.

I'm trying to stay hopeful about the Emmys, but I know Sons is riding a very dark horse in that race also.  I broke all that down last year in this blog.  The support from the fans on my blog, Twitter and FB has been great.  I know at the end of the day, the gold statues don't mean shit.  And I wish I could just sit back, be humble and shut my fucking mouth (and trust me, there's a long list of people wishing the same thing), but alas, I make no promises.  For today, I am content with having the best job in Hollywood, rabidly loyal viewers and the praise of a few good critics.

Friday, December 11, 2009

YEAH, I'M ACTUALLY WEIGHING IN ON TIGER WOODS



I know I have no business commenting on anything sports related.  I'm athletic, but not a sports fan. I don't follow nor have any insight into amateur or professional sports.  The only golf I've ever played involved navigating a brightly-colored ball around a windmill and a dancing giraffe.  And is golf really a sport?  In my opinion, it ain't a game unless you break a sweat.  And now that John Daly's dropped 100 pounds,  there's ne'er a drop of perspiration on the PGA tour.

Except for Tiger.  He's sweating.  Sweating badly.  I guess for some reason he thought he was above reproach and could peck and strut in plain sight without any backlash.  Interesting, and very karmic, that it was ultimately his own simple accident that blew the lid off the overstuffed bottle of cheat.  Clearly his behavior had reached a breaking point and all it needed was a crack in the beam.  And boy, did the bottom drop out.  For those of us who were completely in the dark, all the allegations seem almost unbelievable. Really?  Little Tiger Woods is a pimp?  Holy shit.  

Here's the thing.  Tiger deserves to be bitch-slapped, but not for cheating on his wife, for being stupid.  Let's get real, the only crime Tiger is guilty of is arrogance.  I'm not condoning adultery.  I'm a happily married man who has never cheated on my wife.  Not only because I love and respect her, but because I know if I was ever caught (and I would get caught... I'm a lousy liar) the damage to my family would be irreparable.  

But Tiger is not like me.  Tiger is not like any of you reading this.  Tiger is a billionaire who single-handedly revived the game of golf.  He's a sheik, sports royalty.  Look at the information that has come out about his prenuptials.  I know most prenups are dry, legal lines-in-the-sand, but Tiger and Elin's was not just about money, it was about obligation, timing, expectations, media exposure.  It was as much a talent contract as it was a nuptial document.  I'm sorry, and maybe this makes me a sexist, but women (or men)  who enter into these agreements are very aware of the parameters and rules.  I'm not saying there isn't some genuine feelings between Mr. and Mrs. Woods, clearly there must be.  But ultimately their union is a fucking legal contract.  Tiger breached the contract not because he was unfaithful, but because he was sloppy.  Porn stars, socialites, party whores -- Jesus Christ, Tiger, you'd think your buddies in the NBA would have given you better advice than that.  

But that's where the chastisement should end.  He fucked up, got caught, embarrassed his family -- he broke the deal.  That's why the contract was quickly amended and updated.  And he paid the penalty fees.  Deep, bloody penalty fees.  But this talk of Tiger being a fake and a fraud.  Really?  I don't know about you, but I never saw Tiger do a commercial for family values.  In fact, I find the guy incredibly distant and aloof.  It made perfect sense that he married a Scandinavian.  I have Norwegian relatives who can go months without smiling.  Oh, wait, that's me.  The point is, I never put Tiger up on any kind of moral pedestal.  He endorses golf shit.  Wasn't he just a role model to fat white guys?  Was he really a role model to kids?  Do kids really wanna grow up to be professional golfers?  If so, maybe seeing one go all super pimp might just be the kick in the ass they need to realize they should pursue a real sport.  Just saying...

And I'll finish with this sand trap (not even sure if that analogy makes sense), I think the reaction to Tiger is racist.  They are not giving him the benefit of the doubt they would give other superior athletes.  We were all shocked when Kobe got accused of rape a few years back, but somehow, because it was basketball - a sport dominated by African American men, that behavior was somehow less shocking or expected.  Especially if you read Wilt's autobiography.  Kobe apologized, bought his wife a thirty-pound diamond and we chalked it off to superstar behavior.  Kobe's endorsements barely sputtered and  soon it was all forgotten.  But golf is a white man's game.  A member's only club, run by old white money and too much gin.  Yes, it took a Black-Asian to reinvigorate the sport, but the PGA was willing to look past that cruel irony as long as pockets were getting lined.  And here's the real irony -- half the red-nosed putters in every exclusive fucking club in this country are diddling their secretaries, but heaven forbid it ever become public knowledge.  That would be wrong.  The PGA, as much as they need him, will demand assurances that their poster boy never stray from the straight white line again.  

Unfortunately Tiger isn't helping his cause any.  The only way to ward off the damage is to face it head on (Letterman).  But Tiger's shame, his painful introversion and the ghost of his father's disappointment has caused him to retreat.  He's not admitted anything, there's been no real contrition and now he's removed himself from the game.  His absence will just fuel the gossip fire.  I'm sure he'll come back, but unlike Kobe, I think the damage to his career, family and game will be irreparable.  

Man, I'm glad I hate golf.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

TRADE AD



Wanna thank FX, Fox 21 and 20th for placing this add in all the trades.  Speaks for itself.  Click it for a bigger view.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

CLOSING A DEAL, OPENING A DOOR



People read my blog because I often react before I think, resulting in unfiltered opinions about the business of show.  Most of those outbursts are perceived (and sometimes imaginary) injustices levied against me or others.  So I thought it only fair, and perhaps a bit out of character, to offer some praise for a change.

Fame and popularity often trigger fear and greed.  The trades are riddled with stories of creatives on hit shows or successful movies battling for more respect and coin.  Someone trying to out maneuver and out play their peers, bosses or rivals.  It's ugly shit that usually boils down to "my dick is bigger than yours".  Showrunners are no exception.  Forgive the sexist slant on this analogy, but writers historically are treated as if they have the smallest penises in town.  We are constantly seeking out means by which to grow our junk.  And what makes our dicks big and hard?  Yeah, money.  I know that sounds base and shallow, but it's true.  Money is the equalizer.  It's the only measure of respect that means anything in Hollywood.  And I know this will sound like bullshit, but it's not about the material payoff, it's about being valued.  We need to be acknowledged as an important part of the creative process.  We create the world that production builds, we tell the story that the director shoots, we hear the words that the actor says.   

A couple of months ago, I got wind that 20th (the mother ship of Fox 21 our co-studio) had no interest in investing in my future.  In other words, they were not going to offer me a sweet overall deal because they saw no long-term value in SutterInk.  And honestly, can you blame them?  I've been very outspoken about how I could never be dropped into someone else's playground and share the ball.  So an overall that allows them to place me on any show, didn't make sense.  And after a couple hostile work environment claims and the whole D-girl debacle, c'mon, I'm lucky Rupe didn't put a hit out on me.  So, needless to say I was expecting a very contentious deal making scenario.  

That didn't happen.  FX Networks and FX Productions (the other co-studio) stepped up to the plate and without disclosing details, began negotiations in a spirit of trust and respect.  Below is part of the email I sent to Landgraf and his executives.  It pretty much sums up my feelings -- 
i want to officially document my thanks and gratitude for the unprecedented way you have conducted yourselves in this negotiating process... it’s one thing to say that you’re a network that supports and nourishes artists but it’s another to back that up with the only true measure of respect creatives have in this town -- cash.  ... the fair and generous deal you’ve made with me fuels my continuing dedication to soa and FX.  your actions speak volumes to your trust in me and that goes a very long way.
I don't know anything about their strategy or their deals with anyone else, but with me and Sons of Anarchy, FX has shown their trust, loyalty and support in my talent.  I thank them and I look forward to season three and beyond.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

AND THE WINNERS ARE...




From SUTTERINK Blog
(screen names)

mepsipax
Poppa_Choppa
Gail
Spooky Lil Girl
leadsled70

From FACEBOOK
(screen names) 

Bernard Kennedy
Danielle Ippolito
Marc Kuechle
Richard Lazzara
Sarah Overman
Seth Chenard
Tonya Farabee
Sue Gabel
Rebecca Lyn Engs
Noelia Fernandez

From TWITTER
(nicknames)

sugarplum
NotoriousJMG 
tat2loser 
c0rpsebunny 
NightRiderAZ  
rosclark7
PyroPoet 
DamonMartin
FudgeDiva
Cali430

I will give folks a few days to send me their info, if I don't hear from them by Friday, I'll choose another.  I won't be able to get the swag out till after 12/11, so please be patient.  

Making it simple to send me your info.  Just email me your name and mailing address at freeshit@sutterink.com

And if you didn't win, which of course most of you did not, you still get the gift of me... on SutterInk Blog, Facebook and Twitter.  Ah yes, I can hear the choruses of "Go fuck yourself writer-man!!" echoing throughout the middle 48.

God bless your mess.









SWAGILICIOUS



Sons of Anarchy fans have truly blown me away this season.  You folks are smart, insightful and absolutely insane.  My kinda folks.  So tonight, after the finale, regardless of how many fucking Twitter followers I have, I will be giving away swag.  Five winners from my blog followers, ten from Facebook and ten from Twitter.  And so I can't be accused of playing favorites and just picking hot chicks and critics (in Mo Ryan's case that's the same thing), I will pick random numbers and count them off the list of followers.

I will post the winners here on my blog and upload the link to Twitter and Facebook. 

I've got minimal swag at my office (it's pathetic, I gotta like blow people for fucking T-shirts) so the gifts will mostly be signed scripts, perhaps a couple of shirts and SOA season one DVDs.  

PLEASE DO NOT SEND ME YOUR CONTACT INFORMATION UNLESS I PICK YOUR NAME TONIGHT.  I LOVE YOU, BUT I DON'T NEED TO KNOW WHERE YOU ALL LIVE...

If I DO pick you:
- from my blog, post a comment with your name and mailing address (obviously I will not post it). 
- from Facebook or Twitter send me a direct message with the info.

I hope you dig the finale.  I'm very proud of it.  It's one thing to write for my cast, but to be able to work with them as actors and direct is such a fucking joy.  I learn so much from my cast and crew. 

Anyway... enjoy "The Troubles".

Monday, November 23, 2009

SON BASHING



There's been a recent article that's surfaced bashing this season of Sons of Anarchy.  I haven't read it, but I'm told it borders on abusive.  I've gotten a lot of comments and tweets asking me to respond.  Here's what I know -- TV shows have unique characteristics and personalities.  What I've painfully learned is that you can't be all things to all people.  

"Having said that" (my homage to last night's Curb), I also know that online reporters make coin for every "hit" they get.  That's why I always point viewers to reporters who support the show.  I want to help the people who help me.  

So if I were a desperate columnist at a near-defunct magazine/site, I'd probably find something well-liked and pontificate a highly controversial point of view.  After all, conflict=drama=readers.  And let's face it, you can't go after a show like Mad Men, it's a near-perfect show and there's nothing really controversial at stake.  But there's enough moral gray area and highly dramatic plot complication on Sons to pick apart.  Truth is, if I needed to pay the rent, I would have written the same piece.   Hell, it's cyberspace, who knows, maybe I did.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

CREATION IS AN ACTION... DOUCHEBAG.



It's that time of year, when the parasites emerge from the woodwork looking for nourishing blood and a strong back to carry them to celebrated glory.  Maybe it's the holidays and people are just expecting free shit from folks they barely know, but it always happens around the finale, some embittered biker/writer/actor/producer surfaces with an official looking document on legal letterhead -- claiming that somehow, some way, through a wormhole or some kind of creative-calibrated vortex, FX and I undermined/stole their brilliant idea for an outlaw motorcycle show by creating Sons of Anarchy

Here's a little fact y'all should be aware of -- any semi-literate, shit-throwing monkey can have a fucking idea, it's the EXECUTION of the thought that matters.  

Creation is an action.  

The truth is a TV series about outlaw bikers is not a new idea.  People have been trying to create one for years.  The concept has been pitched to networks every season and there have been probably a dozen scripts that have circulated Hollywood.  They didn't get made because there was either no execution or the execution of those ideas failed.  Sometimes they failed because of quality, sometimes because of timing, sometimes because of the personalities involved.

SOA succeeded because the execution worked.  I was able to create interesting characters, organic relationships and dynamic story arcs.  Then I surrounded myself with people who were a fuckload more talented than I was -- great directors, great actors, great crew and a studio and network who knew how to support and market the show.

I'm sure this happens to creators all the time.  Someone has probably tried to sue JJ Abrams claiming the idea for Lost came to them in a dream while lying on Jones beach.  I guess I should be flattered, but my are-you-fucking-kidding-me button gets pushed when folks blatantly lie for profit.  And when I look at the list of folks who claim Sons was their idea -- it's never anyone with talent, it's always some poor, delusional clown who thinks the fucking world owes him a cookie.  There's one guy who still posts on his website that the character of Jax is based on him.  This guy was a 1%er who turned rat, then cashed in by becoming an "expert" and writing fairytales of the MC life.  How in any way shape or form is that life remotely similar to Jax Teller?  It's not, but he doesn't give a shit, because if it helps him sell a few more pages of fiction, who the fuck cares about the truth, right?  

Douchebag.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

WHY I LOVE ROBOT CHICKEN



I'm sure you've all noticed how much blogging I've been doing lately.  I'm still waiting to get my movie cast, so I'm kinda in the hallway and as I've said in the past, I really don't do well with down time.  So the blog has been a great way to keep me out of trouble... kinda.

I've also been catching up on my over-packed DVR (remember the days when we just called them tivos).  My teenage son turned me on to Seth Green's masterpiece, Robot Chicken awhile back and last night I caught up -- I watched 18 episodes (I know... I have trouble with moderation).  In the past the show made me laugh, but last night I think I finally "got it", you know the laugh behind the laugh.   

If you've never watched Robot Chicken -- imagine you're six years old and playing with GI Joe's, Barbie Dolls and other assorted action figures.  Then your sexually ambiguous uncle Billy sits down in his too-tight pants and offers to play with you (using exactly that phrase).  With each pose of the doll, he twists your innocent narrative into something violent, crude and sexually inappropriate.  Usually ending each scenario with your favorite action figure covered in blood and/or cum (his).  I love uncle Billy. 

Robot Chicken is stop-motion animation with action figures.  More often than not, Seth and company take the cartoon fantasies from our youth and turn them into hilarious and irreverent tales of mayhem.  RC is not for everyone, but as a writer who struggles with finding an independent voice in the dreck-heavy television landscape, this show is the Holy Grail.  It is irreverence personified.  

That's the joke behind the joke.  These guys are using the innocence of our youth to exploit the decadence of our adult pursuits.  And nothing is off limits.  You get the sense that half the segments are inside jokes.  They are creating shit that makes them laugh, television that they want to watch.  Their 15-minute episodes on Cartoon Network are the perfect medium for their dishonorable expression.  These guys are my heroes.  Offensive language is bleeped, but pretty much everything else flies.  If you haven't watched, it's worth tuning in.  And they attract very hip and eclectic voice talent, from Phyllis Diller to Scarlett Johansson.

Friday, November 13, 2009

THE SHOW MUST BE RUN




People have asked me many times, what is a “showrunner”?  What does that mean?  What do you do exactly?  When I’m in the middle of a season, the last thing I wanna do is talk about the job description, but I thought I’d take a minute while I had some down time and try to explain the process.  Although the name implies the basic truth -- the showrunner runs the show -- “running” can cover a vast array of duties.  Let me qualify by saying that my only experiencing running a show is on Sons of Anarchy.  I was an executive producer on The Shield and would often run the writer’s room, but Shawn Ryan was the only showrunner on that show. 
CREATOR VS. SHOWRUNNER
More often than not, the person who created the show -- came up with the specific idea and wrote the original pilot -- is the person put in charge of the show.  To me, that is the only concept that makes sense.  Especially if it is an original idea and not based on another property -- book, life rights, etc.  I can’t imagine hiring a writer to develop and write a pilot and then bringing on someone else to carry forth that vision.  Sometimes a network will develop a project from a writer and then for one reason or another, hire a more seasoned showrunner to take over the show -- the television landscape is littered with those failures.  Sometimes a creator will be high-profile and will not want the daily duties of running the show.  On Lost Damon Lindelof, who co-created with JJ Abrams, brought on Carlton Cuse to help with the running of that show because JJ was pursuing feature work.  Carlton is a great showrunner and Damon still carries forth the original vision -- clearly that combination is working. 
For me, and it’s my fear of overall deals (where a studio can attach you to any project), I couldn’t imagine running someone else’s show.  First of all, my personality is such -- let’s just say I’m not a people person -- my idea of diplomacy is a cold stare and a door slam.  I’m not an ingredient you can just mix into any recipe.  Not unless you wanna die a violent gastrointestinal death.  The showrunning gig is so demanding and the pressure is so great, if it wasn’t something I was completely proprietary over, I just couldn’t show up.
WRITING
The big arcs for the following season usually materialize for me at some point in the previous season.  Midway through season one, I knew Gemma was going to be raped in the premier of season 2 and she would reveal it in episode 210.  This year, I knew what season 3 was by episode 206 (it’s the joy/pain of this art form - my brain never shuts off).  I then spend a chunk of the hiatus flushing out those ideas and then pitch the season to my writers the first week back.  That’s when the heavy-lifting begins. My writers and I will hang the meat on the bones.   
At the beginning of the season, before production begins, I only have one job -- story.  It’s a magical time.  Just me and my writers spinning love, blood, Harleys, revenge, guns, tits/ass, and dark (usually genitalia-related) humor (and yes half my writers are women).  We’ll spend a few weeks on the big arcs, then begin with the first episode. 
After an individual episode is flushed out, the writer/s assigned to it, will generate an outline.  I’ll give notes and send them to script.  This fluctuates depending on the time of the season, but the writer/s will usually get 7-9 days for a first draft.  If time allows, I’ll give notes and send them off for a second pass.  Usually 3-4 days.  Then I’ll take over the script.  This is where I’m not such a skilled showrunner.  The truth is, it’s very difficult for me to see/hear the episode from the outside.  Basically, I give shitty notes.  Shawn Ryan had great skill at seeing the episode from afar.  His notes were always very specific and guided the writer to a closer draft.  Me, not so much.  I can’t see the episode until I’m inside it as a writer.  I have to hear the voices in my head.  Quite often, I end up re-breaking and significantly altering the story.  My rewrites tend to be extensive, more often than not, from page one.  It consumes most of my time on the show.  It’s not a reflection of my writers, they are all incredibly talented, and I will always give them the writing credit.  Hopefully I’ll get better at guiding them as time passes, but for now, I’m just so fucking anal about the voice and tone of the show.  It’s a bit obsessive, but it’s the only way I know how to do it. 
I then turn in a draft to the network/studio and get notes.  I take the notes that make the script better and disregard the ones that don’t.  And truly, some of their notes do make the script better.  John Landgraf, Jane Francis, Nick Grad and Danielle Woodrow (my exec), are story-savvy folks.  Our relationship is solid enough that if I get the occasional ridiculous note, I can respond with, “Really?  That’s your fucking note?”, and illicit a laugh rather than an awkward silence. 
From there, we generate a production draft, which gets distributed to the director and all departments.  That’s when the producing begins.  
I try to bring my writers back as early as possible so we can get a jump on production.  I like to generate as many scripts as possible before we start shooting, because when we do, my job triples.
PRODUCTION
One of the cool things on The Shield was that Shawn would let the writer of an episode produce it as well.  I’ve followed that trend and try to let each writer guide her/his script through production.  That means helping each department understand the needs of the story.  Casting, Art, Locations, Costume, Props, Transportation, Make-up, Stunts, VFX…
At this phase I usually weigh in on final decisions unless there is something very specific in an episode (Ironically most of my conversations are with the prop department.  I’m so anal about the small details). I will sign off on locations, costumes, sets and the director will submit the top three casting choices.  Most of the time I defer to the director because she/he was the one in the room during the session. 
Before the episode shoots I will sit down with the director, line producer, editor, writer/producer, post producer and TONE the episode.  This is usually a 2-4 hour meeting where I walk the director through each scene, pointing out specific story points and character arcs.  Basically making sure the director understands the episode and that everyone is on the same page creatively.
Once principal photography begins, the writer is my eyes and ears on the set.  If a question or issue comes up that they cannot answer I get a phone call.  That’s why my office is on the home set.  That means that 4 out of the 7 days, I’m within 100 yards of any crisis.  Call me a control freak, but I couldn’t run this show if it shot in a different state.  Hats off to folks who can. 
POST PRODUCTION
If half my time is spent writing, the other half is spent in editing.  I love post production almost as much as writing.  It’s the final rewrite, the last phase of the narrative.  It’s a long, complicated process, but I’ll try to give you a quick glimpse at what actually happens.
After an episode finishes shooting, the editor usually takes 3 or 4 days to finish assembling her/his cut, and then hands it over to the director.  The director has a week to finish the director’s cut, then I take over.  I usually have 3 to 5 days to turn in the first studio/network cut.  I get notes the same way I do on scripts.  We usually do one more s/n cut, then I lock picture. 
After picture is locked, I sit down with the editor of the episode, my post producer, Craig Yahata, my music supervisor/composer Bob Thiele and my music editor Charles Sydnor and we “spot” music.  That means we go through the episode and decide where music goes and what that music should be.  Bob has assembled a strong eclectic library for the incidental music (music playing in the clubhouse, in cars, in the garage, etc.).  I usually have a pretty good sense of what I want for the bigger music cues -- montages and key scene songs -- at the script level.  It’s in post where we see if those choices work against picture.  If it does, we decide if we want to use the original master or if we want to do an SOA cover.  Most times we opt for the cover.  It’s cheaper and has become a signature of the show.  Bob is also an amazing musician, so he taps into his music contacts and assembles the key players.  The result is always badass and brilliant. 
Beyond music, Craig, my post producer will coordinate any special effects, ADR (addition dialogue recording), sound spotting, looping (additional background dialog and sounds), color correction, etc.  When all that’s pulled together and I’ve signed off on all the elements, we go to the Final Mix.  That’s where all the final sound elements are mixed with all the final picture elements.   Craig and his team will spend more than a day doing a preliminary mix -- finding the right levels for dialog, music, background sound, etc.  I usually come in on the last day, listen to it, give notes and hand it back to Craig. 
That final mix is then sent to layback and locked into a master.  That master is delivered and beamed out to your television.
GRIND OF LOVE
So that’s sort of a crash course in the running of this show.  Early on, it’s a 40 hour gig, but once production and post duties begin, I’m looking at 70-80 hour weeks.  It beats me up a bit, but the truth is, I’ve got the best gig on the planet and wouldn’t trade a minute of it. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

TIME




I was interviewed by James Poniewozik of Time a few weeks ago.  Article below.  He's got a great, really smart TV blog at Time.com. 

SONS OF ANARCHY: FULL THROTTLE
by James Poniewozik 

"Balm" was not just the biggest Sons of Anarchy yet; it was the best. Having built all season on last year's violent shocker turn—the accidental shooting death of Donna—the show has stepped up the stakes, threats and conflicts further, all the while going deeper into its characters.

And my God, what a closing performance last night by Katey Sagal, an absolutely riveting revelation of her rape that should put her in Emmy consideration next year. Nothing in Segal's sitcom-performance career could have prepared us for what she's done in the role of Gemma this season. Nor, for that matter, did the initial character of Gemma; she was introduced in the series as a tough biker mama, but this year she (and her husband, series creator Kurt Sutter) have made her a complex, empathetic but still challenging character.

Meanwhile the show has managed to make the rivalry between Jax and Clay more intense while at the same time shading it with moments of connection. And the aftermath of Gemma's revelation, which has thrown the two men together just as Jax was preparing to go nomad, promises to complicate things further. They both have an interest in kicking some white-supremacist ass now, but I wouldn't expect that to fix anything between them.

This series has never been better, but given its acceleration this season, I wouldn't be surprised if Sons of Anarchy got even better soon.



Monday, November 09, 2009

SEPINWALL ON SONS



Wanted to share this article from one of the smarter critics out there.  I love the way Alan Sepinwall critiques and challenges TV.  His reviews aren't just snarky opinions, they're brainstorming sessions where he asks as many questions as he does give answers.  This is a guy who fucking loves television and desperately wants it to be/get/stay good.  Anyway, he's digging SOA right now, so I know it's easy for me to pat him on the back.  Just remember I said all this in case he's trashing me next season.  (And yes, there will be a next season.  Season three is a big renegotiating year.  A lot of two-year contracts are up.  FX is getting their financial ducks in a row.  I have faith that they will announce the pick up before the end of this season.)

"Sons of Anarchy Finds Another Gear" -- Alan Sepinwall - NJ Star Ledger

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how setting an end date can be a shot in the arm to a drama series. “Lost,” “The Shield” and “Battlestar Galactica” all took major upswings in quality after their creators were allowed to start planning toward a specific finish. When you don’t have to worry about being on the air past a certain date, you can take greater risks, not worry about maintaining the status quo — or, in some cases, about keeping characters alive — and the stakes feel higher, the drama richer. 

FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” has somehow reached that higher gear without having the finish line anywhere in sight. It’s in only its second season, one of the most successful scripted shows on cable (it made headlines a few weeks ago for finishing ahead of Jay Leno in the 18-to-49 demographic), and FX no doubt wants to keep it on the air for a long, long time. (The cable channel, which tends to be conservative about renewals, has yet to formally order a third season.)

But “Sons” creator Kurt Sutter (a Jersey guy and former “Shield” writer) doesn’t seem to be worrying about the long-term right now. Conflicts are brewing in the show’s world of bikers and cops and meth dealers that many dramas would be afraid to get to for years, if ever. Each episode feels as if it could end with the characters all drawing their guns and shooting each other (including the ones who are allegedly friends and/or family), and the tension and sense of dread somehow builds week after week after week. It’s one of the best dramas on television (neck and neck with “Mad Men” in many weeks) and seems to get better and better.

I would call tomorrow night’s extra-long episode (it’ll run in a 90-minute time slot, albeit with only 55 minutes of content, so brace yourself for some long commercial breaks) a new creative peak, except that I’ve seen the episode the week after, and in many ways, it’s even more intense.

We’ve reached a point in the season where Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), crown prince of the Sons of Anarchy motorcycle club, has gotten fed up with the Sons and all the drama around them. He knows that the club’s president (and Jax’s stepfather) Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) tried to have Jax’s best friend, Opie (Ryan Hurst), killed and accidentally murdered Opie’s wife instead, and he has to swallow that information because it would only lead to more violence and heartbreak. So Clay goes unpunished, and Jax’s attempts to wrest control of the club from him have only made things worse — and, to Jax’s disbelief, turned an ignorant Opie into Clay’s closest ally. And this civil war has come at a time when the club is under siege from a group of white separatists (whose leader is played by an ironically cast but quietly effective Adam Arkin) who want to take over the Sons’ gun-running operation. 

So as tomorrow’s episode has begun, Jax has decided to cut the cord with the club and “go nomad.” Only matters get even more complicated with the arrival of the club’s former gun supplier from True IRA, Jimmy O (Titus Welliver from “Deadwood”), a vicious man who wants back in with the club and will use a personal hold over club member Chibs (Tommy Flanagan) to get his way. 

There’s an epic feel to the proceedings, and that’s even before Jax’s indomitable mother, Gemma (Katey Sagal, who’s been doing Emmy-worthy work all season), hears what her son is planning and tries to stop him. 

Now, there’s a reason most TV show-runners don’t go all-in on their storytelling this soon. Sutter is steering all the characters to places from which he might not be able to bring them back, and assuming FX does plan on many more seasons, that could be a big problem. 

But right here, right now, “Sons of Anarchy” is 100 percent riveting. Enjoy it now, and worry about later seasons if and when we get there.
 

Saturday, October 31, 2009

ZEN AND THE ART OF GAMING: HOW GUNS, BLOOD AND ACTION CLEAR MY CREATIVE CHANNELS

 


I love video games.  I started PC gaming ten years ago.  I was a broke-ass writer and couldn't afford to buy them, so I would download free demos and play them over and over again.  My first title was an obscure 3rd-person alien game called Evolva.  I soon worked my way up to Unreal Tournament and I was hooked.  It was the biggest rush I had experienced since I gave up drugs years before. 

I still game on my PC.  I'm a purist.  My kid has an X-box 360 and a Wii, but they're not the same for me.  Something much more intimate and interactive about a PC.  Keyboard and mouse movement is so second nature to me and having the images inches from my face with surround sound -- it's just fucking awesome.  I go there.  I AM the warrior, I AM the killer, I AM the hero.  Kurt disappears.  It's an escape like no other.  TV, movies, music -- great distractions, but passive.  Gaming is active.  You don't watch the story, you ARE the story.  Those are the games I love.  Strategic action.  Games that make you think -- actively.  I don't like straight up strategy games or straight up shooters.  Too passive and too arcade like -- I become completely aware that I am playing a game and I get bored.  I need good story, good character and good action. Max Payne, Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six, XIII, Fear, these games are incredible.  Interesting and complex storylines, three-dimensional characters, and kick-ass action.  They demand that you think on your feet-- life and death.  And of course, you kill a lot of shit with big guns.  I do not own guns, nor am I an active gun-enthusiast, but inside a great game, I'm a strapping, gun-toting, blow-your-motherfucking-head-off bad-ass.  I love it.  It allows me to be everything I am not. 

I'm not into RPG’s or MMORPG’s.  It's not a good fit for my personality.  I'm a bit obsessive and the all-inclusive nature of those games scare me.  And I fucking hate wizards and fairies and knights and all that Dungeons and Dragons bullshit (sorry WOW lovers).  Plus online gaming is counter-intuitive for me.  It’s not about reaching out and connecting.  I don’t like “real” people, why would I want “virtual” friends.  Which brings me to the Zen part of the essay -- for me, gaming is not a hobby; it’s a writing meditation tool.  An imagination enema.  A good game will blow out the creative cobwebs and unclog my same-old-shit valves.  It wakes me the fuck up and centers me, delivering me to my bloody, dark, chewy center.  It’s another reason why I game on a PC.  I’ll write till I’m burned out, game for twenty or thirty minutes, get completely adrenalized and refreshed, then jump back into the script.  It’s better than coffee and a blowjob (mainly because the latter usually makes me sleepy and hurts my neck).

I've recently tweeted about how I think most of the really creative young talent is ending up in the gaming world and I'll post a separate blog about how and why I think that is true.  Wanna do a bit of research before I shoot my mouth off about that.  D-girls I can handle, gaming chicks would kick my fucking ass.