October 29, 2008 Jill

Like Denis, I was at the Playback Innovation Forum yesterday.  Denis has got some valid criticisms of the event in his post, so I’ll go straight to the content.

James Manos Jr.

Bill Brioux interviewed James Manos Jr, who developed Dexter for television but left the series sometimes during the first season.  Manos is a bit of an excentric, funny, profane and forceful in his opinions.

He didn’t get to Hollywood till he was 36 and did a mini-rant on the need for writers to get some experience before moving to LA.  He told the Humber student who questioned him from the front row to quit school and go out and live.  No one can teach you to write; there are some techniques — but you can learn those by reading great writers.  What you need is something to write about.

Another thing on Manos’s mind is creative collaboration.  Following the Dexter experience, he says he’ll never work again work with people he doesn’t know well.  He’ll never work with people who are new to show business.  He will only work with people he knows and who will protect him and he’ll protect them.  He says life is too short to work with assholes… no matter how genius they are.

Manos seems to be a very collaborative guy.  He wanted to invite every single member of the crew to the read-thru of the Dexter pilot.  He doesn’t believe in the proprietary credit because everyone contributes to the finished product.  He said it’s the most collaborative art, and then added as a sort of throw-away, “that’s why it’s so hard to make anything good.”

Manos described the ideal life in production:

Shoot 12 hours, have a drink, screw someone, wake up, do it again.

Writers Panel

This was a strange group.  Robin Veith of Mad Men, Tassie Cameron of Flashpoint and Tom Chehak of The Listener.  It was very hard to get a cohesive discussion going between writers who have such different roles on their shows, such different shows and different levels of experience.   Each of them was fascinating in his or her own way, but there was little energy between them.

Where the differences between the writers’ experience was most evident came when they discussed the stories their series tell.  While AMC gives Mad Men creative freedom, the Canadian series are very much shaped by their networks.  Veith was adament and clear.  On Mad Men, “we tell the stories we want to tell.  We do it our way.”  Cameron aknowledged that her two networks knew their audience and the time slot and it was up to her to find the stories that worked for that audience.   Chehak said “I’m a writer for hire.  I’m working for a network that wants a hit.  We still want to tell a good story.   But we have to be aware of what time we’re on and who’s watching.”

Veith pointed out that they try to make the Mad Men characters as deep and real as possible.  Almost every character story they tell comes from someone’s real life experience.  Remember Betty shooting at the pigeons?  Veith’s mother really did that.

Thanks to the CFC for sponsoring this event and getting me there.

Comments (6)

  1. Kazza

    Weren’t they asking $250 for a panel discussion? Sounds ill-conceived and poorly executed, though no fault of the writers.

  2. admin

    I’m not sure of the price. It was not all that well attended. Many of the attendees were recent CFC grads or current residents. There were some producers, a lot of Playback folk and not many working writers.

  3. Kazza

    The original price was $250 before CFC alumni and WIFT members started getting a flurry of e-mails about the special price of $199.

    If it had been an event of the caliber of the CFC’s panel discussions of years past, I’d be interested. They used to have a screening of an episode of a show followed by a conversation with the writer/showrunner.

    But this Playback event was too much money to hear a journalist who doesn’t understand the craft interviewing professional screenwriters. And that is the chief problem with these for-profit events.

    If the CFC brought back master classes with L.A. showrunners, I’d gladly sign up and pay. I’m not interested in another expensive panel that discusses shows at the fan level.

  4. admin

    You weren’t there, but your assessment of the event is exactly right: not craft oriented enough. And maybe even the wrong guests. Robin Veith and James Manos were very interesting, but wouldn’t it have been better to have Matt Weiner and the current Dexter showrunner (Clyde Philips?)? And then too, it wasn’t in depth enough for my taste. I could have listened to Tassie and Tom for an hour each. Alone. Without two other writers on the stage.
    But didn’t I say I would leave the criticisms to Denis?

  5. J

    I think the idea of “life experience” over “school experience” is a good one, but slightly difficult for those of us with an empty wallet.

    I’ve daydreamed about traveling through Europe with just a backpack and a pile of clean underwear…but roughing it through the European countryside can get mad expensive.

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