Monday, October 31, 2005

What am I worth?

I’m not usually one for picking up and running with memes, but this tickled me. Most likely because I am a shallow capitalist stooge obsessed with aquisition and questions of self-worth.

How about you?

My blog is worth $4,516.32.
How much is your blog worth?

With thanks to Lee Goldberg.

Category: Computing and Web

Saturday, October 29, 2005

So long, suckers!

Nah, not you lot. I just got myself two weeks off work, which takes my holiday time taken this year up to six weeks. I may be a lowly account executive, but I feel like a teacher.

I will spend the first couple of days, as I usually do, clearing up all the junk and underwear (sadly always my own) I’ve left lying around for the last few weeks, making sure I’ve paid all my bills, maybe checking out a movie and sorting out my system (my Powerbook is constantly accessing its hard drive and locking up. This is very irritating. Literally. I have spots.)

Once the chores are finished, the mission begins.

I have two weeks. While this blog has had some moderate success in motivating my ass, I’m not doing anywhere near as much writing as I ought to. Ce la vie, I suppose, but I’m entering my sixth calendar month, and I believe this is, by some coincidence, my 100th post, and it’s time to put up or shut up.

In two weeks I will be well on the way to finishing my rough draft of Conchie, and maybe along the way will have explained a little bit of what it’s about. If I get to the end of the fortnight with little or nothing to show, I will know I am a fraud and will commit seppuko by web-cam. You have my word.

So here’s my desk:

This is where I’m going to be spending most of the next sixteen days. Currently clean and free of clutter, though I really must get around to washing out that coffee mug, expect it to look like an Iranian nuclear lab in two weeks time. Possibly with entrails.

Category: Meatspace

Friday, October 28, 2005

Bleak House opens for visitors

I hope you all did as you were told and tuned in, or have fired up your Bittorrent clients and are merrily pilfering from the BBC that for which I have paid with my toil and sweat.

Andrew Davies did a first rate job of introducing over a dozen characters, with many more to come, and making them all breathe (or not, as the case may be) over the course of the hour. Their relationships were mapped out efficiently and economically, with just the right amount of time spent on each.

Gillian Anderson was terrific as mysterious Lady Dedlock. It almost goes without saying in a BBC production of this type that the photography was superb, but the camera’s relationship with Anderson deserves mention. The way in which she is made the foreground of every shot seems to be almost Hitchcockian, possibly fetishistic, but certainly intriguing, as no other character is photographed in like manner. I sense a certain amount of foreshadowing here...

Weak points? None in the writing so far, but not all of the performances quite hit the mark. Minor characters, but nevertheless, an unnecessary blemish.

I’ve tried reading Bleak House many times over the years, but never managed to get any further through the book than tonight’s episode did. I had some prior familiarity with tonight’s events, and was not disappointed with Davies’ realisation at all. The rest is a mystery I’m keen to watch unravel.

Category: Movies and TV

Thursday, October 27, 2005

London. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall.

A quick reminder to those of you with tellys that tune into BBC One - do not forget to watch Bleak House tonight. The rest of you, download it tomorrow.


Category: Movies and TV

Monday, October 24, 2005

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Broken Wings

Flickr PhotoThis week, I, the displacement king, have been buggering about with Flock. Mostly futilely, if the truth be known.

Sorry, Lee, what? Please don’t tell us you’ve been trying to bum the sheep again?

No, not the flock. Flock.

Those of you who haven’t yet heard the news may be pleased to learn of the existence of a new web-browser (yeah, right, like there isn’t one of those everyday - but don't all get your coats at once) based on Mozilla, but designed for the web-citizen; denizen of the nebulous Web2.0, rather than the flighty web-tourist. It’s a social browser, an internet interactivity app, rather than your basic type here, look there, go somewhere else, browser. It’s built for those of us who use the web to create and share, rather than to do our homework on eighth century viking invasions of Norfolk.

And, in the sense that I regularly use the word to describe something completely diverting that I forget about forever after less than a week, it’s awesome.

Perhaps I could actually take the time to explain it to you?

For instance, what actually makes it any different to IE, Firefox, Safari, and the like? Well for one thing, the term social browser is pretty apt. Flock is all about the making, collecting and sharing of web content.

The first thing you’ll notice about the app, is that it doesn’t utilise bookmarks in any recognisable way. What is does do is ask you for your user name and password, and then syncs up with your online favourites, which is pretty smart. It’s also pretty useless if you have no idea what is, and all your bookmarks are stored locally, as there is no way of getting your bookmarks from Safari, or any other browser, into Flock.

I managed it by exporting my Safari bookmarks to Firefox, and then using Julian Bez’s loader to upload and tag them. It worked well for me, and didn’t take too long, as even though I have around 300 bookmarks, I try to limit their categorisation. Other people have said the loader craps out at 50 bookmarks, so I guess mileages vary.

So now all my bookmarks are collected in one place, online, accessible from any computer I’m using, and by anyone using tags relative to my own. This is good, and I am pleased. I want to share some more; how about photos?

Flickr PhotoOkay, then. Flock has a really neat feature called the topbar. This is a direct link to yours, or other peoples’ Flickr photos, and it is killer (the topbar can also be used as a direct interface to your blog, if you have one, but it always crashes for me). You can easily check out your friend's and contact's photosets without leaving the site you’re on. Sadly, again, if all this Flickr business is new to you, and you have zero pictures online and 25,000 in iPhoto, this is no good for you. Uploading photos is not difficult, and there are many methods of doing so, but currently Flock does not offer one.

I also have to report that even though Flock, like Safari and Firefox, is capable of aggregating feeds, it currently does a piss poor job of it. Once more, the fact that you cannot import from an OPML file fucks with your day. At the moment the only way of using Flock’s RSS implementation is to visit every one of your favorites and allow it to detect feeds. That’s just shit and, at the moment, so is its method of displaying them. This is a developer preview, I know, so there are no final judgments here, but this needs urgent work in my opinion.

I can see the migration issue being a big stumbling block in the way of uptake, and unless the Flock devs can come up with some super swank set-up wizard for neophytes that uploads bookmarks from your current browser to, and introduces you to Flickr, or some other photosharing service, Flock will struggle. Because, let’s be honest, if Flock’s only aim is to be the browser for people who are already savvy to these services it’s not going to get far. A quick search of for instance, reveals the most popular bookmark to be slashdot, with a meagre 9477 links. Mainstream sites such as the BBC, one of the most popular web-sites in the world, have 2512. Flock is currently niche software of the narrowest kind, and even if it were used by every single person with a collection, that wouldn’t be enough for it to survive.

But enough with the downers, there’s way more good stuff.

Flickr PhotoSearches, for one. These are great, and very Spotlight-like. Type your query into Flock’s search bar, and as well as being able to hunt it down on Google, Yahoo etc, Flock will also scan both your favourites and history for you. It’s such an obvious development, really. I mean, why have web, bookmark and history searches all in different places, when a single pane can do it all. Brilliant thinking.

And the shelf. This is ace! Found a picture you like, or particular pice of text, or need to build a collection of links for a research project - this is the way to do it. Just drag what you want to the shelf, and it acts like a giant clipboard, storing content until you need it.

And what might you need it for? Why, blogging of course. My friends, this is Flock’s raison d’etre, and its coup de grace is its blog editor. Flock is without question the browser for bloggers. This one feature is what’s going to make Flock an indispensible piece of software for bloggers everywhere and it’s this, not bookmark integration or snazzy photo viewing that’s going to make Flock a success.

Even though, as I’ve said, this is a developer release and not without bugs, already the blog editor is hugely accomplished. It makes posting an absolute piece of cake. Simply drag in an image, resize it and select how you want text to flow around it, and you’re ready to post. Or highlight a selection of text, drag it in, and Flock creates blockquote tags and a link to the reference. Although categories aren’t presently supported, you can add Technorati tags very easily. I wouldn’t use it exclusively yet, not so long as it’s prone to crash and lose whatever you’ve been working on, but for posting short bursts of inspiration, it’s ideal.

Flock has plenty of potential, and already one great strength. Its greatest weakness lies in its learning curve. As soon as it learns to reach out, and help potential users to see things its way and aid them in migrating, it is gonna soar.

Category: Computing and Web

Technorati Tags: , ,

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Blogger adds trackback (kinda)

This one went under my radar. Seems that Blogger have added a new service, kind of like trackback, except it works by checking their blogsearch engine for links to your posts.

Works well, at that.

I was using Haloscan’s trackback service before, but I actually prefer this, because even though it’s a bit of a hack, it’s more inclusive.

To set it up, go into your blog settings and opt to show backlinks in the comments tab.

Then hope that fellow bloggers will link to you, and not show you up as the Billy-no-mates you are.

Category: Meta

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Sunday night

Lying on my bed with a laptop resting on my gut probably doesn’t count as work, but what the hell? My head hurts. As long as I’m doing something.

Season Six of the The West Wing has just started on More4. I only joined the ranks of the digitally enabled this weekend, so I’ve gone from Season Four on C4 to this, completely missing Season Five. It was okay, lots of hand-held camera work, generally more combative dialogue and not a single gag in the opening two parter. No, not even from Toby. Did I miss some incredibly important plot point that put the cast at odds with each other, or is this just the new direction, sans Sorkin?

Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be story-breaking, not being broken, but this is hard. I’ve been trying to do two hours a night, and just finding that two hours hasn’t been easy, but no-one wants to hear excuses. Like, I’ve been promoted at work, and am more tired than usual when I get home. Bah. Anyway, I’ve tried mapping out episode one and before I really got anywhere I could see that I had too much material, but not enough story. It was boring, so I’ve lopped away a third of my beats, narrowed my focus to the war at home (and I promise I’ll explain what all this is about sometime), erased several characters from existence and in so doing re-written remaining characters’ backstories, and introduced one or two new cads to bring conflict to the fore.

This has been a very slow process so far, with lots of dead ends. Hopefully, as I do more, my story instincts will sharpen and I won’t end up wandering so many blind alleys. Until then, I’m just going to have to find out what doesn’t work the old fashioned way. I’ve got time.

Category: Writing

Friday, October 14, 2005

More on the vidipod and Front Row

Following my initial enthusiasm for Apple’s entry into the video on demand market, I've been thinking some more about what Wednesday’s unveilings have to say about the company's media strategy roadmap. Second guessing Steve Jobs seems to have become an industry in itself, and is really quite good fun in its own right, so indulge me as I wildly speculate on what the future may bring. This seems, in fact, to be the ideal time to try and predict what's going to happen throughout the coming years, because once updated laptops and Powermacs are announced in the next few weeks, that’s probably going to be it on the hardware side until all the kinks of the Intel transition are hammered out - probably sometime in 2007.
What I think this means is that, over the next two years, the public can expect to see massive investment by Apple in their content delivery infrastructure and cross platform user interface. And frankly it’s overdue, because iTunes, once a kick-ass music organiser and player is not up to the burdens now being placed on it, and neither, I suspect, are Mac users.
I don't know about other Mac users because I've never actually met one in the flesh, but my Home directory has separate Music, Pictures and Movies folders. However, the way things are, Apple may as well replace them all with a single iPod folder and be done with them. If iTunes is going to copy your movies to a music folder, and demand to be used for photo synching then what’s the point of keeping individual folders around? Actually, what’s the point of iTunes anymore?

The iTunes interface is now an ungodly mess, and there is only one reason for it.


There is no question that Apple owes much of its current success to its decision to port iTunes to Windows, but if development had continued on the Mac alone, most likely there would be a single Quicktime store for music and movies and a means to export purchases to separate music and video players. That would be the Apple way. Instead we’re made to suffer what is basically an inelegant hack job, a bloated iTunes, a music store selling movies, because Apple wants everything to work and look the same way on Macs and PCs, which means running everything in a single, portable, Carbon environment.
It makes no sense to use iTunes as a movie viewer, but if Apple want to sell movies to Windows users then that’s the way it has to be. Once all Apple software is running on Intel processors, porting between OSes ought to be a trivial task, but until that day iTunes remains a music jukebox with badly implemented movie pretensions. An example: field information is geared towards song labeling, there is no way within the app to tag a movie with Writer, Director, or Star info. Although I notice that Show, Season and Episode columns have been added to the library window, this data is not displayed in the movie’s info dialogue (and iTunes refers to movies, generically, as songs).
It's becoming harder and harder to mask this mess, and my take is that Apple's solution to the problem is Front Row. I expect this to eventually replace iTunes and Quicktime Player and become the front end for separate databases containing music and movie files. Given Apple's current trend of phasing out products just as they are becoming popular, I'd look for it to become the next Dashboard as well - use it to call up weather info, RSS feeds, and cricket scores; why, it's the new Ceefax! Don’t expect it to display TV schedules, though, because if Apple get their way, in ten or so years there won't be any TV - we're seeing Apple’s baby-steps towards actually delivering a high-def, on demand, ip delivered entertainment infrastructure.
I'm no fan of DRM, but since I’ve oftentimes admitted to downloading every minute of TV I watch using Bittorrent, that's probably not surprising. For now, it’s the price we pay to legitimise the idea and fund the reality of this alternative distribution system. We must treat the movie and music industries with the respect, courtesy and gentleness one would extend to an elderly relative, no matter how much they may rage against the dying of the light. Let them demand DRM and variable pricing, subscriptions and limits on fair use, subpoenas and political favours. They see the writing on the wall. They no longer have any control over how we choose to consume our entertainment. They hate the idea we should only have to buy something once. Right now, they have to sell us as much as they can, as often as they can, as quickly as they can, because the day will come when it becomes possible for independent artists to survive solely on the revenue generated by iTunes (or whatever it becomes), and they won’t be needed.
Idealistic, and possibly naive, I know. And the fact remains that even if that is the future, we need content now. Thankfully Apple (and others) have found ways to work with existing copyright holders to provide it, and have managed to keep pricing reasonable in the face of undisguised greed, thereby easing punters away from the evils of P2P. Now is definitely the time to get the movie studios on board. Apparently, of all the traffic on P2P networks, 61% is video. Only 11% is audio. Other studies reverse these figures. Nobody knows anything, damn it. Regardless of the actual figures, no-one disputes that music is down, videos are up. If this were only due to ever increasing home bandwidth, we wouldn’t be seeing a decline in music downloads. No, the decrease is the effect of legal download services offering good product at fair(ish) prices.
One of the ways in which Apple will get the studios to allow the hosting of their material will be by limiting its portability, or scaleabilty, if you prefer*. Yes, an iPod can be carried anywhere, but the video file itself isn’t much good displayed by any other method, which is what I am getting at. For now, we are being offered video in a maximum resolution of 480x480. This looks like butter on a 2.5 inch screen, just about tolerable on an SD TV and shite on a computer monitor and HDTV. These are early days though, and I expect the offerings to improve. You may say to me that Apple have never offered songs in anything other than 128kbps, so why should they increase their video resolution? I say to you that 128kbps is just as listenable through a home speaker system as it is through your iPod’s headphones, whereas the quality gap between your iPod’s screen and HDTV is huge. Plus, Apple already offer HD content and I have no doubt that, eventually, they will offer shows at multiple resolutions and prices: say $1.00 an episode for the low res version, with high def versions available to those who subscribe to a season for $30-40.
This is how content creation will be bankrolled in the future. Scrape up the funds to create a pilot, stick it on iWhatever, have it played in Front Row. If a million people pay for it or, even better, subscribe upfront to further episodes you can make some good TV. In fact, we’ll even need a new name for it. The reason there is no TV tuner in the iMac is because Apple don’t want to turn your computer into a TV, they want to use their delivery system to supplant television entirely, and that’s why they will take control of our living space, and Microsoft’s Media Centre was doomed to fail.

Category: Computing and Web

*and, look, all of you I’ve seen getting in a twist because someone’s claimed you can’t burn your movies to optical discs (not true, anyway) - the price per GB ratio between hard drives and DVD+/-R is pretty even. And believe me, you will much prefer to keep 450GB of video on one ittle-bitty hard drive than on 100 DVDs. Trust me on this.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

iTunes 5, we hardly knew ye

I say, Apple have impressed me. At their special event today they put the iTunes store so far ahead of the competition, there’s nothing you can do but pity them. Now they’re selling TV shows. TV shows. Lost and Desperate Housewives along with other ABC, Disney and Pixar content at $1.99 a pop. Someone’s actually, finally, gone and done it. Kudos.

And with new iPods to play it all on, too. Although FireWire in the iPods is well and truly dead.

Needless to say, none of this content is actually available in the UK as of yet, but the landslide has begun.

Furthermore, modest speed-bumps and - bless - the repositioning of the I/O ports aside, the additions to the iMac really are quite special, cementing Apple’s commitment to becoming the premier online media content provider. Smaller, lighter, with built in iSight, Front Row (a new media hub app) and remote control, this is an unashamed bid for the front room. With a TV tuner included, this would have been a killer machine, and with a 500GB hard drive, captures wouldn’t have posed a problem. Still, with an Elgato attached this machine will do pretty much everything you could want (well, except play games), and I’m seriously considering placing an order.

One thing though is in danger of being overlooked. Not some swanky, unheralded new technical feature, but an omission that I should think no-one will be sad to see, yet which is, in it’s own way, a quietly revolutionary statement. Raise the bugle, if you please, for finally dial-up internet access is no more.

Category: Computing and Web

Monday, October 10, 2005

Home movies

Just found my grandad’s ancient 8mm projector and film-splicer up in the loft, along with about 2000ft of home movies from 1962-1980. They’re all in fine working order, so I expect to spend a nostalgic evening soon, watching silent images of myself running bare-assed through the snow.

Hopefully there’ll be more to them than weddings and christenings. Grandad was a captain on the old Athel line, so I’m hoping there’ll be some cool footage of the Pacific in the sixties: New Zealand and China and the Philippines and who knows.        

What I’d really like to do, is convert the film to DV so it can be imported into iMovie, where I can add captions and sound, transfer it to iDVD and make my own disk of the footage. Anyone know if the conversion is easy to do, or expensive? Is it worth paying for the film to DV transfer or will I get decent enough results if I just use a DV camera to capture the film as I project it onto a wall?

Any suggestions?

Category: Meatspace

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Fifteen minutes later...

More visitors in three days than I normally get in a month, all landing on the same post, and not one of them leaves a comment? It’s demoralising, I tells ya!
But my name is now known, so my cynical hit-grabbing manoeuvre worked: Lee Thomson has a screenwriting blog. Go visit! He’s talking about the weather!

Anyway, the brouhaha abates, and as it does I ruminate on Denis’ post Why “The Room” is like Vegas, where he cocks his snook at those of us not fortunate enough to have creatively fulfilling employment and first hand experience of “The Room” and wonder if I did the right thing.
On the whole, I’m okay with republishing Javi’s post, but on one hand I’m a little conflicted and concerned that I resurrected something that its creator chose to bury. However, it’s a free world, and regardless of its motivations, the post is intrinsically interesting for its window into the writers’ room.

Still, Denis has a strong point when he states:

The focus should always be on the product, on the story. But the fan impulse (the root IS fanatic, after all) is always to know more, more, more details about the how.

But just because they want to know, doesn't mean you tell them. Even if it would make you feel good about yourself. Even if it would be fun. Because at the end of the day, even if you show them how the trick is done, they don't have the context to understand what they've seen.

Now, if there is a cone of silence around the process, that does make it difficult for aspiring writers. I know that. How do you get around that? Well, get yourself in position to actually talk to writers, however you can. And take classes on things like psychology and group dynamics. Learn about personality types. Understanding people is way more important for writers, than hearing the latest skank about what went on in the LOST writing room.

Most of all, stop thinking like a fan.

I guess that’s good advice. Practically all the hits I got from search engines last week were not from people interested in the processes behind writing Lost, but fanboys wanting the skinny on the Grillo-Marxauch/Fury feud. That is not why that post was there. I like to think those people went away disappointed, but who can say? When I take Javi’s comments from a post that he has erased because it’s causing him problems and pin them up for the world to see, most likely at his displeasure, then whatever my intentions I am making myself a part of the problem. I am fomenting gossip and facilitating conflict on multiple message boards.

To say “well, that’s the way the web works; the lesson here is to watch what you post, Javi should have thought about what he was doing before airing his grievances to the world” is a cop-out. I didn’t have to cut and paste from one man’s blog to my own, the whole incident could have been forgotten gracefully and that would have been that. If, though, I’d duplicated his post before he deleted it and then just left it up here, instead of adding it after the fact, would Denis still have managed, if only for a moment, to make me feel like a weasel with his whole “naming no names routine?”

After all, I’m not a better writer for having read Javi’s account and as long as I’m hunting down “skank” I’m not doing my own thing. But what’s the harm in trying to understand how the world I want to work in functions? Of course, one learns by doing, but also from listening to others who have done.

Denis, it seems, would have us all make our own mistakes. I'd at least like the opportunity to try and learn from other people's, before I then go and inevitably fuck things up for myself.

Category: Meta

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Autumn is for connoisseurs

Even my man Keats agrees, with his season of mists...and other likewise damp phenomena, when the air smells alternately of cut grass, bonfires and tea-leaves; daylight diminishes and the skies belong to the crow, every caw a carrion delight. In nuanced, bittersweet October, England becomes a haunting Celtic netherworld.

I adore it.

And even if you ignore the fact that I watched Excalibur far too many times in my teens, this remains my favoured time of year - if only for the sheer joy of popping out for a smoke and inhaling not only tobacco but all the various free flavours of the month, the over-ripe apples, gently rotting leaves and still plump blackberries.

Take my advice: if you don’t smoke, take it up tomorrow.

Category: Meatspace

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Good night from him

Ronnie Barker retired from showbiz – leaving ‘em wanting more, though his role in The Gathering Storm two years ago showed he had lost none of his talent or charm - to run an antiques store on my high street, next door to the newsagent where I used to be a paperboy. He would often pop in of a morning to pick up the paper and banter with staff and customers. He was a gentle and humble man and everyone here liked him very much.

It’s very sad to see him go, though thanks to his brilliant performances as Fletcher and Arkwright, and the linguistic genius so frequently on show in his Two Ronnies sketches, he won’t be forgotten soon.

Not many left now. Norman Wisdom, Eric Sykes, Brucie…

Category: Newsround

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Lost and found

Looks like the Feds got to Grillo-Marxuach. In his most recent blog post he writes that he has removed his refutations to David Fury’s remarks in order to deal with particular grievances privately. This is very admirable, entirely laudable, and if I had any children, I’d consider Javier an excellent role-model for them.

However, the excised post was less about how hurt he had been by Fury’s comments and more of an insight into how a season of television is developed, episodes broken and the operations of the writers room.

Understanding this, he states:

for those of you who commented positively on how my entry detailed the inner workings of the writers room, i'll be glad to post a primer on how tv shows are written - using a theoretical show, theoretical writers, and addressing no grievances - real or imagined.

I really hope Javier manages to do this at some point. I’m sure that it would be a fascinating read, but we all know that sometimes, statements to get things done don’t always result in action.

Because of this, and because the internet, like Sherwood Forest, is a place where nothing is ever forgotten, I am going to quote the parts of his post most relevant to the creative process, minus all references to David Fury and the post’s original motivation.

I hope people are cool with this. I’m not disrespecting Grillo-Marxuach’s wishes or privacy; many people will have read his post yesterday, Rolling Stone is available in stores everywhere, and knowledge of his dissatisfaction with the interview is pretty much widespread, particularly in the blogosphere. And I am, after all, only quoting the parts of his post relevant to the gestation of a TV show, because I think people can learn from them, and because “writers’ room vs auteurs” has been something of an ongoing theme of late and this is a welcome addition to the debate. As the man says, “openness helps better stories to be born.”

i began working at “lost” a full three months before the show received an air order. the pilot script was not even completed when i first reported to work along with three other writers: jennifer johnson, paul dini and christian taylor.

damon lindelof and jj abrams gave us the task to develop plot and character ideas for the show in order to better convince the network of the viability of “lost” as a series.

those sessions begat many of the core ideas of what “lost” is today. the characters’ backstories were developed in that room, as well as several long-term plot elements (the nature of the island, the monster, etc.).

during that time, we developed a conceptual framework for the island as well as a conceptual framework for the characters. over the course of a season-and-a-half, we have continued to deepen those ideas into individual episodic stories and seasonal arcs.

however ...

...the truth about all television shows – arc-dependent or otherwise, is that they are slightly amorphous living beings. they develop over time and things that work or don’t work are used or discarded accordingly.

consider “babylon 5,” probably the most arc-dependent sci-fi show ever made. i simply can’t believe that j. michael straczynski always intended for the departure (be it voluntary or involuntary) of his series lead, michael o’hare - at the end of the first season - to be part of his long-standing arc.

the loss of a lead actor is a cataclysmic event in any series. in the case of b5, it required a major reorganization of the story which resulted in a big new element of mythology. even the most regimented series in the genre – a self-proclaimed “novel for television” - had to adjust and change in the face of unforeseen contingency.

how does this apply to "lost?"

as the creator of the hurley backstory that was discarded in favor of the lottery winner story, i can say that, indeed, the original hurley backstory (he was supposed to have been the world’s greatest repo man, sent to australia on a mission to get his biggest prize yet) just didn’t work and had to go.

it would have made for lousy television.

so the hurley backstory was, indeed, a work-in-progress for much of the season. that's how good television is made - if some part of your plan doesn't work, you rework it until it does.

consider the hatch. when i was first hired at “lost” jj was insistent that the castaways find a mysterious hatch in the island. damon was excited about the idea, but did not want to incorporate it into the series until he knew exactly what was in the hatch.

the contents of the hatch were discussed in the writer’s room of “lost” about a third of the way into the first season. by the time the hatch actually appeared on the screen in episode eleven, we knew very well what would be inside – and who put it there and why (the “who put it there was,” in fact, something that came out of the early brainstorming sessions during the filming of the pilot – only then it had a different name) – and were actively building up to that revelation.

the question is – does making these adjustments, accommodating new ideas that enrich our series, and letting the show be a creative process that allows for new development mean we are lying when we say we have a master plan?

you tell me.

this is what i know to be true...

- we know what the island is.

- we know the function of the monster.

- we know who built the hatch and why.

- we know who the others are and how they wound up on the island.

- we know the back-stories of our characters and the past transgressions that they will be working out in the crucible of the island.

- we knew how the first season would end well in advance and already know how the second will end as well.

- we know that we can’t hinge the endings of the third and fourth seasons on any particular revelations yet because we don’t know how long the series will last and have to time our disclosure of our secrets accordingly.

- we know why oceanic 815 crash landed on the island.

here are some other parts of our master plan:

- we invent stories for the daily life of the characters on the island on an ongoing basis because exploration of mythology alone doesn’t allow you to create compelling drama: with every episode we ask ourselves the question “what’s going on in the island and how can we use that to show off the problems of our characters and reveal some of our mythological elements.”

- we allow ourselves the freedom to incorporate new ideas that improve and enhance our story (another example – the moment the hatch appeared, we knew there’d be a person down there, but Desmond’s individual story did not develop until later).

- we know the show will end when we reveal the true makeup of the island and why our characters landed there.

in the interest of full disclosure, i should also say that there may be more that i don’t know. damon, jj and carlton cuse are the self-appointed keepers of the mythology, sometimes they will come to us with some new revelation, or simply take it upon themselves to make changes where they deem it necessary. hey, it’s their show.

so there it is. do we have a master plan? i think we do. i helped build it

...we know where we are going, but we also have the flexibility to take detours along the way and explore things we find interesting. do we make things up on the fly? of course we do... uh, that’s our job.

i have often described the writers room as the combination of the world’s longest group therapy session and the bataan death march. when you are in a writers room, the people there become your family for the length of the season. you get to know them warts and all, you see their weaknesses and strengths, you see more of them than you do of your spouse and children and you get to a point where you have to be comfortable exposing whatever is inside of you in order to create the best possible story.

at best, the writers room is a place of trust. a place of sharing of experience: a place that has to exude a sense of safety in order to work. it is a place where everyone’s willingness to throw in whatever they have to make the stories function results in sustained collective excellence.

if a television show is no good, chances are it begins with some deficiency in the writers room. it is because the writers are not working together and filtering out each others’ worst impulses.

a good example of how the writers room works in a series such as "lost" the creation of the story that eventually became [the] emmy-nominated episode "walkabout." episode which is rightfully hailed as a turning point in the series and a signature moment of "lost."

however, like all episodes of this - and almost any television show - that story was "broken" in the writers room. it was discussed, conceived and divided into acts and scenes in an environment where a group of writers sat together, shared their best ideas and thoughts, and collectively filtered out the chaff to come up with the best possible version of that story...

the original conception of the final revelation of "walkabout" was that, after placing all of his hopes and dreams on a genuine australian walkabout vacation, john locke was crestfallen to find that his "genuine" aboriginal experience was indeed a tourist trap - a cheap and watered-down experience devoid of spiritual meaning.

in this version of the episode - which never got farther than the dry-erase board in the writers room - the final scene of the flashback would have been a profoundly disgusted locke, miserably sitting in the walkabout bus surrounded by screaming children... his life devoid of the meaning he has hoped to find.

this conclusion would have completely worked within the conceptual framework we had laid out for locke during the pilot phase of the show - that he was a profoundly unhappy office drone whose dreams of a grandiose destiny were continually dashed by cruel reality but given a new lease on the island. in our plan for the series, locke was always intended to be a man driven to faithful zealotry by a belief that the plane crash was predestined, and this formulation of his story would have served that theme well.

notice, however, that this version of the story does not include what many consider to be the "big twist" of the episode - the revelation of locke as wheelchair bound and healed by the island.

that's because it didn't exist until damon pitched it in the room as an idea to further push locke's misery into a physical reality that would play on film.

and there was strenuous opposition to this idea. some of the writers and producers of the show felt that it pushed us into too mystical a terrain - that it robbed "lost" of a crucial human dimension that was necessary to maintain an illusion of reality given all the fantastical things we had already established.

...other possibilities were discussed and entertained. we cut the guts out of the story to see if the wheelchair idea - and several other alternatives - held water.

it was ultimately decided that a wheelchair-bound locke was the way to go, and the show is better for it.

that's what the writers room does. it forces every idea, good and bad, to stand up to scrutiny and either live or die on its own merit.

after that, it's up to the writer to make those ideas come to life: and there is a big difference between a good story break that is well-executed by a writer and one that isn't.

as i said, the writer's room is a place of trust - it's a place where writers see the best and worst that they each have to offer. on more than one occasion i have said things in the writers room that i wouldn’t tell 99.9% of the people in my life. why? because that level of openness helps better stories to be born.

I like the sound of these writers’ rooms. I like it much better than the idea of a writer working alone to create an individual masterpiece that may never be aired or paid for. Honestly, I think it’s the way to go in this country, and I’ll be saddened if in three years time, our TV landscape hasn’t changed dramatically and embraced what is, when you look at the bottom line, a process that creates the most exportable drama in the world.

Category: Movies and TV