#BeFabFriday – CineStory Competition

Self4Here is a guest post from a good friend and wonderful writer, Lisanne Sartor.  She is also on the Board of Directors of CineStory, an organization that runs one of the most worthwhile writing competitions in the industry.  Here is her post:

I’m a UCLA MFA Screenwriting alumna and screenwriter and I’ve been involved with the screenwriting non-profit organization CineStory for the past ten years.  I went to my first CineStory retreat after I was a semi-finalist in the CineStory Screenwriting Competition.  I’d entered the competition because its prize sounded amazing – an all expenses-paid, four day retreat during which all retreat attendees get three hour and a half meetings with industry professionals and the competition winner gets a year-long-mentorship with two industry professionals.  Though I didn’t win that year, I was invited to the retreat, an experience that was worth its weight in gold.  I got great notes and met industry professionals who I’m still in contact with today.  Most importantly, the notes I received helped me develop my screenplay into a viable project that eventually became a Lifetime movie of the week – my first produced credit!  I loved that retreat so much that I went to a second and eventually got involved in CineStory as a staffer.  I’m now the CineStory Board Vice President.  I encourage all writers, from novices who’ve just written their first scripts, to screenwriters who may have a produced credit or two under their belts, to enter the competition.  You won’t regret it.

#ThinkpieceThursday – Skins: No Consequences

mtv-skins-tony-480x270Lots of controversy has been brewing around the new teen drama “Skins” on MTV.  I think the problem here is a lack of good storytelling.  The three crucial elements of any good story is 1) want, 2) need and 3) price.  Dramas that don’t work most often don’t attach a price to the choices a character makes.  Unless there is a cost, the action doesn’t feel urgent or compelling.  The higher the cost, the more intense the story and the emotional journey.

What a character wants is a clear and simple ego-driven goal.   It is something he or she can physically have or obtain.  It is clear.  It is simple. It is concrete.  It is specific– The booze, the drugs, the girl, the party invitation.  The want is a finite object of a character’s personal desire.  It is something tangible that would gratify or benefit a character personally and immediately.

What a character needs is an inner ache or yearning that a character is unaware of, denies, suppresses or ignores.  It is a deeper, more abstract or intangible basic human longing.  It is not physical or concrete. It is an emotional satisfaction that enriches the character more deeply– to be accepted for who you are, to be intimate with someone in a meaningful way, to find joy or to connect with someone in a true and authentic manner.

To embrace the need, a character must abandon specific selfish or self-centered goals and address more fundamental and far-reaching human concerns. Every great story ever told since the beginning of time is about the war between the things of the world (the satisfaction of the ego by obtaining worldly trophies, prizes or thrills) and the things of the heart, the soul and the spirit (the deeper satisfaction of embracing our essential humanity).

420x316-alg_mtv_skinsWhat is the cost of obtaining the want or object of desire?  What is the cost of embracing the need and living up to one’s highest, truest, most authentic values?  Which price is a character willing to pay?  What is a character willing to sacrifice or surrender to obtain the want or embrace the need?  The tougher the choice is, the better the story.  If choices isn’t expensive– if there are no expensive consequences– a character’s actions seem episodic and gratuitous.

Comment below or on my FaceBook Page

David Carr writing in the Business and Media section of the New York Times put it this way:

Now that MTV is back on its heels, you will hear arguments that “Skins” merely describes the world that we already live in. There’s something to that. MTV didn’t invent “friends with benefits,” oral sex as the new kiss or stripper chic as a teenage fashion aspiration. And MTV didn’t employ the teenage star that posed semi-nude in Vanity Fair; the Disney Channel is the one in business with Miley Cyrus.

But when you hear talk about how innovative and daring “Skins” is — and you will —that argument is no more credible than the one made by the stoned teenager out after curfew. “Skins” is pretty much a frame-by-frame capture of a British hit. “Kids,” the film by director Larry Clark, plowed the same seamy ground back in 1995. (And films, at least, are more regulated: “Kids” initially received an NC-17 rating, which meant that some of the youngsters who were in the film could not legally see it.)

“Skins” is nothing new, only a corporate effort to clone a provocative drama that will make MTV less dependent on reality shows and add to the bottom line. True, MTV is not alone. Abercrombie & Fitch built a brand out of writhing, half-naked teenagers, as Calvin Klein once did.

But since its inception, MTV has pushed this boundary as hard as any major media company ever has and may have finally crossed a line that will be hard to scramble back across. The self-described “Guidos” and “Guidettes” of “Jersey Shore,” MTV’s breakout hit, have probably already set some kind of record for meaningless sex.

(More questionably, MTV exported the show to some countries with the tagline, “Get Juiced,” a clear reference to the obvious steroid use on the show.)

But while Snooki & Co. may act like children, they can legally drink alcohol and give consent to what might ensue: the age of 21 may seem like an arbitrary distinction but it’s an important one and, besides, it’s the law.

Even in the most scripted reality programming, the waterfall of poor personal choices is interrupted by comeuppance. People get painful hangovers, the heartbreaks are real if overly dramatic and the cast members have to live with their decisions.

Not so on “Skins,” where a girl who overdoses and is rushed to the hospital wakes up to laughter when the stolen S.U.V. taking her there slams to a halt. Teenagers show children how to roll blunts, bottles of vodka are traded on merry go-rounds, and youngsters shrug off being molested and threatened by a drug dealer. And when the driver of the stolen S.U.V. gets distracted and half a dozen adolescents go rolling into a river, the car is lost but everyone bobs to the surface with a smile at the wonder of it all.

Any adults on “Skins” are of the Charlie Brown variety, feckless beings who are mostly heard off-screen making bummer noises. MTV leaves it to real-life parents to explain that sometimes, when a car goes underwater, nobody survives and that a quick hookup with cute boy at the party may deliver a sexually transmitted disease along with a momentary thrill.

Read the full article here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/24/business/media/24carr.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=Skins%20+%20MTV&st=cse

The Weinstein Co. and Sony Pictures Classics Close Deals at Sundance

110125_detailsAccording to IndieWIRE, The Weinstein Co. has paid $8 million for worldwide rights to Jacob Aaron Este’s The Details, starring Tobey Maguire and Elizabeth Banks. Meanwhile, Sony Pictures Classics closed on The Guard and Morgan Spurlock’s The Greatest Movie Ever Sold and Take Shelter.

Harvey Weinstein was in a good mood Tuesday after earning 13 nominations for The King’s Speech and Blue Valentine. He worked with Maguire in the past on The Cider House Rules and Banks on Zack and Miri Make a Porno. TWC’s first Sundance buy (in league with financeer Ron Burkle) also stars Banks, My Idiot Brother, starring Paul Rudd; TWC paid more than $6 million for U.S. and some foreign rights. The Details was produced by Mark Gordon, Hagai Shaham and Bryan Zuriff with Mickey Liddell and Jennifer Hilton as executive producers.

Beyond Lemonade – Designing a Logo

Beyond Lemonade is more than an online drama series and story sharing website.  It is also a lifestyle brand.  It is affirming and aspirational.  We empower and inspire women to live life a bit bigger, bolder and more audaciously.  We appeal to women who want to transcend the limitations, exceed the traditional expectations and overcome the stereotypical assumptions made about  women over 40.  The brand is about taking game-changing actions– stories of starting over with a twist
The Logo should:
Be bold and confident
Be clean, clear and crisp
Be contemporary
Be fun
Be a memorable graphic symbol (rather than simply a rendering of title or the initials)
Be as distinctive in black and white as in color
Be visually striking enough to brand all media iterations: Beyond Lemonade Press (online newspaper), Beyond Lemonade Publications (books) or Beyond Lemonade Productions (other media)
The Logo should NOT:
Be rendered in pastels
Be literal (obvious lemons)
Be text (a mere visual representation of the title or the initials)
Be girly or cute
Be retro
Be funky
Be tekkie
Be associated with drink
My favorite examples of genius non-literal non-text graphic design:
CBS eye
NIKE swoosh
MERCEDES-BENZ three point star
All of the above are powerful graphic symbols recognizable and relatable without the accompanying text

The next step in developing Beyond Lemonade, my online series, is creating a logo and visual style for the series and web site.

Here is a quick article on the subject from Entrepreneur Magazine

Your logo is a visual representation of everything your company stands for… Ideally, your company logo enhances potential customers and partners’ crucial first impression of your business. A good logo can build loyalty between your business and your customers, establish a brand identity, and provide the professional look of an established enterprise.

Consider Allstate’s “good hands” logo. It immediately generates a warm feeling for the company, symbolizing care and trust. With a little thought and creativity, your logo can quickly and graphically express many positive attributes of your business, too.

Logo Types

There are basically three kinds of logos. Font-based logos consist primarily of a type treatment. The logos of IBM, Microsoft and Sony, for instance, use type treatments with a twist that makes them distinctive. Then there are logos that literally illustrate what a company does, such as when a house-painting company uses an illustration of a brush in its logo. And finally, there are abstract graphic symbols-such as Nike’s swoosh-that become linked to a company’s brand.

I’ll be looking at logo options created by advertising and branding agencies who work with FremantleMedia.  In discussing the process with the executives in charge I needed to outline what my priorities were in the processes.  Here are my thoughts:

1.  Beyond Lemonade is more than an online drama series and story sharing website.  It is also a lifestyle brand.  It is affirming and aspirational.  We empower and inspire women to live life a bit bigger, bolder and more audaciously.  We appeal to women who want to transcend the limitations, exceed the traditional expectations and overcome the stereotypical assumptions made about  women over 40.  The brand is about taking game-changing actions– stories of starting over with a twist.

2.  The Logo should:

Be bold and confident

Be clean, clear and crisp

Be contemporary

Be fun

Be a memorable graphic symbol (rather than simply a rendering of title or the initials)

Be as distinctive in black and white as in color

Be visually striking enough to brand all possible further media iterations: Beyond Lemonade Press (online newspaper), Beyond Lemonade Publications (books) or Beyond Lemonade Productions (other media)

2.  The Logo should NOT:

Be rendered in pastels

Be literal (obvious lemons)

Be solely text (a mere visual representation of the title or the initials)

Be girly or cute

Be retro

Be funky

Be tekkie

My favorite examples of genius non-literal non-text graphic design:

CBS eye (symbolizing an all seeing eye on the news around the world)

NIKE swoosh (symbolizing movement)

MERCEDES-BENZ three point star (symbolizing the land, sea and air vehicles the company makes)

All of the above are powerful graphic symbols recognizable and relatable with or without the accompanying text.  I guess my ultimate test would be:  Could you wear it as a piece of jewelry?  And would you want to?

The process continues… Stay tuned.

Beyond Lemonade – A Name For My Online Series At Last!

vodka_martiniBeyond Lemonade

Stories of Starting Over with a Twist

At the beginning of our story Lydia (40+), Marita (50+) and Suzanne
(30+) are reeling from enormous personal set-backs.  Lydiaʼs husband has just died,
Marita is still raw from her divorce and Suzanne watched her home and her career “go
up in smoke” after a suspicious fire.  They find each other when they take refuge in an
apartment complex designed for people on their way to somewhere else.  Rather than
merely coping with disaster, these women turn their impossible situations into launching
pads for their dreams.  They are not content to take the lemons life hands them and
make lemonade. Instead, each woman finds the courage to create something bigger,
bolder and more audacious than what went before. When lemonade simply isnʼt
enough, these strong and vital woman go “beyond lemonadeAt the beginning of my drama series Lydia (40+), Marita (50+) and Suzanne (30+) are reeling from enormous personal set-backs.  Lydiaʼs husband has just died,  Marita is still raw from her divorce and Suzanne watched her home and her career “go up in smoke” after a suspicious fire.  They find each other when they take refuge in an apartment complex designed for people on their way to somewhere else.  Rather than merely coping with disaster, these women turn their impossible situations into launching pads for their dreams.  They are not content to take the lemons life hands them and make lemonade. Instead, each woman finds the courage to create something bigger, bolder and more audacious than what went before. When lemonade simply isnʼtenough, these strong and vital woman go “beyond lemonade!”

..

At the beginning of my online drama series Lydia (40+), Marita (50+) and Suzanne (30+) are reeling from enormous personal set-backs.  Lydiaʼs husband has just died, Marita is still raw from her divorce and Suzanne watched her home and her career “go up in smoke” after a suspicious fire.  They find each other when they take refuge in an apartment complex designed for people on their way to somewhere else.  Rather than merely coping with disaster, these women turn their impossible situations into launching pads for their dreams.  They are not content to take the lemons life hands them and make lemonade. Instead, each woman finds the courage to create something bigger, bolder and more audacious than what went before. When lemonade simply isnʼt enough, these strong and vital woman go “beyond lemonade!”

The series features three very different women, each vying to remake her life and relaunch her future.  It is filled with big dreams, intense conflict and enormous heart.  None of these women accepts the narrow limitations, adopts the stereotypical assumptions or surrenders to the minimal expectations that others have for her.  Each woman reaches higher, strives harder and loves more deeply than she ever thought possible.  They all are smart, funny, sensitive souls who make their “martini shot” tart and tangy— they add a twist with a kick.  They stand up and give a strong shout out to all women who are definitely “beyond lemonade.”

Brand  Essence

I wanted the name of the series to reflect the optimism, sense of humor,  joie de vivre, camaraderie and bold sense of adventure  that sustains my characters on their journey to reinvent themselves.

I wanted the story brand to reflect optimism, vitality, courage, wit, spirit and heart.  I want our audience to feel confident, valued, empowered, smart, creative and engaged.

I want to be associated with brands who believe that women over 40 still have the best years of their live AHEAD of them.  I want advertisers who break through the narrow limitations that define this age demographic, are willing to shatter the stereotypical assumptions about these women’s value and consumer power and who want to upend the minimal expectations imposed on these women.  I want sponsors who are willing go “Beyond Lemonade.”  Is that too much to ask?

Read more about the concept of Beyond Lemonade in my other post.

Opportunities Online

The reason I got my deal for an online series with FrematleMedia was management had an opportunity to watch me work.  I had been consulting for them on their new and long-running dramas  for a number of years.  They knew how I was to work with and what my general approach to drama development was.  They watched and knew me personally.
I think “being watched” is how any one gets any deal in this business.  It absolutely goes back to your principle of “who knows you.”  No one is going to risk any kind of a substantial budget on someone they don’t know on some level.  Spec scripts used to be the way people got to watch and get to know a new writer.  But those days are pretty much gone.  Budgets are too high and most everything is an adaption, a franchise property or a remake.  There are plenty of better known writers ahead of a newbie.  What a newbie brings to the table is a new eye, a fresh take and original ideas– not easily financed any more (with the rare exception).  Then there is the nightmare of distribution even if you do get financed.
That is why I believe online comedy and drama is the future for talent.  The barrier to entry is low.  Productions values can be minimal because the screen is small.  What makes a series successful is really clever and engaging writing.  The online series is very much a writer’s showcase.  All you really need is a distinctive voice.  Distribution is equally available to everyone.
To prove how clever writing emerges in even the most minimal format– take a look at the article below from THR:
“Twitter sensation Shit My Dad Says is headed to television.  CBS has picked up a comedy project based on the Twitter account, which has enlisted more than 700,000 followers since launching in August and has made its creator, Justin Halpern, an Internet star.
“Will & Grace” creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick are on board to executive produce and supervise the writing for the multicamera family comedy, which Halpern will co-pen with Patrick Schumacker. Halpern and Schumacker will also co-exec produce the Warner Bros. TV-produced project, which has received a script commitment.  The comedy’s title will change if it gets on the air.
Halpern, 29, had moved back in with his parents in San Diego, and on Aug. 3 he launched “Shit My Dad Says,” a Twitter feed featuring colorful — often profane — comments and pearls of wisdom made by his 73-year-old father during their daily conversations.
Full article is here:  Shit My Dad Says
So Justin Halpern got a deal based on 140 character Tweet depictions of his dad.  He translated his ear for dialogue into a running comedy.  The Powers That Be watched him do it.  Believe me.  They are watching everywhere!  There are staff people whose only job is to troll the Internet for new talent.  If you are talented enough to develop a following they will find you– guaranteed.
Don’t forget Juno scribe Diablo Cody first got noticed for her blog about being a stripper among other things.
From her Wikipedia page:
“Cody began a parody of a weblog called Red Secretary, detailing the (fictional) exploits of a secretary living in Belarus. The events were thinly–veiled allegories for events that happened in Cody’s real life, but told from the perspective of a disgruntled, English–idiom–challenged Eastern Bloc girl.  Cody’s first bona fide blog appeared under the nickname Darling Girl after Cody had moved from Chicago to Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Then, Cody signed up for amateur night at a Minneapolis strip club called the Skyway Lounge. Enjoying the experience, she eventually quit her day job and took up stripping full-time.  Based on the popularity of Pussy Ranch (her City Pages Newspaper blog) received, she was able to secure a publishing contract with Gotham Books. At the age of 24, Cody wrote her memoir Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper.”
As another site says:  “she gonzo-blogged about the local sex industry until people with money began to notice. “
Cody wasn’t the overnight success everyone depicted– she put in long hours developing a distinctive voice that got notice online.  She was being watched until they knew her.
Last but not least, the WGA has just admitted its first member for writing a self-financed online series– her name is Ruth Livier.  Her Writers Guild membership is based entirely on her online credits.  Livier is a 30+ actress who feared the roles were dwindling for her age range and for her ethnicity.  Here is the story and a whole Guild issue about writing online series in general.  WGA Written By
Here is what Livier has to say about creating her series:
“In the entertainment community there is typecasting. The ‘powers that be’ don’t really know what to do with you. In my case I am not dark enough to fit their Latina stereotype and not white enough to be white. That’s why writing and producing for New Media is such a fantastic option. It affords us the opportunities that traditional media hasn’t. Let’s be real, the opportunities to break in through ‘traditional’ channels are slim. Like my friend Dennis Leoni says, “The oldest form of affirmative action is the ‘Good Ol’ Boy’ network.” And he is right. Try breaking through that! If you are not a part of the GOB network, mainstream media is super expensive. I don’t know about other Hispanic Americans with similar upbringings to mine, but rich relatives do not abound. No one has the private money to fund theatrical projects. I am not complaining. I’m grateful for my life experience.
I’m just saying New Media, the vehicle we are now using for Ylse, is a fantastic resource and a wonderful opportunity for us. We have immediate and unaltered access to a world audience and are circumventing traditional media platforms which are controlled by a small few.”
Read the full article here
As the old foundations crumble there is plenty of opportunity for talent willing to think and create in a new way.  This is the good news in the old media Armageddon.  My advice is don’t waste your time on a dying paradigm that’s more interested in excluding you than including you.  This is a tremendous time to be a pioneer and create new ways to tell stories.
Laurie Hutzler

howard-suberDr. Howard Suber, author of The Power of Film, teaches an extraordinary class on strategy, storytelling and strategic thinking at UCLA in the MFA Producers Program.  During his course, he has an on-going email conversation with students present and past on the key topics of the class.  We had dinner the other night and discussed the importance of online entertainment.  He is a bit more of a skeptic than I am– I am a true believer, I admit it.

In his class emails he talks about the truism “it’s not what you know, but who you know” which reflects the nepotism, name dropping and almighty rolodex or contact list in Hollywood.  He turns this notion on its head and says the more important thing is “who knows you.”  In his class, Dr. Suber emphasizes the importance of having credibility and a stellar reputation.  In my email to him, printed below. I reference his more accurate and useful truism and apply it to my experience and the importance of “being watched” in the context of making a deal or getting a job in the entertainment industry and how New Media affords you the best platform.

Dear Howard–

For several years, I have been a consultant for FreMantle Media, one of the leading worldwide media companies. I’ve met and worked with their executives, producers and writers across Europe and Australia. I recently started developing my own online series with them.  The reason I got my deal was management had an opportunity to watch me work.   They knew my work ethic, how I relate to their business and what my general approach to drama development was.  They watched and knew me personally.

I think “being watched” is how any one gets any deal or any assignment in this business.  It absolutely goes back to the principle you articulate about “who knows you.”  No one is going to risk any kind of a substantial budget on someone they don’t know on some level.  Spec scripts used to be the way people got to watch and get to know a new writer.  But those days are pretty much gone.  Budgets are too high and most everything is an adaption, a franchise property or a remake.  There are plenty of better known writers ahead of a newbie.  What a newbie brings to the table is a new eye, a fresh take and original ideas– not easily financed any more (with the rare exception).  Then there is the nightmare of distribution even if you do get financed.

That is why I believe online comedy and drama is the future for talent.  The barrier to entry is low.  Productions values can be minimal because the screen is small.  What makes a series successful is really clever, interesting and engaging writing.  The online series is very much a writer’s showcase.  All you really need is a distinctive voice. Distribution is equally available to everyone.

To prove how clever writing emerges in even the most minimal format– take a look at the article below from THR:

“Twitter sensation Shit My Dad Says is headed to television.  CBS has picked up a comedy project based on the Twitter account, which has enlisted more than 700,000 followers since launching in August and has made its creator, Justin Halpern, an Internet star.”

“Will & Grace” creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick are on board to executive produce and supervise the writing for the multicamera family comedy, which Halpern will co-pen with Patrick Schumacker. Halpern and Schumacker will also co-exec produce the Warner Bros. TV-produced project, which has received a script commitment.  The comedy’s title will change if it gets on the air.”

“Halpern, 29, had moved back in with his parents in San Diego, and on Aug. 3 he launched “Shit My Dad Says,” a Twitter feed featuring colorful — often profane — comments and pearls of wisdom made by his 73-year-old father during their daily conversations.”

Full article is here:  Shit My Dad Says

So Justin Halpern got a deal based on 140 character Tweet depictions of his dad.  He translated his ear for dialogue and sense of humor into a running comedy.  The Powers That Be watched him do it.  Believe me.  They are watching everywhere!  There are staff people whose only job is to troll the Internet for new talent.  If you are talented enough to develop a following they will find you– guaranteed.

Don’t forget Juno scribe Diablo Cody first got noticed for her blog about being a stripper among other things.

From her Wikipedia page:

“Cody began a parody of a weblog called Red Secretary, detailing the (fictional) exploits of a secretary living in Belarus. The events were thinly–veiled allegories for events that happened in Cody’s real life, but told from the perspective of a disgruntled, English–idiom–challenged Eastern Bloc girl.  Cody’s first bona fide blog appeared under the nickname Darling Girl after Cody had moved from Chicago to Minneapolis, Minnesota.”

“Then, Cody signed up for amateur night at a Minneapolis strip club called the Skyway Lounge. Enjoying the experience, she eventually quit her day job and took up stripping full-time.  Based on the popularity of Pussy Ranch (her City Pages Newspaper blog) received, she was able to secure a publishing contract with Gotham Books. At the age of 24, Cody wrote her memoir Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper.”

As another site says:  “she gonzo-blogged about the local sex industry until people with money began to notice. ”

Cody wasn’t the overnight success everyone depicted– she put in long hours developing a distinctive voice that got noticed online.  She was being watched until they knew her well enough to invest in her.

Last but not least, the WGA has just admitted its first member for writing a self-financed online series– her name is Ruth Livier.  Her Writers Guild membership is based entirely on her online credits.  Livier is a 30+ actress who feared the roles were dwindling for her age range and for her ethnicity.  Here is the story and a whole Guild issue about writing online series in general in  WGA Written By Magazine

Here is what Livier has to say about creating her series:

“In the entertainment community there is typecasting. The ‘powers that be’ don’t really know what to do with you. In my case I am not dark enough to fit their Latina stereotype and not white enough to be white. That’s why writing and producing for New Media is such a fantastic option. It affords us the opportunities that traditional media hasn’t. Let’s be real, the opportunities to break in through ‘traditional’ channels are slim. Like my friend Dennis Leoni says, “The oldest form of affirmative action is the ‘Good Ol’ Boy’ network.” And he is right. Try breaking through that! If you are not a part of the GOB network, mainstream media is super expensive. I don’t know about other Hispanic Americans with similar upbringings to mine, but rich relatives do not abound. No one has the private money to fund theatrical projects. I am not complaining. I’m grateful for my life experience.

I’m just saying New Media, the vehicle we are now using for Ylse, is a fantastic resource and a wonderful opportunity for us. We have immediate and unaltered access to a world audience and are circumventing traditional media platforms which are controlled by a small few.”

Read the full article in Hispanic Tips: News and Ideas

As the old foundations of Media Empires crumble there is plenty of opportunity for talent willing to think and create in a new way.  This is the good news in the Old Media Armageddon.  My advice is don’t waste your time on a dying paradigm that’s more interested in excluding you than including you.  This is a tremendous time to be a pioneer and create new ways to tell stories.  As Gary Carter says in his lecture on Storytelling in the Digital Age,  Old Media is based on exclusion (scarcity) and New Media is based on inclusion (abundance).   I know which one excites me.

Storytelling In The Digital Age: Gary Carter

gary-carter_frmantlemediaI’ve had the great opportunity to work with Gary Carter, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Creative Officer of Fremantle’s experimental division, FMX.  I’ve worked with him on the broadcast side of FremantleMedia’s business.  FMX is the division that is working with me on my online drama and interactive website.

In these clips Gary Carter talks about his company in the changing landscape of digital storytelling.  He is a real visionary about media and is speaking at the nextMEDIA conference in Banff, where the world’s leading edge content creators, aggregators, broadcasters, agencies, advertisers, and solution-providers meet annually to discuss the business of the business.

PART ONE

Fremantle Media. The company’s history mirrors the history of screen-based media itself. Gary Carter tells the story of Fremantle from its earliest days to the present age of format wars and reality television.

PART TWO

Gary Carter talks about the run-up to the digital revolution from an age of distribution, talent and technology scarcity to our now ubiquitous ability to produce content and distribute it freely over the internet.

PART THREE

Gary Carter discusses the repercussions of the digital revolution for an old-media company like Fremantle, bound to the traditional models of content production, distribution and strorytelling.

PART FOUR

Gary Carter talks about the collapse of the advertising economy and its impact on screen-based content production. According to Carter, it’s a crisis of platform which is being solved by the millions of individuals with access to cheap digital recording technology and zero-cost distribution channels.

PART FIVE

Q & A:  Gary Carter talks about broadcasters’ unhealthy addiction to the advertising model, and what lies ahead for traditional television.

How Not To Write Online

Lacking Authenticity and Urgency
The web series, Quarterlife, is named for the phenomena of the “Quarterlife Crisis.”   This is the emotional angst and anxiety that hits around age 25 – 29, when college grads wonder: “What am I doing with my life?  Why am I broke, bored and/or stalled in my career?”
There is a sense of entitlement and astonishment among the Quarterlife characters summed up by Dylan Krieger (Bitsie Tulloch), the protagonist:  “A sad truth about my generation is that we were all geniuses in elementary school but apparently the people who deal with us (now) never got our transcripts because they don’t seem to be aware of this.”
This sense of entitlement and astonishment seemed to accompany the series’ failure.  What went wrong?
Quarterlife lacked the necessary authenticity and urgency to engage its core web audience.  The producers didn’t fully understand their audience and the series felt too much like a cynical ploy.
New Media Ploys Annoy the Audience
Quarterlife was originally conceived as a broadcast series but didn’t get picked up by a major network.  Herskovitz and Zwick broke the series down into 8-minute segments.  They independently financed the show and created special channels for the series on MySpace and YouTube.
Rather than creating content specifically for this new medium and this particular audience, the creators recycled a conventional series and distributed it in smaller chunks.  Their goal seems to have been to get back on broadcast television as quickly as possible.
Despite the social networking aspects of the Quarterlife website, it seems the creators did not fully embrace (or fully understand) their audience and this new storytelling medium.  After a much-hyped launch, viewership dropped precipitously.
“Podcasting News, for example, gleefully pronounced the web series a bomb in December, running a chart of each episode’s views on YouTube that looked like a graph of Ron Paul’s delegate count, noting that the show was getting fewer web views than ‘sleeping kitties, graffiti videos or even a clip of Sims in labor’,’” wrote Los Angeles Times media columnist Patrick Goldstein.
Goldstein also suggests that Quarterlife served as a magnet for web devotees’ scorn for all the Old Media Titans who’ve been invading their turf, hoping to turn the new medium into another profit center.
Herskowitz didn’t help matters when he wrote in Slate:  “Most of it (web entertainment) is simply incompetence and ignorance masquerading as an ‘Internet style.’ And until now no one had tried anything that would actually engage the emotions of an audience.”
It’s ironic that Quarterlife doesn’t engage the emotions of their audience in a way that is authentic or that rings true.
Emotions Not Experienced Directly Distance the Audience
Protagonist Dylan Krieger narrates the series via her video blog.  She is a would-be writer stuck in an assistant’s job at a woman’s magazine, working for a boss who tries to steal her ideas.
The creators assume that video-blogging is the same thing as writing.  The key difference, as a commentator on New TeeVee pointed out, is:  “A writer wants an audience for her ideas and observations; a video blogger wants an audience for herself.”
This personal performance aspect is the narcissism of “Watch me – Look at me – I am what’s important here.”
In her video-blog, Dylan says that her “curse” is to see what people are thinking and feeling. In the visual language of storytelling, that is the reaction shot that shows the audience a character’s thoughts and feelings writ large on the actor’s face.
When Dylan narrates, as video blog performer, she prevents the audience from experiencing these emotions, thoughts and feelings directly with the characters.  Her performance distances us from the characters and is a classic violation of the “show don’t tell” rule of storytelling.  Her narration tells us what we’ve already seen or should have already seen ourselves.
If, however, personal narration directly contradicts what we have seen (or will see) then that shows us something new and interesting about the narrator and/or the other characters.   This counterpoint works wonderfully in the classic Herskovitz and Zwick produced series (created by Winnie Holtzman), My So-Called Life.
That show’s high school protagonist, Angela Chase (Claire Danes), is hopelessly infatuated with Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto).  She remarks romantically that he is always closing his eyes as if it hurts to look at things.  Later, we see him dousing his eyes to get the stoner-dude red out with Visine.
There is no such ironic or poignant counterpoint in Dylan’s narration.  She tells us what we should see for ourselves or repeats what we already know.
Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) muses publicly about personal concerns via her newspaper column in Sex and the City.  The opening image vividly shows the contrast between the public and the private in Carrie’s life when she is splashed with dirty water as a bus plastered with her glamorous billboard image roars past.  Sex and the City uses humor and irony to illuminate the disappointments, anxieties and dissatisfactions of a slightly older age group than Quarterlife.  Carrie, the wry witty writer, is not the self-conscious performer that Dylan is as a video-blogger.
Boredom, Stasis and Frustration Aren’t Urgent
As a friend has pointed out, “there is a reason so many serial dramas are set in hospitals and police stations, these environments provide an automatic sense of urgency, conflict and high stakes to a story.”
Articulate, over-sensitive, highly educated, middle class white kids bemoaning the lack of a “special and gifted” life track (which is their due) doesn’t provide much emotional urgency.   There is little at stake if they can fall back on Mom and Dad, as one character does.
Fans watch football matches or basketball games because there is a sense that if you aren’t present or watching, cheering as hard as you can for your team, something terrible might happen.  The strength of your passionate concern will somehow help to put your players over the top.
Serial drama fans need to feel the same passionate concern and  personal involvement with the characters whose lives they follow.  What is the worst that can happen? Why do we have to watch to prevent that terrible outcome?  Why must we yell at the screen:  “No, no, don’t do that!”  What do we fear for our characters?  Why is it urgently important that we watch?
Interpersonal relationship can have that kind of emotional tension and urgency.  The stakes just have to be high enough.  The conflicts have to be intense and personal enough to evoke our deepest concern.  We have to be worried about the characters!
Weak Conflict Undercuts Urgency
The biggest potential conflict and most interesting social question in Quarterlife is weakened if not completely neutered.
Dylan’s friends don’t seem to care that she is violating their privacy, disclosing intimate information, betraying confidences and spewing interpersonal revelations to anyone who has access to a computer.
She names names.  She distributes secretly recorded video.  She commits the emotional equivalent of a physical violation.  Outside of a minor explosion, this potential conflict quickly passes by the wayside.  Nobody really pays attention to Dylan’s video blog.
Her revelations cause little conflict within the group.  They cause no conflict outside the group (no outsider causes a problem for the characters because of information learned through Dylan’s blog).
It is very startling and disconcerting when strangers know the intimate details of your life and remark on them to you.  What happens when everyone knows your whereabouts and/or your personal business?  How does that cause problems and create conflict for the characters?
What are the limits of personal privacy and the ethics of personal disclosures about others?  All those questions are interesting opportunities for conflict that could come from who the characters are as individuals and how they might view the world differently.
If Dylan’s blog has no effect on the other characters, what is the dramatic point other than to show her on a web cam?   This feels like the creators trying to be hip but it comes off as empty, false and inauthentic.
When It Isn’t Urgent It Has to Be Funny
The characters in Quarterlife are remarkable for their lack of humor or any wicked sense of fun.  They take themselves and their lives way too seriously.  The series doesn’t have a vivid appreciation of the absurd.
The classic series, Friends, mined this age group’s anxiety, boredom and frustration brilliantly.  The theme song by The Rembrandts sums up the same storytelling territory:
“So no one told you life was going to be this way.
Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, your love life’s DOA.
It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear,
Well, it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year.
I’ll be there for you…  And you’ll be there for me too.”
Friends had wit, warmth and sense of the absurdity of life (and lasted many years past the characters’ “Quarterlife Crisis” because the fans weren’t willing to let the characters go).  Contrast this with the previous quote:
“A sad truth about my generation is that we were all geniuses in elementary school but apparently the people who deal with us (now) never got our transcripts because they don’t seem to be aware of this.”   (Poor me!)
Which show would you rather watch?
Seinfeld, originally featuring the same or slightly older age group, totally lacked urgency and was proud of it.  That show was about nothing more critical than finding a parking place, making a reservation at a restaurant or buying soup at a lunch counter.  The series had a wicked sense of humor; made us laugh and we were satisfied and came back for more.
What Was NBC Thinking?
Quarterlife was picked up by NBC at a time when broadcast dramas were running out of stockpiled scripts and scripted shows were shutting down all over Hollywood.   It seemed like a slam-dunk opportunity.  Then, just like the story concept for the series characters, reality hit and it was nothing like anyone imagined.
The show only had 3.1 million viewers in its NBC broadcast debut, the worst in-season performance in the 10 p.m. hour slot by an NBC show in at least 17 years. The series also got hammered in the adult 18 – 49 demographic, where it managed only a 1.3 rating.  The show was pulled from NBC’s schedule after only one episode.
Why would NBC think that a series allegedly conceived for and widely available on the web would attract the same audience age group in a repeat on broadcast television? Everyone who was interested had seen the show already.
If viewers can watch on their own time on the web why should anyone watch the show on NBC’s time? What was new, different or added to the viewing experience during the rebroadcast?  The network didn’t seem to understand the core audience either.
There is an element of condescension (or maybe contempt) in all of this exemplified by the words the creators put in Dylan’s mouth:  “We blog to exist, therefore we… we are idiots.”

dylanIn creating my own online drama I took an in-depth look at other series– Why did they succeed or why did they fail.  Here are my observations about a very spectacular public failure: Quarterlife.   These are the take-aways from my analysis of the web series created by Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, the creators of television’s Thirtysomething and Once and Again and producers of My So-Called Life.  You can watch the series here:  Quarterlife on MySpace

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Without Authenticity and Urgency the Audience Disengages

The series, Quarterlife, is named for the phenomena of the “Quarterlife Crisis.”   This is the emotional angst and anxiety that hits around age 25 – 29, when college grads wonder: “What am I doing with my life?  Why am I broke, bored and/or stalled in my career?”  The iconic television series, Friends, explored the same territory in a comedy.

There is a sense of entitlement and astonishment among the Quarterlife characters summed up by Dylan Krieger (Bitsie Tulloch), the protagonist:  “A sad truth about my generation is that we were all geniuses in elementary school but apparently the people who deal with us (now) never got our transcripts because they don’t seem to be aware of this.”

This sense of entitlement and astonishment seemed to also accompany the series’ failure.  What went wrong?  Don’t you all know we’re television geniuses?

Quarterlife lacked the necessary authenticity and urgency to engage its core web audience.  The producers didn’t fully understand their audience and the series felt too much like a cynical ploy.  The Friends characters took themselves much less seriously.  Quarterlife simply can’t sustain all the self-important angst.

New Media Ploys Annoy the Audience

Quarterlife was originally conceived as a broadcast series but didn’t get picked up by a major network.  Herskovitz and Zwick broke the series down into 8-minute segments.  They independently financed the show and created special channels for the series on MySpace and YouTube.

Rather than creating content specifically for this new medium and this particular audience, the creators recycled a conventional series and distributed it in smaller chunks.  Their goal seems to have been to get back on broadcast television as quickly as possible.

Despite the social networking aspects of the Quarterlife website, it seems the creators did not fully embrace (or fully understand) their audience and this new storytelling medium.  After a much-hyped launch, viewership dropped precipitously.

Podcasting News, for example, gleefully pronounced the web series a bomb in December, running a chart of each episode’s views on YouTube that looked like a graph of Ron Paul’s 2009 delegate count, noting that the show was getting fewer web views than ‘sleeping kitties, graffiti videos or even a clip of Sims in labor’,’” wrote Los Angeles Times media columnist Patrick Goldstein.

Goldstein also suggests that Quarterlife served as a magnet for web devotees’ scorn for all the Old Media Titans who’ve been invading their turf, hoping to turn the new medium into another profit center.

Herskowitz didn’t help matters when he wrote in Slate:  “Most of it (web entertainment) is simply incompetence and ignorance masquerading as an ‘Internet style.’ And until now no one had tried anything that would actually engage the emotions of an audience.”

It’s ironic that Quarterlife doesn’t engage the emotions of their audience in a way that is authentic or that rings true.

Emotions Not Experienced Directly Distance the Audience

Protagonist Dylan Krieger narrates the series via her video blog.  She is a would-be writer stuck in an assistant’s job at a woman’s magazine, working for a boss who tries to steal her ideas.

The creators assume that video-blogging is the same thing as writing.  The key difference, as a commentator on New TeeVee pointed out, is:  “A writer wants an audience for her ideas and observations; a video blogger wants an audience for herself.”

This personal performance aspect is the narcissism of “Watch me – Look at me – I am what’s important here.”

In her video-blog, Dylan says that her “curse” is to see what people are thinking and feeling. In the visual language of storytelling, that is the reaction shot that shows the audience a character’s thoughts and feelings writ large on the actor’s face.

When Dylan narrates, as video blog performer, she prevents the audience from experiencing these emotions, thoughts and feelings directly with the characters.  Her performance distances us from the characters and is a classic violation of the “show don’t tell” rule of storytelling.  Her narration tells us what we’ve already seen or should have already seen ourselves.

If, however, personal narration directly contradicts what we have seen (or will see) then that shows us something new and interesting about the narrator and/or the other characters.   This counterpoint works wonderfully in the classic Herskovitz and Zwick produced series (created by Winnie Holtzman), My So-Called Life.

That show’s high school protagonist, Angela Chase (Claire Danes), is hopelessly infatuated with Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto).  She remarks romantically that he is always closing his eyes as if it hurts to look at things.  Later, we see him dousing his eyes to get the stoner-dude red out with Visine.

There is no such ironic or poignant counterpoint in Dylan’s narration.  She tells us what we should see for ourselves or repeats what we already know.

Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) muses publicly about personal concerns via her newspaper column in Sex and the City.  The opening image vividly shows the contrast between the public and the private in Carrie’s life when she is splashed with dirty water as a bus plastered with her glamorous billboard image roars past. Sex and the City uses humor and irony to illuminate the disappointments, anxieties and dissatisfactions of a slightly older age group than Quarterlife.  Carrie, the wry witty writer, is not the self-conscious performer that Dylan is as a video-blogger.  The Friends characters also took themselves much less seriously.  Quarterlife simply can’t sustain the self-important angst.

Boredom, Stasis and Frustration Aren’t Urgent

As a friend has pointed out, “there is a reason so many serial dramas are set in hospitals and police stations, these environments provide an automatic sense of urgency, conflict and high stakes to a story.”

Articulate, over-sensitive, highly-educated, middle class white kids bemoaning the lack of a “special and gifted” life track (which is their due) doesn’t provide much emotional urgency.   There is little at stake if they can fall back on Mom and Dad, as one character does.

Fans watch football matches or basketball games because there is a sense that if you aren’t present or watching, cheering as hard as you can for your team, something terrible might happen.  The strength of your passionate concern will somehow help to put your players over the top.

Serial drama fans need to feel the same passionate concern and  personal involvement with the characters whose lives they follow.  What is the worst that can happen? Why do we have to watch to prevent that terrible outcome?  Why must we yell at the screen:  “No, no, don’t do that!”  What do we fear for our characters?  Why is it urgently important that we watch?

Interpersonal relationship can have that kind of emotional tension and urgency.  The stakes just have to be high enough.  The conflicts have to be intense and personal enough to evoke our deepest concern.  We have to be worried about the characters!

Weak Conflict Undercuts Urgency

The biggest potential conflict and most interesting social question in Quarterlife is weakened if not completely neutered.

Dylan’s friends don’t seem to care that she is violating their privacy, disclosing intimate information, betraying confidences and spewing interpersonal revelations to anyone who has access to a computer.

She names names.  She distributes secretly recorded videos.  She commits the emotional equivalent of a physical violation.  Outside of a minor emotional hissy-fit, this potential conflict quickly passes by the wayside.  Nobody really pays attention to Dylan’s video blog.

Her revelations cause little conflict within the group.  They cause no conflict outside the group (no outsider causes a problem for the characters because of information learned through Dylan’s blog).

It is very startling and disconcerting when strangers know the intimate details of your life and remark on them to you.  What happens when everyone knows your whereabouts and/or your personal business?  How does that cause problems and create conflict for the characters?

What are the limits of personal privacy and the ethics of personal disclosures about others?  All those questions are interesting opportunities for conflict that could come from who the characters are as individuals and how they might view the world (or privacy) differently.

If Dylan’s blog has no effect on the other characters, what is the dramatic point other than to show her on a web cam?   This feels like the creators trying to be hip but it comes off as empty, false and inauthentic.

When It Isn’t Urgent It Has to Be Funny

The characters in Quarterlife are remarkable for their lack of humor or any wicked sense of fun.  They take themselves and their lives way too seriously.  The series doesn’t have a vivid appreciation of the absurd.

The classic series, Friends, mined this age group’s anxiety, boredom and frustration brilliantly.  The theme song by The Rembrandts sums up the same storytelling territory:

“So no one told you life was going to be this way.

Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, your love life’s DOA.

It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear,

Well, it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year.

I’ll be there for you…  And you’ll be there for me too.”

Friends had wit, warmth and sense of the absurdity of life (and lasted many years past the characters’ “Quarterlife Crisis” because the fans weren’t willing to let the characters go).  Contrast this with the previous quote:

“A sad truth about my generation is that we were all geniuses in elementary school but apparently the people who deal with us (now) never got our transcripts because they don’t seem to be aware of this.”   (Poor me!)

Which show would you rather watch?

Seinfeld, originally featuring the same or slightly older age group, totally lacked urgency and was proud of it.  That show was about nothing more critical than finding a parking place, making a reservation at a restaurant or buying soup at a lunch counter.  The series had a wicked sense of humor; made us laugh and we were satisfied and came back for more.  If it’s not emotionally dramatic then it must be laugh-out-loud funny.

What Was NBC Thinking?

Quarterlife was picked up by NBC at a time when broadcast dramas were running out of stockpiled scripts and scripted shows were shutting down all over Hollywood during the strike.   It seemed like a slam-dunk opportunity.  Then, just like the story concept for the series characters, reality hit and it was nothing like anyone imagined.

The show only had 3.1 million viewers in its NBC broadcast debut, the worst in-season performance in the 10 p.m. hour slot by an NBC show in at least 17 years. The series also got hammered in the adult 18 – 49 demographic, where it managed only a 1.3 rating.  The show was pulled from NBC’s schedule after only one episode.

Why would NBC think that a series allegedly conceived for and widely available on the web would attract the same audience age group in a repeat on broadcast television? Everyone who was interested had seen the show already.

If viewers can watch on their own time on the web why should anyone watch the show on NBC’s time? What was new, different or added to the viewing experience during the rebroadcast?  The network didn’t seem to understand the core audience either.

There is an element of condescension (or maybe contempt) in all of this exemplified by the words the creators put in Dylan’s mouth:  “We blog to exist, therefore we… we are idiots.”  A show on any media platform is really in trouble when the creators have contempt for or belittle their own characters.

My Fremantle Online Series – What’s in a Name?

rose_02_bg_040106The Hardest Task

Probably one of the hardest tasks in getting my new FremantleMedia online series up and running is finding the right name.  It’s been the source of endless meetings, intense discussions and general agonizing and floundering all around.  Why is this naming business so hard?  Probably because naming an online series is so important to its success.

Key Elements

Here are the key elements of naming an enterprise (paraphrased to apply to a scripted drama but originally from a corporate branding article).

Branding is perhaps the most important facet of any business–beyond product, distribution, pricing, or location. A company’s brand is its definition in the world, the name that identifies it to itself and the marketplace.
Developing a brand involves more than just picking a catchy name and placing an ad in the newspaper–a brand is more than a unique string of letters denoting a particular product; a successful brand is a mnemonic trigger that makes a consumer feel a certain way when the brand is thought of.
A brand is who your company is, and what it is selling–it is as important as naming a baby, and should require the same amount of effort to develop it, but if done well, can mature into a successful and profitable adult.

Naming a show creates its brand and thus its identity with an audience.  Branding is perhaps one of the most important facets of any online show–on a par with scripts, casting and production. It is the definition of the world of the series and website and captures a sense of the community it seeks to create.  It is the name that identifies the show as itself and helps define its viewers.

Developing an online show’s brand involves more than just picking a catchy name–a brand is more than a unique string of letters titling a particular drama; a really successful brand is a mnemonic trigger that makes a viewer remember the viewing/participation experience and makes them feel a certain way when thinking about the show and its characters.

A brand defines what your show is, and what kind of entertainment it is offering–it is as important as naming a baby, and should require the same amount of effort to develop.  If  done well, it can help a fledgling series mature into a long-term success.

What Makes a Name a Success?

Business Week did a comprehensive survey of the best brand names in corporate America.  (Again I am paraphrasing to apply to a scripted online drama but the article was originally about  company or product branding).

1.  The best online show names are clear and simple. They are easy-to-associate names that describe the kind of story you are telling and what community experience you are creating.

2.  Many of the winning brands in the Business Week survey are reworkings of ordinary words.  For example: Google was named because Googol (a math term) was already taken as a URL.

3.  The best names are short, using as few letters as possible.

A brand name is obviously a matter of some importance for the graphic designers and those responsible for the product’s logo and visual identity. It’s no surprise that designers tend to prefer names that are short and sweet—for one simple reason: “The shorter the name is, the bigger you can make it,” says Michael Bierut, partner in the New York office of design firm Pentagram.  But even more importantly, the URL for the show should be as short and easy to remember as possible.

My Series’ Identity

My series is geared to women over forty.  These are women who have lived enough to have experienced serious personal, career or financial set-backs, role reversals, career changes, unexpected defining and re-defining moments and significant losses.  They are women who have the resiliency to turn their lives around and triumph over adverse circumstances or capitalize on new positive new challenges and opportunities.

The three principle characters in the series meet, become friends and share their own stories of starting over.  With the encouragement of her friends, the main character decides to relaunch the failing newspaper she inherits and takes it online.  The journal is a forum for ALL women to share their stories of starting over.  Ala The Huffington Post it will aggregate news stories and feature articles about women reinventing themselves, relaunching their lives and redefining their futures.  Ordinary women will share their own stories of beginning again.  Our main character hopes the venture will become the premiere showcase of women’s stories both fiction and non-fiction.

We decided to name the series after the online journal she launches.  The drama centers around the main character’s struggle to recover from the death of her husband, dig out from the financial and personal chaos he left behind and get her the journal up and running,  Sharing stories of starting over is at the heart of the series (and the community it will create).  We think it should be the focus of the naming process.

Thanks to the wonders of social networking I’ve launched a call for help in the naming process.  I’ve gotten many wonderful suggestions.  We’re compiling a short list now.  Follow me on FaceBook and Twitter for step-by-step updates on creating this series.  Stay tuned and join the conversation.  I will post updates in this blog as well.  Feel free to forward this to anyone who might have an interest in developing online drama.

Novel to Movie Adaptations – John Updike

witches-of-eastwick-etbscreenwritingThe death of John Updike earlier this week, prompted lots of comment on and analysis of his prolific work. His most famous books are his Rabbit series (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit At Rest; and Rabbit Remembered). Both Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest received the Pulitzer Prize, America’s highest literary honor. Updike described his subject matter in the Rabbit series as “the American small town and Protestant middle class.” This kind of setting and characters has always been rich territory for American films but didn’t translate into cinematic success for Updike. Why?

A film of Rabbit, Run was made in 1970. It was not a popular success. There were a few other adaptations of his work for TV, but his biggest cinematic success was The Witches Of Eastwick (starring Jack Nicholson, Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer).

Why did so few of Updike’s works translate effectively to the screen? Because his books are largely interior– filled with a character’s thoughts, feelings and insights. His characters’ rich inner lives are what make his novels so evocative. In a film adaptation, the screenwriter must make those internal moments external and active.

When looking for a novel to adapt, look for a story that has a strong external narrative. Find a story in which a character’s actions lead to specific external consequences with real impact and which effect important transformation in the character or others. Find stories in which emotion, meaning and insight can be portrayed through action. No matter how brilliant the book, no matter how many awards it’s won no matter how popular it is– if the book doesn’t have dramatic, observable and impactful action it is not a good candidate for a movie adaptation.

The cliche is that second-rate books make first-rate movies and first-rate books make second-rate movies. Deeply-felt interior novels make delicious reading but simply do not translate to the screen.