Monday, March 15, 2010
Living in Heaven, Working in Hell Part 1
Since Travel Day is being pushed back to a fall shoot and Chaser is being developed with a trailer we will make in April, I'm going to take a little detour for the next month or so.
That detour will be a blog based on a TV series I worked on a few years back and from which I kept a journal of the goings-on. After showing it to several friends they thought it would be interesting to almost anyone who ever watches television. As with my blog I treat it as honest and real, even to my own participation, which wasn't always great.
My original title was "Living in Heaven", Working in Hell".
The first part of the title refers to the fact that the series was being shot in the heart of the magnificent Rocky Mountains as in the photo above, which I took. The second part refers to the people I worked for and with. It's where I learned that working with someone not as good as you usually ends up in conflicts and frustration.
Now, I'm not the best writer around, some studio execs and producers have called me an "A-List" writer, meaning that I'm in the same league as the big guys, Goldman, Towne, and others. Of course others say I'm anything from an average "hack" to just ordinary.
I like to think I'm a craftsman, someone who took a long time to learn how to write good.
Does that mean everything I write is great?
No. Sometimes I write for the money, sometimes I write for myself. Sometimes I'm good, sometimes not so good. For example, I can't write sitcoms, just don't know how. Wish I could, but it just isn't there. And I can't write sex scenes; maybe it's my Catholic upbringing or maybe just because I wouldn't want my mom to see them.
My journal begins at the beginning of course, and follows my adventures in the Rocky Mountains, Vancouver and Los Angeles over the course of 6 months. I've changed all the names, including the series name for obvious reasons as you'll see. And it's almost impossible to see the series as it disappeared as fast as it came out.
Which is part of the reason I kept a journal.
Heartbreak Pass was a great example of good intent coupled with inept producers and a handful of writers who were either inexperienced or incapable of carrying the pressures of series writers.
I was hired as a Senior Story Editor, a position afforded me due to working as a writer/story editor on a few other series before this one. My job had two functions; first I would be the one who rewrites all the scripts that came from other writers for 13 episodes. Of those 13 addition, I would get 2 scripts of my own to write.
There would be a "Show Runner" above me, sort of a Head Writer one step over me and almost a producer him/herself. Also called an Executive Story Editor. And in this instance, one of the producers would also write a screenplay. A producer who had never produced anything of note except a music video and whose writing was so bad that even the network ripped it apart.
The crew was fine, all mostly between the ages of 25-45, they carried out their duties as well as they could. The crew and the rest of us writers, producers and directors would be living in the tourist town I'll call Jackson for 6 full months. Half of a year spent from January to June. In a town with a population of around 4000.
Ironically I was almost fired before the series got underway.
It began when I flew east to meet with showrunner Jonathan Worthing, a pale and gaunt man who reminded me of a burned-out teacher in his 50's. Later I would find out why. For the moment though we shared battle stories of past series over glasses of draft beer. He, along with a producer I hadn't met yet, were the creators of the series.
There would be many more "creators" as I was to find out later.
One of the producers, Dan Kaplan, Jonathan told me, was a real talker, who talked his way into the job without any credits in series TV, or for that matter in anything. He was a fast talker, Worthing said. He even had written a script and, according to Jonathan, the script was awful.
The TV business can be quite small, and I had done homework on Jonathan. Apparently he was known for losing it on a series years before. There can be a lot of pressure in series work and he had snapped one day on that show and had to be "restrained", carried out by paramedics in a straitjacket.
As we drank more, I could see this in his eyes, he had the look of one whose days were sometimes tortuous battles with staying sober.
But right now I was thinking of the money I would be making, which is always a nice thing, and the fact that I would be spending 6 months in paradise, I loved the Rockies, went to film school there (which I failed) and skiied and hiked all over them.
But my dream was cut short when, two weeks later, Jonathan and Kaplan said I was fired off the show. And it hadn't even started.
(Wednesday): "We just don't think your work is very good, Jim")