Shasha Seminar Part III: From the Page to the Screen

Photo Credit: NoHoDamon on Flickr

Photo Credit: NoHoDamon on Flickr

Despite what the last two posts might have you believe, the Shasha Seminar at Wesleyan University was not entirely about Joss Whedon. No, it was about how movies and tv go from an idea in some writer’s head to something that you and I watch (and then blog about).

On Saturday morning, we all listened to two panels, one on film and one on television. Heading up the film panel: Mark Bomback, (writer, Race to Witch Mountain), Matthew Greenfield (producer, The Good Girl), and Miguel Arteta (director, Youth in Revolt). On the television panel: Liz Garcia (producer/writer: Cold Case), David Kendall (producer, Growing Pains, Boy Meets World), Dan Shotz (producer, Jericho, Harper’s Island), and Evan Katz (executive producer, 24).

The Panels

Everyone talked about their first projects, their most recent projects, and how they figure out a balance between commercialism and artistic achievement. Mark Bomback and Miguel Arteta framed two different ways to go about being a screenwriter. Bomback decided not to produce his own work, and instead have a career writing projects that others will shepherd to completion. He compared this process to being an architect: “It’s not your house, you’re not going to live in it.” Arteta, on the other hand, directs his own screenplays. His advice to writers: “Relax and realize – what is my experience?”

The television writers and producers talked about writing a spec script (a sample episode of a running television show) and an original pilot script. They agreed that writers are most likely to get hired off of the quality of their original pilot script, since most shows want to know what that writer is like, not how well they copy another writer’s style. Liz Garcia talked about getting a story about a biracial lesbian bootlegger couple onto Cold Case, and the freedom she has in a procedural to tell stories that would otherwise be too edgy for network TV. Needless to say, it made me want to watch that episode of Cold Case.

Next Up:

We pitch to 24’s Evan Katz and Mad About You producer Jeffrey Lane, with mixed results.

Joss Whedon and Mark Harris: Getting art and commerce to finally hook up

This weekend at the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns at Wesleyan University, I was lucky enough to hear from some of the biggest movers and shakers in the entertainment business.

The weekend kicked off with Mark Harris, critic and author, who spoke about the need for both the producers and the consumers of media to raise the bar for pop culture.

To Harris, the relationship between consumers and producers of media is. . . a lot like a regular relationship – that when it works, it’s participatory, fun and meaningful – a lot like sex. As Harris actually put it, “I want better sex.” He observed that “We watch three things at once, and so we watch nothing at all.” The relationship has grown dysfunctional – a product of too many screens (he described getting distracted from writing his own speech by Hulu and Netflix), and and too little quality content on them. Harris challenged media makers to do interesting, edgy, inspiring work – and in return, he promised to pay more attention.

Screenwriter Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  JD Lasica / SocialMedia.biz

Screenwriter Joss Whedon, creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." JD Lasica / SocialMedia.biz

On Saturday evening, Joss Whedon also gave us a sex metaphor to describe the current state of the entertainment industry (what is it about Wesleyan University that inspires all this media lust?). Whedon described independent media and studio film as “. . .doing a very awkward mating dance. They’re coming together and they are going to have to have sex.” I’d say that is pretty apt. Some people in traditional media “get” new media (such as the clever webisodes from The Office) – but so far there’s a lot of flirting without anyone making a move. However, Whedon also insisted that “When the industry changes, as it can and will and must, the only thing left standing will be the telling of the story.”

Joss Whedon flew in for his talk after wrapping his film Cabin in the Woods, and before starting to shoot season 2 of Dollhouse on Monday. As he put it, the Dollhouse renewal is “Fine for you, but I had plans this summer.” Thank you, Joss Whedon, for forgoing the beach in favor of giving us something smart and funny to watch in the chilly months. Maybe the Actives can go on assignment in Hawaii?

Next up on the blog:

More from Joss Whedon’s talk: The future of Dollhouse, that pesky Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, and the creative process.

More from the Shasha Seminar: Why two esteemed TV producers would not buy a TV show about under cover cover models – aka, pitching is harder than it looks.

Movies, TV and Finding Your “Strange”

I’m about to go get a good night of sleep before the last day of the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, a weekend seminar at Wesleyan University that has a completely different theme every year, and draws a wide variety of speakers to the campus. This year the theme is “Defining American Culture: How Movies and TV Get Made.”

The conference has given me a lot to think about. Last night, Mark Harris, film and pop culture critic, spoke eloquently about the future of media, art and commerce. Tonight, Joss Whedon addressed his own career trajectory as a guy trying to tell stories by any means necessary. Great words of advice for writers from the very quotable Mr. Whedon: “Find your strange.” and “Finish it.”

Stay tuned, folks! More commentary to come.