Monday, October 13, 2008

The Boob Tube for the Noob Part II

Persistent little bugger, aren’t you? Naturally, I’m just glad for the opportunity to talk out of my ass yet again:

Ever curse a network executive 'coz your idea was shot?

Gods, no. I have a reputation for having a bit of a long and arrogant fang but biting the hand that feeds you because you can’t have your way is idiotic. And it’s also suicide. You can bite back if they don’t pay you what you deserve, sure, but in the end everyone who works making television shows is just a hired gun. Think of it this way: if you’re a hitman with a contract to assassinate a small-time government official in the boondocks, you’re not going to say, screw that, I want to kill the police captain! You off who you’re hired to off. Of course, you can always PROPOSE to kill the police captain, but the bottomline is that your employer will be the one to decide if the death of that particular individual is in his interest. If you want to kill the police captain against your employer’s wishes, you do it on your own time and you don’t expect to get paid for it. That’s what the indie scene does, incidentally. The thing is, if you’re going to kill the government official, you’ll be given a big gun and lots of bullets with which to do it. Maybe even refreshments afterwards, who knows? On the other hand, if you’re going to kill the police captain as an indie hitman, you’ll have to scrounge up your own weapons yourself. Sticks and stones maybe. Sometimes, though, you’re required to kill the government official in a certain way you disagree with. Say your employer wants you to murder the poor bastard via poison but what you really want to do is blow him and the entire city up with a small thermonuclear device simply because it’s more awesome. What do you do? You compromise. Sure, you’ll poison the man’s dinner. But after he’s dead you’ll pump his body full of cyanide and dump him into the city’s water supply. Take that, motherfuckers. Now, since my analogy is swiftly revealing the extent of my psychotic tendencies, let’s move on to the next question…

Who deserves the most bragging rights: the management, writers, or artistas? Or is it a collaborative effort?

It’s a collaborative effort, sure, but the majority of the creative input that gets executed comes from whoever throws most weight around the room. If you have George Lucas as a producer, you don’t really expect a lot of his ideas to get shot down, do you? On the other hand, if you have David Mamet in the room, even Satan himself wouldn’t have the balls to change a letter in the just-ripped-out-from-the-Underwood script. Similarly, if you have a writer/actor like Matt Damon reading your script, you can expect to piss really low. Generally, however, the bulk of the pissing rights is claimed by the director. Not that I’m saying that’s right. Look, a lot of writers I know don’t really write very detailed scripts. They put in the dialogues and a few instructions about what’s going to happen in the sequences. Most directors prefer it that way. Just gimme the story, I’ll handle how it’s executed. I, on the other hand, am arrogant enough to think myself better than the director. I write painfully detailed scripts. A producer once commented that my writing shows how much I don’t trust directors. I can’t say this isn’t true. I look at myself as a grand architect and the true director of the episode I’m writing. The director is just the foreman whose job it is to mount what I’ve written. I’ve gotten in trouble a few times because of this attitude. There are a few of us alpha-male writers and we have spotty careers but we piss really, really far.

Which is better - writing as a job or as a hobby?

Look, if you’re a writer it won’t matter if it’s a job or a hobby. You’ll write even if nobody hires you to write. A lot of amateurs post their work online for lack of any producers or publishers willing to take on their masterpieces. I started writing professionally because I wanted fame, fortune, and a means to subvert what I see as a lack of awesomeness in Philippine mainstream television. And because I wanted to see more of the stories I enjoy watching. And to that guy out in the back of the room asking if I’ve found fame and fortune yet? Please step out.

What's with the networks and the long Bataan road of teleserye dramas that end up the same?

Really, how many endings can there be? Here’s a story broken down to its bones:

1. A bloke exists and this is his life.
2. The bloke suddenly has a problem.
3. The bloke tries to solve his problem.
4. The bloke either succeeds or fails.

I don’t have any beef with this because I wouldn’t want to watch or read a story with one of these steps missing. As an analogy, we all have the same basic skeletal structure and organs but what makes us interesting to each other is our differing personalities and the variations in our physical bodies. Same with stories. The problem is when stories seem like clones of each other wearing different clothes. This is exactly what is happening to Philippine network television. The variations are merely cosmetics on a cadaver-- a selling pitch. Under all that funeral make-up is the same old corpse rotting in creative stagnation. And so the audience’s minds rot with the shows. The more their minds rot, the more the shows rot, on and on in a vicious cycle. Which is weird because the advent of piracy and its acceptance by the populace as a valid source of entertainment is injecting fresh, new tastes in the masses’ palates. Everyone has a cheap DVD player nowadays. Everyone is buying pirated movies from Tagalog flicks to foreign art films. The masses are ready for different fare, by Jove! So why aren’t the big networks jumping at this opportunity to create wonderful new things? Because they’re run by businessmen who are afraid of losing money. They hang on to what’s been proven to sell and they sell more of that, waiting for the independent scene or smaller TV stations like TV 5 to make a decent buck out of something new. If these smaller entities fail and lose money, the big networks will go on selling what they sell best. If any of the smaller outfits succeed, the TV giants will use their money to make bigger, shinier versions of the new product. This general lack of desire to innovate among the big networks which should be leading innovation makes progress excruciatingly slow.

Is there a scientific method for effective writing?

If there is then I would like to get my hands on it. It would make my life a lot easier. But, naturally, there isn’t. Writing is largely about taste and one cannot legislate taste. You read, you watch movies, you study what you watch and read, and then you write. Along the way you’ll learn through your mistakes and hopefully remember your lessons. And then you write some more and pray you become a rockstar.

Is there a Writer's Guild in the Philippines that can go on strike one of these days?

There’s the Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas, or UMPIL-- formerly the Writers Union of the Philippines. But it’s generally a toothless organization of old farts. Revolution won’t come from that direction and a lot of writers never bother to join up. In this country where the moneyed and influential can get away with anything, unions aren’t all that threatening. But then again I know of writers who are rattling the chains. Who knows?

Do you get royalty rights or any kind? How much?

Sure, about 10,000 imaginary Philippine pesos (iPhp) per episode if the show is syndicated. DVDs, comic books, and other merchandize usually earn the creator of the show around .05 imaginary percent (i%) of the sales. It’s a great way to earn a living in-between shows, if only you can actually BUY ANYTHING WITH IMAGINARY MONEY!

No go back to the classroom and, as Mark Twain said, remember not to let your academics get in the way of your education.

PREVIOUSLY: The Boob Tube For the Noob Part I


  1. Have you ever tried writing for film production companies? You know, for Star Cinema? Oh, and do writers for film make more money than television writers?

  2. Yeah,there was this action movie I co-wrote with some other blokes. We ended up squabbling for the money. It was a shameful, shameful affair. Back when I was a new writer I was a regular brainstormer in Star Cinema. I was also writing an action movie for Star Cinema some years ago but the last action movie of the outfit failed at the box office so all action movie projects were led weeping to the guillotine. Including mine, naturally.

    Now film writers get more money than television writers PER PROJECT. That means per script. Say a newbie screen writer gets 80K for his script. Not bad eh? But that is bad. Most screenwriters don't get a movie project every month. A lot don't even get a movie project every YEAR. And when a movie project does come by, it sometimes takes years before it finally rolls. So, in the end TV is more profitable than movies.