On Writing With Tech

Clarion West got me started on a new venture. The requirement to write something every day got me to revive a novel project. Now, so far I’m 18,000 words in which is pretty amazing considering my schedule. I’m a full time tech writer for a corporation. I’m a single mum, who does all of the ‘lessons ferrying’ by bus. My child does 7.75 hours per week of dance. So, I realized that the only time I have, is while ferrying or waiting at dance.

So, I’m using new tech to get me there. For example, this post is being written in WordPress on my iPhone while on the bus en route to Lyrical dance at Westside Dance.
For actual creative writing, I’ve worked out a system with my own blended Mac / Windows world of home computing.
Thank the gods of tech that we can move things from Mac to Windows easily now.
I’ve used the iPad for a while thanks to my friend Sui-Fai who donated his old one to me. Now, I’m finding that I can incorporate it into my creative writing work if I make a concerted effort to do so.
It’s not easy, frankly, but I’m learning how to type on the auto- keyboard. It’s not as flowing for me as typing – I type on a standard keyboard very fast and can type as I think of dialogue or description. Many more spelling errors, too. Plus punctuation just seems like a big effort – but I fix it later.

I use the Pages app on the iPad. It’s fine for initial creation, but I must move everything via email as doc files. Then I open or in Word and copy and paste the new stuff into my novel- writing app.
This is because, back on the HP pavilion is my new favorite app, which organizes by chapter and has a great interface for writing larger projects.
The eureka app is Scrivener, which is a good value for 40$ or so.
It gives me an HTML smart interface that can compile to a txt output. It can also save my chapters individually to Dropbox which is a great auto-archive.

The image is an Ammonite from the Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller. Not quite as old as I am.


On Teaching Screenwriting

I’m heading into the last few weeks of my directed study course at Kwantlen University here in Richmond, B.C. I enjoy teaching & feel like I can offer new insights to the students. My new insights derive from  having been a working tv writer who was able to see my ideas on the screen, via (mostly) productions that I worked on.

One of the major differences between writing  fiction and television is that as tv writers, we have to deal with a myriad of departments and needs. This shapes what we create. To quote Orson Welles:

“A writer needs a pen, an artist needs a brush, but a filmmaker needs an army.”

For example, as an aspiring tv writer, I worked in story departments. These jobs meant I dealt with everyone and everything under the sun as it pertained to the showrunners.

Everyone needs the head writer(s) to weigh in on their part of the job. The army is composed of props, set dec, art, costumes, SPFX, VFX, animals, stunts, coordinators of all varieties, post production, actors, directo, audience coordinators, network executives, network legal, local legal, clearance companies, producers, other writers, locations, assistant directors, carpenters, grips, electrics, camera people, cinematographers, researchers, and assistants. In fact, I’ve probably forgotten to include an entire army of people in this list. But you get the idea.

My point is that when we write for tv and film, we’re creating a map or something like a plan – rather than a finished product. Imagine how a Brando movie would feel without Brando. Imagine Downton Abbey without the miraculous locations and art teams they have to recreate the early 20th century flawlessly?

Our job is to create that wonderful script, which is like a plan for our little army- to help them to mindmap it and fuel their creativity. The best movies and tv use the creativity of the whole team – which begins with the script.

Once we’re done, there’s a  script, like Tennessee Williams’ hit play & movie “A Streetcar Named Desire”, which can be recreated (albeit less gloriously) without a Brando. That is the ‘art’ part of what we do & we all aim for this result.


Catherine and Jessica see Mr. Young taping

On January 6th, 2012, Jessica and I ventured out to south Burnaby to a converted warehouse to watch Mr. Young.

Created by Howard Nemetz and produced by Alexandra Jaffe, Tim Gamble and others; Mr. Young is a live multi-camera sitcom taped with a studio audience. Hats off to the writing team, the show is funny and fresh even though the premise is simple. It’s a kid who overachieves, but is otherwise normal.  He becomes a high school teacher when he’s only 15. Mr. Young plays on Family Channel and YTV here in Canada.

It was a special outing for both of us. I love sharing my world with her.  For me, it was partly discovery, partly nostalgia.  I spent 2 seasons on a Disney Channel kids show a decade or so ago – before Jessica was born.  For Jessica, it was a magical night – going to a place she mostly only sees on the TV. She’s a huge fan of Mr. Young.

I could tell her what all the trucks in the parking lot were and which were makeup trailers and what the Grips do. More nostalgic for me, were the sights and smells of the Vancouver warehouse turned studio like so many I’ve worked in.

She saw the kids waiting and we both felt a lot of excitement. It was the very last episode of the year! The story is about a year ahead of what’s on TV.  Jessica loved seeing the standing sets and getting an understanding of takes and where the cameras are. The last time I took her to a show, she was little and she doesn’t recall much. She is in the opening credits of Just Cause, though, if you catch it, as a photo on a bulletin board.

Inside, we were treated to great seating and fabulous entertainment. We even got pizza! In my long career in TV, I never remember anyone (especially NOT the writers) having theatre seats!  This audience was royally treated.  There was an engaging and high energy MC who lead us in games and jokes and song. We even got up and danced between takes. Jessica was in her element and it was incredible fun for me to watch her. One of the actors, Gig Morton tap danced for us. Like so many young actors, he’s very talented, much beyond what you see in the show.

We had a special guest singer – who has a hit song on MuchMusic now.

Another key to the audience’s enjoyment – which both Jessica and I felt was necessary, was the fact that you saw the whole episode. They had giant TVs in front of us to show us the scenes already shot – complete with stock footage pieces slotted in – so we got the whole story.

I asked what Jessica liked the most – it was the autograph session. The young actors were good enough to stay, even though it was close to 1 a.m.  Ryan Ochoa from Pair of Kings was in the episode. Jessica was so pleased he let her get a picture with him. We were told not to take photos of the set or give away spoilers, so I won’t do that.

She treasures the autographs – and I even went through the line, so her best friend could have a set. I hid my TV writer persona and was just ‘Mum’.  It was easier.

I loved the fact that the producers and cast worked hard to entertain us – to connect the show to the community it’s made in.  There was a busload of drama students from a Delta high school – each more dramatic than the last. They made me smile – again more nostalgia – this time for the Stettler Thespians who, under the aegis of Mrs. Pat Brayton used to foray out from Stettler Alberta to see real live plays at the Citadel Theatre and to Banff for theatre festivals.

The kids in the audience were pumped by the MC. No one was tired – it was amazingly good fun!

Why do they do it? I don’t know. No show I ever worked on had a live audience. Maybe it’s the sitcom thing.  I really admire it, anyway.

The shows I worked on weren’t sitcom format, and the sitcom demands a real live audience. They taped every laugh. I’m certain the writers, directors and producers learn a whole heck of a lot each episode about what is  funny — and to whom – what makes the Grade 5s howl, what appeals to high school students, and what can even make Mums and Dads do more than grin.

I brought my Kobo, expecting to sit down for a long read. I had, after all, watched many episodes of many different shows shooting.  While never in an ‘on-set’ job, I’ve often been out on-set for a cast read-through or for the day or half day. I thought it would be like work, but it wasn’t.

Mr. Young snapped along making great time – even if they were a little late doing the end of season photo (again, I have a few of those mega-shoots from Dead Man’s Gun or The Collector – all of our little faces in a huge group shot). It was fun, innocent and amazing. I’m very glad a screenwriter buddy of mine dropped the hint to go watch Mr. Young with my daughter. It was magical.

Thanks, producers!

Here’s a link to Mr. Young on IMDB: