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Don’t Mess With What Works

There’s something I cannot understand to save my life. And when I get stumped by something, I tend to put it out there, to see what sort of thoughts the “thing” might prompt in others, what ideas they might have to maybe wrap some perspective around it. In this case, I’m afraid I know the answer all too well…but I’ll put it out there anyway.

Now, my focus here primarily isn’t fan fiction, although that’s the world I’ve dabbled in most when it comes to writing. No, this stems from television…specifically, the writing on a current television show which shall remain nameless, to protect me from hate-spam. (No, friends, it’s not my beloved Thunderbirds…that’s not current. *grin*)

Think of it: you start a brand-new show with stellar writing. You make it shine, tip-top above everything else, with an epic mix of everything that makes a show great, from the writing to the casting. The show goes like gangbusters for a season and then you decide hey, let’s completely and totally fuck up what’s working by making the writing go so completely south we end up in the Southern Hemisphere, and alienate half our fans in the process.

That sounds normal, right?

Er…wait, what? No? Well, let’s back out of TV shows and into something we might all be a little more familiar with. How about….McDonald’s. Sure, why not? We all know who they are, right? Huge fast food chain, home of the Big Mac, etcetera, etcetera.

Think of it: you start a brand-new restaurant with stellar food. You make that food something everyone loves, craves, with just the right taste to make them keep coming back for more, from the ingredients you use to the service your staff provides. The restaurant takes off like gangbusters for a year and then you decide hey, let’s completely and totally fuck up what’s working by changing McDonald’s from a hamburger-and-fries-and-Coke joint into a hot-dog-and-cabbage-and-water joint.

What do you think happens if McDonald’s stops selling hamburgers…or starts using tofu burgers instead of whatever kind it is they use now? What do you think happens if they stop selling french fries and only sell cabbage as a side? Or if they completely nix Coke products and only sell water? I’ll tell you what happens: they go out of business. Why? Because they took away what their customers loved about them the most, the thing that made them work, made them successful, and replaced it with something that makes no sense to their customer base.

Okay, now pedal backwards to the first thing I talked about: the show that started out with stellar writing. Can someone please tell me how it is that a TV show that’s doing everything right, that’s on top, and that develops a nearly instantaneous fan base (which is rabid and loyal and a marketer’s dream for all the social media-ing they do), decides it’s okay to change their “product” mid-stream when, in the world of business, any successful businessman would tell you such a move is a death sentence?

Good question, huh?

Now to tie this back to writing, I will dive into what about this particular show-that-shan’t-be-named went south and oh, look at that…it was the writing. You don’t need to know what show I’m on about to get the basic tenants of what my point will be. And what IS the point, you ask?

Don’t mess with what works.

What you have, if you are successful, is what put you on top. It’s what made you get fans to begin with, and only by keeping it intact are you going to keep those fans. Slacking off on writing just because you get too comfortable in your own leather desk chair is a discredit to the characters you created, and to the fans you have essentially made a promise to, when you get them hooked on a really good premise with really good characters.

I suppose I can tie this back to fanfic writing very easily, and be very much in line with my previous article about writing existing characters IN character, vs. twisting them into what you want them to be. And I’ll use Thunderbirds as my example.

Why do you think that little tiny marionette show still has die-hard fans this many years later? Because what they did, worked. Yes, some of it is outdated now…after all, the mid-60s were quite different than 2013. But as I will expound upon until the day I die, the characters at the core of that show are what made it work. They’re what got fans’ attention, and held it right through to today’s day and age, where you can mention it anywhere in England and they’ll know what you’re talking about. This is a show where there exists a thriving fandom that produces fanfic for a show continuing to live on in so many hearts.

That means what, exactly, to us fanfic writers? Oh, my God, it means exactly the same thing: Don’t mess with what works.

Why did you start writing fanfic for the show? Because you fell in love with some aspect of it, whether the characters or the machinery. You loved how the characters were portrayed, and you’ve decided you want to write about their further adventures since no one else is doing it (at least, not well, they’re not). The Spy Kids rip-off they tried to call Thunderbirds a few years back was an epic fail, why? Because they tried to mess with what worked. The recent novels are an epic fail (sales numbers don’t lie, people), why? Because the author just did not capture the spirit of what worked all those years ago. And the project that’s underway to do a new show where they’ve completely removed the patriarch of the family from the equation and made a secondary male character into a woman that’ll be in every episode, and where they’re going to make all the 21+ years main characters teenagers? Well, that’ll be an epic fail too, sorry. Why? Because rather than doing the REAL Thunderbirds…rather than sticking with what worked, and what made us continue to love them all these years later, they’re changing everything.

And I have no earthly idea why. You wouldn’t do that if you were McDonald’s. Or Best Buy. You wouldn’t do that if you were Wal-Mart or Costco. Up in Canada, you wouldn’t do that if you were Real Canadian Superstore or Tim Horton’s. Would you?

What if Paris took down the Eiffel Tower and burned the Louvre to the ground?

What if Egypt leveled its pyramids?

What if Hollywood relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia?

Those would all be very bad business decisions…the first two for tourism, the third for the entire economy of Southern California, including tourism.

Bad business decisions seem so obvious to us as consumers. Similarly, bad decisions in writing TV shows often seem so obvious to consumers, but the people who run the show are, somehow, completely oblivious. In spite of instant feedback via social media, showrunners are hiring hacks, or friends of friends, or members of whatever their inner in-bred clique are, to write for their productions, rather than hiring people who can string an actual story together that makes sense.

Sadly, this million-dollar OOPS they’re doing in Hollywood is recreated every damn day in places like fanfiction.net, where you go to find a good yarn to read about your favorite show, and wind up wading through stories that are labeled as being about that show, but whose characters you don’t recognize at all. Instead of writing what worked – the characters as they were created – people seem to want to twist them all to hell in the fanfic world, just like they tend to do in the TV world as well.

What a parallel, right? Life imitating art imitating life…

Oh, wait, we have too much testosterone in here, we need a hot, leggy female thrown in the mix, so let’s just ruin what we created by shoehorning one in there and pissing all our fans off when we get rid of a core character to do it. Oh, wait, there isn’t enough wrong with the character to give me enough angst to get high on, well, I’ll write him with such an out-of-character characteristic that it makes absolutely no sense with the way we’ve known him for the past season, just because I want a certain end game. Wait, this isn’t about gay men, we have to give them all girlfriends and wives and babies just to hit the audience over the head with the fact that no, they’re NOT gay.

*sigh*

The list goes on.

Why is it that when you write a book to be professionally published, your publisher won’t let it see the light of day unless it holds together as a real story that’s well-written…but that in the billion-dollar Hollywood industry, the most god-awful writing that rivals the worst crap on fanfiction.net is not only allowed through the gates, but encouraged, with those writers going on to get job after job after job, even when they’ve proven they couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag?

No, it’s not sour grapes on my end, so my detractors can stop right there if that’s what they want to say. I do not ever want to write for TV shows, no way no how do I want to become part of the cynical Hollywood machine. I’ve been on the inside (many moons ago) and it’s not nearly pretty enough to lure me back. I like the independence of being able to tell a good story the right way. I don’t want to be forced to write drek because the bosses say so. I’m perfectly happy to write and sell my screenplays and write and sell my books and keep control of what I’m writing, thanks much. At least that way if it DOES suck, it’s my responsibility and my fault, and not because my name was slapped on something that was forced on me, something so embarrassingly bad that my 13-year old son could’ve done a better job.

As I stated at the beginning, I think that what it all boils down to in Hollywood isn’t just what everything boils down to, which is money. It’s that, certainly, but when it comes to people who write on television shows, it’s all about who you know, not how well you write. Nepotism is alive and well there, and it’s sad when you start seeing shows tank because of the same reasons some of us complain about pieces of fanfic being awful: because of people not taking the time to a) write a GOOD story that makes sense, and b) write the characters the way that people fell in love with them.

I certainly cannot change what bigshot TV producers and moviemakers do, even if I find it really telling that a core fan base for a current TV show tells me I write much better stories than the show does (how sad is that, when I’m not even paid to do it?). And I can’t stop people who write for reasons other than to pay homage to good characters and a good show. But there’s one thing I can do: try to write whatever it is I write with integrity, rather than being sucked down the rabbit hole of popularity. If I am true to myself, and if I write my characters (whether someone else’s or my own original ones) by staying true to them, then I can be proud of what I do, even if I’m not getting a huge paycheck with a bunch of zeroes at the end.

I once had a discussion with a good friend of mine who wrote for a television comedy series back in the nineties. I loved his scripts, loved the episodes that were ones he got the credit for writing. And when I asked him, how do you do it? How do you become a writer like that on a show? His answer to me was, “I’m not a writer, I’m just a comedian. You’re the real writer.”

I’ve carried that with me ever since, and have talked to others “in the business” over the years only to find out he was right. Sometimes, writers on TV shows really are good writers. And sometimes, they’re nothing close to good writers. In the ensuing years I’ve mourned when television shows that started off so promisingly, seemed to somehow lose “real writing” and fall down the rabbit hole of “eh, it’s good enough to get by, we’ll just add more explosions or boobs so no one will notice.”

I’ve also mourned when a fandom’s fanfic went so off-the-rails that it was nearly impossible to find anything recognizable from the world that I’d loved of that long-gone show, that I could sit down and enjoy with a cup of coffee.

I just wish that everyone, showrunners included, understood that the reason good TV shows are good, is for multiple reasons…and at the base of all those multiple reasons, at the bottom of the pyramid it’s all standing on, is the writing. You can have the best actors in the world, but if the scripts you give them suck, they aren’t going to be able to save it in the end. If you alter their characters to get rid of the things that made everyone love your show to begin with, whatever your reasons are, then you’re going to lose your fan base.

And for those of us who write both original and fan fiction, remember that while it may be all fun and games and Barbie dolls and playing house to you, it’s not that way for all people. I won’t “kill” a character’s personality for the sake of a story. And I won’t write a story that makes no sense or has a lame-ass conclusion, and try to cover it up with a bunch of fanfare so nobody notices how bad it really is.

Maybe one of these days, instead of trying to resurrect things that worked 50 years ago and remaking them because they’ve run out of well-written new ideas, Hollywood will return to what made plays in the theater good…and made older TV shows good: the writing. Until then, I’m hopeful that fanfic writers will pick up the slack that the paid writers are just skating along on and patting themselves on the back for.

To the characters and the show that are getting tanked by these guys, I would like to offer my sincerest apologies. You deserve to be written well, not reshaped like you’re a can of Play-Doh being stuffed through a spaghetti-maker. No, I’m not saying what show, because the wrath of those who just want to drool over the actors isn’t worth outing its name. But if that show goes off the air because the ratings drop too much, you won’t have them to drool over anymore, anyway. At least, not as those characters.

Maybe, in the end, that’s actually for the best.

Screenplay for a TV Drama Pilot Reaches Finals!

I am happy to announce that my screenplay “Morph,” a television show pilot, has reached Finalist status in the Creative World Awards (CWA) 2013 contest, in the “Original TV Drama” category!

I’m thrilled to make it even this far with that screenplay, because it is my first attempt at an original television script. I’ve done spec scripts before, but never anything that came from my own imagination, my own original characters and ideas. So while I’m definitely excited to find out the actual winner next week, I’m also happy as a clam to get even this far. :-)

You can see my screenplay in the list for this year’s CWAs, by clicking here.

To find out more about CWA, click here.

And for a synopsis of what “Morph” is about, click here.

Why I Write In Other Peoples’ Universes

So the thing I copped to in an earlier post, the thing I decided to step up and admit to doing in spite of the negativity it often garners from people ‘in the industry’ – namely, writing fan fiction – is something I wanted to address in terms of why.

Not just why would I risk my newly-acquired professional reputation as a published author and an aspiring screenwriter. But why I would, as some ‘professionals’ have stated, “waste my time writing tomes that won’t get me paid.”

Well, let’s address the first sentence in that paragraph. There are copious amounts of proof all over the internet that people who get paid for what they write – everyone from novelists to screenwriters to show creators/producers to copywriters – think that anyone who writes fan fiction is an idiot (not to put too fine a point on it). And from their perspective, since they’re already getting paid for pursuing their passion, I can see their point. However, by their very attitude towards it, it’s obvious that these people have never actually taken part in that arena and don’t understand the whys and wherefores of it.

So why do people write fan fiction, despite the lack of a financial reward? It’s a creative outlet. For many, writing fan fiction is a way to ‘play’ with their favorite TV show, movie or book characters. Maybe they want to see two characters ‘get together’ and since it’s not happening on the television screen, they’re indulging and making it happen themselves. Maybe they would love to see their favorite movie-cop hero confronted with a different kind of case than what he tackled in the movie he was in.

Maybe they didn’t like how a novelist handled the death of one of their book’s characters and wanted to see it from a different character’s perspective. Or maybe, the fanfic writer has a crush on an actor (or their character) and just wants to write about that person’s characters no matter what the resulting plot (or lack thereof) might be.

My reasons for writing fan fiction started way back in my childhood. I didn’t have a good one, as lots of people didn’t, and even though back then I don’t think the process actually had the name ‘fan fiction’ attached to it, I would write stories about certain of my favorite TV shows in which I, as a little girl, featured as a “guest character.” Classic “Mary Sue” writing (to use a well-known fan fiction term for author self-insertion into a story) - but hey, when you’re ten, it’s a little more acceptable. It was a way to help me escape reality, to find a peaceful place where I was loved and wanted, where someone would come rescue me and take me out of a life that wasn’t somewhere I wanted to be.

But when I was ‘old enough to know better,’ and discovered this thing called ‘fan fiction’ online, I found it was a way I could share my enjoyment of characters from TV shows with other like-minded individuals in a community devoted specifically to that pursuit. It also gave me a place to practice something I knew I was good at, but also knew I wasn’t nearly good enough at, at that point, to make a living from it. (Am I good enough yet? Well, as readers of this blog will know, my first novel, “TAKERS,” was published last month on Amazon.com, so we’ll see! Writing is always an evolving process, after all.)

So as an adult, my reasons for writing in other peoples’ universes changed. No longer was it the self-indulgence and escapism that I craved as a young child. No longer was it because I wished I was living in the place where these characters lived. No, the reason became, very simply, that it was a proving ground for me. A place to test out different things, to experiment. To see if I could write comedy or horror. To see if I could carry off a novel-length complex saga that people would enjoy. To see if I could write in present tense vs. the tried-and-true past tense.

It gave me a place to invent original characters, and their backgrounds and mannerisms and personalities, and then test them out against characters who were already well-known by the readers. To dabble in someone else’s universe, for a writer like me, equates to giving a child a little sandbox in their back yard to play in, where they’re safely fenced-in, always under their parents’ watchful eyes. It allows the child to learn how to play in the sandbox, how to dig the best holes and build the best castles, how to use the tools at their disposal like a shovel and bucket and a sand mold…all before you let them out onto the beach where there are dogs and destructive waves and other children and adults who might come along and have something to say about what that child is doing.

Like the backyard sandbox, the universe created by someone else is a place where I get to see how well I can re-create the character (or dive into him or her) that someone else dreamed up. Can I write him so that the readers feel like they’re actually watching my story happen on the television screen? If I put him up against an obstacle we’ve never seen him encounter on the show, will the reactions he has to that in my story measure up to the character portrayed on-screen?

And that brings me to the second sentence of the second paragraph of this blog past (waaaaay back up there at the top). When you don’t have to invent an entire universe and fully explain how it works to your readers, you can concentrate on the finer points of things like developing plots and characterizations. You can safely add an original character to the mix and figure out what the reader has to know about him or her in order to accept their place in this story you’re writing about people they already know and love.

I’ve even reinvented some television show universes simply because I wanted to see how the known-and-loved characters would react if things got turned upside-down on them. That’s how I practiced creating new worlds, new places…new universes…so I could focus on that part of it without also having to breathe life into brand-new characters never before seen by the reader.

So ultimately, what I have used fan fiction for over the years, has been improving my writing. Improving my technique. Learning what readers like and don’t like. Learning when I’m pushing the envelope just right and when I might go a little too far. For me, it’s not ‘playing with dolls’ or ‘crushing on an actor’ or wanting to ‘throw people into bed.’ For me, it is quite literally a practice field. Even now, with one published novel under my belt and one completed screenplay that I’ve entered into a competition…even now, when I’m working on a second screenplay and just about a week from diving into my second novel…I’m still writing fan fiction.

Why? It’s simply because doing so allows me to a) have fun with something that money and career isn’t riding on, yet still stretches my writing muscle, and b) keep on practicing when I want to try different things. It’s also something that proves my writing has a solid fan-base. I have one Hawaii Five-0 story alone that, as of this very minute (6:32pm Central Time, U.S.), has been looked at 82,577 times. I’m not an egotistical person by nature, but I think that number pretty well speaks for itself in terms of the quality of what I produce – and the fact that fans of the TV show really like it. That I’m good at what I do, even when it’s playing in someone else’s universe.

So when I see quotes from published authors (or TV show writers) who belittle fanfic writers, or who make broad-sweeping statements about who fanfic writers are or why they write fanfic to begin with, well…it pisses me off. Sure, there are lots of people posting fan fiction out on the World Wide Web who need to get a grip, go for elementary grammar lessons and for the love of God should never be allowed anywhere near the poor characters they’re abusing with truly awful stories (this last bit is, I’ll grant you, a subjective statement).

But then you’ve got forward-thinking and highly successful people like Joss Whedon, the creator and producer of successful series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel,  who says “There’s a time and place for everything, and I believe it’s called ‘fan fiction’.” I like guys like this, who will admit to being a “fan” of something, even to the point of gushing about getting to direct a favorite character on the TV show Glee when given the opportunity. Someone who respects the fans and doesn’t go ballistic when they find out thousands of people are writing fan fiction about his TV shows because he gets why they do it.

And then there’s the creator of the most recent incarnation of Doctor Who, Russell T. Davies, who not only broke ground by bringing the beloved British icon back to life, but also has stated publicly that he “fell in love” with the ‘60s and ‘70s Doctors and has been a fan ever since. Who used how he felt as a fan to help guide how he re-invented a character that had already seen many reincarnations before Davies ever took the reins.

Let’s face it: while the legalities of fan fiction may be dubious at best (I’ve read so many different legal viewpoints on it that it makes my head spin, and not all interpretations of the law are negative, by the way), as free publicity for your show or movie or book, it really isn’t altogether a bad thing – when it’s well-done. Someone once sent me a story they wanted me to read because the writing was that good, but it was for a show I had never even heard of, let alone watched on television. The story was that good, and it actually hooked me into the fandom as a viewer of the show…something that would never have happened without that fanfic writer doing what they did.

And that leads me back to why in the hell would I, who’ve only just become a published author, talk so openly about what I did (and still do) with other peoples’ universes, without getting paid for it? Because I’m really tired of the labels society deems it necessary to slap on people at every turn. I have way too many examples to name them all, but here’s a few:

You’re either into guys or you’re into girls (at least we’ve seen the inclusion of bisexual into these labels, but still…why does there have to have a label?) What if you’re just into whomever you’re into regardless of gender? Why is it such a big, fat, hairy deal when a male actor ‘comes out of the closet?’ Why does he have to deliberately appear in public with women so the public won’t know he’s gay or bisexual?

More broadly: You’re either a winner or a loser. You’re either this nationality or that nationality. You’re either tall or your short. Fat or thin. Rich or poor. You’re a bad parent or a good parent. Christian or non-Christian. Bad or good. Stupid or smart. Ugly or beautiful.

Never mind that we’re all human.

You’re an artist only if you sell your art in some fancy shop where a blank white canvas with a red line running down the middle of it costs ten grand. You can only write for television if you’ve written for it before or know someone who can ‘get you in,’ otherwise you’re just a wannabe.

You’re only a real writer if you’ve published a hard copy book that sits on Barnes & Noble’s shelves gathering dust for three months until the publisher decides to yank it and you’re screwed out of it ever getting anywhere by the draconian contract you signed with the publisher (not my publisher, I hasten to add…she’s not like that at all!). It’s only a real book, after all, if it’s made of paper. Right?

I honestly think all of these are just more versions of those cliques everyone was subjected to in school. If you weren’t a cheerleader, then you weren’t worthy of the popular girls’ time. If you weren’t on the football team, you were a geek/nerd. If you were a young man in the choir rather than on the wrestling team, you were less-than-masculine. If you weren’t into yammering about boys and trying to get them into the sack in high school, then you were either a lesbian or someone who was way too weird to ever be considered ‘cool.’

Similarly, people who somehow or other have already become successful ‘within the industry’ – whether it’s books or TV/movies – very often look down on those who are doing the best they can…those who don’t have an insider to help pull them into the business, but still want to make people happy by doing what they love most. (Ever looked at the bios of successful industry people and seen how very many of them made it through the gates because of family or childhood friendship connections? And I bet there are a lot more examples that aren’t even demonstrated on resumes.)

Yeah. I’m sick of labels. I’m sick of hiding my talent and a body of work that I think speaks for itself – as well as showcasing my growth as a writer – just because someone out there might take offense at what I’ve proven I’m good at, due to their own misconceptions or narrow-mindedness. In reality, I guess I would say that I’m not a ‘fanfic writer,’ nor am I a ‘novelist,’ nor am I a ‘screenwriter.’ I am, very simply, a WRITER. Period. It’s what I do. It’s what I love.

And I’m sorry if anyone’s offended by how I choose to practice my craft. But that’s who I am and what I do, and I’m tired of feeling like I have to be ashamed of it or hide it simply because it’s not considered ‘professional’ and doesn’t pay me anything. At least I’m bettering my writing, and I’m making people happy, and that? For me, that is the point.

The Actors Aren’t to Blame

My publisher, who used to be a publicist with NBC a few years back, warned me this was coming. She saw the writing on the wall when I shared certain tweets and posts with her.

Sadly, she was right.

Back in my post entitled “So Much Lip Service – Part 2,”I mentioned that there have been cases where soap opera actors who portrayed villains have literally had fans of the show come up and spit in their faces because of something their character did to another, beloved, ‘good-guy’ character.

Well, I’m seeing this happen (virtually, not physically) right now to someone. She’s being ‘hated on’ for no other reason than because she’s trying to do the job she was hired to do, and it hurts to watch it happen. It hurts because I’ve known actors…lots of ‘em in days gone by…and it’s unfair of fans to rail against them for something they have zero control over.

Actors are people just like the rest of us. They have emotions. They have morals, scruples, quirks, kinks, faults and things they’re really good at. So to see someone get bashed, to the point where they feel like they have to apologize to fans? It’s just not right.

Maybe some of the fans don’t understand how things work. Maybe some of them do, but they’re just taking out their frustrations on the most obvious target – the actor who’s bringing something to the screen that those fan just don’t want to see.

For the benefit of those who don’t know, I’d like to point out that there are an awful lot of things that happen before what you see on the screen in a movie or on an episode of your favorite TV show. Things that the actor has absolutely nothing to do with (unless they happen to have written the script or directed the episode themselves).

Control is an illusion!

Those in control of the show – everyone from people at whatever network or cable channel it’s on all the way to the Executive Producers and Producers – are at the top of the food chain. Sometimes even EPs can’t do 100% of what they want if the network/cable channel says “No.” Sometimes the network/cable channel even makes them do things they don’t want to do, in a (sometimes misguided) attempt to steer the show in the direction they think it should go in.

Then you have the screenwriters. The people who write the scripts. In television, unless that screenwriter is also the Executive Producer who runs the show, the scripts are written to order. Like the EPs, the writers don’t get to do 100% of what they want to do.  And even while scenes are being filmed, scripts can change. Often dramatically. I’ve seen entire scenes completely thrown out in the middle of being filmed because the director said, “No, doesn’t work at all.” Which, of course, sends the writers scrambling to figure out what to do.

So an actor gets a script. And then revisions. And then more revisions. And then even more, sometimes on-the-spot.

Then there are the directors. The actor may try to do what they think is right for their character, whether it’s applying certain facial expressions or body language…figuring out the best way to deliver a line…interacting with those around them within the context of the scene…playing off the previous line or setting up for the next one. There’s a lot an actor can and does do to make a character their own, but there aren’t very many cases where they’re actually allowed to make it all up on their own without being told what to say by the writers, and how to execute it by the directors. Ad-libbing? Maybe, if the director’s generous. But not writing entire story arcs, entire seasons or – unless they happened to write one – whole episodes.

After all the scenes are shot, it goes to editing. Is it too long? What scenes aren’t crucial to the story the producers, directors and/or writers want told? Did the scene with these two characters not work very well? Does a scene not advance the story at all in the precious few minutes lurking inside of an hour that they have to tell it? There are so many decisions an editor has to make to splice together a bunch of scenes shot out-of-sequence into an episode of a television series.

And then music’s added, and anything else they think is needed. Sound effects, getting actors to come into the studio to re-record dialogue because maybe it got muffled or in the end they couldn’t find a recorded way a line was delivered that satisfied the director, producer and editor.

Eventually, an episode gets put together and shipped off to the studio to be aired.

It’s a complex process made up of a plethora of people behind-the-scenes. All fans really get to see – unless the show’s people are willing to expose behind-the-scenes action – is the finished product.

And unless an actor actually wrote and directed and produced and everything else’d on their own without anyone else’s input, you cannot rip them a new one simply because you don’t like a character, or a story arc, or the way something on a show is being handled.

It’s not the actor’s fault.

Let me repeat that.

It is not the actor’s fault.

This is another thing I have referenced in previous posts that I’ve really started to see becoming hurtful: people’s ability in recent years to immediately post everything they’re thinking and feeling on the internet without any sort of filter or time lag.

Back in the 80s – which was my favorite time period  for television shows until recently, when the new Hawaii Five-0 reboot appeared – if there was something I didn’t like on a television show and I had felt compelled to complain about it, I would have had to hunt down the network’s mailing address, spend time handwriting (or typing) a letter, find a postage stamp and an envelope, and mail it off.

(No, I never did that, by the way. I was between the ages of 8 and 18 inthe 80s, and while I loved to watch the TV shows of that decade, I never felt the urge to brain anyone over anything they did on them.)

Nowadays, you can tell the entire world in the space of a few seconds how much you don’t like something or someone, without any sort of brain-to-fingers filter required.

Actors take it personally, just like writers.

This one is important. Even if you’re careful to say you hate the character, the actor portraying that character tends to take that personally. Just like writers take it personally when you say you hate the stories or the books they write, even though writers themselves obviously aren’t their creative works.  If you think about it, pretty much any worker would take it personally when someone tells them they suck, especially if that worker’s just doing what their boss told them to.

The job an actor is hired to do, is bring a character to life. A character created by someone else. The actor can’t help it that the people who are in charge are having that character do or say things that the fans don’t care for.

Should I say it again? Yeah, I should.

It is not the actor’s fault.

Hate is a very harsh word.

It’s also sad that so many fans will actually come out and say they “hate” a character or “hate” an actor. Hate is such a strong word, and you’ll only ever see me use it loosely when referring to phrases like I did in a previous post. (I will always always hate the phrase ‘team player’ – too many years spent in cubicle farms! But that phrase can’t get its feelings hurt like a human being can.)

The bottom line is this: If you do not like something that’s happening on a TV show, send a well thought-out email to the network, for starters. Explain what it is you don’t like rationally and intelligently. Spitting out things like “We hate X!” or “Y is horrible!” or “Go home, X!” really doesn’t help anyone. Those types of comments are too vague and personal in nature to explain what your problem with the whole thing is.

Second, if you have a way to contact the production company – either by snail mail or email – do the same thing. Write the letter rationally and intelligently, and explain your grievances like a grown-up. Not like a six year-old who’s throwing a tantrum because they’re not getting their way.

Third, if you have access to the show’s producers, especially the Executive Producers, do the same thing again. Explain yourself. Tell them what you don’t like about the story, or the character(s) you have problems with. Above all, tell them why. And for crying out loud, don’t threaten them! (I can’t believe I actually have to say that, but it’s already happened in this case. WTF?)

You also have to remember that there’s an unfortunate side effect of publicly establishing yourself, via tweets or other methods, as favoring one of the actors, or a particular real or potential pairing in a show.  Those in charge will then dismiss your quickly tweeted “hate hate hate” messages not just because they sound infantile, but because they figure, “Oh, he or she is just not happy because I’m not giving their favorite character or actor more screen time/doing it the way they want me to.” That’s why it’s really important to state your case logically, rationally and intelligently.

I know I keep repeating those words. But I kind of have to, because a lot of people seem to have lost their common sense. But that’s a rant for another day.

Give them a chance to fix it, already!

Just as you are able to instantaneously tell the people in charge of a show that you don’t like something, you have to remember that dozens, maybe even hundreds of other unhappy viewers may be doing exactly the same thing. Therefore, the show runners may very well be thinking, “Oh, oops, my bad. Shouldn’t have done that, shit!”

But here’s the problem. The actual filming of a show is usually four, five or six episodes ahead of the one that you’re sitting there watching. So even if the producers or the networks want to “fix” whatever they’ve done that the fans are screaming about, the fact is that you won’t actually see those “fixes” until maybe four, five or six (or more!) weeks down the road. There’s nothing anyone can do about that.

Breathe. Give it time. Express yourself kindly by making your points without attacking. Then sit back and wait to see if you were listened to.

And please try to remember, in the spirit of the television show that actually got me interested in television shows again, that ohana means family. No matter what, we shouldn’t be hurting each other like this.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A ‘FAN’ AND BEING A ‘FANATIC’

For years, I have cringed whenever someone called me a “fan” of anything. I. Am. Not. A. Fan.

Of anything.

Now, before you twist your head in puzzlement and wonder, how can she not be a fan of anything, perhaps I should take a step (or ten) back and explain what the word ‘fan’ means to me.

‘Fan,’ as I’m sure you already know, is simply short for the word ‘fanatic.’

Need I say more?

Really?

Historically, words that end in –tic do not have good connotations. How about lunatic? Heretic? Spastic? I could go on, but that would be to digress.

No, no, it’s not just how the word ‘fanatic’ is spelled. It’s the connotation of it. Let’s look first at the dictionary definition. Dictionary.com tells us that a fanatic is “a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or politics,” while the same website says a fan is “an enthusiastic devotee, follower, or admirer of a sport, pastime, celebrity, etc.”

Now, wait a minute. Neither of those definitions sound bad at all. A fanatic specifically being “uncritical?” A fan defined as “enthusiastic?” What in the world is so horrible about either?

It’s not the dictionary definitions that have made me shy away from either…or both. It’s the way that professionals in the television and movie industry – to whom I was exposed directly for just over four years – react when you say you’re a fan of whatever or whoever it is they’re working on or with.

For example, I’d go walking the movie lot every day at lunch for the particular studio I was with. I can’t tell you how many actors and actresses, directors, producers, screenplay/script writers and the like that I met. I attended lots of sitcom tapings, got to know some of these people quite well, and the one thing I was never ever allowed to tell any of them, was that I was a fan.

Because telling them that made me UNSAFE to be in their sphere.

As long as I was just another employee, working for the same place they were working for, the biggest names in the business asked no questions, because the implication was that I wasn’t going to maul, molest or otherwise harass them. That I wasn’t going to ask for favors. That I wasn’t going to try to get something out of them or ask for an autograph (I never ask for those…I’m not sure why owning someone’s scrawled John Hancock is such a thrill, but I’m weird like that).

So I guess I learned from my association with people both in front of and behind the camera over those four years. I learned a lot about actors and actresses. About the guys (and gals) who sit around writing, rewriting and doing last-last-last minute rewrites of scripts (oh, the multi-colored pages). About the directors and producers who alternately shouted, frowned or just plain threw their hands up in the air at times. Yes, I saw one do that, poor guy. But his actors were just as frustrated!

To me, none of these people are anything more than…well…people. If I met them while hanging out on a Saturday night down on Beale Street here in Memphis, would I be drawn to them if they weren’t a “big name” shooting into millions of household living rooms every week via TV screens? I honestly don’t know. In some cases, I’d like to think so. But when you boil right down to the bare facts, they’re doing their jobs just as much as the stock market broker in Manhattan, the waitress in Los Angeles and the farmer in Somewhere, Iowa.

So combining my own experiences with my personal beliefs about folks who are “high up” in the television or movie industries (I’m one who says “Hey, they put their pants on same way we do”), I bristle when I get called a fan of anything, because it’s been ingrained in me that that’s bad. That you cannot let them know you are this horrid, horrid beast called ‘fan.’ (I half expect horns, fangs and an arrow-tipped tail to sprout from me if someone actually calls me that and makes it stick.)

Hmmmm, that description sounds like it might make a decent character in my next book…

I’m just going to mention here that even Facebook stopped using the word ‘fan.’ For those who don’t remember, it used to be that instead of clicking “Like” if you appreciated and wanted to recommend a Facebook page about something/someone, you clicked a button that said “Become a Fan.” And then Facebook found out that a lot of people did not really like that word. People resoundingly said that just because they “liked” something doesn’t mean they wanted to be called a “fan” of it.

Interesting, huh?

I guess I should admit that while I might quietly sometimes admit to myself that I am a fan of something or someone, I try to pretend the origins of that word aren’t from ‘fanatic’ when I do so. I shall make one final distinction between ‘fan’ and ‘fanatic,’ though, as I see it.

I don’t think a fan is a bad thing to be, but I think a fanatic is. Let me explain.

To me, saying I am a fan of…let’s use an actor. Actor Joe Anyone, we’ll call him. To say I am a fan of his implies that I enjoy watching him. Or perhaps that I enjoy what he does in his “non-work” time, such as charities he supports, perhaps…or hobbies or how he spends time with his family or whatever the case may be. That maybe I like the majority of Joe Anywhere’s body of work.

The same could be said of me if I declared myself to be a fanatic of Joe Anywhere the actor.

HOWEVER…

Here’s what I think the difference is.

I believe that a fanatic will love Joe Anywhere to their dying day and GOD HELP THE POOR SOUL who dares to say one little thing against Joe. As an example, suppose I go to see Joe’s latest film and I think he didn’t quite capture the spirit of the character, or thought he seemed disengaged, or really thought he’d been miscast and wonder why he took the role to begin with. If I said that to Joe’s fanatics, they’d sever my head, serve it up on a silver platter and probably disembowel me in the bargain, asking how the heck I could call myself a fan of Joe’s if I don’t support him 100%.

Oy vey.

Of course I support Joe 100%. But that doesn’t mean I have to love everything he does without reservation…it just means I should  support his right to try it. It does not mean I have to view every project he does with hearts in my eyes and blindly follow him no matter how painfully bad his current project might be.

If I think a film was excellent except for what I thought was ten minutes of poor scriptwriting, that doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of the movie. It means I cared enough about the damn movie to lament that I thought something wasn’t perfect about it!

Am I starting to make sense?

If I think my favorite pretend actor Joe Anywhere is an asshole for how he acts during an interview, and voice my opinion that the guy needs to lighten up and stop acting like said asshole to the reporter, that does not mean I’m not his fan. I am Joe’s fan. It simply means that either I was embarrassed for him, or concerned about how his behavior might affect his reputation or the project he’s currently working on…it could be any number of things.

In short (too late, I know), I think I need to come to terms with the fact that I am indeed a (closet) fan of some things and even of some people. However, those things and those people won’t ever really know that from my lips, because it was drilled into me not to show it.

Yes, I write fan fiction, as I have already made public. Just because that’s what they call it, though, doesn’t mean it’s not good, solid, decent writing. Any more than calling me a fan of someone or something, means that I’m not a good, solid, decent human being. And like a lot of fan fiction writers I know who work hard on their craft, I get a little tired of the portrayal of it in the media as if it is all badly written, self-indulgent crap. After all, I’ve seen plenty of professional writing that fits those two categories to a ‘T!’

Are there some scary-ass fans out there who do things like stalk celebrities to their favorite hangouts or to their homes? Who have fantasies all worked up in their heads that Celebrity A is their boyfriend/husband and Celebrity B is their long-lost past-life love? Oh, yeah. THOSE are really and truly what I’d call ‘fanatics.’

But please, folks, don’t sit there and tell other people they aren’t true fans of something or someone just because they have the unmitigated gall, in your eyes, to critique something the person you think walks on water has done.

That person is human just like the rest of us. They are not perfect no matter how much your rose-colored glasses tell you they are. And I have the right to say “Dude, you are seriously screwing it up,” if I care about whatever it is he’s screwing up. Sorry, but I’m not going to openly support someone just because I’m supposed to be their ‘fan,’ if I think they’re making bad artistic or personal decisions. Because I care about them, I am going to say, “Oh, man, why did you do that?”

Yes, this is all my not-so-humble opinion. But it’s something that grates on me, and has since my studio days. So there you have it.

And dammit…I am not a fan! :-)

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    The book series "Takers," the screenplays contained on the "Screenplays" page and the screenplays discussed and contained on this website are copyright Chris Davis. Novels are published by Plotfish Press, and screenplays are registered with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) West.
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