Welcome Gentle Readers

This blog tends to wander from its main purpose -- updates on my fiction. I do have updates and excerpts of my work. But I also write about my obsessions -- food, friends and pop culture and my weird life in Los Angeles. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Bad Chemistry, Fall TV and Kitchen Perils

I have to admit, finishing that first story in Mom's memoir left me exhausted. I've never had that happen with any writing before. I suppose that's because I've never been as personally to my work before. Then I had an immediate case of remorse about sending it to some close family members. In short, I was really distracted by the time it came to writing the blog. There were many things I wanted to write about, but I had no energy.

This week, my distraction is most evident in the kitchen. After a spice mishap and a near tragedy involving a pan full of hot canola oil, I decided it might be safest and sanest for me to adjourn the weekly cooking until tomorrow. When I get klutzy in the kitchen, it's best to leave. It was only a matter of time before I slipped with a knife or my newest toy, my ultra sharp mandolin. The sofa and my keyboard are far safer than my stove.

This week, my focus seems to be on pop culture. I have Fall TV rants to expand upon. But these seemingly fannish observations are a lot about writing and how it interacts with actors and other, less creative influences that make well intentioned scripts go horribly wrong. So for my literati geeks out there, this is germane to 'real writing.' and it is easy to relate even if you have never seen the shows.

Experiments in Chemistry
Spoiler Alert for CSI, CSI:Miami and Eastwick. Also, the opions below are my own. They are strongly heald and well reasoned. Yelling at me will not change them.

I was most unhappy going into the new season of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Fan reaction to last seasons changes prompted the network to interfere with this season. First off, some vocal fans were unhappy with the departure of William Peterson and unhappy with Lawrence Fishburne's character. Despite having the series created around him and being an executive producer, William Perterson always had one foot out of the door at CSI. It was always a matter of time before they left. I was leery of the introduction of Fishburne, but impressed with his choices in portraying his new role. He allowed himself to be an entry level tech on the team and opted to play Dr. Raymond Langston as a highly talented mega nerd. It was a refreshing choice for an A-list action star. Some fans though were annoyed that he was not being more like Morpheus from The Matrix trilogy. I was mightily vexed, because I so enjoyed what Fishburne was doing with the role. I was even more vexed at the return of Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox) whom I've loathed since the pilot. More on that later. But CSI is a clever program for it's genre. It is the most innately funny of the CSI shows. It also takes itself the least seriously. Fans wanted the Matrix, the opener gave it to them in spades complete with more bullet time than has ever occurred in a network TV show. For a couple of seconds, Dr. Langston became Morpheus and kicked One of the multiple intruders dressed like Agents through a plate glass window. It was one very amazing scene that was brilliantly foretold in the opening in riveting slow motion (please, watch the opener HERE). It was the only place where Fishburne broke his choice of character, thank goodness. In the remaining parts of the episode, he was his usual nerdy self. I think this was the producers' way of saying 'You want the freaking Matrix, you've got it. Doesn't it look ridiculous?'

A writer can develop and define a character, but an actor is the one that breathes life into it through the choices made in how the writing is expressed into action. Those choices affect everything including the character's chemistry with other actors in the show. In the case of Fishburne, the nerdy doctor and former pathologist, there is a lot of natural chemistry with the Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Robbins. The chemistry works and it makes sense. It was probably in the script, but the actors really ran with it. Thus, they are delightful to watch.

However, there are characters who have no chemistry, especially no romantic chemistry no matter how much a writer wants it to happen or how blatant it is supposed to be in the script. This scenario happens more often than not. Unfortunately, if the writer is a series creator, the chemistry created in the script is often foisted upon the actors whether they feel it or not. The results are often disastrous. In the case of CSI, it's Gil Grissom and Sara Sidle. The characters have always had terrible chemistry. Each had more chemistry with almost every other character. Together romantically, they were painful to watch. But for whatever reason, it was forced down the viewers throats that they were destined to be a couple. Yet Sara leaves the team once because of burnout after Gil proposed. When she returns briefly, she never asked after him. Then she left the entire country and informs him via a video e-mail. He inexplicably follows. This season, I'm to believe that she's left the man she's married at this point to return to a job she had come to loathe for crushing her soul simply because they need a little temp help. I am to further believe that she left her new husband while living in Paris. Is CSI now pure fantasy??? I am appalled at how little real thought is put into this season's developments. Yet, I shouldn't be. Script writers, especially creators, rarely seem to realize which characters are really right for each other. I think the reason is that screenwriters still think that their vision is the only one that matters. That just isn't the case in TV or film. In film, there is the actor's and director's vision to contend with. In TV, it's mainly the actors. But they are the ones that are reaching viewers each week.

Smart writers and producers run with the chemistry that develops between the characters even if it's unexpected. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the epic love story was supposed to be between Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar ) and Angel (David Boreanaz). However, it became clear that the stronger chemistry was between Buffy and Spike ) (James Marsters) . Fortunately the talented Jane Espenson ran with that chemistry making for some wonderfully steamy episodes and a heart rending series finale. It was really good stuff. Ms Espenson, I believe, is responsible for running with the sizzling chemistry between Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) and President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) in Battlestar Galactica. Running with the acros choices can make for fabulously fun TV viewing.

Unfortunately, many TV writers and producers try to force the original plans for their characters onto the actors and their viewers. Thus, we have Sarah Sidle and Gil Grissom or B'Elanna Torres and Tom Paris (Star Trek: Voyager) or JD and Elliot on Scrubs which is a tragedy that keeps repeating.

We've been lucky with our characters and actors. I try to cast with personal chemistry in mind. Most times, I have at least one of my leads cast before I look for the other. Thus, I have someone to interact with the actors in the audition. Thus, My Vincent and my Rik have good chemistry together in Blood Oath. My Shadow has chemistry with my KD in The Gunslinger. The only problem we had was with The Privateers. We wanted Dravyk's love ultimate love interest to be a surprise. We also meant for he and Commander El-Minya to have a hostile relationship. Well, Karl Urban and Denise Hurd had far more on screen chemistry that we'd ever planned. So we tweaked future versions of the script to have Dravyk be a flirt with El-Minya mainly to annoy her. They are thus still a lot of fun to watch on screen without implying that there will be more to the relationship.

Fall TV Rant
This section is less about the craft of TV writing and more about my opinion on a couple of network TV shows.

I didn't rant much about CSI: Miami last season. It was kind of a ho-hum season. Not even the stupid things that happened rose to a level where I felt the need to shout about it. I was hopeful going into this season. The ads implied a fun flash back to such things as how Horatio Caine got his signature sun glasses and how his team was formed. I envisioned an amusing romp in the past while Eric Delko fought for his life....again. Alas, aside from one detective having a porn moustache, there was nothing at all amusing. It was the usual, heavy handed goofy stuff. There was, however, a new character. CSI Cordoza (Eddie Cibrian) was introduced in the series opener. He is tall, dark, gorgeous with dimples. By episode two he is caught in a hostage situation in police headquarters (yes, I said police headquarters). My irritation at the half dozenth time that station has been invaded by armed gunmen gave way to glee when Cordoza whipped off his shirt (as you do in hostage crisis). I'm not sure what other inane things happened after that (my mind had wandered to somewhere fun with CSI Cordoza), but I now have a reason to continue watching the show.

The biggest delight of the new fall season has been Eastwick, the ABC TV show based on The Witches of Eastwick, a novel by John Updike and a film by George Miller. It's the story of three women who are unhappy in their lives brought together by a wish to fulfill their most secret desires. Their wishes begin to come true with the arrival of the mysterious and wealthy Darryl Van Horn, someone who may not be of this Earth. The series brings the talented and gorgeous Paul Gross back to American TV. Like many women and some men, I fell madly in love with him as Constable Benton Fraser in due South. Gross managed to be very charming and sexy playing a wide-eyes innocent, straight laced Mounty. He is incendiary as the gleefully wicked Van Horn (who has the delightful habit of whipping off his clothes as often as possible). The series is scary and intriguing yet it has a light, humorous touch. The rest of the cast is really good and really easy on the eyes. I'm not sure how long the series can run. In the book and the film, the trio of women coming together is the beginning of the end. Things sipral out of control fairly quickly. I'm not sure how long Eastwick as a series can keep the suspense going before it has to reach a conclusion, but I'm more than willing to go along for the ride.

Real Life Stuff

I haven't been just watching TV these last couple of weeks. I've been working on business plans with Ralph and helping shape a book proposal for another writer when I'm not doing my own writing. Ralph and I are juggling a lot of complicated things so that when we make our next film, we will continue making films. This keeps me really busy even during the day at the Archive (That makes for some awkward moments, believe me. I've already had an actor come greet me and Jon while hip deep in processing books for upload). It's been nice to have a little diversion from the telly. In the next few weeks, the Blood Oath pilot presentation will be finished. In addition to pitching it, we plan to have a screening with Manga, anime and yaoi fans. If any of you are in LA next month, I hope you'll come take a look. We'll also be doing auditions for the horror film. Casting is always interesting. This time, I'll keep a detailed visual and written record of the process. As always, stay tuned.

And now, I must return to the kitchen. I have a carne asada recipe that I have to crack.

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