They Killed My Darlings – Why Filmmakers Make Changes to Your Script

The following is a guest post written by Joey Corpora, a film director with the film-making group, Platypus Underground. Check out their site for some insightful low-budget filmmaking tips, originating in real-life adventures in movie-making. – Ron Brassfield


 

I think it goes without saying: filmmaking is a collaborative medium. With so many people involved in the filmmaking process, things are bound to change from the time the rough draft is written to when an audience watches the final print.

What can change, and why?

Maybe the location manager found an awesome deserted beach to shoot at that wasn’t originally in the script, or the director met an outstanding actor who could fit in the movie if the story was tweaked slightly, or maybe the script was too ambitious from the beginning.

The thing is, most of the time when a script is picked up by an independent film company, changes aren’t made because the script is bad.

They’re made because new opportunities came up, or because the budget wasn’t quite big enough to fit in the more extravagant bits written in the script. Independent filmmaking is a very fluid medium. You need a director who is willing to roll with the punches and seize new opportunities as they present themselves. Being flexible allows for change- but it doesn’t mean it’s because your script is bad.

I can give an example.

At Platypus Underground, we write all of our own films, so we are well aware of what we are capable of, and what we can’t reasonably do on a small budget.

However, we are all big dreamers. And, as most writers will tell you, when you are caught up in the moment of writing, you don’t want to censor yourself. As a filmmaker and writer, you begin to think, “I’ll write this scene in anyway, even if it seems like it’d be tough to shoot. We’re a smart and creative bunch. I’m SURE we can find some way to pull this off.”

We write scenes that fit in our story, but once it comes time to actually film, our experience, budget, equipment, or location sometimes just don’t match up with what we’d originally written.

When we shot our kung fu flick, Sins of the Dragon, we’d planned on having parts of the film shot in huts or temples. Those were written in the script, so we needed them in the movie, right?

The problem was we didn’t have access to those things, and though we searched for possible locations up until the day before shooting, it just didn’t work out. We needed to find some alternatives, and the easiest alternative is usually to change the parts of the script that just won’t work.

Some scenes were cut. Some were re-written. And others were left mostly intact, but we decided to film them in a different location.

At other times, you may find that you’ve written something “impossible” to shoot, but you end up finding a way to pull it off anyway.

We are currently working on a short film called Future 1986. It’s an epic sci-fi story, and the opening scene involves a huge battle sequence on a charred alien world.

We’d spent a few weeks planning the scene, recruiting people, gathering costumes, and scouting a great location. We figured it would be a cinch — after all, we’d done battle scenes before. No problem!

At the last minute, almost all of our actors dropped out, leaving us with FOUR people, including our two person camera/sound crew for the day. It snowed the day before shooting, and the temperature had plummeted. The props we thought we had were missing.

Everything was going wrong, but we decided to shoot, anyway, and hoped for the best.

Using some clever split screen effects, fast cutting, a variety of camera angles, a few Hallowe’en masks, and uniform costumes, we were able to double up on roles by obscuring our faces and making it look like we had more actors on screen. By using a split screen technique and dividing the screen into thirds, we were able to turn our four actors into “twelve” actors for any shots where we needed to show larger groups of fighters.

Once the footage was shot, we were able to go into After Effects to manipulate the footage further, adding planes flying in overhead, explosions in the distance, and fires in the trees. It was starting to look like we really did have an army of extras!

We keyed out the drab sky and replaced it with grungy clouds, and with a quick bit of color correction — viola! — We had ourselves an epic sci-fi battle on an alien planet — shot with four guys, some Nerf guns, and a tripod.

The point of all this is: don’t get discouraged if you need to make changes to your script, or if a filmmaker you’re working with makes changes to it. Write the story how you think it should be told, and fight to keep your script as intact as possible.

But don’t be stubborn — if a new opportunity arises, or if something doesn’t work out, you should be open to change. Understand that the changes aren’t necessarily being made because your script is “bad”; more than likely, changes will be made due to circumstances beyond your control. Oftentimes, these changes end up being better than anyone could have planned.

And when things work out like that, then guess what? You still get the credit for those great ideas on screen, because you’re listed in the credits as the writer!

All Together Now

A year ago, while toiling as a temp for a large American manufacturer, I wrote a one-hour television spec pilot, and later, I wrote another one. In the midst, I finished writing a feature for a small Northeastern production outfit, based on a loose concept they had envisioned as their next movie project, which was very well-received. Great, we signed a deal memo and I carried on struggling to make a living, hoping one day our deal would bear fruit for us all.

Around about June, I started to have daydreamy moments in which I’d picture them wanting to produce some scripted television. Guess what?  By late June, they emailed me about exactly that question, asking if I also wrote for television. I sent them my two pilot scripts, and they asked if I would like to write another one for them to pitch to networks this Fall? Of course, I would!

On our ensuing conference call, they referenced a documentary on UFO contactees and abductions, told me they were acquainted with its producer, and wanted to involve him as a consultant, giving him input into the story. They proposed a package deal in which, if the pitch were successful, the four of us would share equally in the proceeds, all credited as “creators” or “co-creators” and with me as the writer, because they believed in my ability, based on my work they had seen.

I was aware, of course, that in practical terms, that meant that the couple who held the production company shingle were to get half the money, should money ultimately flow, and, as the writer, I was tasked to do a large majority of the actual work. That would have been a foolish point to stick on. My objective is to help these people become more successful, and, in so doing, gain influence and prospects as a writer. I already know, with this proposal, what I have gained from the experience so far: champions, people who work in the industry, who stand ready to promote my work as a writer to network executives. As a writer attempting to promote myself, I could easily be seen by these busy people as a self-deluded fool swimming in a swarming pool of pestilent life. With a champion, I conceivably become a writer who might be worth carving out an hour to take a look.

A six-week process ensued. I watched the documentary. I met its producer on a subsequent four-way conference call. On a mistaken assumption, I lost several days analyzing his proposal for a series and submitted a slightly revamped version, with suggestions I believed would increase its chances for achieving a sale. I was corrected; this was not actually under consideration for our project. I developed another series proposal for utilizing a similar set of elements, using a different approach. We were mandated, the documentary producer and I, to discuss developing the series based on that approach, which used a Special Forces type reluctantly forced into becoming a UFO investigator. We held two Skype sessions covering a total of about three hours, before receiving another mandate, a new slant on the subject which I felt meant we had to scrap our work up until then and start the series from a more “workaday world” ground level, what I called “switching from Yang to Yin” with the approach.

I came up with the idea to use an insurance claims adjuster as the lead. He was to lose his job by the end of the pilot, and, as result of his experiences, was to embark on a public career as an occult investigator, in a way that made him an instant charlatan to most, and a hero to a minority out there with some strange stories to tell, seeking only someone to believe them.  I chose this occupation for two main reasons: it was professionally oriented toward inquiry, even investigation, while being “ordinary,” normally a routine job, so it should be somewhat both pertinent to the show’s direction, and also relatable. Secondly, using a routine job for the main character’s occupation meant we could avoid using the usual TV trope characters who investigate, such as cops, detectives, private eyes, or, perhaps the least-overused for main characters, media reporters. I proposed a half-finished plot line in which the main character launched into an investigation of a death by spontaneous combustion, in which he was tasked to invalidate a life insurance policy because it was death by suicide.

A third scheduled Skype session with the documentary maker followed, in which the usual pattern was followed. Basically, he questioned every choice I made. Our dialogue was not antagonistic in the “contrary” sense, it was a debate aimed at probing and discovering whether there were better choices to be made. I’m not very much used to collaborating, but I was able to effectively support my choice of occupation for the main character, and we agreed on that point without the debate on it going overlong.  However, my plot collaborator did not like the idea of “spontaneous combustion” as an inciting incident. He felt it was too well-known to be a real phenomenon. I was not so sure about that, but asked what he would like to try instead. He proposed involving a grand master of a secret society, having a family member, perhaps a child, being menaced, or already killed.

This point was indicative of the shape of our collaboration. He would generally propose far-out suggestions, I would generally reel him back in. On this one, I really didn’t have to. He realized, himself, that would be too grisly.

I didn’t have an immediate take on the effectiveness of using a grand master, other than it placed us in the way of some “secrets,” but after only a few moments of discussing the exact nature of the threat, inspiration struck and I began to assert that the grand master himself needed to be menaced, and — here was the hook — he marched into the insurance company office in the opening minutes and announced he was going to be murdered and wanted to take steps to insure his life insurance policy would not be voided by counter-claims that he was a suicide, involved in illegalities, or what-have-you. Nice! It brought us a “ticking clock” element, too! This was definitely far better than my first idea, because it gave us someone live, not just a surviving spouse, that sort of thing, to involve our lead with, but someone directly involved in “the mysteries” at which we were aiming our series idea. We held another session and talked about other ideas I’d put forth, and generally supposed a few things about the shape of the second half. But that session was irresolute and vague, not yielding any “gold,” as the previous session had. By this time, we were also down to just over a week before the deadline for digital submission for materials to the pitch session. I needed to get writing, fast!

Suddenly, I had another problem, one which I worried might derail the project now that we were down to the wire. We received another game-changing email from the producers who had packaged our group deal. One of them had decided to be adamantly opposed to the idea that the main character was an insurance claims adjuster. We had a new suggestion to make the profession “more action-oriented, like an EMT.” This seemed, as I inquired into the question, to be due to personal impressions formed during encounters with actual insurance adjusters. They were too damn boring, evidently. I laid out my tactical case for thinking it would work, and why I felt an EMT would not, in a reply email, and my plot collaborator, bless him, weighed in, in favor of using a claims adjuster, as well. However, I was willing to get it hashed out and make such a change, as long as we could do it quickly and logically, coming up with something better than EMT. But, as “investigation” remained essential to the discoveries inherent in the concept, I felt stuck for something better than the usual TV trope character types I mentioned earlier. Fortunately, once again, I was able, in another conference call, to carry the day, conditioned, as one of the pair gently suggested, on making it clear this particular insurance claims adjuster was a “fish out of water” in his everyday milieu. Perfect! I mulled things over and made notes the next day, a Sunday, trying to get my head in order for the task.

I wrote the script from early Monday morning until late Thursday afternoon. At this point, being jobless was a blessing. My old personal best had been nine days to do something comparable, but I did that over two weekends sandwiching a work week in a regular, non-creative job. Still, this was a process of working to a not-fully-developed plan, while making decisions and discoveries in the process. As late as Tuesday evening, having reached the midpoint, I felt hopeless, to the point of despair, that I would ever get the elements we had discussed to mesh properly, to really work.

But, that’s part of the excitement, folks. On day three, I made certain decisions about how I was going to handle the rest, decisions which carried certain risks, but, I decided, were going to bear delicious fruits if I carried through with them. On day four, I wrote on a continuous natural high, which only became stronger as I progressed to the end. One more added scene and three spots of tweaking were all it needed from there, easily done with the three remaining days I had left until deadline.

During my Skype sessions with my co-plotter, I had gathered an impression that his thinking was very “plot” oriented, this happens, then that happens, and something else happens, if only because it might seem “cooler,” I supposed. I have trained myself over the years as a writer to put my head inside the space of each character. As an example, would I, as a stringer reporter, rent a boat to get out to an exclusive enclave and try to gain a spying position for a possible story, being stuck outside the house of my target when I arrived, or would I try to finagle a ride, by hook or crook, with someone I knew had business on the island, and try to ride his coattails right inside the home? We had a few friendly arguments over things like that. Luckily, my explanations of the choices I had made generally carried the point with the producers who had brought us together, as they refereed those disagreements, though I was okay with doing some tweaks to accommodate the points of my other collaborator at times.

The end result was that everyone accepted the script and the couple who packaged the deal expressed what I must call no less than ecstasy with what I had ultimately written. Their reaction to my efforts brought more than relief, to be sure. Though I had believed I had written an outstanding script, it’s not hard for a writer making a huge effort to develop that impression of his own efforts. I have validation through their responses, and in the process, I gained even more determined champions of my work.

They’ll be pitching it and my other two projects, those other spec pilot scripts I gave them, under separate agreements, at the New York Television and Film festival (NYTVF) in October.

 

Dog Paddling… Toward the Zero Point?

Long time, no post. This has been my year of trying to figure out how to earn a living, after 40 years in the workforce, or at least of constantly trying to be, mostly successfully, up to a certain point.

The leaves are turning brown and falling to earth now, as Fall begins. Earlier this year, as those leaves blossomed and established themselves on those trees and Spring established itself, I spent four solid months of long days revamping a website I had originally established to house “webisodes” into a 104-page shopping site. Nearly six months after setting out on that journey, I have not earned one single penny with the results. In retrospect, I feel like such a fool, getting that business license and registering with the state, only to file one “zero-return” after another, month after month.  Yes, I did some social media promotion and online advertising for the site. That helped keep me busy. That’s all that did, except cost me a little money. My only consolation is the truism that you do not know, until you try, if something will work for you.

Sure, I’ve put in applications for jobs. Lots of them. All the while. It’s getting really hard to fill out those forms, over and over and over. In nine months, I had six interviews and no offers. I stopped counting applications after hitting about 150. What’s the point? One of the longest forms of all was for a placement service you might have heard of, and it involved one of those “psychological” profiles I love so well <sarcasm>. This one took the prize for asking, over and over in slightly different wording, such questions as when was the last time I had punched a co-worker, whether I had smoked crack, grass, or PHP this morning before breakfast, and many other similar questions. Evidently, they were looking for a younger, more energetic type to fill their position. The one result that filling out that application evidently produced was lots of phone calls from strange numbers all over the country began to flood in with sales offers. No, I’m really not in the market for anything except food and shelter, and really just trying to remain even in just those markets…

Aat least four of my six interviews have arrived in the following sequence: filling out an online application; receiving a follow-up telephone call and conducting a telephonic pre-interview; then, after receiving an email follow-up with details, performing satisfactorily on a skills assessment test and one of those lovely mind-fuck assessments, which I suppose must be checking one’s capacity for robotic repetition. Then, I would drive, at an appointed time, to conduct a face-to-face interview, or series thereof, with no fewer than three, and up to as many as eight persons. Afterward, the nicer ones sent me an email declining to employ me.  Each time, six to eight hours I could never get back, gone.

A dear cousin of mine I lived with for a period in our childhood grew up to have several children. These included, until this year, a young man reaching his mid-twenties, who still resided with his parents. In the late Spring, they discovered his body, lying on the floor in his basement quarters. Families being far-flung and preoccupied as they are in our culture, I never knew this troubled young man, unfortunately.  I do know this is not a time when I would want to be young. It’s hard enough at my age, more than twice his, facing whatever promise the future seems to hold now. I can only imagine how I would feel if I were his age. My solace is the time in which I was born and grew up in the United States, during its more liberal and most prosperous era in history. It was a real sweet spot, the time of my birth. Detroit, where I was born, was thriving and US withdrawal from the War in Vietnam was proceeding when I reached draft age. After forty years of right-wing domination, Detroit is a ruin and the US is locked in a struggle to conquer the entire world, justifying its actions with lie after lie, regardless of which party produced the person nominally known as the President. The sources on line I tend to trust peg the true unemployment rate in the USA at around 23%, so I know I’m far from alone in living my life of quiet desperation. In polls, Congress is getting the popular approval rating it deserves, I think — about eight percent. But, in my life, in my era, in my youth, there was a chance to enjoy sheer Being, and even a measure of freedom and hope. Surely, that spark is not gone altogether for today’s young, but I believe society’s capacity to permit it has greatly diminished.

What’s interesting about having time off is the way it absorbs all your time. My hobby, for many years, has been writing and recording my own songs. I, honestly, haven’t had time for that, aside from keeping in practice and coming up with a few new progressions.  Words seem to have deserted me, when it comes to song — at least for now.  No words seem strong enough to fit any more.

I picked up a few hundred bucks in the spring, proofreading and editing books. It wasn’t a living, but for one month, I got to preserve my bank balance by that means. The best experience was proofreading a comedic novel by a pair of screenwriters who have worked on Saturday Night Live, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Boy Meets World, among others. I’d recommend it for light humorous reading, but, as I search the internet for the title, I can’t see that it’s hit the marketplace since then. For freelancing, I’ve been using a site that lets people who want help collect up to five bids. Those who want to provide the services have 24 hours to submit a bid. It’s cutthroat, and, as a service provider, you’re bidding based on sketchy information. After my few initial successes, such as they were, my most common experience was not to be contacted, and the next most common was to have the requests for help cancelled by the requester. P.S. you pay money to buy points to enter those quotes into the competition, and you lose it if they look at your bid and don’t contract with you, or if they cancel their request. Your points are refunded if they allow 48 hours to go by without looking at your bid.

Anyway, that’s why I poured all that energy into establishing business relationships and building a large sales web site.

I’m luckily married, and my virtuous wife, who has a good-paying, if, at times, onerous job (but, I repeat myself?), has been a real source of support for me, in every sense of the word, in all these months whizzing by. My financial role in the marriage is to pay for our health insurance, because that is not a work benefit for her. So, I do have bills every month, that being “the big one.”

We still have our Netflix subscription, for now. Last weekend, we watched Robert Redford’s remarkable movie, All is Lost. The mariner, Redford, in that film, did everything right and lost out every time, pummeled by the random, merciless elements, his desperate flares ignored by whomever might be hidden in the bowels of passing cargo ships bearing freight from China. If you have not seen this film, I recommend it. It kept me in suspense until the very last second. The only thing I’ll add about it is that, at no time did the character practice reality denial as a means of struggling for survival.

The 36 Stratagems

Diamond of Strategems02

During my researches this week, I happened across a page featuring a Chinese list of “36 Stratagems.” Further research today has found it in some other places, one of which, on TV Tropes, I link to here.  Taken in consideration with the context of my plots and the nature of conflict in my scenes (such as in the “diamond” graphic shown here), I look forward to exploring use of these stratagems in my writing and related work.

I love lists. They are a concise way to quickly reframe your mentality when searching for an approach to writing a scene. One of the things I work on periodically of late, both for the sake of improving my own writing and for an online application I intend to develop, is a compendium of confrontational frames of mind and emotion. These mindsets are, naturally, going to have a powerful influence on the behaviors of characters, and as I develop my list, I am attempting to come up with a set of writer’s prompts to match a character’s mental and emotional state in alignment with a specific set of actions that character might undertake in response.

This set of 36 stratagems should help me enrich that area of my writing and my program tremendously. Have a look and see if they will help yours, too.

Getting the Memo

It’s about ten months since I posted about my belief that I was nearing my first script sale. There have been no heroics about the scenario, which, in this case, has been completely lackadaisical, a situation I’m sure is very atypical.  The fastest I’ve written a screenplay from beginning to end was ten weeks. I took two, somewhat chaotic, years over this one, my first version lost to a hard drive failure and subsequent work developed in economic circumstances akin to Wile E. Coyote running from one piece of falling cliff face to the next in a bid to cross the crashing void and reach a place of safety before completing his long fall. It’s not fair, but it never is, no matter how much you wish it were; all I did was once volunteer to write a script on spec, using a producer’s idea. I was, therefore, introduced by another writer to that producer at long distance to discuss the opportunity that had been offered to him. The other writer had made some preliminary notes before deciding to pass on the job, feeling the genre, the subject matter, something about the idea was not a comfortable fit for him.

You may have read that referrals are the way to really get work as a screenwriter. Could be!

Though I have made all-too-sporadic efforts to market original spec scripts I have written, such as using InkTip after a contest win, and a couple of calls to production companies, where I was greeted well, or long-distance pitching via The Happy Writers, and these efforts have resulted in a few  read requests from producers and directors on the make, none of these have resulted in an option or sale for me, just a few pats on the back.

However, I finally presented a treatment of the tailor-made script to the producers last month. Luckily, they’re still motivated to make the movie, and now, the first steps toward drafting a contract have now been made; we’re signing a deal memo.  More on that in a moment.

People often ask what a treatment is, and, as is so often the case, I would refer them to the wit and wisdom of Terry Rossio’s Wordplayer column where the topic is covered. I didn’t agonize over form when I prepared my treatment for this script. I just thought of it as a summary with script samples sprinkled in. I had written the script in Movie Outline, so it was already organized into numbered steps with summary points I would print out to use as headers. Then, without even the need to know if the producers prefer Macintosh or PC personal computers, I built up the treatment by fleshing out the descriptions a little more and, in many of the steps, sprinkling in a representative scene so they could get a clear feel, not only for how the storyline progressed, but for how I was handling the characters, dialogue, description, and action.

I did this for one simple reason. We had not talked about money in any specific sense when we had our phone chat, and the producer of development answered my initial questions about their ideas. There was a vague agreement that this would be a paying gig IF they adopted my script for development. Having completed a script, I didn’t want to just hand it over.  I’m fortunate, in that I’m dealing with what  seem to be real nice and straightforward people, but, so am I, and I had worked on the script quite a lot, contributing my ideas for how to make happen in the story, the list of things they wanted to see happen.

As it turns out, the company is not a signatory to the Writers Guild of America (WGA) Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA), but they seem to want to treat me on those terms, so they are, if this whole thing materializes, treating me much more generously than I expected — or than they have to.  That’s, again, lucky for me, and potentially a huge relief, because I’m finding it increasingly difficult to stay in the day-to-day workforce in recent years, to the point where I am actively trying to establish alternative income sources. (That set of projects have been keeping me very busy in recent months, actually. I hope to have more to say about that, later, because what I have in mind to do, in the next stage, is to build an immensely valuable online tool for screenwriters. It’s a vast project, now in progress.)  At any rate, the deal memo I was given to sign is very simple, and would not fit the description given in This Business of Screenwriting, an educational and practical book which I recommend keeping nearby in case you need it for reference. Author Ron Suppa, Esq., states that a deal memo is typically binding and can serve as a substitute for a contract. I did not insist on getting a document so detailed as that. I have a promise to pay me and credit me if the producers manage to raise the budget to make the movie they have in mind, and it also promises a contract. I see no need to have a lawyer look at such a simple proclamation; the contract itself may be a different story. That’s when we really should include such details as terms for royalties and residuals…

So now, I’ve been asked what I want from the deal, and I’ve explained my desires. Ballpark sums (floors and ceilings) for my pay have been arrived at, and I have, on paper, what amounts to a promise to hire me and pay me IF they can raise the budget to make the movie. My obligations are basically clear, and so are theirs. The deal memo is a skimpy, two-page letter which specifies that a more detailed contract will be made out as budget materializes. The screenwriter pay amounts are specified as to a low budget pay range for me as screenwriter (if they put together a financing package which is under $5 million dollars) and a pay range for a high budget (if they succeed in raising a budget that’s above $5 million). The memo states I will receive screenwriter credit and be retained for a rewrite and a polish, as needed, when the movie production is under way.

I’m not going to spell out the details of this pending deal, which I regard as being only potential good news (which I’m glad for, but it is a long way from money in the bank right now). I’m always amazed, though, at how many writers I’ve met who are fantasists,  imagining, because of some exceptional deals they’re read about in press articles, that they’re going to become overnight millionaires from screenwriting. Curious, then, that they do not even bother to learn about the business aspects of screenwriting at all. There’s a new MBA the WGA is about to vote on, to take effect May 1, 2014, eight days from this writing.  You can see the current MBA, and a lot of other contractual document forms, prepared by the WGA, here.

Aside from money considered as total sums, screenwriters need to be business-like in making out their own budgets, for both living and tax purposes. Those large totals aren’t paid out at once, for one thing. They’re paid in “step” deals, which specify percentages of total fees to be paid at different stages of production. Taxes can eat up 25%-40% of the gross sums offered as pay on MBA deals. Every business person knows it can be an advantage to have payments span more than one year, to lower the rate paid for a given year. What if you have a deal made via an agent? Deduct another ten percent. Manager (who can pull stings, but cannot legally “sell,” as an agent can)? Deduct another 15%. Attorney? Take out another five-ten percent, depending on their policy. A screenwriter can potentially end up netting 25% or less of the sums involved in their “deal.”

As usual, another Wordplayer column explains quite well  the risks vs. rewards of writing original stories on speculation vs. what I’ve essentially done here, writing. an assignment. The difference is, I’m playing in a little pond where I’m not going to get anything up-front, I can only expect a first payment once money is raised and production begins; it’s in the memo.  At any rate, for once in my life, I “got the memo.” Now, the thing is to keep moving,  keep planting seeds, and trying to make this thiing called “life” as healthy and long-lasting as I can, fingers crossed in hopes civilization holds together in the meantime.

Peace out.

Empire Magazine’s Article on Hollywood’s Biggest Names and Their Favorite Films

Empire Magazine in the UK has a ten-page online article wherein well-known Hollywood personalities talk about their favorite films and what they liked so much about them. Who knows, readers might find it interesting, or they might parlay the information into crafting a pitchable script! If you get into the article, you might find Joss Whedon praising Magnolia, a massively-long movie whose-dual-VHS tape packages overflowed the clearance cages set up at the entrances to Walmart stores across America the year after its release. So, enjoy the article, but please, don’t confuse brilliant creative insights with guarantees of commercial success, kids.

Gigantism

During the period for public input to the Federal Communications Commission, the Writer’s Guild of America, representing labor and market standards for “more than 8,000 professional writers
working in film, television and new media, including news and documentaries,” delivered a 90-page filing in opposition to Comcast’s proposed purchase of Time- Warner Cable, which can be read here on fcc.gov. This new ,proposed merger comes in less than a year and a half after Comcast’s purchase of NBC/ Universal. The pressure is on for corporations to own content as well as the delivery systems by which that content is consumed, but the more deals like this take place, the greater that pressure grows, in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the rush for total, end-to-end control of programming is the question of a free and open internet. Developed by government funding, as with the broadcast airwaves before it, the internet is increasingly being considered as the property of massive corporations to do with as they please. This Feb. 23 article from The Washington Post, “Comcast’s deal with Netflix makes network neutrality obsolete,” does a great job of explaining what’s at stake, and why, in the world of IP-based traffic subsumed by the private interests’ mandate to grow.

I grew up in the era when the anti-trust laws enacted in the wake of the Populist Movement tended to be observed, rather than “observed in the breach,” which seemed to become the new US political consensus during the Reagan era, though massive consolidation in the case of media companies and other industries, such as oil, had already begun to noticeably pick up momentum in the 1970s, as with the controversial merger of Time, Inc. and Warner Brothers (later to become “AOL/Time-Warner” in the dot-com boom period of the 1990s).

In the 1980s, the economy went into full-tilt destabilization, with a massive wave of bank failures and corporate bankruptcies, the deregulation and subsequent looting of the Savings & Loan industry, jobs-offshoring, mergers, acquisitions, hostile takeovers, and much else. Lots of companies became easy prey as takeover numbers left the “millions” figures behind and became buyouts worth billions and tens of billions. It appeared anti-monopoly laws were a dead letter; there seemed to be no enforcement any more. Companies could grow as large as their directors wished; they could be, and sometimes were, quickly stripped down and liquidated, with billions in quick capital pouring into the private accounts of their directors or CEOs. The notion that they had been formed to provide a public good became publicly ridiculed; the idea that there was even such a thing as the common good was laughed off by the Administration and the power players of the economy.  These changes were intended to produce permanent changes in American society, and they seem to have worked. Politicians with their hands on the levers of power can play along and be rewarded, or seek to stem the tide and be castigated out of office by tidal waves of smear campaigns funded by the deepest of deep pockets. And any “Davids” seeking to enter into competition in any particular markets were faced with the existence of far larger, far richer “Goliaths” than in a century, since the Robber Baron era sparked by the building of the railroad lines.

Let’s review what WGA researchers Ellen Stutzman, Laura Blum-Smith, Emily Sokolski, and Marvin Vargas have to say about the proposed merger of two gigantic cable companies in our own day.

Regarding competition in video programming, their commentary proceeds from the thesis that the enterprise already ” lacks sufficient competition at all levels. This outcome is a result of deregulation and consolidation through vertical and horizontal mergers. Broadcast, cable and pay TV networks are owned by a handful of companies. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that seven companies control 95% of viewing hours on television,” and that “four companies control two-thirds of
the multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) market…90% percent of consumers access broadcast networks through an MVPD [paid cable, as opposed to the old method of “free” airwaves broadcast] subscription” (As a yardstick for the progress of deregulation and consolidation, at the time of the original “Time-Warner” merger in the ’70s, commentators were alarmed that the number of companies owning big media in the USA had already shrunk into the range of 50-something.)  “Cable and telephone, or telco, MVPDs,” the WGA filing goes on to say, “provide broadband Internet access, which puts them in control of the only platform that could add competition to the media marketplace. The Internet service market is also concentrated, with four companies controlling 68% of the broadband market. In addition, roughly one in three Americans has only a single option for Internet service fast enough to stream videos.”

By way of competition and choice, the WGA authors point out, “Netflix and Amazon began offering original drama and comedy series directly to consumers. Press reports indicate Xbox
and Playstation will be the next online providers to offer such programming,” giving writers a couple of new outlets to sell to.

But, since “the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger would threaten competition by giving Comcast control of one-third of the cable television and Internet service markets,” they recommend “the FCC [take] action to limit anti-competitive behavior and lower barriers to entry. Such necessary measures include imposing independent programming requirements for television networks, promulgating open Internet rules that address treatment of traffic by ISPs as well as throughout the Internet backbone, expanding the definition of an MVPD, enforcing merger conditions and preventing further media consolidation.”

Deregulators in the 1980s infamously referred to television as a mere household appliance, a “toaster with pictures.” For more than 30 years, across Republican and Democratic presidential Administrations and Congresses, it has been the norm for big, rich business interests to have their way with regulatory agencies and the courts.  The WGA brief points out, specifically, an instance where the usual claims that accompany deregulation are debunked after the necessary legal changes are made to permit it.  Getting the opposite result from the sales rhetoric of deregulation has been the norm, actually. “The repeal of the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules (Fin-Syn) in 1995 led to the consolidation of studios and networks. At the time of the repeal, the broadcast networks argued that increased competition from cable networks justified retiring the rules. The proliferation of cable channels, however, has not increased competition: seven companies, five of which own broadcast networks, are responsible for 95% of all television viewing in the United States. These seven companies – CBS, Disney, Discovery, NBCUniversal, 21st Century Fox, Time
Warner and Viacom – create and distribute the majority of content seen on broadcast and cable.”

Well, reputedly, John D. Rockefeller once stated, “Competition is a sin.” If so, we can see that government, for practically forty years, has been singing from the same hymnal. “…independent programming has been in decline since the repeal of Fin-Syn.8 We have moved from an era in which the majority of programming was independently produced to one in which independent content has been all but eliminated. Today, the majority of primetime  programming on broadcast television is produced by CBS Corporation, Comcast-NBCUniversal, Time Warner,
21st Century Fox and the Walt Disney Company. These media companies own the studios that produce the content, the broadcast networks that distribute the content and, with the exception of Time Warner, many of the local stations that broadcast the network.”

This kind of trend has been, perhaps, the most monopolistic effect of the deregulatory era, the allowance of single business entities to allow ownership and control of product starting with the production and moving along all the way through its promotion and distribution.

The WGA researcher’s  comments are categorized into perceived impacts (backed up by statistics and analysis of specific examples of the impact on program production) in the business categories of Video Programming Competition and Video Distribution Competition, followed by some Public Policy Recommendations.  What I have quoted here so far is all contained in just the first five pages of their 90-page filing, which is loaded with many more specifics to make their case.

Toward the end of their weighty, fact-packed testimony, the WGA authors add: “Comcast must also be forced to comply with the conditions regarding localism and diversity in programming. Comcast was required by the FCC to file quarterly reports detailing the news and information programming aired on its stations in
order to establish compliance with the requirement to air additional original, local news and information programming on the NBC and Telemundo owned and operated local stations.  However, a Free Press study of the first report filed by Comcast found that the company failed to  provide the required information regarding the programming, such as descriptions of each program, and inflated the calculation of local programming time by including  commercials. Comcast’s professed commitment to diverse and independent programming has been shown to be similarly pallid. While Comcast was required under the merger conditions to add ten new independently owned and operated channels to its digital tier, the channels added to date exhibit a dearth of the kind of robust, scripted and original programming that would make them
successful competitors and true additions to the market. These additions of local and diverse programming offer little to consumers and less to creators.”

The WGA filing concludes:

“While the ways in which consumers can access video content has increased, the story remains the same: a few large and powerful companies control the video distribution market.
Through vertical integration, media companies have all but eliminated independent programming. A few large distributors control the MVPD market and as ISPs, they also control
Internet distribution. Because the Internet is currently a more open platform, it offers the possibility of reintroducing independent content, competition and choice for consumers. The rise of services like Amazon Prime and Netflix demonstrate what is possible if the Internet is kept open. But, the past is prologue. Left to their own devices, media companies will consolidate and
eliminate as much competition as possible. However, if the FCC institutes meaningful measures including the ones outlined in this filing, the media marketplace of tomorrow can tell a different
story: one that offers more vibrant and innovative choices to consumers.”

Another way of illuminating the dangers of corporate communications gigantism,  a video called “The Internet Must Go,” was produced, in 2012, as an entertaining commentary on what’s happening to the internet, and what some people evidently intend to happen to it.

The corporate attempts to obliterate the doctrine of Net Neutrality, the rules that have made the Internet free and open for our use so far on a “level playing field” in the “marketplace of ideas,” continue legislatively, as well, and they are apparently backed by an Administration which promised support for Net Neutrality. See (and please sign) this CREDO Action petition.

As depressing as the habitual squabbling in Washington, DC may be,  “bi-partisan agreement” seems to be far worse. When it comes to corporate power, and its unlimited growth with the blessings of government, “they” seem to get what “we” pay for.

What’s “In with the ‘In-Crowd?'” Suicide?

Banker_Suicide_Video_Frame

Opening Frame of Video Interview with trends forecaster Gerald Celente

Previously, I speculated on signs that the world desperately needs a new money paradigm. I cited Bitcoin as a recently-emerged idea representative of the way money may turn out. There have been online presentations hyping Bitcoin as a fantastic investment recently. After my speculative post about stresses on the economy and what might emerge as a new money paradigm, I looked into Bitcoin from that vantage point. My conclusion was that buying into it as an investment value was too rich for my blood on the one hand, and too insubstantial as a speculation on the other. In the investment world, anyone who can muster the resources to persuade vast numbers of people to invest in anything, whether it has real value or not, is in a good position to get in massively, early, and, after their campaign of persuasion has succeeded in generating high share value by luring in cash from many other investors, get out loaded, before those who followed their advice, now hit by plummeting share values, know what hit them (the classic “pump and dump” tactic).

Judging from what has recently happened to Mt. Gox and Flexcoin, it also appears Bitcoin is, in effect, in the crosshairs of some who would destroy it, whether through simple greed or through animosity to the Bitcoin system. Yet, even if Bitcoin ends up becoming fatally wounded in cyberspace, I think that in Bitcoin, we may yet be seeing some of the features of a new, probably all -electronic, currency which will eventually emerge, differing from Bitcoin in that it will be centrally controlled as the fractional reserve lending system in paper money (the surface of the largely already largely electronic currency) is now. No more international exchange rates. No more under-the-table cash dealings hard for authorities to pinpoint. No more defiance of authorities, except under risk of having one’s personal financial assets frozen, at the click of a mouse…? Worldwide economic crises create opportunities for sweeping new changes, and perhaps sweeping new powers for the powerful, who are feeling certain pressures coming from under the lid they are trying to keep on the boiling societies they rule these days.

Of course, if the human social world works as I have long since come to believe it does, the crises we’re facing in worldwide economics could easily be not only man-made, as they certainly are, but also more or less deliberate, a notion which still sends many into paroxysms of hysteria, gasping “conspiracy theorist!” as they point an accusing finger with the one hand and reach for the smelling salts with the other.

Given developments since the collapse of the USSR, I take for granted that everyone realizes by now that whomever holds the lion’s share of control over the United States of America has an aim of complete global rule in mind, and uses the USA as a tool to gain that power.  Like everything else I’ve taken for granted that others would have observed about global Realpolitik, of course I would be wrong — to this day, not everyone does realize that fact, despite many published plans from the government, with titles like “Vision 20/20” and tossing around terms like “full spectrum dominance,” which are tantamount to a full admission.

This goal, now so tantalizingly near, though with Russia, China, and Iran yet to be overthrown or destroyed before it can be fully achieved, brings into view the idea of a central, one-world currency. Such a currency would be a logical extension of the manner in which the world has developed since the Middle Ages,  when families like the Warburgs created a fractional reserve banking system, making vast fortunes for themselves in the process, and particularly in the past couple of centuries since Napoleonic times, when the Rothschild family became the 800-pound gorilla of central banks, whose power over various national economies succeeded in subordinating the powers of the governments of the various nations they came to exert so much power over. For the central bankers, a fully globalized world of commerce cries out for a universal exchange rate, a disposal of the complicated systems of converting commodity values into multi-varied national currencies whose values fluctuate practically by the minute.

The US went off the gold standard a long time ago, early in the Nixon era, and now seems to possess practically none. Germany can’t get the US to show proof it actually has that nation’s gold the US supposedly stores in reserve to be yielded on demand. It doesn’t show it, it doesn’t yield it, and says it won’t for seven years, so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it either doesn’t have it (okay under IMF rules which allow it to be lent out) or has other plans for it, as some speculate, in winning a kind of secret world war of gold which may be brewing beneath the surface.

International Bankers Committing Suicide

Recent Suicides of Officers in International Banks

Some, in the business of “being the media,” (since, without such a citizen effort, we will have very little news media worth having rather than a surplus of media on a mission to foster misled opinions), are speculating that such disturbing signs are indicative of a crisis of such a magnitude that international banking officers may have recently begun to commit suicide, rather than face the approaching collapse of society. Whether related or not, on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, a news item also included the “suspected suicide” of 28-year-old Autumn Ratke, American CEO of bitcoin exchange firm First Meta , Autumn Ratke formerly developed digital payment systems, working with Apple and other Silicon Valley tech firms, according to the article.

We don’t know what really happened in each case, though if you watch the video interview in the link, you’ll see that Gerald Celente, the trends forecaster, attributes them to world-shaking financial investigations on the order of the Libor scandal, investigations into the Forex market for international currency exchanges. (I had to crack up when Celente demanded to know, 9-10 minutes into the interview, when people are going to grow up and realize our entire leadership is a criminal enterprise made up of murderers and thieves. He’s exactly right about that, and I, too, keep wondering “how much more evidence do you need?”, when the scales are going to fall from people’s eyes so they stop wasting energy on contriving apologetics for a class of people who amount to their enemies.)  Celente also notes in the interview that we did not have news of a spate of banker suicides in the national financial meltdown of September, 2008 — something is different this time from those dark days, something may well be far worse.

Speculatively speaking, if “the West” is as bankrupt as it appears and as indebted as it appears, then all the desperate measures the signs indicated are being taken to prop up the system, “quantitative easing” and such, are bound to grow dangerously weak.

Official investigations do  tend to induce people to talk rather than face worse consequences; unfortunately, as evidently played out in the early 1990s in the B.C.C.I. banking scandal, a lot of people can die with a net result that tales which seriously needed telling, go untold. If this trend of international banker suicides is real, it’s very disturbing; if “suicide” is a cover story for the untimely deaths of, perhaps, people who simply knew too much and might have talked, it’s doubly so, and could imply severe consequences are coming soon for us all. Collapse, if it’s coming this time, would no doubt trigger the provisions of Executive Order 13603, triggering a government takeover of the means of production (basically, anything they want). I don’t advise lying awake at night worrying about the existence of this order, as it has had predecessors dating back decades, a fact which alarmists tend to forget. But, the orders do exist, and the government will use them if they’re deemed necessary.  I worry more about the fact that in my lifetime, since the mid-1970s or so, America seems to have increasingly become a hollow shell of an economy, and in the numerous ensuing financial scandals, of greater and greater magnitudes it seems with each wave, the home economics of more and more everyday people are being seriously harmed. Meanwhile, it seems we, as a people, are encouraged to simply whistle a happy tune past the graveyard. Someone seems to want us to lie down and accept whatever happens, no matter how many people get hurt, no matter how much they get hurt. What’s going on here?

Like others who believe something is seriously wrong at the core of society, I cannot offer answers as an outsider unable to fully unveil the hidden processes. I can only muse on what is visible to me.

The quick path to collapse was certainly not taken, in an earlier era. The quick path would be to peg the value of fiat paper money to nothing and encourage the flooding of economies with currency wildly out of proportion to the production of goods, so the petrodollar replaced the former notion of gold notes. With the Bretton Woods agreement, the US Dollar became the world’s exchange standard, in effect, backed by the value of oil. There is no question (in my mind, anyway) that that system is dying. Now, it’s up to military might to prop up the value of the dollar, amidst of glut of dollars effectively backed by nothing as far as the client nations of the US are concerned. Western Civilization has had to re-invent itself more than a half-dozen times in the past. Perhaps it can do so again. Even if so, life, perforce, will not be as we have known it, not without significant changes in living conditions.  I do not believe bullying the world into subservience is a sustainable option indefinitely.

Shortly before the Bushites began its second round of defrauding the United States (the first round was stealing the Presidency) by lying about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction, which everyone who read the newspapers should have been able to recall had already been destroyed by the UN years before, after Operation Desert Storm/Shield, Saddam Hussein decided to peg his nation’s exchange rates to the Euro, rather than the dollar. Uh-oh. Even though he was no military threat whatsoever and was willing to deal with the US on any terms it wished, otherwise, things did not go so well for him.

With the White House exchanging Bush for Obama, it appears US policy has backed off the massive, swaggering invasions preferred by Bush and Halliburton’s greatest sales agent, though the gains from their invasions continue under forms of occupation. The current regime favors covert operations along with more official lying, an array of subversions and propaganda wars designed to overthrow and conquer, mostly via “soft power,” the various nations on the same old hit list of The Project for a New American Century  which so motivated Bush/ Cheney — alternative methods, but the same agenda, same hit list of nations to be conquered. For that matter, it’s the same overall vision as that propounded by the “alternative” influencer of foreign policy, Zbigniew Brzezinski, author of The Grand Chessboard. Now, instead of the neocon way, belligerently “singing great songs” of open war, our authorities are hitting nations the sneaky way Brzezinski, the equivalent of Henry Kissinger for Democratic Administrations, prefers.

So, the nations without one of those Rothschild-controlled Central Banks, purely by coincidence of course, or at least that’s the leading theory, such as Libya and Syria, or the nations who elect leaders who try to become independent of US control, such as Venezuela, or who are already independent but, as vassal states, could become useful for destroying Russia or China, such as the Ukraine, Georgia, and “the ‘Stans,” have increasingly become the beneficiaries of US fiscal largesse, along with military and missile bases. In effect, the US has been busy creating a world in which other nations do as the US says, because it says it — OR ELSE — the US rains down death from above. Generally, there’s a consensus among leaders to not make waves, in favor of taking the bribes and reading from the PR script. There’s better money in it, and it’s so much better to be rich than to be assassinated.

Such arrogance is not without its consequences, such as the formation of the BRICS alliance, an effort on the part of multiple nations across the world (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) to get out from under the US jackboot which is grinding on their economies and/or on their national autonomy. In the long run, it looks like anyone defying “the West” is still paying a steep price. It took little more than a flood of fiat money and a few words from the Fed Chairman to place BRICS in dire distress; the alliance is now referred to as “the Fragile Five.”

One of the early signs of alarm over US belligerence was the establishment of a mutual defense treaty between Germany and Russia during G.W. Bush’s first term. If the agenda of the Committee for the Present Danger continues to dominate US foreign policy as it perennially has since the Ford Administration, the US will never cease to be a world provocateur and warmongering nation. And if that’s the case, the US will be warring with Russia, and probably with China, too. Its eagerness to war with Iran, personified in the person of Dick Cheney, may have been thwarted only by honest CIA analysts and a news media which, for some reason, was willing to broadcast their findings in the closing days of the Shrub White House years. A change in approach was probably deemed necessary in the real councils of power, as the American people themselves were sick of war by then. And by now, the US has occupied and exerted military power in Afghanistan nearly four times as long as its involvement lasted in World War II. It appears to me that after that war, nothing could ever signify “victory” for the US military, the mightiest in the world by far. “Victory” means you have to clear out, and that’s bad for business, particularly oil, arms, and pharmaceuticals.

If the “subtler” warmongers holding the whip hand in the current Administration get their way, in the wake of the Fascist takeover in Ukraine, a US war with Russia may be imminent, judging from the misleading and arrogant statements now emanating from “bi-partisan Washington, DC.” That one, if it comes, unlike all the others, may have an end — a nuclear ending. Will Germany help Russia before the missiles fly?

At any rate, there is a neat convergence of interests here, in the midst of a volatile world system ruled by a form of finance which eventually must fail. The controllers of the US want to control the whole world to the same extent, gaining full power over all the money and all the media to form people’s opinions about what is real, and what is right and proper in the social order. (My post-9/11 guess is that discussing elementary facts about how physics works is not going to rank high in the list of topics promoted, but that will be more than compensated for by celebrity gossip.) With the flood of paper money generated to enrich bankers after they had already enriched themselves by transforming newly unregulated, consolidated liquidity into a cosmos of other people’s debt via leveraging devices, the world is drowning in paper dollars which are becoming worthless by the minute, and the subordinated nations bearing the brunt of the damage are looking for an escape hatch. They will be staring down gun barrels and trying to snuff out numerous political fires which spring up by coincidence as they try to salvage some autonomy.

So, what part of the happenings in the world are going to stave off collapse of a system which has been made unsustainable by boundless greed on the part of the powerful? Nothing, that I can see in plain sight. Ecologically, we’re not only destroying our invaluable pollinating creatures, economically, we’re not only draining our currencies of value, politically, we’re not only draining our governments of accountability to standards of fairness, while morally, we’re lost in a morass in which we allow all this to happen at once in a mental landscape where we find it imperative to hold pre-packaged, media-certified, strong opinions while simultaneously not wanting to bother to know anything in particular that’s highly significant, because our attention spans are already beseiged and besides, the deep stuff is way too disturbing.

Deliberate or not, vast undermining of the basis of exchange we use is occurring in the wake of wave after wave of ever-more-intense banking crises, with vast numbers of us entering the ranks of “the surplus population,” and as maneuvering for total power cycles into ever more high-stakes territory — and, coincidentally? — a spate of international banking figures take, literally, fatal falls.

Celtx is Coming on Strong in the Cloud

After checking my Inbox this morning and looking at the latest offerings promoted by Celtx, I thought I’d share a link today. As you may know, (and may delight in if poverty is keeping you from buying Final Draft 9 or Movie Magic Screenwriter), Celtx offers a free download program for script formatting. They’re coming on strong in the world of cloud computing with a number of offerings for collaboration and mobile devices that can help you with storyboarding, breakdowns, shot lists, scheduling & reports, and budgeting, now including Scout for collaborative location scouting. Check it out.