A Peek into MisCon 26, Part 1

by syaffolee

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Friday (5/25) was rainy and the traffic was bad. When I finally got to MisCon, I thought I was late. I ended up stumbling halfway into a “Meet Rob Carlos” panel. Carlos is apparently known for being an artist on The Wheel of Time collectible card game. In the panel (or what I heard of it anyway), he was mainly giving advice to people to not gush over famous artists and writers like crazy fans, but to talk to them like real people. Because, surprise!, they’re real people, too.

To be honest, I was mostly there to attend the writing panels, not really talk to people. If that makes me anti-social, so be it. (I don’t game or cosplay. I’ve read stuff by some of the authors, but I’m no rabid fan. Besides, I’m a nobody and they’re busy. There are other people who are more assertive, but I find them obnoxious. And I don’t want to be obnoxious.)

* * *

Anyways, I stuck around and was able to get a reasonably good seat for the panel on “Tackling the Silver Screen” which was attended by Jay Lee, George R. R. Martin, and Eldon Thompson who was the moderator.

GRRM: After one of my novels tanked, I managed to interest Phil DeGuerre into hiring me to work on The Twilight Zone. From there, I became a screenwriter for ten years. Hollywood is mostly conservative and they want a sure thing. You should keep writing and not worry about the money. There will be adversity, no security, but you need a willingness to gamble. I had no formal training in screenwriting. I only bought a book about screenwriting “for dummies” and looked at other screenplays.

ET: I went to UCLA to study screenplays but actually sold my books first.

GRRM: Compared to other shows, The Twilight Zone was unusual because it had different lengths. Typically, you need to write to take in account teasers and commercial breaks. I learned from adapting short stories to script form. Writing for screen and TV is easier because others (actors, directors, set designers) fill in the details. Structure is important and you need a great ear for dialogue. William Goldman said, “Structure is everything. Nobody knows anything.” A novelist needs technique for world building, description, mood, prose. For a script, you can just write: “They fight” and have the stunt coordinator do everything else. What is hard about Hollywood is the politics. HBO spends four times that of the networks. Game of Thrones gets $5 million per episode. From 1985 to 1995, TV was restricted in what it could do: standards and practices. Know who you’re getting into bed with. One mistake is to get excited and just take an offer without thinking it through. They will want to change your script. You can say no. “No” is the sexiest word you can say because they will come back with a bigger dump truck full of money. People in Hollywood try to solve everything with money–which weakens many prose writers. My house was saved by a bad movie. It’s like selling your child to the gypsies. You need to be in LA for script writing.

ET: They will call for meetings at the last minute.

GRRM: It’s not enough to be a good writer; Hollywood demands you to be good in the room, a salesman.

ET: How do you deal with revisions?

GRRM: I can’t handle it. I only associated with the good staff at The Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast. But there was development hell.

ET: There are notes for revisions from people who know less about writing.

JL: On the web, you have full control of the show.

GRRM: But once you create a hit show, they don’t fuck with you. You have to like rejection. Hold onto quality and your dream. Harlan Ellison said it was like climbing a mountain of shit to pluck the rose at the top. But after ten years of climbing to the top, you realize that you’ve lost your sense of smell. But this is a golden age for television. (Film is another matter, they cater to the lowest common denominator.) In television, there are many buyers and people are taking changes on shows.

ET: How do you keep sane? I keep writing a book series so I have something where I’m my own boss. Some people say you can’t do both screenwriting and writing books and that you have to pick one.

GRRM: I only write one script per year. The rest, I write books while consulting. Running a show is a fifteen hour per day job. Do one thing and do it the best. In development, you make a lot of money, but you’re writing for four guys in a room.

JL: I’m doing something in “new media”, a web series called Legendary: A Tale of Blood and Steel in Portland. There are horses.

GRRM: Where do you get the money to do it and profit?

JL: Felicia Day had a model that worked. We do a full length TV episode and go to the distributors to get a guarantee on viewership, not funding.

ET: How do you balance it with creativity?

JL: In new media, you’re playing fifteen different roles. Everyone wants to help. Some paid, some volunteer.

GRRM: Who are your actors?

JL: We bring guest stars on. It’s not easy to get a project to be a SAG New Media Project. But as long as people contribute, we can continue. We also do crowd funding.

GRRM: All of this is experimental. Like whether people can make money on it. It’s not proven.

JL: But the Halo web series works. And promo videos like Call of Duty.

GRRM: Ultimately, in the future, we will have advanced computer technology so we can dispense with the actors. So writers can do it all. But technology has a long way to go.

ET: So what about independent and collaborative works? In a collaborative work, we need a central voice to say what’s bad or good or it will devolve into the lowest common denominator.

GRRM: In the French auteur theory, there is one creator. But they made the mistake of giving control to the director not the writer. But you need a powerful director to lead the creative team, not some studio guy.

ET: They figure that people don’t go to the movies for the writers. Hollywood is not friendly to writers.

GRRM: But TV is run by writers.

ET: Where writers have control, the best things develop. How do you adapt a book to film?

GRRM: You have to make changes because you’re moving to a different medium. You also have to consider the realities. You can have horses or Stonehenge but not both because of logistics. You have to consider the budget, shooting time, and other practical things. On the other hand, 99% of adaptation changes are not necessary. This is because other people think they can do it better. They go too far with the adaptation because they think they can improve on it. Those that stick close to the source are usually better than those that don’t.

* * *

Stay tuned for Part 2, a continuation on the Friday session.