I have watched the entirety of ABC’s Scandal in the past two weeks. That’s 39 episodes.
The first two seasons, or 29 episodes, were on Netflix streaming. That’s how I got hooked. Every time an episode ended with a surprising twist, I hit “play” on the next episode like a rat in a cage. It was a no-brainer and free – unless you count my Netflix subscription and cable bill.
But then I had to figure out how to watch the first half of Season 3 before it starts up again on ABC in February. Hulu and ABC.com weren’t showing the first five episodes and on ABC On Demand, there was no first episode and I had to wait a week for the next two to become available. (I have Time Warner Cable, some of these limitations seem to have to do with their licensing deal with ABC.) I could buy individual episodes for $2.99 on iTunes or Amazon streaming, or the whole 10 episode partial season for $39.99.
I was sweating. I took a breather and thought it about it for a couple of days, thinking I could outsmart the On-Demand schedule and eventually catch everything. I also could have skipped a few episodes. But given the crazy pace at which the plot twists and turns, I decided that wasn’t an option. After shaking my fist at the dealers – I mean dealmakers – who made sure once I had my taste I had to pay premium, I eventually succumbed and purchased a few of the episodes on iTunes until I was caught up to the On-Demand offerings and banged through the rest.
Is the business model as predatory as it felt? It’s not that I think the people making TV shouldn’t profit – I am a SAG and WGA member. It was the feeling that I was being manipulated, my weakness exploited. If everyone who gets hooked in the tween-season of a show ends up buying just a handful of episodes at $2.99 a pop, that can add up to a lot of revenue. But that assumes that I am not an outlier in my TV consumption habits. I am old enough to not expect everything to be free; young enough to know how to stream and own a wired TV; and have worked in television and digital so I know how to figure out my viewing options and am not averse to watching on my computer. According to iTunes top TV downloads list, the five episodes I was wrestling over are #5-9 on their chart. So maybe I’m the norm.
But I am curious how many downloads that is. Ten? Ten thousand? A million? And whose pockets is my Olivia Pope habit lining? I hope it’s Shonda Rhimes and the writers and actors.
I intended to write a post about Team Olivia vs. Team Mellie. And why I want Olivia to hook up with Jake. And why I think Fitz and Mellie have more heat than Fitz and Olivia. Maybe it was all those lessons from the Gladiators that made me follow the money instead.
I get a million dollar idea every day. But then I search for the domain name at godaddy, and it’s been taken. Pitching story ideas – be they fact or fiction – the response is often, “we already did that.” There’s a reason the joke: “it’s Downton Abbey meets Orange is the New Black” isn’t really a joke. And I’m already wondering how I’m going to keep this blog freshly fed.
Putting aside debates about whether there are only 7 stories in the world, it still seems harder and harder to not feel: Oh shit, someone already did that, said that, made a similar observation. Which is fine if, say, you’re writing a TV procedural or serial-killer story, which we seem to have a voracious appetite for. But what if you hope to express something original? If we can all post a story or observation and it’s searchable to the world, we are less and less able to pretend we are unique. Maybe that’s just hubris, to think we have something new to say. But if we’re getting paid to write or pitch, how can writers stay relevant? As we blog and write and make videos and movies, are we all repeating ourselves? It’s enough to make you a nihilist.
But Thursday night I went to see Chris Rael’s latest incarnation of Church of Betty at The Bell House in Gowanus. Certainly musicians face the same issue of songs being written about the same themes over and over. And there are only so many notes one can play on a scale. But when I see live music, I am reminded that there are infinite ways to put them together. And another exponentially different set of ways to interpret the notes that become the songs based on what combination of musicians and instruments you invite to the stage. No one illustrates this better that Rael, a musician and songwriter extraordinaire. His love of the art of musical interpretation and storytelling is infectious. After listening to the ten or so musicians he’d brought together to overflow the stage in the front room, I am reassured that we won’t run out of things to say and ways to say them as long as we keep the passion for expression front and center.
Do yourself a favor and download Rael’s Cross of Gold.
Or better yet, treat yourself to the whole CD.
My mother and I were exchanging emails this week about what defines a poem, or poetry, these days. (I suggested she write a guest blog, which she may take me up on.) She also still has dial-up and has expressed interest in being able to get on wi-fi at a local coffee shop. I thought I’d send her some instructions. I’ve often thought email is a sort of modern haiku. Here is our exchange:
It should be that you:
Take your kindle and/or laptop to the coffee shop.
Order a coffee.
Ask what the wifi password is (sometimes there isn’t one, it’s free)
Open laptop or kindle
Go to “wifi”…which in your laptop is probably some icon at the top.
Select the correct network (probably something like “starbucks” or “pete’s wifi”)
Let it connect
Then open your browser.
Sometimes it makes you put in a password into the coffee shop homepage on the browser.
Then you should be good to go.
This sounds more complicated than it is. Just ask someone at the coffee shop to show you.
This is the view from the writer’s room I belong to in Gowanus. I love this space, because when I go there I am often productive. I am lucky to also have a nice home, but my office there is small and crammed with hard drives and a computer used for video editing. So when I write at home, it is on the couch or propped at the kitchen counter. I am easily distracted at home. I don’t know why. I’m not someone who alphabetizes CDs, bakes cookies, or does laundry to avoid writing. And I generally have my home to myself. It is quiet. But I don’t get nearly as much writing done in this cozy environment as I do when I go to this room with ten cubicles and bars on the windows.
What is it about the creative process that requires us to be hard on ourselves? I have spent thousands of dollars over the years on classes and workshops to “force” myself to write. To “shame” myself into having deadlines. To “light a fire under my ass.”
And I have spent enough time with other writers to know I am not alone in this. Why is it hard to make ourselves sit down and express ourselves? The very name of this blog – Deadline Gowanus – came from my fondness for the sword of Damocles.
I have been writing a spec script. Which means something I am writing on my own. No one is paying for it. No one cares if I finish it. So I can take as long as I want. And rewrite it over and over until I am satisfied. It’s awful. (The process. Hopefully, not the script.)
For six months last year I wrote a soap opera. The volume of pages I had to produce, and the tidal wave of deadlines was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. When people ask what it was like, it’s all I can do not to grab them by their lapels and shake them and say “You. Have. No. Idea.” It taught me that there is no such thing as writer’s block. If a cast and crew is waiting for three new scenes that have to shoot in an hour, you get very creative, very quickly. Did I mention it was also the most fun I have had as a writer?
Part of the benefit of a deadline – for me – is definitely about adrenaline triggered by a fear of failure. But there is also something about setting limits that I think helps creativity. When there is a time limit, an end point, we are forced to dig deep and do what we can with what we have at our disposal right at the moment. Not do a lot of research. Not think of all the things it COULD be. But just make it what it can be right now. And then, move on.