Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Weeping for World Building

September 16, 2014 Leave a comment

There is one term that always makes me cringe when I hear it: world building. World building is the term that always comes out when someone is proactively making excuses for a flawed story.

“That movie wasn’t so hot.”

“Well, it’s the first in a trilogy so it’s mostly world building.”

You know how a world should be built? Through the story, and that’s why so many great films are great. They immerse you in a world without bogging you down in the details of what the world is. You know everything you need to. You can go in further in subsequent movies if called for, but focusing an entire film on building the world instead of the characters is a recipe for disaster.

Look back at A New Hope (1977) as one of the most obvious examples. Through this first stage of the journey of Luke Skywalker, how much time do we spend world building? Almost none. We learn the elements of the world that are relevant to our character and move on. We get the Empire is bad. The Rebels are good. The Jedi are legendary knights. We don’t spend a lengthy amount of time learning why a Jedi uses a lightsabre, we just learn that’s their weapon and most people don’t use it.

As the franchise moves on, we are able to delve deeper and deeper into what the world is. Some may argue too deep if you include the prequel trilogy, but we sat through that trilogy because of the subtle world that was built over the course of three movies originally.

A more modern example would be a film like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl  (2003). We again learn about the world of this film as we need to. Initially it seems to be exactly the historical world we would expect, until we subtly realize this is a fantastical version of that reality. Take the scene where Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) steal a ship. The set-up is for them to take a boat out to the ship to steal it, but the execution is them using the boat to create a pocket of air as they walk on the bottom of the harbour out to the ship. Would it work in real life? No. That’s why it’s a beautiful, simple piece of world building. It serves the story and allows the expansion and belief of a world where these fantastical moments are possible.

On the flip side, there are far too many movies that sacrifice character and story to create a world. In many of these cases, the world created is spectacular and beautifully realized, but lacks staying power because the audience has no real entry into that world. You need character and story to make a world memorable.

So what do you think? What are some of the examples where World Building overtook story and character? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Zac Hogle is a producer/writer who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.


Categories: Movies, Writing

True to the End

September 10, 2014 Leave a comment

It’s been covered on this blog before: series finales are incredibly hard to pull off well. You’re trying to wrap up years of character development over the course of one season, or one episode in some cases. We’ve talked about All Good Things (1994), the Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) finale that is generally considered one of the best ever. Mash (1972-1983) is up there too, among countless others.

Of course, there’s the other side of the coin as well. Loved shows like Lost (2004-2010) ended with a whimper in their finales. And a rough finale can sour the taste of the entire series for a lot of people.

I bring this up because we just saw the end of a long-running hit show in True Blood (2008-2014). HBO’s vampire drama started out strong in 2008, heralding a new golden era of television as HBO would begin its total takeover of TV. But the ratings sagged and it limped to the end with a season finale in 2014 after seven seasons on the air. The question is, regardless of your thoughts on the series, how did the finale stack up?

There are a number of ways to go in a finale and it seems True Blood went with most of them. Spoilers ahead.

You want to talk about killing off major characters? True Blood did it throughout the final season, culminating in Bill Compton’s assisted suicide in the finale. Alcide, Tara, both gone. How about sending characters off to another city? Yep. Sam got a quick farewell as he went to Chicago with his girlfriend. I’m also still not sure how Chicago is considered a ‘stone’s throw’ from Bon Temps, but that’s beside the point.

What about a wedding? Oh yeah, Hoyt and Jessica get hitched. THAT Hoyt, the one we haven’t seen in a few years since he moved to Alaska. The same Hoyt that had a different girlfriend just a couple episodes ago. A girlfriend who was serious enough to travel to Louisiana from Alaska with him.

But what about wrapping everything up with a nice little bow? They went there too, hard. Nearing the end of the series, we jump ahead one year to learn Bill and Pam have made another fortune selling New Blood, the synthetic blood replacement that is a treatment for Hep-V. They also have Sarah Newlin chained up in the basement, selling the opportunity for vamps to directly drink her blood. Then we jump ahead another four years to find Sookie pregnant. Who’s the father? We’ll never know, but apparently Bill’s prediction of her fairy light continually bringing more vampire suitors to her doorstep was incorrect. We never meet the father of her child, but he seems like a nice, normal human. The partner she apparently deserves, though all signs through the series pointed elsewhere.

Jason is married to Brigit, a character we only met a few episodes ago. They have three children. The marriage we saw earlier between Hoyt and Jessica seems to be going well, and the entire town of Bon Temps seems happy as they have an outdoor dinner on the front lawn of Sookie’s house.

So, what do you say? Did they do a good job capping the series, or did they take it in the wrong direction? Are you satisfied with how the series ended, or did you hope for something else from the finale? Was Sarah Newlin a strong enough antagonist to deserve her fate? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Zac Hogle is a producer/writer who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Categories: TV, Writing

If at first you don’t succeed…

October 2, 2012 Leave a comment

One of the hardest things to deal with in this industry is rejection and failure. Those two go hand in hand as far as I’m concerned, since failure generally comes as a result of rejection. An executive rejects your premise, an audience rejects your finished product, etc. What makes it so hard is how common it is. More shows and movies get cut down than produced, so the question becomes how to deal with it.

If you believe in your product and think it still has a shot, then the answer is simple: repackage. Maybe it was your characters that didn’t work, go back and rewrite the characters to make them more compelling. Maybe the period piece was too costly, go back and move it to modern times. Analyze your work and change what you think failed it.

Obviously there are times when this wont work, your World War II drama might not have the same effect if set in a modern day NFL stadium, but the principle is sound. If you believe in your story, make it work. There are a lot of examples of this. Just look at Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012). While the rights to the Alien franchise couldn’t be secured, Scott believed in his story and this film so much that they made an unofficial prequel. While the film avoided any direct mentions of the other films, it clearly alluded to them at points throughout.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) almost didn’t happen due to different opinions in casting, while Toy Story (1995) is an example of characters needing to be rewritten because their original iterations were completely unlikable. In all of these cases the people behind the productions believed in the product enough to make the necessary changes and keep the story going. There might not be a better example of this than one of TV’s latest hits: Newsroom (2012).

Some of you may be wondering what was keeping Newsroom from the airwaves and, as far as I know, the answer is nothing. But Newsroom existed many years ago and was known as Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006-2007). When you pay careful attention, these two shows share a striking number of similarities. Newsroom definitely feels like Aaron Sorkin’s second attempt at his failed Studio 60.


Right from the opening we can see traditional Sorkin flare with somebody fed up with the way things have changed. Yes it draws inspiration from Network (1976), but I would argue this is one of the most effective openings in television history.

Now let’ take a moment to look at Newsroom’s answer to this, again happening in the opening of the first episode.

While the settings change, the sentiment remains the same. Both of these men work in television, and both are expressing their discontent with the current state of America. The difference in terms of the overall series is that Judd Hirsch’s character in Studio disappears after the pilot, whereas Jeff Daniels’ character in Newsroom becomes the main protagonist of the series.


Many of the same tropes appear in both Studio and Newsroom, creating a lot of parallels between the two shows. You have Matthew Perry’s character and Sarah Paulson’s characters, a writer and a star of the TV show with a relationship past.

And in Newsroom you have Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer, sexes reversed from Studio, but the star of the show and the producer with a romantic past.

Those are just two examples of how Aaron Sorkin creatively repurposed a show he believed in for a new opportunity. When the plot of a late-night sketch comedy show didn’t work out, he moved it to a newsroom and focused more on current events instead of comedy. He refined the characters, though retained their core values and characteristics. He took a show that failed, and turned it into a hit.

So my question for you is, what other similarities did you catch between the two shows? Far more exist than the two mentioned here. Supporting characters fill similar roles, and many plot points work out in the same order. What are some of your favorites? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

And, for our Canadian readers, I can’t go through this entire post and not mention the series Canadians think of when they hear the term Newsroom (1996-1997). Enjoy!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Categories: Writing

Adaptation: Who Did It Better, Spider-Man or Rock of Ages?

July 11, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve talked about adapting source work for the screen on this site before, but I feel it’s a topic worth revisiting right now. That’s because we have two very big films out right now that were adapted from different source materials, but that have both been very hyped and carried big expectations for their respective studios. I’m talking about The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and Rock of Ages (2012).

These two couldn’t come from more different source material, with Rock coming from the hit Broadway musical and Spider-Man coming from a 60’s comic created by legends Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. But which adaptation was more successful?  So far, the box office has spoken pretty heavily in favor of Spider-Man, but I’d like to delve a little deeper than just the dollars.


Let’s start by taking a look at the premise from each film’s source material. Rock of Ages: A young girl moves to LA looking to succeed in music and meets the man of her dreams working in a legendary rock bar. The bar is in danger of being shut down, and they all must band together to keep the bar they love open.

Spider-Man: A teenage boy is bitten by a radioactive spider and is given spider powers, enabling him to climb walls and perform feats of superhuman strength. When he fails to stop a burglar, his Uncle Ben ends up dead forcing Spider-Man into a continuing battle against crime.

So, looking at both of these, the movies are very similar in premise to their source material. Spider-Man expands on the comic universe to fill out the movie, but does spend a surprising amount of time building up the origin story and setting up Uncle Ben’s death.


Here’s where the movies choose to go two different paths. Spider-Man chooses to stay very close to it’s comic book roots, with several differences from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002). First is the web shooters. Where the 2002 film gave Peter Parker organic web shooters, this year’s film makes the web shooters a mechanical creation, which is closer to the original comics. Probably the most noticable difference is the absence of Spider-Man’s longtime love interest Mary Jane. While Mary Jane is by far the most known of Peter Parker’s loves, Gwen Stacy is actually the first if you are following the comic mythology.

Rock of Ages takes a very different approach to it’s characters, possibly a consequence of the star-studded cast. The characters are not necessarily changed, but have been given very different roles in the film version. Rocker Stacee Jaxx, as played by Tom Cruise in the film, is given a far larger and meatier role than in the Broadway musical where he exists as an enabling character for others. The role in the film is more rewarding, but it comes at a cost. Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and Lonny (Russell Brand), leading and critical characters to the Broadway musical, are reduced to small bit parts. Yes, it is those two that have the most to lose in the film, but we still only see them as comic relief. In the Broadway musical Lonny actually serves as the narrator and pushes the story forward, allowing the other stories to revolve around and intersect at the Bourbon Room.


I enjoyed both of these films, and I had my reservations. Rock of Ages was coming on the heels of an amazing Broadway experience, while I felt that The Amazing Spider-Man was coming far too soon after the disappointing Spider-Man 3. But looking at them both with a little time under my belt, I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed Rock of Ages as much without the background of having seen the original material. Characters are overdrawn and campy. There are moments of legitimate fun, but they’re connected by forced musical numbers seemingly jammed in to show off the skills of a cavalcade of movie stars. The Amazing Spider-Man, on the other hand, feels organic and natural with a real connection between the cast members. I have a feeling you wouldn’t need a connection with the source material to enjoy the film. However, it does suffer from being released so closely to Sam Raimi’s trilogy which leaves a lot of moments feeling like we’ve been there and done this.

This makes it a very unique scenario: two films released in the same summer that have equal positives and drawbacks. So, it’s up to you: which film was adapted more successfully? Vote in the poll below and leave your comments in the thread!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

How to Kill a Character the Avengers Way

May 9, 2012 Leave a comment


It’s become a cliche that is hard to get away from. To elicit an emotional response from the audience, you take away something your protagonist needs. In many cases, this thing that gets taken away is a person. Be it loved one or friend, it’s a person that our protagonist has come to rely on through the course of the film. So how do you make this an impactful moment? Too often the characters killed off are poorly developed or have no real attachment to the audience. It’s no easy task to make someone love a character and be upset when they die all within a two hour time period.

Before discussing any further, in case you missed the warning above, this article contains spoilers from the recent release of The Avengers (2012). If you have yet to see the film, I encourage you to do so before reading further.

When looking to kill a character to further the story, the first thing to identify is if the character means something to your hero; in this case the Avengers. If that answer is yes, move on and ask yourself if the audience is attached to this character. If your answer is no, then you need to figure out why and fix the issue.

Most movies that lose this moment haven’t taken the necessary time to promote and advance this character. They’ve gotten too little screen time, or not enough meaningful dialogue, or any other of a multitude of issues. The bottom line is the audience hasn’t been given or simply does not identify with your character and isn’t surprised or upset when thy die.

The recent release of The Avengers shows us a film that doesn’t suffer from this issue. While it is debatable whether the character is actually dead or not, Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) is the perfect example of an impactful character death. From the technical standpoint, his character’s abilities are not critical to the plot of the film and, therefore, he is an easy character to kill off. From a personal standpoint it comes as a shock when Loki (Tom Hiddleston) stabs him in the chest.


This shock comes from the simple fact that the audience identifies with Agent Coulson. Marvel has now spent four movies building up this character not as a superhero, but as the audience’s window to the action in The Avengers. Coulson is us, the fan of heroes who loves to be around them. He’s good at what he does, but more importantly he’s not as good as The Avengers themselves. While Coulson walks with his idols, he has reached his ceiling. The Avengers aren’t living up to theirs.

That’s why it takes Coulson’s death to pull the team together. He is the glue that brought the team together, and the one thing all The Avengers have in common. You could have killed other characters like Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) or Mariah Hill (Cobie Smulders), but the audience reaction would be different. The audience doesn’t yet know if they should trust or even like Nick Fury, and his death would only leave them with question marks and an indifferent reaction. Mariah Hill is a mystery in this movie for the most part. She shows ability early on in the film, and comes across as Fury’s right hand woman, but doesn’t receive enough time for the audience to be surprised or care about her death. These are the reasons why Coulson is the perfect choice.

This isn’t writer-director Joss Whedon’s first foray into killing a character for emotional impact, either. In Serenity (2005) we can see the same stylings applied to fan favorite Wash (Alan Tudyk). When the team is most in need, the biggest shock of the movie is the death of Wash.

So what are your favorite and least favorite examples of killing off a main character? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Fall-en TV Shows: The Greatest TV Shows to Not Make It

September 29, 2011 3 comments

While I focus mainly on movies through this site, I don’t want to ever give the illusion that TV isn’t a priority of mine. With that in mind, I thought the launch of the fall season would be the perfect opportunity to go through a few of the great TV shows that haven’t made the cut in the past, and a few of my personal favourites.

We can see a lot of styles defined and improved in failed television series, whether the players involved were writers, directors, actors, or filling any other job on set. It’s always an interesting study to watch the evolution of a creative professional through their work, and many of the best have early failures that helped create the style they are known for now.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006-2007)

Before he was known for writing The Social Network (2010), writer Aaron Sorkin was best known for his television work, including the hit show The West Wing (1999-2006). Mostly forgotten, however, is a little show he created called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

The Cast of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

Running only one season, Studio 60 premiered the same season as the comedy favorite and similarly themed 30 Rock (2006-Present) and debuted to massive fanfare. Truth be told, the pilot episode from Studi 60 is one of the finest television scripts I have ever read (the script was titled Studio 7 on the Sunset Strip), and is one of the most engaging and exciting pilots I have ever seen. Take the opening scene. In the scene Wes Mondell (Judd Hirsch), a play on SNL creator Lorne Michaels, loses his battle with the network to air a controversial skit. What follows is television gold.

Through this opening alone, you can see the famous Aaron Sorkin ability to write dialogue. Not only does Wes Mondell’s speech set up the entire premises of the series, but the subplot involving Cal Shanley (Timothy Busfield) beautifully sets up the play of the Studio 60 family against the network brass.

All this goes without even mentioning the main protagonists in the series: Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet), the new president of the NBS network, Jack Rudolph (Steven Weber), the Chairman of NBS, and Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford), a former AD on Studio 60 who has returned to produce and direct the show. Each of these characters are well developed and intriguing to watch as they evolve over the course of the season.

Matthew Perry from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

The one character I have purposefully avoided until now is Matthew Perry’s Matt Albie, former staff writer who has returned to the show with Danny Tripp to co-produce and be the head writer. This is the show that sold me as a lifetime Matthew Perry fan. Matt Albie is a well-written character, but Matthew Perry’s portrayal takes the character to the next level. Interestingly, this Matt Albie’s main issue is that he doesn’t have any true issues outside of recurring love interest Harriet Hayes (Sarah Paulson). He doesn’t have a drug issue, at least to begin the season, but brings that pressure upon himself due to Danny Tripp’s recurring drug addiction. His pressure is to write an amazing show every week, but he also takes on a lot of the pressure from Danny Tripp’s side of the show. The play between these two characters, and how they both come together to create one functioning human, is one of the hilights of this series.

Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford

Stella (2005)

The Cast of Stella

A Comedy Central show that was tragically short lived, Stella was born out of a live comedy troupe starring comedy mainstays Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain. This is one of the all-time great examples of perfectly  non-sequitur comedy.

Never knowing what twist was coming next, and not wanting to, Stella is a great example of how to let your restraints go. To use a phrase I use frequently with The Muppet Show (1976-1981), Stella is completely unbridled creativity. Look at when Michael, Michael, and David decide to grow their own vegetables in their apartment, or when David assassinates Michael Ian Black as he is running for building president.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to find any clips from the TV series on YouTube, but there is a plethora of their stage work and short films available on the internet.

Firefly (2002)

The nerd in me comes out when speaking of this beloved sci-fi series. Creator Joss Whedon has struggled to find a show with the same staying power since his days on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) and Angel (1999-2004), but just before both went off the air he had a show that rivaled them in quality.

Following the crew of the Firefly-class ship Serenity, Whedon perfectly blended the genres of Western and Science Fiction in this show. That is a feat not to be taken lightly as others have tried and not been as successful, namely this year’s Cowboys & Aliens (2011).

The hallmarks of this series are the same as from previous Whedon classics. Witty dialogue and excellent action can be found throughout, with just the right dose of humor. What sets this apart is the language used in dialogue, and how it matches the setting. Not only is the Western jargon spot on, but it is infused with Chinese dialect, creating a unique world in the future when America and China are the only two superpowers to survive.

Nathan Fillion as Captain Malcolm Reynolds

All of these are fantastic series’ that I can’t recommend watching enough, what are some of your favorite cancelled shows? Or what are your favorite moments from the shows mentioned above? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Categories: TV, Writing

Served with a Twist: Great Twists in Film History

September 13, 2011 2 comments

One of the most popular things to do for a student filmmaker is come up with a great twist ending for their film. While this technique can work, I’ve always been  a proponent of building a solid story to begin with. If a twist grows naturally from that, then so be it. We’ve seen a large number of student films and indie films that try to pigeon-hole a twist into a story that doesn’t need it, though. An unnecessary twist can serve to disorient or even upset an audience, and that isn’t what you want.

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the great twists in film history and see how the filmmakers behind them implemented them without upsetting or disorienting an audience.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

The hallmark of a great twist is one that changes, but does not detract from, subsequent viewings of the film. A twist that ruins repeated viewings is a twist that may be worth rethinking.

Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense

I thought it made sense to start with the film that ushered in the modern era of film twists, M. Knight Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. This film was the first one for my generation that left you wanting to revisit and see if you can pick up the clues leading to the twist. In the film Bruce Willis plays Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist who is recruited to help a young child, Cole Sear, played by Haley Joel Osment. The issue plaguing Sear? He sees dead people.

Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense

An exciting and intriguing film ensues, leading to the startling conclusion that Dr. Malcolm Crowe himself is actually dead, having been killed in the opening scene of the film. The twist alone is excellent and adds a new layer to the film, but the rule that the film establishes makes the film worth revisiting. In any scene where a ghost is present, the color red is also present. Any scenes where there are no ghosts, the color red does not appear. This simple rule allowed viewers to revisit the film to try and catch where the color red appeared in the film.

Psycho (1960)

It would figure that the original master of suspense would own one of the original great twists. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was a thriller for the ages for a number of reasons. The moral ambiguity of its first kill (many people seem to forget that Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane had just stolen $40,000), and the frightening nature of Anthony Perkin’s Norman Bates are just two of the reasons this film stands the test of time. The reveal of the, at the time, terrifying twist leaves an indelible mark on the viewer.

Norman's Mother in Psycho

Throughout the entire film we assume that Norman Bates, owner of the Bates Motel, is an innocent trying to keep his insane mother at bay. While his mother is never clearly seen, the audience is treated to her outline in windows and silhouettes, and several instances of her voice talking with Norman. It isn’t until the climactic chase, when Lila Crane (Vera Miles) enters Norman’s home, that we discover his mother has been dead for years. Instead of his mother in the window, we discover his mother’s skeleton dressed as if she was still alive.

Anthony Perkins in Psycho

It turns out Norman has developed a schizophrenia and is living both the life of Norman, and the life of his mother for her. Every time we hear mother’s voice, it is actually Norman calling out. By the end of the film, Norman is lost as his mother takes over Norman’s body.

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Say what you will about the recent Blu-Ray release, or the prequel trilogy, but there is no denying that The Empire Strikes Back is a fine example of moviemaking. It leaves you with a positive outlook for the rebels, but further recollection leaves you realizing the good guys got their butts handed to them for the entire film.

Mark Hammill from Empire Strikes Back

It is also home to one of the most famous twists of all time, a twist that has embedded itself into the fabric of pop culture. People who have never seen a single Star Wars film know this twist well.

This is one of the most important twists in film history. Not only did it change this film on subsequent viewings, it changed the entire Star Wars series. The original film could never be watched in the same way again, and it added a new dimension to the following four films. In fact, thanks to this one moment, George Lucas was able to make the prequel trilogy to focus on Anakin Skywalker, effectively shifting the franchise focus from Luke to Vader.

Darth Vader in Empire Strikes Back

These examples show us an excellent use of twists, ones that grew organically from the story. I doubt Hitchcock started with the twist and built Psycho out from there. It all comes back to basics, know your story. If your story involves a twist, then that’s great. If it doesn’t, don’t try to force one in. It hurts your story, and can make you look like you built an entire film around one twist. What are some of your favorite twists? What are some of the ones that are so terrible you can’t help but love them? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Categories: Movies, Writing
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