TV Reviews: Mindhunter


What separates a killer from a serial killer?

This the fundamental question in the pilot of Mindhunter. People commit crimes. Horrible crimes. Despicable crimes. Sometimes over and over again. How do we catch them? It’s surprising, at least the way the show portrays the FBI, were stuck in 1950s style investigations even as Charles Manson was orchestrating a mass murder.

Based on a non-fiction book, it is hard to tell how much the show will deviate from the source material. One thing is clear … I’ll never read the book.

David Fincher directed the opening two episodes, setting up the sequence of events that launches the build-out of a psychology unit of the FBI. Fincher goes back to his usual cinematic style that directors after him mimic the best they can, sort of like with House of Cards (the 2 seasons back when it was good) There are a lot of creative subtleties in the first two episodes that are sorely missed later on, especially a few episodes in the middle.

The show works, not because they cast a great leading actor. In fact, Jonathan Groff plays it as square and boring as it gets. It’s not really his fault, per se. He is written to have zero edge. I assume in later seasons he’ll develop a personality. I guess only straight edge people can really hunker down and understand the psychosis of a psychotic.

Anna Torv is rather good, convincing playing a elitist academic with a profound curiosity for the criminal mind. Holt McCallany plays the partner that is opposite of Groff’s character. It is sort of a buddy cop trope where the seasoned cop doesn’t give a shit anymore. (One fun link: Holt McCallany played a minor role in Fight Club, a cult classic also directed by David Fincher)

The key to the series, in my view, is getting convincing actors to play a serial killer. And boy, do they get one. Cameron Britton, at six foot-infinity, is a towering human with a crazy look that is sort of the look of the red stapler guy in office space, except on steroids. The crazy words that come out of his mouth completes the picture of a lunatic.

I added the show to my list of binge-all-weekend views that Netflix once in a while gets right.

First Season Rating: 9/10 Decapitated Heads

TV Writing Contest: The Black List (Part 10)

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As promised, if you want to see how The Black List works, look no further than my evaluations. The average Black List rating is currently 5.9, so giving me an average of essentially 4 is pretty much slamming my TV pilot. The reviews came in 6 weeks after I purchased them ($100) and based off this, and how far the opinions diverged, I’m not sure if I would go back ever. My Pilot was called NO RETURNS ALLOWED. It was a caper show that was a cross between Alias and The Thomas Crown Affair. Below is the first review of a 5, which actually sounded like a bunch of strengths based on the write-up. The weaknesses that are pointed out seems more movie based, in showing behind the scenes before a plot reveal to make the audience get the inside joke instead of being surprised by the reveal (which I disagree with in a pilot). Oddly enough, they also said I should show the expensive stuff like the explosions and action (which is opposite from he second reviewer). 

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The second reviewer below obliterates my pilot, for confusing reasons. They actually write up their own plot and tell me how they would have written it, however they use a movie trope/plot instead of a TV plot. It’s so bad, they copied Rambo III, Commando, and other bad guy/good guy movie plots. They then get the genre wrong. They wanted to compare it to Ocean’s Eleven, when this wasn’t a Casino heist movie. A TV Pilot and film screenplay are two different narrative structures and this person clearly didn’t know what the difference was. At least they didn’t tell me I should give Sarga an “Uncle Ben” and have him die in the first act.Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 8.15.25 PM.png

My final opinion is confused. I think the first review was so-so, while the second review was non-sensical. What I found unusual was the lack of discussion on my second review on the diverse cast like the first one had. You see, Sarga, my protagonist isn’t the typical TV hero. He is an African-Asian guy of style and smarts and is the best at what he does. The entire cast is more diverse than most. And it is pretty bullshit the reviewer wants me to give the characters “distinct” voices, instead of making them all sound normal and smart (one sounds a little crazy, but that’s another story). I know exactly what the reviewer is saying, and I don’t agree; I don’t need to make my character “more street.” Sarga can be smart as hell and smooth and secretive. I know this reviewer deep down really wanted Danny Ocean, for whatever deep rooted reason, but that’s not my story. They can flip in that DVD any day of the week. If people wanted something diverse and different and distinct, they could follow my story. As a final note, notice the second reviewer said this would be an expensive hour to produce (despite the fact I intentionally used a ton of interior scenes to disguise stuff) while the first reviewer said I needed to show the blowing up of a building (which I did offscreen to make it cheap to make). 

So what happens now? I guess I shelve the script. If I would have been rated 7 or higher and the script would show up on results (anything under the average gets puts in digital no mans land on the site, so it is nearly impossible to search and find) then I would have kept it up. Now I don’t know. It’s not really worth writing a novel version unless there is a fan base for it, so I’ll leave it to you. If 500 people want to read the script, I’ll upload here. Just like my blog. If 1000 people want to see it in a novel, share it with your friends and like this post and I’ll write it as a series. 



TV Writing Contest: The Black List (Part 5)

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So here I am again, checking up on my account like an obsessive compulsive writer. I figured now would be a good time to fill you in on how it works. After paying $25 you give have your screenplay uploaded but that doesn’t necessarily mean anyone will read it. (In theory, since I only did it for a TV writing contest at the ATX festival, it should get consideration, but who knows). What if there wasn’t something specific you were submitting to? How do you get recognized?

Well, according to this nifty page, those-in-the-know can do searches and access the most highly rated scripts. The blacklist readers are minimum 1 year experienced in the biz and act as a filter of sorts for the slush pile. When I searched for TV pilots submitted in the month to date category (top left) it pulled 29 scripts with at least “2 required ratings.” The average score was around 6. Not too bad I guess if you want to get noticed with one rated script a day being too much.

I then searched for the quarter and it as basically the same. There were 82 scripts with at “least 2 required ratings” with an average of around 6. So to me, for a nominee fee, anyone can get at least a shot at having their script read and possibly passed on.

I then clicked around and saw some interesting stats based on ratings given. It turns out Tuesday seems to be the big ratings day. I am assuming they read scripts submitted over the weekend on Monday and rate on Tuesday. What was the lowest for ratings? Friday though Sunday. So maybe my pathetic numbers so far doesn’t mean much.

I read through a few blogs and quora and reddit feeds and the general gist is the Blacklist website does the best they can due to the volume of submissions and the varying quality of reviewers. Most scripts score around a 6. If you want to get a noticed, you need it around 8 or above. If you get a 9.5 or a 10, then you might get direct contact on the material. If the reviewer totally messes up (Like bashing the script for not being funny enough when it was a drama) then a new reviewer will be assigned for free.


TV Writing Contest: The Black List (Part 4)

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It’s Saturday. I grabbed a cup of coffee and checked up on my blog comments, twitter feed, and status of my submission. Do you see what has changed? I know, it’s pretty hard to see, but on the top right, it shows I got 1 view. Woohoo!

Now for the bad news. There was no review or rating. Maybe this was a misclick, or maybe they read about the fire breathing dragon incinerating a legion of leprechauns on top of a floating castle over the planet of Darg’ostalah’meshon. Damn. I knew that would turn off a few people. (But don’t worry, the story is in fact dystopian, and stars a 16 year old girl in a love triangle with mysterious dudes but can’t seem to know which one to pick because both are hot and only have eyes for her because only she has the power to save everything)

Then panic set in. Did I submit the right script? Did I send in nothing but 60 blank pages? After sweating for 60 seconds, I double checked, and yes, the pages were filled with something.

Sorry the update isn’t more exciting than that.



TV Writing Contest: The Black List (Part 3)

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This is what the screen looks like after you submit and pay the $25. Pretty simple. I had to check a bunch of boxes and what genres it falls into and curious questions on setting, characters, plot trope, etc. Pretty interesting way to search for scripts. As you can see from the top, nothing too much happens when you submit. It shows I had one script submitted and active. There are currently zero reviews and zero downloads. (uh oh…)

The picture I find funny. I guess based on what you click, it puts little pictures to kind of visualize the type of story it is. If you notice to the top right of the screen, it says “pilot” on the script. There is another choice for screenplay when you submit. Pilots are typically 60 pages at length while movie screenplays are 120-140 pages at length (though if its longer, you might need to have some industry pull or name recognition).

On the left is where you see the “opportunities” that you can submit to. A few of them look interesting to me. I might write a screenplay and submit to one just to see what happens. Some will get you into a writing conference while another is a paid gig from WB, if submitted. I did the ATX, which was for free and a chance to attend the festival which I live near. I find all of this pretty neat. It’s much better than stories of valet’s accidentally leaving behind their manuscript in the cars of producers or sliding it beneath bathroom stalls. I’m not sure if I ever heard of a story where one of them was actually produced.

One additional rule is if you get chosen, a biography and additional background information is required within a week. I’m guessing this is to make sure you are not writing from San Quentin or something.

I’ll keep you updated as this hope this thing moves forward.


TV Writing Contest: The Black List (Part 2)

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So I did it. With a day left I finished my first TV pilot. It was called “No Returns Allowed” and is about a thief. After the blacklist contest time period, if enough people comment or request it, I’ll just post it on the blog for free. The contest is for the ATX festival in Austin, TX which I live near, so I figured it could be a good opportunity (maybe they want local voices). I heard about the contest relatively late (around 3 weeks prior to submission). I asked myself “Hey, remember back in college when you wrote that screenplay that never went anywhere?” I shook my head assuredly and said “Now that you’ve written a few novels and know about plot structure and design, couldn’t you try this again?” I nodded my head again. Okay, I was game.

I came up with the new plot in 30 minutes. Unlike a movie, a TV pilot has to introduce all the characters and the setup to the show and give the hook. I figured out a way to do it, in order for it to be clear what every following episode would be about. I then wrote an arc to what the first 3 seasons would be, with a cliffhanger at the end of each. This gave me a sense of the nuggets I had to put in the pilot.

It took me 4-5 days of actual writing to get it done. I had one person copy edit it for me, but I’m sure there are errors. I didn’t use Final Draft to format it, only the established guidelines of screenplay writing. I also read the pilots of Lost, Breaking Bad and the screenplay to Birdman to see the tricks in those stories. I sensed a trick early on. It seems actors get direction on the manner in which they play their character, and then later on in scripts less direction is given so the actors can run with it. I tried to do the same besides adding pause beats here and there. If you want to read a crazy pilot, try LOST. Dang, J.J.Abrams really gave a sense of the chaos in the pilot. Pretty amazing.

I went on the blacklist website and simply registered and paid my $25 to upload my teleplay. Then there was an easy to find option to opt it into the contest, which technically ends the 15th of April, however the contest stipulated it needed to be in at least a week. I can only assume there is an inherent advantage to submitting early. I would have paid $50 for a reader to critique it, but due to timing, I figured it would be dead money. I just have a hope and a prayer at this point.

If it did get consideration for the top “5-10” then that would be a good story in itself based on the long odds and having zero contacts in the TV business (The signup for the blacklist has a bunch of blocks for guilds and production history and other TV associations which made me go “um … uh oh Matt.”)


TV Writing Contest: The Black List (Part 1)

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For you writers out there, one of the old ways to get discovered is though writing contests. Usually you want to focus on the ones with more history or more backing from industry insiders. For those of you that know how to write teleplays, there is an open call for the ATX Television Festival for full hour or half hour scripts. 5-10 scripts will be selected and winners will be announced in Austin, TX on June 9-12.

Although there is no monetary prize, it is a good way to get noticed. Bad Robot, Carlton Cuse Productions, FX, Sony, and USA Network are partnering with this contest.

The rules are a bit vague for timelines, but according to comments on various sites, the script has to be uploaded and a $25 fee needs to be paid by at least 4/8/16 if my math is correct. That would give it enough time to be on the site a full week. I am guessing that if you win, you might get transportation to the festival and some swag and a chance to talk with some insiders (maybe you have to hitchhike, I don’t really know). If you do well with that, you might have a chance at a writing gig, which would be awesome.

What? You ask how I can post this three days from the due date … well, I only found out about it last week, so don’t blame me. Twitter is clogged with people shanking each other with adds, which makes it hard for good people to get the word out. I’m sure if you don’t finish in time there will be an opportunity next year or in other contests. I read there was also a pitch competition using youtube which could have been cool to those less scribing-inclined, so to speak.

As for me, I am rushing to finish my teleplay. If any of you have formatting questions, please leave a comment and I’ll let you know what I did.

Keep writing.

I’ll keep you posted of what happens on my journey.