You can go to a screenwriting conference so many times. The point here is not that you get tired of hearing the same stories, but rather that you can discover so many new tales instead. This year marks Live in Limbo’s third stint at the big event, and we learned what makes good scripts so easy to cherish. Whether you write or not, the Toronto Screenwriting Conference is always an absolute joy full of fun, wisdom and heart.
On that positive note, we begun our weekend with cynicism and the American anti-hero. Glen Mazzara (writer for The Shield, former show runner for The Walking Dead and creator of Damien) woke us up bright and early with his talk on why anti-heroes are so prevalent in American culture. His discussion was another reminder why TSC is such a great event, as he went into the crux of flawed characters in television. TSC is great for non writers because we can still identify with the resounding results a film or show can have from a great script. He touched upon famous anti-heroes (Walter White, Tony Soprano and then some) and said that these characters appeared during times of crises. He compared these characters to art forms that were linked to nuclear combat, the war in Vietnam and the tragic events of 9/11. Times are tough, and we find something to grab onto with these tortured beings. Nothing like energizing your morning with your coffee black! In the end, Mazzara did a detailed analysis on how anti-heroes are constructed (they hurt others but not children, they’re arrogant yet are disappointed with themselves, they have addictions, etc.), and we grew another reason to love our favorite baddies.
After a tribute to the evil, we got a chance to celebrate a kickass female character who saved us from the bad. Emily Andras (wrote for Lost Girl, creator of Wynonna Earp) was joined by a team of writers before the conference. In only a day, they created a spec script for the cult classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A spec script is a concept for aspiring writers where they pitch their talents to a show’s creator, an agent, a head writer, a studio or producer by writing an imaginary episode for another show. The reason why they cannot write a spec script based on the show they want to work on is because the spec script may provide ideas to whomever receives it and the original writer can sue if the show bears any similarities to said spec script. Nonetheless, Andras and company went into great detail as to how they would revive the show. They tried their hardest to not tread too deeply into fan-fiction territory by giving the show unbiased justice. They made an episode where Buffy would be in her 40s and with children. She would receive a letter cast with a spell that would transport her back in time to when she was still in high school. With a complex script that embarked on highlights of the show’s likability while creating new problems for the characters, Andras and her team pulled off a difficult challenge, and the resulting talk was informative fun.
Someone who got onto a show she wrote a spec script for (which, from the sounds of it, is rare) was Moira Walley-Beckett. She created the ballet minseries Flesh and Bone and is working on an adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, but Walley-Beckett is perhaps best known for her Emmy winning work on AMC’s Breaking Bad. Her writing, which includes the lauded episode Ozymandias, has been a staple in the acclaimed show, and it was an absolute privilege to see who was behind the blood, sweat and tears of these episodes. Walley-Beckett joyfully told us about the idiosyncrasies of the show’s creator Vince Gilligan. Gilligan would play with bottle caps and other small objects while people would discuss the show. Gilligan also stuck with the same dingy writing space that they had from day one, because “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Essentially, Walley-Beckett’s talk was a testament to how hard work can break out into legendary success while we saw the humorous side of Gilligan’s wonky genius. Walley-Beckett was engaging, delightful and charming. It was a pleasure to get such an explorative look into an award winner’s character and dedication.
This was also the reason why Charles Randolph’s concluding discussion was a perfect way to wrap up day one of the event. Randolph recently won an Academy award for his work on 2015’s The Big Short, where he collaborated with director Adam McKay on the film’s sharp script. Randolph would burst at the seams to tell stories about making stories, and his eagerness helped pick up everyone who was tired after a long but successful day at the Metro Convention Centre. When I asked him about how he makes one liners in films remarkable instead of wretched, he mentioned that good enough characters will carry out good lines. While it is up to the actors to serve this intended delivery as well, Randolph concluded that a writer can only do so much. This was one of the best pieces of advice of the day. While a screenwriter creates (or adapts) worlds, people and events, the separation between their story and the final product is inevitable. For now, writers should create worlds based on their own. His advice was to listen to others’ stories and find ways to inject their memorability into your story. One of his examples was to listen to people on planes or in lines at the store. What story are they willing to share the most earnestly? How do they deliver a tale that is so true and important to them?
Either way, the day was full of soulful stories and passionate discussions. It was a triumphant day with wide-eyed writers listening to some of their idols. After three years, it still doesn’t get boring and you cannot learn enough. Day two couldn’t come soon enough, and new Live in Limbo writer Nathaniel Roizen was there to report on his very first TSC! We also have four interviews coming shortly to our Contra Zoom podcast, so be sure to check those out soon!