Gangsters and Vampires

This post is late, but I’m a little unclear as to whether the Round 3 challenge is asking me to explain the most influential artist in my personal lifetime or the most influential artist of the past 23 years. As such, I’ll ramble on about shit that I like for a while, and then indulge in a whole bunch of hyperbole in an attempt to conflate the two. You’ve been warned.

Let the geek flag fly, after the jump.

First off, since the term artist is so broad, I’m focusing on the medium of television. Which is to say I’m taking this opportunity to pimp The Wire hardcore. Even though it’s too recent and underappreciated to qualify David Simon as influential, The Wire is pretty much the best thing ever produced for television (one for my homies), and will no doubt be remembered decades from now as the last great pinnacle of high-cost, long-form film/video production before the internet ate the TV. This show has had the most influence on my approach to screenwriting since my formative writing years when I was a huge geek for Joss Whedon and ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ So our two categories are gangsters and vampires. Watch and learn, children:

GANGSTERS

Bored? You’re reading this blog, so don’t act like you aren’t looking for shit to do on the internet. Instead, watch any or all of these clips:

Detectives McNulty & Moreland solve a cold case murder in a renovated apartment without saying anything except variants of the word ‘Fuck.’

The state of the Baltimore public school system:

The theme song, “Way Down in the Hole” by Tom Waits (Season 1 cover by Blind Boys of Alabama). Drug lieutenant D’Angelo Barksdale explains to his crew how it’s all in the game.

And those scenes don’t even have drugs, sex, or violence! The Wire is more like a 60-chapter novel written for the screen than an episodic show, and by now you have likely chosen to not bother getting into it in the first place. You should know that this decision is probably morally wrong.

Each season introduces a new social institution to the plot of the show, until you can see how the decisions of one person in the city impact all the others. The street, the cops, the docks, the lawyers, the politicians, the children, the teachers, and the journalists all get a share. By the time you watch the final season you wake up one morning in Maryland and can’t figure out how you got there. Zombie Charles Dickens and Zombie Robert Altman are right now clawing their way out of their graves to get their hands on the DVDs.

Speaking of supernatural creatures of the night:

VAMPIRES

When teenage T-Benz first started writing scripts and screenplays, he was all about film. Spielberg, Lucas, Cameron, Zemeckis, Kubrick, Polanski, Wells, Coppola, Lumet, Tarantino, Fincher, Coens, Andersons PT & Wes, so on, so forth, including writers– Paddy Chayefsky, William Goldman, Robert Towne, Charlie Kaufman… you get the idea. But then he started watching ‘Buffy’ and was made aware of just how much room there was for character evolution and plot payoff when TV was done right. What exactly, is TV done right?

First of all, with ‘Buffy’ Whedon deliberately established a basic framework for himself, that each season would have a self-contained arc. In plotting by season as well as by episode, he maintained creative control over the serialized narrative without writing everything himself a la David Kelley or Aaron Sorkin. His approach has been adopted to a significant degree by the majority of successful shows since, especially because former Buffy scribes have been breaking stories in the writers’ rooms of 24, Alias, Battlestar Galactica, CSI, Gilmore Girls, Grey’s Anatomy, Lost, The O.C., Rome, Smallville,The Shield, and others.

Whedon’s impact is, in my opinion, the culmination of a process initiated by David Lynch on Twin Peaks. Specifically, the application of the ‘auteur’ theory of film direction to writing and producing for television. With the rise of the cable programming model, with its shorter seasons and increased showrunner autonomy, ‘auteur television’ has taken off and produced so much incredible shit in the past ten years that it really puts the movies of the same time period to shame.

In conclusion,

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