Thursday, June 29, 2006

What's in a name?

I wasn't going to post my little Humanitas Prize blurb on Blogcritics because it was such a kooky thing dashed off quickly, but this morning I rewrote it to be a little meatier (but still keeping the London, Ontario theme that probably only I find funny). I'd titled it something bland like "Humanitas Prize Honours Screenwriters" (Blogcritics loves boring titles – they say it's more Google News friendly) but an editor changed it to "Paul Haggis, Bobby Moresco, David Shore Among Humanitas Prize Winners."

It made me pause, because I'm all about the screenwriters, but even I'm doubtful that title lets people know what that article is about. I know a lot of people who don't know those names, or that award. Haggis has the most name recognition, but separated from his credits, with no context that we're talking about the entertainment industry or writers, I'm not so sure he has that much name recognition. (UPDATE: The London Free Press used an almost identical headline the next day, but then they're local boys for them - that doesn't count.)

While it made me ponder, I don't care about the actual change – it's not important, plus I'm an editor and change other people's stuff all the time, so I have to take it graciously when it happens to me whether it kills me or not. And I love writing for Blogcritics because not only does it give me enough of a platform that some of those under-recognized names have said yes to my interview requests, but I can write pretty much what I want, when I want, how I want. I love my day job, but I have to worry about writing to a grade eight level for the general public, and I don't have much choice in subject matter, and I have deadlines the anal publications editor (that would be me) or my colleagues want me to adhere to. On Blogcritics, as in life, my policy is it's all about me. (They might disagree.)

Anyway, I've been on a mini-mission to understand the TV writing process and in the process try to spread a little more recognition for writers. That stems partly from when I had my first brush with fandom, outside of talking about shows I like with my friends. I was first amused, then a little appalled to discover that fans credit the actors with far more than acting, attributing a great line, plot development, or character revelation to, say, Hugh Laurie (to use a completely-not-random example).

In some cases, it's deliberate — a fan's desire to create a fantasy where the object of their affection not only can do no wrong, but does all that is right, and no amount of reality is going to interfere with that view. We all need a little fantasy in our lives, so whatever. But in some cases, it's just thoughtlessness, and some of those fans, like me, might appreciate a small peek at a behind-the-scenes world we don't generally think about. Since the actors are who we see saying the words and embodying the character, it's easy to identify them with the role completely. The writers who provide the words and plots for that role are faceless and virtually nameless, except as one of a long list in the credits.

There's a subset of fans (me included) who are credits watchers. There are even writers who have their own rabid fan bases – Joss Whedon and Javier Grillo-Marxuach to name a couple. But fans (me included) don't fully understand the wacky television writing process, so some of our assumptions are off-base. I know the credited episode writer didn't necessarily write that one great line that made me laugh, or the one that made me cringe at its clunkiness, or come up with that particular plot twist or that specific character idea. I guess I know enough to know I don't know — that when I talk about the episode writers in my House reviews, for example, that's a shorthand for whoever contributed to whatever I'm praising/condemning in that episode.

And us behind-the-scenes geeks are such a small minority of fans that no matter how many writer interviews I or anyone else does, no matter how many writing awards we write about, most screenwriters will never become household names. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe Paul Haggis already is. The Oscar definitely helps. My Blogcritics article, and the Humanitas Prize … not quite as much.