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With the strike over, it’s time for Strike TV

Times Staff Writer

A man opens a “spiritual business” where people call to get issues off their chests.

A successful life coach who preaches selfishness and greed ruins the lives of those around him.

And a divorced woman gives questionable advice on her “chocolate powered relationship recovery” talk show.

These scripted shows are among the 40 short Web films, written and produced by Hollywood pros that will roll out this summer on Strike TV (www .strike.tv).

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Strike TV was an idea conceived on the picket lines to help writers maintain their creative aspirations in a fast-changing entertainment world. Strike TV’s founders asked guild professionals to submit their passion projects and promised to guide them through development into quality productions for the digital era.

Now that the writers strike is over, they say they want to work with studios and incubate video projects for them. They kept the name “Strike TV” partly as a way to honor the camaraderie that emerged during the strike but also to reflect the process of striking out into uncharted territory, they said.

Available writing jobs have shrunk since the writers strike, and the Internet -- with its minuscule costs for filmmaking and huge distribution reach -- seemed just too good to leave to amateurs.

“It’s the first time Hollywood en masse has gone online with original content,” said Peter Hyoguchi, who came up with the idea while picketing during the writers strike and is now Strike TV’s chief executive.

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Strike TV presents a wide variety of original creations of established writers including Lester Lewis (“The Office,”) Cathryn Michon (“Grrl Genius Guide”) and Ken LaZebnik (“Star Trek: Enterprise”) and actors such as Timothy Dalton (“Hot Fuzz”). Most have multiple episodes and include drama, horror and animation as well as comedy. The filmmakers shoulder the costs and own the copyrights.

“For me, it’s mostly the feeling of freedom of having an idea, being able to shoot it, work with friends collaboratively, and see the fruit of our work,” LaZebnik said.

While the initial payoff is creative freedom, the founders have hired a New York agency to help them find advertisers for the Web site. Any profits in the first three months benefit the Entertainment Assistance Program of the Actors Fund, which assists film and television crew members affected by the work stoppage. After that, it’s a 60-40 split with filmmakers reaping the greater portion.

LaZebnik sees the endeavor as an incubator for “great communal art happening online.” His short film, “Confessional,” ends with a plea to the audience. “If you have something to get off your chest, let me know. Maybe we’ll dramatize it on our next episode.”

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Another channel born of the strike

Another writer-driven venture born during the strike, Virtual Artists, remains in start-up mode, said founder Aaron Mendelsohn. He called Virtual Artists and Strike TV the two “hardy survivors” out of several ventures aiming to bring original content to the Web without the expensive middlemen found in the traditional production system.

“They’re more of a network providing a platform for original Web content whereas we’re more of a studio that is financing individual shows,” nailing down sponsorship before creating the show, he said. So far, he said, he has 15 stakeholder writers (“including a number of A-list film and TV writers”) with ideas for comedies, dramas, soap operas and a daily mock news. “We’re talking to some animators, from kid friendly to not kid friendly. Documentaries, reality shows, scripted hybrids. All will be guild covered,” he said.

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“We hope to be funded within the next 90 days. We hope to have a show green-lit within the next couple of weeks and have content available for viewing within the next three months,” he said.

Because network television is pressured to make shows with broad appeal, much of the fun has been squeezed out of entertainment, he said. “Certainly, removing 18 layers of executives and producers and allowing a writer or producer- director a chance to express their artistic vision without getting noted to death is a great opportunity.”

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And now a final (really big) word

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Despite the widespread observation that Hollywood continues to dumb down its products every year, multisyllabic words manage to get through to the screen now and again.

Words of the week: “idiosyncratic pronunciation” (def: a peculiar manner of speaking that provides a clue to hyper-educated Det. Robert Goren on the “Shibboleth” episode of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”).

“Shibboleth” (def: a password used by the men of Gilead to distinguish the escaping Ephraimites who pronounced the initial “sh” as “s.”)

“Men of Gilead?” “Ephraimites?” You’re on your own now.

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Scriptland is a weekly feature on the work and professional lives of screenwriters. Please e-mail any tips or comments to lynn.smith@latimes.com.


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