Industry Musings

Stupid script readers


All script writers instinctively know that all script readers are failed writers.

It’s just a fact.

Not a true fact, but a fact all the same.

We also know that all script readers are fucking imbeciles who wouldn’t understand how a story works if we explained it with graphs and slides and diagrams and possibly even a cute, animated cartoon character.

This too is a fact. Despite being completely wrong.


How can it be a fact and be wrong at the same time?

It can’t, you fucking idiot … and it’s not. Those statements are true/wrong at different times.

Script readers are imbecilic, know-nothing wannabe-writers … immediately after reading their notes and for about an hour or so afterwards. Possibly more, depending on how right their notes actually are. After that, there’s a gradual dissolve from being wrong/stupid to being right/annoying.

Sometimes they’re even embarrassingly right.

Even when they are genuinely wrong about something, the fact they’re wrong about it is important.

Let’s say a moronic script reader (for I have just read his/her notes and am near blind with rage) has completely and utterly missed the point of something I’ve written. Ten pages of their twelve page report is going on and fucking on about how the script fails to properly address something I haven’t even fucking mentioned and didn’t intend to.


They’ve read the script, wrongly assumed two guys are having an affair with each other and then further assumed that it’s woefully unclear that they are having an affair when they’re fucking not.


Each other.

“The writer needs to bring the affair more to the front,” they witter “if the audience are to understand the emotional implications for all concerned.”

“Perhaps there’s more to be mined from exploring how the men feel about their affair given the prevailing homophobic sentiments of that organisation at that point in history?” they’ll chunter on and fucking on.

“Maybe,” they’ll ramble, in an endless fucking stream of pointless fucking wrongness “the dual protagonists should get caught? Since the main strand of the movie is the consequences of their actions, this might help lift the dramatic question out of the murk and … “

Blah, blah, fucking blah.


There aren’t even any fucking men in this script! They’re all women! And none of them are having an affair! Not with each other or anyone else! The reason the consequences of their actions are not mined more is because there are no fucking consequences of their fucking actions because they’re not fucking fucking! Why the fuckity fuck can you not see that?

Ah, finally, a sensible question.

Why can’t they see it? Why do they think there are men in this script who are having an affair?

Instead of assuming stupidity, let’s assume this is a well-educated, well-read, intelligent individual who, for some reason, has misunderstood the point I’m trying to get across.



That’s what’s important here.

I could rail against them and their inability to comprehend simple fucking English. I could decide they’re just too fucking stupid to read my script … but the fact remains, whether they’re smart or dumb … they misunderstood my script.

That means my script can be misunderstood.

downloadBy anyone.

Possibly by everyone.

This will never do.

If this script reader, no matter their qualifications, experience or ability, has made this mistake then maybe everyone else will?

Maybe calling one woman Ashley and the other Sam was a mistake? Maybe there’s some line somewhere which is ambiguously worded which will confuse the fuck out of everyone who reads the script? Maybe there’s nothing wrong with the script, but some of the people who read it are bringing their own opinions/baggage and assuming things to be true which weren’t intended?

Whatever the reason, something probably needs to be fixed.


Even, and this is probably rare, even if the script reader is a fucking moron … the script still needs to be fixed so that no one else will ever make the same mistake.

Maybe that means underlining the introduction of the two women, ASHLEY and SAM? Maybe it means picking more feminine names? Maybe it means combing through for words like affair or longing or desire and deleting/changing them?

The problem as I see it is less one of misunderstanding and more one of miscommunication – I haven’t communicated the idea properly and if one person has gotten the wrong interpretation then so might the next. And the next. And the next … because, at the end of the day, I have no control over the IQ of the people reading my script and even the smartest people make mistakes … especially when it’s not crystal clear to begin with.

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I can’t choose whose desk this does or doesn’t land on – all I can do is try to make sure it’s clear, simple and moron proof.

Which is tricky when (possibly) the stupidest person reading it is the moron who wrote it in the first place.


Categories: Industry Musings, Random Witterings | 1 Comment

Too much too soon


I’ve lost a few jobs over the years by being too keen, by doing more work than is required; which probably sounds counter-intuitive, but actually makes sense if you just fucking let me finish, alright? Stop fucking interrupting!

What’s that?

No one’s interrupting except the voices in my head?

Oh really? What the fuck would you know, Mr Sock? You’re just a fucking sock, you’re not real. It’s me doing your voice. Me! Without me, you’re nothing!

images (1)

What’s that, Mr Sock?

If I’m going to have a mental spasm I should stop typing until after I’ve had a little lie down?

Oh. Yes, right.

Um … I didn’t type all this, it was dictation software left running. Sorry.

What’s that, Mr Sock? I’m a fucking liar?

Fuck you, you woolly bastard.

Sorry, got distracted there.

Right. So. Where was I? Ah yes, making sense.

The scenario usually runs something like this:

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A producer/director/actor or some combination of all three gets in touch regarding a film project they have which doesn’t really exist. I mean, it sort of does. They want to make something, they have some money of some description and possibly even a track record. The project exists in potentia, but in reality all they have is the vague feeling they want to make a film of some kind. Any kind, maybe, they’re not really sure.

What they are sure about is they absolutely have to film it only on Tuesdays and (for finance purposes) it all has to be set in Pease Pottage … although, for tax purposes it actually has to be filmed in Antigua; but they can easily fake Pease Pottage in Antigua, they just have to digitally erase the palm trees. And the climate.

Pease Pottage Honest


It also has to be a genre film (although not horror, sci-fi, western, a rom-com, martial arts, action, thriller or comedy – although it has to be funny), feature at least three parts for actors over-fifty who refuse to play characters over thirty, a dog, lots of nudity (but not from any of the actors, male or female), a Lamborghini (which can’t be driven), at least one sword fight and show child-abuse in a positive light.

Other than that, it’s completely up to me. I can do whatever I want, what have I got?

Besides a fucking migraine.

Oh, and they absolutely have to have a final draft before the end of the month or they’re going to lose the big name stars.

The ones I’ve never heard of.


I know, I know, I should learn my lesson and walk away from these things. And to be fair, I am doing so more and more.

What has tended to happen in the past is in order to make the ludicrous deadline, I need to start working before the contract arrives … which I do, because I’m a trusting soul.

Never, ever trust anyone. That’s a lesson to learn right there.

So I beaver away, come up with a bunch of ideas, talk it over with them, incorporate their feedback into the plot and generally hash it out until we (amazingly) have something they like the sound of.

Even if I have (accidentally) forgotten the child-abuse.

Now they need a one-page synopsis.

That’s all, just one page.

Contract still hasn’t arrived, but that’s fine. It’s only one page after all … but they need it immediately. By nine the next morning.

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Okay, so I should claim I need the contract the next morning too. That’s exactly what I should do and am doing from now on; but on several occasions, I’ve been more trusting … like the fucking fool that I am.

Just one page.

Except it’s not one page, because the idea has to be so convoluted to match the laundry list of conditions that I have to plan it all out on index cards before I can condense it down to one page. Then I find I need to write it all out to make sure it makes sense, because I’m not sure it does.

After staying up ALL FUCKING NIGHT I have a ten page document which is EXACTLY what we’ve agreed on. The deadline is in four minutes, I just don’t have time to whittle it down to one page … so, fuck it. Sorry about this, guys; but I’ve skipped a step – this is where we’re heading anyway and since you don’t need the one pager to show the financiers or the actors, just as a document for us to discuss, then it’s possibly actually better this way.

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Except it isn’t.

Because, although this document features everything they wanted and everything we’ve already discussed and agreed on … it isn’t actually what they want. It isn’t what they want because they have no fucking idea what they actually want.

They haven’t got an idea for a film, the only idea they’ve got is that they want to make a film.

It’s a bit like someone asking you to paint their kitchen, only they’ve no idea what colour they want. All they know is they’d like something dark-ish. Or light-ish. Or something in-between. Maybe a primary colour? Or one of those colours you get when you mix primary colours together? One of those.

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So you pick a random colour. Blue, what about blue? Oh, they love blue! What shade? You discuss it, show them samples, suggest they look at other people’s kitchens which are the same colour … until they state, adamantly, that they want a specific shade.


So you paint their kitchen … and they don’t like it. They didn’t realise that was what blue was. They thought blue was more redish yellow. They didn’t realise I meant blue blue, even though that’s what they said they wanted.

They don’t say this right away, of course. First off they forget to look at the colour of the kitchen for three months because although it was vitally important you stay up all night painting it, they don’t actually need to look at the colour for ages yet. There’s no rush for them, just you.

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The second reason they don’t say this right away is because they decide not to bother saying it at all. The fact you’ve painted the kitchen the wrong colour clearly means you’re not the right painter for them, even though you’ve painted the kitchen the colour they asked for and not got anything on any of the woodwork and even managed to do that fiddly bit across the top of the boiler without spilling a single drop … despite doing a good job, the job they asked for, the fact you’ve painted it a colour which, on reflection, they don’t actually like, means you’re clearly not suited to this job … oh, and hey! Since they haven’t got round to sending the contract yet, they don’t actually need to pay you! They can get someone else to paint the kitchen another colour. Or better yet, just give up on the whole idea because they’ve lost interest in kitchens and might just get the bathroom painted instead. No need to tell the painter what they think of the colour, let’s just pretend he doesn’t exist.


What’s that Mr Sock? I’ve stretched that metaphor well past the point of being useful? Why yes, I do believe you’re right.

No, you can’t come out of the hamper.

Because I don’t like you, you insufferably smug git. Get back in your hamper. Back! Back in your hamper!

Essentially, instead of developing the idea to suit the (pretend) film they think they’re going to make, they just give up and cease all communication.


Maybe if I’d delivered a one-pager it would have been different? Maybe if it was a bite-sized idea they would be more inclined to pass comment and work towards something better? There’s a lot less information in a one-pager which is therefore easier to interpret in a way which makes sense to them. A ten-pager nails down characters and tone and theme and all those sort of things. There’s very little room for interpretation in a ten-pager. A one-pager can be anything.

It also feels easier to change, to discuss, to develop. A ten-pager? Well, it’s all decided now, isn’t it? It’s not what they want, so no point pursuing it. They don’t know what they do want, but they know it’s not this.

And because they didn’t have a strong investment in a specific idea in the first place, just some money and some free time, then they’ve no real interest in continuing. A bump in the road? Might as well just give up then. No, don’t bother telling the writer we’ve decided not to bother – he’ll work it out in a few months time when we haven’t replied to a single email, phone call or text.


This has happened to me a couple of times now. Apparently it takes me a long time to learn a few simple lessons, namely:

  1. Never do more than is expected, no one will thank you for it.
  2. If the client is unclear what they want, keep ideas loose and vague for as long as possible – that way their expectations are being met.
  3. Don’t do anything until the contract is signed by you and them. Not that contracts actually guarantee you’ll get paid. I’ve worked on films where no one got paid, despite their contracts. Where everyone sued the producers, and won … and still didn’t get any money. Films where I was the only person to get even a fraction of my payment, despite not actually having a contract at all. Doesn’t hurt to wait though.
  4. Most importantly: never, ever get involved in these type of projects in the first place, it’s just not worth the hassle.

This all probably sounds very cynical, and in a way it is … but maybe that’s actually a good way to be?#

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Or maybe not?

I don’t know.

I would ask Mr Sock, but we’re not on speaking terms any more. Although his cousin, Ms Teatowel is here and she has this amazing idea for a movie. Well, not idea as such, more of a yen to make something, but that bloke from Eastenders has agreed to be in whatever it is, well, not agreed as such, but he muttered something which sounded a bit like yes when she cornered him in Tesco. Which bloke? Oh you know, the fat one who was always in the background of the market scenes in the first couple of years – never spoke, but he’s quite famous. Or was. She wants to shoot it in one location, in Arabic with Dutch subtitles and it has to feature at least three hamsters and …

Hang on, this is all sounding a little familiar.

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Categories: Bored, Career Path, Industry Musings, Random Witterings, Things I've Learnt Recently | 1 Comment

Red Planet blues

Red Planet

By now, everyone will have heard about their Red Planet Prize entry.

Well, not everyone. I’m pretty certain not everyone entered. 7 billion entries would be quite tricky to get through and the ones from babies would be terrible.

So no, not everyone; but everyone who entered. Oh for fuck’s sake. I’ll start again.

By now, everyone who entered will have heard about their Red Planet Prize entry. Some of you will be doing the Snoopy dance …

Snoopy Dance

The rest of you won’t.

Charlie Brown


But here’s the thing … it doesn’t matter which group you’re in. Not really.

I’ve blogged about this before: Ivory Tower (that post is far better than this one. I’d go and read that one, if I were you) and six years later the same’s pretty much true – competitions are great, but they’re just diversions from your career.

Okay, so *possibly* winning something prestigious will catapult you to the top of the pile. Doors will open. Contracts will rain down upon you and all will be well in the world.


But probably not.

Probably, even if you win a competition, you’ll find yourself lauded and fêted for a bit … probably for as long as it takes for someone to ask “what else have you got?”

I’ve been there. Years ago I won a thing which got me some coverage, which got a very prestigious Hollywood manager sniffing around … which led to absolutely nothing, because my answer to “What else have you got?” was … nothing good.


Because here’s  the thing (really? Here‘s the thing? I thought the thing was a few lines back?) being a scriptwriter isn’t about a script.

Competitions are, true.

Competitions are all about that one specific script you entered. They aren’t judging you, your ability, your dedication or your craft … they’re judging a script.

Just one.

Not even one, not really. In this case they’re making a judgement based on one sixth of a script.

Their reasons for rejecting that sixth of a script (not you, the script – no one’s rejecting you) are probably bang on the money.

Okay, so there may be mitigating factors. Chances are, no matter how ‘out there’ you feel your premise is, they had several very similar ones in. Perhaps yours was identical in all but character names to five other scripts? Perhaps yours got rejected because they had to choose one and that person on that day preferred the name Algernon to the name Reginald?

Want that one

It doesn’t matter.

Just as your career isn’t hung on one script*, it isn’t hung on one competition either. Winning a competition gives you a brief moment of access and attention – you still have to have the skill and determination to use that moment. You need exactly the same skill and determination (and stick-at-it-ness – I’m sure I know a word for that, but can’t think of one at the moment) to succeed whether you win a competition or not.

Winning isn’t everything, playing the long game is.

Because here’s the thing (another the thing! Fuck me, how many of these singular things are there?) people who win or place in competitions (and I’m not talking specifically about the Red Planet Prize here) don’t always have a career afterwards.

I can think of at least one guy who’s won loads of competitions and it doesn’t seem to have helped at all.

I’ve met another who was a runner up in the Red Planet Prize (and I am talking specifically about the Red Planet Prize here) who had twelve months of access to Red Planet Productions … and didn’t take advantage of it at all.

Why? Because he (or she! Could have been a she! It wasn’t, but it could have been) never really came up with an idea he thought they’d be interested in.


In twelve months.

For fuck’s sake!

Many writers I know are no longer writers. They’ve given up because it’s a hard frustrating battle of constant rejection. Always. All the time. Everyone gets rejected. Everyone. All the time. It’s the whole point of the game:

“Do you like this?”


“What about this?”


“Are you sure?”


To paraphrase John  Sheridan, all you need to have a successful career is to ask the question one more time than they can say no.

The one! Or one of them.

And possibly some talent. And maybe a computer of some kind. And probably enough social skills not to fling your own shit at people who are trying to pay you.

The Red Planet Prize is an awesome competition and a great opportunity for those who get through to the final dozen or so; but it’s just one thing in a whole forest of things; because here’s the real thing – there’s more than one thing.




* Because one script isn’t a career, it’s a script. Statistically, probably a bad one. We all write them. Some of us are unlucky enough to have them made into films.



Categories: Industry Musings, Random Witterings, Someone Else's Way | 5 Comments



Years ago, when I first started writing, I made several very wrong assumptions.

The first was that my initial goal was to ‘break in’, as if there were some walled garden somewhere where all the TV/movie people hung out. Possibly a darkened and debauched nightclub with lots of drugs and morally ambiguous men/women/goats.

There isn’t. There’s no ‘in’ to break into. Behind the wall you’re looking at, whatever the stage of your career, is just another wall. Sadly, it’s walls all the way to the grave.

The second assumption was that I could start small, get a micro-budget film produced, then a low-budget, then a medium-budget … and so on until I was filthy fucking rich and could start my own debauched nightclub and hire my own damned goats.

Wilder and Betsy The Sheep

Yeah … that didn’t work either.

But the assumption I want to talk about today is fact checking. I used to think there was a department for checking facts in a script. I figured I could just get things vaguely right and someone somewhere would send me a list of corrections during pre-production.

I mean, there’s probably a whole department for this sort of thing, right? I think I was imagining some kind of dimly lit office crammed with desks where miserable old men slave away in front of piles of reference material.


“Phill Barron’s written another script!” one would say.

“Oh for fuck’s sake, what facts has the useless cunt got wrong now?” would chirp another.

Then they’ll fall on my script like a horde of ravenous … um accountants? Fact checkers? Damn, can’t really think of a good analogy there.

Anyway, they’d spring into action and instantly correct me on my spurious and inaccurate portrayal of 17th Century submarines.

They had submarines back then, right? Pretty sure they did. Probably made out of wood or hollowed out pumpkins or something.


I mean, come on – if it’s in a movie then someone must have checked it, right? Surely they don’t let idiots like me just make this shit up? I mean what if I get this stuff wrong? What if I can only remember four of The Beatles’ names and make up the other seven? What if I can’t remember which country Africa’s in? Or which end of the EM spectrum gold is on?

This is important shit! When you’re writing high-quality, much loved toss like Strippers vs Werewolves, people want, nay need, to know the facts they’re presented with are not only accurate but … um … something else. More accurate?

Turns out, there isn’t a fact department. At least not on the films I’ve worked on. There’s just me.

only me

Which is a shame really, because I know absolutely fucking nothing about absolutely fucking everything.

This is a problem, because one of the skills I think you need as a scriptwriter is a basic working knowledge of everything. Or at least the ability to find someone who does know.

Thank fuck for Wikipedia, I say, because they know everything, right?


just the facts

Categories: Bored, Industry Musings, Random Witterings | Leave a comment

What’s in a name?


I’m never quite sure what to do with minor characters. Or rather, I know what to do with them, but not what to call them.

Conventional wisdom is to just call them Thug #1 or Florist #17 (which is a lot of florists). The problem with conventional wisdom is not everyone agrees and, frankly, I’m one of them. Keeping track of three or four Thugs in an action sequence is really difficult. Okay, so they don’t all have to talk and you can sometimes get away with:

Bob shoots three THUGS in the head. *


But what about when you have six thugs who split into teams of two? What if you have three heroes running around dealing with them on different floors of the same building? And then the Thug-teams meet back up and join together?

Sure, you can still call them THUG(S) #1 – 6 but it’s a bit of a dull read.

Wiser conventional wisdom says give them all an adjective as a name: SKINNY THUG, FAT THUG, STUPID THUG, TRANSVESTITE THUG … and so on.

That works well … except when it doesn’t.

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Some scripts have lots of Vox Pops from one-line characters. Or have the protagonist meeting small groups of near-identical speaking characters at regular intervals like TAKEN, for example. I’ve not made the slightest effort to find the script for TAKEN, but I can imagine running out of adjectives towards the end of the script CREPUSCULAR BADDIE, HOMOGENEOUS BADDIE, TUTU-WEARING BADDIE …

Similarly, listing them up to BADDIE #113 would be quite wearing.

Then you get the producers (usually the micro-budget ones) who want all the characters to have names, citing the logic that it’s easier to get a slightly better actor to agree to a low-paid cameo if they’re playing CAESAR BING as opposed to FACELESS NOBODY #7.

This is an opinion which varies from production to production and while I don’t think it’s terrible advice, some producers think it’s nonsense and just panic when they generate a cast list and see forty-odd named characters.

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Personally, I think it’s best not to do this until you know that’s what this particular producer wants. Especially if you have a lot of people getting beaten up or shouting during the first few pages – it’s just confusing and scares readers who don’t know which names they have to remember. I’d rather only the major characters were named in the first ten pages or so, but that might just be me.

When a producer does insist every character is named, then I find I still have the issue of keeping track of who’s who. SEBASTIAN on page 93 – did we meet him on page 4? No, that CASPIAN. Or was it a talking SEABASS? Oh look, I’ve lost interest.

Was GERALD one of the biker gang or one of the scientists? They’ve been arguing for several scenes now and I’m beginning to lose the will to care.

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Sometimes I experiment with different naming systems. If someone gets into trouble with a small gang of ROWDY YOUTHS … I might give them names which belong together, like FANCY, SPOOK, CHOO-CHOO, BENNY and BRAIN. Or HERCULES, SHIRO and LEE. Or SCOTT, ALAN, VIRGIL, GORDON and … um … BRIAN? WAYNE? MAYNARD? Fuck, can’t remember. Oh dear.

Point is, these names only belong together if you’re of a certain age and wasted too many Saturday mornings in front of the telly.

LAUREL and HARDY might be good names for two bumbling security guards … unless the reader is in their early twenties and has no idea who Laurel and Hardy were.

“Oh, those two guys from that black and white poster?”

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Fucking criminal, I know – but nobody’s famous forever.

Other times I’ve tried giving a group of DISPOSABLE MERCENARIES colours for names: RED, YELLOW, GREEN, BLUE … That seemed to work quite well during a particularly convoluted fight scene.

Very recently, I had a multitude of characters commenting on the action to camera, like an expanded Internet-based Greek chorus. We occasionally came back to the same person, but the number of them keeps growing. I tried calling them by their job title – but most of them weren’t in situations where their job was easily recognisable from their clothes/backgrounds – unlike, say, PARAMEDIC or NAZI.

So I tried giving all the characters an adjective-based name … but that wasn’t really working either because there were too many of them.

Then, after a dressing down from a frustrated producer on a different project who thought “giving all of the minor characters proper names is just standard and why the fuck aren’t you doing it?”, I panicked and rewrote every script I was working on … but this one just didn’t lend itself to that kind of thing. If you call the Paramedic STEVE, then you have to include an action line explaining he’s a paramedic, whereas a PARAMEDIC can just start talking.

Then I had a brain wave – why not give every character an alliterative name? NURSE NERYS, DOCTOR DAN, RENE THE RETRO-PHRENOLOGIST?

Yes! This was genius! Why hadn’t I thought of this before?


Because it’s fucking stupid, that’s why.

Never, ever do this.

Unless you want to. Because, obviously, rule number one is never, ever take advice from me.

I still haven’t found a solution I’m happy with. Or perhaps I just still haven’t found a solution which works every time. I’m searching for the Grand Unified Theory of Minor Character Naming … but perhaps there isn’t one?

Perhaps it’s something I should just review on a script by script basis?

Or perhaps I’m just writing this because I’m avoiding writing something useful and feel better knowing you’ve just wasted a significant chunk of your day too?

Yes, that sounds more likely.

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* With one bullet? Or one after the other with three bullets? This is a terrible action line. Never put this line in a script.

Categories: Bored, Industry Musings, My Way, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard, Someone Else's Way | 1 Comment

The spec chain

I keep talking to/reading posts/tweets by writers who are unsure of which project to write next. It seems to be a regular dilemma for lots of writers: “I have x number of new projects to start, all of which I’m excited about – how do I decide which one to do first?”


To be honest, it’s a question which puzzles me slightly. I’m not sure I fully comprehend the situation – were you just working on one project? Or were you working on several and they’ve all finished at exactly the same time? Which would be weird because, presumably, they must have all started at different times. How did you arrive at a point where you’ve finished everything?

I just don’t work like that.


Maybe my industry experiences are completely different to everyone else’s? Maybe my working method is unique? I doubt it. Doesn’t feel unique or even vaguely special when I talk to other writers.

I tend to have two lists of work – paid and spec. The paid work takes precedence over the spec stuff. To be honest, most years I don’t get more than a few days at a time to think about writing anything just for me. I’m trying to adjust that balance, because I have stories I want to tell and they’re generally the most fun.*


The paid list isn’t really a list, it’s more of an interlocking chain, because each project consists of several different parts and each starts at a different time. So, currently, it looks like this:

  • Project 1 : waiting for producer’s notes on first draft
  • Project 2: readers reports have come back, discussing which ones are relevant with client.
  • Project 3: waiting for producer to actually phone when he says he’s going to so I can sign off on latest revision.
  • Project 4: waiting for vague acknowledgement the producer has received the treatment or at least isn’t dead.

Essentially, a lot of waiting. For reasons I can’t begin to explain, it takes people ten times longer to read a script than it does for me to write it. I’m guessing they’re just very busy, many irons in the fire sort of thing.


Which is fine. The lengthy pauses give me time to work on lots of different things. If everyone was prompt and punctual, I’d never get anything done.

The gap between submitting a treatment and getting the go ahead to proceed to script can be anything between a few days and (in one extreme case) four years. $

Any new projects (whether they start with a synopsis or someone else’s script) slot into the gaps.


Any gaps left over are filled with spec projects,  for which there’s another list:

  • Project one, TV pilot: reached the end of the first draft, need to go back through the whole thing and see if it’s any good.
  • Project two, feature film (or possibly two-part TV drama): reread the last draft (7? 8? Can’t remember), the one everyone thought was brilliant and see if it actually is any good.
  • Project three, TV series: rewrite synopsis/series proposal using super-useful feedback from TV script development bod.
  • Project four, feature film: index card the shit out of the plot, see if it makes as much sense as it does in my head. ^
  • Project five, feature film: take terrible first draft and make it far less terrible.

These five projects will probably take me several years to finish. If I ever actually get time to do any of them.

Admittedly, if I actually reached the end of the spec list, I might have to think about what to do next – but I don’t seriously expect to ever get there.


I can also see that project four on the spec list is essentially a new project (albeit one I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last year or so) so, potentially, that slot could be filled with a choice of projects … but …

… um …

Can anyone remember what the point of all this was?

I’ve just been (pleasantly)  interrupted by a phone call and can no longer remember why I started this. Even reading it back doesn’t really remind me.


Fuck, what a pointless waste of time.

Sorry about that. I probably shouldn’t even bother to post this. You definitely shouldn’t waste time reading it.

I suppose I should put that last sentence at the top.

Oh fuck it, I’m going for lunch. Next week’s blog might have a point. Try that one.



* But also the hardest to write – it’s far easier to write a script when you get client feedback at every stage. Far easier and far more frustrating and upsetting, which is an odd definition of ‘easier’.

$ Four years to read (and love) ten pages.

Four. Years.

Long enough for me to have completely forgotten who the producer was and what the hell he was talking about when he finally phoned up. Interesting conversation that one:

“The only thing I don’t really like is the ending. Can we have less blancmange?”

Yeah, sure. Why the hell not? Unless the blancmange is essential, in which case – no. I have no fucking idea, are you sure I wrote this?

^ No. No, it doesn’t. They never do.

Categories: Bored, Industry Musings, My Way | 4 Comments

Sexism by design


I try to write an even mix of male and female characters. I know the Bechdel test is a throwaway gag and just a talking point, not a serious yardstick … but I like to pass it if I can. But sometimes, it just doesn’t happen. Sometimes the design of the story conspires against me and the characters have to be specific genders. Sometimes, it means only having one major female character by default.

For example, a script I’ve been working on recently came out this way. I tried to even the genders out a bit … but just couldn’t, not with the story I was supposed to be writing. Basically, it’s a fantasy feature based on a pre-existing male character.

The protagonist has been male for hundreds of years. There is no female equivalent of him. This story tells of his origins, how he came to be him. Starting him off as a woman and having him change into a man would be odd. Similarly, replacing him with a woman or explaining he was always a woman and people got the legend wrong … it’s not a bad idea for a film, but it’s not the film the producer wanted.


I should probably point out here, the producer is a woman.

The protagonist is a man. There’s no way around that.

Next up is his love interest – she’s a woman. She could be a man, I guess; but given who this story is about, then the controversy that would cause would overshadow everything else about this story for no good reason and would actually be depriving the story of the only female character. Just to be “shocking”.

There are two villains. The main, behind the scenes controlling one and the one who does all the physical fighting.

For this is an action-adventure yarn.

Think of them as Star Wars’ Emperor and Darth Vader.


The Emperor character could be a woman. Easily. The character is a legendary figure also, but there are male and female versions of this anthropomorphic personification in myth. So yeah, she can be a she.

Except, there have been three very popular films out recently with the female version of this character. Oh, and a fourth one just came out recently. The female version has been done, a lot. So much, in fact, that it’s becoming hard to find a new angle on that character.

The male version, to the best of my knowledge has never been done on screen before.


Add to that the fact the Vader-villain is also over-done in recent years and I felt I was facing a problem. I think I can get away with my version of the Vader-character because my version is different to everyone else’s. I don’t believe I can get away with two seen-it-before characters … so the Emperor-villain becomes a man.

The Vader-villain I could create a female version of. It would be fresh and new and more interesting … but … and this is probably just as sexist as making him a him … the Vader-villain has to be physically beaten up by the male protagonist and people tend to balk at boy-on-girl violence.

I sort of understand that, but I also find it a bit weird.


Boy-on-boy violence – that’s fine. Who doesn’t want to see guys kicking the crap out of each other? In an action setting, that is.

Girl-on-girl violence – yep, that’s fine. In almost all cases.

Girl-on-boy? – That’s a weird one – it often manifests itself as a slap in an otherwise non-violent movie. During a domestic argument, it’s apparently perfectly acceptable for a woman to strike a man. He probably deserves it.

But if it’s boy-on-girl? If the man slaps the woman in the same situation … no one is comfortable with that unless there’s extreme provocation. And possibly not even then.

Lois punched

I guess it’s all about generalities. Generally, men are physically stronger than women. Generally. Not always. Generally it’s hard for the weaker to bully the stronger. Generally. Still not always. So maybe a strong person hitting a weaker person looks like bullying, no matter the gender?

For whatever reason, whenever I’ve been completely equal-opportunities with violence in a script, the producers get upset about it. Unless it’s a female-protagonist martial arts film, in which case it’s absolutely fine.

Male protagonist hitting female antagonist?

Makes people nervous and no one wants to spend money nervously.

Sledge Hammer! It's fucking Sledge Hammer! On a T-Shirt! I fucking love Sledge Hammer, I does!

I’m not saying this is the right attitude to have, just observing it exists.

So the Vader-villain had to be male too.

Who’s left?

images (1)

The protagonist has two mentors – a physical one and a mental one. The physical one was the producer’s idea and she wanted him to be male. I didn’t get a choice on that one. Plus, as part of the story, our male protagonist gets mistaken for his mentor … so kind of had to be male. Not really, but I was tying myself up in knots trying to make it work when it was explicitly against the producer’s wishes.

Just pointless.


The other mentor, the mental one … I can’t think of any story reason why he had to be a man; but there is a personal one. I wanted a specific actor for the role. I’ve had him in mind for years, but never found a space for him in anything I’ve written. I really, really wanted to write this role for him.

Yes, it’s selfish and probably sexist … but … well, there we go.

And that’s how it happened.

Some of the minor characters are women. Some (because it’s a fantasy) are gender neutral. But overall, the majority of the cast are men because that’s (kind of) what the story demanded.

Does that make me happy?



I have a daughter who I want to write positive role models for. I want her to have the kind of heroes in her life that I had growing up. I want them to be women who aren’t scantily dressed and who don’t use their sexuality to get them out of tricky situations. Well, not all of them all the time anyway. I also feel there’s nothing wrong with a bit of scantiness and sexual wiles now and then, so long as it’s appropriate to the story and not all the women all of the time.

And the ultimate truth is I work on a lot of scripts. This isn’t the only script I’m going to write and it may never get made. Overall, I try to write as many roles for women as I do for men. That doesn’t mean every film has to be exactly fifty-fifty.

At least, I don’t think it does?

Does it?


Categories: Industry Musings, My Way, Random Witterings | 3 Comments

Buy my opinions, they’re no use to me!


I’m not a big fan of the ‘teach writers how to write’ industry, mainly because it’s largely taught by people who failed at being scriptwriters.

Now I’m not saying you have to be able to do in order to teach. Nor am I saying only the ultra-successful have anything useful to say about your script.

Everyone can form an opinion and everyone’s opinion is right from a certain point of view. Paying people for that opinion isn’t stupid or wrong so long as you know how valuable that opinion is.


Andrew Ellard‘s tweetnotes almost always align with my own opinions. I would be comfortable taking notes from him, because I’ve read his opinions and I trust he would be able to point out all the stupid flaws and mistakes I make whilst writing – the ones I can see in other people’s work, but rarely in my own (because knocking something down is far easier than building it in the first place).

His opinion, to me, would be worth paying for.

Similarly, paying for script notes from any of the plethora of script readers who’ve set up shop on the net is probably useful/valuable – depending on the individual. They don’t have to be successful as a writer to be successful as a reader. The amount you’re prepared to pay them depends solely on how valuable you think their notes are.


Recognising a bad script is not the same thing as writing a good one. Take all the advice/opinions you can get on the former … be very selective about who you believe for the latter.

The people who annoy me are the ones who profess to be able to teach you how to sell scripts, get an agent or build a career when they have been unable to do any of those things for themselves.

A scriptwriter who gives up because they weren’t getting anywhere shouldn’t be writing books or hosting seminars telling other people how to build a career.

Actually, no. That’s not right, is it?


Writers probably shouldn’t be paying for books or seminars by people who have no experience in that area.

I say probably because, fuck it, it’s your money – spend it how you want.

But why would you want to pay for insider, industry insight from people who have never been inside the industry? If they can’t sell a script, how do they know how to help you do it? If they can’t get an agent, why is their method for getting one worth paying for? If they were unable to build a career, they’re unlikely to have any useful advice about how you can build one.

Or rather, they may have useful advice – but it’s not theirs and they probably read it online somewhere for free. It’ll take you five minutes of Googling to find it yourself.

images (1)

Having said that, there are a few valuable voices in a sea of parasites. There are working writers out there who are more than happy to share their opinions, advice and experiences.

Danny Stack is one such chap. Danny’s the real deal – a writer who makes money from writing. A writer with an agent and a career who actually has something useful and interesting to say.


On top of that, he’s a really nice bloke.

And he’s running a course at Lighthouse in Poole next month.

In his own words:

I’m VERY EXCITED as it’s my first ever course bespoke to me and my experiences (instead of being asked to host a course or workshop for other people which is usually the way). I’m going to share what it’s like making a living as a screenwriter, the practical nuts and bolts that I think everyone should know, and my own personal ups and downs of my career so far.

Doesn’t that sound lovely?

Full details of the course can be found here or you can book tickets here.

The course is on the 23rd of Feb and costs £85, but there’s a £13 discount if you quote SCREENWRITING on the phone or over the counter.



If you live nearby, you should think about checking it out. If you don’t live nearby, consider it a mini-holiday (Poole’s lovely – mostly) . And if neither of those options sounds palatable, then you should at least check out Danny and Tim‘s podcast because it’s free, funny, interesting and informative. And free.


Categories: Industry Musings, Random Witterings, Someone Else's Way | 1 Comment



Oh come on! That was never a year!

Really? Did we have all the months? Does everyone remember having all the months? We must have skimped on one of the summer months. July? Anyone remember there being a July in 2013?

The rate time’s passing is getting ridiculous.

On the plus side, if it’s 2014 tomorrow, then it means we only have one more year until hoverboards and flying cars!

And yes, they are both on my future Christmas list.

So how was your 2013? Was it good? Did you enjoy it? All of it? Even the July which I’m sure the Government have covertly pinched?

Mine, since you’re doubtlessly asking, went something like this:


I started the year by getting a bit excited about January. No, I have no idea why either.

Then, inspired by this post by Debbie Moon, I got a bit ranty about jealousy.

And I finished off the month by rambling on a bit about HMV maybe shutting down.

Which it didn’t.

The essence of my argument was it would be a shame if HMV went bust because the immediate next wave of filmmakers would never know the elation of walking into a shop and buying a copy of your own DVD. HMV is one of the last outlets who stock pretty much any low budget films. If they went, the only shelf space would be in supermarkets and they are a bit funny about what films they’ll sell.

Now, okay, DVDs (or Blu-Rays, if you prefer) will ultimately go away and people will feel giddy and excited about something else.

But a year later, DVDs are still here (as is HMV) and they’re still exciting. I don’t know about you, but I have a hierarchy of film-love. Only my absolute favourites get bought on DVD. Films I really enjoy … I probably won’t bother to buy. I might watch it several times on TV or pay to stream something … but only my absolute bestest films get bought.

Unless I know the writer and want to annoy/promote them.

2012-07-13 14.54.12

Having a film produced is exciting. Attending the première is more exciting. Seeing it in released in the cinemas is even more exciting still. But holding a physical copy in your hand, one you can put on the shelf or lend to people or just look at and smile … that’s the best bit.

For me.

Because that, in a small way, puts the thing I wrote on a similar footing to all the other films I love. Even when I fucking hate the actual film itself.


I began February by busting the shit out of the motivation, willpower and confidence conspiracy myth bullshit.

Or possibly by just ranting aimlessly about those imaginary things. One of the two.


I finished off the month by loving Wreck-It Ralph. A lot.

At least I was right about that.

Was that it? Hmm … didn’t blog much in February, did I? Probably because I gave up chocolate, biscuits, sweets, crisps and cake in a vague effort to stop looking like a fucking hippo. That kind of thing is bound to make someone less bloggy.


I began March by explaining, politely, that they don’t fucking love your script in Cannes – no matter what they may have said. If they loved it, they would have bought it. Did they buy it?

No. Then they didn’t love it.


Yes, you can still pay me to re-write it.

I also blogged about exercise, P90X and biscuits – somehow finding it appropriate to insert myself into Death in Paradise wielding a spoon.

ginge-in-paradiseNo, I have no idea why either.

That was a weird thing to do. Although, the good news is I still have that spoon. In a lovely bit of serendipity, I stole it from the Jamaican hotel which initially inspired Death in Paradise. It’s now my emergency back up spoon.

Then I wrote a blog about Other People’s Ideas and how hard they are to write. For some reason I equated it to making a human being and having too many ears.

Seriously, never give up biscuits. It’s just not worth it.


Wait … what the fuck? THERE WAS NO APRIL! I fucking knew we hadn’t had a full year! Here’s the proof …

Or rather, here isn’t the proof because April never fucking existed. It can’t have existed or I would have blogged about it.

You fuckers stole my April!

I’m a bit cross about that.


All I did in May was give away a really cool book which, despite the cover, has no information in it about how to get laid by writing scripts.


What a rotten swizz.


Apparently, some insanely exciting things were happening in June … but I have no idea what they might have been.

My laptop had a bit of an accident. That was annoying.

laptop-exploding-battery-fireBut I fixed it. Sort of.


What else happened?

Ooh, I wrote some stuff and edited some stuff and had some meetings and all sort of proper writing stuff. That was exciting.

I then went on to promote a writing development scheme thingy.


What was exceptionally exciting about that is a writer friend of mine later told me she’d applied and been accepted onto the course – something she never would have known existed if I hadn’t mentioned it.

That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. I love being vaguely useful occasionally.

Buoyed on by that, I promoted some free stuff. Which probably isn’t free any more, so … don’t bother clicking that link.

Assuming anyone’s still reading and is even clicking anything. Are you?


Why? Go do something more fun.

Oh, no, wait! This next post was my most popular post of the year. Still is.

I think.




July was simple. All I did in July was reveal the meaning of life and the meaning of illegal.


I got both of them completely and utterly right too.

Because I’m awesome.

I totally rocked July.


I’m getting bored now. Anyone else getting bored?

August! What did I do in August?


There was no August either.

Wait a minute … no April? No August? No months beginning with the letter A?

Hmm …

That video would probably be more relevant if it was actually about the letter A.


There was a September! Since September doesn’t begin with the letter A, this completely proves my theory.

It fucking does!

In September I went to see Monsters University.


Then I gave you writer-based fashion advice.

dr who pants

And I rounded out the month by getting upset about a wine glass.



In October I had a letter from Linda Aronson, which was far politer than I deserved.

Then I wrote the first two parts of my fantastically successful Notes from the Other Side series; which was about my inept fumblings as a script editor for PERSONA.


They were called Part One and Part Two. I’m original like that, I am. I was the first person ever to think of calling something part one and part two.


I’m really bored with this now. I’ve no idea why I do this every year, I mean what is the fucking point? Does anyone read this far? I will send a five pound note to the first person who quotes these three words in the comments:



Jamais vu

That’s a serious offer. I’ll send you a proper five pound note through the proper mail and everything if you’re the first person to copy and paste those three words into a comment.

And 12p to the first person who can use them in a sentence.

And now that I’ve (hopefully) successfully proved no one’s reading any more … on with November.

First up, Part Three of the Notes from the Other Side trilogy. I broke boundaries here by calling the third part Part Three. I also got a bit ranty about it all.


Especially to the person I referred to as a fucking twat; but to be fair. You were.

Or I was.

One of the two.

Possibly both.


Then I talked about tailoring. It was in relation to an upcoming meeting … at which everyone behaved in almost exactly the way I hoped they wouldn’t.


For some reason I then had a pop at actors who don’t afford my scripts the same respect as Shakespeare’s.

No, seriously. I can only assume I was heavily medicated at the time.

download (1)

And I finished the month by gushing about my love for a man. Well, eleven men. Twelve, as it turned out. Thirteen now.

2013-12-30 14.36.45

If you’re feeling particularly geeky, you can spot seven differences between this photo and the one uploaded in November. Although, I warn you now imaginary person who’s never going to fucking bother doing this … number four is almost impossible to spot.


I began December by delivering my verdict of The Day of the Doctor … I fucking loved it. I know I fucking loved it because I wrote “I fucking loved it.”

You can’t argue with that kind of proof.


Then I decided to tattoo something on my forehead so I wouldn’t forget it. This is the worst possible way of remembering stuff … mainly because it’s really fucking hard to see your own forehead.


Don’t do this. Seriously, it’s silly.

And I finished off the year with a series of Christmas crackers – little bloglet mentions of things I either think are cool or just felt like mentioning:

  1. The Elephantom
  2. Totally Serialized (there’s a competition on this one – you can win free tickets!)
  3. Dead Elf
  4. Production Hell
  5. Kung Fury

And that was pretty much it in blogging terms.

Behind the scenes, this was an interesting year. It’s the first year for nearly a decade I haven’t had anything produced or released … and yet I probably earnt more this year than any previous year to date.

Apparently a writer can earn more money by not getting films made than by actually getting involved in all that icky and annoying shooting business.

Who knew?

At the beginning of the year, I made a conscious decision to write something for myself. Something I really, really wanted to write which I would then try to sell.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, I worked almost continuously on other people’s ideas with varying degrees of success.

I had some lovely meetings with some lovely people and at least one of them I didn’t completely screw up.

I got paid to write stuff I enjoyed writing for people who actually cared about the script and wanted to get it right … as opposed to caring about the shooting date (tomorrow) and wanting to get it finished … even if ‘finished’ means ‘nobody fucking cares how good it is, we just need some words’.

As an added extra bonus, a producer sent one of my scripts to a director whose work I really, really admire. I’ve no idea if that guy actually liked the script or not. Probably not, but he wanted to read it and therefore at least now knows who I am.

I’m the guy who’s script he (probably) didn’t like.

Unless he hasn’t read it yet. Which is entirely possible and extremely likely.

2014 already has some super cool awesome stuff lined up with a couple of projects lining up on the starting blocks and even a few lumbering asthmatically towards the final set of hurdles.

Beyond which are another set of even higher hurdles, because that’s what the whole writing gig’s about.

So bring it on 2014, do your worst!

Just nicely.


Categories: BBC, Bored, Career Path, Christmas Crackers, Industry Musings, My Way, Opportunity, Persona, Progress, Random Witterings, Rants, Sad Bastard, Someone Else's Way, Strippers vs. Werewolves, Things I've Learnt Recently, Two steps back, Writing and life | 16 Comments

Shakespeare’s leeway


I was listening to the Nerdist Writers’ Panel Comics Edition Podcast thing the other day.

You know, the other day. Not this day, but the other one.

If you haven’t heard it, you really should. It’s great. Anyway, Ashley Miller was talking about writing Thor (the movie), about sitting with Kenneth Branagh and how Kenneth said he had spent twenty years trying to understand the soliloquy in Hamlet.

And it got me thinking.


First off, I was thinking about the time I nearly accidentally killed Kenneth Branagh one day in Bath.

The town, not the tub.

He parked his car on double yellows and leapt out into traffic, forcing me to swerve wildly to avoid him. I don’t think he noticed; but if it weren’t for my mongoose-like reflexes, he would be dead now.

Thank you, I am directly responsible for Thor. You’re welcome.

If it was him.

Maybe it wasn’t? Maybe it was just someone who looked like him?


Fuck it, I saved someone’s life. Sort of.

The car behind swerved into the opposite lane and caused a ten-car pile-up, killing fifteen people and a small pigeon; but that’s not the point. I didn’t kill anyone. I specifically didn’t kill Kenneth Branagh (or someone who looked a lot like him). *

Next up, I thought about how dedicated, awesome and serious he is as an actor and how amazing it is that he’s spent all this time trying to understand a single passage in a single play.


My third thought was that would never fucking happen to one of my scripts.

Okay, so there’s a quality differential between me and Shakespeare. In fact, you could argue that every other writer in the entire world sits between me and Shakespeare … and I wouldn’t argue back.

I’m like that.

But that’s kind of irrelevant because no actor would attach that much weight to any speech in any film script they were presented with. Theatre – yes, I believe maybe that does happen. Certainly among the work by the deader playwrights.


I can imagine a very kind actor spending half an hour, maybe 45 mins, trying to figure out how to make one of my speeches work before declaring “my character wouldn’t say that; but twenty years?


No chance. Probably because very few films are at the script stage for twenty years.

More likely because  if a play is still being performed 400 years after it was written then it’s kind of proved itself and probably doesn’t need to be improvised all over thank you so very much.

So not only is it pointless comparing myself (unfavourably) to Shakespeare; but it’s equally pointless comparing a film script written four days ago to a theatre script written four centuries ago.

Films change all the way through production. Lines are rewritten, chucked out, improvised, dug out of the bin and reinstated, forgotten and finally misread in an exercise which frequently leaves the scene unusable.

download (1)

New plays, I guess, go through a similar process.

Older plays, ones which have stood the test of time … they’re recited. They’re given respect. They’re given it because they’ve earnt it.

It’s different. I know it’s different. I do, honestly … but still, I can’t help feeling a little jealous.

Twenty years trying to understand the text.

Twenty. ^

Wouldn’t that be nice? For people to assume you put those specific words in that specific order for a specific reason and then try to figure out what that reason might be?

Makes me go all misty just thinking about it.

Then I go all sad because I know it’ll never happen.



* It’s possible, not all of this story is true.

^ Actually, I can’t remember how long he’s spent – I heard the podcast weeks ago now (or possibly yesterday) and don’t hold information in my head for that long; but let’s go with twenty.

You know the only thing worse than an actor improvising all over a script? An actor not improvising anything at all. It’s all about balance, people. Good actors know when to improvise and when not to. Bad actors improvise the line back to the place-holder-line the writer discarded because it’s a cliché.

My biggest bugbear is when an actor decides not to use a word because they don’t know what it means. Especially when that word is a technical term used in a field their character specialises in:

“I don’t think my character, a submarine captain, would use all these long words about submarines and oceans. I think he’d say something simple like ‘Let’s go under water, please’.”

Mind you, I’ve also had an actor pronounce one of my  spelling mistakes because they believed in the sanctity of the written word.

Both of these approaches are fairly extreme and, luckily, pretty rare. As ever, reality, common sense and the majority lie somewhere in the middle.

Categories: Bored, Industry Musings, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard, Someone Else's Way | 1 Comment

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