Random Witterings

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.

Possibly.

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.

Things

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.

double_facepalm

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?”

“No.”

“What about this?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“No.”

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.

fail-if-stop-writing

 

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* 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.

JFTR

 

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

Boldly going

boldly-go

I tend to go through little phases with my writing. Certain stylistic things which, for some reason, catch my fancy and make their way into most of my scripts during a certain, brief window of time … before being jettisoned from my tool box like a pair of *insert whatever style of jeans are currently unfashionable here*.#

Currently, I seem to be rather enamoured with intercutting between two people talking to the same third person in the same room at different times.

No, I don’t know why either. I just am.

The problem with that is: it’s fucking difficult to format properly.

I guess the accepted way would be something like this:

INT. INTERROGATION ROOM - DAY

DETECTIVE CINDY questions MAVIS.

                    CINDY
          Come on, Mavis, we've got you bang to 
          rights and no mistake.

                    MAVIS
          Oh lordy, lordy.

                                               INTERCUT:

INT. INTERROGATION ROOM - DAY

The same room, hours later. Cindy interviews REGINA.
          
                    REGINA
          Fuck you copper, I ain't telling you 
          nothing.

                    CINDY
          The other woman, the one in the tutu, she
          told us everything.

                    MAVIS
          Oh lordy, lordy.

                    CINDY
          You said that.

                    REGINA
          Eat my shit, pig?

                    CINDY
          Yeah, and that.
         
                    REGINA
          What about-- ?

                    CINDY
          Look, can we just assume you've used every 
          cliché under the sun and just get on with 
          the confessing?

                    MAVIS
          Oh lordy, lordy?

                    CINDY
          Once more! Just once! And my fist is going 
          right up your ...

And so on.

The problem with that example, is it’s really hard to tell who Cindy’s talking to. I mean, this line:

                    CINDY
          The other woman, the one in the tutu, she
          told us everything.

Is that said to Mavis or Regina? How about the rest of Cindy’s lines? Who is she talking to?

Another way of writing this might be:

INT. INTERROGATION ROOM - DAY

DETECTIVE CINDY questions MAVIS.

                    CINDY
          Come on, Mavis, we've got you bang to 
          rights and no mistake.

                    MAVIS
          Oh lordy, lordy.

                                               INTERCUT:

INT. INTERROGATION ROOM - DAY

The same room, hours later. Cindy interviews REGINA.
          
                    REGINA
          Fuck you copper, I ain't telling you 
          nothing.

CINDY AND MAVIS

                    CINDY
          The other woman, the one in the tutu, she
          told us everything.

                    MAVIS
          Oh lordy, lordy.

                    CINDY
          You said that.

CINDY AND REGINA

                    REGINA
          Eat my shit, pig?

                    CINDY
          Yeah, and that.
         
                    REGINA
          What about-- ?

CINDY AND MAVIS

                    CINDY
          Look, can we just assume you've used every 
          cliché under the sun and just get on with 
          the confessing?

                    MAVIS
          Oh lordy, lordy?

CINDY AND REGINA

                    CINDY
          Once more! Just once! And my fist is going 
          right up your ...

Yuck.

I don’t know about you, but I find that fucking horrible.

I also have a weird thing about scene headings without an action line underneath it. Don’t know why, I just do. But writing “Cindy interviews Mavis”, “Cindy interrogates Mavis”, “Cindy’s still getting fucking nowhere with Mavis” is even worse.

So, recently (and I know this is slightly less than interesting; but I’ve started now and am determined to finish regardless) I’ve been bolding the intercut scenes. Rather like this:

INT. INTERROGATION ROOM - DAY

DETECTIVE CINDY questions MAVIS.

                    CINDY
          Come on, Mavis, we've got you bang to 
          rights and no mistake.

                    MAVIS
          Oh lordy, lordy.

                                               INTERCUT:

INT. INTERROGATION ROOM - DAY

The same room, hours later. Cindy interviews REGINA.
          
                    REGINA
          Fuck you copper, I ain't telling you 
          nothing.

                    CINDY
          The other woman, the one in the tutu, she
          told us everything.

                    MAVIS
          Oh lordy, lordy.

                    CINDY
          You said that.

                    REGINA
          Eat my shit, pig?

                    CINDY
          Yeah, and that.
         
                    REGINA
          What about-- ?

                    CINDY
          Look, can we just assume you've used every 
          cliché under the sun and just get on with 
          the confessing?

                    MAVIS
          Oh lordy, lordy?

                    CINDY
          Once more! Just once! And my fist is going 
          right up your ...

Which I feel reads much better. Okay, it’s shit; but that’s beside the point. You may disagree, but please don’t – it unsettles my ego.

I’ve also started doing it for bits of a scene which occur away from the main characters. So, for instance:

EXT. ROOFTOP - DAY

Sam squeals with fear, points at the alley below. Bemused, 
Wilf peers over the edge - what the hell is Sam pointing at?
There's nothing there but:

Bins, a cat, a used condom.

                    WILF
          What? What is it?

Sam shrieks with fear, points even more pointedly:

The cat chokes on one of the condoms. There's a bit of 
newspaper meandering around the alley.

                    WILF
          What? Use your words, goddamn it!

Point. Point. Shriek. Point:

A cat. A condom. A newspaper. A Burmese Zombie Ninja. 
Nothing unusual!

                    WILF
          Seriously, just spit it out or my fist
          is going right up your ...

And so on.

I don’t know if this sort of thing is allowed or not, but it works for me and fuck you, it’s my script+.

Oh and apparently I now end every scene with the threat of intimate cavity violence.

Gloves-CopBlock

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# At fourteen I reached breaking point with fashion and decided it could fuck off. Fashion means looking like a twat but not realising it until a year later. Far better to be stylish than fashionable I thought. Never quite managed it, but the thought was there.

I don’t know about you, but I’m so bored with fashion cycling endlessly through the 60s, 70s and 80s (the 90s being a brief pause before we all went back to the 60s). Can’t we have something different? I vote for Elizabethan gear to come back into fashion: tights, codpiece and a fuck-off ruff – that would be awesome.

+ Unless you’ve paid me for it, then technically it’s your script. But still fuck you. I have my own funky style, that’s why you hired me and … what’s that? Difficult? Me? You’re never going to hire me again? Oh … well. Yes. Um … uoy kcuf (that’s me taking it back).

Categories: Bored, My Way, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard | 3 Comments

The blog tour

There’s this thing going round …

Don’t worry, it’s not contagious.

Well, technically it is. I mean, plenty of people have had it before me and plenty more will have it afterwards, so it’s sort of contagious … but not really. You can’t catch it by being sneezed on or sitting on the wrong toilet or licking a doorknob.

At least, I don’t think you can. If anyone wants to go and lick a doorknob and report back, that would be extremely helpful.

Why?

But no, you can’t. I already knew that, I just sent you off to lick things because I enjoy wielding that kind of power over you. You can’t catch it from doorknobs because it’s an Internet thing. Specifically the Internet thing called The Blog Tour.

It’s a meme, I guess. Do they still call them memes? Or have they got a new name now? Like ‘zupers’ or ‘demdams’ or ‘xxyjrnmm’? I have no idea, for I am old and … well, sadly not grey yet. Still ginger, but working on it.

Anyway, back in my day we called them memes and we did them when we were told to do them. Which I have been. By Jason Arnopp, no less, in this very blog post here.

He tagged me …

Do you crazee kidz still call it tagging? Or have you given it a new name like ‘catweezling’ or ‘flibbart’ or ‘m’hinge’?

Stalling? Me? Why, yes, I suppose I am. No, I don’t know why either.

dw__stalling_for_time_spoilers_by_blackbirdrose-d48o6j3

Jason tagged me and now I have to answer these four questions …

Well, I don’t have to. It’s not like Arnopp’s going to visit me in the dead of the night and scoop out my kidneys with a warm spoon. Actually, he might. He’s like that.

Four questions!

1) What am I working on?

Ooh, lots.

Sort of.

I guess it depends how you define ‘working on’. Scriptwriting isn’t really a digital job. It’s not on or off. Projects hang around for years after they’ve been ‘finished’, sometimes looming out of the fog of the distant past like an iceberg which needs completely restructuring so that it’s made of blancmange instead of ice because the producer has found a financeer who’s got a girlfriend made out of blancmange.

Or something like that.

Similarly, but completely differently, I’m working on scripts without actually writing anything because I’m either thinking about it or the client is and any month now they’re going to get back in touch and I’m going to explode into a frenzied bout of typing … despite looking, to all intents and purposes, like I’m lying on the sofa watching Person of Interest.

So I guess a better way of wording this would be “What projects have you got active?”

Well, since you put it like that:

    1. A high concept drama/thriller feature thing.
    2. A high concept, family-friendly action-adventure franchise based on a pre-existing public domain property which is incredibly well-known throughout the whole world and yet no one’s ever made this kind of film about it.
    3. A sci-fi/adventure TV pilot which is something I’ve written just for me. Hopefully for someone else at some point, but just for me at the moment.
    4. A series proposal for someone else.
    5. And a veritable pile of one pagers for a friend so we can pick which one to develop into a script.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It doesn’t? Or it’s worse? One of those two.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Because it either interests me or someone’s paying me to or both. Ideally both. In the past, if someone was paying me to write something which didn’t interest me, I tried to fit it with a theme which did interest me. Nowadays I just say no. Saying no is much easier.

4) How does my writing process work?

Badly?

I tend to start with the idea and think about it for as long as possible.

Possibly longer.

Then I try to find the irony in it – which character would be best to tell this story? Who’s the most unlikely person to go through this journey? When I have the idea, the story and the character then I try to distil it into a sentence.

After that, I brainstorm the shit out of it, just writing down anything which pops into my head which may or may not fit into the film. If I really, really like the first thing I think of, I pop it to one side and try to think of something better. I think it’s pretty important not to stop on the first thing you can imagine … because that’s often the first thing everyone else can imagine too.

Which is not good.

Except when it is.

Afterwards, I collate the brainstorming document into a slightly neater version which actually makes sense.

My pile of ideas, characters and motivations collected, I go back to the sentence and turn it into a logline(ish) and a synopsis. I’ll probably do this three of four times until I’m happy with it.

Incidentally, if you’re producer reading this – this bit takes a long fucking time to get to. It takes a lot of thought to get to the point where I can ‘jot down’ a quick one-pager.

Then I hit the index cards like a fucking banshee. Which basically means just putting them down on the table or up on the board, depending on how saucy I’m feeling that day. I start with eight cards and give each section of the film a name like “Finding the cheese” or “Run! It’s Jesus!” or something like that.

When I can sum up each eighth of the film with a pithy, annoying phrase then I break each bit down into a beginning, middle and end and add extra cards in until there are (roughly) five or six cards per eighth. I usually go back to the neatened brainstorming session to make sure I’ve not forgotten anything/changed my mind.

Now, it’s treatment time. My treatments tend to be roughly ten pages which makes one page roughly equivalent to one rough page. Roughly.

Incidentally, if you’re a producer reading this, to “bash out” a quick ten-page treatment involves thinking of EVERYTHING WHICH IS GOING TO BE IN THE FUCKING FILM IN ITS ENTIRETY FROM BEGINNING TO FUCKING END. That’s why it takes a little while. Just saying.

I tend to do three or four drafts of the treatment too – until I’ve got something I really like.

Then it’s script time, which is like Hammer Time but with less trousers. Scripting is where I realise the map isn’t the territory and none of it makes any fucking sense from the trenches. I probably do five or six drafts of each script before it gets to production … and then five or six more during pre-production and five or six more during production.

Incidentally, if you’re a producer reading this, it is five or six drafts. Only naming every third one a new draft doesn’t stop all of them being a new draft, it just stops you paying for them.

The general rule of thumb is all the changes made during development make the script better, all the changes made during pre-production make the script cheaper and all the ones made during production just fucking ruin it.

And that’s my process. I follow this religiously. Except when I don’t. Which is most of the time.

Wow! Those were long answers, weren’t they? I like my answer to number two best, because it’s short.

Still with me? We’re nearly done. The only thing left is to tag the three folk I want to pass this thing onto. Obviously, I’d love to pass it on to all of you; but some of you have already had it and are therefore immune. The rest of you who aren’t tagged … sorry. Unless you didn’t want to be tagged, in which case … you’re welcome.

Rosie Claverton

photoshoot-homepage

Rosie Claverton is a screenwriter and novelist. She grew up in Devon, daughter to a Sri Lankan father and a Norfolk mother, surrounded by folk mythology and surly sheep. She moved to Cardiff to study Medicine and adopted Wales as her home.

Her short film “Dragon Chasers” aired on BBC Wales in Autumn 2012 and her debut mystery novel “Binary Witness” will be published by Carina Press on 5th May 2014.

Currently exiled to London, she lives with her journalist husband and their pet hedgehog.

Rosie’s brilliant. She wrote on Persona and was utterly wonderful at it. She’s a great writer. Hire her.

Danny Stack

Danny3d

Hi, I’m Danny Stack. Phill asked me to provide a short bio of around 75 words, so I’ve wasted quite a few already with this intro. And I decided not to go with the ‘third person’ bio style, too, just to give it a go, but it’s actually much more awkward doing it this way than saying ‘he doesn’t like referring to himself in the third person’. Anyways! I’m a screenwriter, script readery-type person who also directs when I get the chance. And, um, my 75 words are up so I should point you to my website, I guess http://dannystack.com

If you’re a UK writer who doesn’t know Danny either through his own work, the Red Planet Prize or his podcast with Tim Clague … then shame on you. Give up now, you’ve failed to demonstrate the minimum required level of interest in your chosen career.

Rob Stickler

SticklerRob Stickler wants to be a successful writer. He finished his first feature length script at eighteen and hasn’t given up yet.

He main focus is scriptwriting. People sometimes like his stuff.

He is Welsh and a vegetarian. His hobbies include drinking tea and reading comics in the bath. He dislikes flags, meanness and writing about himself.

He lives in the Midlands with his wife, their son and a cat called Nyssa.

Rob was one of the first wave of scriptwriting bloggers from back in the dark days of the Internet (2007). A wild time, a time without laws or iPhones, a time when people had to be content with phones which could browse all of the Internet, had proper GPS navigation and could make video calls.*

Okay, I’m done now. I’m going to stop.

———————————————————————————-

*Yes, I know iPhones can do 2 of those 3 things now; but they couldn’t then. This sentence is here purely to annoy one person who reads this blog and expects me to try and annoy him.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings | 1 Comment

Facts

i+bet+you+read+this+wrong.+derp_138e06_3324291

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.

1390085825368

“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.

3715_01

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?

Right?

just the facts

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

What’s in a name?

Redshirts

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. *

sledgehammer_5en

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.

images (1)

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.

images (2)

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.

images (3)

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?”

images (4)

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?

lightbulb

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.

images (5)

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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

Sexism by design

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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No.

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?

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

January and on

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Hooray, it’s 2014 and has been for a few weeks.

Happy slightly-less-new-than-it-was-two-weeks-ago year!

How was the whole Christmas/New Year thing for you? Mine was pretty cool. I know Christmas is supposed to be about the giving, but this year I actually got presents I wanted, so that makes it cool.

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And New Year’s eve we had an incident with a firework which resulted in me and my mate being chased around his garden by a boxful of fiery death … which was also cool. And fucking scary.

But that was so last year.

This is this year and already I’m off to a great start. I’m happily ensconced on my Secret Writing Island and building up a nice head of script-speed.

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Before plunging back into a not-quite-spec script I’ve been picking at between paid assignments for six months now, I decided to give myself a little post-festive break and crank out the first 10 pages of something I’ve wanted to write for a while for the Red Planet Prize.*

Not that I know why I bother – the first ten pages of everything I’ve ever written has been utter shit until I’ve finished at least six or seven complete drafts. I find, no matter how much I plan, plot or outline, my understanding of what needs to go into those first ten pages shifts so much during the writing process that it’s pretty much a waste of time writing them first.

If I had any sense, I’d leave them well alone until I’d written and re-written all the other pages several times … but I guess I haven’t because I never do. So entering a competition which relies solely on the first ten pages is pretty pointless for me unless I’m about around half-a-dozen drafts in.

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Sometimes not even then.

But you know what? Fuck it. It’s a free competition with an awesome prize, but mainly it’s a catalyst to get the script out of my head and onto the drawing board. Or keyboard.

By the way, I’m not saying I just scribbled down ten pages and sent it in without caring, because I think that’s probably a pretty disrespectful thing to do to the poor bastards who have to read through reams and reams of scripts looking for the diamonds in the rough.

That would be tantamount to me just deciding to make someone’s life a little bit worse on purpose, just in case I might be experiencing an unexpected twinge of genius on that day.

I never twinge.

So no, it wasn’t a rough ten pages – it was the best I could make them … on the proviso mine are usually pretty poor until I’ve been through the whole story several times.

Which, actually, now I come to write it down like this seems just as bad.

Hmm … not sure if I’ve been a bit unpleasant there or not?

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Oh, we’ll see.

To be honest, I always feel guilty entering competitions anyway. I sort of feel like I’m just taking up valuable space which could be utilised by newer writers without any other contacts. I’m quite capable of generating work for myself, so should I be entering these things?

Well … yes. Because I’m a complete and utter industry nobody.

And I want to.

Because it’s a great competition.

So that was last Tuesday.

Since then I’ve also finished the not-quite-spec script and it’s suddenly turned a corner. I was beginning to think I was going to have to perform a complete character-ectomy because the bastards just weren’t doing what I wanted them to do … when a chance line suddenly made it all click into place.

And now that’s gone off to the producer (hence it being a not-quite-spec) for evisceration.

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So yay for January!

Two weeks in and two projects ticked off.

Writing! Lots of it!

And progress!

In the right direction as opposed to the horrible backwards kind.

Happy 2014, write like the wind!

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*My entry starts at a location I’ve tried to use in scripts for years. I have photos of it on my phone, which I bore people with at every and any opportunity and every single person I’ve shown it to has at least faked interest and enthusiasm. It’s a great location, one which really adds to a script, one which (to my knowledge) has never, ever been seen on TV or film … until yesterday, when it was in Sherlock.

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Now every fucker’s seen it.

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Anyone reading the script yesterday would probably have googled the location thinking I’d made it up and been amazed (or at least mildly surprised) to find out I hadn’t. Anyone reading it today will find it passé - they’ve seen it before, everyone knows about that for fuck’s sake! Why don’t you try being original for once?

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What a difference a day makes.

Oh look, it even mentions Sherlock on the Wikipedia page now too. Lovely.

Categories: Progress, Random Witterings | 2 Comments

2013

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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:

JANUARY

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.

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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.

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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.

FEBRUARY

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.

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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.

MARCH

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.

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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.

APRIL

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.

MAY

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.

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What a rotten swizz.

JUNE

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.

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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.

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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?

Really?

Why? Go do something more fun.

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

I think.

MAN OF STEEL – 3 THINGS I TRY NOT TO PUT IN A SCRIPT

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JULY

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

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I got both of them completely and utterly right too.

Because I’m awesome.

I totally rocked July.

AUGUST

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

August! What did I do in August?

NOTHING!

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.

SEPTEMBER

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.

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Then I gave you writer-based fashion advice.

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

fu8bkhJesus.

OCTOBER

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.

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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.

NOVEMBER

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:

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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.

Sorry.

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

DECEMBER

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.

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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.

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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.

Please?

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

Merry Christmas!

merry_christmas_2013-HDWhat else is there to say?

Eat too much, drink too much and make sure you’re back on the sofa in time for this:

eek!

Categories: Random Witterings | Leave a comment

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