How I spent my summer

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In between rewrites, I’ve mostly spent the summer writing a metric fuck-ton of one pagers for various people. It occurs to me there are two mistakes I’ve repeatedly made when asked for a one pager and I thought I’d share them:

  1. Get carried away and write an entire treatment
  2. Only write the single page

The first one is bad because it’s too much detail, potentially veering too far away from the movie the client is imagining from our prior discussion and probably disappointing them.

The second is bad because I’m trying to summarise a movie I haven’t really thought through yet.

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The client only wants to see a summary, to them it’s a simple process – just dash out a one pager; but until I know what the film is and how all the bits fit together it’s just a jumbled mess of nonsensical drivel. In order to get to a point where I know what to summarise I need to write a separate document covering everything in the film.

I’ve learnt this through bitter experience. Writing the one pager and nothing else tends to leave me with a document which rambles on about nothing very much. Usually it goes into great detail about the first act  and maybe mentions the resolution … whilst completely ignoring all the things which make the film watchable. I need more information before I can start.

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I’ve gone through several iterations of this process and hit upon a method which works for me. In essence I try to plot out the entire film in moderate detail, usually covering:

LOGLINE
CHARACTERS
THEME
CENTRAL IRONY
PLOT

And then break it down into sections:

OPENING IMAGE          ]
INTRODUCTION           ]= all of this is Act 1
INCITING INCIDENT  ]

ACT 2a

MIDPOINT

ACT 2b

LOW POINT

ACT 3
CLOSING IMAGE

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You could look at this as essentially filling in a form, or somehow straitjacketing the creative process … but I find it reassuring. It’s the skeleton of the movie, in much the same way a horse and a cat have a similar mammalian skeleton with four limbs and each limb having five bones, two bones, one bone. They have the same underpinnings on paper, but are completely different in real life.

Being a creative process though, although I fill in each section, I don’t necessarily fill it in in a specific order.

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Sometimes I start with the character, sometimes a vague notion of the plot, sometimes the central irony … it just depends. To give you some idea, I thought I’d run through how this process might have led to Pitch Perfect, if I’d been fortunate enough to work on that film.

So I’d probably have started with a vague idea. I think there was a book called Pitch Perfect. I also seem to remember that was a more factual affair about collegiate a capella (an unexplored arena, good starting point) than a story … but let’s assume that’s the genesis of the idea and that we know we want it to be a lighthearted, feelgood comedy.

So I’d probably think about character next – what’s the best/worst character to be in a collegiate a capella movie? Obviously someone who’s in college, that makes sense. The central irony and logline need to be tied up in this too. A bad logline would be something like:

An a capella group enter a competition and win.

It’s bad because … who give a shit?

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People care about people – that’s the number one rule here. I’d need to find the right person to hang the audience’s interest on. I need to think it through:

Barbershop is a kind of a capella, so maybe that’s an angle? Another way of describing it might be close harmony singing.

Close harmony.

So what if the central irony of the lead character is someone who doesn’t like being close or harmonious? What if it’s about a lone wolf forced to join a pack for some reason?

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Now I’ve got the edge of an idea for the protagonist, the irony and the logline. I can temper this more by thinking about the theme.

We have this lone wolf who has a (as yet undefined, but probably musical) goal, but can’t realise it until she’s part of a pack. So what’s the theme? Something to do with individuality? Maybe she’s scared of losing her individuality but learns to enjoy losing it?

Nah, that doesn’t sound right?

What if the theme is about balance? What if it’s about an individual who learns how to be an individual within a group? Maybe being an individual isn’t working for her and maybe subsuming her own personality doesn’t work for her either … so it’s all about finding the balance, about living in harmony.

Ooh, balance and harmony are musical terms, that’s good.

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So if the protagonist is a lone wolf who learns how to be a lone voice in a choir, then who’s the antagonist? Maybe someone on a rival team? If we have a rival team then we have a rivalry and maybe there needs to be a competition? If there’s a competition then what we have here is a sports movie – that kind of dictates the structure, so maybe we can fill in bits of the structure?

The MIDPOINT could be when they scrape through a preliminary round; and maybe the LOWPOINT is when they’re kicked out of the competition or the group falls apart? Why would they fall apart? Well, because they’re not functioning as a group properly – either they’re all individuals or they’re all the same when they need to be individuals within the group?

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So maybe that makes the antagonist someone in the group who wants everyone to be exactly the same? Or maybe the antagonist is someone who is too far the other way? An even loner wolf?

Fuck it, why not have both? One can be captain of our team, the other can be captain of the rival team. It could work either way here – our protagonist could be at loggerheads with her captain because they want to be more individual or less individual … but less individual makes more sense. So let’s go with that.

Let’s also add in a love interest, that makes sense. Let’s put the love interest on the other team to add tension. Maybe he or she has the balance that our protagonist is missing? Maybe he’s the rebel who learns he can have friends, like Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club? Maybe not, but maybe we can reference that somehow?

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So if there’s a love interest then the LOW POINT will also involve them falling out … because that’s generally how love stories work.

Other characters, well … if this is a sports movie then maybe this is the Dodgeball-type team of misfits and losers? Everyone likes cheering for the underdogs, so let’s make them all weird and individual. Let’s give all them flaws which make them not really fit in and have them all gel because of their differences.

And then I would start filling in character names and assigning broad names to the acts. Act 2a might be the training. Act 2b might be the falling apart because they’re trying too hard to be the same when their strengths lie elsewhere. Then I’d drill down into those acts a little deeper, maybe break each one into a couple of sequences?

The opening image might be this person on their own, the closing image is probably her winning (or not – sometimes the best sports movies have the protagonist lose at the end … so long as they gain something they needed more than winning) and being happy.

Only when I have ALL of that information do I start writing the one pager. I want to be able to describe the whole film, understanding what the key sequences are and how everything begins and ends.

My one pagers tend to be formatted like this:

phone number and email address in the header

TITLE
A [genre] film by me

 

Logline

A really interesting person has to do something ironic in order to achieve interesting results.

 

Synopsis

Here I start with who the protagonist is, what she wants and why she can’t get it.

Then I go through the first act in moderate detail and summarise act 2a making it seem as fun or scary or sexy or as whatever the genre is supposed to be. Act 2b is really just a list of complications and obstacles building up to a seemingly insurmountable low point. I usually skip the actual events of Act 3 in favour of covering the mechanics of how the protagonist has to change in order to win the day.

I purposefully leave out the events of the third act because I want someone to be interested enough to commission the script. Some people think you should include the events of the ending, I’m not saying they’re wrong I just think a few unrevealed details create intrigue and that the change in the protagonist is usually more interesting than what they punch, blow up or marry.

In the case of Pitch Perfect: Beca needs to realise she can be an individual within the group and accept her place as the leader in order to pull the group together and win the competition. We don’t need to know what songs they mash together or how they perform them.

Finally I finish off with a brief description of what the film is – a lighthearted, heart-warming comedy about blah, blah, blah which teaches us stuff and does something interesting.

 

The point of all this work just to write a brief synopsis is to make sure I understand the story before I summarise it. And it shows, it really does. Not all of this detail goes into the one pager, but the suggestion of it is there – the feeling I know exactly what’s going to happen to who and when, that writing the script is going to be a mere formality because I’ve got it all worked out … when I haven’t.

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What I’ve done is summarise a map and if Ronin taught us anything, it taught us that the map is not the territory.

Talking about the map in detail can trick people into thinking you’ve already walked the route … but, and this bit’s crucial, it doesn’t give so much detail it clashes with the film in their head or seem like the details are set in stone with no room for their input.

That’s how I do it anyway. It seems to work for me.

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Categories: My Way | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

Shore scripts competition 2016 – final deadline approaching

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It’s the bank holiday weekend here in the UK which means … absolutely nothing to writers.

Sorry.

Well, I’m having the weekend off because I’m having a barbecue – swing by if you’re passing. The rest of you though, you should be writing. Why aren’t you writing? I don’t think you’re taking this gig seriously enough.

If you do happen to be writing this weekend and you haven’t already done it, maybe this might be worth looking at?

@shorescripts Final Submission Deadline 31st August. Enter your script into the Competition www.shorescripts.com

ENTER NOW for your final chance of winning £15,000 in Cash & Prizes.

35 Oscar, Bafta, Golden Globe, Cannes & Emmy award winning judges will read the winning scripts. These Judges have written on the likes of The Sopranos, Walking Dead, The Constant Gardener, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Freaks and Geeks and countless others.

75+ Production Companies, Agents & Managers will also be reading.

Previous Alumni films include Cake, starring Jennifer Aniston, Retreat, Ripper Street, Geography Club, and Oscar winner, Ben Cleary.

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Categories: Opportunity, Someone Else's Way | Leave a comment

The Last Days of Jack Sparks

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I know I’ve written about this before, but THE LAST DAYS OF JACK SPARKS has actually been properly released now.

And I’ve read it.

And it’s really good.

I mean, actually, properly, really, genuinely good and not just ‘hey, my mate wrote this thing and asked me to promote it, but I don’t really like it so I’m going to be quirky and noncommittal about the whole thing’ kind of good.

Not only do I think it’s good, but so do other people.

All these people, for example.

So hey, if I like and they all like it, maybe you will too? You can buy it here .THE LAST DAYS OF JACK SPARKS or maybe wander into town and buy it from an actual proper shop from a proper person?

You never know, you might make a new friend. Or at the very least end up with a damn fine book to read.

Categories: Someone Else's Way, Uncategorized | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The logline equation

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It’s not very often I don’t action a note, at least not without first explaining why it wouldn’t work – generally produces and directors are smart enough to accept reasoned arguments. Recently, however, I found a note I couldn’t action.

I tried, I really did. I tried four times, but every time I got to the middle it either fell apart or meant I had to keep rewriting the entire script.

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The change sounded like a small and reasonable one. In essence (and without giving away the terrifically exciting plot) two teen boys do x in order to y. Where x is something monstrously stupid and y is getting laid.

The problem was neither the producer nor the director believed the teens would do x just to get laid. Which I was surprised at since we were all teenage boys once and I at least would have happily brought about the apocalypse for less.

But in retrospect, doing x to get laid is both extreme and not really an obvious decision.

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So they asked if I could change y to z – after all, it’s only a minor change.

The problem is, z is revenge on their school bullies and revenge is a fairly negative goal. It’s hard to build empathy with someone who deliberately releases x on the world in an act of revenge.

Their solution was have them quickly realise x wasn’t a nice thing to do and immediately regret it … but that led to more problems as the rest of the script didn’t make sense. Also, since the audience knows x is a bad thing to do, it seems unbelievable the teens wouldn’t. For example, detonating a nuclear weapon because you’re cold and you think it might warm you up is stupid and weird, but perhaps more understandable than detonating one in an act of revenge for someone stealing your parking space.

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The problem is one of justification. I tried various ways of justifying both the revenge and x, constructing several completely different openings in the hope one of them would segue perfectly into the rest of the script … but none of the new openings ever went anywhere near any of the other scenes, the ones everyone was already happy with.

And then it hit me, the reason I couldn’t just change y to z was because it was a fundamental change to the logline of the script. Changing the character’s motivation changes everything they do and (in some cases) everything they are.

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That equation, people doing x because of y, is the DNA of the script. It runs through everything, it dictates not just story but characters and theme and … well, everything. You can’t just alter half the equation and expect to only change half the scenes which spring from it, because every scene and every character is in someway an answer to that logline equation. The only way I found round it was to alter x and y at the same time so the answers still made sense.

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I wish I’d figured that out three weeks ago, instead of banging my head against that particular brick wall. In the end I found a y which was similar to getting laid and actually incorporated getting laid into it, but was much broader in scope. The other, more significant change was altering what they believed x was. So instead of doing something monstrous to get laid, they believed they were doing something heroic to be popular.* The fact that x was essentially the same thing approached from a different angle meant the rest of the script from x onward remained similar … and the problem was solved.

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At least, I think it was. I haven’t had the feedback yet so I may well be wrong … we’ll have to wait and see.


* Imagine a world everyone made films about how nuclear weapons were just misunderstood and were actually fun and gently warming and sexy. Imagine the teens live in a town which has a nuclear weapon festival every year and all the other teens dress up as nuclear weapons and then have sex with each other because nuclear weapons are such a turn on. Then imagine a couple of desperate idiots and it seems reasonable (within the context of the story) that they might think detonating one would make them popular. Especially since we’re not actually talking about a nuclear weapon, it’s just  a terrible analogy.

Categories: My Way, Someone Else's Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time to grieve

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This is a post for producers and directors, or any note-givers really. It’s about how writers receive notes.

Or maybe it isn’t? Maybe it’s just about how I receive notes? After all, I don’t speak for all writers everywhere.

Receiving notes is tricky because of two key factors:

1: Most writers suffer from impostor syndrome.

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Most of us fear we’re terrible at this whole writing lark and no matter how many people keep paying us to write and claiming to be happy with the results, sooner or later everyone’s going to work out we can’t do it and no one will ever work with us again. Lots of people in lots of occupations suffer from this sort of thing, it’s incredibly common as well as being incredibly silly. Every time I receive notes I assume there will only be one: YOU’RE SHIT, GET OUT.

Luckily, this rarely happens to me. You’d think, looking at some of the terrible films which have been produced from my scripts that it would happen more often … but it doesn’t because either those films bear little resemblance to the scripts they were loosely based on, or they are exactly what I was asked and paid to write. In all but two occasions* I can recall, the producer or director (or both) has ended the rewrite process happy.

The second reason for receiving notes badly is probably more important:

2: Writers hate writing and are incredibly lazy.

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Every note comes with a calculation attached – how much of what I’ve done am I going to have to destroy in order to action that note? How long is this going to take me and will the end result actually make the script better? Or just different?

  • Changing names or locations – easy. Two minutes and I can get back  to Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes.
  • Swapping genders – might be easy, might be tricky. Depends on whether we’re swapping all the genders or just some and how homophobic the producer  is. Could be five minutes, could be five days.
  • Changing the ending/the beginning – arghh! That might be simple, or it might be moving the point of the pyramid two feet to the left. That involves thinking through the entire script from the beginning to see if everything still lines up. Especially if the new ending involves the protagonist having a new motivation/goal which could mean rewriting every single scene from beginning to end. That might make draft two take longer than draft one! How will I fit in my afternoon naps?

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Ultimately I want the script to be better and will put in whatever work it takes to make it the best it can be … but it can be really upsetting to get one of those notes, even if it will fundamentally benefit the script in an amazing way. Some note-givers like to deliver notes via phone or face to face … which I hate. These notes are like stun-grenades which shut down my ability to do anything while I frantically try to calculate how much work it will take versus how much better the script will be afterwards.

Which is why I prefer to have notes delivered via email first – it gives me time to grieve.

Time to grieve over the loss of my favourite idea, the one I spent weeks working on which you’ve dismissed in one vague sentence, as well as time to grieve over the days I’ve just lost in the coming week or two.

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After grief comes acceptance and calculation – is this better or not? Am I being resistant because it’s not my idea or because I’m lazy? What’s best for the script? That is the bottom line – will it improve the script?

If I get that idea in an email I have time to follow the proper foot-stamping, swearing, calm down and get on with it procedure.

If I get that idea face to face or  over the phone … I’m going to go quiet for a bit. That bit might be a few seconds or it might be a few hours. Depends how long it takes me to scream inside my head and then process all the ramifications for every single event in the script.

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The point of this post is just to warn you, the note-giver, that it’s fine to give notes by phone or in person if that’s what you prefer. You just need to understand that when I go quiet or gibber a little, it’s not because I hate the idea. It’s because I need time to grieve before I can add anything to the discussion. That’s why I prefer an email with a follow up phone call after I’ve had time to think, but hey, it’s your money and you can have it anyway you want it.

 


* One of those was because the producer told me the rough, not-even-first draft was a work of genius and, foolishly, I believed it must be exactly what he wanted. The director pointed out it was shit and the producer immediately agreed with him so as not to look like a moron. The other was when I gave the director exactly what he asked for … which was a mistake because he didn’t actually understand that what he’d asked for was an extra 90 pages added to the script. Even after I told him. Twice.

Categories: My Way, Writing and life | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Public grief

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Towards the end of the last Millennium I was a young whipper snapper who’d just started a job. A proper job, mind you. One where you actually had to do things and interact with people, none of this hide-in-my-room-with-my-imaginary-friends nonsense.

Day two (or perhaps three, I forget) of the initial training course I came into the room early one morning to find everyone in tears.

Everyone.

Great wracking sobs of grief.

“What’s happened?” I asked, realising something truly awful must have happened to have so deeply affected such a diverse group of people.

“Haven’t you heard?” came the reply “Diana’s dead.”

“No!” I exclaimed, scanning the room for an empty chair … “Which one was Diana?”

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Now you may think it’s blatantly obvious they meant Princess Diana, but this was pre-instant-news-to-your palm-smartphones and almost pre-internet. At that time in the morning I hadn’t seen, heard or read the news. Given everyone in the room was crying, I immediately (and erroneously) assumed it must be one of the people we’d all met the day or so before.

But no. It was the Princess of Hearts.

“So … why is everyone crying?” I asked. Because (and you may or may not remember or agree with this) before her death, Diana wasn’t the Princess of Hearts, she was the feckless whore who was threatening to steal the heirs to the crown and spirit them out of the country with her Johnny Foreigner lover.

At least, that’s how the papers portrayed her.

So why was everyone crying? Why was the death of someone so vilified in the papers the cause of floods of tears?

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I still don’t know. I think it’s sad when anyone dies, but there are very few people I’d shed actual tears over because … well, I just don’t know them. The exceptions would be Christopher Reeve (because he was my hero when I was six) or Douglas Adams (because he was my most favouritest author ever since, like, forever).

Although I never met them, their work touched my life and (I think) improved it. They meant something to me.

Princess Diana – yeah, I felt sorry for her family, but I didn’t know her … at all.

And yet the streets were awash with very public grief.

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Nigh on 20 years later and Twitter is awash with grief when anybody vaguely famous dies. Friends who I’ve never heard even mention David Bowie, let alone listen to his music, were distraught after his death. On social media, that is … not so much in real life.

2016 has been a public griever’s playground. Every month someone of note has (sadly) passed away … and every month people fill my Twitter and Facebook timelines with heartfelt distress and incredibly public mourning.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand what it’s like when someone who meant something to you dies. It is sad and does feel like a piece of you has died with them. I get it, I really do. I have friends (both real and online) who mourn the passing of Bowie or Prince or Ronnie Corbett or whoever because they genuinely meant something to them. They write little online eulogies because it helps them express their grief and the results can be beautiful and, occasionally, makes me wonder if I should perhaps re-evaluate the artist’s work to find out what it is they saw in that person.

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And maybe having R.I.P. insertnamehere trending on Twitter makes the families of the deceased feel better. I don’t know.

So far this year, the only person whose passing made me a properly sad (as opposed to “oh, that’s a shame”) was Paul Daniels. Jason Arnopp and I were reminiscing a few days before he died about how good a magician he was and how he kick-started our interest in magic.

And yet Paul Daniels got unfairly swept up in the wholesale dumping of traditional entertainers during the eighties. The old guard got swept away in a torrent of radical newness … and that shouldn’t have happened.

Yes, some entertainers were sexist and crass. Some merely committed the crime of being warm and cosy and didn’t swear or punch things. They were old, we were all about the new. Paul Daniels was one of the babies thrown out with that bath water and he didn’t deserve that. He was an amazing magician and a fantastic entertainer in the true sense of the word.

I loved Paul Daniels … but I didn’t feel the need to rush out a Tweet or blog letting everyone know.

I’m not sure if that makes me a better person or a worse one. Probably worse. My sad face is just for me.

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Except when it’s not, for if I’m anything it’s contradictory.

Recently I remembered that Douglas Adams wasn’t always my favourite author. I was introduced to him by Miss Seaman in the last year of Coten End Middle School when I was ten or so. From then on Douglas Adams’ work had a significant effect on my life … but he wasn’t the first.

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Before Douglas Adams, there was Nicholas Fisk. I don’t know who turned me on to his work, but I loved it and consumed it voraciously. His shelf was the first I scoured in the library, on the off-chance he had something new out. Or something old I hadn’t read yet. Starstormers was a particular favourite of mine. As was A Rag, a Bone and a Hank of Hair. Grinny is still my go-to cuckoo story, more so than The Stepford Wives or The Midwich Cuckoos.

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Nicholas Fisk steered me deep into sci-fi waters and became my gateway author to Heinlen and Arthur C. Clarke and Asimov and Harry Harrison and even Terry Pratchett. Without Fisk, there probably wouldn’t have been any Douglas Adams in my life … and that would be a great shame.

Somehow I’d forgotten Nicholas Fisk, sold or lost all his books and even stopped really reading sci-fi all together.

Last month I suddenly remembered him. I can’t tell you why or what caused his name to resurface, but I suddenly remembered I had a favourite author as a child. How could I have forgotten? Maybe I can read his books with my daughter? Maybe she’ll love them as much as I did?

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And then, yesterday, I found out Nicholas (or David Higginbottom as I learnt he was called) has just passed away. Sometime last week at the age of 92.

He didn’t die tragically young or while he was still writing and had so many more stories to offer … but, you know, he was a large part of my childhood and even if I had forgotten him, I’m a bit sad that he’s gone. Deaths like his nibble away at our past and bring the darkness of non-existence that little bit closer.

Like I say, I’m not one for public grief (although I’m dreading the day I see Tom Baker’s name all over my feeds – hopefully that day’s a long way off) but just this once I want to shed a single, public tear for a man who meant a lot to me all those years ago.

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Rest in peace, Nicholas.

Categories: Random Witterings, Two steps back, Writing and life | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

#PhonePhill – Conversation #15: Calum Chalmers (again)

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MILD SPOILERS FOR EDDIE THE EAGLE … BUT NOT REALLY.

IT’S UNSPOILABLE.

IF YOU’VE SEEN THE TRAILER, THAT’S THE FILM – THERE IS NOTHING ELSE TO SPOIL.

This is the third time Calum Chalmers has rung and the third time we’ve spent the entire morning gossiping. At this point, I’m beginning to suspect we’re having an affair.

Three hours this time.

Three.

Hours.

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Three hours of delightful chat about stuff and things. Too many stuff and things to mention … or even remember since it was a couple of weeks ago and remembering stuff is such a faff.

I do remember talking about our unfettered love for Eddie the Eagle … despite it not really being a very good film.

Not really.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad film. It’s not one of those so-bad-it’s-good deals. It delivers everything it promises, it’s just … not good.

I love it, but I’m not sure why.

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On paper it shouldn’t really work. Story wise it’s a direct copy of Cool Runnings … or at least the version of Cool Runnings I remember after not having seen it for twenty years.

Must watch that again.

It’s not even as complex a story as Cool Runnings since there’s only one Eddie as opposed to four bobsleighers. Or sledders. Sledders? Sleighers? Slayers?

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Eddie wants to be in the Olympics … that’s pretty much it. There’s no character development beyond that. There’s a vague reconciling with father/father figure thing going on for him and his coach … but it’s kind of incidental (except it’s not). Other than that, the story is:

Man wants to go to the Olympics … so he tries hard and gets to go.

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That’s it.

Even the obstacles aren’t really obstacles, they’re hurdles. I like stories where the obstacle is insurmountable so it forces the protagonist to take a different path – a different path which changes the protagonist. It’s not the path they wanted to take, but it’s perhaps one they needed to.

Hurdles don’t block the straight line between the protagonist and the goal, they’re just minor setbacks the protagonist needs to hop over.*

Eddie doesn’t change, he doesn’t grow. He doesn’t discover love instead of lust for Olympic glory … he just plods towards his goal occasionally hurdling minor irritants until he gets there.

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This is not the way to write a compelling story! And yet … it works. And it works magnificently. Eddie the Eagle is a fucking great film … despite not being especially good. I genuinely, with no reservations, adore it.

So what’s the take home from this? What did I (and Calum) learn?

Maybe that constructing compelling characters with internal and external goals and a flaw they need to overcome is a great start … but a nice person without a trace of malice who keeps trying to do the same thing, over and over again, no matter what … sometimes it just works.

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Movie Eddie is lovely. He’s sweet. I want him to get everything he wants and I want him to be happy … and that’s enough.

Much the same as I feel about Calum Chalmers – he’s a nice guy, I want him to be happy.

If you’d like me to want you to be happy too, why not #PhonePhill? Go on, you know you want to … and if you don’t, I want you to. Email me and we’ll schedule a call.


* Generally I find movies with hurdles instead of obstacles unsatisfying, but two other examples which prove that rule would be Gravity and The Martian. I really enjoyed both of those films, even though all the characters wanted was to not be in the movie^ and all that happened to them is hurdle after hurdle. Solve this problem, carry along on the same path until you hit the next problem – should be dull, but isn’t … IF you like the protagonist.

^ This too is a bugbear of mine – when all the characters want is to NOT be in the movie I find it difficult to warm to them – “Well why don’t you just fuck off or die and we can all go home?”

I’m looking at you Rey and Finn.

Categories: #PhonePhill | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

What’s in a name?

Nothing. Nothing’s in a name and that’s the problem.

So here’s the scenario: you’ve written a script and everyone loves it. There’s a director and a producer who are intent on making it, you’ve gone through multiple drafts and now everyone’s happy. It’s time to send it out to actors.

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To begin with, the script gets sent to people who match the character descriptions … all well and good.

Unless your character descriptions are like these … in which case, not good. Stop that.

As time goes on though, the net gets cast wider. Occasionally a random bit of good luck means so-and-so hears about the script, is intrigued and wants to play a part. This is fantastic! So-and-so is proper famous and a box office draw! We have to let so-and-so play that role!

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Only … the role doesn’t quite work for so-and-so … but fuck it, it’s so-and-so! We’ll rewrite the part to fit and it’ll be all the better for it!

Only … now that other part doesn’t work because whatshisname in that part can’t possibly have THAT relationship to so-and-so on account of them being the wrong age, race and gender.

Fuck it, we’ll rewrite that part too!

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And now thingymajig wants to be in a scene with so-and-so … but there aren’t any suitable scenes. What if we rewrite the potato heist scene to include thingymajig? Yeah, that will work!

But whatshisname has passed and now we have to revert to the original version, leaving all the other changes in place. No problem, we’ll just cut and paste that scene from the old draft! Easy.

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Um …

Which draft was the one where we changed the part to suit whatshisname?

This is what’s not in the name of the draft – the details of what’s in what draft.

If you haven’t been through this before, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s pretty easy to remember what happens in what draft. What’s the problem?

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Well, the problem is there were six main drafts of the scripts over two different versions (one version was a comedy, the other a serious drama). Each draft had two or three sets of minor notes. Then we started casting. The script has now been rewritten nine times, but not in a continuous forward-moving set of changes.

Sometimes A is B’s father, sometimes he’s not. Sometimes A is B’s brother, sometimes A is B’s mother or sister or twin or father again or mother again or completely unrelated or older sister or younger sister no, definitely older sister.

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Or brother.

And while that’s going on, in the same drafts there are multiple versions of a different scene to please whatshisname or so-and-so or … it’s all in flux, all the time. And none of this is reflected in the naming of the drafts.

This is long before the script is locked. This is before blue pages, before there’s a First AD or Line Producer keeping track of this sort of thing. This is just me numbering the script the way that makes sense to me.

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Personally, I tend to number the big drafts (1 … 2 … 3 …), with tiny rewrites meriting a decimal place (3.1 … 3.2 … 3.3 … and so on). Some people hate this but it works for me.

So how do you remember which draft had A as B’s older sister?

I guess you could keep a separate file with a list of all the changes in, but personally I just include a list of the changes in the body of the email when I send the script in.

 

Here you go! Now with A as B’s older sister, the potato heist is now a parsnip fight and the snowman fisting scene has (rightfully) been deleted.

This makes it easily searchable for me and (more crucially) easily searchable for the producer and/or director. In theory they can quickly find whichever draft they’re looking for and know exactly what changed in that draft.

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I suppose I could copy and paste this info into a separate document to make searching easier … but I tend to remember roughly when things changed and only have to look at the emails either side if I’m wrong.

It feels like a courtesy to include a little summary of what I’ve done with the submission anyway – just so the person receiving the script can flip to that scene and read the new bit without all that tedious script-comparing or reading the whole thing looking for tiny changes. So courtesy and convenience combine into a few lines of explanation which help everyone and remain as a permanent record of who did what and when.

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Maybe there’s a better way? If so, I’d love to hear from you … but this one works for me.

Categories: My Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The elephant in the room

There’s something I want to talk about, I think you know what it is … because I mentioned it in the title: it’s the elephant in the room.

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No, seriously. There’s an elephant in the room, not a metaphorical one, a real elephant with tusks and wrinkles and ears and everything. I’m looking at him now …

How do you feel about that?

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Presumably you feel I’m lying … and you’d be right. An elephant in the room? Madness … it’s a wildebeest.

The thing about the elephant (or wildebeest) in the room is it’s the kind of statement I might write into a script, which is fine … but it doesn’t mean anything, not on its own. Take the following scrippet for example:

INT. LOUNGE – DAY

SALLY saunters in and freezes … there’s an elephant in the room.

If I wrote that in a script, I’d be really cross with myself. Why? Well, because it doesn’t really mean anything.

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Okay, so it’s a concise rendering of the images in my head into written form … but is it? Is that conveying anything?

What’s a ‘lounge’? Is it the living room/TV room in someone’s house? Sally’s house perhaps? Or flat? If so, what kind of house/flat? How big or small is this lounge? Maybe it’s the lounge in a hotel? Or maybe it’s a lounge bar? I think lounge is fairly self-explanatory … but does the person reading it? Are they sharing the same mental image of what the lounge looks like?

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Possibly not.

Obviously I don’t want to burden the reader with descriptions of the colour of the wallpaper or where the furniture was bought and when (although, age and type of furniture can help set the scene) … but maybe a bit more of a description is needed here?

And what about that elephant? How does Sally feel about that? More importantly, how does the reader feel about it? The reader’s reaction should be a response to Sally’s reaction and ultimately the audience will share the reader’s response to Sally’s reaction.

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In the finished movie the audience will have facial expressions and a score telling them how to feel … the reader has none of that. All the reader has are my words. Okay, so hopefully anything leading up to this scene will inform the reader’s interpretation … but what if this is the very first scene? What if this is our introduction to Sally?

Clearly we need an approximate age and brief description of Sally, but I think we also need to clarify what her reaction is.

Sally saunters in and freezes. Creeping dread overtakes her … there’s something behind her … oh for fuck’s sake! It’s that bloody elephant again!

Is very different from:

Sally saunters in, freezes in shock … there’s an elephant in the lounge! Fuck! Panic!

Some people think you shouldn’t swear in action lines. They may be right. I do it sometimes … depends on the script.

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The point is that merely stating the facts doesn’t really add to the experience. I’m all for letting the audience work out the meaning of a film … but in order to do that they have to understand what they’re seeing. The audience won’t be seeing a still image of an expressionless Sally and an elephant in a undefined space.

Or maybe they will? In which case the script needs to make it clear that this lack of emotion/reaction is intentional and not a mistake.

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More likely the actor will be emoting her tits off whilst the music tinkles, crashes or thrums appropriately. I try to give the reader the same experience as the audience, which means ensuring they have access to the same information about tone and emotion … and the only tools I have to do this are words on a page.

My intention is to get a reader reading straight through without having to flick back to check anything or pausing because something doesn’t make sense or because they don’t understand the significance of the events. Every time they pause to figure something out or flick back, they’re out of the story, they’re not emotionally invested.

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Scripts are hard to read because they’re a technical document trying to convey everything that goes into making a movie in the fewest possible words. I want my readers engaged, so I try not just to talk about the elephant in the room, but to explain what it means.

I’m not saying I always succeed, but I try.

Categories: Bored, My Way, Random Witterings | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jack Sparks

 

downloadI have friends who do things and sometimes I like to promote those things. It seems like a nice thing to do and I get a genuine kick  out of seeing or reading things they’ve done.

And then there’s this:

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Which I don’t know how I feel about.

Okay, so it’s a book by Jason Arnopp … which is cool. Arnopp is lovely.

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Look at him! Look at how lovely he is!

To be fair, in real life he looks a little less like I’ve photoshopped his head onto Paddington and a little more like this:

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But that’s beside the point. He’s nice. I like him. I want to help him succeed.

However … he’s written a book about Jack Sparks. I think it’s safe to say I was never really a fan of Jack’s.

I know you can’t really judge people by their social media presence … but I met Jack once and found him every bit as pompous and self-serving as you’d have assumed. Apparently, according to that post, I wanted to punch him a bit. Which is rare for me.

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When Jack died, I didn’t seem to be too bothered* … so why would I want to read a book about him?

On the other hand … how did Jack die? There was all that weird shit about the youtube video and … you know, the other stuff. Stuff I’m not really sure Jack was capable of. He was a prick, yes … but … I don’t know. Maybe that whole year of drugs thing fucked him completely?

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I do kind of want to know the truth though.

And then there’s this:

… which, you know, sounds intriguing.

I guess, ultimately, if Arnopp believes the truth about Jack Sparks needs to be told, then I should at least do him the courtesy of reading the book.

If you fancy reading along, the book’s on sale … well, everywhere.

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* Although I don’t even remember writing that post. Weird, isn’t it? I can remember what I wrote in 2009 but not in January of last year. Guess I used to pay me a lot more attention than I do now.

 

Categories: Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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