Schrödinger’s TARDIS

Fans are a funny old lot, aren’t they? Ever since I built my proton pack last year …

… I’ve been dipping in and out of the Ghostbusters forum and there’s a contingent of fans on there who are absolutely outraged that there’s going to be an all-woman Ghostbusters reboot.

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And yes, for some the fact it’s a female team is a huge problem. Presumably for extremely valid and adult reasons like “ur, girls suck!” or “girls are stinky” or something?

Others hate Paul Feig for … reasons.

It’s all very weird.

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To a point, I understand the reboot-phobia. To a point. I get that this is a beloved thing, something some of them have devoted their entire lives to loving. Personally I’d prefer the new movie wasn’t a reboot but a continuation, the story of a different franchise operating out of a different city.

Hell, maybe it is – I haven’t really been paying attention.

But to me a reboot doesn’t diminish my love of the original. In fact, given my feelings on the Star Wars prequels, perhaps a reboot is better than another story in the same universe? It’s become increasingly difficult to think of myself as a Star Wars fan over the years, tipping now to the point where I’m not sure I really am any more.

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If it’s a reboot, the original is still there. No one’s tampered with it, or diluted it or otherwise retconned it to be something else – you can still love it.

But fans aren’t like that. Fans are vicious.

Some of them.

Others are lovely. I suspect, as is common, it’s only the really vocal ones who are unpleasant. Some fans are so vicious they don’t seem to actually like the thing they profess to be a fan of at all.

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Take the latest Doctor Who news, for example: Steven Moffat’s leaving, Chris Chibnall’s arriving. The internet is up in arms. They’re absolutely furious, Chris Chibnall is a hack who will definitely ruin Doctor Who.

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This is despite the fact the same people have been complaining Steven Moffat ruined Doctor Who. And before that, Russell T Davies ruined Doctor Who. Don’t even bother mentioning John Nathan Turner.

But here’s the thing, before Steven Moffat ruined Doctor Who, he was the saviour who was going to fix all Russell T’s wrongs. Which he may have done … or he may have created a whole new list of wrongs depending on your point of view. For some people, his run has been amazing and the best the show’s been for ever and ever. For others, he deposed the true saviour who brought the show back from extinction.

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The point is, opinions vary and few of them are accurate predictions.

Personally, I think writing Doctor Who must be incredibly difficult. Show running must be even more so. There’s no doubt in mind that both Russell and Steven are amazing writers … yet some of their episodes were dreadful. Some. Others were amazing.

I think being a Doctor Who fan is like being in a bad relationship – we go for long periods of time putting up with terrible to mediocre stories … and just when we’re summoning up the courage to stop watching there’s a piece of genius which reminds us why Doctor Who is the best TV show ever made.

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And I believe that, I really do. It’s the best TV show ever. Your contradictory opinion is just wrong.

The problem is, it’s not always the best TV. Individually, when taken episode by episode it can sometimes be creaky or just plain shit.

Like I say, writing it is probably really hard*. And when things are hard, sometimes people fail at it. Professional golfers sometimes slice the ball – it happens because no one, no matter how good, is at the top of their game all the time.

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Part of what makes Doctor Who as good today as it was in 1963 is the constant turnover of talent both before and behind the camera. Change is good. We should celebrate change because, crucially, we have no idea what it may bring.

Chris Chibnall, regardless of how you feel about Broadchurch or Torchwood or his previous Who episodes, may turn out to be the best thing ever to happen to the show.

Or he might not.

This though is (to me) the absolute underlying truth: it hasn’t happened yet.

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Currently the probability waveforms have yet to collapse and we’re left with multiple options: it may be good, bad or somewhere in between … but we don’t know which because it hasn’t happened yet.

Fans of Chris’ may be disappointed. Haters may be swayed and surprised … there’s no way of telling.

So why get bent out of shape? Yes, you love the show and yes, you’re worried about its future. I get that … but do we really need all the hate and prophecies of doom?

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Instead of spending the next year or two stewing in hatred and fear, why not stay positive and look to the future … you can always sell all your merchandise in a fit of pique later, if needs be.

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* I’d love to write an episode. Maybe two … but I wouldn’t want to be the show runner for love nor money. I’d burn out in seconds. And imagine  if you got a job doing the thing you love most for the programme you love most … and the entire Internet explodes in waves of hatred over it. That can’t be a nice thing to go through.

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

When is a plot hole not a plot hole?

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I’ve blogged my thoughts on this before somewhere, citing Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises, but since Star Wars has been released there’s been a wave of people bringing it up again … so I thought I’d chip in with my own baseless opinions once more.

The grumbling in question (leaving aside all thoughts of Mary Sues) is about …

Oh, wait.

SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

MAYBE SOME FOR SKYFALL OR THE DARK KNIGHT RISES TOO

BUT THEN AGAIN, MAYBE NOT

The grumbling is about Poe Dameron ‘magically’ reappearing on … whatever planet it was the Resistance was on. “How did he get from Jakku to … wherever it was?” they cry. “Clearly this is a plot hole!”

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Well, no.

We’ve all seen films where, late at night, the boy and the girl (or boy and boy or girl and girl or … whatever combination you can think of) start to kiss and then, in the very next scene, it’s morning and they’re naked in bed, right?

In between those two scenes, they had sex.

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Shocking, I know, but sometimes things happen between scenes and it’s up to us, the clever audience, to fill in the blanks. Imagine whatever kind of nasty, perverted things you like. Go wild.

In Skyfall, James Bond, a super-spy who’s better than all other super-spies in the entire world gets from one country to another after being pronounced dead … is that really something people can’t fill in the blanks for? They can’t imagine James Bond has illegal connections throughout the world? We can’t imagine he has a stash of fake passports hidden somewhere?

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Really?

Bruce Wayne, a fucking billionaire who’s also Batman (Batman, for fuck’s sake!) makes his way from one country to another without a passport or access to any of his bank accounts … and people can’t imagine some details involving friends he made whilst travelling the world, alone, without his money? They can’t imagine Batman having a string of fake identities around the world? They can’t imagine Batman having contingency plans for everything?

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What about Poe Dameron? The Resistance’s BEST PILOT.

Not a pretty good pilot, but the BEST PILOT.

The best one.

People can’t imagine any conceivable way for the Resistance’s best pilot to get from one planet to another? They can’t imagine a string of resistance-friendly people working in the shadows of every planet? They can’t imagine Poe being able to steal a spaceship, like Rey and Finn do? They can’t imagine him working his passage back to (whatever planet the Resistance is on) by working as a rent boy for the wealthy elite?

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Nothing springs to mind? No thoughts which would convince people this isn’t a plot hole?

Really?

Okay, so maybe it’s an odd story-telling choice to have (what’s supposedly*) a major character disappear for nearly a third of the movie … but it’s not a plot hole.

Neither are any of the other ‘plot holes’ people have been identifying throughout the film.

Rey couldn’t possibly fly the Millennium Falcon.

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Well she does. So at some point she must have learnt/been taught.

Rey couldn’t possibly just know how to use the Force.

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Yet she does, so either someone must have told her in the past and then she’s forgotten only to remember when she most needed it. Or using the Force isn’t that hard – after all, Luke was on Dagobah for about three days and he did okay.

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If you define ‘okay’ as getting your arse kicked and your hand chopped off and otherwise losing completely and totally.

Rey can’t possibly speak Wookie … unless, of course, she’s learnt how to in the past. Perhaps by one of the many, many alien races she seems to have been dealing with on a daily basis since she was dumped on Jakku?

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None of these things are plot holes, they just require an active imagination on behalf of the audience and a little bit of good will.

Because, to answer the question in the title of this blog post, a plot hole isn’t a plot hole when you enjoy the movie. Most things which seem impossible can be explained if you’re willing to think of an explanation.

How did Finn and then Rey hold off a Force user who’s more powerful than any Force user we’ve ever seen before? Well, maybe he’s not more powerful? Maybe he’s good at pausing blaster bolts but sucks at lightsaber duelling. I’m good at some things and not others, maybe he is too? I mean, the kid’s only a teenager for God’s sake. He’s barely past puberty and still seems to be having wild mood swings. And he just killed … you know. And he got shot. It probably wasn’t him at his best.

Why did Artoo wait until the end of the movie to wake up and tell everyone he had the map they were all^ searching for all along? Because … he was a bit sad? Maybe Luke told him to wait until a certain something had happened? Ah, but he’s a robot so his memory’s just like a computer so why can’t Resistance techs just take the info? Well … maybe because in between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens the droids have been emancipated and brain-raping one is considered just not cricket? Or maybe their brains don’t work like that?

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Why didn’t Chewie lose his shit when … that thing happened near the end? Because … either it didn’t happen the way we think it did (or at all) or maybe Wookies get over stuff really quickly? Maybe, after a lifetime together, he’d decided that guy was a dick and deserved it?

If you like the film, you can justify pretty much anything. I’ll admit, I prefer to have things foreshadowed a little bit. I don’t mind doing this kind of mental backstory-writing once or twice … but for almost every scene is a little much for me. Probably because I’m lazy. I do this kind of stuff for a living, when I go to the cinema I want someone else to do it for me.

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If you don’t like a film, if you’re not enjoying the experience then moments like these, especially when there are so many, are annoying and frustrating. The best way to enjoy films is to just accept what you’re seeing is possible and has a reason which will be explained later on.

I, for example, was pretty confident Finn was never a Stormtrooper. I fully expected to find out he ran the new Death Star’s sweet shop or something and had snuck into a Stormtrooper’s costume moments before that raid. I just don’t believe he was stolen as a child, brainwashed and trained to fight for somewhere around fifteen years.

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I could have just sat there shouting ‘this is bullshit!’ at the screen … but instead I chose to accept what I was being shown, confident there would be a reveal coming later on. I’m still assuming that will be covered at some point in the future.

Which is a bit of a problem with SW:TFA because the story isn’t finished, it’s not really a film, it’s a piece of a film with lots and lots of stuff unresolved. Presumably in two or four year’s time we’ll understand why people were behaving the way they were.

Basically, try and enjoy a film and assume everything we see is there for a reason. Or else find fault with everything and assume everyone involved did a terrible job.

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Yes, there are ways writers can minimise the latter … but some things will always require a degree of complicity from the audience. Not everything needs to be explained and some things have to be taken on faith. No matter what character Jackie Chan plays, he’ll be a Kung Fu master. It doesn’t need explaining because anyone can train in Kung Fu and be good at it. It’s no stretch to believe a shopkeeper, a doctor or a rock star hasn’t also done twenty years of Kung Fu training.

Basically, if most plot holes aren’t plot holes but merely us picking holes in things because we’re not enjoying the movie, then maybe we should give the film the benefit of the doubt before we cry foul?

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Or don’t, it’s your money.


* I’ve been told he’s a major character and one of the new trilogy of actors who’ll take the series forward. To be honest, that surprised me. I thought he was like Wedge – someone who hangs around in the background but isn’t really a major character.

^ Not all. Leia and Kylo Ren and the CGI baddie (who is so clearly CGI I suspect that’s a plot point. I think that’s probably Luke in disguise and it’s all a plan to … annoy people) – no one else gave a flying fuck where Luke had gone to sulk.

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Second that emotion

Hello, happy new year and welcome back. My you’re looking slim. No, honestly, you can’t tell how many boxes of Quality Street you ate. Please allow me to admire you for a second …

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… okay, let us begin the year.

I’m fully immersed in a difficult* rewrite at the moment and the danger with all rewrites (or indeed writes) when they’re taking a long time is that I’ll stray off the point.

Emotionally speaking, that is.

I know the point of the scene and the film and all the themes and character desires and what not … but I’ve found I need to keep reminding myself of the tone lest it wanders off into something too depressing or too silly or too scary or … stuff.

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Tone, to me, is the promise of a specific emotion. The tone tells you ‘you will feel mostly this way during this movie’. I think it’s fine to vary the tone from beginning to end, but not to swing wildly across the emotional spectrum from one scene to the next.

A very silly scene about shoes which features a child-rape in the middle and finishes with a slapstick custard pie is jarring. And weird. And just generally horrendous.

I find keeping in mind the emotion I want the audience to experience helps weed out anything which just doesn’t belong.

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I’ve done that for a while, but what I’ve noticed recently, what I wasn’t aware I was doing, is that I also keep a second emotion in mind – the lowest point of the main character.

What will the she be feeling at the end of the second act?

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How does that contrast with how she’s feeling at the beginning or the tone of the film? Often I find the way she feels at her lowest point is the secret fear which drives her actions throughout. If I know act two is going to conclude with her feeling lost and lonely … then I use that as the fear which colours her decisions throughout.

These two emotions – the tone and the low point should be consistent throughout. That’s not to say the protagonist won’t have fun … but the fear of being alone will always be with her and cause her to make bad choices.

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Take Woody in Toy Story as an example: he’s afraid of being replaced, of not being the top toy. The tone is lighthearted, family-friendly comedy – the audience laugh all the way through … but the underlying emotion is fear of being replaced. His low point comes when Woody realises he’s lost the thing he craves because of his actions.

I think.

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To be honest, I haven’t really thought it through in any detail. I’ve just noticed it’s what I’ve been doing on the last few scripts to help me stay on target. You may already be doing it. You may think it’s silly and doesn’t work. Or you may think it’s a useful way of thinking about things and incorporate it into your toolbox … it’s up to you.

Yes, it’s a simplistic way of looking at a complex story … but sometimes the simple things help inform and support the finer detail.

When I started this post I had a pithy sign off in mind … but I can’t remember what it was … so here’s a baby eating bacon instead.

 


 

* Largely difficult because I’m relocating it from the UK to the US – I didn’t realise how much I didn’t know about America. I mean, it’s all very well knowing what something looks like because you’ve seen it on screen … but what’s it called? That guy who does the thing … what’s his job title in American? And so on. You don’t need to know the names to recognise/understand stuff on screen … doesn’t work in a script.

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

2015

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So that was 2015.

No flying cars, there were hoverboards … but they didn’t hover, they just set fire to people’s houses.

Behind the scenes I had a thrilling and exciting year … but I can’t really talk about it.

Not yet, anyway … but one day. soon.

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This is what’s immensely frustrating about being a scriptwriter – all the exciting things happen (and often die) out of the spotlight. By the time I’m allowed to talk about things (because contracts have finally been negotiated and signed) it’s old news and any excitement is feigned.

Well, not feigned … diluted. Like having to remember how excited you were about a Christmas present you got last year when it’s since been broken by the kid next door.fake-smile

But hey, it’s been a busy year with lots of stuff going on. On paper, it probably looks like not a lot … but that’s just the nature of the business. I’ve done a few uncredited rewrites, one of which has just been released … which is a yay I can’t publicly acknowledge.

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But never mind. If I was in it for the applause, I wouldn’t be a writer.

The rest of 2015, the bits I did talk about, went something like this:

JANUARY

Apparently all I did in January was talk about 2014, which although it included Ghostbusters and a suspicious looking codpiece …

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… seems a bit of a waste of a bloggy month.

FEBRUARY

Ah, hello groove I was wondering where you’d gone.

February was a proper blogging month full of blogs and … well, just blogs.

First off I tried to get you all to commit acts of phone-related mischief by adding ‘Okay Google’ phrases into scripts which would punish anyone who had their phone on in the cinema.

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Did any of you do it? Please say someone did it.

Then I defended Footloose because … it’s fucking Footloose. Footloose is awesome.

After succcessfully re-educating the world about the joys of ’80s dance, I went on to prove the three act structure is fine – stop trying to reinvent the wheel, it works just fine.

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And then I immediately explained why it doesn’t really work that well for a scriptwriter.

Aren’t you glad you’ve got me around to explain these things to you?

MARCH

March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb …

I, on the other hand, came in with a thing about the joy of failing

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… stumbled into a confused ramble about clichés

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… mumbled something I can’t be bothered to reread about page thinking

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… compared Joss Whedon to HTC and rambled about how frustrating it must be to be either of them …

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… and went out with an in-depth discussing about liars and lying for a living.

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APRIL

April is where things got interesting …

Just not at first. First I wondered if maybe you shouldn’t really be able to point to the midpoint in a film.

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Then I used my blog to educate my producer as to why he shouldn’t get his hopes up about the first draft I was just about to deliver …

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Just as it might have got interesting … I got angry about spoilers instead.

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Then it got interesting. I had a phone call

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It was Danny Stack … and he didn’t want anything except a chat.

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Where it got interesting was it kicked off a string of phone calls between me and … well, just people. Nice people. People like Calum Chalmers.

MAY

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And it carried on with more nice people like Robin Bell, Andrew Mullins and Dominic Carver.

In fact, most of May was taken up with phone calls, broken only by me trying to figure out how to write the perfect cameo (it worked! I wish I could tell you how well it worked … but I can’t) and to celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary.

Oh and I went on a bit about competition and how much I enjoy it.

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JUNE

June continued the #PhonePhill-ing bringing delightful chats with Dee Chilton, Rosie Claverton and Rebecca Handley.

In fact, June was all phone calls apart from one post about being better and how we should all pursue knowledge as if it were a … thing. I don’t know. Insert your own simile, I’m tired.

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JULY

July brought yet more telephone awesomeness …

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This time in the shape of Mac McSharry, James Moran, Jay Sutherland and Terry Newman.

As well as yakking to people, I also (gasp!) worked over a weekend.

Apparently this is so shocking to me I felt the need to blog about it.

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I also made an uncredited appearance as Iron Man at a little boy’s birthday party in a homemade, cardboard costume:

I enjoyed that.

AUGUST

In August I had a little panic about potentially offending  someone I quite like by giving them script notes. In order to cover my anxiety, I wrote this post about the kind of script notes I get and how upsetting they can be … if you don’t take them in the spirit they’re intended.

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Later on, I followed that post up by giving myself notes on an old script.

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I also pretended a meal/drink with some friends was a sort of #PhonePhill episode … even though it wasn’t.

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But it did lead to this picture, which is my favourite of the year:

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I rounded off August by highlighting my inability to not focus on background detail.

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SEPTEMBER

Man, I did a lot of blogging in 2015. Too much, some might say.

In September I added one more thing to a script and felt the need to tell everyone.

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Then I added a second thing and banged on about that too.

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I did a thing about tokenism and … well, I don’t know what my point was there. Feel free to read it and let me know.

Oh, and then I added some nonsense to Jason Arnopp’s blog post about hands.

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OCTOBER

I kicked off October by contrasting Rose Tyler with Jurassic Park … which, you know, is clearly two different things and needs a blog explaining why.

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And then … the future arrived!

I meant to take a photo of myself with my trousers on inside out … but I didn’t. Possibly because I don’t think I wore any in October.

Instead of wearing trousers, I watched some videos about deleted scenes from all three Star Wars films:

I say three because I’m a prequel denier. At that point I was adamant there were only three Star Wars films. Now, of course, there’s been another half of a Star Wars film.

Hopefully we’ll find out in a couple of years whether or not any of it makes sense.

NOVEMBER

Just when you thought I’d forgotten about it, another #PhonePhill – this time with William Gallagher. He’s written a book, you know. Bits of it are about me.

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Inspired by the resurgence of telephonic communication, I immediately didn’t do it again and instead waffled on about River Theory …

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Expressed my love for the Verity podcast …

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And raved on and on and on about this speech from Doctor Who:

Oh, and I found this photo of a Burt Reynolds crab.

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DECEMBER

Which brings us to now. All I did in December was a handful of short blogs about other people’s stuff. Things like:

Arnopp’s patreon campaign, the UK Scriptwriter’s Handbook and the Heaven Sent/Hell Bent scripts.

There were meant to be more, but there wasn’t.

I didn’t even wish you a merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas.

There, I did it.

And so, with this year nearly spent, all eyes turn to the next one.

Hopefully it’ll include at least one blog about my new office:

And loads and loads about my next script to be produced:

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Happy New Year, let’s chat soon.

Categories: #PhonePhill, Bored, Career Path, Christmas Crackers, Industry Musings, My Way, Progress, Publicity, Random Witterings, Rants, Sad Bastard, Someone Else's Way, Sparkle, The Ties That Bind, Things I've Learnt Recently, Two steps back, Writing and life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2015 Christmas Cracker #3: Heaven Sent/Hell Bent scripts

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As I may or may not have mentioned elsewhere, I really enjoyed this season of Doctor Who. For me, as a whole, it’s the strongest season since Sylvester McCoy’s final year.

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Battlefield, Ghost Light, The Curse of Fenric, Survival … that was a great year. Ironic really since it was also the year the show died.

This season has been just as enjoyable … or rather, I’ve enjoyed it just as much. I can see there are flaws, there always are, but I’ve immensely enjoyed the season as a whole. To my mind there’s only been one duff episode

Okay, maybe one and a half.

But all in all it’s been great fun. Everyone involved has been at the top of their game and really pulled out all the stops …

And then there was Heaven Sent … which was just sublime.

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Again, to me. You may disagree. Personally I found this to be not just one of the best Doctor Who episodes ever^, but one of the best bits of TV I’ve ever seen.

Maybe I get out too much?

Anyway, Cracker number three is the scripts for Heaven Sent and Hell Bent. Even if you’re not a Doctor Who fan, you should read these scripts because they’re amazing. Well, Heaven Sent is amazing; Hell Bent is merely very, very good. Which in itself is amazing but script writing is hard.

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Anyone who criticises a film or TV show for having a bad script because they don’t like one or two lines of dialogue should read these scripts and hopefully understand that the dialogue is the smallest part of script writing. It’s the last thing, the decoration, not even the icing on the cake but the dusting of icing sugar put on the plate after the ingredients have been farmed, processed, bought, baked decorated, packaged, sliced and arranged neatly on said plate.

Script writing begins with choosing which piece of land would be best to buy in order to grow the wheat to bake the cake. Dialogue … pfft. That’s such an infinitesimally small part of script writing it may as well not exist.

Um … this rant has nothing to do with Doctor Who, just a reaction to reading something which annoyed me on Facebook earlier.

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Never mind, carry on stuffing your faces with mince pies and snuggle up by the fireplace with a cup of tea and these two scripts.

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* Make your own mind up as to which one. We’ll have different opinions … I just thought this one was a real stinker.

^ Which is odd since, depending on your point of view, you could argue it’s not really a Doctor Who episode.

Categories: Christmas Crackers, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , | 2 Comments

2015 Christmas Cracker #2: UK Scriptwriters Survival Handbook

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Second on the list (but not in my heart … because I haven’t got one) is Tim Clague and Danny Stack‘s UK Scriptwriter’s Survival Handbook which is a huge roller coaster of a novel in 400 sizzling chapters, A searing indictment of domestic servitude in the Twenty-First Century … with some hot gypsies thrown in.

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At least … I think that’s what it’s about. I may be getting it confused with something else. To be honest, I haven’t read it and whereas I normally have a strict rule of not recommending/publicising anything I haven’t directly experienced myself … fuck it, it’s my blog and I like them. And it’s Christmas so what the hell?

Presumably the book’s really about how to survive as a scriptwriter in modern Britain – how to eat grubs and fend off bears and that sort of thing.

Tell you what, why don’t you buy it, read it and tell me what it’s about?

At the very least you should be listening to their excellent podcast. The last one where they interview James Cary is particularly good.

So there you go, cracker #2 – a (presumably) lovely book for your Christmas stocking.

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

2015 Christmas Cracker #1: Patronising Arnopp

cracker

It’s snowing on my blog, which can only mean one thing – it’s Christmas (or thereabouts).

Or I’ve fiddled with the settings, turned something on by accident and it’s actually July.

Or your screen is broken.

Doesn’t look like July out there and I’m sure you’re far too tech-savvy to have a knackered screen, so let’s go with it’s (nearly) Christmas.

And since it’s probably very nearly Christmas I can forego thinking about things to blog about and, as is traditional (if you count once as traditional) instead just promote people and stuff I kind of like a bit maybe.

First up, this …

Jason Arnopp‘s Patreon video, directed by James Moran.

Watch the video, it’s funny. If you agree, maybe you’d like to slip over to Arnopp’s Patreon Page and give him some money. Alternatively, maybe you think the video is incredibly well directed and feel like popping over to James Moran’s blog and offering him some work. He’s won awards, you know?

Fuck it, it’s Christmas – why not do both?

Patreon is interesting. If you’re not aware of it, it’s a kind of like Kickstarter only you’re paying (mostly) creative people just to carry on being themselves as opposed to promising to maybe fund something in the future if it happens perhaps. It’s kind of like a financial pet on the head, patronising in the older, lesser used sense of the word …

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Just without forcing them to sleep with you in gratitude.

At least I think so. Maybe if you want Arnopp to sleep with you you should try giving him lots of money and see what happens?

Actually, don’t do that.* It now sounds like I’m accusing him of being a prostitute. This was meant to be a nice, festive thing.

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I’m just going to leave it there before I make things any worse.

Christmas Cracker #1 – Jason Arnopp.


 

* Do give him lots of money, don’t expect anything in return. It’s Christmas for fuck’s sake.

Categories: Christmas Crackers, Someone Else's Way | 1 Comment

Going on and on and on …

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There are many hard and fast rules about scriptwriting which writers seem singularly incapable of following. Time and again writers break rules which were laid down to ensure their scripts are readable, if not actually good.

One of those rules I see broken over and over again is length:

  • Action description shouldn’t be longer than four lines. Shorter than three is preferable.
  • Dialogue should never be longer than four lines. Again, less is preferable.
  • Scenes themselves should never be longer than three (ish) pages without a damned good reason. Find yourself north (or south?) of five pages and you’re in big, big trouble.

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The problem, of course, with these rules are they’re utter bollocks.

Well, not utter bollocks. Mostly bollocks. They’re just not rules. Guidelines, maybe? Rules ofs thumbs.* Suggestions, perhaps?

Action should be short – yeah, I see that. Doesn’t really matter but it does make it far, far easier to read. And, if broken up properly, may bring your page count closer to one page=one minute.

Since most scripts are written with gaps between action lines then reading one without them is hard. Why make it harder to love your script?

Dialogue should never be longer than four lines – yeah, maybe. It does make sense because people rarely talk for that length of time without being interrupted.

Unless they’re giving a speech. Or lecturing someone. Or are really angry. Or boring. Or … well, lots of reasons really.

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Part of the problem with long speeches is what do the other actors do while someone’s banging on?

Listen? That would be some very polite characters. People don’t tend to listen much. They tend to interject or change the subject or just wander off to make a cup of tea.

Except when they don’t.

Bad actors can’t stand and listen. Probably because it’s quite an unnatural thing to do. If you’re writing low-budget, cast fucking anyone who’ll accept, movies then you might want to consider both the quality of the actor listening and the ability of the one delivering it to maintain the same expression for that length of time.

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Plus, it does slow things down. Actors love dramatic pauses.+ They fucking love ’em. Give an actor a one-page speech and you’ll end up with five minutes of footage.

Which may or may not be the director’s fault, I suppose. I don’t know.

This, of course, depends on what the scene’s about. A one-page rant will move faster than a one-page stare-mournfully-into-the-distance-and-recount-the-moment-where-it-all-went-wrong speech.

Both can work. Both can go horribly wrong.

Scenes should never exceed three pages – who the fuck thought that one up?

Okay, so again there is an element of truth in there. Long scenes can, sometimes, slow the pace. If everything’s meant to be fast paced and buzzy, then seven pages of people bantering about shoes may well slow it down again.

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Or it may not. Depends on the delivery, I guess.

The Aaron Sorkin walk-and-talk schtick helps with this. Get the characters moving, get them doing something and people won’t get bored.

Except when it’s done badly and after five minutes of fast-paced walking you start to wonder how fucking big this newsagent’s is and why they’ve gone past the Chocolate Hob Nobs seven times.

Personally, I get nervous when a scene hits five pages – usually it’s because there’s a lot of irrelvant banter in the middle or because the scene’s trying to do too many things and needs to just wind its bloody neck in.

Three pages feels about enough for most of the stuff I do.

So, you know, it doesn’t hurt to think about limiting action, dialogue and scene lengths … just in case.

Except when you shouldn’t. Except when it’s scenes like this from Doctor Who – The Zygon Inversion.

SPOILER ALERT!

DON’T WATCH THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE EPISODE!

I love that scene. I fucking loves it, I does. I love the length, the staticness^, the wordiness … it’s just amazing.

To me this proves any rules about length are really there to disguise dullness in a script. Make a scene crackle, make it tense, make it have immediate and terrifying stakes and all the rules can just fuck off.

Limiting the length of things is probably a good rule of thumb@ … but it’s just that. Sometimes your scene can blow all that away with it’s sheer awesomeness. When you’ve got a scene which demands page-count … go for it!

I guess the real skill in writing comes from knowing when it’s appropriate.

JvIHGND


* I didn’t know how to pluralise this so I just went all out.

+ Possibly while they scramble to remember the next massive chunk of dialogue.

^ Real word or not? Probably not.

@ Except for thumbs. Don’t limit the length of your thumbs.

Categories: Random Witterings | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Verity

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I don’t know about you, but I’m loving Doctor Who this season. Last season wasn’t for me, I found it increasingly difficult to watch to the point I had the last episode on in the background but didn’t really pay attention.

As a long term fan of the show I’ve come to accept this as normal. Some seasons I’ll love, some I won’t. Some Doctors I’ll love, some I’ll find annoying.

Last season … there was nothing for me to like. That’s not to say the show was fundamentally unlikeable, it’s just a personal preference.

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This season, I’m so excited. I’ve enjoyed every episode so far. Does that mean it’s quantitatively better?

No, it’s just how I feel about it. There’s always a chance that when I get round to rewatching the season I’ll feel differently, but for whatever the reason# I’m totally hooked again this year.

One of things which is deepening my enjoyment is listening to the Verity Podcast. If you haven’t listened to it, it’s (mostly*) American/Canadian female fans discussing the show. When the show’s airing, they discuss the episodes. When it’s not, they discuss other Who-related topics.

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Now, I know quite a lot of Doctor Who fans … but not many who live close by. I could ring them up to talk about the show … but we’re all busy and ringing people up takes time away from our respective families. Listening to other people discuss the show helps fill that void. I like to hear other people’s opinions, even if they differ from my own.

Actually, especially when they differ from my own. There’s not a lot of point listening to your own opinions repeated back to you (apart from when they codify or clarify something you didn’t know how to express).

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I like to listen and I like to learn to think about things in a different way.

There are a lot of Doctor Who podcasts, but the Verity one achieves this better than most by dint of being (mostly*) Americans/Canadians and solely women.

I don’t know any female Doctor Who fans. Not personally anyway. I know women who enjoy or quite like the show … but would never really describe themselves as fans. I could probably track some down if I really felt the need … but if I were my wife and saw me deliberately seeking out women who shared an interest we didn’t … well, I’d be a bit cross with myself. It would be a weird thing to do.

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Hearing women discuss the show is fascinating because, although most of the things they talk about are universal, there are certain points of view which don’t come naturally to me. This might be because I’m a man or it might be because I’m British or maybe just because I’m me and not them. Doesn’t really matter, I just enjoy hearing a different slant on things.

Similarly, it’s interesting to hear transatlantic opinions on something which feels so quintessentially British. Especially since their depth of knowledge and level of fandom are far greater than mine.

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It also makes me swell with pride. Doctor Who is a massive part of my life but has always been this tiny show, kicked about by the BBC and prematurely murdered just as it was finding its feet again. It had a moment of greatness … but became an embarrassment and something to be mocked. Hearing people halfway around the world loving it feels like a vindication. This is popular, it’s global, liking it is normal.

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If you haven’t listened to the podcast, I highly recommend it and would welcome similar recommendations in return.


 

* Mostly. There’s a Scot in there. And an Australian, I think.

# It might be my new office? Yeah, it’s probably my new office.

Categories: Someone Else's Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

River theory

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My brain likes to construct analogies. I don’t know why, it just does. Possibly it helps me learn or remember? Maybe I feel it’s the only way I can communicate things to other people?

I don’t know, all I know is they pop unbidden into my head on an alarmingly regular basis.

The latest one is about rivers.

I was thinking about someone else’s analogy (possibly Bill Martell‘s?) about how changing something at the beginning of a story is like dumping dye into a river – it changes everything from then on.

I love this analogy – there’s no such thing as a small change at the beginning of a script, everything has a knock on effect.

Conversely, I also love the one about being asked to change the ending is a bit like being asked to move the pyramid’s point three feet to the left.

No idea whose that one was.

But back to rivers.

Rivers

It occurs to me that films are like dye-filled-rivers in other ways. To begin with, the river is your story. You know where it begins and in which direction it flows. Personally, I like to know where the end is too.

I want to know it’s a story about someone who does something – the film will be over when that person achieves that thing … or fails in a poignant way. Not knowing that beginning and end point is a bit like watching a race where the end isn’t clear … it’s hard for me to get excited if I’ve no idea how long it’s going to go on for or when anyone’s getting close to winning/losing.

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Conversely, I don’t want to be able to see a straight bit of river from the start line to the finishing line. I want to know where the finishing line is … but not how to get there. The best films (to me) have a clear end point which seems utterly unobtainable for the protagonist.

I want there to be twists and turns and bends and dead ends between here and there … but I want to know (vaguely) where ‘there’ is.

I know not everyone feels like that. One of my bugbears is people complaining the end is obvious when it’s inherent in the genre.

  • Rom-coms are boring because you know they’re going to end up together.
  • Hero films are boring because you know Bond/Batman/whoever will win.
  • Detective stories are boring because you know they’ll catch the villain.

Fuck. Off.

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Suspend your disbelief, for fuck’s sake! Everything’s boring if you think like that. Football matches are boring because either one of the teams will win or they’ll draw* – it’s the journey, the bit of river on the way to the end which is important.

Knowing the ending in a general sense is important to the process. Imagine watching a football match where there were no goal posts and no scores kept. Players just kicked the ball back and forth for an unknown period of time … and then stopped. I’m not convinced that would become a multi-billion pound industry.

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You’re supposed to know vaguely what the ending might be … just not how the people get there or exactly how they’ll cross the line.

Yes, I’m aware I’m mixing metaphors/analogies here but it’s my blog and I’ll ramble inanely if I want to.

Back to rivers.

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So the finishing line should be clear, but not visible from the starting line. We just need to know there is one and what crossing it means.

If choosing your story is like choosing a river, then maybe choosing the colour of the (eco-friendly) dye you’re about to dump into it is like choosing the genre?

Most stories can be multiple genres, it doesn’t take much to change a story from horror to comedy or comedy to tragedy. The same basic events can be told in different ways to make different genres. We choose our colour/genre at the outset and so long as we stick to that … or maybe fade gently from one to another^ then we’re fine.

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Okay, so you can mix genres together. Frost/Nixon is a political story which uses boxing movie tropes. Fine. Red and blue makes purple, that’s fine … so long as it’s uniformly purple or fades nicely from one to the other. The problem comes when the colours are patchy and random. This bit’s horror, this bit’s comedy, this bit’s meant to be serious but people are still laughing at the last bit. A red bit, a blue bit, some green … it’s a mess.

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Pick a colour/genre (or combination of) and stick to them throughout. Contrast if you want to … but make sure the colour changes harmonise.

If colour is the genre then maybe the hue/shade is the tone? Again, consistency is the key. That or slowly fading out or darkening? Imagine dumping green comedy into a river, it’s bright at the beginning but slowly fades away/disperses as we move down river. That’s fine, isn’t it? Most comedies have a serious bit near the end.

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A consistent green might indicate a consistent type of comedy. A family/friendly comedy (lime green) which suddenly starts making jokes about fucking cadavers (bottle green) is jarring. Or maybe a comedy where the green fades in and out – funny bit, serious bit, boring bit, funny bit … just doesn’t work.

Unless it does.

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Unfortunately, the other thing my brain likes to do is think up counter arguments to itself. This is about as far as I can stretch an analogy before I start heckling myself and telling me I’m full of shit.

Hey me, it’s just a way of thinking about things. If it’s useful, use it … if it’s not, don’t. No need to get all sweary about it.

Stories are like rivers. Sometimes. Other times, they’re not.

Perhaps?


* Actually, this is why I don’t really watch sport – I have no interest in who wins. I don’t know any of the players and I just don’t care. I guess if I picked a team at random and decided to support them I’d get into it … but I don’t need more stuff to obsess about in my life.

^ Yes, I know From Dusk to Dawn crashes from one genre to another in the middle. It can be done … but usually badly.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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