#̶P̶h̶o̶n̶e̶P̶h̶i̶l̶l̶ #PhoneDanny – Conversation #̶1̶8̶ #1: Danny Stack (Full Circle)

I have questions, damn it! Questions which need answers.* And who should you turn to when you have questions?

No, not him. Why, Danny Stack of course.

Danny Stack is a UK scriptwriter who mainly focuses on children’s scripts. He’s written for things like Octonauts and Thunderbirds as well as co-creating the UK Scriptwriters podcast and co-directing the feature film Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg?

He’s also the reason #PhonePhill exists at all, seeing as it was his impromptu phone call which got me wondering who else I might like to talk to. Hell, he’s the reason this blog exists in the first place.

Danny is a grafter, finding new and innovative ways to promote himself and to help all of us. Always moving forward, always breaking new ground and exploring new avenues, both on his own and with his partner in crime Tim Clague.

A while back Danny positioned himself as a children’s scriptwriter as opposed to an all-rounder, and found he’s been steadily employed ever since.

Last year I wrote a kids’ feature film which got partially shot before falling apart (which seems to happen to me a lot) and has left me with a completed script (which is mine, I own the rights) and about half an hour of footage (which belongs to the director). There’s something in the idea I really like and the footage shot seems to lend itself more towards a kids’ TV series than a film … so that’s what I wanted to chat to Danny about.

What should I do with it?

As ever, Danny was friendly and helpful and insightful and used a term to describe the kind of writers we both are which was hilarious, apt and completely and utterly unrepeatable in public.

Danny’s advice and extremely useful and had me thinking about the project in new ways – this is exactly what I wanted from him. Not help, not a leg up or for him to do the work for me, just a brief chat about the kinds of things I could do and the kinds of places/people who might be interested.

For me there are two universal lessons to be learned here:

  1. Make friends with other writers. Seek them out, be nice to them, help them when you can. Sideways networking is important – expect nothing from them and only keep in touch if you genuinely like them – but build that support network. It’s invaluable.
  2. Pick a genre and stick to it. I think most writers naturally want to write a little bit of everything. We all enjoy a wide range of entertainment and like to think we can be good at all of it … but typecasting helps. Be the goto person for that thing and reap the benefits of being known as ‘good at …’ We can always write our way out of the pigeonhole if we get bored.

If you want to know what Danny (and Tim) is (are)  up to, then you can see details here: nelsonnutmegpictures.com/projects

If you haven’t listened to the UK Scriptwriters’ podcast then you can do so here.

And if you want more advice and insight than any one man should be able to deliver in a lifetime whilst holding down a career, then you can check out his website/blog.

If, on the other hand, you just fancy a chat with me, then drop me an email at the address in the sidebar and we’ll arrange a time to call/skype/bang on the pipes in adjoining cells.


* Are there any other kind?

I’ve told the tale many times, but basically back in 2006 I was wondering why I kept hearing his name when I hadn’t seen anything he’d written, discovered he had a blog, what a blog was and thought I’d give it a go.

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No more cheating

It turns out I’ve been making a rod for my own back by actually being good at something which isn’t supposed to be true.

Everyone in the film industry knows that one page of script = one minute of screen time. It’s a fact. It’s how scripts work. Everyone knows it.

Except we scriptwriters who know that’s a load of bullshit.

One minute sometimes = one page … but more often than not, it doesn’t.

A page of one liners will (probably) be less than a minute. A page of monologue might take nearer five minutes to deliver. A page of action … eh, who knows?

So a producer’s insistence on keeping the script to a certain page-count always seems baffling. Why does the script have to be 90 pages as opposed to 95 if those extra five pages will only take an extra two minutes on screen? The audience won’t care. Surely a budget is worked out on the length a scene takes to film, not how long it takes to watch? Surely the budget depends on the type of scene as opposed to its length§?

What’s particularly bemusing is how a 118 page script is too long, but the exact same script, with fewer line breaks and full stops, which comes in at 110 pages is perfectly acceptable.

It’s the same script! Commas don’t show up on screen! Removing them from the script to alter the page count shouldn’t affect the budget!

For years now I’ve assumed this page-count nonsense is just about perception. If the script seems shorter, the producer seems happier so my last pass will always be a series of tweaks to preemptively shorten the script before handing it in.

But here’s the problem: my pre-tweaked drafts (apparently) always follow the one page = one minute rule.

My 95 page script is 95 minutes of screen time. Tweaking it to 90 pages may mollify the producer and the financiers in the short term*, but as soon as the script gets into pre-production and someone puts a stopwatch to it … the truth will out.

I’ve hidden 20 pages of a script before by judicious use of ellipses and parentheticals … only to have kittens when, deep into pre-production, someone figures out the 110 page script is actually 130 minutes long. Being asked to lose a huge chunk of the story when actors have already been cast and I can’t just hack out a complete sub-plot is a spine-chilling experience … but one I’ve brought upon myself by being all smug and sly in the first place.

Knowing how to make one page = one minute may seem like a useful tool, but it’s not useful if I then screw all that up by shuffling punctuation around.

So my New Year’s Resolution is to flip my way of working. Instead of making life easier for myself at the early draft stage and harder at the production-draft end of things, I’m going to be tougher on myself from the outset and actually cut pages instead of commas.

I’ve no idea if this is going to work, but it feels like a path worth taking.

I’ll let you know how I get on.


 I suspect some do.

There’s a correlation.

§  Yes … and no.

* I’m not 100% clear on how this works. I know length can determine budget because of the number of days needed, but I suspect there’s also a need to hit certain lengths for certain genres in order to please the distributors. If anyone wants to ring me up for a chat and explain it, I’m all ears.

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Quadruple whammy

I love my daughter and, like any concerned parent, I want to protect her from harm. Occasionally that protection means telling the odd white lie. I don’t enjoy lying to her, but sometimes it’s for her own good.

So when she came home from school, excited because someone had told her there was a fourth Indiana Jones film, my heart sank. She’s so young! I don’t want her exposed to that sort of thing at such a tender age!

More importantly, I don’t want to have to sit through it ever again.

But she kept asking to watch it and wondering why I’d told her there were only three films and eventually I caved in. Who knows, maybe it’s a far better film than I originally gave it credit for?

So next pizza and movie night we watched it, in silence, all the way through … and at the end she turned to me and said:

“It’s not very funny, is it?”

“Nope,” I agreed, “It’s not very good either.”

“No. Can we not watch that again?”

Which I readily agreed with and we decided never to speak of it. There are three Indiana Jones films and they are all excellent.

But the (nonexistent la, la, la, la, la …) fourth film had left a bad taste in the mouth. Luckily, since then I’ve managed to watch four awesome movies in a row. This is fairly uncommon, there are far more bad movies than good in this world. Mainly because film making is really, really hard and even when all the talent aligns, the arcane hoops they have to jump through to get a film made pretty much ensures it’ll limp over the finish line a shadow of what it was meant to be.

Four great films in a row (great being a term subjective to my personal taste) is pretty damn unlikely, so I thought I’d give you a heads up, just in case you too have been exposed to Indiana Jones vs the Aliens and needed something to cleanse the palate.

These then are what I’ve been enjoying recently:

 

The Babysitter

Cool, funny, stylish and just all round enjoyable. There’s not a lot else to say, it’s fun.

 

Happy Death Day

Perhaps the weakest of the four, but still damned enjoyable. A slasher take on Groundhog Day which knows what it is and is thoroughly unashamed of it. This got me wondering what the horror version of other ’80s films might look like.

Even though Groundhog Day was in the ’90s.

 

Thor: Ragnarok

I can’t remember the last time a film filled me with such glee. Hilarious and stupid with some great action and even greater dialogue. An upmarket Flash Gordon with all the colourful ’80s paraphernalia that entails. Plus, it finally turned me round on The Immigrant Song – previously my least favourite Led Zeppelin track and one of the few I ever skip over.

Obviously ‘least favourite Led Zeppelin track’ still puts it in the top five percent of all music ever created, but it turns out it’s even better if you play it over a Norse god knocking the crap out of baddies.

 

Paddington 2

What can I say? It’s just perfection. The first film was amazing, the sequel is its equal in every respect. Everything about this film is fantastic, from the set design to the lighting, the costumes, the performances, the humour, the pathos, the effects and the nagging feeling I should try to live my life more like a fictitious talking bear.

Paddington sees the good in all of us. Paddington for President of the World.

 

Clearly all these movie opinions are mine and you’re free to disagree with them (that’s not me giving you permission; you just are, it’s a fact) but if you’re feeling a bit blue or just need a dose of awesomeness then maybe you could do far worse than seek them out?

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The other Death Star problem

A while back I was musing over the issue of the baddie continuously doing the same thing, this post … has nothing to do with that. It’s a completely unconnected musing which just happens to share a few words of the title.

A bit like the entire Star Trek canon and Star Trek Discovery.

Recently, someone pointed out (or maybe I read it online? I get confused between real people and the Internet) that the Death Star wouldn’t need a big laser, because merely rocking up in a planetoid-sized spaceship would wreck a planet’s orbit so much it would probably either tear itself apart or go spiralling off into deep space.*

In essence, Star Wars had failed to understand the gravity of the situation.

Damn. ‘The gravity of the situation’ would have been a far better title. Then I wouldn’t have had to have that little dig at Star Trek Discovery. I should probably change it, but then again I should probably do a lot of things, like not eat that massive pile of ice cream five minutes ago.

Apparently some people get really pissed off when a fictitious spaceship rocks up to a fictitious planet in a fantasy story which is barely one step away from dragons and fairies and then said spaceship fails to obey the laws of physics … and hey, I get that.

I understand why it’s important to follow the rules.

I’ve said elsewhere that it’s okay for Daredevil (Affleck version) to have an echo power and super senses, because they’re inherent in the set up … but it’s not okay for him to suddenly sprout bionic knees halfway through the film, giving him the ability to land on his feet after a twenty storey drop with no explanation.

Rules are important. The first half hour or so of a script is estabishing the rules of the universe. Star Wars has spaceships and laser swords and sentient robots and telekinesis … but not teleport. Them’s the rules. If they want to start using a teleport, we have to either see someone inventing it or make damn sure the characters tell us it’s as new to them as it is to us.

We set the rules … but, crucially, we don’t set all of them. Some of them you just have to take on faith. Something like the Death Star’s gravitational pull, well, as an audience member we have two choices:

1) Decide it’s bullshit and it’s ruined the film.
2) Invent our own in-story reason.

Why doesn’t the Death Star’s gravity ruin every star system it travels through? Well, maybe it’s because the Star Wars universe, clearly and demonstrably, has invented some kind of artificial gravity. No one floats around on the Millennium Falcon, so it must have some kind of control over gravity. The Death Star probably has the same tech, so maybe it can also manipulate its own gravity field?

Maybe George Lucas considered this in the seventies and decided it wasn’t important?

Maybe the next time the baddies rock up in a Death Star (because, apparently, that’s all they know how to do) some bright spark will just switch off the gravitational dampers and they’ll all giggle like schoolchildren as the rebel planet gets destroyed by tidal waves?

Maybe I should just assume the acid which blinded Daredevil also upgraded his knees?

Nah. That was just bad storeytelling.

Or maybe it’s not and it’s just personal preference? We tend to forgive lapses of logic in films we’re enjoying, so maybe it’s just not important?

I think our tolerance varies from film to film, but perhaps we should look for plausible explanations before reaching for the bullshit button?

I’ll just leave this one here for anyone who feels the need to click it:


* I’m not convinced that’s true anyway. I’m not sure the Death Star was big enough, but I’ll happily admit I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Oh, maybe they were talking about Starkiller Base?

In which case, the title of this post makes even less sense.

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The story wind and the flappy plot sail

Sometimes, usually about 3.14 in the morning, I find myself imagining the story is wind filling the plot sail. When the wind’s blowing strongly, the sail is full and the film rattles along at a beautiful pace, skimming the waves of … um … I don’t know, character? Interest?

Yeah, okay, I haven’t really thought this through.

When the story wind is blowing, the plot sails are full and all is well. But what happens when you need the story to take a sudden left turn? On a sailing boat …

I know nothing about boats. Why am I making an analogy using boats?

On a sailing boat, when you need to change course … well, I guess you can steer a bit with the rudder (or is it a tiller? What’s the difference?), but presumably that only takes you so far and there’s a point where you need to come about?

I think that’s what it’s called, when you turn into (or away from?) the wind enough for the sail to no longer function and you need to move the … back end of the sail to the other side so the wind fills the other side of the sail.

An experienced, competent writer/sailor can come about (if that is what it’s called?) with minimal flapping and no loss of forward momentum. Bad story telling, to me, is when the story takes a left turn or has a false ending a half hour or so before the actual ending and the plot just flaps about for a bit.

I don’t like that sort of thing.

Except when it works, then I love it.

Ideally, I think the plot sail should stay taut and keep the boat surging forward. Bits of plot flapping around just annoy me. For example:

The character’s inner need/goal should be achieved at the end of the film. Not in the middle. Or after ten minutes. There shouldn’t be a point at which the character achieves everything they wanted … but there’s still forty minutes of movie left, so he/she has a cup of tea and then toddles off to solve the problem without any personal issues or emotional engagement.

Similarly, I don’t like it when there are two stories which have no connection. A plane crashes on an island inhabited by vampires – they have to fix the plane before nightfall!

That sounds cool.

They fix the plane by four in the afternoon on the first day, they have no idea the island is inhabited by vampires so they decide to have a spot of lunch and a swim and they’ll take off in the morning … oh no! Vampires!

That sounds less cool. To me anyway.

I don’t like it when the first story is properly resolved and everyone’s just hanging around waiting for the second story to kick off again.

Although, having said that, I can envisage a kind of Father Ted tone where they realise there’s vampires on the island, race to fix the plane … and manage it in plenty of time. “Gosh, that was easy.” says the protagonist “Can you imagine how terrible it would be to get stuck on this island with all these vampires after dark?”

And then there’s an eclipse.

I can see someone being able to make that work … but outside of knowingly parodying bad storytelling … just don’t let the plot sail flap around. Keep it tight and full of story wind so the boat of … something … um … I wish I hadn’t started this now.

Analogies … make sure you’ve thought them through before you start writing them down.

Or don’t.

Do what you like.

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Fame

Generally speaking, screenwriters aren’t famous. Perhaps we become well known among our colleagues and maybe even within the industry, but the general public tends not to recognise us or even know which of us wrote their favourite films. Not unless the writer also directed or starred in it.

TV is perhaps a little different, but certainly in features the writer’s role is so minimised they’re barely mentioned. I don’t recall ever hearing a writer interviewed on Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, for example. Except, of course, for the usual caveat of they were also  the director or the star.

Scriptwriters are faceless and interchangeable, not worth talking about. The downside of this is the devaluing of perception leads to financial devaluing. Writers get paid less (a lot less) than actors, directors or producers because … well, we’re just not really an important part of the film-making process. We merely invent the whole thing from beginning to end, anyone can do that.

The only upside of not being famous is, well, being famous is a bit shit, isn’t  it? Why would you want people pointing at you and whispering to each other and asking for your autograph and generally bothering you every time you pop out for a pint of milk?

Not me. Anonymity is lovely, thank you very much.

And yet …

This Halloween I broke out (busted out?) my Ghostbusters outfit again.

To serious Ghostheads, the kind who spend around £2000 on building their proton packs, my ramshackle, dirt-cheap homemade equipment looks terrible …

… but most people who haven’t studied the films frame by frame just seem to think it’s amazing. First stop on Halloween was a kid’s disco at Eastbourne’s Tennis in the Park Cafe … and I got mobbed by children.

At one stage they were four-deep around me, trying on my goggles, asking questions about my equipment and generally being in awe. Adults were asking to take my photo, for selfies with me, wanting to know where I got the costume from or just to talk about Ghostbusters in general.

Everyone, it turns out, loves a Ghostbuster.

Trick or treating later that night brought a similar reaction from everyone we passed. People shouted “Who you gonna call?” or “Cool costume!” from across the street, crossed over for photos or just generally wanted to stop and chat … and you know what? It was intoxicating.

It was so intoxicating that when the night was over I put my equipment back on  to go to the takeaway up the road. I thought at the time it was an odd thing to do, but fuck it, I wanted to be a Ghostbuster for a little longer.

November the 1st I felt a bit down all day. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, I just felt flat and deflated, bordering on a little depressed. I couldn’t figure it out until well into the evening, but I think it’s because I was missing the adulation and admiration of everyone I walked past.

This is, of course, ridiculous.

I don’t crave fame. Greater recognition for my writing, perhaps. Greater remuneration*, definitely … but fame? No thank you. And yet, that tiny taste of what it’s like to be universally … not loved. Respected? Admired? Recognised? I’m not sure what the right word is. The point is that  tiny taste had  a measurable psychological effect on me, so how much of a mind-fuck must it be for people who are actually famous? No wonder they go off the rails or become a bit weird.

So maybe writers not being famous is a good thing? Maybe not being famous is what keeps us such a sane, balanced and well rounded group of individuals?

Yeah … maybe not?


My daughter made her own costume this year. I think she did an amazing job.

* Wow! I always thought this word was renumeration. Turns out I’ve  been using it wrong my entire life. Sort of.

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#PhonePhill – Conversation #17: Dominic Carver (strikes back)

I had a lovely, if brief, chat with Dominic Carver not-so-recently – probably a couple of months back now. In fact, no probably about it – it was ages ago.

NB: This post was written the day after that call … and then I got distracted. I started making a vague attempt to update the tenses so it makes sense … then gave up. Just bear in mind most of this was true five months ago, not necessarily today.

In other words: don’t worry, I’ve been working on your project all day. Honest.

As ever (or for the second time at least) the man was entertaining, erudite and delightful. The brevity was mainly due to half-term child and family commitments*, which are both unavoidable and should never be avoided. What’s the point of being a writer if you can’t slope off to spend time with your kids every now and then?

Dom, as ever (see caveat above) has an exciting array of projects simmering away.

I … well, back then I was having a bit of a lull.

It’s not that there’s wasn’t work out there and it’s not like I wasn’t being offered anything. It’s just … eh … I couldn’t be arsed at that point.

Dom and I spoke about this ebb and flow of ambition. Sometimes you want to write 24 hours a day, 7 days a week as the words burn white-hot in your brain and you find yourself getting furious with your own bladder for occasionally demanding time off to drain itself of the ludicrous amount of tea you’ve tried to drown it in.

Other days … it’s all about the procrastination.

To be fair, most days it’s about the procrastination. Any excuse not to write is a good excuse.

Usually those days will eventually result in some writing.

Usually.

And then there are the periods when the desire to write just evaporates completely. When the burning need to express myself via hitting a keyboard just isn’t there.

Writing is hard. It’s hard to do and then it’s hard to sell and then it’s hard to deal with the notes and then it’s hard to cope with the disappointment of seeing how the production process destroys the story and then it’s hard not to join in with the critics in slagging off your own work.

And then it’s hard having to start the whole process all over again.

Sometimes, usually when I’m generally content with life, it gets hard to want to throw myself back into the mill. You don’t put your nose to the grindstone as a scriptwriter, you get dragged between two grindstones and pulverised.

When life is lovely and fulfilling, when there’s lots of other exciting things to do … well, I just can’t be fucked.

Not that I’ve not been doing any work at all. I have a feature film casting at the moment which is shaping up to be the best thing I’ve ever done with a perfect cast. There’s another feature which is being touted around LA and yet another I’m slowly excavating from the mountain of possibility with a director who started out as a #PhonePhill but is now (probably) a friend.

So there’s three things.

Oh, and the short film which just won’t behave. That’s four.

Then there’s that TV show, the one I feel I’ve been accidentally writing for the last twenty years. The one which feels like its nearly perfect … even though I’ve not written a single word beyond a one page synopsis.

By rights I should be shouldering all other commitments aside to focus on that one … but then there’s that ennui.

Don’t get me wrong – there are flashes of inspiration and perspiration. Moments when I suddenly burst into feverish scribblings … but those are mostly when there’s an interesting casting choice which requires a character tweak or the odd simple paid rewrite job. Those I’m all over. Those I snap to attention and type until my fingers ache.

The rest of it, especially the stuff I’m doing just for me … not so much.

But you know, as was discussed with Dom, those times are okay. Sometimes you care, sometimes you don’t. Always do the stuff people are waiting for … the rest … just don’t be too hard on yourself.

The trick is to know the difference between procrastinating and general demotivation. Procrastination is just silly: man and/or woman up and knuckle down. Demotivation periods … that’s fine. Just do something else. You don’t owe anyone your literary genius and no one will care+ if you down tools for a week or a month or even ten years. Just come back to it when you’re ready.

Or don’t. Find something more fulfilling to do, it’s your life.

Just accept it’s all part of the ebb and flow of a writer’s self-motivation. Beating yourself up to it just leads to depression and anxiety, give yourself permission to slack off.

Them’s my thoughts anyway and Dom seemed to agree. Or maybe I just ranted at him until he had to go spend time with his lovely family? That’s probably it.

Either way, catching up with Dom was cool and yet another enchanting #PhonePhill. If you’d like to have a natter, why not drop me a line at the email address in the sidebar and we’ll arrange a time to chat? Doesn’t matter what your experience level is or whether you’re a writer or not. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you do and however long you’ve been doing it, if you fancy a chat, I fancy listening.


* His, not mine. I’d retreated to my Secret Writing Island to avoid mine. My commitments, not necessarily my family and certainly never for extended periods.

 

+ So long as there’s no one actually waiting for your work. Do that. Always do that promptly and professionally.

Categories: #PhonePhill, My Way, Progress, Random Witterings, Writing and life | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Moving

Oh hello, it’s been a while. Haven’t the months been kind to you? I like what you’ve done to your hair/shoes/teeth.

And so on.

I moved house back in April and blogging seemed less important than unpacking and DIY. I’d like to say I’m back now, but I’m probably not. In the meantime though, here’s a quick video of me moving my office from the old house to the new.

Hopefully see you soon?

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard, Writing and life | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Death Star problem

I was 10 when I first saw Return of the Jedi and, like the rest of the trilogy, loved it. It was the film I’d been waiting three years for and every frame of it etched itself onto my heart.

But even then, deep in my prepubescent lust for all things Star Wars, I recognised a problem … the second Death Star. The same thing again.

 

I didn’t know what a plot was, but I knew doing the same one twice was … well, a bit shit.

But it also kind of makes sense.

I’ve always found it weird in Batman comics when a supervillain almost succeeds in their nefarious schemes only to be thwarted at the last second by a combination of Batman’s awesomeness and pure dumb luck. It almost worked, if one variable had been different, if Batman had been one second longer defusing the bomb … different outcome. Surely it’s worth giving it another go?

And yet they rarely do.

The Death Star almost worked. If not for that one niggly exhaust port the Emperor would have been cruising the space lanes, giggling like a loon as he blew planets out of the black.

So yeah, put a cover on the exhaust port and try again. Makes sense.

 

Makes sense so long as you don’t think about the economics of it all, but from a character point of view I absolutely believe the Emperor would do it again.

And yet, from a writing point of view … there’s that tinge of shitness to it. That’s my Death Star Problem – when plotting a sequel do I stay true to the character who probably would build a second one* or do I service the viewer and just move on to new evil plots?

I tend to err on the side of newness, but I’m never quite sure that’s the correct answer. Repetition certainly hasn’t harmed Star Wars so maybe I shouldn’t worry about it either?

I don’t have an answer and I guess like most of these things it’s either down to personal preference.

Or it’s execution dependent.

I have no idea. What camp are you in?


* But not a third. Doing the same thing a third time is just stupid.

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Using my Magnum voice

One of the problems with writing a film script is the length of time it takes to write/produce versus the length of time it takes to read/watch.*

A script of 110 pages may take an hour/hour and a half to read# but it probably took the best part of a year to write from spark of conception to final draft. Sometimes longer. I have a script due to go into production which began life in 2009 or maybe even 2008. The first six months was an intense period of rewriting and thrashing things out. Everything since then has been periodic rewrites to accommodate various cast members as they get attached or to please an array of investors/producers/whims as they appear and disappear.

Coming back to a script after a couple of years of not thinking about it is an enlightening and terrifying experience.

“Why did I think that was a good idea?”

After that long away from the page the script needs a thorough rereading before altering just to get a sense of how the new material will impact the old.

That seems fairly obvious, but what’s perhaps less obvious is the gap between writing FADE IN: and FADE OUT. on the first draft. That might be a few weeks or it might be a few months,~ either way it can sometimes be tricky to keep in mind what the characters are thinking and feeling at any given point. Even at the note card/treatment stage, when I’m finding my way through the story, I sometimes find characters doing things which don’t feel real given what just happened before. This can often lead to feedback such as:

“Hang on, they’ve just discovered the whole world’s under threat from this alien thingy and they’ve only got 24 hours to find a cure … so he pops off to buy some new shoes and she decides now’s the time to learn Greek?”

Written down like that it’s plainly nonsensical … but I won’t have experienced it in one short sentence. I’ll have had the various scenes on note cards and reshuffled them late in the day. Or cut and paste scenes from different parts of the script because they were in (a different) wrong place. Or inserted them in the second or third draft at the behest of the client because we’re getting development money from Clarks and … well, Greece I suppose.

Those scenes may have been written years apart and taken days to write, it’s only when they’re read in sequence do they seem stupid.

One way to combat this is to read through what I’ve written to date before beginning the day’s work … which is fine on page 20 but a ball ache on page 80. So a method I find myself applying more and more is what I like to call The Magnum Voice+.

You remember the bit, probably immediately following an ad break in America but often seemingly random in the UK-reduced-ad-version, when Magnum would narrate what’s just happened and how his little voice is feeling about it?

I do that.

Often whilst wearing my Magnum costume.

Sometimes I write it down, sometimes I just say it in my head, but in essence all I do is imagine the character narrating what’s been happening and how they feel.

“As soon as I found out the world was ending I decided to … “

Well, not learn Greek. Probably. Not unless the cure to the world-ending thing is written in Greek somewhere and even then it’s probably better to just go find a Greek to translate it for you.

“When I first heard the world was ending I was a bit upset … but then I remembered the money I owed in library fines and cheered up a bit. Feeling better, I decided to buy those shoes I’ve always wanted using a credit card because … eh, fuck it. Why not?”

Oh. I guess the shoe buying thing does make sense.

I find the Magnum Voice is particularly good at keeping track of emotions. It’s nice to remind myself of the shit I’ve been putting the character through because, whereas to me 30 pages ago was three weeks back, to the character it was only three hours ago. They’re probably still upset at that baboon eating their sister in front of them. Probably still quite a touchy subject and too soon for them to go to a fancy dress party dressed as a bonobo. And if they absolutely have to dress up then maybe having a little weep about it first would feel appropriate?

It’s not a universally useful tool, but then what tool is? Personally I like having a range of tools to fall back on and the Magnum Voice is one of my current favourites.

I can’t think of a snappy way to end this post, but I feel it’s gone on long enough … so here’s the Magnum soundtrack to fill your ears with awesomeness:


* I imagine novels have a similar problem, although having no experience in that realm I think I’ll just keep my fool mouth shut.

# I used to read a lot faster, bordering on speed reading … until I realised I was never doing a script justice. A script should be read at the speed you’d watch it so you appreciate the emotion properly. Or that’s what I think anyway.

~ Occasionally it’s been a few days … but that’s rarely a good idea and even rarer as necessary as the producer insists it is.

+ I know Magnum wasn’t the first show to do it, but to my mind it’s the most successful version of it. You may like to think of this as The Gold Monkey Voice or The Philip Marlowe Voice … knock yourself out.

Categories: My Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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