Rose vs. Jurassic Park


Following on from last week, I’ve been thinking more about parcelling out information. Whereas there are undoubtedly lots of different approaches to this, two examples always spring to mind.

My mind, anyway. Maybe not yours.

These examples are polar opposites yet are equally as effective as each other. As I’m sure you’ve deduced from the title of this post, the first of those is Jurassic Park, the second is Rose (the first episode of the current run of Doctor Who).

Both are master-classes in delivering exposition and yet take totally different approaches.


Jurassic Park goes for the info dump. The first … what? Half an hour? 45 mins? … is a science lesson. We get told how dinosaurs died, evolved, what a velociraptor is (because none of us knew back then) what DNA is, how it’s extracted, how it’s spiced with things, how it’s turned into new dinosaurs, how incredibly fucking stupid that is … and so on.

The genius for me here is I didn’t get bored. I didn’t roll my eyes or start yelling “Get on with it!” at the screen … I just sat there and learnt the things I needed to know. The fact a lot of the exposition was disguised as either a theme park ride or a story told to scare a child/accountant helped. The fact the theme park info-ride didn’t go the way Hammond planned nicely foreshadows what’s to come.


To me there was the perfect amount of information, all clumped together so the following action can be uninterrupted thrills and spills.

That’s version one for me: get it out of the way upfront and then get on with the story. But make it fun and thematic and part of the story.

Version two makes me think of Rose. Russell T. Davies does a fantastic job of feeding us the information in tiny sips. This was probably the best choice here because half of the audience were Doctor Who fans who knew all this, the other half were brand new who had no idea what the show was about.


So he feeds us a morsel at a time.

We focus on Rose*, we see the normal, boring world from her point of view – it’s normal and boring.

Then something scary happens! And there’s this guy who shows up and saves her! He’s weird! He’s exciting! He’s called The Doctor! He blows something up!

And then he’s gone.

And life is even more boring without him.

Who is he?

And then there he is again! He’s an alien! He’s clever, he knows things we don’t!

And then he’s gone again.

Just before the mystery tips over into confusion (which is problematic), there’s a conspiracy theorist who gives us a mini-info dump … which we deserve. We’ve earnt a little respite from the mystery.


Now we have some answers … and a lot more questions. Is this guy immortal? Is there more than one of them? Is he some kind of time traveller?

And then he’s there again and it’s all action and adventure! And we’re in the TARDIS, which is … what? Another mini-info dump. It’s a spaceship, it’s bigger on the inside … stuff like that.

There’s only about ten minutes to go now and we nearly know everything … except we don’t. The Nestene Intelligence hints at things even hardcore fans don’t understand – why is it scared of the TARDIS? What’s a Time War? Something’s happened in the 16 years the show was off air. Something we won’t find out about for a few weeks yet.

Even when all’s resolved, there’s still one more piece of information. The very last line of the first episode completes the basic set up:

45 mins to fully educate the new audience as to the nature of the show. Without leaving people confused or bored.

Well, I wasn’t anyway.

True the actual story feels a bit light … but that feels inevitable in reintroducing the concept to the masses. It’s a simple story with few twists and turns … but they are there and the sense of mystery the episode creates makes up for the lack of story.

I think so, anyway. You may have a different opinion. Good for you.

Those two extremes are how I think about exposition. Which serves the story better? Is one inherent to a film (because you have a captive audience in a cinema and more (or less, depending on how you look at it) time to tell the story?) and the other better suited to TV (because people will change the channel if they’re being lectured for 30 mins)? Can you do a mixture of the two? Is there a better, third way?#

All these questions and more will probably never be answered by me because by now I’ve either forgotten I’ve written this or am already bored of thinking about it.

I just like to think about these two examples whenever I start a new project.



*To me, this centring the show on the companion is both a genius move and a bit of a problem. I may talk about this in more depth at some point … or I may not.

#Depends, probably not, possibly, I imagine so, probably.

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

Arnopp’s hands


Have you read Jason Arnopp‘s insightful post on How to be a Safe Pair of Hands? If not, toddle off and read it, we’ll wait …

… all done?

Jolly good.

I think that’s a great post and applies equally well to script writing as well as novels … but there’s something I wanted to add. I too want to feel like the author is under control and leading me masterfully on a journey. I want to respect the author’s authority … and included in that is a desire to be taught things. I want the author to know things I don’t, to educate me because they’re cleverer than me.


If they’re describing Paris, I want to believe they’ve actually been there. I want them to understand what the city is like and where everything is in relation to everything else. I want to believe the characters are in a real place doing real things.

Unless the book’s set in someone’s imagination. In which case, it’s less important.

Similarly, I want things and procedures and … well, everything described properly. I don’t want anything to spoil the journey. The details are there to persuade us of the reality of the story, to suck you in … so when they’re wrong, when the author clearly doesn’t understand how something works or what it’s like to ask a Parisian for directions or why you can’t get from A to B in a certain city because B isn’t even in the same fucking city … well, it’s just annoying.


For me, it destroys the illusion of control. It highlights that I’m not in a safe pair of hands.

Take, for example, the latest book I cracked open. Mere pages into it, someone was in car crash and was rushed to hospital.

Oh noes!

It doesn’t look good, they’re not going to make it!

They flatline! Double noes! Their heart has literally stopped beating!

“Quick!” yells the doctor “Hand me the defrib!”


Hand you the what? The defRib? What the fuck is a defRib? You mean a defib? A defibrillator?

Maybe it’s a misprint? Nope, they’re all calling it a defrib.

Worse than that, they’re using the “defrib” to restart a stopped heart.

Okay, so I know this is a TV/movie trope – defibs stop flatlining. Everyone knows that. In the same way everyone knows vitamin C cures a cold and bad things come in threes. You know … common knowledge, or bullshit as it’s more commonly known.

Defibrillator stops fibrillation. It de-fibrillates. Fibrillation isn’t flatlining … which is death. Probably.


Fibrillation is a random and spasmodic pulsing of the heart. Connect a defib to a flatlining patient and it will recommend CPR, not a shock … because a shock won’t do fuck all.

I know this, the author doesn’t. The author is therefore stupider than me and since I’m not very clever, the author must be an imbecile. This book is written by an imbecile, how can I possibly believe anything he says now?

He has no authority. He’s not a safe pair of hands.


Contrast that with the novel I read immediately before, David Nicholl’s Us … which I loved. Us takes place in a variety of European cities, all of which I’ve been to, all of which felt familiar to me in the book.

I’m no expert on these places and some of them I haven’t been to for over a decade, but to my tortured memory they seem like accurate descriptions of cities I love.

To me, he’s a safe pair of hands – I can relax and enjoy the story without frowning and uttering my old catchphrase: “This makes no fucking sense”.


Obviously these sorts of things are very subjective. There’s accurate and accurate-enough. Most authors (and scriptwriters) aim for accurate enough on the grounds the majority of the readers won’t be physicists or geneticists or any other kind of -cists … but they might be and we have to understand that the ones who are won’t feel safe in our layman’s hands.

Luckily, there’s a cure – research. Research the shit out of everything, don’t assume we know even the tiniest detail because we’re probably wrong. So’s that episode of Minder we copied it from.

If possible, find someone who works in that field to proofread that segment.

If we aim for total accuracy then we’re clearing all the logs off the tracks for our story. Now all we’ve got to do is make the story interesting in and of itself.


Categories: Random Witterings, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments



I have a second spec TV project on the go at the moment. That’s second to the one I’ve been talking about the last few weeks. If you haven’t read those posts, this possibly needed clarifying … or possibly not.

Anyway, there’s two of the buggers.

Unlike the first (which is genuinely the best thing I’ve written for years) the second isn’t quite right yet and is undergoing a B-story-ectomy. This is a massive pain in the arse and something I’ll talk about in the future.

Unless I’ve already blogged about it, in which case I won’t. I often get confused about which way round time moves.

This second script is something I’ve been kicking around for years (without really putting much effort into). Over a decade ago, the movie version of it won stuff and got me interviews with managers … which came to nothing because I didn’t have any other scripts of similar quality. I was, back then, a one trick pony.

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Now I have more tricks and sleeves to keep them up and everything.

That movie script was okay, but really it needs to be a TV series. So I’ve rewritten it as a pilot episode … and I love it. It’s one of those kind of programmes I’ve been lamenting the lack of. It’s a rollicking Saturday evening, team-adventure thing with a sci-fi twist. It’s exactly the kind of thing child-me would have loved.

The main difference, I guess, between this programme and its ’80s equivalent is that the ’80s version would have had an all white, male cast. With maybe a token sexy-woman thrown in.

Keen not to write the ’80s version, this one is much more diverse.

For a start, three of the five team members are women because … well, I feel like there’s an awful lack of women in these kind of things and I don’t really understand why. Some or all of them may or may not be sexy, it’s hard to tell from words on a page.


There is a token sexy-bloke though because … well, why not?

The other guy may or may not be sexy too, it’s hard to tell from … blah, blah, blah.

The secondary character in the movie was a young Indian woman because fourteen years ago (when I first wrote it) I had more Indian friends than then existed in movies and wanted to redress this. She’s still Indian in the TV version.

One of the other women is Egyptian because … well, she needs to be for the story.

She’s also in a wheelchair because I’ve been trying to include at least one clearly disabled role in everything I’ve written since that BBC drama thing a few years back.

This one feels odd to me since, generally, it doesn’t matter if two, three or all of them are disabled. I don’t think it matters to the story one way or the other … but I want to help represent the large percentage of disabled people in the UK and this is my way.


Is she a token disabled person?

Maybe. Depends on who’s cast in the other roles. Hopefully there would be disablity-blind casting … but, sadly, we all know that any character whose gender, ability, race or sexuality isn’t specified ends up being a white, able-bodied, male hetrosexual.

Even in our minds, say BARTENDER or DOCTOR or SKIER and our default image tends to be white and male and … so on.

So at least one of the main roles is specified as disabled.

One of the women is a lesbian because it’s the best thing for the pilot story and it helps (un)define the relationship between her and one of the men. They become best of friends, but will never be lovers. There is no sexual tension between them and never will be. That’s important for later.


Similarly, one of the men is gay because it’s the only mechanic I could find which makes sense and creates the right reasons for the events which unfold throughout. He’s not necessarily camp though. His sexuality is absolutely incidental to the week to week unfolding of the story … until the end. At the end of the first season his actions retrospectively make sense because of who he’s in love with.

So there’s a gay one and a lesbian one and an Egyptian one and a disabled one and an Indian one and three out of five of them are women and …

Oh, hang on. None of them are black.

Right … so, whereas it would be nice if there was naturally an ethnic mix across the remaining three cast members, we come back to that default white casting setting.



So why not specify one or more of them as black?

And maybe one should be Chinese or Japanese or Korean?

Ooh, and transgender! They’re not very well represented, one of them should be transgender.

And I’ve always thought one of them would be best played by Warwick Davies. This isn’t a “let’s get a little person in there” thing. I just think he’s awesome and genuinely the best actor for that role, irrespective of height.

So now my mental casting looks like it’s been done by the commitee for minority integration. It’s starting to look less like a bunch of people doing a job and more like they were all hand picked to represent something.

Which is kind of 50% true, I guess.


The playing field isn’t level. The default casting tends to discriminate against a lot of people. I don’t know why this is, I don’t know if there’s genuinely a dearth of variety among actors or if there’s an unconscious bias which prevails in a predominantly white, male industry. It kind of doesn’t matter because I have no control over any of that.

Unless I give up and reduce the straight, white, able-bodied male writers by one.

What I do have control of is how I specify characters in my scripts. If I say nothing, there’s a better than average chance they’ll cast the default. If I get specific, they’ll search for that type of person.

Unless there’s a bloody good reason not to. Isms not being a good reason.

It’s kind of part of my job to write diversity into the script.

But. and here’s the thing I need to keep reminding myself,  I don’t have to fight every battle all the time.

This isn’t the only script I’m going to write. I can keep some of my white, middle class male guilt for the next script and the one after that and the one after that. Maybe the next script will have a transgender character in it? Preferably one whose story doesn’t revolve around their trans-ness. Maybe the next script will have five transgender characters in? Or five wheelchair users? Maybe there won’t be a single white, able-bodied, straight man in the whole script?

Or maybe the next script will be only about white men because that’s what the story demands?

I don’t know what story that might be, but maybe it will?


I hope not.

The point I keep having to relearn is that no one script will change the world … but a general trend towards diversity will.  At the moment, making sure the characters are an even mix of race, sexuality and ability can look a little odd. Hopefully that’s changing and in the near future it won’t?

I guess my job is to add to the trickle which builds to the flood.


Categories: For Want of a Nail, Industry Musings, My Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The second thing


Last week I went on (at great length) about how changing the arena of a script instantly made it more appealing to people. This week’s post is kind of an extension of that, a further twist to the arena knife which allows the story to haemorrhage awesomeness.

Wow. Haemorrhage is a really hard word to spell.

My writing partner and I had moved our story from a council estate to a community which grew out of the Great Sunday Squat. Set on an illegally occupied airbase it had all the qualities of a council estate with none of the resistance we’d been meeting whilst trying to get people to read it.

But something still wasn’t right.


All the time Jay and I had been writing this, the story had been fighting us. Scenes felt dated. Attitudes and locations felt somehow wrong. It was a real struggle to keep it feeling fresh and modern … and then the shift in location/arena added a new problem.

This society had been set up in 1946. Most of these squats were gone by the mid-fifties. Keeping one around longer than that is a stretch, but not a huge one. Maybe one or two did continue longer than that? Maybe one is even still around to this day?


But then … does that ring true? Would a large swathe of illegally occupied land be left to fester under the no-longer-caring control of a bunch of squatters? Would any modern council allow those people to keep what will have become prime real estate?

In short, is it believable?


Not to me, no.

It may actually be true (maybe?) but it’s not believable … and that’s a problem.

The way I’ve written this blog, it makes the solution seem obvious … but it really wasn’t. This blog makes it sound like there was a dead body with a stab-wound and a man holding a bloody knife … but that description doesn’t include the thousands of other facts which could obscure that obvious conclusion.

It took us a while, but eventually the blindingly obvious struck us – this wasn’t a contemporary story any more, it’s an historical one.


Suddenly, all the scenes which had felt horribly 80s became typically 80s. We went from thinking people don’t live/behave like this to realising people did live/behave like this.

Suddenly it all made sense.

And the more I looked into moving the script through time, the more sense it made.

This script has a parallel narrative – the same characters go through two different yet interconnected stories which are set 7 years apart.

Think about what someone in 2015 wears. Now think about what someone in 2008 wore. Could you identify which set of clothes belonged to which year instantly?


Think about someone holding an iPhone 3G up to their ear. Now imagine it’s an iPhone 6. Or an iPhone 5 (if they can’t afford the latest model) … is the difference so pronounced there’s no possibility of confusion?

What about cars? Is there a significant difference between now and then?

Not to my eyes.

Now think about the difference between 1978 and 1985. Think about seventies clothing. Now think about the eighties … is there a clear and recognisable difference to you? There is to me.


Okay, so I know there was a blending of styles between 1978 and 1985. Some people in ’78 wore flares, some were punks. Not everyone wore decade-defining clothes … but the point remains. I think it’s easier to spot the difference between a 70s’ suit and an 80s’ one

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… than it is between a modern day one and one from 08.

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Hell, even the police cars were completely different. The 70s’ ones were the blue and white panda cars:

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The 80s brought us red and white jam sandwiches.

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What did police cars look like in 2008? Exactly the same as they do now? Silver Battenberg models as far as I can remember.

Police_car_in_Edinburgh_Scotland_2008 image

To our eyes, changing the script from present day to the seventies/eighties gives it another level of intrigue – it’s another change to the arena which is inherently interesting. Plus, in that time Britain moved from a Labour government to a Tory one. Drastically so. There’s a world of difference between Callaghan and Thatcher – visually and in terms of policies. Policies which exactly mirror the attitudes of our dual protagonists.

If the Prime Minister was on a black, flatscreen TV in the background … could you tell at a glance if we were in 2008 or 2015?

Well, yes, probably. Especially if it was a close up of his face. Brown vs Cameron is an easy spot. Blair vs Cameron is trickier – two suited pretty boys who look like they’re dressed by the same stylist.

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Now think of the difference between Callaghan on a wooden TV and Thatcher on a brightly coloured plastic one.

Changing the time just made sense.*

Suddenly the script was set in an interesting location at an interesting time. Visually it’s striking and it just sounds different. The arena is unusual and therefore more intriguing.

So although this post and last week’s are technically about two different things, they’re really about one thing – arena. Where does the script happen? What’s the world, is it interesting to explore?

A sitcom about a  office worker who’s desperately in love with a girl but keeps fucking it up because he’s an imbecile sounds … familiar. I guess the execution might be good.

The same story set in Ancient Rome … that’s more interesting.

The arena is different. It’s the same com and needs to be equally as funny, but the sit’s different. The sit is what attracts people to a sitcom. The com is what keeps them watching.


Or maybe not. I just made that up without really thinking it through.

If it is true, then I think the same is (at least partially) true with all stories – find an interesting arena and you’re one step closer to making a sale.

Bullshit or not?


* It also made a fuck load of annoying work while I tried to figure out what was invented when and how people did simple everyday things in 1978. 1985 I can remember fairly accurately, but 78? I was 6, I have no idea how petrol stations worked or banks or the police.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings, The Ties That Bind, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

One more thing …


I wrote a script a while back (with Jay Sutherland) and the result was … well, pretty good. We like it anyway. We had something we wanted to say, something we wanted to achieve and a story we wanted to tell. After multiple drafts and a lot of head-scratching, we achieved all three.

The end result was a great script … which no one wanted to read.

Not a script no one wanted to option, but one no one wanted to read.

Hmm … why not?

Maybe it was the pitch?


Well, obviously it was the pitch since that was the only thing we could get people to read. Clearly there must be something wrong with it?

But there wasn’t. Or rather there was, but it wasn’t the pitch’s fault. The pitch accurately described the project in an exciting way … but the project itself was fundamentally flawed.

I say fundamentally flawed, but that may not be strictly true. Maybe the problem lies in other people’s perceptions/prejudices? Because, in essence, the fundamental flaw was two words – two words which, unfortunately, describe the arena in which the story takes place.

Those two words were ‘council estate’.%


Okay, so I kind of get this. There are certain kinds of story which get set on a council estate. Often the kinds of story described by adjectives like ‘grim’ and ‘gritty’.

I’m not a fan of grim and gritty.

I recognise these stories have their place and can accurately reflect modern society or even inform people about the kinds of lives people do or have lived in the UK. I even enjoy such stories when I’m in the right mood … but generally I like my films to be escapist. I like to leave a cinema feeling good. Films which make me feel bad or an emotional wreck can be excellent … but for preference, I’d rather be uplifted.

British working class dramas tend not to be uplifting.


Tend. Not ‘are never’, just tend.

Jay and I wanted to follow more in the footsteps of American blue-collar films which tend to be about triumphing over adversity or be somehow more life-affirming.

Again, this is a tendency, not a hard and fast rule.

Maybe these aren’t even tendencies and just the perceptions/prejudices of Jay and I#?

I don’t know.


The problem is, as soom as people read ‘council estate’ they put the pitch down. They weren’t really interested in that kind of grim and gritty story.

Which is a shame, because we’d specifically written a non-grim-and-gritty story.

So what to do? We’d written a genre-busting* script which no one wanted to read because they didn’t like the genre. This is a colossal waste of time.

Thing is, I like the script. I like the story. I think people would like it too if they read it … we just needed to find out how to do that.

It just needed one more thing.


It needed that extra twist which makes the script inherently more interesting.

In the end we settled on two more things.

The first was to change the arena. If people don’t want to read a script set on a council estate (I live on a council estate, by the way. My wife and I own our house, but it’s on a council estate) then we need to change it to a different location without losing the essence of the story.

So … reverse engineering time. What is it about a council estate which made it right for the story? What elements of an estate do we need to keep? Which elements do we need to throw away?


Well, there were two tower blocks and stuff happened involving people looking down from them – is that important?

No. Not really. They can look across. Or up. It doesn’t matter.

What else?

We wanted to write an inspirational/aspirational working class story. Does that need to be set on a council estate?


We wanted it to be a self-contained society on the outskirts of a town which was marginalised by the more affluent people in the town and downright ignored by the police. So long as people stayed on the estate, the police didn’t care what they did.


That felt more tricky. I mean, we could have transplanted this story to an off-planet colony. One which was failing and being ignored by Earth … but then that tips it over into science fiction and whereas I love sci-fi,  I don’t want it for this story.

Still, that’s not a bad idea because it adds one more thing: an unusual arena.

This, I feel, is important because it automatically piques someone’s interest. The Martian looks like exactly the same (or at least a very similar) story as Cast Away or Robinson Crusoe.

Someone is stuck somewhere on their own, having to survive in ridiculously tough circumstances.


Clearly there are a million ways to tell this story without changing the arena. Cast Away and The Martian may well be exactly the same story (it doesn’t look like it, but I haven’t seen or read The Martian so I can’t be certain) but setting one on a deserted island and the other on Mars makes them instantly feel different.

Changing the arena changes the level of interest. It can make the difference from someone going “Oh for fuck’s sake! Not another stranded on a desert island story!” to “Ooh, stuck on Mars! How’s he going to survive that?”

If people feel they know everything about one arena (even when they probably don’t), then switching it to one they know less about can make the difference between a read and a pass.

So what arenas are like a council estate … but not? What haven’t we seen on screen before? Or recently?


And this is where an eclectic reading habit comes in useful. Hoover up knowledge, you never know when you might need it.

Two things sprang to mind, two things I remember reading and being fascinated by: The Principality of Sealand and Freetown Christiania. Both are small communities set up on the fringes of society, occasionally attacked by the authorities before settling down into an uneasy truce.

Sealand’s story I know was optioned by someone at some point – there may well be a film about that (or inspired by that) in the works.


Freetown Christiania feels uniquely Danish … but maybe there’s a British equivalent? After all, we did have a lot of abandoned Air Force bases after WWII.

A brief spot of googling turned up The Great Sunday Squat of 1946. Turns out there were hundreds (or possibly tens) of these kind of mini-societies set up in the UK. Some of them set up their own councils and laws and schools and existed for over a decade.

So … what if one of them still existed today? What would that look like? How would that fit into modern Britain if it were on the edge of a more affluent town?

In the 1940s squatting was an accepted part of normal life. Nowadays it’s villified. That’s interesting, isn’t it?

We think so anyway. It’s not a council estate, it’s something else. It’s visually interesting to look at and (as far as I know) it’s never been done before.

So that’s the first thing. By changing the arena, we’ve created a much more appealing story. It’s exactly the same story (mostly) but the setting makes it instantly more intriguing.^

The second thing … I’ll talk about next week.



% And the last paragraph of the original pitch. The last paragraph made us sound like egotistical wankers who believed we were the saviours of the British film industry. We don’t and we’re not. Sorry about that.

# The Full Monty is pretty uplifting, for example.

* Okay, maybe not busting. Bending? And not really genre since ‘council estate’ isn’t a genre … it’s just apparently perceived as one.

^ Other options could have been a Model Village which was abandoned by it’s philanthropist owner, or a factory village created to house workers for a factory which then went bust, or railway village whose station was closed by Dr Beeching, something like The Epcot Centre (which was designed to be lived in but never was, imagine if it had?) … and so on.

Categories: The Ties That Bind, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

In the background …


I was watching an episode of Silicon Valley the other day (if you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out – it’s one of my favourite sitcoms of the moment) and there was this scene in front of a large window.

Behind them, if you were paying attention, Dinesh gets up and heads for the whiteboard. It’s not focussed on, it’s not dwelt on, hell, the window’s hardly in frame … but it’s there. The kind of motion you notice out of the corner of your eye and chuckle because you know exactly what he’s doing and why … but since it happened covertly you feel smug and certain you’re the only one who noticed.

Anyone watching this who didn’t see it will be surprised and laugh when they find out what’s happening (for it was funny in context). If it had been more blatantly done it would be a shitty set up which puts the audience the wrong kind of ahead of the character. It would have made the gag seem obvious and clumsy. It would force you to wait for something you knew was coming.


But it wasn’t like that. It was subtle. It made me feel clever for noticing. People who didn’t notice will have caught it on a second viewing and marvelled (maybe) at how well thought out it was. A bit like the people who somehow didn’t spot


Tyler Durden appear and disappear on the escalator at the beginning of the film. It’s a huge tip off to his non-existence … but one a lot of people didn’t seem to catch on first viewing.


Second or third time round they see it and are happy as their mental jigsaw click into place.

I love stuff like that. I love stuff you catch on repeat viewings which reinforce what came later. I love Ben Kenobi’s expression in Star Wars when


Luke talks about who his father was.


At the time, that expression meant nothing. After Empire, it means everything … although I don’t think it’s a deliberate thing. I think we’re reading something into an expression which probably just meant Alec Guinness was uncomfortable in his robes. Or had just farted or something.


Anyway. I love that stuff. I love that it was always there but you just didn’t notice it.

The problem is, how to put that into a script? I don’t really mean ‘How do I write this in a way which will force the director to frame it all properly?’ because any decent director has a conversation with the scriptwriter to determine what they had in mind. The director isn’t obliged to shoot it that way, but they should at least have an understanding of the intention before they choose a different method. Ideally, this is an ongoing conversation throughout development … but sometimes that isn’t possible and a discussion just prior to shooting/pre-production is all there’s time for.

So that’s not the problem. The problem is: how do I convey the same experience to the reader?


Scripts are a technical document, that’s true … but they should still invoke the same emotional responses as the finished film. Sad bits should be written in a way which makes the reader feel sad. Happy bits should do the opposite. Action scenes should be thrilling and not just “and then they have a fight on a cable car”.

It doesn’t matter if the stunt co-ordinator changes the fight or the location is shifted to a waterwheel. The script can change to reflect that … but in order to get made, it has to thrill someone (or several someones). They have to see in their mind’s eye what the audience will be seeing on screen.


But if the majority of the audience aren’t supposed to see it, if it’s meant to be hidden until it’s revealed later … well, that’s hard to do in a script.

I’ve tried writing:

IN THE BACKGROUND: Bob pockets the magic dildo of Aramore.

But some readers assume that means it’s a close up of Bob picking it up, looking shifty, and shoving it down his pants. “The dildo twist is too obvious!” they cry, “Everyone will know it’s coming!”


I’ve tried writing:

Whilst Emily punches a marmoset, in the background, just over Emily’s shoulder, Bob surreptitiously steals up the magic dildo.

… with much the same results: they ‘see’ a big old close-up of Bob’s phallus-thieving antics. For some reason, words like ‘surreptitiously’ (as well as being a bugger to spell) seem to invoke a close-up of someone nervously moving their eyes from side to side.


To be honest, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to describe it really.

If you were paying attention, you might notice Bob stealing the magic dildo?

Whilst the camera focuses on Emily’s marmoset-punching, at the edge of the frame, Bob steals the dildo?

Unseen by all but the most eagle-eyed viewer, Bob grabs the magic dildo and … ?

I think I like that last one best … but it’s still not ideal.

I think part of the problem is there isn’t a good way to do it without breaking the rules of scriptwriting. You might have to draw attention to what the camera’s pointing at, or explain that the audience aren’t really supposed to notice this bit.


On screen, the audience probably won’t notice because there’s a lot of other things going on for them to focus on. You can add action on the other side of the screen to draw their attention or an unusual prop or a brief burst of nudity or … you know, stuff.

In a well written script, everything on the page is relevant. That’s what frustrating about some badly-written scripts – they contain lots of pointless detail you feel you need to remember … only to find out it’s irrelevant. If it’s mentioned on the page, if the knife and fork on the Brigadier’s dinner table is a lime green, plastic Winnie-the-Pooh set then (hopefully) it has some relevance to the plot or to describing the Brigadier’s character. If it’s irrelevant, why mention it?


Using the same logic, if the script mentions that Bob pockets the magic dildo, then that magic dildo is probably really important later on and is to be remembered. Just by being on the page, it’s drawing attention to itself. Even when you don’t want it to.

So maybe the way to hide it on the page is the same way you’d hide it on screen? Maybe deliberately clumping a lot of action lines together (say five or six?) and inserting the covert didlo-filching into the middle of the abnormally large block is the way to go?

People do tend to skim read larger blocks of text. Many would possibly miss it. Maybe?

I don’t know. I don’t have a good answer for this. If you do, I’d love to hear it.



I’m sure many wouldn’t – I’m a bit weird about watching the edges of the screen when people are talking. I think it’s because I used to enjoy spotting boom mics. You rarely see them any more.

* If you ever get the chance, stand at the back of an auditorium during a whodunnit or a film with a twist. As the twist looms closer, people lean in. As they get the twist, they lean back. Some people lean back significantly before everyone else. If one or two people lean back before the twist, they look smug – they worked out a brilliant twist because they are brilliant. If the majority of people lean back – they look bored. It’s an obvious, shit twist and now they’re just killing time waiting for the protagonist to catch up with them.

This is 100%, universally true. Except when it’s not.

Categories: My Way, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

What do producer’s notes look like?

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A couple of weeks ago, whilst panicking about possibly offending a friend with my callous note-giving, I asked if anyone would be interested in seeing what script notes look like.

Apparently,  a few of you would be.

Although only one of you is prepared to say that in public.

Okay, fair

I should probably mention at this point that this post will largely benefit writers who have yet to enter production or receive notes from anyone who isn’t either a friend (being nice) or someone they’ve paid to get notes from (being polite). If you’re a more experienced writer, you may like to chuckle along in recognition or perhaps be outraged because you’ve never had notes like this.

Don’t be outraged. Be thankful.


So these notes are second or third draft notes. First draft notes tend to be a bit more general and hand wavy:

I know we’re doing a live-action remake of Dumbo, but I’ve just found out how expensive elephants are … so can we make him a hamster?


The first act is great. The second act flags a bit and … well, there isn’t a third act. Can we fix this?

In essence, they like the concept and see potential … but want everything else to change.

By the second or third draft, all these things have been fixed. The big pieces are (mostly) in the right places (even though they’ll all change next time round) and attention can be spared for the finer details.


So that’s what these notes are … but there’s a problem. In order to show what notes look like, I need a script to make notes on.

I had considered writing a deliberately early-stages three page script … but decided it was probably impossible to write something I thought was good enough to hand in and then immediately find all the flaws in it as if I was someone else reading it for the first time.

Then I considered asking someone to send in a short script … and quickly decided it would be a fairly unpleasant thing to tear someone’s script apart like this.


So instead, I opened up my long-forgotten short-scripts folder and picked the first script off the list. This one is alphabetically and chronologically the first short script I ever wrote.

Boy is it shit.

But, saying that, it got optioned twice and won a short script competition … so some people saw some merit in it somewhere.

Fuck knows why.


So here it is: 1939 – 1945 pm by (the young) Phillip Barron – it’s the entire history of WWII told in one afternoon in one street. Ish.

First off, have a read of the virgin, un-noted first three pages of a 14 page script. Imagine you’re a fresh-faced writer who thinks he’s written a work of genius.

Try not to form your own opinions just yet.

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3




Okay. So let’s now imagine you’ve sent it off to a producer and they’ve gushed on about how wonderful it is and made your head all big and swollen. Maybe you are a genius! They love it! They’ve optioned it!


Fame and fortune here you come!

Because that’s exactly how this business works – you option a short script and are instantly catapulted into a full-time, fully paid professional position where people are hurling Oscars and BAFTAs at you.

Sometimes I want to build a time machine so I can go back in time and beat some sense into myself.

Anyway. You’ve had a meeting, you’ve made some big changes … which they love! They love you! Here comes the teeny, tiny little nit-picky notes:

Notes 1


Wait, what the fuck? (The bits in bold are me then. The bits in brackets are me now. Me now doesn’t like me then much)

What’s all that red? I thought they loved this? How come they no longer seem to understand what’s going on? I deliberately left out all the scene descriptions because they told me the script was too long and needed to be trimmed! They know the answers to all these questions!

How fucking dare they point out a typo (damn it! I missed that!) in the same paragraph they make a typo!

Do they really not know what ‘etc’ means?

(Later on you’ll find out they’re asking exactly how many Germans ‘etc’ means since they have to work out how many people to hire. For now, you’re just wrongly outraged.)

Why are they asking about the uniforms? How is that my decision? That’s down to the wardrobe department, surely? Isn’t that what they tell us in scriptwriting school?

Notes 2


Christ, it gets worse!

Hitler’s accent is up to the actor playing him, surely?

(Yes and no. They will make up their own mind (and possibly accent), but you still need to give the reader some clue as to how to read it.)

What does ‘too political’ mean? Do they want me to whitewash the Jews out of history? I can’t just not mention them, but the holocaust isn’t funny – what do they want me to do?

(They don’t know. Neither did I. Or do I. That note probably means we need to talk about this.)

Why bother giving me a note saying they understand something when they could just wait to the next line and find out?

(Because they’re giving you their impressions as they read. They think you’re someone they can just chat to through their typing. They probably found it easier to type an apology than to go back and correct it. Anyway, sometimes things like this are useful – knowing where you lost a reader (or viewer) can be the difference between someone finishing a script and hurling it at the bin).

More rousing? Fuck!

(Typically, writers will make it five percent more rousing for the next draft instead of 3000%. When someone wants more, give them MORE!)

I genuinely can’t remember if Arthur is historical or not … 

Notes 3


Two beats? What the fuck does two beats mean?

(Doesn’t mean anything – it’s just an observation. There are two beats in a short space of time, one in dialogue, one in parentheses.)

Who’s confused? They are, obviously! It’s so fucking clear who’s confused!

(Yes … but will it still be clear when there’s dozens of people standing around on set?)

Himmler was always a child!

And where’s the typo on that line? I’ve been looking at it for ages – there fucking isn’t one!

(Usually, when queried about this, producers can’t remember what they thought was a typo either.)

Discuss black and white? Okay: You’re a fucking imbecile for considering it.

There, how was that?

(It’s a whim. The producer will probably have forgotten why they thought that when you actually talk over these notes).

Of course Hitler wasn’t Himmler’s dad! Don’t be a fucking moron!

Chevy Chase? What the fuck does that mean?

(They won’t remember. They won’t even remember writing it. Just move on.)

Notes 4Has he got that power? Um … I don’t know. Does it matter? Wait, do you mean in real life or in this story? Oh fuck, I’m confused now.

Why do they love the word ‘promise’?

(They just do. Don’t question it, it doesn’t matter.)

Several means … I don’t fucking know! You choose! How many can you afford?

The English house looks like whatever the actual house looks like in the fucking location you pick. How is that my job to know that?

(Because someone has to go looking for a house which matches the picture in your head. It’s helpful if they know what that picture is.)

Peace and piece … those are Chamberlain’s actual words, you fucking idiot! And I’ve just realised you spelt his name wrong on the last page. Hah! I win the notes!

Swearing … yeah, okay. I like swearing but maybe you don’t?

No? What does ‘no’ mean on the last line?

And so on until your liver explodes in a shower of bile.


If you want to know how to deal with notes, the answer is here.

The main problem with receiving notes like these is they’re all right. All of them. Even the ones which aren’t. They hurt because they feel like everything you’ve done is wrong … but that’s not what they’re saying. If everything you’d done was wrong, there’d either just be one note:

This is shit.

Or, more commonly, no notes because you’d never have heard back from the producer in the first place.

These notes, the myriad of tiny notes on every line, are the notes of someone who is on your side and is trying to help finesse the details. They may feel like a personal attack, but they’re not. This is just what the job is and how the process works.

Forewarned is forearmed. If you’re expecting this sort of evisceration then you can prepare yourself for it. Script editors tend to be more woolly and lovely about giving notes. Directors and producers tend to be more technical and clinical, brusque even.

As is always best practice, don’t respond straight away.


Think it over, get a face to face meeting or a phone call and go through the notes. You’ll get the chance to explain and defend the bits you’re certain are right (I’m rarely certain and like being persuaded) and they’ll get the chance to explain what they actually mean by things like ‘Chevy Chase’ … if they ever meant anything in the first place.

Categories: Someone Else's Way, Writing and life | Tags: , | 3 Comments

#P̶h̶o̶n̶e̶ MeetPhill – Meeting #1: Piers Beckley, Michelle Lipton & J̶a̶s̶o̶n̶ ̶A̶r̶n̶o̶p̶p̶


A very special #PhonePhill this week in that it didn’t involve a phone at all, but rather an actual face to face meeting with all the delights and risk of contamination these things bring.


How can such a thing happen, you’re doubtlessly asking?

What kind of Earth-shattering calamity could persuade Phill to leave the relative safety of the Secret Writing Island and venture into deepest, darkest London where people can actually see him face to face and possibly even (gasp!) be nice to him?

Well, I’m glad you asked. It’s all Piers Beckley‘s fault.

Piers used to (or possibly still does but hasn’t for a while) run these monthly get togethers for writers in London. He was nice enough to invite me to join in and as is my want, I declined.

For I am shy.

Except when I’m not.


But he persisted and I eventually caved in to his smooth-talking big city ways and found myself venturing into London to meet a lovely bunch of lovely people who were in various states of drunkeness.

And fun was had by all.

For largely geographical reasons (except Piers, who travels. Possibly in some kind of mysterious wrought iron carriage powered by dreams), Piers, Michelle, Jason and I began a tradition of extra-curricular meetings in Brighton. And sometimes London.


Which is where this inaugural #MeetPhill took place.

Although, obviously, this wasn’t our inaugural meeting. Nor was it an opportunity for them to meet me so much as for all of us to meet each other. Again. Also, inaugural implies there’ll be more opportunities for people to meet me.

There won’t.

Well, there will. But I’m far too lazy to traipse into London for a random natter with anyone who emails me.

To be honest, this was just three friends meeting up for a chat about writing and life and stuff.

Wait a minute. Three? Don’t I mean four?


No. One person has been strangely elusive of late. He says he’s doing this newfangled thing called writing … but that sounds frankly ludicrous and can’t be true.

The truth is … we’ve lost Arnopp. Has anybody seen him? If you spot him, give him a cuddle and some gin and send him home.


The rest of us had a lovely time. We saw dinosaurs and ate Japanese food and got caught in a Tube strike and, oh … everything. We regaled each other with discussions, including but not limited to:

  1. Getting a proper writing job on a proper TV programme  … and then having to turn down another proper writing job on another proper TV programme because they clashed.
  2. Writing erotic fiction.
  3. Writing for a proper A-list actor who actually read the script and loved it and wanted to do it … and then didn’t because of reasons which are depressing but totally understandable.
  4. Something so insanely exciting but also very, very personal and private which can’t be discussed despite it being the bestest news ever.
  5. Developing a new TV series for and with someone.
  6. The pitiful amount of custard served with the steamed treacle pudding in the last pub we went into. Which also didn’t have a working kettle and hence, no tea. Which was disappointing.
  7. Purging the urge to write scripts for existing TV shows by actually writing them in a useful way.
  8. Other stuff.

Usually in a #PhonePhill there’s some aspect of the discussion which I’ll pull out and highlight in great length, but in this case the meeting of peers is the point. Sideways networking, meeting up with other writers, having a bit of a chat and building those relationships is vital.

Networking with producers and directors is all well and good. Vital, in fact … but it’s the other writers, the other people on the same journey who will help you the most.


Yes, sometimes we read each others’ scripts. Sometimes. Sometimes we share information or opportunities. Sometimes those things even lead somewhere.

Just prior to meeting Piers and Shel, for example, I had a meeting with a new producer to discuss optioning a feature script. That meeting came about because of Piers – he knew the guy was looking for scripts and thought I may have had the sort of thing he was looking for.


Piers was right.

That new contact, that new opportunity and new option is a direct result of sideways networking. Writers tend to be awfully nice people who have a lot of time for each other and are very supportive. Well, in my experience anyway.

If you’re a writer who doesn’t know other writers, find some and know them. You’ll be glad you did.

So pleased with myself_jpg

Categories: #PhonePhill, Career Path, Writing and life | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

What do script notes look like?


An actor friend of mine recently asked if I could read his script for him. Now normally I would say no*, but I like this guy and I’ve been we’ve been chatting about the concept for a while now and I thought – what the hell?

So I read the script and gave some opinions. Just opinions, not facts, just my (flawed) perception of the script as I understood it.

He went away, did some rewrites and came back with a better draft.


Now there’s an odd thing with a script – the better it is, the more notes it generates … until it gets really good and the notes slowly dry up.

Essentially it’s because first drafts are terrible and need major de-and-reconstruction to make them work. I expect to throw out 50% of every first draft. Notes will be along the lines of:

It’s great up until the third act (this means the first act is shit).


I don’t like the protagonist but her friend is really cool (usually because the protagonist was their idea and their friend was the one I wanted to write).


I don’t know, the (insert whatever plot element they specified) is so clichéd now.


None of this makes any fucking sense (which usually means … yeah, I fucked up).

The notes are big notes about big things because the big things don’t work. There are fewer big notes about big things than small notes about small things because there are fewer big things than small things in a script.


The second draft is (hopefully) far better. It actually works as a movie.  It’s coherent, it’s funny/sexy/affecting (or whatever it’s meant to be) … it just works.

Now we can start to make it good.

Now we get onto the small notes about small things.

Now we tear out the writer’s heart and stamp on it.

These kind of notes are awful and upsetting and often feel pointless and overwhelming and … hurtful.


But they’re not. Not really. Well, not always. They’re usually right or at least right from the note-giver’s point of view. They’re not given in a malicious sense, they’re given in a sleeves-rolled-up, let’s-get-into-the-details-and-make-it-better sense.


These notes are polishing. And polishing, by its nature, involves methodically going over every square inch of script.

Every line, every name, every scene heading … all of it.

Experienced writers … well, we don’t enjoy getting these notes, but we expect them. When people don’t interrogate the script and just go “Brilliant! Let’s film it!” (which has happened to me), when they’re apparently not interested in refining the script … the film will be shit. Because they clearly don’t care enough to put the effort into improving it.


Actors, like my friend, I don’t know if actors are used to notes like that. Actors get notes on their performance, true. But I think (and correct me if I’m wrong) that they tend to be along the lines of:

That was great. Can we try one where you’re angry?

Followed by an in-depth discussion/explanation of why the director thinks the character should  be angry at this point.

Actors (I think – I may be talking out of my arse here) rarely get notes which go:

Your left foot, can you move it two inches to the left? Your right foot doesn’t make sense. Let’s rotate it 30 degrees so you’re standing on the outside edge. Your left ankle is fine but your right ankle is too fat – change that …

And so on, all the way up their body, criticising every joint, muscle and sinew until they get told to make their blinking asynchronous.

Maybe that does happen – I suspect (and hope) it doesn’t.


So I gave my in-depth, nit-picky notes on what is now a much better script, sent them off … and was immediately worried – what if he’s upset by my notes? What if he reacts to them the way I did the first time I received notes like that? I think maybe he’s done devised work and de-constructed scenes until they’ve learnt to fucking behave themselves … but what if he hasn’t?

Oh no! What if he doesn’t understand the more notes=better script equation?


Eh … he’s a big boy, he’ll get over it.

But then I was thinking – would it be useful to newer writers to get a sense of what kind of notes they’re going to get once they’re working for a client?

Is that the kind of thing you’d like to read? Would you like me to post an excerpt from a script with development-style notes attached?

I was just going to do it, but this post is already too long and frankly I’m boring myself here … so I put it to you, is this something which would be helpful to those of you just starting out? Or even those of you far along the path who want to know we all get the same level of script-hammering?


Answers in the comments (or by email, which seems to be your preferred means of communication – why is that? Why have you all gone so shy all of a sudden?).

Vote with silence or NO and I’ll not bother. Vote yes and I’ll post something next week … or maybe the week after since there’s a #PhonePhill to write up.

Here’s some Bohemian Rhapsody because … because.


* Because it takes a lot of time to read, think and opine.

Because people (especially non-writers or writers with limited experience) get pissed off and take it to heart if my opinion is anything other than ‘GENIUS! YOU ARE ONE!’

Because people often think agreeing to read one draft is actually agreeing to read the next 78 nigh-on-identical drafts where nothing I say is ever taken into consideration and none of the problems are ever resolved.#

Because I don’t want to.

#This is weird – you don’t like/trust my advice enough to actually follow it … but you want more of it? Lots more of it? Are you just trying to see how wrong I can be?

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings, Writing and life | Tags: , | 2 Comments

#PhonePhill – Conversation #11: Terry Newman


This week I have been chatting to the great Terry Newman. Or Dr Tel as he’s famously known.

What a nice guy.

But I already knew that.

Tel is one of those writers whose list of credits is unfeasibly long across multiple genres and media. His CV is so ridiculously packed and varied that you could almost be forgiven for asuming he’s more than one person, that ‘Terry Newman’ is a brand masking the input of a dozen writers.

But it’s not. He’s real … and he’s lovely.

Tel’s written stuff like this:

Lucifer front

And this:

Electric Eddy and Kettle

And this:

big picture twinkle

And, most recently, this:

Detective Strongoak book cover

Which you can (and should) buy here for mere pennies.

Tel and I first met … fuck, years ago. When was that? 2008? Maybe? No, looking at script dates it was 2005. Blimey.

We were brought together to write a sitcom about Saddam Hussain by Lewis Alsamari* – an Iraqi who’d escaped from his regime and felt the bastard needed satirising like buggery. It came out really well and got as far as attracting a great cast and one of the proper sitcom-royalty directors … before fizzling out in a burst of apathy.


Or maybe someone else did a serious version of it and it was felt our version was making fun of that seriousness and not the psychotic imbecile it was meant to be lampooning.

I don’t know. It died anyway.

Which is a shame, because it was good.

Tel and I chatted for the best part of two hours about a wide variety of stuff. The first ten minutes or so were, in the best Skype tradition (for I was on my Secret Writing Island), spent wondering if we could hear each other and shouting hello a lot.


Wifi was particularly terrible on that day. So terrible I was forced to leave my room and take my chances in the hotel lobby, dodging families of wailing Brits abroad (learn to fucking behave and put some fucking suncream on you lobster fucks!), Americans (you guys are LOUD in public!) and mediocre reggae blasting at unnessary volume from hidden speakers.

There’s always one spot in every hotel lobby which is far enough away from the noise but close enough to the router to be perfect … it usually takes a lot of wandering back and forth to find it.


But find it I did. However, since I was now in public, the mooted possibility of a video chat was abandonned. Which was a shame since I’d put clothes on and everything.

This is the wall Tel would have been chatting in front of:

cool wall

This is what I would have been chatting in front of:

2015-07-16 11.00.23

This is actually ten minutes after I’d hung up, right in the middle of the storm but about five minutes before the earthquake hit.

Secret Writing Islands – they’re not all fun in the sun.

Once we’d established a clear(ish) line of communication we chatted in earnest about all sorts of things.

Tel and I are (I think) very similar. We both have a love for comedy. We both have a love of superheroes.

This is Tel’s recent purchase, melding together both of those loves:


This was my latest self-build, keep me sane, project:

And we both have damaged our own careers by refusing to stick to one genre, style or medium. Neither of us are the go-to-guy for anything.

Well, I was (for a while) the go-to-guy when you had a terrible script you needed bringing up to scratch in an absolutely hurry because you were filming on Wednesday and for some reason hadn’t bothered to get the script right before committing to a start date.

But I’ve managed to extricate myself from being that guy because being that guy is fucking annoying, stressful and ultimately unrewarding since panicked page one rewrites on a script which is almost at the end of pre-production is unlikely to yield a good film.


Being the go-to-person for something is a good idea. It’s the way to build a career. Being the best at one thing means people will come to you first. Like, back in the day when these things still existed, people would go to record shops to buy records first … and if they couldn’t find it there, go to Woolworths as a last ditch, deperate attempt without really expecting to find it there.

I inadvertently set myself up as the Woolworths of script writing. I can do all the genres … but people would tend to go to the specialists first.

I guess Tel’s the same. Although I don’t want to attach that sobriquet to him in case he finds it offensive.

Apparently not being the go-to-person makes you less attractive to agents because they find it harder to promote and sell you.


I say apparently because I’ve never really tried to get one and therefore have no idea what I’m talking about.

Meetings become harder because, although you can meet with a wider range of producers, you may only have one script in the genre they specialise in. And since producers rarely want the thing you’ve gone to sell them and tend to love asking ‘what else have you got?’ … well, it’s just more difficult.

But more rewarding. I’ve had films produced in a variety of genres: horror, sci-fi, comedy, action-thriller … and The Evolved (Part One) which just defies all classification and common sense. I’ve written sitcoms, I’ve written sketches, I’ve written movies …

Tel’s done that and more. He’s also written a novel.

Which you should buy. Here.


That’s what we got into writing to do – whatever the fuck crossed our minds. It’s just not the best idea if you want to make a solid career and earn a decent wage.

Says the man sitting on his own (not-so) private island.

We both fucked up there. But given our time over again, I’m not sure either of us would do anything differently.

One thing about Tel which surprised the hell out of me is that he rarely redrafts anything. He’s a meticulous planner and outliner and tends to get it right before he starts writing.

I start out planning things meticulously … and then get bored and jump in feet first. Things go wrong. Things change. I lose my way. I discover strange and wonderful new things … and I write multiple drafts of everything.


I’m assuming we essentially run through the same number of versions of each thing … but mine’s long form where as his is either at the treatment/beat sheet stage or all in his head.

I’m kind of jealous … but I find my process usually takes me where I need to be (if not where I intended to go) so it’s all good.

From there, talk wandered on to adaptations for some reason … oh yes, because Tel’s book (which you can buy here) was Harper-Voyager’s first foray into digital first publishing.

And I don’t read eBooks.

Can’t fucking bear them. I’m a dead-tree kind of guy.

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Until very, very recently I didn’t have anything I could read them on beside my phone … which is a bit too small to be satisfying.

I now have a laptop with a removable screen so I could read eBooks if I wanted to … but I don’t. And haven’t. Yet.

Tel was asking how I approached adaptations since he tends to search and reference the eBook whilst planning his.

I tend to approach them like this:

Step one: Read the book. This is probably quite an essential step.

Step two: Decide if I like the book or not. If I don’t, apologise and back away from the project. If I do …

Step three: Is it a filmable book? Does it read like a movie with a clear beginning, middle and end with a protagonist and a theme and all that kind of stuff? If so, go to step four. If not I just throw the book away and make something up using the same character names and claim it’s ‘inspired by the book’ or ‘just uses it as a jumping off point’.

Step four: Plan out the film using only what I can remember from the book after reading it once. Chances are this is what the other readers can remember too. Unless it’s a cult classic which will have been read many, many times – in which case I need to be more specific about stuff.

Step five: Re-read the book and see if I’ve missed out/forgotten anything. Which I tend not to have done since I have a pretty good memory … when I want to. Or need to. Or someone’s paying me to switch it on.


From there I proceed as normal until the client is happy with the script.

I’ve adapted a few books now. The clients have always gone away happy … and then never made the movie.

Oh well.

Tel and I spoke about many, many things and never quite ran out of things to say. Eventually we had to just end the conversation because we both had work to do and would otherwise have spoken all day.

He’s a nice guy, is Tel. You should hire him.

Or buy his book.

Or both.

So that was #PhonePhill #11. Who wants to be #12? If you’re thinking this might be fun but feel you’re not really the kind of person I’d want to talk to … you’re wrong. I do want to talk to you, no matter who you are or what you do. Doesn’t have to be about writing and you don’t have to be a writer or even involved in media.

Don’t be shy, email me, arrange a time and #PhonePhill.

Fuck it, here’s Iron Man again because … well, just because.


* If you have time, read his bio on that iMDB page … then reflect on how easy your life has been up until now. Unless, of course, you have endured even worse, in which case … fuck.

Categories: #PhonePhill, Career Path, My Way, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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