One more thing …

Columbo

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?

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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’.%

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

Nope.

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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% 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: , , , , , | Leave a comment

In the background …

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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.

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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

SPOILER FOR FIGHT CLUB

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.

SPOILER OVER

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

SPOILER(?) FOR STAR WARS

Luke talks about who his father was.

SPOILER OVER

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.

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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?

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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.

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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!”

Hmm.

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

or

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

Yeah.

Right.

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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

What do script notes look like?

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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.

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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).

or

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).

or

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

or

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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* 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

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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:

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And this:

Electric Eddy and Kettle

And this:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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* 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

Weekend warrior

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I did something this weekend (or last weekend. The weekend just gone. You choose, it doesn’t matter) which I haven’t done in a long time.

I worked.

I used to do that a lot. I used to write every day. Then I got a girlfriend and decided (completely voluntarily and of my own free will. Honest) to limit my working time to five days a week.

Not just Monday to Friday, but a random five days so we could have two days off together depending on her shift pattern.

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Tuesdays and Wednesdays for preference.

 

Then (after marriage and house buying, for we are awfully traditional) we had a kid. Just the one, that’s enough thank you very much. At first this was fine, but then she went to school and suddenly having days off midweek seemed wildly inappropriate.

I mean, what’s the point of having a kid if you’re only going to see her for an hour or two after school?

I am aware, by the way, that I have an incredibly privileged ability to choose when I do and don’t work. I know that’s rare. I’ve worked shi(f)t jobs. I know how it is and what’s good and bad. Some people like it, some people don’t. Lots of people don’t have the choice.

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Life (sometimes) sucks. I’m not having a go at you if your chosen profession (or Joe job) involves working ungodly hours to make ends meet. We all do what we have to do to get by.

But I do have a choice and choosing to not be part of my daughter’s life on the only days she’s not at school seems … callous? Wrong? Unnecessary, at the very least.

So I chose not to. I opted to become a Monday to Friday nine-to-five kind of guy.

Well … let’s be honest. Tuesday to Friday lunchtime.

Ish.

Mondays are my fannying around day, doing things like writing this. Is this work? I don’t know. Maybe.

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Anyway. I don’t work weekends any more. Unless we’re in production or I have a deadline I’ve massively miscalculated.

So what went wrong this last weekend?

I’m glad you asked or this blog would be even more pointless than it doubtlessly is.

A couple of weeks ago I sent a list of scripts to a producer. These are my archive scripts, the good ones which I’ve never found time to do anything with. Every time I think I’m going to take one out, dust it off and sell it … someone offers me some work and I get caught up in that. So they never get sold. Poor, lonely creatures sitting all by themselves on a dark hard drive.^

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I sent five or six one-pagers, he asked to read three of them. One I was halfway through rewriting as I’d just had the two extra ideas# needed to make it better. That took a day or two to finish off.

The other two were a decade and three years old respectively. The decade old one I know I’d worked on fairly recently because I remember doing it. That’s pretty good. The other one I’d written one draft three years ago and then forgotten about it.

Well, not forgotten. I’d been thinking about it on and off during that time but hadn’t got round to actually rereading or rewriting it.

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The decade old script I pulled out, skimmed through … and it was … well, not terrible, but not good. Not as good as I’d like it to be. It had won a competition at some point in the past and gotten me some interest from a US manager … but since I had nothing else to show him, that came to nothing at the time.

Obviously it was a script with some merit … but my standards have risen over the years. I’m a better writer now than I was then.

So that needed rewriting. That took a couple of days.

Fine.

The other one, the first draft … well, it was a first draft.

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It was shit.

Bollocks, it needs completely rewriting.

Now, I’d already said I was going to take a couple of days to go over the scripts and make sure they were as good as I wanted them to be. I had delivered one on the Friday and promised to deliver the other the following week … but by the following Friday I hadn’t finished.

I could have just waited until Monday before resuming. I could have just emailed, apologised and handed it in on the Wednesday. This guy has only asked to read the script – he’s not paying me, it’s not a production draft, there’s no guarantee he’s even going to like it. Presumably he has dozens of other scripts to read and may even have forgotten he’s asked to read this …

But … I said I’d send it over this week. Not next week. This week.

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Sunday’s still this week so I decided to work over the weekend.

And now we’re at the point. Fuck me that took a long time, didn’t it?

Mandy was away for the weekend, making me chief child-carer.

Yes, she trusts me to look after a child. I know! I don’t believe it either!

I couldn’t work during the day, but in the evenings, once she’s (finally) gone to bed, I could crack on.

So at around nine o’clock each night I was breaking open the script and typing furiously.

Which, in itself, is fine.

But it’s knackering. I’d forgotten how knackering it is writing late into the night when you’ve still got to get up around eight the next day.

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In my twenties I twice went 10 days without sleep. Now, if I get less than seven hours a night, I’m miserable.

And so I was. Miserable. With my daughter. That’s not meant to happen.

On top of being irritable and annoyed with everything, I’d forgotten how difficult it is to stop thinking about writing during the day.

There’s a great bit about this on one of the Scriptnotes podcasts talking about how writers carry their workplaces in their heads and how hard it is to stop working when you’ve left your desk. Bricklayers don’t find bricks in their pockets when they’re putting their kid to bed, but writers are, likely as not, wondering if they’ve got enough vampires left for the final showdown when they really should be concentrating on bathtime.

I’m normally pretty good at this sort of thing. Given that I go to the Caribbean to write most weeks, it’s absolutely fine to spend all of my working week thinking about the script. I have no requirement to interact with reality at all during that period.

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I’m also pretty good at setting and meeting targets so my weekends off are my weekends off. I leave it all in a folder at the back of my mind and pick up again the following week.

Sometimes, if I’m very lucky, my unconscious mind sorts it all out for me.

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This is how I like to work and it benefits my family too.

Spending the whole day thinking about structure and tone whilst not having had much sleep and trying to amuse a seven year old is not my idea of fun.

Or hers.

And yet, I know that’s what lots of writers have to do. Lots of us have day jobs and families and have no choice but to write late at night and over the weekends … and you know what, I salute you.

You’re awesome. To keep that up week after week is, frankly, amazing.

I did it for one weekend and I have no intention of doing it again.

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Unless I have to for production/deadline reasons. I’m not cut out for that kind of thing. Those of you who are and do … I just think you’re brilliant and this blog post is a virtual toast aimed squarely in your direction.

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I used to hate having weekends off as a youth because going out on a Friday or Saturday night was so unrelentingly awful. It’s amateur night, when all the nine-fivers come out to play and try to forget how unpleasant their lives are*. Everyone’s out for a fuck or (possibly and) a fight. People are desperate to enjoy themselves because this is their only chance before getting back to the grind on Monday.

Standing in a pub which is so packed I can’t move my arm far enough to drink the drink which is pressed up against my chest by a wall of people I don’t like isn’t really my idea of fun.

For some reason, nightclubs opt for playing the worst music imaginable on weekends too. I don’t know why they do this, presumably because most of the people who are miserable during the week want to be miserable over the weekends too.

Midweek you get lovely people meeting up to share a love of the same specialist music. Weekends you get a load of …

I never liked going out on a weekend. Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?

* If you’re a nine-fiver and your life isn’t unpleasant, then congratulations!

^ Have Pixar made that movie yet? Bet they will soon.

# Oh. I went to link to the blog post about this … but I haven’t written it yet. One day this will link to it. Probably.

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

#PhonePhill – Conversation #10: Jay Sutherland

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This #PhonePhill didn’t begin life as a #PhonePhill. It started out as a random phone call about a script.

But I’ll get to that, first, some background.

Jay is an actor. Here he is starring in a feature film:

And here he is pissed up and armed:

I’ve known Jay for an awful long time … without really knowing him. He’s my younger brother’s best friend’s younger brother. A few years ago he got in touch about maybe writing a script together. We had a chat, found some common ground and words flowed from there.

That script never got made, which is a shame because it’s really good … or rather, it was quite good. I’ve just made it really good by tweaking two things … but that’s another story and shall be told another time.

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Since the two tweaks had struck me, I’d been meaning to ring Jay and tell him about them … but he rang me first to talk over a new project he’s writing. It’s a good project and hopefully you’ll get to see it one day.

Being primarily an actor rather than a writer, Jay had a couple of writerly things he wanted to run by me – specifically, how to introduce a complex backstory in the opening minute or so.

People keep telling him not to use voice over or news reports because it’s against the rules.

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This is, of course, utter bollocks.

What they mean to say is “Don’t use voice over or news reports badly“.

That last word is vitally important.

Voice over in films can be fantastic.

News reports can be a superbly quick way of getting across lots of information.

They’re incredibly useful tools which, unfortunately, are incredibly easy to misuse.

So how should they be used?

Well … so here’s the thing. I hate giving advice. I hate laying down the law and saying “this is the way to do it!”

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… because it probably isn’t.

The problem with all script advice is someone, somewhere has broken it and created something wonderful. Every time I think I’ve taught myself a rule … I realise I’ve been ignoring all this other evidence to the contrary.

Humans are like that, we remember the evidence which backs up our conclusions, ignoring that which contradicts it instead of basing our conclusions on all the evidence. It’s just the way we’re wired.

So I apologise in advance if what I’m about to say is total bullshit.

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I think (but can’t be certain) that voice over works best when it’s either present tense or very, very brief. As in a few introductory lines and then disappears until the end of the movie.

Why?

Well, because I think if it’s all past tense then it makes what you’re watching feel like information you need to know before the story starts. If that past tense voice over goes on for the whole film … I spend the whole film waiting for the story to start.

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After an hour of waiting for the story to start, I get a little bored – come on! Hurry up!

Present tense voice over gets around that problem by seeming to be the voice overer’s inner thoughts. And even then, I think that only works if the character’s inner thoughts contradict or add additional information to what we’re seeing on screen.

Except when it doesn’t. I can see it being amusing to have a voice over explaining exactly what the character is about to say. But maybe not all the time?

Or maybe do. If it works.

Jay and I love voice over in films. Both of us (sorry) prefer the film noir version of Blade Runner (sorry) to the director’s cut (so sorry).

Which, now I think about it, may all be in past tense.

So’s Goodfellas’ voice over. That’s awesome too.

See what I mean about ‘rules’?

The other thing, the news report thing … well, to me, the problem with that is it’s not the protagonist talking. It’s a third party, explaining to you what’s happening in the background or last week or somewhere else.

A little of that is fine. A lot … well it just keeps me from connecting emotionally with the protagonist.

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Except when it doesn’t.

Used well, you get to see how the news affects the protagonist. If she’s watching the news, for example. Or maybe we get snippets of news reports interspersed/playing over the protagonist going about tasks which reflect/contrast with what’s going on in her life.

Something like that.

Again, I’m fairly certain there are films which blow this ill-thought-out theory out of the water.

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The good thing is, this kind of meandering musing was exactly the kind of food for thought Jay was looking for. And it struck me that this was exactly the kind of phone call #PhonePhill works well as – a reconnecting with an old acquaintance whilst chatting about random (occasionally writing-related) stuff.

So I’ve retconned this conversation as #PhonePhill #10. If you’d like to be #11 (assuming I haven’t already had #11 whilst you’ve been reading this) then get in touch. I want to talk to you, whoever you are, old friend or new, about whatever the hell you fancy.

Come on, #PhonePhill

Categories: #PhonePhill, Industry Musings, My Way | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

#PhonePhill – Conversation #9: James Moran

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Still going! Next week’s conversation has already happened too – I’m a week in hand!

Frankly, this is quite surprising … but lovely.

Conversation #9 is writer/director/raconteur/blogger/kitten-lover James Moran. He used to be known in these parts as TV’s James Moran but nowadays he’s got his fingers in every pie imaginable and has long-outgrown the confining title.

As is now customary, he was lovely.

One day, someone on the other end of the phone won’t be lovely. On that day I will break with tradition and refuse to name them as such.

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But today is not that day.

Full disclosure: I already know James, but haven’t spoken to him for a long time. Ages, in fact. Maybe even longer.

We do know each other though, so we do have each other’s phone numbers. With most #PhonePhillees I email them my phone number so they can call me – this isn’t because I’m cheap and don’t want to use my free minutes (even though I am and I don’t) but because I don’t want to go round harvesting complete strangers’ phone numbers – if they have mine, they can choose not to ring me on the day or withhold their number and keep their anonymity.

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But because I already have James’ number (which I will sell for the right price. Or even the wrong one) I rang him.

Or at least, I tried to.

First time it went to his voicemail, so I hung up and immediately tweeted him to accuse him of leading me on.

He assured me he was there, ready and waiting. Possibly moist with anticipation … I mean, he didn’t say he was, but he probably was.

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So I rang him again and got the same voicemail. Only … what was that surname? The voice (which didn’t sound like his voice at all) definitely said it was James someone … but it was a bit muffled and didn’t sound like Moran.

Closer examination revealed his contact had two mobile numbers. Only one of which was his. The one he text me from. The only mobile number he has. The one I hadn’t just called. Twice.

So apologies if you’re called James something and are wondering why I called you twice on Friday without leaving a message, but the truth of the matter is I hung up because you’re not James Moran.

Hey, few are.

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James Moran, luckily, is.

Chat was wide and varied. We started off with a discussion about haircuts – James had just had his cut at a very reasonable price. My barber is slightly more expensive than James’, but worth sticking with because (for some reason I don’t quite understand) he’s convinced I wrote Iron Man 3.

I’ve never bothered to correct this mis-assumption because … fuck it. I’ll take that credit.

After that (and a few pleasantries) we moved on to directing.

James does it.

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I don’t.

James has also taught himself editing and grading and possibly even flower arranging. He seems like the kind of chap who’s determined to learn it all.

Normally I’m wary of writer/directors* feeling that, although there are many people who are awesome at both, they are a tiny percentage compared to the people who aren’t.

Generally speaking^ someone who lists themselves as more than one creative contributor tends to be someone who’s failing at more than one thing. As if they have a limited pool of talent and would probably be really good at one thing or the other … but when that talent is divided between writing, directing, producing, catering, dress making … it just doesn’t work.

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James, happily, belongs to the people who can. He’s directed a few shorts:

and this FrightFest intro/ident thingy:

He’s good. At all of it.

He’s working towards directing his first feature … that will be a day worth waiting for.

James thinks every writer should direct their own thing. He says it’s massively illuminating and helps your writing immensely.

Since I haven’t done it, I can only assume he’s right. I do occasionally think about directing a little web series … but then I don’t bother, I’m too busy.

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Maybe one day … and then I too can be terrible at two things.

Conversation then drifted, quite naturally, onto Matt Houston.

Well, not specifically Matt Houston, but those kind of action adventure shows in general. James and I loved them growing up and lament the fact no one really makes them any more.

I suppose The Flash is probably the nearest thing. Which I love and can’t wait for the next season.

But where are all the Saturday adventure shows? Where are The Fall Guys and The A-teams? Who’s the spiritual successor to Matt Houston, Magnum, The Dukes of Hazzard, Tales of the Gold Monkey, Automan?

Why does no one make the kind of things the ten year old me loved?

Or maybe they do and I just don’t watch them because I’m not ten? Maybe all those shows of my youth were terrible to anyone who was an adult and I’m missing out on the modern day equivalent because I am now (nominally) an adult and therefore dismiss them as terrible?

Maybe. I don’t know.

For those of you interested in that period, you could do a lot worse than watching this interview with Glen A. Larson.

Glen A. Larson, for those of you young enough not to remember his name on the end of every other US TV show in the 80s was the driving force behind … well, every other US TV show in the 80s. Stephen J. Cannell created all the others.

And Donald P. Bellisario of course. He did the third half.

Why did everyone in the 80s have a middle initial? If I use my middle initial, will I be able to create a raft of amazing action adventure shows?

Might be worth a try.

The big question, of course, is which of those shows would you most like to remake as a movie?

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James went for Knight Rider – which is an excellent choice. Four times someone has tried to remake it and each time they’ve fucked it up because … well, watch those Glen A. Larson interviews to find out. He knows, because he was dead clever.

Me? I’d go for either The Fall Guy (which is supposed to be happening with The Rock as Colt Seavers! I really, really want to see that movie!@) or Tales of the Gold Monkey.

And that was #PhonePhill #9.

#10 is already done and awaiting a write up … so who’s next?

I would love to talk to you no matter who you are or what you do. Industry connected or not. Aspiring something or professional something completely different.

Anyone, I don’t care. Email me and we’ll work something out.

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*I wrote a post about this once, referring to them scathingly throughout as hyphenates … until someone pointed out in the comments I always used a / and not a –

^Generally, not always and not YOU. You, of course, are amazing at both … that’s why either no one will pay you to do it or why all your films (which you are in complete control of since you also produced them yourself) got a whopping 1 star rating on IMDb#.

#IMDb reviews for terrible low budget movies always follow the same pattern. The first five reviews will be 10 stars … because that’s someone’s family/friends/alternate personality posting them.

Then the film gets released, real people actually get to see it and it tanks completely.

How do I know? Because I’ve tracked many of the terrible movies I’ve written.

@Just use the theme tune. Please. The theme tunes are part of what made those shows so awesome and so memorable. I loved The A-Team movie (why didn’t everyone else?) but it really, really needed to rip into the theme tune after the voice over before the end credits. Not using the theme there was just silly. I know they did use it earlier … but come on! I wanted to leave the auditorium humming the theme.

Actually, I was anyway.

Categories: #PhonePhill, Industry Musings, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

#PhonePhill – Conversation #8: Mac McSharry

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Mac McSharry! @MacBullitt!

Damn, I need a third name for him to make that opener work properly. The rhythm’s all askew now. I wish I’d gotten a third name for him during the TWO HOURS we were nattering.

Two hours. The longest #PhonePhill yet and possibly the most enjoyable.

Or possibly not. Depending on whether or not that upsets the other seven callers who may be longing for the position of most enjoyable phone call. I don’t want to offend anyone, I love you all.

Mac McSharry!

Blog writer! Produced script writer!

Damn it, I’ve done it again.^

Let’s just say he sounds like a lovely bloke and leave it at that, shall we?

I say “sounds” because he could have been eviscerating kittens whilst chatting and I would never know – such is the mystery of the vision-less telephone.

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It was a lovely, relaxed, meandering chat though. We covered a lot of ground, kicking off with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – a film I think I’d never really seen all the way through until the night before.

And, to be fair, I wasn’t really paying attention since I was concentrating on my Iron Man costume.

It’s done now, by the way. There he is, guarding the fish:

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You probably can’t see much different from the photo last week, but … um … well, presumably there is. Excuse me while I indulge myself:

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Sorry about that, back to Bond. I’d only just half-seen OHMSS the night and needed someone writer-y to express my incredulity to.

What on Earth were they thinking? I’ve always known the fight sequences were crap and pretty much unwatchable … but otherwise it’s  a pretty good film … except for two incredibly stupid bits:

1) Bond turning to the camera and saying “This never happened to the other fella.”

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For fuck’s sake! Don’t do that. This guy’s bond now, move on. Let’s just get on with it and entertain – the audience will soon forget about the other fella … unless you remind them.

It’s like Doctor Who – this is the Doctor now. Don’t apologise, don’t explain, just get on with earning our affection.*

2) Although it’s probably a lot more realistic to have Bond pretend to be someone else other than rampaging around the world introducing himself … is it really a good idea for him to do it in this film?

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What was the thought process there? People might struggle to accept Connery’s not Bond any more … how can we make sure we cement this new fella as Bond in their minds?

I know! Why not have him pretend to be someone else and talk in a Scottish accent for most of the movie?

Genius. Let’s have the new Bond not be Bond!

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Mac was kind enough not to interrupt my ranting and even offered some salient information – apparently Lazenby was dubbed throughout all those scenes.  They should have just put a bag on his head and cobbled together a voice track from Connery out takes.

Poor George – he was really good but never stood a chance.

Other topics of conversation included note-blindness (Mac’s got a great blog about that here), whether or not you’d look like a prick driving a replica of KITT, and how to present yourself online.

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That last one’s a thorny issue. I’m pretty certain I’ve fallen far short of ideal on many, many occasions.

If Twitter/Facebook/your blog/website is your shop front, then how should you come across?

Professional?

Yes, sounds good … but what does that mean?

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What about bigging yourself up? Should you be constantly telling everyone how wonderful you are and pretending that time you and that bloke who was an extra in Holby once in 2003 were coincidentally eating in the same McDonalds was a script meeting and you’re now being considered for a role as the new messiah?

What about the opposite? Should you be constantly apologising about your lack of ability and general tendency to be a bit shit?

What’s more important? Honesty or salesmanship?

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Or is it, as is the case in almost everything in life, merely a question of balance? Is it best to be roughly somewhere in the middle?

But where is the middle?

Apart from halfway between both ends?

Actually, I don’t think you should be in the middle. I think you should err on slightly towards self-aggrandising.

Maybe don’t boast about how wonderful you are and insist on offering sage advice to all the other (clearly less-talented) writers who are lucky enough to come into e-contact with you.

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Maybe instead be a little modest but appear like someone who really knows his shit and would do an awesome job for any prospective employer without turning into a massive arse?

Maybe.

I don’t know.

Like I say, I think I flail around in the dark on this issue a bit.

A few rules I frequently forget to live online by:

  1. Don’t slag people off. You may have to work with them. You may have to work with people who like them. You just look and sound like a dick … and it’s not nice anyway. Maybe imagine yourself sitting across from that person at a dinner party and what you’re about to write is being announced to the whole table?
  2. Don’t slag yourself off. Be positive without being big-headed. You’re good, solid, dependable with flashes of brilliance. You’re good at your job and you know what bit of story goes where.
  3. Don’t whinge, whine, carp or moan about how unfair writing, competitions or life in general is. It’s just depressing and paints yourself as a loser.
  4. Don’t celebrate every single tiny achievement as if you’ve won an Oscar. A PRODUCER SENT ME AN OUT OF OFFICE REPLY TODAY! MY CAREER IS GOING SO WELL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  5. Do make it seem like you’re in demand. You don’t have to go overboard, but make yourself sound busy and successful. Make it sound like you’re actually someone worth hiring.
  6. Don’t be desperate.
  7. Don’t hound/stalk people.
  8. Don’t …

You know what? This is all the same advice people get given when they’re dating.

Just be a nice, normal human being who’s positive without being self-obsessed.

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Think about your shop front – what kind of shop are you? Or maybe a better way of thinking about it is: what kind of service-provider are you?

Your pipes have just burst. Which one of these plumbers would you choose?

Plumber 1: I’m fucking awesome. I know everything about plumbing. I can tell everything in your house is wrong even though I’ve never been to your house. Windows are shit, aren’t they? I hate windows. Only a fucking idiot would live in a house with windows. Here’s  a list of people I’ve never met who I’ve badgered into saying nice things about me.

Plumber 2: I’ve got one spanner … I’m not sure how to use it. I tried once and it all went horribly wrong. I’m a bit shit at plumbing really.

Plumber 3: No one will hire me. It’s not fair. I’m better than all the other plumbers but I’ve never been given a chance to prove it. All of you people hiring plumbers are wankers who wouldn’t know a good plumber if he hit you in the face with a saw.  I’m so depressed I think I might kill myself.

Plumber 4: I’ve been a plumber for ten years. I’m good at my job and my rates are reasonable. Here’s a list of the jobs I’ve done and people who would recommend me.

Plumber 5: Here’s a photo of my cat! Here’s another photo of my cat! Look, my cat’s wearing a tutu! My cat is awesome!

We all make mistakes. We’re all occasionally guilty of being too honest or too humble or too immodest or … you know, not in the middle.

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But if your online presence is your shop front … then maybe it’s worth thinking about how to get better at presenting yourself?

Maybe.

I don’t know.

What I do know is chatting with Mac McSharry was lovely and easy and the TWO HOURS went by comfortably and quickly. It was fun. I enjoyed it.

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So who’s next for #PhonePhill?

Any actors fancy a chat? I fancy chatting to an actor.

Or anyone really.

Email me and we’ll see what we can work out.

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^ Bond-lover. Car-lover. Lover (presumably) … I can think of lots of other things here, I’m just trying (failing?) to be humorous.

* Ringing the previous Doctor to ask permission to like the new one who’s clearly being a bit of a bell end is a similarly odd thing to do.

My wife and I have long agreed you wouldn’t so long as you didn’t turn the red light on on the front. That’s a prick’s light right there.

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

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