What’s in a name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck it, we’ll rewrite that part too!

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

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

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Um …

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

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

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

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

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

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Or brother.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The elephant in the room

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

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

How do you feel about that?

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

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

INT. LOUNGE – DAY

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

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

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

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

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Possibly not.

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

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

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

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

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

Is very different from:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack Sparks

 

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

And then there’s this:

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Which I don’t know how I feel about.

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

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Look at him! Look at how lovely he is!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I do kind of want to know the truth though.

And then there’s this:

… which, you know, sounds intriguing.

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

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

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

 

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

Shore Scripts Screenwriting Competition 2016

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There now follows a short public service announcement:

Shore Scripts Screenwriting Competition 2016 is open for submissions.

Shore Scripts have the highest calibre of industry judges of any screenwriting contest in the world. The winning scripts will be read by 32 Oscar, Bafta, Emmy, Golden Globe & Cannes award winning judges and sent to over 70 production companies and agents from around the world too.

As well discovering new and exciting writing talent through their regular Short and Feature Script competitions, Shore Scripts have also opened a new TV Pilot category, plus are introducing a fantastic Short Film Fund scheme designed to help produce one winning script with a minimum budget of £5,000. That adds up to over £15,000 in cash and prizes for the winners.

More information on each of the categories can be found on their website at www.shorescripts.com.

So, you know … you might win something. It’s got to be at least worth checking it out.

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There is an entrance fee … however, if you fancy taking a punt on getting a free entry to either the Feature or the Short categories then you’re in luck.

Or might be.

I’ve got one feature and one short entry to give away. To win one, simply join the Shore Scripts mailing list by clicking this link:

THIS IS THE LINK! CLICK HERE!

… and sending them an email with MAILING LIST – JOBBING SCRIPTWRITER as the subject line.

Presumably the mailing list will be about the competition and things related to writing rather than adverts for PPI and viagra. Although, I don’t get any viagra ones any more … do you? Maybe some viagra spam might actually be useful?

If you do enter, let me know either in the comments or via email/social media – just so I can keep tabs on what’s going on. The two winners will be drawn at random at the end of the month.

Good luck!

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

#PhonePhill – Conversation #14: Calum Chalmers (The Revenge)

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Hello, what have you been up to? I’ve been chatting to Calum Chalmers (again) who’s still a lovely writer-director type chappy. Calum was the first (sort of) ever #PhonePhill in April last year, proving this talk-to-a-stranger-malarkey* might just actually work. Last time, we spoke about this sort of thing.

This time we spoke about many, many things over the course of about two and a half hours.

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Blimey. Was it really that long? Or did the clocks go forward midway through? Doesn’t seem likely, so yeah … must have been.

In that long, meandering two and a half hours we covered more many, many things. Including, but not limited to:

  1. Dealing with notes, both giving and receiving.
  2. Weird behaviour from apparent professionals.
  3. Bland trailers.
  4. Remakes and reboots.
  5. Small island/small industry.
  6. Social media implosions.
  7. Other stuff.

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On which topics I generally feel:

  1. I’d rather be taking notes than giving them.
  2. Just be fucking nice to each other. Why is that so difficult?
  3. Trailers don’t excite me any more. They might as well just be a poster informing me of the film’s existence. Are trailers badly made? Or is it because most trailers I watch are for franchises which I’m probably going to go and see anyway and my enjoyment will depend entirely on the execution? This is the only trailer this year I’ve been excited about:
  4. I don’t care any more if anyone remakes anything. When they remade Bedazzled my friends hid Empire magazine from me for six months, afraid of what I might do if I found out. Now they’re remaking Ghostbusters … fine, whatever.
  5. See point 2. Calum and I have never met … but we know a lot of the same people. We swapped stories. Years ago I read a script he’s recently optioned. It’s all very incestuous … so be nice.
  6. See point 5. We all get bitter or blue sometimes … keep it to yourself. Ranting about it on your network of choice is unlikely to get you any work. Quite the opposite in fact.
  7. Yes.

One other thing we discussed was pigeon-holing. Should writers do it to themselves? The advice for American writers is a resounding yes. Be the go-to guy for something … you can always break out and back in again later on.

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But does that hold true in the UK?

I think it does. Writing is a hard craft to master and different genres require different skill sets. Not specialising has hurt my career because when I get to the point where someone says:

“I like this, but don’t want to make it … have you got anything similar?”

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The answer is always: no. I’ve got something of equal quality but a completely different genre or medium … which is of no interest.

Unfortunately I’ve had movies produced in a variety of genres. I like switching it up every now and then. Right now I’ve got a political black comedy casting and a teen-vampire-sex-comedy in development. Okay, so technically they’re both comedies … but they are poles apart. Ready to go I have a seriously dark moral drama film, the first film in a kid’s Christmas franchise and a sword and sorcery action-adventure movie. I write what  interests me at the time and … well, I shouldn’t. I should specialise in something.

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I think, perhaps, maybe … kids’ TV is the place to specialise in the UK because … well, it covers everything, doesn’t it? It seems to get treated as one genre despite covering drama and soap and comedy and sci-fi and horror and … stuff. At least, that’s how it seems to be from the outside. Maybe writers for kid’s horror finds people are resistant to them writing comedy?

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I have no idea. I’d like to find out, maybe there’s someone working in kids’ TV in the UK who fancies a #PhonePhill? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Once again I finished this conversation thinking I like Calum, he seems like a nice guy. Hopefully we’ll work together one day.

If you fancy a natter, email me and we’ll have a chat. It doesn’t have to be for two and half hours, it can be for fifteen minutes. You don’t have to be in the industry, you can anything or anyone … so long as you have a phone and the willingness to use it.

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* This is the first time I’ve ever typed the word ‘malarkey’ it’s not spelt the way I thought it was. Unless it is and my spell check is wrong.

Some handy note-links for you:

How to Deal With Notes (a silly list)

Notes From The Other Side – Part 1 (why I was giving notes), Part 2 (how reality got it wrong), Part 3 (a rant about things not to do when receiving notes).

Categories: #PhonePhill, Career Path, Industry Musings, My Way, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Hammer draft

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I’ve spent the last few months doing casting rewrites on a script which is due to shoot in September, as well as rewriting another script which was recently optioned.

The casting rewrites are … a thing. If you’ve not had to go through that, I’ll probably blog about the process soonish.

The option rewrite, on the other hand, I’ll blog about now. If you’ll indulge me?

You will? Splendid.

So the script was optioned and the notes came back from the producer and director: one set of coherent notes presented by one person, first by email and then in detail via conversation.

This is how it’s supposed to be done.

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Everyone giving notes agrees between themselves first before giving them to the writer so there are no contradictions.Notes come via email (as opposed to dumped on you in a room) so you’ve got time to cycle through the stages of grief (anger, resentment, more anger, crying, fury, anger, rage, denial, incandescent rage … then accepting all the notes are correct) before responding. A follow up conversation by phone or in person to talk through the notes and explain what the intention is. Normally, the intention isn’t always what you think it is. A note asking you to cut a scene often means there’s a different scene earlier on which muddies the waters and makes this scene seem irrelevant. A conversation about these things allows you to state your case.

So with all that out of the way, I went to work.

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Sort of.

Christmas got in the way, but after that I got straight to work.

In this instance there were three notes and a realisation which kind of made a lot of the other notes irrelevant. This can happen. In this case the three notes were:

  • Moving the script from the UK to the US.
  • Changing the secondary character’s motivations to make him less of a one-note dick.
  • Bringing three of  the minor characters to the forefront to make the starring duo part of a five-piece gang.

And the realisation (by me) was that I wanted to change the theme which meant the protagonist’s motivation had to change, which meant all of scenes in the first act have to be different. And all of his scenes in the second act need altering. And the ones in the third act too.

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Basically draft 2 is going to be a completely different version of the same story. Everything is going to change … but a lot of scenes will probably still work in a slightly altered form.

I’ve often said that 50% of the script often gets abandoned for draft 2. I think this is kind of a benchmark to expect, if not aim for. Assume you’re going to be throwing away 50% of what you’ve written and you’re prepared.

That was probably true in this case … but the other 50% was going to be heavily rewritten too. And in a different order.

So it’s time for a hammer draft.

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My hammer drafts are lumpen, misshapen monstrosities which barely make sense. Essentially I’m picking up square scenes and hammering them into round holes elsewhere in the script.

So A, B, C … becomes:

New A, X, Q, second half of old A, B, F, G, H, C, something with a chicken, Y, V … and so on.

The task at this point is just to get the pieces roughly fitting. The next pass is for smoothing off the splintered edges and tightening up dialogue and checking everything flows properly … this draft is just hammering things into place. Because here’s the thing I visualise – they say you can’t put a square peg in a round hole … well that’s just silly, of course you can. You either have to fill in the gaps around the edges of the peg with something else or you hammer it in with enough force to knock off the corners and leave you with the important core of the scene.

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It’s not pretty and the joins/breaks will be clearly obvious … but only at first. Next time through you’re filling, sanding and painting until it all looks like that’s the only place any of these scenes could ever have been.

It’s a process I really enjoy even though it’s bastard hard work and sometimes harder than just throwing it all away and starting again. It’s kind of like a jigsaw puzzle where the challenge is to disassemble an existing jigsaw, trim the pieces and reassemble them into a different, yet familiar picture.

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Hammer drafts, I love them.

But they come with a warning: NEVER, EVER SHOW THEM TO ANYONE. EVER.

You’ll think that everyone’s on the same page as you and they’ll understand you’re just showing them a work in progress … but they might not get it. And if they don’t understand that what they’re not supposed to be looking at the intricacies of the dialogue or the transitions … you’re fucked.

My hammer drafts are for my eyes only … because they make no fucking sense.

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A draft or two later, when they’re all shiny and the welds have been smoothed and painted over … that’s the public draft. The one that gets torn apart so the whole process can start again …

 


 

* Except when the notes are inherently contradictory. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, contradictory notes can both be true. The protagonist can be too aggressive and too passive in different places, we all just have to pick which one she’s supposed to be or devise a mechanism to explain why she flips from one to the other.

Categories: My Way, Progress | 1 Comment

#PhonePhill – Conversation #13: Robin Bell (Redux)

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD FOR STAR WARS, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, THE FORCE AWAKENS, INSIDE OUT, SUPERMAN, STAR TREK … BUT NOT REALLY.

VERY MILD.

CHICKEN KORMA MILD.

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So #PhonePhill is still a thing. Anyone is welcome to ring me and natter about anything they like. You don’t have to be a scriptwriter, I’ll talk to anyone. Actors, director, producers, sound effects person … or, you know, people not even connected with the industry – maybe you’re a gas fitter (I don’t know what that is) or a mortician or a … something on a submarine (chef? Do they have chefs on a submarine? Submarine polisher, is that a job? I have no idea).

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In essence, no matter who you are, if you fancy chatting to a scriptwriter drop me a line and we’ll work something out.

This week I’ve been talking to Robin Bell. Again. Hey, there are no rules. I can talk to whoever I want whenever I want.

To be honest, this is a lie. It wasn’t this week, it was weeks ago. Possibly even months.

So long, in fact, that I’ve completely forgotten what it was we talked about. I’ll have a vague stab at remembering:

Robin’s a wandering minstrel who’s recently invented a new type of electric jock strap. He’s hoping to market it exclusively to Iranians with asthma.

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At least, I think that’s what he said. Either that or he’s still the co-creator of Twisted Showcase and has recently been writing children’s TV scripts – at least one of which sounded awfully good to my tin ear.

We spoke of many, many things. Well, I didn’t – I spoke exclusively about me because I’m like that, but Robin had lots of interesting things to say. Probably.

I definitely remember talking about how difficult it can be to get some concepts into a script. Sometimes these things will be obvious on screen, but will mean nothing on the page. Or maybe we spoke about the need to create a physical something on screen to represent abstract ideas – show, don’t tell … basically. We concluded that the only film we completely and utterly agree on is Mamma Mia which we both, unashamedly, love. Which is odd given how partial we both are to genre movies.

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Although I suppose Mamma Mia is a genre movie. Musical is a genre, right? A very broad genre, but a genre nonetheless.

Genre (as in sci-fi, horror … etc) itself was discussed, specifically how British TV is mad keen on genre for children … but for some reason assumes those children grow out of it and don’t want to watch it as adults. Which is weird. American TV doesn’t same to have the same attitude.

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Ooh! One thing we did get stuck on for a while was fridge logic and how the difference between it working and it derailing the film is largely down to how much you’re enjoying the film.

Examples which came up were the Millennium Falcon flipping between the two Star Destroyers in Empire Strikes Back – at the time it seems amazingly cool and thrilling … but later (almost a decade later for me) whilst your mind’s wandering as you’re opening the fridge (fridge logic) you start to think … hang on. What the fuck were those Star Destroyers playing at? They’re something like a mile long … and it’s in space! It’s not like they couldn’t see each other coming. What was their plan? To squish the Falcon between them? That’s a bit like two people deciding to kill a wasp by running at each other with their chins out.

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But it works. The scene is fantastic. The logic holds at the time because the story is gripping and we completely believe Han can out fly those Imperial slugs.

The opposite is true (for me) in Star Wars when Han and Luke climb out of the trash compactor and ditch their stormtrooper outfits to reveal they had their own clothes on underneath all the time. Even as a five year old I struggled with that one. Wait … did they … how does that work? Is that under the formfitting bodysuit?

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But I loved the film, so five year old me let it slide. It’s one flaw, it doesn’t matter.

As it turns out, we now know stormtroopers wear trousers under their uniforms. Not leggings. Trousers. Possibly with pockets.*

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Good fridge logic: George Kirk tells his pregnant wife he CAN’T leave the ship because he HAS to stay behind and steer it … then goes to sit in the Captain’s chair, roughly six feet from the place where you steer the ship from. That didn’t click with me until after the film – at the time I was too busy sobbing.

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Bad fridge logic: why didn’t Joy put the core-memory globes in the tube-thing which leads straight back up to the control room? She’s asking the … peanut things … how to get back up there. They show her, right in front of her, how to send them up … and she just ignores it.

That nearly derailed the film for me – I had to find a way to rationalise it to myself: “She can’t send them up because the whole point of the film is she can’t let go. She has to be in control, she has to take them there herself – it just wouldn’t occur to her to send them up on their own” … which does make sense, but I shouldn’t be having to do that kind of thinking whilst watching an otherwise amazing movie.

Or at least, that’s what I think.

What makes something fridge logic and not confusing is whether or not it’s noticed during the first watching of the film. The problem with that is scriptwriters have no real control over whether or not the audience will notice. Some people will, some won’t. I guess the real problem is quantity – one or two instances of fudging what people wear under what (why can’t you see Superman’s costume through his white shirt?) or which seat someone sits in is fine. If there’s something like that in every scene it becomes a problem … unless you’re enjoying the film so much it just doesn’t matter to you.

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We’ve all been in that situation right? When someone points out a flaw in a film you love and it just doesn’t matter? If anything it makes the film more endearing.

This is what most of the hour-long conversation with Robin consisted of – disagreeing over whether or not the flaws in films are irritating or endearing. A disagreement which in itself is endearing. And yet we both agreed, Mamma Mia is awesome despite (and in some cases because) of its flaws. If you’d like to disagree with me about something, #PhonePhill


 

* Which is another reason why I don’t believe Finn was really a stormtrooper. Surely that’s proof he actually worked in the sweet shop and stole the uniform minutes before that first battle? Come on, a cowardly, klutz of a stormtrooper who wears trousers under his uniform? Yeah … I don’t think so. There’s more than meets the eye there.

Unless he put the trousers on because he knew he was going to defect? Yeah, maybe that was it.

Categories: #PhonePhill, Random Witterings | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Schrödinger’s TARDIS

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

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

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

Others hate Paul Feig for … reasons.

It’s all very weird.

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

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

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

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

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

Some of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or he might not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When is a plot hole not a plot hole?

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

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

Oh, wait.

SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

MAYBE SOME FOR SKYFALL OR THE DARK KNIGHT RISES TOO

BUT THEN AGAIN, MAYBE NOT

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

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Well, no.

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

In between those two scenes, they had sex.

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

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

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Really?

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

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

Not a pretty good pilot, but the BEST PILOT.

The best one.

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

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

Really?

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

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

Rey couldn’t possibly fly the Millennium Falcon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Or don’t, it’s your money.


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

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

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

Second that emotion

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

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… okay, let us begin the year.

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

Emotionally speaking, that is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think.

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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