#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:

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And this:

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And, most recently, this:

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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

#PhonePhill – Conversation #7: Rebecca Handley

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Good Lord, it seems like all I do these days is natter on that infernal telephonic voice-casting contraption.

This (last) week I had a chat with Rebecca Handley who, as is fast becoming traditional, was lovely.

But it very nearly didn’t happen. I was firmly ensconced on my Secret Writing Island, so Skype was once again pressed into service. Alas, the island’s rather poor Internet was playing silly buggers and I was forced to leave my room, roaming the hotel grounds in search of a shady spot chock full of WiFi.

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Sadly, everyone else in the hotel had the same idea and so the hunt was on – somewhere out there must be the holy trinity: shade (for I am afflicted with Ginge and tend to burn surprisingly easily), WiFi and peace and quiet.

Hang on, is that four things?

Probably needs an Oxford comma in there.

I hate Oxford commas.

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And Oxford.

And commas.

Luckily, via the judicious deployment of a few sharp elbows, I claimed my spot as King of the Wifi.

Well, it is my fucking island after all.

Writing island. Not fucking island. There is no fucking on the Secret Writing Island. That sort of thing is just not on.

Anyway, crisis averted, bring on the chat.

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Rebecca is a writer who, in her own words has: Won some awards, usually get to 1/4 or semi-finals in screen contests, have a co-written project in development and another optioned script ‘gearing up’.

Most of the hour and a half was spent discussing parenting – which was great! Rebecca’s daughter is a few years older than mine and it was lovely to pick up some helpful tips.

Parenting is one of those things which people rarely criticise you on. I’d love to be able to have frank and open discussions with my friends about the mistakes I may be making and the long-term psychological damage I may be inflicting on my offspring.

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But it doesn’t really happen. People tend to get the hump quite quickly if there’s even the vaguest suggestion they’re anything less than a wonderful, naturally skilled parent.

Rebecca and I spent a bit of time meandering back and forth over the nature/nurture debate. My position on which is this:

I think everything is probably a complex combination of both factors. I don’t know anyone who’s exceptional at anything who hasn’t practised a fuck load … but maybe they had some initial spark of innate talent in the first place?

Despite that entrenched belief, I choose to come down on the side of nurture more often than not; because, if ability is inherent then my options are limited. If it’s all nurture, just finding a way of learning/practising something which makes sense to me … then I can do anything.

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To me, it feels far more useful to believe you can do anything if you try hard enough than to believe it’s all in your genes.

Them’s my thoughts anyway.

Rebecca sounds like she’s in a good place with her writing. It certainly sounds to me like she’s heading in the right direction. Like Dee Chilton, Rebecca is utilising Hayley Mackenzie’s Script Angel service. And like Dee, Rebecca is finding Hayley’s services invaluable.

We talked over the weird compulsion to write – why are we? What keeps us cranking out stories even in those dark times when no one else gives a shit? I’m kind of privileged in that I’ve not gone longer than a few months between jobs for over a decade … but if I wasn’t continualy working for/with a client, would I have the staying power to keep writing? Or would I get disheartened and give up?

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Don’t know.

Occasionally I do get hacked off with the whole thing. Sometimes a job gets so far beyond fun it becomes a chore … and in those times I try to do something creative on the side.

Something just for me. Something I have control over and can be proud of because, even when everything goes right, the quality of the end product of scriptwriting often bears little relation to the effort put in.

Last year I made a Ghostbusters costume.

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This year I’m making an Iron Man suit*.

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These little side projects recharge my batteries and give me time to think. They’re an important part of my process.

Rebecca sounds like an up and coming writer who we’ll be hearing more of in the near future and I wish her the best of luck. I really enjoyed chatting to her.

And that was #PhonePhill 7.

Roll on next week!

Would you like to have a chat about something? Anything really, doesn’t have to be scriptwriting. I’d love to talk to anyone about anything. Maybe you’re a director or an AD? A script supervisor? A gaffer or a best boy? Or maybe you’re a mid-wife or an undertaker? Doesn’t really matter, it’s just about reaching out and having a bit of a natter.

If you are a person and are bored enough to want to talk to a complete stranger (or maybe we know each other and haven’t spoken for a while?) then drop me a line and we’ll get our people to contact each other and arrange a time.

Assuming you have people?

I don’t.

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* The process for this is called Pepakura … and it’s awesome. Several online prop-making geniuses have modeled the suit and unfolded it using this program. All idiots like me have to do is print out the pattern, cut it out of cardboard and glue it together.

Actually, you’re supposed to then cover it in resin and fibreglass and car body-filler so you can sand it to a metal-like finish. Done properly, the results are stunning … but I’m on a budget, a schedule and only have to fool a five year old.

To my eyes, and the eyes of proper builders it looks terrible … to most people I actually know it looks fantastic. And you know what? I’m happy with how it looks – it accurately represents the effort involved.

Categories: #PhonePhill, My Way, Someone Else's Way, Writing and life | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

#PhonePhill – Conversation #6: Rosie Claverton

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Wow … I never expected this to carry on this long, never mind it being this much fun.

This week (or last week, depending on when I get round to posting this*) I spoke to Rosie Claverton. Rosie’s a scriptwriter and novelist and blogger (the rather excellent Swords and Lattes) who is also a consummate medical professional and runs the monthly #psywrite over on Twitter.

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She’s lovely.

I’ve known Rosie for a few years now, but never spoken to her. Rosie was one of the writers on Persona (the mobile-delivered drama series I got conned into being the lead writer for). In fact, Rosie was one of the best writers on Persona, something I’ve banged on about before.

And yet, despite knowing Rosie for all this time, this was the first time I’ve spoken to her.

The first thing you need to know is: she’s not Welsh.

That’s neither good nor bad, it just is. I thought she was. She’s not.

She is highly articulate, very interesting and great fun to talk to though.

Conversation got off to a shaky start when Skype (for I was in America and she wasn’t) did that weird thing of ringing on my phone and my laptop but refusing to stop ringing when I answered it on only one of them.

Then it did that weird thing of not bothering to give me any audio until I’d hung up and redialed several times.

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Skype – a wonderful program … until it isn’t.

So the first few minutes of our chat were that old Skype classic of:

Hello? Can you hear me? Hello? I don’t know if you can … Hello? If you can hear me I’m going to hang up and ring you back.

And so on.

Once we did finally get a decent connection, we quickly established neither of us is very good at auditory concentration. Which, you know, is quite important on a phone call.

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But we persevered.

I’m not sure what was going on with me, but I seemed to be a bit brain addled and kept forgetting which word I was intending to use whilst in the middle of using it. I’m not convinced I was saying what I meant to say … but if I wasn’t, Rosie was polite enough not to comment.

Chat ranged across the difference between writing novels and scripts (for Rosie has done both and knows these things), the NHS, the perils of regular blogging, the value of a good editor and the disappointment you feel when you first get to see the filmed version of something you wrote … which seems to have random bits added somewhere during the process – bits which don’t really make any sense.

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That’s the main difference I think between novels and scripts – you’re unlikely to open your own novel and find someone’s changed all the words and put them in a different order.

Novels are written, then edited. And presumably rewritten a lot too, but the editor’s notes are guidelines to help bring out the best in your story. They’re not mandatory (I believe!) and ultimately the choice of what word goes where is the author’s. They make the decisions, they get the glory … or the blame.

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Contrast that to a movie where (even if you wrote the initial draft on spec) you have to bend, alter and break the story to fit the director’s vision, the actors’ whims and the producer’s nervous breakdown.

Even if, after all that, you still end up with a script you’re proud of … it can still be thwarted by actors saying their own words (or, more commonly, someone else’s – essentially ‘improvising’ lines from different movies), directors pointing the camera at the wrong thing, an editor who cobbles together all the worst takes in a way which makes no fucking sense and then finishing the whole mess off with a soundtrack which is completely at odds with what’s going on on screen.

It’s a wonder any film is ever even barely watchable.

The worst bit of that process is then having people watch the film and tell you the script is terrible. The script they haven’t read.

No wonder talented scriptwriters like Rosie occasionally toddle off to write novels. Must be nice to be actually responsible for all the mistakes.

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable chat. Rosie was even kind enough to explain to me that I probably wasn’t a serial killer, despite me believing I have the same psychological make up. Apparently, so long as I don’t kill any dogs, I’ll be just fine.

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Which is nice to know.

If you’re a writer, you could do a lot worse than reading Rosie’s blog or participating in #psywrite. Hell, you could even show how lovely you are by buying one of Rosie’s Amy Lane novels.

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Go on, be nice.

Rosie is.

And so ends another lovely #PhonePhill. Who’s next?

Well, not next. I know who’s next because I did this morning. Who wants to join the one after? Which, confusingly, is the next one because I’m now a week adrift.

Are you a person? Do you have a mouth and a telephone and/or Skype?

If so, I’d love to chat to you, drop me an email and we’ll work it out.

Come on, #PhonePhill

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* Last week. Definitely last week.

 It’s  pain in the arse and takes up too much time. From my point of view, it’s not the words, it’s the pictures. The words I knock out in fifteen minutes … the photos take me hours to carefully select.

Bullshit or not?

Categories: #PhonePhill, Someone Else's Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Director of better

I love W1A, it’s easily one of my favourite sitcoms of recent years. I’m pretty certain that’s not how the BBC operates, but it feels like it probably could be.

I’ve definitely been the writer in that meeting where it’s clear the producer not only hasn’t read the script but has no idea what it’s about. I think we’ve all had that meeting, haven’t we?

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I’ve also borne witness to the same kind of corporate fucking-about-ness which gives birth to jobs with bullshit titles like ‘Director of Better’. The urge to leap onto the table and shriek “what’s the fucking point of you? I mean, what do you actually do here?” is often overwhelming.

And yet … I like the idea of better.

I think humans are happiest when they’re getting better. When they achieve things and have a sense of progression. Doesn’t matter what those things are, even if it’s just collecting stamps … but the ability to look at your life and understand you’re this much better than you were last year is invaluable.

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Or at least I think it is.

I feel like it’s my job to be better.

A better husband, a better father, a better friend, a better writer … just better.

Every day I try to be a little nicer, to refine how I interact with people in the hope of pissing less of them off and getting pissed of at less of them in return.

I exercise. I try to get a little fitter, a little healthier. I read. Try to get a little smarter, a little more depth or breadth to my knowledge.

I … do you know what? This is something I’ve been thinking about a bit recently – gym bunnies.b6b95da840183b3ea1e9dce216d97be4

I’m using that as an asexual term.

I know people who go to the gym every day. They’re obsessive about it … but not in a good way. They’re not trying to be better in a positive way, they’re worried about how physically attractive they are and are actively trying to be more attractive.

Most of these people are already extremely physically attractive. They have what most people would consider perfect physiques given that ‘perfect’ isn’t one shape, but a wide range that most of you already fall into.

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The gym isn’t going to make them any more attractive. It might help them maintain their current level, but an extra millimetre off or on a thigh here and there won’t make a blind bit of difference.

So why not swap one of those gym days for a day at the library? Your body gets you the first ten seconds of attention, your personality carries you for the rest of your life.

Realistically, wearing a top hat will get you exactly the same amount of attention as a year’s worth of gym membership.

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Probably.

Maybe it won’t.

Sorry. Someone asked me last week if a millimetre was more or less than half a centimetre and it really depressed me. All that gym time only to fall flat the first time she opened her mouth.

I think we, as writers, spend a lot of time learning new things. I certainly do, I squirrel away bits of information about all sorts of odd things … just in case they come in useful.

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Which they rarely do.

Lots of people don’t seem to do this. They don’t seem to seek out knowledge. I’m not sure why. I guess it isn’t really useful to them.

On the other hand, looking at this a different way – that woman (she was 27) was actually asking about millimetres. She was trying to find out and I guess mocking her for it is a bad thing.

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It’s never too late to learn new things. Even things we should have learnt at primary school.

It’s never too late to get better.

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

#PhonePhill – Conversation #5: Dee Chilton

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A new person! And a woman. A new woman!

Exciting.

This week I’ve been chatting to Dee Chilton who was absolutely lovely and very easy to chat to. Dee’s a scriptwriter. Specifically, she’s a photographer and Navy veteran who (in her own words) woke up one morning four and a half years ago and decided to be a scriptwriter.

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Hooray! One of us.

Our chat ranged across a wide variety of topics, as these things are wont to do, but mostly centred around those first few years as a scriptwriter, how to approach your career and the industry in general.

The through line throughout it all for me though was attitude. Dee’s is excellent. Her approach is just brilliant and something I think everyone (including me) can learn from.

She says she learnt to get on by getting promoted to a junior commissioned officer pretty quickly in the Navy – crossing the line from non-com to com (is that how you say it?) meant she no longer belonged to her old peer group but felt like an interloper in her new peer group.

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That imposter syndrome is how most scriptwriters feel when they start out.

Actually, scratch that. That’s how I feel all the time. Every time I work with new people I feel like they’re going to catch me out, realise I don’t belong … but that never happens.^

Dee’s answer was to just get on with people, learn to network and prove she deserved to be where she was, that she’d got there by merit.

Sage advice.

Dee seems to have the attitude it took me years to cultivate – she’s enjoying her scriptwriting journey. She’s enjoying the process with no fear of failure (doubts, of course … but she doesn’t seem to be afraid) or yearning for some imagined end goal. I think most of us focus so much on getting that first script produced, of ‘breaking in’* that we miss the point.

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There is no destination.

It’s all a ride, baby.

A scriptwriting career largely means achieving nothing … if by ‘achieving’ you think it means ‘being produced’. Scriptwriting isn’t a race with a clearly defined finish line. It’s not over once you get a film produced. It’s a hurdles race where no-one expects you to clear all the hurdles.

You’re expected to fall at the first hurdle.

Next time out, you might fall at the next hurdle.

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Maybe after ten attempts you might make it to the penultimate hurdle and fall there … or you might fall at the first hurdle again.$

Think of the most successful scriptwriter you can … last week, they got a project rejected. Possibly at the pitch stage.

At some point, totally unexpectedly, on a day when you’re only wearing one shoe and you’ve ripped your shorts whilst forgetting to wear pants … you’ll get to the end.

Congratulations!

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Now do the race again.

And fall at the first hurdle.

If you don’t learn to appreciate the process, the sheer joy of trying your hardest all the time … you’ll just get disheartened.

Personally, I tend to think of the script as the end goal – that’s the end of my process. If I get to a point where the client likes the script … I’m happy. I’ve won, time to find a new race to run.

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Another thing we talked about is why we opted for this life instead of writing books … a question I get asked a lot and don’t have a satisfactory answer for.

Usually when people ask me what I do, just after I’ve explained what a script is, what it looks like and how the talking is actually the least important bit+, immediately following that confused pause as they try to work out if their favourite movie was actually written by someone or just somehow accidentally captured on film … that’s when they ask.

Have I thought about writing a book? Yes.

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But I haven’t ever bothered.

Instead of choosing to be the Captain of my own destiny, writing my own stories and fuck everyone else’s opinion because they’re my goddamn books … instead of that, I choose to write scripts where everybody wants to argue with me and demand changes and generally stick their oar even when there’s no point in changing that character’s name from Danny to Donny or making the protagonist of a true-crime story a talking shoe.

Why?

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(Why did I choose scripts? Not the talking shoe bit.)

I don’t know.

Books have had just as much impact on me as movies. I love books. I read … well, not a lot anymore, but certainly every day.@

I usually tell people it’s because my vocabulary isn’t good enough to write the kind of books I enjoy reading.

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But I’m not sure that’s true.

What is true is now I’m this far down one path, switching to novels would be very difficult. It’s a completely different skillset I’d have to learn and one I’m not sure I could … but I didn’t know that then. Why didn’t I write books?

Okay, so there was this post which kind of explains it … but still … why not books?

Not sure.

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But maybe next week’s #PhonePhill guest will have a better answer?

Who knows?

All I do know is chatting to Dee Chilton was a lovely experience. She’s doing so much right (in my opinion). She’s working with the equally lovely Hayley McKenzie (Hayley! We should chat!), she’s formed her own bespoke online writing group, she’s availing herself of the myriad of opportunities the Internet has to offer (including winning a competition), she’s networking in a friendly, non-needy manner … and she’s enjoying herself to boot.

These are the ingredients to success and I wish her all the best.

So there you go, another #PhonePhill. Who’s next?

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Actually, I know who’s next … but who’s after her? Come on, don’t be shy – I’m ready to chat.

Email me.

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^ Suckers!

On a related note, everyone feels this at some point. It’s normal. I remember a good friend of mine who was the general manager of the Imax in Waterloo telling me about being in a meeting with Anthony Minghella (who was something high-and-mighty in the BFI at the time) and quietly freaking out inside because he was convinced someone would just stand up, point at him and say:

“Why are we listening to this guy? He’s a fucking cinema usher, for fuck’s sake! He’s the guy who used to scrape the puke off the auditorium floor!”

Even though that was ten years and several management jobs in the past.

* Breaking into where? Nine movies down the line, have I broken in yet? Because if I have, I have to tell you ‘in’ looks and feels almost exactly like ‘out’.

$ Wait … do you fall at hurdles in a hurdle race? Or is falling a horse racing term? In which case, do I mean scriptwriting is … whatever horse-jumping-races are called? Steeplechases? Is that right? Bollocks, I’ve got myself all confused now.

+ Lots of actors like to make up their own words … and then feel smug because they’ve helped ‘write’ the script. Yay you. Dialogue is the smallest, least important bit of writing. It’s the icing on the cake, it helps the cake look pretty but in no way affects the taste or enjoyment# because the actual baking was far more important and arduous.

# Except when it does.

@ Mostly the back of cereal packets, but it still counts!

Categories: #PhonePhill, Career Path, Someone Else's Way, Writing and life | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

#PhonePhill – Conversation #4: Dominic Carver

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This, right here, is what #PhonePhill is all about.

I’ve ‘known’ Dom for over a decade. Maybe eleven or twelve years … and yet in all that time I’ve never met him, never seen him in the flesh nor even heard his voice.

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Right back at the beginning of my career I joined TriggerStreet.com (which I’ve spoken about elsewhere) – a peer review website (now defunct) where writers could give and receive feedback on each others’ scripts.

If you’ve never done this kind of peer review, it’s priceless. First off you get to read and think about scripts. And I mean really think about them:

Did you like it? Why? Why not? What needs improving? What’s missing? Take it apart, learn how it works … and apply that to your own script.

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I read a hundred-plus scripts on that site. I received forty or fifty in return. Sometimes the feedback was useless, more often than not it was invaluable. I don’t know what the current peer-review websites are, but if you’re new, find them and participate the fuck out of them.

While I was active on TriggerStreet I had the good fortune to read and review one of Dom’s scripts. By an odd quirk of the random assignment system, he read one of my scripts in the same week.

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Brits were in a minority on TriggerStreet, so we messaged, we emailed … and have kept in semi-regular contact ever since. During the blog-boom a few years later, I read his, he read mine … we’re even still going when most of the rest have given up.

So I know Dom. He’s Dom. Yeah, I know Dom.

Except, I don’t. No really. In fact, I know him so little that when we phoned each other last week there was an awkward pause immediately after the first sentence each because neither of us sounds like we do in each other’s heads.

I guess this is the reverse of that weird moment when you see a radio personality for the first time … they’re not supposed to look like that!*

Well … Dom’s not supposed to sound like that. I can’t honestly say what he’s supposed to sound like … but he has the wrong voice.

Apparently, so do I.

But once we got over that hurdle, we had a good old natter.

As usual, the second thing which came up (after the normal conversation about someone I used to work with and is he really as bad to work with as everyone says?) was the Secret Writing Island (for I was there at the time), how it works and just … what the fuck?+

After that we just chatted about our careers, writing and life in general.

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Dom’s doing really well at the moment. It’s an exciting time for him and he’s making his mark. He’s always had talent. Ever since that first script I read of his, I could tell he knew what he was doing … but there was a time, not that long ago when it seemed like he would never get anywhere.

I hope he doesn’t mind me saying this, because it ends on a complimentary note.

For a while his blog was pretty much the go-to example of how not to represent yourself on the internet. It was negative, it was depressing, it was honest. Too honest.

Never be honest, kids.

And then, a couple of years back, it changed. Suddenly, pretty much overnight, it became an interesting, positive, useful insight into the life of a writer.

At around the same time, Dom’s career took off. People wanted to work with him. He won the Prequel to Cannes scriptwriting competition, that helped … but that’s not the full story. The full story, in Dom’s own words, is networking.

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He learnt how to do it and hasn’t looked back since.

Contrary to popular belief, there’s no old boys’ network keeping new writers out. There’s no secret handshakes or clubhouse or trouser-rolling-up going on. There’s just a bunch of human beings who like working with people they know.

Everyone likes working with people they know because people they don’t know might turn out to be weirdos.

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But conversely, everyone desperately wants to discover the next big thing. Everyone wants to be the person who discovered the greatest writing genius of our age.

No one’s trying to keep anyone out. Everyone wants your work … except there’s that first thing again – there are a lot of weirdos. How do you only work with people you know (and like^) whilst at the same time being the person who discovers the next big thing?

Tricky.

The answer is networking.

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Be a good writer. Learn that. Now be a good person. Be gregarious, be outgoing, chat to people when you have no agenda. Keep in touch with people, ask them about their kids (assuming they’ve told you they have kids – don’t ask if they’ve never mentioned it. Certainly don’t make unsolicited comments about the layout of their kids’ bedrooms).

Just be nice.

Dom goes to the Screenwriters’ Festival every year. Not for the sessions, but for the networking. Like he says, if you come away with one job it more than pays for the ticket.

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When you work with people, be nice to them. Be good at your job. At all aspects of your job and they’ll come back for more. Better than that, they’ll pass on your details to other people. They’ll recommend you.

And don’t give up. Keep trying. If what you’re doing isn’t working, but you think it might eventually … keep going. If you think it’s leading nowhere, be brave, try something new.

Recently Dom posted the first three pages of his new script … uh-oh, I thought. That’s either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid …

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Turns out it was incredibly brave and is working for him. He’s already had a director get in touch about reading the script.

Good things happen to people who know how to exploit their own talent. Dom didn’t seem to know … but (after a few false starts) he’s worked it out.

I’m really glad I got the chance to talk with Dom. It was interesting and informative. Hopefully, one day, we’ll get to meet in person.

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So … who’s next? I’d really love to talk to a woman next time, it’s far too testosterone-y in here. Are you a woman? Do you have a telephone (or Skype) and a voice?

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If so, no matter who you are or what you do, get in touch and we’ll work out a time for a lovely chat.

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In my head, Mark Kermode looks like Gok Wan. I don’t know why, he just does.

I love my Secret Writing Island. I love that the truth behind it, the mechanism which allows me to work at an undisclosed Caribbean location, is even more brilliant than people imagine. I’m here right now. This is the view!

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This is so ridiculously important. It’s more important than talent alone. Imagine the worst bell-end you’ve ever met … and then imagine volunteering to work closely with them for two to seven years to make a film.

Now imagine the next most talented person is really, really lovely. True, they’re not a towering genius … they’re merely really, really good at their job.$

Who do you want to work with? Bearing in mind so many things will go wrong during production that the quality of the script is almost incidental to the process?

Being nice is part of the job.

Categories: #PhonePhill | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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