Public grief

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Towards the end of the last Millennium I was a young whipper snapper who’d just started a job. A proper job, mind you. One where you actually had to do things and interact with people, none of this hide-in-my-room-with-my-imaginary-friends nonsense.

Day two (or perhaps three, I forget) of the initial training course I came into the room early one morning to find everyone in tears.

Everyone.

Great wracking sobs of grief.

“What’s happened?” I asked, realising something truly awful must have happened to have so deeply affected such a diverse group of people.

“Haven’t you heard?” came the reply “Diana’s dead.”

“No!” I exclaimed, scanning the room for an empty chair … “Which one was Diana?”

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Now you may think it’s blatantly obvious they meant Princess Diana, but this was pre-instant-news-to-your palm-smartphones and almost pre-internet. At that time in the morning I hadn’t seen, heard or read the news. Given everyone in the room was crying, I immediately (and erroneously) assumed it must be one of the people we’d all met the day or so before.

But no. It was the Princess of Hearts.

“So … why is everyone crying?” I asked. Because (and you may or may not remember or agree with this) before her death, Diana wasn’t the Princess of Hearts, she was the feckless whore who was threatening to steal the heirs to the crown and spirit them out of the country with her Johnny Foreigner lover.

At least, that’s how the papers portrayed her.

So why was everyone crying? Why was the death of someone so vilified in the papers the cause of floods of tears?

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I still don’t know. I think it’s sad when anyone dies, but there are very few people I’d shed actual tears over because … well, I just don’t know them. The exceptions would be Christopher Reeve (because he was my hero when I was six) or Douglas Adams (because he was my most favouritest author ever since, like, forever).

Although I never met them, their work touched my life and (I think) improved it. They meant something to me.

Princess Diana – yeah, I felt sorry for her family, but I didn’t know her … at all.

And yet the streets were awash with very public grief.

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Nigh on 20 years later and Twitter is awash with grief when anybody vaguely famous dies. Friends who I’ve never heard even mention David Bowie, let alone listen to his music, were distraught after his death. On social media, that is … not so much in real life.

2016 has been a public griever’s playground. Every month someone of note has (sadly) passed away … and every month people fill my Twitter and Facebook timelines with heartfelt distress and incredibly public mourning.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand what it’s like when someone who meant something to you dies. It is sad and does feel like a piece of you has died with them. I get it, I really do. I have friends (both real and online) who mourn the passing of Bowie or Prince or Ronnie Corbett or whoever because they genuinely meant something to them. They write little online eulogies because it helps them express their grief and the results can be beautiful and, occasionally, makes me wonder if I should perhaps re-evaluate the artist’s work to find out what it is they saw in that person.

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And maybe having R.I.P. insertnamehere trending on Twitter makes the families of the deceased feel better. I don’t know.

So far this year, the only person whose passing made me a properly sad (as opposed to “oh, that’s a shame”) was Paul Daniels. Jason Arnopp and I were reminiscing a few days before he died about how good a magician he was and how he kick-started our interest in magic.

And yet Paul Daniels got unfairly swept up in the wholesale dumping of traditional entertainers during the eighties. The old guard got swept away in a torrent of radical newness … and that shouldn’t have happened.

Yes, some entertainers were sexist and crass. Some merely committed the crime of being warm and cosy and didn’t swear or punch things. They were old, we were all about the new. Paul Daniels was one of the babies thrown out with that bath water and he didn’t deserve that. He was an amazing magician and a fantastic entertainer in the true sense of the word.

I loved Paul Daniels … but I didn’t feel the need to rush out a Tweet or blog letting everyone know.

I’m not sure if that makes me a better person or a worse one. Probably worse. My sad face is just for me.

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Except when it’s not, for if I’m anything it’s contradictory.

Recently I remembered that Douglas Adams wasn’t always my favourite author. I was introduced to him by Miss Seaman in the last year of Coten End Middle School when I was ten or so. From then on Douglas Adams’ work had a significant effect on my life … but he wasn’t the first.

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Before Douglas Adams, there was Nicholas Fisk. I don’t know who turned me on to his work, but I loved it and consumed it voraciously. His shelf was the first I scoured in the library, on the off-chance he had something new out. Or something old I hadn’t read yet. Starstormers was a particular favourite of mine. As was A Rag, a Bone and a Hank of Hair. Grinny is still my go-to cuckoo story, more so than The Stepford Wives or The Midwich Cuckoos.

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Nicholas Fisk steered me deep into sci-fi waters and became my gateway author to Heinlen and Arthur C. Clarke and Asimov and Harry Harrison and even Terry Pratchett. Without Fisk, there probably wouldn’t have been any Douglas Adams in my life … and that would be a great shame.

Somehow I’d forgotten Nicholas Fisk, sold or lost all his books and even stopped really reading sci-fi all together.

Last month I suddenly remembered him. I can’t tell you why or what caused his name to resurface, but I suddenly remembered I had a favourite author as a child. How could I have forgotten? Maybe I can read his books with my daughter? Maybe she’ll love them as much as I did?

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And then, yesterday, I found out Nicholas (or David Higginbottom as I learnt he was called) has just passed away. Sometime last week at the age of 92.

He didn’t die tragically young or while he was still writing and had so many more stories to offer … but, you know, he was a large part of my childhood and even if I had forgotten him, I’m a bit sad that he’s gone. Deaths like his nibble away at our past and bring the darkness of non-existence that little bit closer.

Like I say, I’m not one for public grief (although I’m dreading the day I see Tom Baker’s name all over my feeds – hopefully that day’s a long way off) but just this once I want to shed a single, public tear for a man who meant a lot to me all those years ago.

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Rest in peace, Nicholas.

Categories: Random Witterings, Two steps back, Writing and life | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

#PhonePhill – Conversation #15: Calum Chalmers (again)

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MILD SPOILERS FOR EDDIE THE EAGLE … BUT NOT REALLY.

IT’S UNSPOILABLE.

IF YOU’VE SEEN THE TRAILER, THAT’S THE FILM – THERE IS NOTHING ELSE TO SPOIL.

This is the third time Calum Chalmers has rung and the third time we’ve spent the entire morning gossiping. At this point, I’m beginning to suspect we’re having an affair.

Three hours this time.

Three.

Hours.

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Three hours of delightful chat about stuff and things. Too many stuff and things to mention … or even remember since it was a couple of weeks ago and remembering stuff is such a faff.

I do remember talking about our unfettered love for Eddie the Eagle … despite it not really being a very good film.

Not really.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad film. It’s not one of those so-bad-it’s-good deals. It delivers everything it promises, it’s just … not good.

I love it, but I’m not sure why.

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On paper it shouldn’t really work. Story wise it’s a direct copy of Cool Runnings … or at least the version of Cool Runnings I remember after not having seen it for twenty years.

Must watch that again.

It’s not even as complex a story as Cool Runnings since there’s only one Eddie as opposed to four bobsleighers. Or sledders. Sledders? Sleighers? Slayers?

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Eddie wants to be in the Olympics … that’s pretty much it. There’s no character development beyond that. There’s a vague reconciling with father/father figure thing going on for him and his coach … but it’s kind of incidental (except it’s not). Other than that, the story is:

Man wants to go to the Olympics … so he tries hard and gets to go.

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That’s it.

Even the obstacles aren’t really obstacles, they’re hurdles. I like stories where the obstacle is insurmountable so it forces the protagonist to take a different path – a different path which changes the protagonist. It’s not the path they wanted to take, but it’s perhaps one they needed to.

Hurdles don’t block the straight line between the protagonist and the goal, they’re just minor setbacks the protagonist needs to hop over.*

Eddie doesn’t change, he doesn’t grow. He doesn’t discover love instead of lust for Olympic glory … he just plods towards his goal occasionally hurdling minor irritants until he gets there.

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This is not the way to write a compelling story! And yet … it works. And it works magnificently. Eddie the Eagle is a fucking great film … despite not being especially good. I genuinely, with no reservations, adore it.

So what’s the take home from this? What did I (and Calum) learn?

Maybe that constructing compelling characters with internal and external goals and a flaw they need to overcome is a great start … but a nice person without a trace of malice who keeps trying to do the same thing, over and over again, no matter what … sometimes it just works.

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Movie Eddie is lovely. He’s sweet. I want him to get everything he wants and I want him to be happy … and that’s enough.

Much the same as I feel about Calum Chalmers – he’s a nice guy, I want him to be happy.

If you’d like me to want you to be happy too, why not #PhonePhill? Go on, you know you want to … and if you don’t, I want you to. Email me and we’ll schedule a call.


* Generally I find movies with hurdles instead of obstacles unsatisfying, but two other examples which prove that rule would be Gravity and The Martian. I really enjoyed both of those films, even though all the characters wanted was to not be in the movie^ and all that happened to them is hurdle after hurdle. Solve this problem, carry along on the same path until you hit the next problem – should be dull, but isn’t … IF you like the protagonist.

^ This too is a bugbear of mine – when all the characters want is to NOT be in the movie I find it difficult to warm to them – “Well why don’t you just fuck off or die and we can all go home?”

I’m looking at you Rey and Finn.

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

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

Stop-Hammer-Time

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

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