#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

Competition

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Competition. I’m not afraid of it, are you?

That’s not to say I’m confident I can out-write any other writer, far from it. In fact, if anything, I tend to assume everyone else is better than me and I need to try harder.

Those of you who’ve seen any of the films I’ve written might well agree. Those of you who understand the filmmaking process might well decide to reserve judgement until after you’ve read one of the scripts they were loosely based on.

Either way, I rarely compare myself favourably to anyone else.

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And still I’m not afraid of a bit of competition.

Every project I’ve ever worked on has involved a degree of competition. Every co-written job has me jostling with the co-writer to get my ideas and my lines into the script instead of his.

When I was writing sketches, I was competing with dozens of other writers. Sometimes I won, sometimes I didn’t. When I didn’t, it was because I either wasn’t good enough or someone else was just better.

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Every time I submit a script to anyone I’m competing with every other script on the market. Competition is just what the job is … so I was amazed to hear this story from a fellow writer:

The gist of it is she was contacted by a produced and repped writer who had an idea he didn’t have time to write – would she be interested in writing it for him in return for a co-writing credit? There’s no money upfront, but he’ll take it to his agent and hawk it round his producer contacts.

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Now … yeah.

This is a really odd thing for one writer to ask another. It’s just not cricket … but, it’s not unheard of. It does happen. Sort of. I’ve collaborated with friends with no money involved with the intention of selling the script afterwards.

It happens.

I get contacted every couple of months by someone with a similar propostion – will you write my fantastic idea for me? I’ll split the writing credit and if we sell it …

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I’ll write it for a fee for sole writing credit and if you sell it, you can pay me the rest.

These request usually come from people who aren’t writers, producers or anything else in the industry. They come from people who have an (usually crap) idea and a whim.

They rarely consider offering to pay me for my time and effort.

Well, almost never.

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But this case was different.

This was an established writer (ostensibly) looking to enter into a mutually beneficial deal with a new writer. He even offered to let the writer take the script if they couldn’t sell it within a specified time period … so essentially it’s an unproduced writer writing a spec script with the assistance and input of a produced writer who was better placed to sell it than she was.

Probably worth a gamble.

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Hell, she thought, I may even get representation out of it since he’s going to show it to his agent. If I do a good job he’ll probably recommend me.

So she signed a contract (good start) and got to work.

After a lot of faffing and pointless, terrible notes later they had a script he liked. She didn’t, but he clearly knew more than her so she went with his opinion.

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At the end of the specified period, he reneged on the contract because he liked the script and wanted to keep it. She hated the script, so … fine. Keep it. But, um, since you liked my work so much, would you mind recommending me to your agent?

No. Or rather, yes. Yes he would mind. He wasn’t going to recommend her because she writes the same kind of stuff as him and he doesn’t want the competition.

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I believe, correct me if I’m wrong, but this is what the words “utter fucking shitbag” were invented for.

Absolutely fucking appalling behaviour from an utter coward.

I just don’t understand that kind of behaviour. I love championing new writers. I love it when I find someone better than me, because I get to watch something exceptionally well written which I can fall in love with and learn from.

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Michelle Lipton, Piers Beckley, Danny Stack, Rosie Claverton, Dominic Carver, Jason Arnopp, James Moran, Tim Clague, Paul Campbell, Julie Bower … fuck it, everyone on the blogroll to the right, all of them are better writers than me. You should hire them, all of them. You should be banging on their doors (I have their addresses) and offering them work.

But you know what? Come see me too. I may not be as good as them, but I may surprise you.

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Competition is good, it raises the bar for everyone and forces us all to continually up our game.

I’m not afraid of competition and genuinely don’t understand anyone who is.

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

#PhonePhill – Conversation #3: Andrew Mullins

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This installment of my quest to talk to actual real life people is a bit of a special one.

Ten years ago I got married.

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This was a lovely thing to happen and since it continues to be a lovely thing ten years later, Mandy and I felt a party was in order.

As an aside, the party was fantastic, thank you so much to everyone who attended. We had it at Eastbourne’s Tennis in the Park, Love All Cafe, catered by a friend whose hobby-cooking far outstrips most professional chefs.

Ten years ago we reformed my teenage school-band for a one-off reunion gig.

Ten years later we once again rocked the party with our lukewarm ineptness.

Mandy even joined in which made the whole thing much more apt and much more fun.

As is traditional with these things, we contacted everyone who attended the wedding and invited them along. As is also traditional, most people beyond a certain radius didn’t make it.

This happens. People are busy, travel is expensive, life gets in the way.

But apologies-for-nonattendance opens up avenues of communication which have dried up over the years. Not through any malice or falling out but just because sometimes the gentle ebb and flow of life takes us in different directions.

Enter, Andy.

Andy and I (and a third chap, Jason, who’s now a regional manager for Cineworld) entered the movie industry at the same time: October 1992

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Okay, so we were cinema ushers but it still counts. It fucking does!

Andy was studying to be a teacher. Jason was studying … um … something. Media? I had recently been thrown out of university for being tragically stupid.

The three of us became firm friends and have kept in increasingly sporadic touch ever since. Long after we left the cinema, Swansea and even Wales behind we continued to think of each other as friends.

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But then there was that gentle parting of the ways. We’re still friends, we just somehow rarely find time for each other. I’m not 100% certain I’ve actually spoken to him since the wedding … but I must have done? Surely?

This is exactly what this whole #PhonePhill thing is about – making time to talk to people, old and new.

So we had a chat.

Andy remains one of my favourite people on the planet. He’s so relentlessly positive and cheerful and … nice. That sounds awful because we tend to associate those qualities with insipid … but Andy’s far from that.

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He’s no pushover, he’s a rare gem, a genuinely wonderful person who’s also interesting and fun and all-round inspiring. Andy’s a primary school teacher and loves his job. His passion and enthusiasm for his kids is a lesson all in itself. He’s the epitome of a man who’s found his niche in life and loves it.

He’s a family man with boundless energy and affection for the people he loves … an affection which spills over into all other areas of his life. I don’t know if he actually realises how special this makes him. I don’t know if he forces himself to look for the positives in any given situation, but he certainly finds them.

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Case in point: a few years before the wedding, Andy became seriously, life-threateningly ill. I’m not going to disclose his personal information online, but it was pretty grim. The treatment was even grimmer.

But he pulled through.

More amazing than that, as he completed every stage of his treatment he could be found online helping other people across the globe deal with their upcoming or ongoing treatment.

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He doesn’t see this as a big deal, just something anyone would do in his position.

Since then, after beating the odds and fathering two more children, Andy’s discovered he’s got another serious, potentially life-threatening issue; and a mobility issue which although wouldn’t end his life, threatened to put an end to the kind of sport-filled life he loves.

This year he underwent a fairly major procedure to correct the mobility issue and will have to (at some point in the near future) have to undergo another one to cure the underlying life-threatening one.

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Andy’s take on these three medical calamities? Any one of which would destroy most people?

“I’m so lucky really, because the top hospital in the country for the first problem is just down the road and the top guy for the mobility issue works in a different local hospital and I’ve been able to see the pre-eminent specialist for the other thing.”

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I’ve always said that my affection for Superman stems not from his ability to fly or see through walls or punch through solid steel but for his innate humanity. To me, Superman’s greatest power is his ability to see the best in people, to expect them to aspire to better things and to assume the world is fundamentally a good place.

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I find this an admirable, aspirational trait. One I try to copy. Every time I read a Superman comic, I head out into the world intent on believing the best of everyone … it never lasts long.

Andy has that skill. He has that outlook and it’s wonderful. He inspires me and I aspire to be more like him.

Chatting to him on Monday was wonderful, I hope it becomes a regular thing. I only wish we lived closer because I would love my daughter to have him to look up to.

So there you are #PhonePhill #3.

Who’s next? Who fancies a natter about stuff? Email me and we’ll work something out.

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

How to write the perfect cameo

Sorry, there should be a question mark on that title because the truth is I don’t know. Haven’t the Scoobiest.

What I do know is the later a cameo is chucked into the script (generally) the worse it will be.

If a client said at the outline stage “Let’s write a really meaty cameo in the hope of attracting a decent actor.” then it’s pretty easy to work it into the fabric of the story, primarily because there isn’t a story yet.

At every stage after that it becomes harder and harder until you get the worst kind of cameo, the one which is inserted after principle photography has wrapped.

“I’ve just bumped into *insert name of someone who may or may not have a cult following or moderate box office success* and we HAVE to get them into the film.”

Really? We have to? Absolutely have to?

Because we’re currently struggling to piece the film together after you fired half the cast mid-shoot, cast people you fancied as opposed to people who could act and decided to shoot all the close, personal, intimate bedroom scenes in the middle of a rock gig.

Chucking in a random scene which has no connection to the plot just so you can put this woman’s name on the DVD cover isn’t going to make the film any better.

But the problem is, it will help sell the DVD … initially. For an incredibly short period of time.

Because the absolute worst thing about late-in-the-process-cameos is distributors tend to slap their name on the cover as if they’re the star of the film. Their fans buy the DVD in dribbles and get pissed off because their favourite star isn’t actually in the film at all.

Okay, there’s a single scene in there which features the actor but since it was filmed on a different day in a different location with none of the original cast … it’s hardly IN the film, is it?

And that’s another problem with cameos – we can rarely shoot them in the same location/set as the bulk of the story. At best we get to include one of the principle cast.

So are the best cameos the ones where you didn’t know the actor was going to appear? Is it more fun to suddenly go “Hey! It’s whats-her-face! I didn’t know she was in this!” or to spend the whole film waiting to see her, only to find out she has a three-minute comedy turn in a newsagent selling a pack of Toffos to a minor character who, for no reason whatsoever, has paused in the middle of a car chase, mysteriously changing his hair do and his trousers+ in order to purchase some teeth-gumming sweeties?

I think the former is better.

Every single distributor in the whole world would disagree.

In the absolute worst case scenario, they’ll rebrand the whole movie as a different genre (the one the cameo star is famous for) and sell the DVD as something it’s not to people who would never have bought it in the first place. Those people will (rightly) hate the movie for it not being what they were told it was and slag it off to anyone who’ll listen and plenty who won’t.

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Self-defeating, I think. But then I don’t have access to the sales figures nor the brain to interpret them properly, so I clearly don’t know what I’m talking about.

I do know I’ve just been asked to include a cameo for someone in a feature script which is currently casting. Getting that actor involved would be absolutely fucking amazingly awesome, literally the high-watermark of my career.

But I don’t want it to derail the story. I don’t want the story to screech to a complete standstill, shift to a different location for a pointless scene and then struggle to pick up momentum afterwards.

Luckily, neither does the client.

Luckily he’s easily one of my favourite clients when it comes to lavishing care and attention on the script. He really, really cares about making it the best it can possibly be and is absolutely adamant that whereas getting this actor involved would be amazing, it must not interfere with what we already have.

How nice is that?

Even more luckily, there does seem to be a way to do exactly that. The cameo feels like it’s meant to be there. It feels relevant. It feels as if it was always there and is one of the key scenes which helps explain the actions of one of the main characters.

It even manages to solve the knotty problem of why someone who’s clearly American would coincidentally be in England three times over a ten year period at exactly the times we’re telling the story without actually living here.

It’s also funny and moving and tragic all at the same time.

Unusually I’m rather proud of it. This is a new emotion for me since I mostly feel I could probably do better.

Pride, an emotional cameo in my life.

Hopefully it won’t come before a fall.

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I hate using the word actor as a non-gender word. I understand the logic behind it, as was explained to me by the great Piers Beckley “You don’t call a female pilot a pilotess or doctor a doctress, so why use it for actors you big old sexist?”. Yeah, that makes sense … except (rightly or wrongly. Mostly wrongly) the default mental image for an actor, pilot or doctor is a man.^ Test this for yourself, tell a story about a trip to the doctor and end with an unanswered question. I bet you almost everyone will ask you “Well, what did HE say?” – even other female doctors.

Mind you, that might be because some people still peddle the myth that ‘he’ should always be used when the gender is unknown. That is of course proper bollocks.

Maybe there should be female words for all professions to reinforce the idea that women also do those roles? Maybe the term ‘actress’ is LESS sexist because it gives women their own name as opposed to having to adopt the male name for it?

Or maybe not.

It does make casting a teensy bit more awkward when you have to explain you’re looking for a female actor as opposed to just using one word ‘actress’.

I like to alternate pronouns in my blogs he/she hers/his, etc … when I just use the word ‘actor’ over and over again I worry people think I’m only talking about men.

I probably worry too much.

+ The trousers change because this scene has been shot three months later and the original trousers have been eaten by ninjas. Nobody knows why ninjas eat trousers, but they do. It’s a fact.

^As evidenced in the pilot-psych question:

“What would you do if you were on a night-stop and the Captain came down to the bar in a dress?”

The correct answer of course being “Offer to buy her a drink.” Or more likely, get her to buy you a drink because Captains are fucking minted.

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

#PhonePhill – Conversation #2: Robin Bell

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Strangely enough, more than one person fancies a natter and so we’ve actually made it to Conversation #2.

This time it’s Robin Bell, a guy I have actually met and really enjoyed chatting to.

Robin’s a writer/director/producer and co-creator of Twisted Showcase, an online anthology series beloved by The Guardian.

Robin and I met at the BBC’s TV Drama Writing Festival in Leeds and instantly became best mates.

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For the day.

Or two days, possibly.

Actually, maybe I’m overstating that a little. I like the bloke anyway.

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He’s a nice guy with interesting stuff to say. He’s carving out his career and, by co-creating Twisted Showcase, has taken his career into his own hands.

Why don’t more of us do things like this? It’s really not that hard in the 21st Century to shoot stuff which looks half-decent, so why do so many of us wait for other people to do it for us?

I don’t know. If I did, maybe I’d be making my own stuff too?

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Chat roamed across what we’d done since last we met, what we want to do next, TV gems like episode 2 of series 2 of Inside No. 9

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… and TV-not-so-gems like the last season of Doctor Who.*

As usual, Robin proved himself personable and easy-going. He’s a nice. I like Robin.

So there you have it, #PhonePhill the sequel.

Anyone else fancy a random chat? You can be someone I know or someone I don’t. You can be a fellow writer or not. Someone connected to the industry or someone with a proper, less frustrating job. We can chat about anything you like, whatever takes your fancy.

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Drop me a line and we’ll see what we can work out.

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Stuff.

More stuff.

*I struggled with this much more than Robin did. He warmed to it halfway through, I cooled continuously until it went from a show I was prepared to pay to see in the cinema … to one I had on in the background a couple of days later whilst I was doing something else.

If you’ll indulge me:

The problem I had was threefold:

1) They seemed to think the best route to take here was to make the Doctor fundamentally unlikeable. I’m not convinced this is a good idea, it certainly didn’t seem to work very well for Colin Baker and I’m not convinced repeating that unglorious period of Who-History is the way forward.

It worked though. It was brilliantly written and did exactly what it was meant to do … made me not like the Doctor.

2) They seemed to feel the need to apologise profusely and continuously for casting an older, non-sexy Doctor. This highlighted over and over again how little confidence they had in their own decision. Why mention it at all? Why not just bang on with the story and drag people along for the ride?

“This is who the Doctor is now, he’s still awesome, come with us and enjoy the fun!”

As opposed to:

“I’m really sorry. Really sorry. It won’t be that bad. Honest. Look how old and wrinkly he is. Had you noticed how old and wrinkly he is? I bet you’re really upset about how old and wrinkly he is, but just give us a chance. Please give us a chance, it might not be that bad. Look, here’s the young sexy Doctor giving you permission to like the wrinkly old one. Except … we don’t want you to like him because he’s a bit of a nob. Just tolerate him for a bit. He’ll probably die soon anyway given how old and wrinkly he is.”

And so on. For what felt like weeks and weeks and weeks …

3) New-Who clearly establishes that companions are chosen to travel with the Doctor and only the brightest and best are allowed onboard. Even in this series, a potential companion who has all the attributes needed, is refused travel because she has one tiny flaw – she’s a soldier.

Being a companion is an honour reserved for the precious few.

Clara is the precious few. She’s the chosen one. Only she, out of the whole universe, has the right qualities to earn her place on the TARDIS … and she isn’t really sure if she wants to.

“I would come and explore the furthest frontiers of space and time, bearing sole witness to the most amazing sights the universe has to offer … but Eastenders is on and I’ve got some homework to mark and … maybe next week?”

Companions do tend to leave the Doctor because they crave a normal life. That usually happens over the course of one story.

Clara took an entire season to think about it.

If you haven’t worked it out, I don’t really like Clara.

This left me watching a show about a guy I wasn’t supposed to like hanging around the flat of a woman who wasn’t sure if she liked him either. There are two characters – one is deliberately unlikeable. The other is (presumably) accidentally unlikeable. Enjoy!

But never mind, the good thing about Doctor Who is next year will be something completely different.

Categories: #PhonePhill, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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