Monthly Archives: September 2006

Shark attacks in Switzerland

THE EVOLVED has been selected as an international entry into the 
Lausanne Underground Film Festival in Switzerland. It’s screening on Friday 13th October and Sunday 15th October. This is what their website has to say about the film:

“…without a doubt one of the trashiest, most vulgar and twisted film ever made until now, a true hymn to degenerate filmmaking.”

I’m sure that’s lost something in the translation. They probably mean “it’s funny, go and see it. Or better yet, buy the DVD for your mum.”

I have no idea how THE EVOLVED will do in competition; but I can’t wait to find out.

Categories: Progress | Leave a comment

Unrealistic expectations

I’ve figured out today I have no concept of time. This will come as no great surprise to the various employers I’ve had over the years, punctuality has never been my strong point. Deadlines I’m fine with: have this done by tomorrow? No problem. Turn up at a particular place at a particular time tomorrow? I just can’t do it.

I’ve realised today I have no concept of how long it takes to do something. For example: today’s plan was to get up, have breakfast and knuckle down to work.

Breakfast took an hour and a half. How? I have no idea.

I figured I’d knock out a dozen sketches for The Treason Show and Newsrevue (a dozen in total, not each – I’m not that deluded.); read through the writer’s notes for a film project I’m working on and write up some notes of my own in preparation for a meeting with the writer/director on Saturday; write a TV show proposal for a producer I was chatting to months ago; tinker a bit more with the spec feature I’m writing; and, if there’s time, read a script on Trigger Street.

How much of that do you think I actually got done? I’ll give you a clue, I don’t possess the ability to slow down time.

What I’ve actually achieved today: wrote one sketch.

It’s a good one (in my opinion) but it’s only one. It took me a while to comb through the various on-line newspapers looking for something I might want to satirise. Nothing much sprang to mind, I’ve done most of the major stories already.

I’ve spent several hours reading and re-reading the notes for the feature and writing down possible beginnings and endings. My grasp of this guy’s story and characters is a lot better than it was before and I now have pages of scribbled notes to refer back to. All good.

And that’s about it.

My wife’s coming home now and I don’t really like to work when she’s home; I don’t get to see her very often and it’s nice to spend some time together.

So, have I under-achieved? Did I spend my time watching telly and fiddling with the Internet?

Nope. I was working all day (apart from the extended breakfast – what the hell happened there?). The reason I haven’t achieved everything I wanted is because it probably wasn’t possible in the first place.

It appears I have no concept whatsoever of how long any of these tasks take. I’d like to think I’ll learn from this experience and mend my stupid ways; but I know I won’t. You’ll notice the word probably in the above paragraph. Yes, that’s right, I’m going to try and do it all again tomorrow. Except the bits I’ve already done.

Oh, and I really should cut the grass, but that only takes five minutes; doesn’t it?

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Night Junkies

Last week (make that 10 days ago, I really should keep on top of this) I received an invite to a screening of NIGHT JUNKIES; a film I script-edited at the beginning of the year. It’s screening on at 8pm on Friday the 6th of October in London; the day I get back from 6 days in Antigua. Hopefully I’ll be awake enough to enjoy the film.

It’ll be interesting to meet some of the other people involved; so far I’ve only met the writer/director: Lawrence Pearce

Giles Alderson, the lead in NIGHT JUNKIES, was also in LVJ a film I co-wrote; but I’ve never actually met him.

NIGHT JUNKIES is a dark, sexy, urban vampire thriller with an injection of Tarantino cool and ballistic action. The script was great, I’m really looking forward to seeing the finished product.

Categories: Progress | 2 Comments

The Seven Swords of Bathrick

I optioned another feature script recently; well, about 6 weeks ago. I still can’t really say too much about it, except it’s been taken up by Dawn Dusk Films, which is a new production company run by Marion Pritchett. Marion’s a lovely woman who’s very enthusiastic about the script; which is great. The script is:

THE SEVEN SWORDS OF BATHRICK

Action Comedy.

A petty thief, a disgraced royal guard, a powerless wizard, a ninety year old bodyguard and a trainee warrior maiden must unite to free the Kingdom from an evil Sorceress. There’s just one snag, they don’t want to.

The Seven Swords of Bathrick is a tongue in cheek fantasy which perfectly combines laugh out loud humour with the breathtaking excitement of an action adventure story.

To date, Marion has only asked a small re-write; all of the points she mentioned made sense and all of the changes were beneficial to the script. Plus it gave me the opportunity to fix a handful of scenes I wasn’t happy with anymore. I’m sure when a director comes on board he’ll want more changes; but I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what they are.

Marion’s already approached several actors/actresses and seems to be really driving the project forward. I wish I could say more; but it’s far too early to give out any specific details. Suffice it to say, although I know it’s very early days and there’s plenty of time for things to go wrong, at the moment I have a very good feeling about this project and feel it has a very high chance of actually being produced.

I’ll post more details as and when they become more concrete; but for now, I’m a very happy man.

Categories: Progress | 2 Comments

Phantom Projects

In an earlier post I mentioned phantom jobs, where producers/directors get in touch once about working together only to disappear into the ether. Although I still stand by that observation as a generalisation, when I wrote that post my voice-mail wasn’t working and my emails were bouncing.

Which doesn’t really help.

I think it’s all working now, but I do live in fear of the emails I’m not receiving.

Another curious phenomenon is the phantom projects scenario.  Producers/directors get in touch about a script; sometimes they’ve read a sample from my website, sometimes I’ve sent it to them in response to an ad they’ve posted. They love this script, they want to make it.

Hooray!

We discuss terms, contracts are signed, I get an option fee. Actors are approached, they sign letters of intent. If it’s a director, I get endless emails concerning the technical aspects of shooting it; how they’re going to do certain effects, the locations they have in mind; and then…

Nothing.

And I mean, absolutely nothing. No emails, no phone calls. I email them, no reply; or the email address no longer exists. I phone them, they’re never in. Absolutely nothing.

Now, I could understand if they emailed and explained they couldn’t get funding; or they changed their minds and didn’t want to make the script any more; or they were getting paid more to do something else first; or they couldn’t really give up their day jobs after all; but to have absolutely no contact whatsoever is weird.

Isn’t it?

Maybe they’ve all decided to get out of the film industry and just don’t want to talk about it? Maybe they’ve realised they were fooling themselves and went back to being a supermarket manager? Maybe they died? I have no idea.

It’s happened a couple of times with feature scripts; with short scripts it seems to be standard behaviour. Every short I’ve written has been “in production” at one time or another. Some still are, most have fallen by the way side. In some cases, they’ve been snapped up and dropped several times.

There isn’t much money in short films, I don’t really expect to get paid for them. Some people offer a small option fee, and that’s great – I appreciate the gesture; but for the most part it’s an amateur world. No money, sometimes no contract, just a promise of a job done well, a credit and a possible festival entry at the end. Since I see short films primarily as a calling card, a way to get your talents noticed, then this is all well and good.

Unless the short never actually materialises.

Looking back through my emails, one of my short scripts has been “in production” seven times. Since I’ve never heard back from five of those people, there could potentially be five versions of it knocking around.

I’m waiting on an option on another short to expire next month; I haven’t heard from the director since December last year, when the actresses were getting together for a read through. What happened? Did it get made? The director’s website has gone, her email bounces and her phone’s been disconnected. Surely it would be easier just to drop me a line and tell me she didn’t want to do it? I may even have given her the money back.

Okay, I wouldn’t; but that’s only because I’d spent it within minutes.

At least with the optioned projects, I can wait out the option period and send it out again when it expires. If someone’s going down the funding application route, then contracts are usually necessary to secure the money. Again, if there’s a contract, there’s a time limit.

But if you’ve just spoken to someone who’s got the friends and equipment, but no experience and just wants to film something; then it gets a bit harder. I could insist on a contract with everyone; but it’s a more awkward situation when you’re dealing with people who have no resources or experience. In fact, they’re sometimes not in touch long enough to even discuss contracts.

Why would I entrust one of my precious scripts to someone with no resources or experience?

Because I’m not that precious about my own work. I just want someone to make it; then, I just want someone to see it. More work produced means more credits, which means people look more favourably on you when it comes to paid projects. These aren’t feature scripts I’ve worked on for months, these are short scripts which take a short period of time to write. Their only real value is as a finished product which people might actually see. If someone wants to make my script their first project, who am I to get snotty about it?

Besides, The Evolved was made by a group of guys as their first project and that’s now available on DVD. You can’t really tell by email who will and who won’t follow a project through to completion.

Basically, it’s all a lottery. I don’t mind entering the lottery and I don’t mind not winning because I knew the odds; but it would be nice to find out when I’ve lost.

Categories: Industry Musings | Leave a comment

How important is format?

The age old debate; it’s the story which counts, surely?

Maybe not. To some people, the way your screenplay looks is everything; to others, it doesn’t really matter. The problem here is you don’t know who’s who before you send your script out.

If you send your poorly formatted script to a Format Nazi, they’ll have you pegged as an amateur straight away. You may be able to win them over, you may not; why take the risk?

If you send a fantastically formatted script to someone who doesn’t care, they won’t notice. No bad points there.

To me the path seems clear, write it in the proper format; you’ve got nothing to lose.

Years ago, I worked in a shop and witnessed the manager going through a huge pile of applications. He threw roughly half into the bin without reading them. When I asked why, he told me:

“They’re written in blue ink. The first line says: USE BLACK INK ONLY.”

As far as he was concerned, anyone who couldn’t understand this basic instruction didn’t deserve a job. This has always stuck with me.

It’s at this point someone usually names a famous (or as famous as they get) scriptwriter who never writes in the expected format. The answer to this is fairly obvious. That person is either:

a) An established scriptwriter. Everyone knows he/she can deliver the goods, they’re prepared to put up with their idiosyncrasies because they get the job done.

or b) They’re a genius. Their writing is so amazing it outshines the poor quality of their presentation and they’re going to be in category a) in the near future.

In the UK, the rules on formatting seem to be much more relaxed. I’ve read a lot of UK scripts which don’t follow the more stringent American standards; they get made into films anyway. So do I relax my standards for the UK market?

No.

Just because I know format over here isn’t quite so important, doesn’t mean the person reading the script does. A lot of script readers are frustrated writers. They’ve done all the courses, they know what a screenplay should look like; if yours doesn’t look like that, God help you.

Still not convinced? Try this: read a lot of screenplays.

Once you get past your twentieth or thirtieth screenplay, you’ll probably notice the ones which are formatted ‘correctly’ are easier to read. If the character names aren’t where you expect them to be, it’s a pain in the arse trying to find them. If the font isn’t Courier New 12; it just looks weird and bugs you throughout. If they all look the same, it’s easier and therefore more enjoyable to read. Isn’t that the goal?

Personally, I want my script to have every advantage I can give it. If that means spending a couple of hours reading a book on formatting, I’ll do it. After all, why give anyone any opportunities to find fault in your work?

Categories: Industry Musings | Leave a comment

The weight of an opinion

How much value should you place on one person’s opinion?

The movie industry is all about opinions; you can write a script you think is fantastic; you can sell it to a producer who loves it; you can find a director who thinks it’s a work of genius; and it will still flop because no one else agrees with you.

I participate on Trigger Street (admittedly less than I’d like at the moment, I’m too busy) and the feedback I’ve received from people reviewing my screenplays has been invaluable. For any scriptwriters who haven’t utilised this, or one of the other sites which provide a similar service, I highly recommend it. Friends and family (or at least mine) are fairly useless when giving you an honest critique. The best I get is:

“Yeah, it’s good. I liked it.”

Not much use. The (mostly) unbiased views of strangers, with nothing to lose from gently telling you the truth, is priceless; it’s the single most important step I’ve taken towards becoming a good writer. You know when a script’s ready because the large majority of the reviewers like it. It may not be perfect; but if they like it, chances are a director/producer will too.

Not agents though. I have no idea what agents like. I know what they don’t like: my work; but that’s a different gripe for a different time.

I say the large majority of reviewers like it because there’s always one who doesn’t. The question then is: how much weight should you place on their opinion?

The largest criteria for me, is: did I already know this, but thought no one else would notice?

Sometimes I think a certain element may be missing from a script; but on re-reading I convince myself it’s not necessary. I can usually think of several examples where films have been lacking just this element and have still been good. It’s amazing what you can convince yourself of when there’s no one to argue against you. If someone points out something I’ve already thought of, then it probably needs addressing.

Fair enough.

What if it’s something I’ve never thought of? If I agree with them and realise I’ve been bloody stupid not to notice myself, then it’s a welcome (although slightly embarrassing) suggestion.

In both of those cases, the course of action seems clear: make the change, it’s for the best.

The next layer of suggestion might be something which is utterly insignificant, or works equally as well as what’s already there; it’s purely a preference. This sort of opinion depends on who’s giving it to you. If it’s a co-writer or a director or a producer who’re adamant their way is better; fine, make the change. It doesn’t matter. If it’s a neutral reader, then pick the one you prefer.

Sometimes the observation is, in my opinion, wrong; but that doesn’t mean my opinion is right. Now it gets a little tricky. How do you judge whether the opinion has merit? If it’s a Trigger Street review, I’d find out what the reviewer has written/directed/produced and see whether or not I like their work. If I already have some respect for them, then it’s worth thinking about. If it’s from someone whose own work is appalling (in my opinion, the only one I have), I wouldn’t immediately reject it; but I’m more likely to decide not to follow their advice.

The difficulty comes when it’s from a producer/director who’s buying your work. I don’t want to be a yes man; but at the same time, it’s their script: they’re buying it, they’re going to (hopefully) make it. They should be able to make it the way they want. I usually go for constructively arguing my case and hoping they come round. So far, that approach has worked. At worst, a compromise can be made.

Recently, a director, who wants to film one of my feature scripts, got in touch. He’d shown the script, which he thought was hilarious, to a producer. The producer pointed out the script had a few flaws, one of which being: it didn’t really have a story.

This was a fair point; one which fell under the category of: I kind of knew that, but was hoping no one else would notice.

The producer also had a suggestion, a simple suggestion which made a series of funny scenes hang together as a film. Brilliant, I made the changes that night.

We’ve been working back and forth since then, trying to get the structure just right. The other day I had an email which said: the producer had read through the new treatment and didn’t think it was funny.

Now funny is one of those really subjective things. I once met a girl who didn’t think BLACKADDER was funny. She’s the only person I’ve ever met with that opinion; but it’s her opinion and she’s welcome to it. Thankfully she wasn’t in charge of commissioning the series.

Now, bear in mind, the scenes haven’t changed much; just the emphasis and the general thrust of the script. The dialogue is mostly the same, they’ve just been hung on a different spine. I think it’s funny; and the director thinks (or at least thought) it was funny; but the producer (who’s not producing this, he’s an independent voice of dissent) doesn’t.

How much weight should be attached to his opinion? He was right in the first instance about the way to correct the meandering story; (Think CLERKS, WITHNAIL & I or THE HITCH-HIKERS’ GUIDE TO THE GALAXY – funny scenes, great dialogue, no plot. Obviously my script is of a much poorer quality, I’m not comparing my writing to theirs.) but, is he right about this? I’d be inclined to say no, reading it still makes me laugh; okay, I wrote it, but I’m hard to please. The director, however, now has doubts about the project. He obviously places a lot of weight on this guy’s opinion, and presumably feels justified in doing so.

When we were writing THE WOW LIFE we worked on a purely majority basis; if it made most of us laugh, it stayed in. I know some sitcoms work on a 100% basis; if it doesn’t make everyone laugh, it’s out; but, I’m not sure if that’s the best way to go or not; it can make comedy very middle of the road and soul-less.

Going the other way, and taking one person’s opinion of what is and isn’t funny is madness. Even people whose work I admire make horrible errors in judgement. BEN ELTON wrote FILTHY, RICH AND CATFLAP; CHRIS MORRIS co-wrote the appalling NATHAN BARLEY; even DOUGLAS ADAMS, my writing hero, made some mistakes…

I can’t think of any right now, but I’m sure there were some somewhere.

The movie industry is all subjective; there is no truth when it comes to good or bad; it’s all in the eye of the beholder; but since film making is a co-operative process, I think it makes sense to go with the opinion of the majority.

Unless they’re wrong.

At least, that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

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