Monthly Archives: February 2007

Sophocles Beta 2007

I got an email this morning (or was it last night?) asking if I’d like to participate in the beta testing of the new Sophocles scriptwriting software.

Now, I don’t know about this. I use Final Draft and I’m quite happy with it. Apart from a few moronic decisions in the early versions  of FD7, namely saving each page as a picture when you convert it to PDF (why?), I have no problems with it and it does everything I want it too.

I don’t really use any of the scene navigator functions or whatever else is in there. I use it for typing and that’s about it. I’m aware people don’t like it and there are other programs which perform better with more functionality; but I really don’t care. It does what I want and that’s fine.

But in the spirit of curiousity, I’ve downloaded Sophocles and had a look. First impressions?

There are things all over the screen! Hundreds of things, what are they? Buttons, tabs, menus … what the fuck is all this?

I had to switch it off and have a little lie down.

I’m back now and I’ve had another look. At a second glance I still find it quite confusing, I think it will take a while to get used to what it all does. I also find it quite weird that the default setting puts the ‘paper’ in a small window to one side instead of in front of you. And you don’t get page breaks, just a continuous stream of paper with thirty second intervals marked on the side. No page numbers? How does that work? I like page numbers.

I’ve just checked to see if it actually does have page numbers or not and I couldn’t find the program. It’s not in the programs list in my start menu, where the hell is it? Oh right, I’ve found it. What the hell is it doing over there? Nope, no page numbers.

There is an option to switch it to a page view, but that just puts a thin dotted line across the endless page. Every now and then Word does something like this and I hate it. I like the pages to look as much like a piece of paper as possible. The other problem is the explorer at the side. When I worked out how to get rid of it, the paper moved to the centre, but the text is too small to read. I’m trying to find a way to enlarge the view, but I’ve no idea how.

Right, I’ve found that.

And we’re off. Okay, so this is starting to make sense now. The story outlining aspects might be useful; but I like to do those on a piece of paper first, then move to a board so I can get a total overview. I’m not sure I like having the scenes on the screen, I find shifting my attention to another medium helps me think about things in a different way. I guess it’s something I could get used to and is useful if I’m writing away from home.

This then is the real test, if all I want it to do is exactly what my pre-existing software already does, then how much use is it to me? It’s a bit different and I could get used to it, but do I want or need to get used to a different program?

I’ll give it a fair run, though. I’ve got a script which needs a re-write so I’ll do it on Sophocles, see how it goes and report back.

Don’t take my word for it though, try it for yourself. The beta version is available for all and sundry here:

www.sophocles.net/beta

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Categories: Sad Bastard, Software | 8 Comments

Format curiosity

I was reading a friend’s script recently, and one of the comments I made was it was difficult to read the scene headings because a lot of the locations were in the same building, a hotel.

Not in itself a problem, but the scene headings were formatted like this:

INT. HOTEL RICHARDSON, LOBBY – DAY

INT. HOTEL RICHARDSON, BAR – DAY

INT. HOTEL RICHARDSON, BEDROOM – DAY

Obviously, the name of the hotel has been changed to protect the innocent.

The reason I found it difficult to read was because I tend to skim quickly over the scene headings in my hurry to get on with the story. Once you know a batch of scenes are in the hotel, there’s no need to keep reading HOTEL RICHARDSON at the beginning of every line and so my eye was searching for the pertinent information: LOBBY, BAR, BEDROOM. Obviously, this doesn’t take long, but it does slow down the read ever so slightly. With a lot of scene changes, this becomes quite annoying.

My reasoning was, if the smaller location came first, it would be easier to find, hence easier to read. My friend agreed and we were all happy.

A few days later I opened one of my older screenplays, one written when I was really, really paying attention to every little piece of format advice I could find. Lo and behold:

INT. DAVE’S HOUSE, DAVE’S BEDROOM – DAY

I’d done exactly the same thing. Big location, small location.

Hmm, maybe that was right after all? I now vaguely remember reading something about this format being easier for some production department (art, location, catering?); but if the other way round is easier to read, then which is the best way to go?

I know in the grand scheme of things, this really doesn’t matter and the amount of annoyance caused anyone is small enough for them to just lump it.

But I’m an anal old soul and these things pique my curiosity. I soon forget them (as I obviously did last time) but I do like to know things.

A quick check of the net showed a lot of format examples went large to small. Annoyingly, my friend checked the net too and came up with the opposite opinion: small to large.

So which one’s ‘correct’? Like I say, I know it doesn’t really matter. I’ve sold and optioned scripts and not once has anyone complained about any aspect of the format; but this is just pure curiosity. Which version do you use?

a) Large to small.

b) Small to large.

c) Something completely different.

d) Stop thinking about insignificant details and do some writing, you retarded freak.

Don’t be shy now.

Categories: Industry Musings, Sad Bastard | 6 Comments

What have I been up to?

Or should that be: what haven’t I been up to?

Erm, lots actually. Including space travel, meringue theft and open heart surgery on midget pumas.

Damn, my life is no where near as exciting as I want it to be.

I’ve had a bit of me time. I’ve finished a re-write for ‘The Return’ (working title, going to be changed – honest) and I’m waiting on director Dan Hartley to get back in touch regarding a proposed TV project we’ve been discussing, based partly on his Rogue Runner diaries.

Now I come to think of it, it has been a while. Maybe I’ve been replaced? I really should give him a ring.

So I’ve got some spare time to use as I wish.

Or so I thought.

The other day I got an email from Tony Chance, the co-director of ‘Fleeced‘ asking if I had any other feature scripts he could read. I dug out my usual batch of feature synopses and flicked through them.

And then it hit me: half of these scripts aren’t in a presentable condition.

‘Cause and Effect’ and ‘The Missing Piece’ are fine, ready to go.

‘Before I Get Old’ needs two of the main characters swapping around, a fairly large task which will make the script a million times better. 

‘Julian and Declan and The Frying Pan of Doom’ is in pieces after the last time it was optioned and then abandoned halfway through a re-write.

‘Vigilante’ (a script which has two completely different versions, each as good as the other, both developed for the same person in different circumstances) is halfway through a re-write, after I put it to one side to do some paid work and completely forgot I’d written it, and ‘Second Chances’ is so shit it’s not worth salvaging.

That’s what I have to do. I have to put my back catalogue in order. No new stuff until the old stuff makes sense.

So I sat down and went to it. Yesterday I finished polishing up one of the funniest things I’ve written: ‘Julian and Declan and The Frying Pan of Doom’. To my surprise it was in much better condition than I remember. A few tweaks here and there and it finally makes sense.

Or at least, as much as sense as it’s ever going to make.

Today I intended to start with a few Treason Show/NewsRevue sketches (it’s been so long, can I still do it?) and then crack on with ‘Before I Get Old’; but it was not to be. At least not yet.

This morning (or as close to the morning as I like to get) I had an email from Tony asking to see ‘The Missing Piece’. I had a quick flick through it to see if it looked okay and ended up spending an hour or so reading it and changing the odd comma here and there.

As soon as I finished that, I received an email from Paul Ashby of Articulate Pictures asking if I was interested in a commission (including the awkward ‘how much do you charge?’ question. I don’t know, that’s money, that’s the real world.) and is ‘Cause and Effect’ still available?

Commission, yes. Money, erm … yes. ‘Cause and Effect’, yes.

In the middle of typing the reply I received a phone call from Nick Healy at POP Productions. Some corporate stuff which we developed together has got the go ahead and shooting dates for our Internet virals have changed. Do I want to be a Kung Fu grandmother?

Yes I do.

It’s been a busy day so far. Who knows, I might actually manage to get some work done this afternoon.

Categories: Progress | Leave a comment

Changing gear

Sometimes I find it really hard to switch gears, that is, to move from writing to the real world. It depends on what I’m writing of course, but generally I find the process so all consuming I struggle to clear my mind when the day’s done.

Comedy’s easier. Sketch writing is particularly easy, they’re so short it’s hard to leave one unfinished. When a project’s over, it’s over. There’s no more to think about until it’s time to start re-writes.

If it’s a longer comedy piece, at least if I have to leave it and go and talk to some real people there’s a slim chance I might be able to say something funny. Occasionally I catch myself repeating a bit of what I’ve just written, as if it was something I saw on TV recently. Sometimes I even genuinely believe I have seen it somewhere and can’t remember what the program was called. When I do remember it’s a bit embarrassing.

“Oh wait, that was something I wrote. Sorry.”

Writing drama is the hardest. The last feature I wrote (or rather re-wrote) was quite depressing towards the end. I find I have to adopt that frame of mind in order to accurately depict how the character will react. A kind of method writing. To leave something like that hanging, knowing I’m going to go back to it in the morning, and then go and socialise or spend time with my wife is quite difficult.

I find I can’t concentrate on the real world, on what’s going on around me. I find I’m constantly trying to keep all the story threads alive in my mind, trying to make sure I can just pick it all up again the next day without wondering where the hell I was going, or what the solution to a problem was.

I think this can be particularly trying for my wife, Mandy, and for my friends. I think during these times I’m sullen and uncommunicative. Certainly no fun to be around, probably barely less than tolerable.

I find Kung Fu helps. When someone tries to hit me with a big stick I suddenly find my mind snaps back into focus. I’ve got this rope dart which I occasionally muck about with, basically a iron spike on the end of a piece of rope. When it’s whirling around your body, it’s impossible to have any thought in your mind other than:

“Fuck, I hope that massive, sharp lump of metal doesn’t hit me in the face.”

“Again.”

Maybe that’s the answer? Maybe if I’m writing and someone pops round, I should excuse myself and go and throw the rope dart around for a bit? Mind you, that’s probably even weirder than just grunting at people whilst vainly struggling to remember how the theme fits in with the third act.

I honestly don’t know what the solution is. I don’t even know if there is a solution, other than only write sketches or don’t write at all.

Or get rid of all my friends.

Does anyone else have the same problem? Do any of you find it difficult to reorient yourself to reality? Or is it just me?

Categories: Writing and life | Leave a comment

I can’t go on

It’s just getting too much.

Not writing, not life, but reading other people’s scripts/synopses/treatments.

At first I didn’t mind, I was even flattered. Somebody searched the internet for someone to send their cherished material to, and for some unknown reason they chose me. Would I mind reading their work?

Sure, why not?

Now I find this weird, why would anyone choose me? Why wouldn’t you choose the writer of your favourite film? Or at least one you’ve heard of?

Unless they tried everyone else and I was the bottom of the barrel.

I read it, told them what I thought and went to bed with a slightly inflated ego.

Then someone else asked. Would I read their script?

Sure, why not?

Then the first person got in touch again. They paid attention to my opinion (why?). Would I mind reading the revised version?

Erm, yeah. I’m a little busy but … what the hell, I’ll fit it in.

And so it went on. Last week I read four scripts and two treatments. I read more than I wrote. The majority of the writing I did last week was comments/reviews and suggestions.

It’s got to stop. I want to be able to help other people (seriously, why are they asking me?) but it’s eating into my time. I thought briefly about charging to read stuff, just to discourage casual callers; but I don’t want to get into that. I don’t want people actually paying me money to read and review scripts; I’m a writer, not a script consultant.

Although, I have done a bit of script editing, which is nearly the same thing – except a damn sight more profitable.

I’ve got to draw a line under it. No more. I just can’t get my own work done and keep reading more and more of other people’s work.

So I apologise to the people whose work I’ve read and commented on four or five drafts of, but I can’t read any more. I apologise to anyone else who might get in touch in the next few weeks/months/years (no, really, why are you emailing me? Email James Moran, he’s almost famous for a writer) but I don’t have the time for everyone.

I’m sorry and I feel like an arsehole even writing this, but I really, really can’t do it anymore.

Categories: Sad Bastard | 5 Comments

How many acts?

This was posted today on Shooting People:

“The so-called 3-act structure is the biggest, most destructive myth ever foisted on writers. I would like to call it obsolete. But that implies that it worked in the first place. It didn’t.”  

The quote is attributed to John Truby. It then goes on to say:

“John Truby is a writer/director who has taught his 22-Step Great Screenwriting and Genre classes to over 20,000 students worldwide. He has also worked as a story consultant and script doctor for Disney Studios, Sony Pictures, FOX, HBO, Alliance Atlantis, and Cannell Studios. In Europe, Truby has consulted for the BBC, RAI, LUX, TV4 and MTV Sweden. His students include the writer/director/or producer for the following films:

  • Shrek
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • The Mask of Zorro
  • Nightmare on Elm Street
  • Outbreak
  • Scream
  • Sleepless in Seattle
  • Back to School
  • The Addams Family
  • Kiss of the Spider Woman
  • Beetlejuice
  • Valley Girl
  • The Negotiator
  • Star Wars”

That’s an impressive list of … hang on, all of those films have three acts. They may have 22 plot points (or beats, or story fundamentals or whatever you want to call them) but they still fit inside the classic three act structure.

On a similar theme, Gordon Robertson drew my attention to this site:

The Nine Act Structure

Nine acts? Nine! What?

Closer examination shows some of these acts are single scenes, the first one is a crane shot behind the opening credits. Can a single shot be described as an act?

I think what we’re dealing with here is a difference of opinion on what constitutes an act, not how to write a screenplay. From my, fairly ignorant, point of view the 22 steps and the 9 acts are pretty much the same, they just use different terminology.

I think of an act as the point at which you could have an intermission and people would still want to come back afterwards.

But then, that could apply to the end of every scene in a really good film.

So maybe a better definition is: the end of each act signifies a change in pace/tone of the story.

But then, that doesn’t seem to cut it either.

I don’t really know how best to define an act; but, from the look of it, neither does anyone else.

Or do they?

A more cynical opinion might be that people argue about the number of acts in a film purely because it generates more money. If you have ‘the one true formula’ for making a hit movie, then you can charge a shit load of cash for seminars and make a fortune from book sales.

But why are people so keen to kick over the three act structure? Why is it always perceived as wrong by creative types? I think they are a couple of reasons here:

1) Some creative people hate to think the universe runs on rules. Being creative makes them special and if you can spot the rules which underlie it, somehow people think that makes them less special.

2) People, especially in Britain, hate what they perceive as wisdom received from an established authority figure. The establishment is always wrong. Always. Doctors? What the fuck do they know? They are confined by established thinking. Whereas a homeopath (someone who sells water) is much more likely to know what’s going on.

(The irony here being doctors’ opinions on things constantly change as new procedures are tried and new knowledge is gained. Homeopaths rarely change their views because someone a couple of hundred years ago said it was true, so there.)

The three act structure is the establishment. You can’t railroad my creativity into such confined system. This guys offering 22 steps, he’s a rebel, he must know what he’s talking about.

Personally, I think each film has four acts. The mid-point seems to be the end of an act to me, but what the fuck do I know? I’m certainly not going to go around talking about the break into the fourth act.

Why?

Because no one else will know what I’m talking about. Rightly or wrongly, the three act structure has become a useful piece of language for describing what’s going on in your film. If a director thinks your third act is weak, it’s probably because the end of the movie is weak, not the moment when you first meet the hero.

I think people should use whatever system makes sense to them (and pay whichever barely-produced writer they like, exorbitant fees for the privilege) because they all seem to have nuggets of truth in them.

As for the people who are adamant that true creativity can’t be bound by any rules …

Great! Go for it guys, it’s all less competition for me.

Categories: Industry Musings | 9 Comments

Gumball 3000 – last word

So there we go, the winners for the Gumball 3000 script thing have been announced; and here they are:

http://www.gumball3000.com/fans/competitions

Thanks to Rob Cassaday for posting the link. I’ve been mulling this over and thought I’d post my treatment on the off chance anyone is interested in reading it. I’m not sure why anyone would be, apart from random curiosity, but I thought I’d do it anyway. If you are interested, here it is:

Gumball 3000 Treatment – Phillip Barron

Feel free to post brutally honest rants about it.

Of course, what I’m really interested in reading is one (or all) of the three winning treatments. I love reading scripts/treatments/ideas which beat me, there’s always something to learn; but, I guess I’m just going to have to wait and see what the final outcome is.

Categories: Industry Musings | 3 Comments

And the winner is …

I’ve been at work all day, my regular (monthly) corporate gig for POP Productions, in Walthamstow. It’s been the usual mix of hanging around, frenetic brainstorming and taking the piss out of each other – a good day.

Anyway, I was showing the delightful Alex this blog, and I noticed among the random word strings people use to find me (“dimensional travel” + “spiders” WTF? “adam morely” + “director” – who? And my personal favourite: “i’m absolutely desperate for a piss”) there were nine searches for “gumball 3000” scriptwring competition.

Nine?

That seems like a lot. I hazarded a guess that maybe the results of the comp were out and the email would be sitting in my inbox. A quick peek revealed …

Balls.

I’d left Outlook Express on at home and it had removed all my emails from the server. So I finished off my day of shouting and being silly:

Ninja Grandmas!

Scented Haemorrhoid cream!

Stone Age video production!

… and raced home.

It’s a two hour drive back to Eastbourne from North East London. Nearly three tonight because of the shitty weather and the nervous drivers. I tend to drive as fast as I can through adverse weather conditions on the grounds I want it to be over as quickly as possible.

I also tend to crash.

A lot.

I finally reach home and check my emails and there it is … an email from the Gumball team. The results are out, they’ve chosen the winning three, and the winner is …

Not me.

Double balls.

This is the email:

Dear Phillip,

I’m sorry about the delay in replying to you, we actually spent the weekend and all of yesterday going through the final ten scripts again.

Thank you very much for your submission and bearing with us. Unfortunately after careful deliberation your treatment was not chosen as the final three. We thought your script was well thought through, although the characterisation was a bit too one dimensional and the plot a little too generic.

We will definitely be in touch on future projects and wish you all the best in your endeavours.

Kind regards,

Patrick Fischer.

Which is nice. I’m taking that to mean I made the final ten. Although, maybe not with a generic plot and one dimensional characters; but still, I’m a glass three quarters full kind of guy (I exaggerate, sometimes called lying), so I’m happy.

The real bonus is I’ve set a new personal best: the longest I’ve ever driven to get rejected.

PS. Who did win? Anyone know?

Categories: Progress | 5 Comments

Stuff

A few odds and sods to report, but not really enough time to go into detail. I’ve been so busy the last week or so, I’ve barely had time to think about anything other than the script I’m currently working on.

1) A few days ago I received a copy of ‘Groove Britannia’, a short film written with Marian Kilpatrick and directed by Jonathan Wolff of the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. Unfortunately, I’ve not really had time to watch it. I had it on in the background whilst I was rushing around, but I haven’t seen enough of it to form an opinion yet.

Looked pretty good though.

2) For reasons I’m not prepared to go into, I had to watch ‘Red Sonja’ yesterday. I watched, I’m not proud of it, but I did it.

Jesus.

3) I got a rejection from a Dutch company who have the rights to adapt Philip Pullman’s ‘The Butterfly Tattoo’; which is a shame, I wanted to do that. It’ll be interesting to see how the film pans out.

And that’s about it. The ‘Groove Britannia’ thing is cool, my first short film. Now I just need to find time to enjoy it.

Categories: Progress | Leave a comment

No more apologies

I’ve been thinking about my experiences at the Gothenburg Film Festival and the discussions I had with Yankee Disco. Something’s become abundantly clear: we need to promote ‘The Evolved’ more.

It’s really eye opening seeing the film in front of a sold out, paying audience. Seeing how people react is always surprising and always rewarding.

And yet, we’ve been really lackadaisical about promoting the film, it just turned up on DVD and that was it really. No effort required.

I think part of the problem is we all see flaws in the film and keep making apologies for it. The plain truth is, people love it. The audience laughs continuously throughout and is always gushingly appreciative afterwards. On our last night, Andy Senior was approached by a guy in a bar who wanted to tell us how much he enjoyed the film. So why aren’t we trying to make more of it?

I’ve been talking to a friend of mine about setting up a screening in England, followed by a Q&A session for local film students. If it comes off, we’ll see how it goes and then maybe try and push it more in this country.

At the end of the day, we set out to write a Troma film and we succeeded. It’s everything it’s supposed to be and maybe even a little more. It’s time to stop apologising for it and be proud of our twisted, bastard child.

Categories: Industry Musings | 7 Comments

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