Monthly Archives: April 2007

How to write songs

Or more specifically, how to write parodies of songs for a satirical revue. The few posts I did on ‘How To Write Sketches’ seem to be quite popular, so I thought I’d follow it up with a companion post about comedy song writing.

The only flaw in that plan is: I’m shit at writing songs.

I’ve never quite got the hang of it and my success rate is appalling. It takes me hours to write one, most of which is spent scouring rhyming dictionaries. I can write four or five sketches in the time it takes to write one song and my songs almost never get performed.

I keep going though, I don’t like the thought of not being able to do something. Sooner or later I’ll get the hang of it.

Probably.

So advice from me on song writing is completely useless. I guess I could write a ‘How Not To Write Songs’ post, but I won’t – because I honestly don’t know where I’m going wrong.

With my musical ineptness in mind, the following post is a series of tips  from Mark Brailsford (the director of The Treason Show); I guess they work equally well for NewsRevue.

Here’s what he has to say:

The songs that work best in the show tend to have a set-up verse and a hook chorus structure. The most successful songs in the show parody the ‘hook’.

DEF: Hook as in the lyric that makes the song instantly recognisable, in most cases the title of the song. Some examples:

  • ‘Robert Deniro’s Waiting’ by The Bangles – ‘Robert Mugabe’s Hating’
  • ‘Leader of the Pack’ – ‘Leader Talking Crap’
  • ‘We Will Rock You’ – Four vicars singing: ‘We’ll Unfrock You’

There is no hard and fast way to conjure up the inspiration, but this works for me sometimes:

  1. I look through my collection of well known songs and see if they prod an idea, (usually favourite songs produce the idea).
  2. Look in record shops at the compilation collections.
  3. Trawl the Internet for ’60s-’90s pop charts.

One of the most frequently asked questions we get is: “Why didn’t my song get in to The Treason Show?”

The songs that are most frustrating tend to show promise as an idea and then peter out because of the following:

  1. The hook isn’t a parody.
  2. The song is too obscure (An audience must be likely to know it).
  3. The lyrics have no gags (We scrub so many songs because it’s just stating the obvious with no story).
  4. (AS ABOVE) No progression through the lyrics. 

Think of your song as a sketch set to music. Ideally with a set up, establishment and pay-off/punchline (In a song’s case usually the hook).

Of course there are many exceptions and sometimes a serious song with a great ‘reveal’ at the end is superior.

We had a song about crap shops in Brighton, ‘Buying Shit in the Laines’ to the tune of ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ by U2. It had a great ending from an entirely different song: “But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”. It also had the benefit of an angle: shallow Chav girl from Croydon shopping in Brighton, which added characterisation to enrich the point.

These are just one or two ways of looking at it, it comes down to your own personal way of doing things. Here’s a list of suggestions for now (This isn’t personal taste, it’s what has worked in the show in the past):

  • Top 20 hits in today’s chart (But only ones that have a recognisable melody and hook).
  • Music to Watch Girls By (All 3 collections, over 100 songs).
  • Guitar based solo artists and bands such as Paul Simon, Kinks, Beatles, Stones, Eagles, The Jam, Fleetwood Mac.
  • Queen
  • 30’s and 40’s Jazz classics. (Old Black Magic, Lady is a Tramp, etc)
  • Abba
  • Disco hits (Well known ones)
  • Motown (Perfect structure for the show with good harmonies)
  • Well knows Broadway/West End musical numbers (Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, Money (from Cabaret), Oliver, Phantom of the Opera, Oklahoma, Guys and Dolls etc)
  • Elvis
  • Tom Jones

Personal tastes vary from Bob Marley to Radiohead and Manic St Preachers to Gershwin and Charles Trenet. (If anyone fancies writing stuff from them, great!) But it’s an open book and there are so many great options that I haven’t mentioned, just listen to what’s around you in shops, cafes etc and see if anything drops into place. Then marry it up to the news and our edit sheets and you may surprise yourself with inspiration.

Hope it helps.

Cheers all,

Mark Brailsford

I’ve just realised, that’s my first guest post.

Sort of.

He didn’t actually write that specifically for me, it was a general email to The Treason Show writers a while back, but I got permission so it still counts.

Inspired? Bursting with song ideas? I am, but they’re all shit. Never mind, persistence is the key.

Incidentally, if a more competent song writer wants to donate a song as an example, please email me and I’ll post it here for all to see.

And laugh at – but hopefully in a good way.

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Categories: Someone Else's Way | 1 Comment

And I’m back

Actually, I was back yesterday at bastard early o’clock, but I couldn’t be bothered to post anything.

The day was spent wondering what time it was, falling asleep, waking up in a puddle of my own drool and hammering out synopses for five short horror films for the anthology mentioned in the last post.

There I go again, more lies. I wrote four ideas; one of the five was one I submitted to C4’s Coming Up competition. It’s a synopsis for a half hour film, but it can easily be cut down in the likely event they go with someone else.

I really enjoyed coming up with these short ideas in the Hammer House of Horror style – great fun. Reminds me of being an insomniac teenager, when there was nothing else on TV at 3am but old horror films.

I also had to spend half of yesterday going through five days worth of emails; including a very nice rejection letter from a producer who asked me to submit some ideas for a BBC drama thing. I sent her a half dozen ideas or so, none were suitable. Oh well, some of them might make good features in the future.

Today I’ve been up to London for a second meeting with a producer about writing a feature film. I blogged about the first meeting here.

Looks like my earlier pessimistic uncertainty was unfounded; getting called in for a second meeting has got to be good. Hasn’t it? I think it’s now down to me and someone else, he specifically said it wasn’t, but that was the vibe I got.

Maybe me and two someone elses? Who knows? There’s still nothing much to say about this, except I still like the project and the guy, and I still want to be involved.

As usual, there’s nothing else to do but wait and see. I think I’ll fill in the time with some sketch writing; got earn some cash somewhere.

Categories: Progress, Random Witterings | Leave a comment

Tonight’s meeting

I just got back from a great meeting tonight with a producer who wants to do a horror film anthology.  He posted on this ad on UKScreen:

 I’m planning a feature length British horror anthology film in the spirit of Tales From The Crypt and Dr Terror’s House of Horrors for this Summer and I’m looking for 5 short (12 – 20 minutes) horror scripts for the segments therein. Anything from vampires and werewolves to Saw-type thrills. Nothing too expensive as I want to make this very low budget, but monsters etc are OK!

I sent off a short I’ve had knocking around for a while, he liked, we met and I had a fun night. We’ve spent four hours chatting about horror films and what he wants to achieve with this project. It’s definitely something I want to be involved in, and it looks like I am.

So that’s all good then.

There are loads of little details I’d love to share, but I’m not going to. So there. Suffice it to say, if the project goes ahead (and who knows what will or won’t happen in this crazy world?), it’ll be pretty cool.

Right, I’m off to Barbados. See you in a week.

Categories: Progress | 1 Comment

Quid Pro Quo

Quid Pro Quo is a short film I co-wrote with Mick Fowler, which has just finished shooting and is wandering into post-production.

I’ve just been checking through my emails, trying to find out how and when it all started, and I finally found the date: September 2004! Two and a half years ago, man that took a long time.

In September 2004, I answered an ad Mick placed on Trigger Street, looking for short films. This was his original post:

“I am looking for a script to shoot in the very near future on the stage of a successful crime series on which I am the sound mixer. (With directing ambitions) A 10 minute short with distinct parameters, the details of which I can supply to anyone interested. “

Mick was (and I assume, still is) the production sound mixer on C.S.I. He had access to the interrogation room set and wanted a ten minute script which had limited characters, in that particular location and some kind of twist at the end.

I had no such script.

But, hey, I’m a writer. So I wrote one, sent it back and he liked it. Exactly what he was looking for, apparently. Fancy that.

We worked on the script together, tweaking, touching up, tearing down and rebuilding. To be honest, I’m not sure there’s anything more than the basic concept from the original draft; and I think Mick has put far more work into it than I have. He suggested a second twist at the end which added a lot more depth and we were all ready to go.

Then he found out he couldn’t get permission to use the set.

Then the powers that be changed their minds.

Then they changed them back.

And then changed them again.

And back again.

I lost interest somewhere around here.

A year or so later, it was all back on. A few of the guys from the show wanted to play the two main roles and permission was finally and irrevocably granted.

Then the actors changed their minds.

Then one of them changed it back again.

Then …

You get the idea.

I think when both the actors and the studio said ‘yes’ what they actually meant was ‘Go away and leave me alone’.

Two and a half years later, with totally different actors on (I think, but I lost track) a totally different set, the film is finally in the can. I know Tony Becker played one role, no idea about the others.

It’s been a long haul, but Mick assures me it’s worth it. As usual, I’ll just have to wait and see.

Categories: Progress | 3 Comments

7th Sword Poster

Lots of exciting stuff going on at the moment. Just when I start to struggle for things to blog about, my email starts pinging and fun things start piling up. One short film just wrapped, another is about to start shooting and I’ve got a meeting on Saturday about a feature film gig.

However, all those things will have to wait their turn for a detailed report, because this has just turned up:

The Seventh Sword of Bathrick - Poster

The promotional poster for The Seventh Sword of Bathrick. Feel free to click for the bigger version.

I find this really exciting, it’s another step closer to getting the film made. Okay, it’s not much closer, but it’s a tiny step in the right direction. It’s also interesting to see how someone who’s read the script visualises one of the characters. Pretty well, in my book.

Now I just have to wait a few years to see the finished film.

Categories: Progress | Leave a comment

What a difference a year makes

Last year, in the run up to Cannes, when I actually had a film (The Evolved) screening in the film market; I applied for accreditation … and was flatly refused.

No, that’s a lie. I was ignored. Despite countless emails and letters, they just ignored me for ages, then promised to look into it, then ignored me again. I assumed they must get so many requests they just can’t acknowledge everyone.

On the day of the screening, we all (apart from Andy Senior, the director) had to sneak into the screening of our own film; and I’m glad we did, it went down really well. We also managed to sneak into a few other screenings – it is possible, if you’re smart about it.

This year I had another go. I haven’t got a film anywhere near the festival or the market; but Marion Pritchett, the producer of ‘The Seventh Sword of Bathrick’ is going and would like me to attend some fund raising meetings.

Cool.

Last year, the only directors and producers I met were ones I’m already working with. And I think they were trying to avoid me.

Even cooler, the director of ‘The Seventh Sword’, who I’m not allowed to tell you about, will be there. He was on telly when I was a kid, in one of my favourite series. So I’m quite keen on going.

I filled in my accreditation request and sent it off, hoping for better luck this year and …

The confirmation came back the next day.

Now, either they’ve got a lot more people sorting it all out this year; they couldn’t be bothered to read any more applications and just said yes to everyone; or my festival-going stock has risen markedly in the last year.

I like to think it’s the last one. I like to think they went:

“Phill Barron wants to come! Quick, ring the national papers!”

But I suspect it was more along the lines of:

“This one’s in English, Pierre.”

“Who cares, Andre? Flip the coin and let’s go to the pub.”

Either way, I’m quite happy and off to Cannes for at least a few days. Anyone else going?

Categories: Festivals, Progress, Sad Bastard | 4 Comments

Some days, I’m just not in the mood

It’s been a bit of a waste of a day really.

No, that’s not fair; I have achieved some things, just nothing I set out to do.

I’d put aside today for sketch writing for The Treason Show and NewsRevue. As is usual when I’ve got a whole day to do something, I spend the morning fannying around. I got up at a reasonable time, had a leisurely breakfast and settled down to work.

An hour later I’m still idly browsing the net. On Danny Stack’s blog I saw the BBC Writer’s Academy is recruiting again. I’ve applied for it the last two years in a row, I might as well have another go.

And there was the whole morning gone.

I don’t know why application forms take me so long, but I suspect it’s fear of not reading it properly. I have this weird thing where I don’t pay attention to the first few bits of information. It doesn’t matter how the information is transmitted, I just completely miss it. I never listen to the first three words of any sentence. I start reading newspaper articles at the third paragraph and I skip the first four or five pages of a book (usually quotes, dedications and other crap).

Quite frequently I find myself listening to people, desperately hoping they’ll repeat the subject of their twenty minute monologue, because I haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about. At school this foible always led me to miss out the bit on exams that said: only answer three questions.

There’s probably a special name for this lapse in attention, I call it fucking annoying.

Whatever the deep seated psychological reasons for this, I try to pay particular attention to work related stuff – just in case I’m missing something. So that was my whole morning; but it’s done now. Off into the ether and awaiting a rejection for the third year running.

Right, sketch writing.

Oh, hang on, there are a couple of jobs to apply for. One of which, a feature film thing, almost instantly leads to a flurry of emails and a meeting scheduled for Saturday night. Do I know any good pubs in Eastbourne?

Erm, no. I don’t drink, my wife’s generally away from home on the weekends and my local friends follow the formula: married + mortgage + small kids  = no money = no time =  no pubs. It’s all sorted now, we’ll see how it goes on Saturday night.

Now I can settle down to … no, hang on, it’s lunch time.

Food, drink, a bit of light reading.

Bugger, I fell asleep and it’s now mid afternoon.

Right! Work! Read the news, make fun of it. Easy.

Except, there doesn’t seem to be anything funny going on in the world right now. At least nothing I can be bothered to take the piss out of. I spent the rest of the day going through all the online newspapers before deciding to give up and have a bath.

It’s just one of those days, I can’t really be arsed. Best just to wipe my hands of it and try again tomorrow.

Categories: Progress, Sad Bastard, Two steps back | 8 Comments

Meetings

I had a meeting in London today, about the possibility of writing a feature film. I’d love to say it was a great meeting, that I shone with wit, talent and charm; but to be honest … I’ve no idea.

Absolutely none.

I never do. I’m aware, at some points, I was babbling incoherently. I’m aware, at other points, I seemed to be in tune with what he wanted and expressed valid, well thought out opinions.

In between? No idea. Did the babbling outweigh the incisiveness? Again, I haven’t got the Scoobiest.

Have I got the job? Who knows?

To be fair, the decision was never going to be made today, there are three other writers in the running. I guess I’ll have to wait and see how their babbling/insightful ratio pans out.

What can I say? I like the concept, it’s something I want to be involved with; I like the director, he seems like a guy I could work with; the meeting lasted twice as long as expected, usually a good sign (unless I was boring the hell out of him); and I completely forgot to mention half of the reasons I’d be perfect for the position.

Damn.

On the plus side, I’ve never failed to get a job after a face to face meeting.

On the down side, there’s a first time for everything.

Categories: Progress, Sad Bastard | 4 Comments

Who are you?

If I type your name into Google, will I be able to find you? Do you come up on the first page? Will it come up alongside the word ‘scriptwriter’? Will I be able to find contact information for you? Samples of your work? A CV?

Hopefully, the answer’s yes. I hope you’ve all realised by now, the Internet is one of the best marketing tools anyone has at their disposal. Every time I apply for a writing job, or even chat to someone who might be interested in working with me, the traffic on my website goes up. Every enquiry I send out results in a search for “phillip barron” finding either my website or this blog.

I’ve got my profile on as many movie making sites as I can find – if I’ve missed any, please let me know. Having an IMDb page helps, I know the first thing I do when I get the opportunity to work with someone, is check out their credits (or lack of them).

I’ve had work purely on the basis of my website. People have started searching on UKScreen or Shooting People or whatever and have found my name; from there they’ve gone to my website and read some of my scripts. They’ve then got in touch about me writing for them, or sometimes asked if they can produce one of my short scripts.

All these things come from being open about who I am and what I can do. Other writers seem to try and hide their identity, why? When we were hiring writers for The WOW Life, we’d get letters from people who had no previous experience – fair enough, everyone has to start somewhere – but they wouldn’t send a writing sample; even when we specifically asked for one.

I have to say, the worst people for this were the ones with scriptwriting degrees; presumably on the grounds they had a degree, that should be all the proof we needed of their genius.

One of the best, and funniest writers I know has almost zero online presence. If you don’t know her, you won’t find her; and very few people do.

Is this really the best way to behave? I know a fancy website and a high web-visibility is no replacement for talent, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s not the be all and end all of self-promotion, but it’s a good place to start and I think it’s the minimum entry requirement.

I check out potential employers’ websites, and the evidence suggests they check out mine. Occasionally they even comment on the site or this blog. So my question is this: who are you and what are you doing to make sure everyone can find out?

Categories: Industry Musings | 9 Comments

Best of … really?

There’s a show on at The Stand in Edinburgh called ‘The Melting Pot’. The blurb describes it as:

“A monthly show which presents new comedy writing from Scotland’s hottest talent. The audience choose the original short funny theatre piece they want to see produced as a short play in next month’s show. It’s a comedy referendum!”

Last night was a ‘Best of’ show, the best of the sketches from 2006/7. I would assume they would put on the twelve winners from the last year; or, since they seem to have ten sketches on each month, the best ten of the last twelve winners.

But apparently not, because one of last night’s ‘ten of the best from 2006/7’ was one of my sketches. I know I didn’t win anything, because I wasn’t asked to produce a short play for the next month. In fact, I have never even entered the competition.

So how did I get to be one of the ten best sketches of 2006/7? Am I that good my writing has percolated into the unconscious mind of the organisers? Has my fame spread all the way to Edinburgh? Was it bribery?

No.

Sometime last year, Gordon Robertson submitted one of my sketches.

Why did he do this? I have no idea. I think he may have explained at the time (Boredom? Desperation? Alcohol?) but it’s slipped my mind. I can’t even remember how he came to be in possession of said sketch. I guess I sent it to him, but I can’t, for the life of me, remember why.

This is it, if anyone’s interested?

Whatever his reasons, submit he did and win it didn’t. Yet it still ended up in the ‘Best of’ show? How? Why?

This reminds me of School – despite being decidedly average at English, I ended up in the top set. When I got my hands on the exam scores (no locked door could stop me. Three lever mortice lock? I laugh at thee.), I discovered I was worse than some of the people in the middle set. What the hell was that about? I still don’t really know.

So there we go, another item for my CV and all without the slightest bit of effort on my part. If only other areas were so easy. If anyone wants to raid the scripts section of my website and randomly submit them to production companies, go ahead.

Just leave my name on them. I’ll give you ten percent of any earnings, promise.*

*This is a complete lie.

Categories: Progress | 4 Comments

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