Monthly Archives: June 2008

Back in two weeks

Meet Alice Hope Glen-Barron. Born 03:45 on the 18/6/08, 6lb 11oz.

I’m out of here for a while, see you in two weeks.

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Categories: Progress | 24 Comments

Internet advice

A few years back I had gallstones and they really, really hurt. My doctor told me the only solution was surgery to have my gallbladder removed. Oddly enough, I’m a little adverse to having bits of my body cut off and became convinced there must be a better way; after all, they got in there without surgery, there must be a way to get them out.

Enter the Internet.

A quick Google later and I found numerous people who claimed to have solved their gallstone nightmare without surgery. There were numerous testimonials from a diverse range of people and since there was nothing to buy and no one to pay, I decided to give it a go. After all, I had nothing to lose except endless nights of crippling agony.

And so it was on one lonely night I locked the doors and drank a pint of olive oil and half a pint of lemon juice.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever drunk a pint of olive oil; but if you haven’t … don’t.

I mean, seriously, don’t. It’s fucking rank.

In the cold light of day you might think this was an incredibly strange thing to do; but at the time, whilst faced with crippling pain and impending surgery, it seemed perfectly logical and reasonable. It’s the same logic which drives people to pay large sums of money to Homeopaths for a mixture of sugar and water – the alternative isn’t very nice and there’s anecdotal evidence to say it works.

But here’s the thing, anecdotal evidence isn’t evidence. It’s just people talking shit.

A year or so and several gallstone attacks later, including one which led to me being hospitalised with pancreatitis on Christmas day, I had the operation and have lived in gallbladder-less comfort ever since.

The point is, the Internet is full of dodgy advice. There’s no regulations so anyone can post any old shit and claim to be an expert.

Now to the real point.

I keep reading the exact same advice from various ‘experts’ about how to create, write and sell scripts. They all say the same thing and it all sounds reasonable and correct; but, and here’s the thing, not one of these people have ever had a script produced. Most of them have never even had a script optioned.

This is not to say their advice is wrong, but it should be treated with a degree of suspicion. These people haven’t learnt their advice first hand, they’ve read it in books. Books written by other people who’ve never achieved any success but instead have chosen to earn a living by selling the ‘SECRETS OF WRITING’. The information and advice in these books, which may or may not be true, gets retold, embellished and re-distributed around the net by people who profess to know THE TRUTH.

They don’t.

Or at best they might be partially right.

I’m just a beginner, but already the advice I read just doesn’t quite marry to my experiences.

I just think people should be careful whose advice they treat as gospel. If someone claims to have had massive success with their career based on a particular website or method – where’s the evidence? If it’s done them so much good, why haven’t they got any IMDb credits?

This is not to say you should automatically ignore everything everyone says, but surely it’s better to add more weight to the advice of people who practice what they preach? Even advice from unproduced writers can be useful, but it’s not to be slavishly stuck to. Listen to what people have to say and then ignore the bits you don’t like.

Basically, have a healthy degree of scepticism.

Don’t just blindly follow advice, no matter how many others swear by it – unless it’s someone whose work you trust and respect. Question everything, ignore what you want and never, ever believe what people write on the Internet without proof.

Hell, if I was you I wouldn’t even believe this post.

I don’t.

Categories: Industry Musings, Random Witterings | 4 Comments

Asking the right questions

To me, writing is all about asking questions. When you’re writing a script it’s things like:

  • What does the character want?
  • Why does he want it?
  • What’s stopping him getting it?
  • Do I really need another cuppa or am I just avoiding doing any work?
  • Ooh, what’s on YouTube today?

Then you move on to dealing with notes and to questions like:

  • Are you out of your fucking mind?
  • You want to turn the main character into a what?
  • Why the fuck would she take her clothes off in the middle of a court case?

But even when watching films I ask myself questions. If it’s a good film, I ask things about the plot:

  • Who’s the murderer?
  • Why did he make that phone call?
  • I wonder if she’s going to take her clothes off?

Of course, if it’s a great film I forget to ask questions and get swept along by the whole thing; but afterwards the question I like to ask most is:

  • What questions did the film makers ask themselves to arrive at those answers?

This to me is the most invaluable question I can ever ask. How did the writer or director or producer or whoever arrive at that decision? What questions could I ask which would produce those answers?

For a genre film I might ask myself what are the essential elements I need in this film; or perhaps what the clichés I need to avoid? If it’s a spoof I might ask: what’s funny about the film/genre I’m spoofing? I might write lists down in answer to these questions and then eliminate or incorporate them all into the script.

Sometimes the question defines the concept of the film; for example, ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Hot Fuzz’ have the same question:

  • What happens if you relocate a typically American genre to England?

America is a land of extremes, England is a land of mediocrity. We don’t have crashing storms, deluges and deserts; it’s just mostly a bit damp. This shift in attitude creates both of those films; if you’d thought of that question, you’d have written the films. By working out what question was asked to create them, you can apply it to other genres. Sometimes the question can be reversed:

  • What happens if you relocate a typically English genre to America?

Which sparks off, well … nothing. But it could have done, and that’s the point.

Every film I admire I look at the bits which impress me, whether it’s the story or a particular character or even just a particular joke and I ask myself the question:

  • What questions did they ask themselves to come up with that?

Maybe they didn’t ask themselves any questions, maybe it was a flash of inspiration; but the task here is to reverse-engineer the film. By taking it back down to a question or series of questions, hopefully you can apply the same answers to your own project and maybe even recapture some of the same magic. Because after all, the one question you don’t want anyone asking about your work is:

  • Why the fuck am I watching this?
Categories: My Way, Random Witterings | 2 Comments

Loving the treatment

So I’m working my way through a treatment at the moment. I know some people hate them, but I love ’em. Some people think they restrict creativity or somehow strait-jacket the story telling process.

Some people are, of course, mental.

This is my favourite part of the process, just telling the story before you get bogged down in dialogue and page counts and all the technical gubbins of writing a screenplay. I love the organic nature of the whole thing, that it’s easy to alter scenes as you go.

If a good idea for act two necessitates changing a scene in act one – it’s only a paragraph instead of having to juggle pages of dialogue. I love the way it twists and changes as you go with better ideas, supplanting the old ones without effort or emotional attachment. I haven’t spent hours or days worrying at a scene because at this point the scene is just a few lines long.

Once a treatment’s finished, it’s easier to find the flaws and fix them. If the story sags anywhere – you can spot it and correct it. Reading back through and changing it is effectively re-drafting and saves time later on. Similarly, it’s easier for the producer or director to say what they do or don’t like about it; and once they’ve changed their minds, it’s easier to fix.

It’s just … easier.

As an extra Brucie bonus, once you get to the actual scripting – it doesn’t feel like a first draft. The more time you spend on treatments, the further along the script is by the time you actually get round to typing FADE IN: Not only have you nailed down all the story elements and the character arcs, but you’ve been thinking about each scene with every pass over the treatment which should make writing the scenes ridiculously easy.

In my mind, the first draft of the script is actually equivalent to the third or fourth draft – it’s already most of the way there. This certainly seems to bear out with the films I’ve had produced so far, where the differences between the first draft and the the final draft are mostly cosmetic. It’s rare to have to go back and change anything structurally or to alter a character beyond recognition.

I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it’s rare.

I love all this pre-writing since it makes the actual writing bit a hell of a lot easier. Altering scripts is a pain in the arse and is needlessly difficult. Synopses, outlines, treatments, character outlines and back-story … those are where the majority of the work should be done. If you’re waiting to resolve these issues in the script, you’re working too hard.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings | 7 Comments

Busy doing nothing

My name’s Phillip Barron and it’s been a week since my last post.

A week? Christ, I’m turning into Stuart Perry.

So what have I been doing in the last week?

Nothing much.

Well, that’s not true – I’ve been mad busy every day but none of it’s massively exciting. I’m just working and sleeping, plodding through to the next stage of every project, one after another, desperately trying to get everything done before the baby arrives.

Sunday I took a day off, drove to Birmingham and waved a sword around under the critical scrutiny of a Chinese Kung Fu Master. Then I drove back.

Today I’ve managed to squeeze in a little bit of procrastination and counted my Target novels, largely in response to posts by Rob and Dave. This is tougher than you might think since it’s not immediately clear what constitutes a Target novelisation. Do the radio episodes count? I think not … largely because I haven’t got them … but if not, then do the ‘Missing Episodes’ count? And are they really as crap as I remember them?

All important questions, but I have no more time. I must get on before the baby arrives and I down tools for a couple of weeks. All I have left is a treatment to finish and a script re-write. I’m fairly sure I can squeeze those in before Mandy squeezes the baby out.

Oh, and a couple of scripts to read; but they can wait … I’ll need something to do while Mandy’s giving birth.

Categories: Random Witterings | 10 Comments

Take ’em out back and shoot ’em in the head

A few years back (2004? 2005? Can’t remember) a producer I knew was going to Cannes (maybe it was 2003?) and he wanted ‘ a pile of feature scripts’ to take with him.

It was 2002, definitely.

Or maybe 2001.

Fuck it, it was years ago whenever it was. Anyway, in January he said he was going to Cannes. By May I’d written him six feature scripts. Two of them were re-writes of earlier scripts, four were completely fresh.

As it turns out, he didn’t take any of the scripts with him – he either forgot them or didn’t have space in his suitcase or some other fairly useless excuse.

Over the next few years those six scripts, with the addition of one more became my spec library. I whittled away at them on my own for a while, submitted them to TriggerStreet and used the feedback to re-write them until they were all in the top ten.

Satisfied they were all of a reasonable quality, I sent them out to anyone and everyone who would read them. Currently, of those seven scripts, three are under option; one lies in pieces, after I dismantled it to discover why it was shit and never quite got round to putting the pieces back together again; and three have never had any interest whatsoever.

Well, that’s not strictly true. One of them won me some script coverage which in turn got me a discussion with an American manager which in turn led absolutely nowhere. The general consensus is it’s a fantastic script; but too British for America and too expensive for Britain.

The other two … nothing. No one has ever shown the slightest bit of interest in them. One of them is a very personal story which doesn’t quite work. The other is a rom-com: a great concept which isn’t quite realised properly.

A while back I came to the conclusion these scripts just weren’t good enough; but I continued to send them out on the grounds someone might be stupid enough to make them. I mean, people like all kinds of shit so why not these three? Maybe they’re not as bad as I think they are?

Or maybe they are exactly as bad as I know they are.

Today though, I have decided: no more. I am officially retiring the last of these three spec scripts. No more will I send them out in the vain hope of finding a home for them. These three club-footed children of mine are finished. It’s over. Nobody loves you kids so get in the sack, hold onto these bricks and it’s a dizzying plunge into the icy waters of oblivion for you.

Bye now. See ya. Bye, bye.

I’m not deleting them, of course – just in case; but I’m no longer actively sending them out or letting people read them. If someone happens to ask me specifically for something which is identical to one of the scripts then maybe I’ll fish them out of the river – but barring that unlikely scenario, they’re gone.

With that in mind I’ve also removed all of the sample scripts from my website. All of the sitcoms and TV series and short films – all gone. None of them are representative of my writing now, they all show what I could do three or four years ago.

I’d like to think I’ve improved a little since then.

My watch word from now on is quality, not quantity. I’ve build up a nice CV and it’s now time to focus on newer and better material.

So there.

As an aside, I’ve just had an email this morning telling me one of the three under option, FLEECED, starts shooting in 18 days. That’ll be my third feature produced this year and we’re only half way through. With a baby arriving this month, another blackbelt grading this weekend and The Wrong Door hitting BBC 3 in the Autumn … I’m really liking 2008 so far.

Categories: BBC, BBC Sketch Show, Career Path, Fleeced, Progress, Random Witterings, The Wrong Door | 10 Comments

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