Monthly Archives: September 2008

Writer song meme

“Find a song that sums up what you think it means to be a writer and post the lyrics on your blog and why you’ve chosen it. NB: It doesn’t have to be your favourite song, it just has to express how you feel about writing and/or being a writer. It can be literal, metaphorical, about a particular form or aspect of writing – whatever you want. Then tag 5 others to do the same (reprint these instructions).”

Right. Since being tagged by Dom on Friday I’ve spent the weekend desperately thinking about song lyrics.

Between alternatively shivering like a sunbather in the Antarctic and sweating so much I’m in danger of drowning in my sleep. Seriously, last night I had to change my T-shirt four times and each time it felt like I’d been swimming.

I think I might have malaria.

Anyway, after two days of fruitless thinking I’ve come to the conclusion I don’t really listen to song lyrics. I don’t even know all of the lyrics to some of my favourite songs. I guess I’m more interested in the music and the way it’s constructed than what the words actually mean. I know the bass line from almost all the songs in my collection, but I honestly don’t think I know the words to any of them.

So what does that mean?

Well, basically it means I can’t do the meme. I don’t think there are any song lyrics which sum up what being a writer means to me. I’m not even really sure there are any song lyrics which have any particular meaning to me. There’s the odd line which I like or which resonates, but not whole songs.

Um … so, yeah. Can’t really do this one.

Sorry.

Categories: Random Witterings | 6 Comments

Working hard

Six or seven years ago, a producer I know told me he was going to Cannes and wanted some scripts to take with him. He told me this in January and after months of frantic scribbling, in May I handed him five brand new feature scripts.

Which he then forgot to take with him.

But never mind, that focused period of writing gave me the backbone of my spec portfolio; of which: one is in production, one is in development and a third has been optioned and dropped three times on the grounds it’s funny but ultimately pointless. I think it gets optioned on the first point after the first read and dropped when the second point becomes apparent three or four reads later.

“Hang on, there’s fuck all happening! It’s just a shit load of jokes.”

Which was mostly down to my writing style at the time: start at the beginning and write until you’ve had enough. The result was scripts with not a lot of structure, depth, subtext, theme or even story. Still, they all had something going for them and it turns out a few minor tweaks created at least the illusion of all these weighty attributes and on the whole people were happy to read them.

The script which is in development is a classic example: I wrote it in a rush without really thinking and generally, people like it. Some people love it. The producer who holds the option has asked for a few minor re-writes which I’ve been happy to oblige, but basically it’s still in the form it was when it was first written. When someone asks you to fix x, y and z you don’t think about the rest of the alphabet. They obviously like the rest of the alphabet or they would have mentioned it. Sure, you polish the other letters as you go through, but you don’t start redesigning them or swapping them around.

And when I say ‘you’ I of course mean ‘me’. You’re probably all a bit more diligent.

So then we had this meeting with a potential new director who loves bits of the script but feels it needs a major re-write. Fair enough, he might be the director depending on how this re-write goes and if he wants stuff done differently (within certain reasonable parameters: i.e. providing it’s not ruining anything) then he can have stuff done differently. There’s this pointless flashback which needs burning anyway – I’ve been meaning to do it for a while but forgot during the last tweak and haven’t had the opportunity since.

One of his first observation was: the bad guys don’t do anything. We cut back to them a lot, but basically they’re just waiting for the good guys to come and get them.

Now it’s not quite as bad as Superman Returns where the bad guys have so little to do they just sit down and play cards until Supes comes to get them; but it’s not far off … and it’s heavily disguised. “Full of sound and fury signifying nothing” springs to mind. They look like they’re doing stuff, but if you strip it down, they’re essentially just polishing their desk and tidying their paperclips whilst they’re waiting to be punished. They have no plan.

The second major problem is all the characters are thrown in at the deep end, which means the first act is explosive and full of action and ‘oh fuck!’ moments; but when it’s all over there’s a hell of a lot of explaining to do. To make matters worse, this is a fantasy film so the whole world and all its rules needs to be set-up for the audience. And since there was too much action to begin with, the first half of the second act is just people wandering or sitting still and explaining what happened to them and how everything is supposed to work in the world they live in.

Not good.

The potential director though, has a plan. The script starts in the aftermath of a climatic event which has changed the world and shows how people react to that. When I wrote it, it was a low-budget script so starting immediately after the expensive bit seemed like a good idea. But since the budget’s been resized – why not show the whole shebang?

The three of us (writer, director, producer) threw a load of ideas around and we came up with way to set-up, introduce and overturn all the rules of the world in the first scene. Suddenly, all the exposition in the film is useless since you can SEE what happens instead of just being told about it.

Excellent! Removing this and the pointless bad guy scenes leaves loads of space for the bad guys to actually have a plan instead of achieving everything they set out to do before the film starts and then wondering what’s on telly for the rest of it.

First step: get the script and a load of index cards; go through the script and write down on cards the general gist of every scene. White for goodies, green for baddies, red for action where they meet. The resulting colourful mess looks pretty well balanced. There’s red every ten pages or so and the number of white and green cards is roughly equal.

The problem comes when you look at each card and realise most of the green cards say ‘pointless bad guy scene’ and a lot of the white cards say ‘pointless walking or talking scene’.

That’s actually great. I can remove all those scenes from the board and the script. Which actually clears out 35 pages of script without breaking a sweat. I don’t even read the scenes properly, they’re just gone.

So now I have 35 pages for the first scene and the whole of the bad guys’ story; something which will pit them against the good guys throughout. Let’s get some proper drama into this fucker! Let’s give it some fucking berries! Obviously, the rest of the story’s going to change too and I doubt any page will survive unscathed, but it’s great to see all that space to work with. This is liberating, this is inspiring! To work!

That was yesterday. Twenty four hours later and how much of this mighty restructuring have I achieved?

Nothing.

Not a single word.

I have, however, managed to redesign my website.

That took a while. The favicon in particular took hours to get right. Luckily, because the connection I’m using is slightly slower than leaning out of the window and shouting at people and is marginally less stable than the economy, the site is only partially uploaded. Bits of it work, bits of it don’t and the whole thing is generally a bit of a mess.

My sock drawer, on the other hand, is immaculate. Never before have so many socks been so meticulously arranged by colour and cross-indexed by fade and the size of the holes in both toe AND heel. It’s terribly exciting. If I want to find a sock, any sock, any one at all, I can just open my drawer and put my hand on it.

I could, of course, have done this before since I only have one sock drawer and there aren’t many socks in it; but it’s the principle which counts. They’ve been organised, there’s a system now.

After all that it was straight down to work, but then I remembered I still hadn’t watched the films a different producer gave me to watch before writing the last treatment. Now that’s finished, he’s going to want them back, so perhaps I’d better just watch one of them first.

Which unfortunately was so dull I fell asleep.

Which leads me to now. Fresh, prepared and ready to work.

I just thought I’d log on and tell you all about it first.

Which I have.

Right.

Here we go then.

Page one.

Oh look! Dom’s tagged me in a meme!

Damn you, I was just getting down to some serious work.

“Find a song that sums up what you think it means to be a writer and post the lyrics on your blog and why you’ve chosen it.”

Hmm … this is going to take some thinking about. Better make a cup of tea and go for a lie down.

Categories: Bored, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard | Leave a comment

Wrong Door – The Wizard of Office

It’s Thursday again and time for more from The Wrong Door: 10.30 pm – BBC Three. Tonight’s exciting installment …

When Dorothy Tempest’s office is hit by a tornado she is transported to the far-from-magical land of Oswestry, where her desk lands on Justin Beales, the Regional Sales Director for the East.

There’s more disappointing magic when Louise and Tom visit the so-called Magical Wood; the world’s most dangerous restaurant gets a visit; and Transformo and Perky Girl audition for Superhero Tryouts.

Categories: BBC, BBC Sketch Show, The Wrong Door | 2 Comments

PITA

I’ve finally finished this Pain In The Arse film treatment, the one I’ve been fiddling with for … well, ages. I’m loathe to actually look at the date I started it since I have this nagging feeling it was before Alice was born and she’s 14 weeks old now.

14 weeks! That’s a fucking long time for one treatment. True, I’ve worked on other things in that time and I’ve had quite a bit of time off too, but still … over three months for one treatment?

It’s just wrong.

Part of the problem is to do with the length; because of the nature of the story, the set up is quite involved – or rather, it takes a lot of short scenes to introduce all the characters and get them to where they need to be. It’s a kind of ‘getting the band back together’ sequence which introduces six characters and how they currently live their lives.

The problem is a short scene in a script might be a page, in a treatment it still takes half a page to describe. I like to keep the pages of the treatment roughly representational of the script as a whole. If a 10 page treatment describes a 100 page script, then each page of treatment should describe roughly 10 pages of script. So the first act would be roughly two and a half pages, the second act roughly five pages and the third act somewhere around another two and a half. I find if I stick to that ratio then there are fewer surprises when I come to writing the script and realise I’ve summed up the entire second act in one sentence like “the gang go on the run” or “hi jinks ensue”; and it makes for a better read for the producer/director since they can get a feel for the eventual pacing of the script.

Unfortunately, by the time I’d finished describing everyone’s introduction and finished the rest of act one I’d filled five pages. If I stuck to the requested ten pages I’d end up describing the second act in such vague terms it’d be almost useless and I couldn’t really reduce the number of pages in the set up without saying something fairly pointless like:

“One by one the hero rings his old friends and gets them to join the scheme.”

Which does accurately describe the sequence but doesn’t tell you anything about the characters or what they’ve been doing in the meantime. On top of that it’s not funny (which it’s meant to be, seeing as this is partly a comedy) and, perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t help the reader identify the six characters and how they’re different to each other; which would make the whole treatment confusing and unreadable.

I figured my best option was to extend the length of the treatment to fit the scale of the first act … and that’s how a ten page treatment suddenly needs to be twenty pages; which presents a load of new problems. Now I have to describe every other scene properly. A chase scene needs to fill half a page instead of one line, a fight needs to be at least a paragraph instead of a few words. In short, I have to think about every scene almost as if I’m writing the script without skipping any details which I can fill in later.

Which is a lot more work.

The second main problem is to do with the nature of the story. It’s one of those dual-genre things where everything changes halfway through. It starts off as one film and becomes a different film in the middle. The problem with this sort of film is you have to think about what you’re going to tell the audience before they come in. How are you going to sell this film to people? I’m lucky, this is a producer’s idea so I don’t have to sell it to him, but we both want people to come into the cinema to watch it (or maybe just buy the DVD in a more realistic world). If you don’t mention the second genre then people get thrown out of the story when it changes and feel alienated. If you do tell them where it’s going then they get bored waiting for it to happen.

I worked in a cinema when ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ came out and regardless of how well it did on DVD afterwards it pretty much tanked in its short release. Or at least, it did where I worked. I’ve no idea how it was advertised on TV, but half the people came to see a Tarantino film and the other half came to see a vampire film. The Tarantino fans were confused and angry about the sudden change in genre; whilst the vampire fans spent half the movie bored, waiting for the vampires to turn up. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone, some people were delighted at the sudden surprise vampire attack and had presumably seen the film without watching a trailer, reading a synopsis or even looking at the poster.

The trailer sets up the expectations for the film and if you sell the film as one thing and half of it’s completely different then you’re heading for a world of trouble. I watched ‘Hancock‘ recently and that’s two totally separate films joined together. Two very good films, admittedly; but at exactly the halfway mark it had achieved everything set up in the trailer. The film was over, but instead of the credits rolling, it went straight into the sequel. I enjoyed both halves, but I’d much rather have seen more exploration of each idea – as it stands it’s kind of two short(ish) films in one package. Almost as if they had two excellent ideas but couldn’t decide which one to do.

With my project, the second genre is part of the pitch. It’s impossible to describe the first half of the film without referencing the second half, so in the treatment it would be pointless keeping the genre change a secret until it happens.

With that in mind I felt I had two choices:

  1. Make the first ‘half’ of the film much, much shorter. If the first genre is only the first act then it’s just the set-up and no one has to wait too long for the film they’ve come to see to get going.
  2. Integrate the two genres so there isn’t a sudden, jarring change. Allow the audience, who already know the change is coming to SEE the change is coming. Let them in on the secret they already know and make the question ‘When will the characters find out?’ a matter of suspense.

I’m still not sure I made the right decision, but I opted for number two. It seemed to me the second genre in my story wouldn’t sustain a full film. In a similar way to ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ where there’s only so many ways to kill vampires before it gets boring. Could they have made the bar bit longer? Probably not.

I wanted to make sure my two genres were integrated, that there wouldn’t be this sudden, jarring change. This meant interspersing scenes about the second half all the way through the first half. So the first scene sets up the second genre and every ten minutes or so we’re reminded that any minute now it’s all going to kick off and become something completely different. Hopefully this will work and give a feeling of everything leading up to the trailer moments people have come to see without boring them first.

But all this took more time, partly to make my mind up; but mostly because it’s difficult to balance how much information you give out without boring the audience. I also had to consider why the characters didn’t know this was coming, how do they manage to not see the things going on around them in the fairly confined space and all sorts of complicated things needed to make it seem at least vaguely feasible.

And I’ve finally done it, or at least I’ve finished it. Fuck knows if I’ve actually achieved what I set out to do; but I’m sure I’ll get a phone call in the next few days telling me how it’s gone down.

Meanwhile, it’s on to the next project – a re-write I’ve been looking forward to for a while now. Hopefully it’ll be a slightly faster process.

Categories: Progress, Random Witterings | 6 Comments

Wrong Door – The Train Pirates

Thursday again and there’s more Wrong Door tonight. This week’s episode:

The Train Pirates strike fear into the hearts of Britain’s commuters. Britain’s most eccentric military boffin, Commander Kevin Cheeks, shows off his latest gadgets; masked vigilante The Raven puts in an appearance; and Melanie introduces Philip The Dinosaur to her friends.

Originally this episode was supposed to be episode one, but someone somewhere decided what was supposed to be episode two was stronger and switched them all around. Unfortunately tonight’s episode has a lot of the initial set-ups for the recurring characters – and although it doesn’t exactly ruin everything, it does kind of mess it up a little bit.

Personally, I think this episode is much stronger – but that might just be because it’s got Brian Blessed dressed as a pirate and shouting a lot. I think the opening sketch sums up the show too and would have been the perfect introduction to what it’s all about.

Still, there you go apparently this sort of thing happens a lot.

Tonight: BBC Three, 10.30pm

Categories: BBC, BBC Sketch Show, The Wrong Door | 7 Comments

Resurrection

Sometimes I think of my career as being like that scene in Desperado where the floor of the bar is littered with corpses. I’m like Antonio Banderas (only ginger, poorer and considerably less attractive – although possibly taller, they’re all short in Hollywood, aren’t they?) and the corpses are the remains of dead projects. You know, films and TV things which people were massively excited about and were definitely going to film the next day …

But didn’t.

Every now and then, one of those corpses gasps a long, shuddering breath and sits up – they’re not quite dead! There’s still a bit of life in the old bugger! And … hang on.

Hmm.

Thinking about it, Antonio Banderas killed all those people which in this analogy suggests I was responsible for the unravelling of projects past. And Antonio was desperately searching for a gun to kill the one still breathing fella, wasn’t he? Which suggests I’m trying to shoot down the last project I’ve got in development.

Yeah, that’s a stupid analogy – sorry.

The point is, a project which disappeared firmly up its own arse earlier this year has just lurched back into view. It’s gone from being dead and buried in a forgotten, overgrown grave with no one to mourn it to a lively, throbbing beast, frothing at the mouth and straining willfully against its harness as it prepares to spring into action.

Possibly even next month!

Watch how the eager frothing turns out to be rabies and it gets shot through the head!

It’s never really worth getting excited about things like this, but it’s hard not to. I always allow myself a little glimmer of hope before settling back into a blasé attitude of insouciant disinterest. If it happens, it happens. Wake me when the filming starts.

Actually, no. Wake me when the filming stops and the project’s finished – that’s a much bigger achievement and a dizzying height the movie makers I’ve worked with have yet to reach.

I can but dream.

Categories: Progress | 5 Comments

Wrong Door – The Smutty Aliens

I’m kind of bored of mentioning this since I guess anyone who’s going to watch it already knows about it by now; but at the same time I feel like now I’ve started talking about it, I have to carry on or it’ll look like I don’t care any more.

So, tonight, BBC 3 – 10.30 pm: The Wrong Door episode 3 (or episode 4, depending how you count it) – The Smutty Aliens:

Chief Inspector Barnes struggles to balance his budget, while the offices of Baum Technologies find themselves with an unusual pest control problem.

Lisa finds out her boyfriend can make himself invisible, Trampoline Transit Ltd demonstrate an innovative commuting alternative and Susan is abducted by the Smutty Aliens.

Hmm … smutty aliens. I’m guessing that’s not going to help win over anyone who finds the show juvenile.

Categories: BBC, BBC Sketch Show, The Wrong Door | 8 Comments

New LVJ trailer

Or rather, another new trailer. There seems to have been a lot more trailer than film on this project so far. LVJ has been in post-production for … you know what? I can’t even remember.

A long time anyway.

The hold up, as always, as been the effects and other, better paid, projects getting in the way. Every now and then there’s a frantic burst of activity when everyone’s back on the case and working hard to get the film finished. You can always tell when the film’s entering a concentrated phase of work because the first thing which happens is a new trailer.

Which you can see here: www.lvjmovie.com

Although the rest of the website seems to be down at the moment.

Some people might get upset or frustrated by the lack of completion, I mean, how hard can it be to finish a film? Surely, once the writing and shooting is out of the way, the rest must be easy? Or if not easy, at least possible?

Well, since I’ve had five films semi-produced and not one of the fuckers has been finished (Not one. Including the one already out on DVD) I’ve come to see ‘partially finished’ as the default setting for movie making. It’s not even as if it’s the same reason every time, you know, something you can point at and warn people not to make the same mistake. It’s always different:

One’s run out of money, one’s turned into a bitch fight, one’s stymied because someone involved is being a cock, one was just abandoned because no one could be bothered and LVJ is just a monumentally stupid project for a company to attempt as their first project.

LVJ is the sort of film most production companies would run screaming from, particularly in the UK. It’s been shot on two continents, half of it’s period, it’s got action, aliens, gunfire, military hardware (including planes, helicopters and space shuttles) and more effects shots than Titanic.

And do you know the stupidest thing about it? They actually seem to be pulling it off. Very slowly, admittedly, but it is getting there. I guess with a film like this you need one of two things: lots of money or lots of time. LVJ doesn’t have a budget counted in millions. Hell, it barely has a budget counted in pounds; so the trade off is walking to the finish line instead of running.

If by walking you mean lying face down on the ground and trying to inch forward using only your eyebrows.

Still, I have faith the film will eventually be finished. Curiously, it seems to have already picked up a rating on IMDb of 3 out of 10.

3 out of 10 for a film no one’s ever seen and isn’t even finished?

I can’t work out if that’s good or bad.

Categories: LVJ, Progress | 6 Comments

Mush! Mush!

August is always a bit of a slack month when nothing really happens because everyone’s on holiday. Which is fine and I try to spend that time to work on something of my own or to at least clear a bit of the backlog and get back on top.

Sadly, this year I’ve just picked idly at a treatment (and have been doing so for months) without really managing to get very far. It’s not that it’s a bad idea or something I’m not interested in, quite the contrary – I love the idea and can’t wait to get cracking on the script; it’s just … I don’t know. I keep poking at the odd line of the treatment endlessly and listlessly; but hey, it’s not  problem because the producer’s not in any rush and I haven’t really got anything massively pressing to do.

The only problem with August being so slack is everyone comes back in September, refreshed, revitalised and ready to take on the world.

Why’s that a problem?

Because suddenly everyone wants a script and they want it right now, god damn it!

Friday I had a great meeting with a potential director for a project which has been bubbling away in the background for a while. It’s one of those hardy perennials which constantly threatens to bloom but so far hasn’t quite managed it. Its day will come, but until then it just ticks along as the producer pushes it inexorably closer to production.

One possibly massive leap forward is the potential new director who may or may not join the project depending on work load and schedules and a bit of revision on the script. He’s a guy who’s made a few well received films and would be very, very good for the project … but he (rightly) has issues with the script. Whereas he loves the characters and the dialogue and the general feel of the story, he feels the plot needs a few more twists and a good deal of clarification.

Part of the clarification problem is to remove the exposition needed to explain the events which happen just before the film starts. Part of the reason these elements aren’t already there was budgetary, but since this director also wants to significantly up the budget, then that’s no longer a problem. Bring on the hordes of war antelopes and the flying moon fish!

It was one of those meetings I really enjoy where the three of us (producer, director and writer) just throw ideas at each other as we try to make the script better. I left with a head full of ideas and the nagging feeling I should have made more notes and drawn less monkeys; but never mind. I’ve got a really good feeling about this as I head home.

Whilst I’m still in the car, mulling things over, the phone rings. It’s another producer with some great news: his partners love the synopsis I wrote and want to make the film. The money’s there, they just need the script – shooting starts in January. When can I start the script?

Um … fuck.

So now I’ve gone from fiddling aimlessly with one pain in the arse treatment to having to fit in a complete page one re-write and a new script (which will also mean another treatment) AND the pain in the arse treatment which will then doubtlessly instantly be needed as a script.

Don’t get me wrong, these are nice problems to have. Everyone wants to give me money and make films; but do they all have to do it at once? Suddenly the carefree whimsy of August explodes into an intensely well scheduled September where every hour is mapped out and every day has a quota to be fulfilled.

And yes, I love it.

Being busy is great and I produce much better and higher quality work when someone sets a deadline. So I’m looking forward to it and whatever lack of sleep September brings. Bring it on, bring it all on! First things first, where’s that fucking treatment?

Oh, there it is … hmm … right … I wonder what’s on telly?

Categories: Progress | 2 Comments

Wrong Door – Njarnia

You’d be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing else going on in my life at the moment except The Wrong Door; but the truth is the other stuff is fairly work-a-day. I’m just fiddling with treatments and bits and bobs of re-writes. I was hoping to have everything out of the way for the weekend – I’ve got a meeting tomorrow which is pretty important and will probably swamp me in more work – but hey-ho, I haven’t quite managed it.

So in lieu of a blog about some of the other stuff, none of which is particularly interesting just yet, here’s a reminder about tonight’s episode of The Wrong Door. This is what it’s vaguely about:

Ed and Lucy buy a cheap self-assembly wardrobe only to discover that it leads to the fantastical-but-rubbish land of Njarnia. Back in the normal parallel universe, we meet unfortunate superhero wannabe Rocketman and the monster who lives in the office stationery cupboard.

Philip the Dinosaur tries his hand at bowling, plus an intriguing new weight loss cure and a watercooler moment you probably won’t want to share.

Ten-thirty, tonight BBC3.

I look forward to the demented telling me how shit I am afterwards.

Categories: BBC, BBC Sketch Show, The Wrong Door | 4 Comments

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