Monthly Archives: November 2008

What?

I hate the word ‘what’.

Well, hate’s a bit strong: loathe, detest, despise … am a bit miffed by … something like that.

Although even that’s not true – two words into a new post and I’m lying to you already. I obviously use the word ‘what’ all the time:

“What do you want?”

“What the hell is that?”

“You what me to put what where?”

All well and good. Then of course there’s John Cleese’s ‘what?’ which is practically an art form in itself. No, the specific example of the word ‘what’ I don’t like much, is the one I keep having to delete from my scripts. Practically every scene in fact;

“Oh my God!”

“What?”

“My nipples have just been eaten by an Andalusian space mollusc!”

“Again?”

You may not immediately see the problem there, people do actually talk like that … apart from the bit about Andalusian space molluscs – everyone knows they live in the Catalonia; but that’s a fairly normal speech pattern: exclamation, question, explanation.

As an aside, I get a lot of pleasure out of not giving people the question:

“Ow!”

Phill keeps on reading.

“Ooh, that hurts.”

Phill casually turns the page.

“Ow, ow, ow …”

The ginger bastard flicks the page back … did he miss something?

“Ooh, ya bugger!”

“Sorry, did you say something?”

“Yeah, I’ve cut my finger.”

It’s great, people will not move on until you’ve given them the proper response. I can go days like that when I’m in the right mood. The thing is, whereas it’s a perfectly valid speech pattern, in a script it’s always the first thing to go:

“Oh my God! I’ve been bitten by the love of the Lord!”

You just don’t need the ‘what’ – all it does is add extra lines and when you’re over-running they’re the first to go. It’s kind of a shame because I love those kind of naturalistic patterns and really, what’s one word over the course of a script?

Well, quite a lot I guess. When you’ve got to cut ten to twenty pages out of a draft, every word counts. And it’s not just one word, it’s two extra lines. At the end of the day it doesn’t add or detract anything from the script – there may be a rhythm change, but it’s not really an issue.

Then again … some of my favourite dialogue in the Italian Job is all repetition. I sometimes wonder how long the script was or how much of it was improvised … I could Google it, but then again, I’m sure someone will tell me if I hang around long enough.

Hmm … no, fuck it. I hate the word ‘what’ and it’s coming out of the script.

There isn’t really a lot of point to this post except a bit of interrogative abuse – I’ve just murdered a character in a particularly gruesome manner and it’s upset me a bit. I guess I just fancied a bit of whimsy.

Carry on, nothing to see here.

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Categories: Random Witterings, Sad Bastard | 5 Comments

No one will notice

One of the first observations people make when entering our house is we have a lot of books.

This isn’t strictly true, or rather: it is true, but it’s the wrong way of looking at it. We only have a lot of books because we have a lot bookcases and need something to fill them.

This isn’t the beginning of the story either. We have a lot of bookcases because they’re hiding something, and the thing they’re hiding is incompetence. Specifically, they’re hiding an almost total inability to decorate.

I’ve just redecorated the lounge and, apart from a lot of swearing at the walls, the paper, the paste and the scissors which seemed able to teleport themselves randomly around the room when my back was turned, the words I uttered most were:

“No one will notice that, it’ll be behind the bookcase.”

And that’s why, in a world where painters and decorators care about the standard of their work, I could never be one – because I don’t.

Care, that is.

I’m sure some of you reading this know professional painters and decorators who are equally incompetent and slapdash but, please, keep it to yourselves – you’ll ruin the analogy.

That phrase “no one will notice” – I hear it bandied around a lot and it always bugs me, because someone will. There’s you, the producer and the director and, maybe (depending on the good humour of the director) the cast and crew (fifty people, perhaps?) looking at the script versus a potential audience of hundreds of thousands or even millions looking at the finished product.

The audience has the ability to watch it again and again, the will to go through the the movie frame by frame and the intention to prove how much cleverer they are than you by yelling about your mistakes on the Internet. They will find mistakes you’ve never even thought of, and never would think of with a thousand hours to look for them; so if you or someone else notices an inconsistency at the script stage – fix it.

If anyone tells you not to worry, no one will notice – slap them, scream obscenities at them and then fix it. Someone will notice. This is your chosen career, if you can’t be bothered to fix the mistakes you create then why should anyone be bothered to pay you? Take pride in your work because God is in the details.

Or is it the devil?

Fuck it, add in the fictional character of your choice: Santa is in the details; there, that’ll do. I’m off to IKEA to buy enough wardrobes to line the entire house.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings | 10 Comments

Getting from A to B

I’ve been fiddling with these two scenes now for … well, let’s just say for far longer than I’m prepared to admit. You never know who might be reading this and I don’t want them thinking I haven’t advanced at all in over a w … hile.

In the treatment there was no problem, scene B follows scene A – easy. Unfortunately, as frequently happens, when I actually sat down to write it quickly became apparent there was no way to go from A to B.

None at all.

You can’t just cut, you can’t fade, you can’t end A on a pithy line which reflects how B starts, you can’t pre-lap the audio or link an object from one scene to the other … I’ve tried them all and none of them work. The only way to get from A to B is to invent some other scenes inbetween.

Cool.

Except, no: what are these other scenes about?

I can fill them full of dialogue, I can have the characters traipsing around ‘West Wing’ style, I can have random things explode or turn into gerbils … but it doesn’t hide the fact these new scenes don’t really have a point. They’re meaningless, boring scenes no matter what happens.

It’s been driving me nuts since last … time I started writing the scenes … how do I get from A to B quickly and efficiently? What goes between A and B to make the transition smoother? I’ve even tried taking bits of important info from other scenes and grafting them in; but it’s no good – none of it works.

And then last night I had a revelation … the reason I can’t find anyway to get from A to B is because … and in retrospect, this is quite obvious … A and B are the same scene!

Different things happen in different ways in different locations, but they happen to the same people and have an identical purpose – they shouldn’t be two scenes, it should just be one scene with all the bits combined. There is no reason to change location and, looking back on it, the only reason I think I put that change in was because it felt like an incredibly long scene which needed breaking up.

The best example of this I can think of is from the book of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ where the characters talk about Jesus in one room until the police arrive, then move to a different room and talk about Jesus until the bad guys arrive, then move to a different room and talk about Jesus until the police arrive, then move to a different room and talk about Jesus until … for hundreds of fucking pages. I’ve no idea how they handled this in the film, but in the book it’s fucking annoying – it’s one scene spread out over various locations in a vague effort to create the illusion of a chase.

And I’ve nearly fallen into the same trap; but I’m happy now, I’ve learnt something: even if it is only how to tell the difference between A and B.

Categories: Progress, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard | 9 Comments

Rewrites

——————————————————————————————

WARNING, HORRENDOUSLY LONG POST

SORRY

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As a rule I try not to give advice; partly because there are so many people giving advice on their blogs, a couple of whom actually know what they’re talking about, and partly because I think you’d have to be batshit crazy to believe anything I have to say.

However, on this occasion I’ve had a specific request; namely: how do I approach rewrites, in particular the back to basics complete and total overhaul type?

Hmm …

Well, for me, this is quite rare. Most of the film projects I’ve been involved in have been producer (or director) initiated where I’ve been hired to create a story around their vague ramblings. In those circumstances this kind of total revamp doesn’t really happen because the genre, story, structure, characters and tone are all discussed at every stage from concept through synopsis, treatment and first draft. Generally speaking, the first draft is close enough to what was asked for to make any further rewrites just minor tweaks. If I delivered a draft which was so unsuitable it needed stripping back to basics and re-working then I’d more than likely be replaced.

So I’ve only done this process three times, twice when I’ve replaced another writer (or writers) and once which is ongoing – a spec script which needs revamping at the behest of the new director. There are two slightly different processes here because of my familiarity with my own story versus coming cold to someone else’s idea; but I’ll try to amalgamate them into some kind of coherent method which can be replicated.

First thing to ask yourself is why are you rewriting this script? To make it better is not an answer, because what does ‘better’ mean? Does it need to be funnier, shorter, more violent … what needs changing? Look at this way, if you decided to improve your home, would you pick up a sledge hammer and randomly demolish walls until you’d made the house ‘better’? Or would you set out with the intention to knock the living room and dining room into one, or create an extra bedroom in the loft? Hopefully, the latter – you’d decide what your goal is and then work out what needs to be done to achieve it.

It’s the same with rewriting – you need to know what the end goal is.

One of the scripts I rewrote, the director described it as if someone had seen an action film once, worked out what parts were needed and then flung them all in any old how – a bit like someone buying enough parts to build a car then just drawing a car shape on the floor and laying the parts out roughly where they might go: it may look vaguely like a car, but it isn’t. This was an extreme case where virtually everything needed to be slung out and redone. The first step was to find out from the director what he wanted, what was the film supposed to be about?

And this is a good point if you’re rewriting a spec script, pre-sale: scripts aren’t written in a vacuum. You may have this image in your head of the writer alone in his attic, typing away at the keyboard, whittling a script out of the depths of his imagination … doesn’t really happen.

Well, sometimes it does. Although I try not to write in the attic because it’s dark, cold and the water tank keeps going spuloing! every few minutes.

Generally scripts are written in concert with the director and producer and sometimes even the star – people chip in ideas and yay or nay everything every step of the way – at least in my experience. If professional scripts are written utilising a lot of guidance and feedback, why should your spec script be any different? Get some advice, whether it’s from a reader or TriggerStreet.com or the power of three … doesn’t matter, just get opinions. Blake Snyder advocates pitching your movie idea to people in Starbucks … that would get you glassed round my way (or at least latté-ed – which is similar but with more froth), but the principle’s sound. Get someone to tell you what they think the weak areas are and make notes – you don’t have to slavishly follow them, but they’ll help guide you.

Next thing do to is to read the script, just once and then put it to one side. Make a list of all the things you think ought to stay – what sequences work? Which scenes fulfill the promise of the premise? What images burn themselves onto your brain and insist at gun point you remember them? Put these down on index cards and put them to one side. On my own spec script rewrite, I went through it scene by scene and wrote down on index cards exactly what happened in each scene and why it was important to the film – not a blow by blow description, but an overview of what the scene is about. Bank job, sex scene, final showdown … that sort of thing. Anything I couldn’t identify in these terms became ‘pointless talking’ or ‘pointless action’ and discarded. I cut out 60 pages of script by doing this and now can’t remember what was in those scenes.

From there I’d move onto structure, story and theme – the three to me are kind of dependant on each other. I think about what the story is and how it has to unfold. For each genre there will be a vague structure which you can overlay as a template. This shouldn’t be a straight-jacket to creativity, this should be a framework for you to be creative around. Thinking about the story should give you a vague structure, just the turning points of the acts, the mid-point and, hopefully, the ending. Go through your pile of index cards and see if any of the scenes you love correspond to those points – if so, put them up on your board.

By the way, if you’re not using a board – try it, it’s fun. If you really don’t want to, then just do it mentally, or use a piece of paper, or assign scenes to different stuffed animals and arrange them around the room – whatever works for you.

Looking at the structure and the story, think about the theme – what is this film really about? What’s the underlying message which will help you choose the characters best suited to tell the story? Sometimes this is obvious, sometimes it doesn’t become clear until a later draft. If you can get it now, you’ll save yourself another rewrite further down the line.

Now’s the time to look at the characters – who do you need to tell this story in the most efficient manner? The main character should be obvious: it’s the story of a guy (or gal) who … what? The principal character should be inherent in the synopsis for the story. The other characters can be a little trickier, but there’s bound to be a vague template for what you need. For example, if it’s a rom-com you need: two lovers, one or two confidants and an antagonist. Usually you can combine at least two of those roles to make four or even three main characters.

Try and define your characters against the background of your story and theme – who do they need to be? What’s the best way to bring about the most conflict or illustrate the theme? In essence, what makes them different and the same? They might be different because one believes in monogamy and the other polygamy; but they’re the same because their defining characteristic is about their attitude to sex.

I like to create two goals for each character an internal and external goal: what do they want and what do they need? He wants to win the race, but needs to win the girl. Generally a character should achieve their internal goal with the external goal being optional – but not always. If the external goal is save the world from a bomb then … you know what? There are no rules here – tell the story you want to tell, but give the characters goals within it. Give them jobs, personalities, friends, backgrounds … the level of detail is up to you; but decide who they are, whilst leaving yourself a bit of room to discover things about them as you write.

If any of the pre-existing characters suit what you need, keep them – if they can be tweaked, do it and if they’re superfluous, junk them. Don’t get attached to any of them, if they don’t fit this story – there’s always the next script, just put them on the bench for now.

Now you know who the characters are, check the act turning points and mid-point – do they serve the characters and would the characters behave like that in those situations? If the answer’s no, then you need to rethink the story or the characters – be brutally honest with yourself, don’t think you can fudge it. Those little nagging doubts you have are really important and are generally right. Never, ever think no one will notice … they will.

You should have all the elements needed to start plotting the story properly now, so go back through that pile of cards and see if you can find out where the cool scenes belong on the board. If you can fit them into the structure, great. If not, bin them. Again, there will be other scripts and other chances to use your favourite scenes – don’t force them where they don’t belong.

From there, go into the script and delete everything which isn’t on the board – hack it all away until you’re left with the bits you know work. Then move the scenes around so they correspond with the ones on your board. This serves two functions:

  1. You feel like you’re actually doing something useful after all that planning.
  2. You can see how much space you’ve got to play with.

Index cards generally correspond to 1-3 pages of script. Obviously some will be longer and some shorter. A card saying ‘car chase’ will probably be a longer scene than ‘he finds the first clue’ – but it’s a good rule of thumb. By looking at the board and checking it against the page count you can work out roughly how many pages in each act you’ve got to fill and how many sequences/scenes you can add.

You can now start adding the rest of the meat, fill in those gaps with scenes which reveal character, move the story along and illustrate the theme. If you can, try to make every scene do all three. I try to imagine the story as a wave – each scene should follow on logically from the previous in terms of story and tone. Any sudden leaps in story or tone stand out a mile and need smoothing off – make the characters go through the whole journey, don’t just skip bits.

Finally, you can go to the script and start writing. By now you should know what the story is, whose story it is and why it’s their story and not someone else’s. I like to write everything in script order, I never skip over difficult scenes because I find it destroys my sense of story flow and makes it easier to forget bits of plot – I’m not saying I don’t write bits of placeholder dialogue now and then, or stuff I know I’m going to come back and improve, but I like to work from beginning to end; however, each to their own and this isn’t good for everyone. Hopefully this time around you’ll be able to actually tell the story you intended without needing to go through this process again.

To be honest, it’s a hell of a lot easier just to get it right the first time, but that takes experience which only comes from practise. Personally I think the best skill you can learn is how to plan things in advance, whether that’s in your head or on paper – the longer you spend thinking about what you’re going to write, the less time it takes to write and the closer it’ll be to your vision.

So … yeah, that’s how I would approach a total strip down and rebuild rewrite.

Hope that helps.

Categories: My Way | 4 Comments

Growing up in public

If anyone’s been paying attention (I wasn’t) you’d know I’ve been writing sketches in the mornings and a horror film in the afternoons – well, I’ve stopped that now.

Or at least the sketch part of it.

I’ve sent in what I’ve done and instantly regretted it.

Glancing through them in the cold light of the minute after submission, two things occur to me:

  1. They’re not funny.
  2. Someone will probably film the buggers anyway – not necessarily the people I’ve sent them to, but they’re bound to turn up somewhere, sometime.

I’ve had a bit of an odd relationship with sketch writing, one I’ve fallen into almost accidentally and then made a shitload of mistakes in public. It seems to me, most people start writing sketches because they have a passion for sketch comedy and want to make a living at it. They write loads of rubbish as they slowly improve until they reach the point where they’re confident their work is good enough to send to someone.

They send, someone reads and they find out they’re not good enough; so they go back to the drawing board (or computer, more probably) and keep trying until eventually they reach a degree of competence and start selling some.

I, on the other hand, had no interest in writing sketches and manifestly didn’t. A friend nagged me to have a go for about a year until I gave in and wrote a few … which were filmed and broadcast on ITV1.

Okay, so it was on Shoot the Writers!which was pretty rubbish and went out at half-past too fucking early because the rest of the night was taken up with some has-beens eating kangaroo’s testicles in a jungle; but still, the first sketch I ever wrote went out on national TV for all to point at and go:

“That’s fucking shit, I can do better than that.”

This is the sketch, by the way:

Oates’ Supreme Sacrifice

After that, the same friend badgered me into sending some sketches to The Treason Show, which I did and again, they used them – not all of them, but a lot of them. The ones they didn’t use were used by NewsRevue, which I didn’t find out about for about six months.

Again, EMI, Every Mistake Imaginable, was shown to people for all to wonder why they’d paid to watch it.

Just think about that for a minute: everything you write whilst you’re trying to work out how to write, gets broadcast or performed. Some people might think that’s a good thing … and it is. Sort of.

Damn it, I’ve forgotten my point.

No, really. I’ve no idea why I started this post.

Crapsticks.

Um … sorry.

I inhaled a lot of paint fumes today. And I broke a coffee table.

Categories: Random Witterings, Sad Bastard | 6 Comments

First ten

I hate the first ten pages of a new script, it’s just painful. All this setting up situations and characters, introducing people to the audience and, in this case, each other (which, by the way, are the worst kind of introductions to write “Hi I’m Bob, this is my wife Lena.” “Hello Bob, I’m Mental Von Pringlestein and …” oh, sorry, I’ve fallen asleep)- it’s boring, there’s no momentum and there’s too much choice in the dialogue.

The last ten pages are much easier, you’ve built up momentum during the script, you know the characters better and the deadline is hammering aggressively on the door, demanding to be let into the room. Dialogue is much easier at the end too, apart from knowing how the characters react to weird stuff, there’s also much less for them to say apart from things like:

“Look out!”

“Shit!”

“Ow!”

And

“Fuck me, his head exploded!”

For me there seems to be an exponential curve when writing a script: the first ten pages are horribly slow, one word a day kind of slow, and the last few pages flow out so fast I can barely keep up.

Maybe I should learn to type properly?

Yeah, that would waste some time.

Another issue I’m having, which is an oldie but a consistently fucking irritating goodie: one of the characters won’t behave. He’s meant to be an immoral, sociopath who does what he wants and fuck anyone else. He’s the kind of guy who uses no smoking signs to strike matches on (which is probably impossible unless you’ve got the kind of matches which go off spontaneously in your pocket) and he don’t give two shits about no one or nothing … including the fucking plot.

Twice now I’ve had him in a scene and he’s just fucking ruined it, he’s like a surly teenager who refuses to join in.

“Come on Brian, join in, it’ll be fun.”

“Fuck you, you smell of wee you old bat.”

And then he gets his cock out and pisses on the nearest infant. It’s just irritating, why won’t he fucking behave? The biggest problem he’s causing is people are going to start getting chopped up pretty soon and it’s pushing suspension of disbelief into the realms of fucking impossible to think he won’t be the first to go. If I had to spend a weekend in a remote, spooky mansion with this git I’d have knacked him across the face with an axe before we got locked in and the only car got blown up.

Seriously, what a cunt.

Oh look, it’s lunch time.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings, Rants, Sad Bastard | 14 Comments

Sketch titles

I’ve been putting a lot of thought into the titles of sketches recently. As recently, in fact, as half an hour ago. It occured to me if you’re writing a sketch designed to kick off a series of sketches you need to come up with a title which sums up the entire series.

So, for example, the Superhero Tryouts sketches in The Wrong Door were imaginitively called ‘The Superhero Tryouts’ – a simple name which describes exactly what the sketches are about. Each episode then had a secondary title: The Human Spider, Tempus, The Raven … etc.

I think the name for the series of sketches should describe the set-up, but in certain cases the set-up is the punchline for the first sketch. The one I wrote this morning, for another example, appears to be leading us in a very different and familiar direction with the punchline being something completely opposite. The rest of the sketches deal with the aftermath of that reversal.

Obviously this isn’t a problem during the broadcast because the viewer probably won’t be privvy to the sketch’s title; but it is a problem as a writer when you’re submitting sketches to someone – you don’t want them reading the punchline before they’ve read the rest of the sketch. Sometimes knowing, or even hinting, at the punchline – whether it’s visual or verbal – will ruin the sketch and trick the reader into thinking it’s an obvious joke.

After everyone concerned has read the first sketch, that’s when you want them referring to the collective sketches by a name which describes the set-up; but until then … what do you call the first sketch?

I don’t really have an answer to this one and, on reflection, this post seems to have very little point. I think I’ll just turn round and pick a random word off the spine of a comic …

Brilliant, the sketch is now called ‘Alan’.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard | 6 Comments

Soup and zombies

It’s all a bit of a mad rush at the moment; I’m writing sketches in the morning and a horror film in the afternoon. Both projects are important to me and both have rather tight deadlines, hence the panicked rush to get them both done.

Actually, to be fair, the film hasn’t really got a deadline; but since the provisional shooting date is in January I’m guessing they want it as soon as possible. The producer did say he wanted it done overnight and I suspect he was only half joking.

The problem I’m having is trying to re-gear during lunch so I come back in a horror frame of mind as opposed to a comedy one. It’s quite tricky switching off from one project and turning on to the next on a daily basis. The horror is in danger of becoming a piss take and the sketches are slightly more gruesome than is probably required: you can only use “she stabs him in the face” as a punchline so many times before it stops being funny.

About once, realistically. Possibly less than that.

The blog’s helping; spouting random bits of shit helps to clear the mind. A kind of mental sorbet, if you will. I’ve been watching bits of ‘Dead Set’ during lunch, which goes someway towards resetting my mental state, but it’s still difficult. It’s particularly hard when I don’t quite manage to finish a sketch in the morning and the ending hangs around in my brain all day. I guess I could finish it off in the afternoon, but then I feel like I’m stealing time from the film. Occasionally I think I’ll draw up some kind of time-share timetable and repay any minutes I borrow for the morning session – but without a break to reset my brain I find I can’t switch straight to the horror.

And all this time the sword and sorcery movie keeps staring over my shoulder. This is the project I had to set aside in order to work on these other two and the cards are still up on the board, waiting for me to pay them some attention like some kind of bastard step-child who’s fallen out of favour.

“When are you going to play with me, daddy? Did I do something wrong?”

Shut up.

I keep thinking there’s got to be a point when this all gets easier? Surely someday I’ll find myself working on one project at a time, secure in the knowledge that project pays enough not to have to cram in seven more before tea-time? That’s got to happen soon, right? Can anyone give me a date?

No?

Oh well, time for soup and zombies before getting back to work.

Categories: Industry Musings, My Way, Random Witterings | 12 Comments

Making writing easier

I’ve found a new way of working, one which takes all the pain out of creating, planning and writing a script. It’s very simple and so far has yielded far superior results to my previous working practices:

05112008047

Let the baby do it.

Categories: Random Witterings | 14 Comments

Five sprockets

Last night, against all odds, I got an email from Kristen Kreuk which included an invitation to call her and her phone number. This is probably what she was wearing when she wrote the email:

kristen-kreuk

At first I thought it had to be some kind of wind up; but then I thought again. I mean, why not? She probably is in the market for a slightly overweight, pasty, ginger scriptwriter.

Several hours of blissful daydreaming later, I actually read the email properly and realised my mistake. It wasn’t from Kristen Kreuk at all. Should have been obvious really, she’s probably far too busy flouncing around Smallville being all pouty and mysterious. The email was actually from a lady called Kristen Kouk and went roughly thus:

Hi Phill,

My name is Kristen and I work with FiveSprockets.com, an exciting new virtual production studio for writers and filmmakers.  Iʼm writing because I recently came across The Jobbing Scriptwriter and I thought that you and your readers may really be interested in our new site.

We would love to invite you and your readers to visit www.FiveSprockets.comto register for a free user account and take a look at what we have to offer.  We welcome and appreciate all feedback, so please donʼt hesitate to let us know what you think!  Also, if you have any questions at all or would like more information, please feel free to send me an email to xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx or give me a call at xxx-xxx-xxxx. Thank you and have a wonderful day!

Warm regards,

Kristen Kouk

Obviously, the xxxx’s are an email address and a phone number. I doubt they’re any great secret, especially since she sent them randomly to me and probably a fair few other people; but I thought I’d discretely remove them, just in case.

So there you go: www.FiveSprockets.com. I’ve been over and had a brief look and there seems to be a lot of stuff there. It is, as advertised, free to register and probably at least worth a look.

Meanwhile, I’m eagerly awaiting an email from Ms Kreuk. I’m sure she’ll be sending me her phone number any minute now.

Any minute.

Here we go.

Any minute now …

Categories: Random Witterings, Someone Else's Way | 6 Comments

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