Monthly Archives: November 2008

SUDDENLY, Phill began realising he’s a bit anal

Every now and then I read scripts for people; partly as a favour, partly because I’m interested in their career and partly to further my own knowledge and understanding. Unfortunately I frequently find myself mentally editing people’s work to remove passive voice and the blindingly obvious, so:

“We hear footsteps echoing along the corridor.”

becomes:

“Footsteps echo along the corridor.”

Because it’s mind-numbingly obvious we can hear something which echoes; and the ‘-ing’ just slips out of my mind as something which is happening in the background. It’s not important, it’s something which is ongoing. Anything which happens is important, anything which is happening probably isn’t.

“SUDDENLY the PHONE begins to RING!”

becomes:

“The phone rings.”

Because capitals all over the place make me feel like I’m being shouted at, phones rarely ring gradually (unless you’ve got a ringtone which starts quietly and increases in volume – which hardly seems worth highlighting in a script) and ‘begins’ makes me think it starts and immediately stops.

and:

“Tell your dad that you can stay here.”

becomes:

“Tell your dad you can stay here.”

Because THAT is generally just a waste of ink.

Do any of these things affect the story, characterisation or plotting?

No.

Do any of them affect how enjoyable the script is to read?

Well, yes. Or at least they do to me. I know it’s horribly anal, but I just can’t get past the word ‘that’ in any sentence without pausing to wonder if it’s necessary. I tend to use it in blog posts more than I should because I rarely edit these things, but in a script I try to find and eliminate all of them. So when I’m reading anyone else’s work, if I find a ‘that’ I stop and look critically at the sentence; which means, I’m no longer engaged with or enjoying the story. The same is true with passive voice – any ‘-ing’ verb warrants a pause for thought: is there a better way of saying that?

“Suddenly the bomb exploded!”

No shit.

The stupid thing about all these ‘rules’ is that more than fifty percent* of working writers in the UK have never heard of them. Or at least, couldn’t care less. A similar or greater number of producers and directors feel the same. The truth is that loads of films and TV scripts get produced regardless of passive voice, transitions, ‘we sees’, ‘we hears’ and ‘the camera zooms in, tracks left and disappears up its own arse’. On the surface all this worrying about bits of format and presentation doesn’t seem to matter.

Except, how do you know which camp the person reading your script falls into? Are they anal or not? Do they know ‘the rules’ or do they just read the story?

The way I look at it is: the people who know and care about ‘the rules’ will be drawn out of the story if you break them; the ones who don’t know about ‘the rules’, won’t care if you stick to them or not. So to me it makes sense to try and make my scripts as inoffensive as possible – just in case.

Now if I could just shut off that anal part of my brain when I’m reading, I’d be a happy man. Last night I went to bed with a book and a pencil – I spent half the night crossing out superfluous words and scribbling amendments into the margins.

There’s no help for me – save yourselves.

* Genuine made up statistic.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard | 19 Comments

Same difference

One of the things I love about the whole ‘collaborative medium’ of film making is the sheer difference between the idea and the finished product. Yeah, sometimes it can be a bad thing which leaves you speechless, staring at the screen and shaking in numb horror; while a single thought echoes round and round your brain:

“What the fuck have you done to my script?”

Other times though, the divergence is a good thing and produces unexpected results. I’ve been watching a few rough cuts of scenes from Fleeced* and at first I thought one of the characters had been completely miscast. He’s so far removed from the character I’d envisaged, I struggled to accept him as my creation; but then that’s the point – he isn’t.

I wrote the character one way, but the director interpreted him completely differently. The actor has come along and added his own spin and before you know it the result is the polar opposite of the character I originally intended. It’s amazing how you can have him saying the same dialogue in the same story and yet have a completely different result.

And you know, once I got over the initial ‘that’s all wrong’ reaction – I really like the way he’s come out. I don’t know if he’s better than my intention; but he’s certainly no worse and works really well in the context of the film.

You could argue if I’d described him better there wouldn’t be any ambiguity to exploit – but I like seeing how things differ by the time they reach the screen. It’s a part of the process I find fascinating; I love finding out how others interpret my work. If I didn’t, I’d write, direct and produce my own stuff; but apart from that sounding like a hell of a lot of work and me being too lazy, I think it’s a shame to miss out on that melting pot evolution of ideas.

Most writers can’t write, most directors can’t direct and most producers can’t produce fuck all. Hyphenates are usually people who fail at more than one thing and I’d rather specialise in being distinctly average in one area. Plus, I get the added excitement of having to wait to see how it comes out.

Sure, sometimes it goes wrong, but sometimes it goes so right.

* I really should re-write that synopsis, it’s not my finest hour.

Categories: Fleeced, Industry Musings, Someone Else's Way | Leave a comment

Why can’t it always be like this?

The verdict came back on the treatment, not the PITA treatment which probably won’t be moving forward until next year anyway; but the other treatment, the one which had a big hole for a second act.

It would be a lot easier if I gave these things names, but people tend to get upset if I refer to specific projects by name until late in the day. So, in the interests of professional harmony, ‘the treatment which had the big bastard hole’ will have to do.

Basically, the producer thinks it’s great and wants to go straight to script.

Hmm, so far this has been remarkably easy. The producer is a guy I’ve worked with before and we keep in touch. He’s a nice guy who seems to know what he’s doing and so far has delivered on everything he’s set out to do; so I have no compunctions about working with him again.

This has been the process so far:

He emailed me at the arse end of August and told me he wanted to do another film. In that email were the rough parameters of what he wanted, but no story to speak of – just: number of actors, locations, rough budget etc. We batted vague ideas back and forth until we hit on one we both liked and I knocked up a one-pager. It took five attempts over a couple of days to get that logline and synopsis to a point where the story was clear and it made enough sense for him to show it to his partners.

In September he rang me up and told me the one-pager went down a storm; they want to shoot it in January and my fee will be xxxxxx. When can I start the treatment? This was great, I hadn’t had to sell myself or the idea at all. I had a load of other stuff to get out of the way first, including the PITA treatment, so I said it would be October. Which it was and I finally finished it last Monday.

Normally, I’d expect notes and discussions about the treatment and probably another couple of drafts before moving onto the script; but that hasn’t happened. Apart from the opening scene, he just wants me to write it up as is.

Excellent.

The only sticking point was this opening scene. When I write a treatment, or indeed a script, I have this kind of weird synethesia going on where the through-line of the story has a feel, look and sound. It’s hard to describe but it’s like a continuous line for me that runs through all the scenes, encompassing all the senses. When someone suggests a new scene which doesn’t fit the line at that point it jars and I find it difficult to comprehend.

It’s a bit like when you have graphic equalisers set to follow a sine wave – you can’t just move one of them without adjusting the others either side. Otherwise, to me, that scene sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s a discordant note or a colour from the wrong palette. It’s just wrong.

That’s partly why I hate the last minute rewrites which happen after some scenes have been filmed. There’s always something which doesn’t quite work on location or in the edit which needs fixing elsewhere, and without the ability to subtly alter what comes before or after I find it’s like nails on a chalkboard to my sense of story.

In this case, I couldn’t see how the new scene he proposed would fit with the rest of the film. It’s starting from a slightly different place so the next few scenes need to be altered too. I was convinced my idea was better so I sent him a long email arguing my case. He sent me an equally long email back arguing his case. In fact, his argument was considerably better than mine; so I did a complete u-turn and agreed with him*.

He was instantly on the phone, and this is why I enjoy working with him – instead of being happy or smug because I’d come round to his way of thinking, he was concerned I’d just given in for the sake of not arguing.

I hadn’t, I genuinely agree with him. I wouldn’t just give in that easily and I love the fact he wouldn’t want me to. It shows an interest and valuation of my opinions, even when they clash with his own. It’s how the producer/writer relationship should work and it’s great when it happens.

Sometimes I end up in arguments with the producer or the director and all I can think is:

“You’re wrong, you’re just fucking wrong. Listen to me, for fuck’s sake!”

It’s a horrible position to be in because you know ultimately it’s their film and they’re going to do it their way with or without you. It’s not nice when you’re hired to do something by people who think they can do the job better than you. Why don’t they just do it themselves in the first fucking place?

This guy doesn’t work like that (or at least, not with me) and I really enjoy the working relationship. It’s still his project so the final decisions rest with him; but if I’m adamant he’s wrong, he wants me to convince him – just in case he is. And I feel the same way. Film making is a collaborative process and part of that process is respecting other people’s opinions.

So here I am, two months after the initial idea, sitting down to write the first draft for someone who likes my work and trusts me to do a good job, with a provisional shooting date of early next year.

I love working like this. It’s rare, but it’s how films should be made.

Mind you, if he thinks the first draft is a pile of shit, I’m deleting this post.

——————————————————————————————

*This, by the way, is a great way to win an unwinnable argument:

“It is.”

“It’s not.”

“It fucking is.”

“It’s fucking … you know what? You’re right. It is.” He says, smirking to himself.

“What do you mean?” He asks nervously.

“Nothing, you’re right. Let’s do it your way.” He says, barely able to contain his secret smile.

“It’s not my way …”

“Look, if that’s the way you want to do it. Let’s just do it that way. Really. I don’t mind.” He turns away and sniggers.

“No, I don’t want to.”

“Hey, it’s your choice.”

Categories: My Way, Progress, Someone Else's Way | 4 Comments

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