I just saw ‘Seven Pounds’.
I wish I could write like that.
I just saw ‘Seven Pounds’.
I wish I could write like that.
Step one: have a big idea. Take your time with this. Drink tea, watch the telly, lounge around. It’ll come, don’t force it.
Step two: do nothing.
Step three: answer an email from an American production company; explain they can’t have the script they want since it’s still under option, but you have got this big idea …
Step four: there is no step four. It’s over. You’ve achieved your goal.
Easy, isn’t it?
“Thank you for calling Fuckwit Broadband, Mr Barron. How can I help you today?”
“I’d like to get my MAC code please.”
“Certainly, sir. May I ask why you’re thinking of leaving us?”
“I’m not thinking of leaving you. I am leaving you. Can I have my MAC code please?”
“Before I can do that I need to ask you a few questions.”
“I don’t really want to answer any questions. Can I just have my MAC code, please?”
“Has there been a problem with your service?”
“Look, I know you’re just trying to do your job which is pretty bloody awful at the best of times and I’m really, really trying not to shout at you; but I just want my MAC code. I’ve been on hold for three hours and I’ve really just had enough. Please give it to me. It’s my MAC code and I’d like to have it, please. If you’d be so kind.”
“Are you aware we may be lowering our prices at some point in the near future? Would that convince you to stay?”
“MAC code. Please.”
“I’m sorry sir, but I have to enter a reason into the computer before it will generate the MAC code.”
“Fine. Satan talks to me through the TV and he told me I have to leave you and sign up to Sky Broadband or he’s going to make me rape, kill and eat next door’s babies.”
“I’ll just put ‘other’.”
“If you wouldn’t mind.”
So what does a writer’s vision actually look like? … you’ve mentioned a few of these now. — Yeah, big piles of dosh, but what do the producers actually want to see from the writer? Tell us, tell us, tell us!?
So what does a writer’s vision actually look like?
A piece of paper with some black ink marks on it. If you’re lucky the ink marks make readable words, if you’re really lucky the words are in the right order to make some kind of sense.
… you’ve mentioned a few of these now.
Yes, I repeat myself a lot. It’s to cover the fact I have nothing interesting to say.
— Yeah, big piles of dosh,
Sadly, no. Little piles, clumps perhaps, is more realistic. Big piles are but a fantastic dream.
but what do the producers actually want to see from the writer?
Producers want to see you lying in a pool of your own excrement, a broken psychological mess with bleeding stumps where once were fingers from slavishly actioning their increasingly bizarre and inane script notes. Producers are evil. They kick puppies.
Tell us, tell us, tell us!?
Alright, alright, alright!!
The truth is, I’m not really sure. When I was first asked for one I queried the producer in question since I had no idea what I was supposed to write. His reply was:
Writer’s Vision – what story/message they hope to be told with their script. Their inspiration/motivation for writing it (yes, I know, I begged you to write it within 9 days – no need to mention this, because I’m sure I’d edit it … )
And he included a sales pack for a film as an example.
Not a very good example as it turned out because the words ‘Writer’s vision’ didn’t appear anywhere in the document. When I mentioned this to him he said he knew that and pointedly didn’t offer any further information.
So, what the hell is a writer’s vision?
Well, I can only tell you the two I’ve written have been accepted and approved, so whereas I’ve still never seen anyone else’s I know how I do them. Unfortunately, I can’t show you them because the films haven’t been made/released yet but I’ll have a go at describing what I did.
First up, I figured since it’s going in the sales pack it needs to be short (ish). A paragraph or two, definitely no longer than one side of A4. So mine are just a single page, title of the film and WRITER’S VISION written at the top and a few paragraphs of text underneath. The thing to remember is the text is going to be lifted and printed in the pack, so there’s no point trying to make it look pretty because it won’t be your formatting in the final version.
My first attempt talked about how the characters reflect, and are affected by, the theme. Plus a bit of generalisation about how people generally behave in similar ways. This draft was rejected because it was too cold and didn’t feature enough of ‘me’ in it. Assuming they didn’t want it written in blood (or other bodily fluids) I had another go.
The second draft related the theme to instances from my own life and how they had affected me and my friends. I talked about the mistakes my (mostly fictional) friends and I have made in our lives and how I hoped dramatising them might give other people pause for thought.
Which seemed to do the trick.
For this latest writer’s vision I’ve followed much the same format. It starts with an explicit statement about the theme – basically a logline which describes what the movie’s about rather than what actually happens. So whereas the logline might be:
“LOCK IN: A man trapped in a pub overnight comes to terms with the damage his alcoholism has caused his friends and family.”
(Which is a film I’d probably never write unless the pub was in space or there was a danger giant killer robots might attack at any moment.)
The theme statement might be:
“LOCK IN is about the way we conform to societal expectations of substance abuse and the bizarre notion ‘fun’ isn’t something you have, it’s something you buy in bottles.”
Then I’d describe why I thought exploring this idea was important, what I hope the audience will gain from the film (which for me is always entertainment first, thinking second – the thinking shouldn’t kick in until about an hour afterwards. Probably in the pub) and an example from my life of how the theme has affected me or someone close to me.
(Like friends refusing to come to the pub because they couldn’t afford to get drunk. I’d offer to buy them a drink, but that wasn’t enough for them, they had to get DRUNK or it was pointless – making me wonder what the hell goes wrong with your life that you can’t face your friends when you’re sober? It’s not the music, it’s not the location, the company or the atmosphere – the point of going out is solely to get drunk and if they can’t do that they’d rather sit in the house on their own.)
Next I’d relate the main character to the theme and explain how his journey represents the spiritual journey of all something somethings … I don’t fucking know. I’d make some shit up about him reflecting the binge drinking culture or something.
I’d wrap it up with another statement about what the film is and the message it carries:
“Alcoholism is rife because it’s the only drug which is not only socially acceptable but is actually socially EXPECTED. If you don’t take heroin, cocaine, speed, acid, hash or ketamine – no one thinks any less of you (depending on who you hang out with). Don’t smoke? “Good choice, I’ve been thinking of giving up myself.” Don’t drink? “Why? What’s wrong with you?” It’s the only drug you have to justify not taking and I want to make a film which … blah, blah, blah”
And then finish it all off with some punchy tagline:
“LOCK IN – every man’s dream is this man’s nightmare.”
But something good, for a script I’ve actually written and which actually makes sense.
And … yeah, that’s about it. That’s how I write my writer’s visions (all two of them) … hope it’s useful.
Common sense has prevailed and I’ve actually done some writing instead of running away. The list so far stands at:
Adjust ’til Death for budget, location and cast.
The writer’s vision.
Alter the treatment to match the script.
A sketch for a theatre project.
A list of episodes for a TV series with a brief synopsis of each.
A re-write to a sitcom pilot.
And the rest of the re-write to my sword and sorcery epic.
Not massive inroads perhaps, but inroads all the same.
I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment and all of it has to be done NOW. Perhaps before now. In fact, it has to be done quicker than it takes to write the word ‘now’.
I finished the third draft of ’til Death last week and handed it in, the response was almost immediate – it’s spot on. Does that mean it’s finished and ready to go?
Sadly, no. Although there shouldn’t be any more major story tweaks. From now on it’s just adjusting for budget, location and cast. Plus adding in the list of little images which spring to mind while I’m idly hitting people with sticks or swords.
On top of that there’s the supporting material – the writer’s vision, which, as usual, was me sitting on a large pile of money. Strangely, they won’t let me write that and I have to dress it up a little; and since the latest draft of the script is dramatically different from the treatment, I also have to alter the treatment to fit.
For those of you who don’t write treatments at all, it is sometimes a necessary skill – the treatment sometimes gets packaged with the script in order to secure financing so it’s a skill we all need to master. True I could probably get someone else to do it for me, but since it’s my words (in script form) the treatment is trying to sell, I’d rather it was my words in the treatment doing the selling.
Also on the list are:
A sketch for a theatre project I’ve been promising to do and haven’t quite managed yet.
A list of episodes for a TV series with a brief synopsis of each.
A re-write to a sitcom pilot.
And the rest of the re-write to my sword and sorcery epic – which isn’t actually at the bottom of the list, honest.
There’s quite a lot of work there and it’s all pending immediately. The sketch is a quick one when I can squeeze it in but the rest are a bit more complicated. The treatment re-jigging is a boring but necessary slog, the writer’s vision is hard because I don’t have any, the episode synopses – although brief – need a lot of thought to make sure they all make sense and tie in together, and the two re-writes are … well, re-writes. These things take time.
The key component in all of these isn’t really the writing time, it’s the thinking time. Writing is the last stage and the literal tip of the literary iceberg.
I used to have this theory: when your available resources won’t cover the tasks required, the best course of action is to bugger the lot of them and spend your resources on something which makes you happy.
I used to apply this primarily to money. If paying one bill still leaves five other final demands from people who want to take you to court, then fuck it – six final demands isn’t any worse than five and paying each of them a couple of quid is just insulting. It’s obviously a far superior strategy to spend the money on comics and damn the lot of them. A strategy which gained me a lot of comics and an extremely poor credit rating.
I’d like to think those days are behind me now, that I’m older, I’m wiser and I’m more mature. Sadly that’s just a delusion and faced with a mountain of work I’m taking the only sane option …
I’m off to Disney Land, who’s coming?
Here’s a potential short film opportunity – who knows, it may even become a feature film opportunity by next year?
Anyway, being the kind soul I occasionally am, I thought I’d pass this on to you lovely people:
I’m a director currently working for a small award winning production house called Link Productions who have agreed to make a few short films for me to direct this year and a feature in 2010. At the moment I’m looking short dark dramas on underprivileged teenagers/teenage pregnancy issues/broken families/gun crime maybe etc … domestic stuff.
Anyway if you think this is up your alley let’s talk or even better if you have already something to show I’m all ears.
This is my show reel and some of my films:
And you can contact me here:
nathantheys (-at-) yahoo.co.uk
Oh, and by the way – if you’re reading this in two years time, he’s probably not still looking for short scripts.
On Christmas Eve I was lying on the sofa, barely in phase with reality whilst watching a film I think can best be described as a ‘pile of shit’.
Possibly a ‘steaming pile of shit’ I’m not sure.
Anyway, in the midst of wondering who got paid to write this crap and why – I had the idea. The BIG idea. The big budget, Hollywood only, guaranteed money-maker and permanent position on the all-time favourites list idea.
It’s a great idea, an amazing idea and a weirdly obvious idea which I can’t really believe no one else has ever thought of.
It’s one of those high-concept ideas which once you’ve had the initial spark just unravels into a complete film. So complete in fact I was instantly able to pitch it to Mandy in it’s entirety.
I had to wake her up first, which didn’t go down to well – but once she’d stopped swearing at me I think she enjoyed it.
So now I have it – the BIG idea. The one we’re all searching for. I have it. Me.
Unfortunately I haven’t got time to write it for at least several months and I’m fairly certain someone else will get there first.
Expect me to be claiming I had the idea first when the film premieres in a few years time.
Late last year I’d finished the first draft of a horror script I’d been working on. I sent it off and sadly got caught up in the year ending before I could say any more.
So how did it go? Was the script well received? Have I further cemented my reputation as some kind of genius writer?
Um … no.
It was received … politely I think is the best way of putting it.
To be honest, I wasn’t happy with it and if it weren’t for the fact I’d worked for the producer before (and knew he knew I could do better) I wouldn’t have sent it in.
Plus, there was always that vague hope he might not notice how bad the script was and be happy regardless.
He did and he wasn’t. But was ever so diplomatic about it.
For anyone who’s never had a script meeting, here’s a handy tip: the longer the list of things which need changing, the better the script has been received. This may sound odd and contrary to common sense, but it’s largely true. A good script will generate a long list of teeny, tiny minor tweaks for almost every page. No script is ever exactly perfect and you’ll never hear:
“This is fucking great, don’t touch a comma we’re filming it tomorrow.”
Actually, you might hear that, but whoever says it will more than likely turn out to be a twat.
So a good script where all the characters are well drawn, the structure’s sound and the plot makes sense will have a lot of minor things which need adjusting to cope with the schedule, the budget and to accommodate the producer’s tennis partner’s wife. Who the producer is secretly knocking off on the side and had to promise a role to in order to get into her pants.
This script, by way of comparison, had a tweak list of exactly four things:
The plot, the characters, the dialogue and the structure.
Although, to be fair, he did quite like the font.
And if I’m being honest, he wouldn’t actually show me the list (another bad sign since it probably contains a lot of swearing) and I had to steal it when he went to the toilet.
Unfortunately, he’d been expecting just such a sneaky move and had been awfully polite in print too.
So we talked it over for a while and batted some ideas back and forth. He mentioned he wanted to swap the protagonist for someone else. I mentioned I wanted to add in an extra plot twist and suddenly it all made sense. All the issues the first draft had could suddenly be solved without actually changing that much, but in a way changing everything.
It would work, it would make sense and everyone would be happy.
Except the characters who get stabbed in the face – they’re still a bit miffed about the whole thing.
So I went away, rattled out the second draft and handed it in on New Year’s Eve.
It struck me afterwards that the problem with the first draft (apart from my own incompetence) was we didn’t meet face to face and had communicated entirely by email. This is a really bad idea and should be avoided at all costs.
The problem is, when you work solely by email you get too attached to bad ideas and dismiss good ideas as being stupid. Because of the effort involved in actually writing an idea down (and thus leaving a permanent record of your stupidity if no one likes it) you tend …
Sorry, I’m saying you to make it sound like we’re all in the same boat when it’s probably just me. When I say ‘you’, as always, I mean ‘I’.
You tend to self-censor thoughts and spend a long time working out an idea before sending it off. Two problems there: 1) You don’t say the stupid thoughts which spark off the sensible ideas and 2) you get too attached to ideas and argue for their survival when you really shouldn’t.
For example, a stupid idea brought up in public might be:
“Why don’t we make John a donkey?”
“You mean a stupid person?”
“No. A donkey. An actual donkey!”
“Because it would be incredibly expensive and donkeys can’t hold swords.”
Meanwhile, the thought process goes ‘Donkeys, horse shit, midgets, …’
“Fuck, hang on. What if Mary was a lesbian?”
“Holy shit! You’re right, that explains why she’d be hanging around with Jenny after …”
And so on.
The same initial idea over email would either be abandoned before it was spoken or rationalised by a two page description of how including a donkey in the cast would work and how you know where there’s a donkey sanctuary with a dodgy lock. And when the brutal rebuttal came back you’d spend the next week defending a remarkably stupid idea until the producer sacked you or gave in.
So after meeting face to face for the second draft notes, I’ve learnt the second draft itself has gone down rather well. It was readable for a start and not just a random collection of inappropriate words like the first draft. The second draft is what the first draft should have been in the first place. The second draft basically is a first draft while the first draft was just a steaming pile of utter shit.
We had a meeting a few days ago to discuss the third draft and the producer had a 117 point list. 80 pages, 117 points?
That’s more like it.
And he let me read it.
Well, he read it to me – I have problems with long words.
A third of them were easily dismissible points – just ‘what if?s’, ‘could we?s’ and random thoughts about different approaches – most of which don’t work. A third were points I thought I’d included and sometimes had, but which needed making clearer. And a third were bloody brilliant ideas which sparked off more discussion and will improve the script immeasurably.
I like meetings like that. It’s just the way it should go. The only stupid idea is not saying whatever crosses your mind. Unless it’s the one about the kittens, the baseball bat and the washing machine – I’ve learnt to keep that one to myself.
Anyway, I’m happy, he’s happy, the script’s happy (in an inanimate, papery sort of way) and the only people not happy are the characters who are still getting stabbed in the face. But fuck them, they should have been nicer people.
And the best thing?
I’m confident the third draft is going to be even better.