Picture translator

In the last post I drew a picture which I thought best summed up my thoughts during the Screenwriters’ Festival Launch (Part 2 – Revenge of the Buffet) although, actually, as I listened to the writers and agents talk about how hard it is to get anyone interested in your script, the main thought running through my head was:

‘Thank fuck I’m not in the spec market any more.’

True, one day I may have to start peddling my scripts again – this lucky streak I’m on probably can’t last forever … but it might. I guess if I managed to get into writing for TV (trying might possibly be the place to start), after a period writing for other peoples’ shows I might start touting my own ideas for series; but as it stands, I’m so happy to always be writing a script FOR someone.

It’s a fuck load easier for several reasons:

1) You already have someone waiting for the script, so you don’t have to go out and find them when it’s written.
2) The person you’re giving the script to already likes the genre, the story and probably the characters – or else they wouldn’t have signed off on the treatment.
3) You know you’re getting paid.

And in case any of you were thinking it’s more satisfying to write your own stories rather than anyone else’s – you’re absolutely right; but it’s EVEN MORE satisfying when someone says to you: ‘Have you got any ideas for a rom-com?’, you say yes and they pay you to write the idea you were going to write on spec anyway.

But all this is a digression. The point is, whilst listening to the various speeches …

Oh, another digression – during Christopher Hampton‘s speech, at one point he mentioned Julia Roberts being attached to one of his scripts and a ripple of scornful chuckles ran through the audience.

“Not Julia Roberts, pshaw!”

This really pissed me off.

On the one hand you’ve got an audience full of sympathy for writers who can’t get films made, yet they scoff at having one of the most successful actresses in the world attached to a script. And what’s wrong with Julia Roberts? She’s very good at was she does, pretty much guarantees a theatrical release (or at least guarantees distribution interest) and is rather foxy to boot.

Yes her films are unerringly commercial and you could argue she tends to play the same role; but what’s wrong with making money at the thing you love doing? And ‘having a limited range’ is an accusation you can level at all of the best movie actors. The reason they’re ultra-famous and uber-rich is because they’re good at what they do and are instantly recognisable. Robert De Niro is ALWAYS Robert De Niro in every film he does – you never watch a film and think … was that Robert De Niro, I’m not sure? And have to look it up on IMDb. I think actors who become other people to the extent their body language is totally unrecognisable – tend not to become mega famous because no one knows who they are from one film to the next.

I’ll happily say this for the record, right now: I’d be delighted to write a film for Julia Roberts and would never scoff at someone for being popular because they’re good at what they do.

Except, you know, when I do.

But all that’s still beside the point. Or not even beside the point, it’s actually miles away from the point and I’m guessing ‘all that’ and ‘the point’ have never even met. Not even at a party. Which is shame because I think they’d get on famously.

The point is, whilst listening to various speeches – I had a very clear image in my head. This image, in fact:

 Scriptwriting in the UK

For those of you too lazy to look further down the page, with short memories or who’ve come here directly from a search engine/link.

And unusually, given I’m a writer not a drawer (hmm … I need to find a better word for that) I chose to draw the picture rather than describe it; because, it occurs to me, the process of scriptwriting is actually one of picture translating. We translate mental pictures into words and get someone else to translate the words back into pictures.

You start with a picture of the scene in your head and even though we all know a picture is worth a thousand words (possibly a bit less in the current economic climate) our job is to describe that picture in as few words as possible. So we carefully choose the words which do the most work or somehow tap into pictures we already have. Hence we instantly know an IKEA kitchen looks different to a country kitchen or a restaurant kitchen.
Two word descriptions which, by just changing one word, create three completely different mental images. To me, an IKEA kitchen looks, smells, feels and sounds totally different to a restaurant kitchen. I immediately associate them with different types of people and imagine different atmospheres, different characters and different scenes. Those two words negate the need to describe colours, materials, light dappling on stuff, furniture,  textures, light fittings, dimensions … and all the other millions of data a computer needs to recreate a picture of a …

Oh fuck, I’ve wandered off the point again. I’m talking about kitchens now.


It just amuses me that we think of a picture, create a two word sentence which describes it and then someone else comes along and recreates the picture. Or more likely, a totally different picture which, if you’re lucky, has the same basic intent as the picture you had in your head whilst combatting insomnia at three o’clock in the morning by masturbating to reruns of Mr Ben.

Or whatever works for you.

It occurs to me you don’t write films, you write the script the film is based on. The finished product is always different to how you imagined it … unless of course you write, direct, produce, costume design, makeup design, light, edit, score and do all the other things needed to bring a film to the big, small or tiny screen.

The bugger, of course, being when the finished product is a bit rubbish and nothing like you imagined it – yet you have to promote it anyway in the interests of being polite to the filmmakers and not being a complete cunt. Even if the completed project makes you look like one.

Oh look, this post didn’t really have a point after all.

I think I’ll stop now.

Categories: Festivals, Industry Musings, Random Witterings | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “Picture translator

  1. Wasn’t the point, seek and ye shall find?

    Or is that too biblical … on the nose … er, short?

    Sorry, digress away.

  2. I’m with you on the advantages of writing for someone instead of only writing spec scripts.

    I think the Julia Roberts reaction is exactly what’s wrong with the attitude of a lot of UK writers and film-makers. The courses and the books and the advice we give each other is all based on commercial film-making, but so many UK writers seem to think they’re above all that at the same time.

    • I often think that about advice. I listen to people spouting wisdom about how the movie industry works and I know for a fact they’ve no experience in the UK, but are just regurgitating book learnt facts about Hollywood.

      Which thay have no experience of either.

  3. Who is Julia Roberts?

    No seriously, if she ever ends up in one of my films then I would think I made it big time. What a joke these people are. Can we stone them?

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