Monthly Archives: August 2009

Questions about agents

I haven’t got an agent and for the most part I’m not really bothered. I have a plan, I have a strategy to follow and I’m vaguely heading in the right direction at frustrating speeds so it’s all well and good. At the moment I get paid for everything I write and I get to write pretty much what I feel like in any genre or style without too much interference.

In short, my writing life is pretty peachy.

Every now and then I get this vague pang of guilt for not having an agent, kind of like I need one in order to be a real writer. When that feeling of self-doubt strikes I make a halfhearted effort to send something to the first agent I think of … and I get rejected.

This happens about once every two years or so and is to be expected. The chances of picking one agent at random and them liking your work is pretty small. The best way is to make a concerted effort, do your research and specifically target agents who match your preferred style/genre/oeuvre (isn’t that French for egg?) or whatever. Merely pointing at another writer, thinking ‘I want his career’ and spamming his agent isn’t really the best way to go about these things.

But never mind. The rejection fires me up, indignant rage burns off the paralysing blanket self-doubt and I just carry on writing. I have this (possibly ill-conceived) idea that sooner or later someone will just ring me up and offer me representation. In fact, I think it might have just happened; but I was inadvertently rude to the guy and he hasn’t been back in touch.

Oh well, fuck it.

The question is, do I actually need an agent? What do they actually do for you? Okay, so if I was hell-bent on getting into TV then they might be useful for putting me forward – but I’m not that bothered. There isn’t really anything on TV I desperately feel like writing for (except Doctor Who and maybe The Sarah Jane Adventures) and at the moment I’m having too much fun with movies to concentrate on learning new skills. I have plenty of ideas for TV shows but rarely have the time to write them down – if I did, I have a handful of contacts I could send ideas to and I know they’d be happy to read them. They might think they’re shit, but they’d be happy to read them.

Movie wise, yeah, I’m doing fine. I have enough work for the rest of the year and probably the beginning of next year – I haven’t had to generate any work for myself for a while because of repeat custom and random emailers; and the only time I’ve recently expressed a vague interest in a spec project I find myself signing a contract for it a few months later.

I suppose the only thing I’d be looking for in an agent (apart from maybe approaching TV people on my behalf when I’m ready) is negotiating contracts – I fucking hate the whole thing. I mean, it’s not difficult (or at least I don’t think it is. I’ve been doing my own for years now and I still have both kidneys and all of my many pounds of flesh) but it’s fucking tedious and I have very limited interest. I’m kind of like Will Ferrell’s character in Austin Powers – talk about the same clause three times and I just give up.

“Oh, so if the Option is exercised, to make such reasonable amendments to Assignment A and the documents set out in Exhibit 2 as the Purchaser’s distributors or financiers may require then I don’t fucking care! I just don’t! Whatever you fucking want, just leave me alone in my box with my imaginary friends!”

Having someone to read the small print and be an obstreperous cunt during negotiations would be rather helpful, but is that a good enough reason for wanting an agent? But still, there’s that small nagging voice – real writers have agents. I don’t have an agent therefore …

And then there’s the Screenwriting Festival Speed Dating thing. Can I be bothered to apply? Do I actually want three face to face meetings with agents? Assuming I won a place, which I probably wouldn’t. Would I just be wasting their time and taking up space which could be allocated to be people who are desperately pursuing representation?

I had a look at the application process and figured I had nothing really to lose until I got to the question about ‘genre of your project’ – what project? I’m not trying to push one project on anyone, I have a raft of things going on all the time and want that to continue forever. Can I just put ‘all’? I know this is so they can match the lucky winners up with suitable agents, but I’m quite happy bouncing around from one genre to the next – conventional wisdom says you can’t carve out a career like this because people won’t think of you as the ‘western guy’ or the ‘comedy guy’ … but I don’t care. I’m enjoying myself and don’t want to specialise just yet.

So 

I’ve decided to leave it in your hands. My questions are:

  1. Those of you with agents, do you find them useful and have they helped your career?
  2. Should I enter this speed dating draw or not?

Someone please make some decisions for me, I’m far too busy and only have a limited interest in my own well being.

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Categories: Career Path, Festivals, Industry Musings, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard | 7 Comments

Unspoken dialogue

Every now and then I imagine I’m Steve McQueen.

Not in a ‘stealing a motorbike, out-running the Nazis and failing to jump over barb wire fences’ kind of way … although, put me in a fast car with a long bonnet and I inevitably hum the theme tune to ‘Bullitt’ … but no, every now then when I’m re-writing a script I remember a story I once heard about Steve McQueen – apparently, so the story goes, the first thing he did when looking through a script was to cross out all the dialogue he felt was unnecessary.

A wise move I feel. Frequently, on a first draft, I include loads of dialogue which could easily be conveyed by a look or a glance. People, particularly friends, often communicate without actually saying anything and it’s a great way to reduce the length of your script without actually cutting anything.

The problem is, how do you convey the exact meaning of the removed line with a few words which describe the expression on an unseen person’s face?

For example. If you take this random shit scene:

COLIN
Stuart!
STEVE
You what?
COLIN
No, not Stuart ... Simon?
STEVE
Are you fucking kidding me?
COLIN 
Shit, sorry. Erm ... Sam? Sanjay? Sarah? Steve! 
Steve McQueen! Hey!
STEVE
What the fuck do you want?
COLIN
Can I have an autograph?
STEVE
No. Fuck off.
COLIN
Right.

And you cross out all of Steve’s dialogue, you get:

COLIN
Stuart!
COLIN
No, not Stuart ... Simon?
COLIN 
Shit, sorry. Erm ... Sam? Sanjay? Sarah? Steve! 
Steve McQueen! Hey!
COLIN
Can I have an autograph?
COLIN
Right.

Which makes no fucking sense. Adding in action lines to describe Steve’s expressions gives you:

COLIN
Stuart!
Steve frowns.
COLIN
No, not Stuart ... Simon?
Incredulous, Steve stares at Colin.
COLIN 
Shit, sorry. Erm ... Sam? Sanjay? Sarah? Steve! 
Steve McQueen! Hey!
STEVE
What the fuck do you want?
COLIN
Can I have an autograph?
Steve scowls.
COLIN
Right.

Hmm … which actually works quite well. Damn, this is a pretty poor example. Although, ‘Steve scowls.’ is a fairly ambiguous statement; you can scowl in anger, scowl in confusion, scowl in something else I can’t think of with everyone fucking talking at me and the TV on.

Seriously, why am I writing this fucking post in the lounge?

Anyway … maybe, for some completely unknown reason, it’s vitally important to get across the specific meaning of a scowl. Don’t ask me why, I’ve no fucking idea. It just is, okay? Obviously the whole film hinges on this one scowl.

On a more serious note, I have had actors ask what their characters are thinking during a particular scene and it’s handy to be able to specify what a particular reaction means without loading your dialogue up with exposition.

STEVE
I really am rather miffed at your inability to remember my name, 
because I'm rather famous and should be instantly recognisable. 
You cunt.

I also remember Aardman saying they wrote dialogue for Gromit in all the Wallace and Gromit films so the animators could get the expressions right. I think it’s a good idea to specify exactly what the unspoken dialogue is since it helps with the read, the audience will be able to decipher the actor’s expression and body language and it steers the actors towards getting the right meaning across. But how best to go about it?

Personally, I’ve opted for just writing the dialogue in the action lines:

Steve scowls - no. Fuck off.

Again, this is a particularly bad example, but there you go. I’m tired.

I have no idea whether or not this is considered correct or incorrect format; but I do know no one’s ever complained. An actor may choose to express the words in a different manner, that’s up to them. The point is the meaning should be clear in the script.

Some people will tell you putting dialogue like this in the action lines is an unfilmable. Those people are of course completely fucking wrong. Describing the intent behind an expression is not unfilmable since actors can pull faces and cameras can be pointed at them. It only becomes an unfilmable when there’s absolutely no fucking way to deduce the words from specific face movements:

Steve scowls - maybe Maria had a point back in 1979 when she set
fire to Elton John's wig? Although the thing with the alpaca 
was just wrong.

But that’s another post for another time when I’m feeling less likely to kick a hole in my computer at the memory of random fuckwits telling me it’s unfilmable when I describe an actress as angry or scared as if people are incapable of conveying such complex emotions.

And don’t get me started on the mongo-fuck-loons who bandy ‘show don’t tell’ around as if they actually know what it means.

Fuck this shit, I’m going to bed.

I’m all annoyed now.

Categories: Bored, My Way, Random Witterings, Rants, Sad Bastard | 3 Comments

Splendid trailer

I had nothing to do with this one, but I really, really like it so I’m pimping it anyway.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the tremendous trailer for the spanking sketch show, Splendid:

Categories: Someone Else's Way | Leave a comment

Seriously, no one cares

Recently, or maybe it wasn’t – I can’t remember, there was another bun-fight on Shooting People about script format. You know, the usual thing: one side of optimistic dreamers thinks script format should be thrown out and is limiting and restricting. The other side of staunch stick in the muds think format is a rigid, fixed thing which is vitally important to making a living as a writer.

Of course, in the main, neither side has actually made any money or headway in the industry. At least not in the UK, and the reason I can say this with reasonable assurance is because NO ONE FUCKING CARES.

Seriously.

No one.

Not really.

Let me clarify that with the old ‘script format is wearing a suit to a job interview’ analogy. In this analogy, the person is the story and the clothes are the format.

So the opposing positions:

  1. I should be able to turn up to the interview dressed as Coco the fucking clown if I feel like it because they’re hiring the person, not the clothes.
  2. Employers expect you to wear a suit, therefore you should wear a suit if you want the job. Further more, the lapels should be exactly 1.7 inches wide. The tie must be a neutral colour tied in a double Windsor falling no higher than the top of your belt. At its widest point it should be 2 inches. The belt should be … blah, blah, blah.

See? Both wrong. The truth, as fucking usual, is in the middle. Wear a suit, yes; but no one fucking cares what the specifics are. As long as it’s got all the essential parts of a suit – no one in the UK cares.

They just don’t.

A script should have sluglines, action, dialogue and characters. Bold them, italic them, put them in capitals – do whatever makes you feel good – just make sure they’re all there and are recognisable.

Okay, some readers do care and you might want to try and please them since they might be your first point of contact; but the thought process goes like this for each opposing point of view:

  1. Oh fuck, this guy doesn’t know format at all – he’s going to be a God awful writer. I’m not looking forward to this.
  2. This guy knows how to format a script, let’s see if he’s a good writer.

Both points of view will become equally irrelevant if you’ve written a pile of shit. Granted, a badly formatted pile of shit is a thousand times more painful to read than a well formatted pile of shit – but they are both piles of shit.

If you think format isn’t important, you’re wrong. It’s there for a reason. Lots of reasons. Lots of very good reasons in fact. By saying format is irrelevant, you’re actually saying ‘I have no fucking idea what a script is for’.

If you think format is everything and has to be adhered to, to the millimetre or you’ll be laughed out of town – you’re also fucking wrong. What you’re saying there is ‘I’ve read too many books and believed all of them’.

Group one: read a formatting book so you understand exactly why things are the way they are.

Group two: read more scripts for fuck’s sake. See the variations in produced material – the variations NO ONE FUCKING CARES ABOUT.

Another facet of the Shooting People argument was one side wanted to throw out the current format in favour of one he’d invented. While the other side thought format has evolved to where it is now and is totally and immutably fixed.

Both wrong again.

The reason you can’t just throw away one set of rules and replace them with another is because no one would understand the new rules for quite a long time. In other words, chaos.

And the reason script format isn’t immutably fixed is because it has evolved and is still evolving.

Things go in and out of fashion, just like with suits. If you turned up to a 1970’s job interview in a 1980’s suit – they’d think you were in fancy dress. 70’s suits didn’t become 80’s suits overnight – they changed slowly.

Or at least I think they did, I have no idea. Fashion, as anyone who’s seen me dress, really isn’t my strong point.

I’m all about the style, baby.

Anyway, the point is, script format changes all the time – just slowly. Someone does something, someone else thinks it’s a good idea and copies it. It just takes little steps to change the broad strokes.

Personally, I’m a little fussy about format because I like to be. It’s a choice, not a requirement. If I started putting my sluglines in bold, guess what?

NO ONE WOULD FUCKING CARE.

How do I know? Well, here’s the annoying part for fellow sticklers – on pretty much every production I’ve worked on, someone else has fucked about with the script before it’s been sent out to cast and crew.

Sometimes it’s the director’s copy which he’s scribbled camera directions all over, chucked in loads of ‘we sees’ and ‘we hears’ and generally just moved margins around for the sake of it. Or, on other occasions, some fucking monkey in the production team has retyped the script, used the wrong tense, spelt the words wrong and in extreme cases added random bits of action onto dialogue blocks. This makes for lovely bits of speech which go something like.

DREW
God Damn you, I’m not fucking taking this. Drew punches her in the face.

Wonderful.

And yet no one complains or apparently even fucking notices.

TV uses a different format for every show. Hell, one show (whose format I was asked to copy) used a slightly different format on every fucking page.

And guess what?

Yep, NO ONE FUCKING CARED.

Make the story entertaining, the characters interesting and the read compelling. The format … just make it readable and then shut the fuck up.

Categories: Industry Musings, Random Witterings, Rants, Sad Bastard, Someone Else's Way | 9 Comments

Conference calls

A long time ago, when the world was young and dinosaurs figured that whole ‘hot blooded’ thing would never catch on, I got involved with a film called ‘LVJ‘.

For a long time lots happened. Then, for a longer time, nothing happened. Then there came an extended period of alternating between lots happening and nothing happening. Finally (or so I thought) we settled for nothing happening.

Recently, lots started happening again. Perhaps even more amazingly, it’s continued to keep happening.

When you’ve been working on a project for this length of time (most of my fucking life) it becomes increasingly difficult to get everyone together in one room. It’s particularly difficult in this case because the director and producer no longer live on the same continent and I tend to spend an inordinate percentage of my time on small islands in the Caribbean.

Luckily, technology has the answer.

An unspecified period of time ago (unspecified because, of course, I was working on your project on that date, not fucking about with this one) we went through the latest edit of the film and identified all the little moments where the story needs clarifying or there were oppotunities to punch up the dialogue/add production value/swear at the actors for not being able to deliver a simple fucking line no matter how often you punched them in the face and threatened their kiddies.

(One day I will tell the full story of ‘LVJ’ and I guarantee, not one of you will believe a single fucking word. It really is that preposterous.)

The best way to do this is to all sit in one room, watch the edit one scene at a time and talk about what we felt was missing.

Sadly, that wasn’t possible.

Enter technology.

Enter the conference call.

I fucking love this technology which, granted, isn’t really that much different from making a phone call, but it fucking amazes me. The three of us were sitting in different rooms, in different countries on different continents, watching the same video clip and discussing how best to proceed.

All this from one, rather funky, laptop – and it really is a close second to actually being in the same room. We laughed as hard, we cried as hard and, best of all, I could go for a piss and no one noticed.

“Phill? Oh, the sound’s gone a bit funny there.”

Hmm. Yes.

For posterity, these were the three locations:

NEW YORK

New York

BARBADOS

10062009108

and CRAWLEY

15062009117

For the sake of a bit of mystery, I’ll leave it up to you to decide who was where.

Strangely, when I took the Crawley photo (that’s my crappy, immortal Celica there) I was under strict instructions NOT to photograph the Gorilla.

I think I succeeded there.

For more exciting info on LVJ and the never-ending production, visit the Production Blog. And what the hell, let’s watch the trailer again:

Categories: LVJ, Random Witterings | 6 Comments

Just for the Record – New Trailer

Ohh, looky – a new trailer:

Tell all your friends.

And my friends, if you see them.

In fact, fuck your friends. Just tell my friends so it saves me having to talk to them.

Categories: Just for the Record | 4 Comments

That Band – random scene

Even more ‘That Band’ goodness, as well as the trailer:

and the music video:

There’s also this scene:

Categories: That Band | 4 Comments

Blake Snyder

“Blake Snyder passed away suddenly this morning, August 4, 2009, from cardiac arrest.

There was no one like him. You all know that. No one more enthusiastic, more giving, more truly interested in you.

He will live on in his films and his books, in the advice that will never grow old, with the spirit that will continue to thrive and inspire.

His story resonates with all who loved him, and your stories will resonate thanks to his love for you.”

I’m not really a big fan of the whole ‘teach people to write’ industry. Generally, I think it’s full of people who either regurgitate what others have said, state the fucking obvious or invent spurious new systems in order to make money. For example, it’s pretty much a given that anyone who tells you the three act structure is wrong, then goes on to describe the three act structure with extra bits that are already part of it:

“I’ve invented a five act structure!”

No you haven’t, you’ve just split the first two acts in half. Now fuck off, I’m not giving you any money.

Having said that, I actually quite like Blake’s ‘Save the Cat’. Primarily because it’s short, it’s easy to read and it generally makes sense. I wouldn’t treat it as an absolute rule book, because there’s no such thing; but it’s a good description of ‘the rules’ as the industry perceives them and the first step towards bending or breaking the rules is to understand why they’re there in the first place.

And let’s be very clear about this, ‘the rules’ came about because one man looked at some successful films and noticed they were similar. He pointed this out, with a vague idea that maybe if you did something similar then your film might be successful too … and all of a sudden there’s a huge fucking industry telling you it HAS to be done this way.

There are two bad consequences of this:

  1. A large part of the industry thinks all scripts should slavishly stick to these rules and won’t hire you if yours doesn’t.
  2. People who consider themselves artistic (autistic) refuse to follow anything as conformist as rules. Art doesn’t have rules, man – you’re trying to restrict my creativity. Who said films have to be interesting, dramatic or intelligible? I go my own way, I’m a visionary, a pioneer … and mostly unemployable.

Ignoring advice because it’s presented as rules is moronic. Refusing to consider anything which doesn’t exactly follow the same advice is equally moronic.

Life is about balance, find the middle way.

Read the books, learn the rules … after you’ve practised telling stories. Find out what people expect and then if you have to disappoint them at least you can intelligently explain why you’ve done it. That way, when people say stupid things like:

“This Ferris Bueller script, you can’t make it because the protagonist has no transformative arc.”

You can counter with:

“Actually, Cameron is the protagonist, but we’re telling this story from the comic relief’s point of view.”

“Oh right, that’s cool. Have some money.”

So starting from the point of view that ‘how to’ books are advisory, not dictative, then of all the ones I’ve read (and there aren’t that many) ‘Save the Cat’ is probably my favourite. It’s clear, it’s simple and it’s short. The beat sheet in there makes sense to me – I don’t slavishly stick to it, but I keep it vaguely in mind when I write. The board, I kind of do that – sort of, sometimes. Other times I don’t. Some scripts need more plotting out than others.

The idea with all  these things is to regard them as tools, the more tools you have the easier the job becomes; but you don’t have to use every tool in the box every time you write a script.

By all accounts, Blake Snyder was a nice guy with an infectious enthusiasm for encouraging others. True, that was his job, but it’s nice to earn a living doing something you enjoy. In fact, I’d say that was one of the secrets of life – love what you do.

I’ve never met the bloke, but I am glad I read his book – if for nothing else, purely for this one occasion:

I was in a meeting regarding a script which, if produced, would earn me more money than I’ve earned in my entire life so far – including the paper round I didn’t do when I was 13 and all the pocket money I received from the age of 3 on.

It was a fairly important meeting.

The director was a really nice guy and did a great job of politely telling me my script sucked, primarily using terminology from ‘Save the Cat’. If I hadn’t read the book, I wouldn’t have understood a bastard word he was saying.

“Right, so … you want a Pope in a pool? Um … you do know this is set in space, don’t you? Surely the water would just float away?”

‘Save the Cat’  is a very popular and widely read book – if you haven’t read it, sooner or later you’re going to run into someone who has and you’re not going to understand them.

RIP Blake Snyder and my condolences to his family and friends.

Categories: Someone Else's Way | 4 Comments

That Band – music video

Well lookee here, as well as the trailer:

there’s also a music video:

Who’da thunk it?

Categories: That Band | 2 Comments

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