Monthly Archives: September 2009

Grubby furniture

I love it when I’ve finished a script for the first time, not necessarily the point when I type THE END for the first time; but that point when the first draft is properly finished. The point when it’s beautiful and it’s pristine. It’s something I’ve crafted, like an exquisite piece of furniture … only one about killer elves or something.

I love that first draft, the one I’ve taken extra special care to make sure all the joints fit and the drawers and secret compartments open smoothly, the one where it all just works and feels like one seamless piece of art.

Not all first drafts, obviously. Some of them are appalling piles of poo which aren’t fit to line even an Argos chest of drawers. Some of them I look at in rising panic as I realise I’ve just created the perfect evidence to prove the theory ‘I can’t fucking write’. Random bits of wood which are badly cobbled together to form hideously ugly furniture with no apparent use or function. The kind of thing you have no choice but to burn lest anyone lays eyes upon its mangled nastiness and is immediately struck blind and brain numb.

I apologise, by the way, I’ve no idea why I’ve started using furniture metaphors. I guess that’s just the kind of thing which happens at midnight on a Sunday.

The first draft (which may well be the eighth time I’ve gone from page 1 to page 110), the pure draft, the one which is MY idea. Mine. This is what I meant, this is what I wanted to write. This is the genius which has been bubbling in my brain for quite possibly days … the pristine draft before the notes arrive.

The notes which point out it makes no fucking sense.

Actually, those notes I don’t really mind. The kind where people point out the main character disappears on page 50 and finally turns up on the last page, having spent the intervening time stuck in the express lane queue at Tesco. Those are good notes.

Then there are the bad notes. The ones which revolve around expanding someone’s part because someone else wants to sleep with them. Or the nonsensical ones like:

“What if the protagonist is a kettle?”

“A talking kettle? Bit weird, but I suppose it could be a metaphor for–”

“No, not a talking kettle. What the fuck are you on about? There’s no such thing as a talking kettle. Just a kettle. Make the hero a kettle”

“Right.”

“Don’t look at me like that. Mother used to look at me like that.”

“Yeah. I’ve got to go and … I’ve just got to go.”

At which point you just make the changes requested until he loses interest, sacks you or gets arrested for trying to rape hamsters.

But the notes I really hate, the ones which make my heart sink, are the ones which are perfectly reasonable but just different. They don’t make the script better, they don’t make it worse, they just make it different. The ones where you realise the director and/or producer isn’t really imagining the same project as you.

“Ah, so when I said I wanted to write a biopic of Muhammad Ali; you thought we were making a heist film set in Vietnam?”

These notes upset me, I hate having to take the chainsaw to my chest of drawers, hack out the bits people just don’t like and replace them with new bits. No matter how much I smooth the edges down or patch the gaps … I can still see the join. When I read the fourth or the fifth draft (which may well be a thousand times better than the first) I can still see all the joins, all the bits which are no longer there.

To me, my script now looks grubby – as if I’ve written it in pencil, continuously rubbed it out and started over and over again. There’s no white space any more, it’s all grey.

Or gray.

Helpfully, my spellchecker thinks both of those spellings are right. OH TECHNOLOGY, YOU FECKLESS WHORE; TELL ME HOW TO SPELL LIKE A SIX YEAR OLD, GOD DAMN IT!

You know, I’m pretty certain I had a point when I started this.

Maybe it was that I prefer my first drafts to my final drafts, even when the final drafts are manifestly better – they just seem so … dirty.

It’s not much of a point, but I’ve been working for 17 hours and it’s all you’re going to get.

Oh leave me alone.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard | 4 Comments

… and Sweden and Denmark and Italy!

As it happens, as well as the Dutch being lovely and sending me money via the BBC, so have the Swedes, the Danish and the Italians.

Hooray!

Oh, and the Dutch have regrouped and sent me more money.

In fact, the Dutch and the Danish have been particularly generous and I now no longer need to put any money towards a DVD. Unless it’s a boxed set of something, in which case I might need to add a fiver or so.

Nevertheless, I now officially love our European cousins and look forward with eager anticipation to tomorrow’s post.

I’m looking at you, France. Come on, Daddy needs to find out what happens at the end of Battlestar Galactica.

Categories: BBC, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard, The Wrong Door | 2 Comments

The BBC, the Dutch and an unexpected pittance

A letter?

For me?

From the BBC?

Blimey o’Reilly, what could they possibly want?

(At this point I wanted to write the sound of me ripping open an envelope … but I couldn’t work out what that would sound like in words and gave up surprisingly quickly)

Oooh, fancy that! My first ever residuals statement!

It appears the Dutch have been exposed to The Wrong Door; and – given the lack of angry swearing hurled in my general direction – they either liked it, didn’t watch it or feel less inclined to proffer death threats merely because they didn’t find a TV programme funny.

I’ve always liked the Dutch. Very tall, nice and polite.

Oh, it’s also been sold to a TRAPPED AUDIENCE.

Good.

What the fuck does that mean? I presume they haven’t locked a group of people in a room and forced them to empty their pockets whilst the Smutty Aliens plays on a continuous loop? Or maybe they have? I’ve always thought there was something sinister about the BBC.

Unlike the lovely, non-death-threat-emailing  Dutch.

Well, well, well, unexpected money –  whatever shall I spend it on?

Hmm … if I added a tenner of my own money I could probably afford a DVD … if it was on sale. Happy days!

Categories: BBC, Progress, Sad Bastard, The Wrong Door | 7 Comments

ScreenPlay First Look

Here’s an interesting opportunity/development tool for anyone who’s got comedy scripts knocking around and is unsure about a) quality and b) how to go about getting a production company to read them. ScreenPlay Productions welcome new writers and have set up a brand new peer review system to help encourage emerging talent. ScreenPlay are on the level, are genuinely interested in discovering new talent and are worth at least having a look. Here’s what Chief Executive Jan Jung has to say about it all:

Hi,

We thought we’d let you know about our new writing initiative >First Look<.  It’s a peer-2-peer review and advice programme.  It is meant to give new writers an opportunity to learn from reading other writers’ good and/or bad scripts, and through involvement in the review process learn how to separate and focus on the essential ingredients that make a good script better.  

From the many new writers we’re in contact with, some will undoubtedly become the stars of tomorrow. This programme will help speed up writing skills development for people who haven’t yet had a commission.  All you need to do is to get involved with the reading/reviewing of peer-writers’ scripts to get a chance of having your own scripts read by our development team. 

There’s no catch, it’s free, and by signing up you become part of a writing community much closer to the production people here at ScreenPlay. The good scripts that filter through the process and tickle our sense of humour can be put in front of the Commissioning Editors very quickly if there’s no need for a rewrite.  If they like it too, Bob’s your uncle. 

Look at the website ScreenPlay First Look and go through the detailed explanation there.  If you’d like to become a partner with the programme please follow the instructions on the site – OR send an email to first.look@screenplayproductions.ltd.uk with your name, title(s) of most recent script(s), and please put ‘First Look’ in the subject line to register. Once we’ve processed your registration you’ll be issued with a username and password.  When logged in you can start the evaluations immediately and be on your way to have your own scripts assessed.  Feedback is monitored and if your script gets a high average score, we’ll pay serious attention to both you and your work.

We’re very excited about this new initiative.  Commissioning Editors we’ve spoken with think it’s a great idea too, and participants will undoubtedly find it useful to get an opportunity to measure their work against the level of scripts available from like-minded programme partners.

There’s a build-in copyright protection service in the programme, and many of our fellow comedy producer colleagues have already been given login access to follow the progress.  This is your opportunity to do something different to get a head start in the very competitive world of comedy writing.

Best wishes

Jan Jung

ScreenPlay Productions Ltd.

Categories: Opportunity | Leave a comment

Adaptations

I’ve seen two films recently which were adapted from books I enjoyed (well, one  I absolutely loved and the other I thought was amazing until it reached an incredibly shit conclusion), in both cases the films fell significantly short of good and I thought I’d discuss why.

But first off, some housekeeping:

  1. There will be SPOILERS (in every sense of the word) for The Time Traveller’s Wife and My Sister’s Keeper.
  2. I’m in no way blaming or attacking the script writers since we all know, at a certain level of film making, you do what you’re told or you get fired. And that’s before the actors improvise all over it, the director makes shit up on the day and the editor hacks out random bits.
  3. The following thoughts are just my opinions and not to be confused with facts. Just because I didn’t fully appreciate the films doesn’t mean they’re inherently bad and if you loved them I’m not attacking your opinions (even though you’re wrong).
  4. The following is by no means an public proclamation of ‘I could do better’ – I can’t. Pointing out flaws in a script is a thousand times easier than creating your own flawed script. It’s just a way of me talking through how I might approach an adaptation should I ever get the chance.

So, starting with The Time Traveller’s Wife:

I loved the book. Seriously, loved it. Five stars (out of five) and a frequent moon around the N section in Waterstones in case Audrey Niffenegger’s written anything else.

The bits I remember from the book (bearing in mind I read it about four years ago) were all about waiting, longing and people loving each other at different times. It’s a tragic romance which made me cry, or at least tear over in a manly fashion. To me, the most important and moving passages were:

  1. Henry escaping his troubled marriage as a thirty – forty year old and spending time with Claire when she was only six years old. They’re going through a really bad patch where she’s losing pregnancy after pregnancy and it’s tearing them apart. He escapes to a time before they had any of these problems, before sex was an issue, where he can remind himself of who she was before all the pain and misery. It’s especially difficult when she gets to fourteen, fifteen and wants to become sexually active – she loves him, but he has to wait for her to grow into the person he loves.
  2. After a gap of a few years where Claire doesn’t see future Henry at all, she bumps into him in the library and (from his point of view) they begin their romance. They’re both in their twenties now and the heartbreak here is – she doesn’t love him. He’s a bit of a prick (as most twenty-something guys are) but she knows he’s going to grow into the man she’s going to marry. For Claire it’s a waiting game – waiting for Henry to become the man she loves. For Henry it’s a weird and unsettling time – this strange woman knows more about his future than he does.
  3. The pain and the emotional trauma of losing numerous pregnancies and the stress that puts on their relationship. The knowledge they still love each other, but they don’t actually like each other any more. It’s a horrible, frustrating time when it might seem like the best thing to do for each party is just to walk away. Every day gets worse, but there’s always this sense that sooner or later it will all be over and they can go back to loving each other. All they have to do is ride the storm, once this wave has passed it might be over … but there’s always another wave and no end in sight. I think a lot of people have experienced relationships like this, when the present is horrible but the past promises a brighter future. The problem of course being the present is an indefinite period of time, the past is gone and the future may never arrive.
  4. Claire, waiting for Henry to come back, never knowing if he might actually return or not. What happens if he dies in the past? Will she even know? Maybe this time is the time he never returns? Every time he leaves might be the last time she sees him. It’s a horrible situation to live with, especially when you’re in the troubled times of your relationship and the last words you said were full of spite and said purely to cause the other person pain.
  5. Henry waiting to return to the present, stuck in the past or the future, fighting for his life and desperate to return home. He has no idea how long he’ll be away and no idea how long he’ll have been gone for when he gets back. It’s stressful and depressing but he knows he always has Claire to come back to.
  6. Claire waiting for Henry forever – after Henry dies, Claire spends the rest of her life waiting for a glimpse of him. It’s a very romantic and tragic notion, the love sick pining for the dead; but her faith is finally rewarded when she’s an old woman and it’s a beautiful moment.

That’s what the novel meant to me … and none of it’s in the film. A couple of bits are kind of alluded to or mentioned in passing, but really none of that is addressed by the film at all. So what are we left with?

Um, well, a romance where we’re deprived of the meeting and getting to know you part – you know, the falling in love bit (since they happen at different times and at different ages). Basically what we have is a romance-less romance. It’s all strangely flat and the general theme seems to be the avoidance of emotional impact.

We see Claire lose a few pregnancies but we don’t see much in the way of reaction from either of them – she’s pregnant, she’s not, she’s pregnant, she’s not – tra la la, life goes on. We’re told they argue a lot in this period but we don’t really see it, there’s no real sense of a relationship on the edge. In fact, there’s very little sense of a relationship at all. Even when Claire cheats on Henry with a younger version of himself – there’s no real emotional consequences. Henry looks a bit miffed and then they forget about it and carry on.

There’s one scene where Claire has to wait for Henry to return and that’s the only time we get the impression Henry is ever away for anything more than a few seconds. The whole time travel thing looks mildly inconvenient rather than a massive strain on their relationship.

Even Henry potentially losing a leg is glossed over since we don’t really appreciate the necessity of him being able to run. At the point he gets frostbite, Claire tells the doctor he has to be able to run or he can’t survive and in retrospect there does seem to have been a bit of running – but since it wasn’t really flagged up as important running at the time, Claire insistence that running is vital to his survival seems a bit weird because it hasn’t been set up properly.

Even Claire waiting for Henry’s return is glossed over. First of all it happens a year or so after his death, so she doesn’t have to wait that long and we get the impression their life is going to just continue as normal; and secondly it seems more geared towards the meeting between Henry and Alba with Claire being almost incidental. In fact, the only emotional parts of the film for me were between Henry and his daughter.

Overall, the film didn’t seem bad, just flat and un-involving. It’s as if they made the same list of all the things which moved me about the book and then chose deliberately not to include them. After you boil away all the emotion, what’s left? A slightly confusing story about a man bouncing around in time – Quantum Leap without the story of the week. A romance-less romance. Not bad, but a bit dull.

MY SISTER’S KEEPER on the other hand – a book I was riveted to because the dilemma is so powerful and I just couldn’t see a way out. It turns out, neither could Jody Picoult, so she slapped on an arbitrary Deus ex Machina and removed the need for any of the characters to make a decision. It’s a crappy ending to an otherwise magnificent book and ensured I haven’t read anything else by her for fear of having my time wasted again.

So in the film, when they changed the ending I was all for it. The film’s ending is much more powerful and much more moving. Giving the mother the choice, making her choose between her two daughters and come to terms with letting go – genius. A fantastic ending.

Unfortunately, they fucked up the rest of the film. I mean, all of it. The ending makes it Cameron Diaz’s story. She has to let go at the end, therefore it should be her tale from the beginning. Instead, for some bizarre reason, they chose to make it no one’s story. There are some people who are all affected by this horrible situation, but let’s not really examine any of it too deeply. Let’s just bounce around on the surface, flit from person to person and make sure the film is, once again, emotionally un-engaging.

In the book, it’s the younger sister’s story and the majority of it seemed to focus on her relationship with her lawyer as a substitute family since her’s is so fucked up. There’s a lot of examination of how it’s affecting the relationships between father, mother, sisters and brother – everyone of them has major issues and needs to resolve the family situation in order to heal their personal situations.

Obviously, there’s too much in the book for a film and it needs to be simplified – first and most obvious choice: lose the brother’s plot. It’s great in the book, but if it’s not there it makes no odds. Having said that, if you lose the subplot (which they did) then why leave in the bit at the end when the dad works with disadvantaged youths? In context of the film that makes no sense. Why’s it still there?

The next cut seems really strange to me – they practically cut out the youngest daughter. The girl who starts the story and is the prime focus of the book … gone. I mean, almost gone. She’s there, she does some stuff, but she disappears for long stretches of the film and has almost zero relationship with her lawyer. Yet he still comes to her at the end of the film and they part ways as if they’re best of friends.

In the book, the little girl is the protagonist and the mother is the antagonist, with the family as casualties on the battle ground. This makes a great story but leaves no room for an ending. Hence the casual resolution of the book – oh yeah, she just gets run over. Problem solved.

Given the film has the better ending, it seems to me the real story here is one with the mother as the protagonist – desperate to save the life of her eldest daughter and the little girl as the antagonist. The protagonist’s arc is being forced to come to terms with the fact she’s destroying her family by trying to save one of them. When she realises her mistake and lets her eldest daughter die, she saves her family and puts them on the road to recovery. It should have been a powerful and moving tale but instead it’s a mish-mash of scenes which flits from point of view to point of view without really letting you latch on to anyone. I spent the film waiting to cry and spent the majority of it bored rigid. The only really emotional bit for me (bar isolated bits and bobs) was the ending – and the only reason that was upsetting was because I mentally grafted it onto the book and the characters I actually cared for.

So all in all, I felt both adaptations failed t capture the spirit of the books – after all, that’s what adapting a film is all about – the spirit. You can’t keep all the scenes and all the characters, but the essence of the story should remain untouched.

At least I think that’s what adaptations are about, but as I’ve mentioned many times before – my opinions are suspect at best and to be treated with derision.

I’m going to stop now, Alice is shouting at me.

Categories: Random Witterings, Someone Else's Way | Leave a comment

Weirdness

Well, that was an odd day. Unusal some might say. Not strange, I wouldn’t go so far as strange but … mildly irregular.

In a pleasant sort of way.

Mostly.

It started off reasonably enough with me on a train to London for …

Actually, it started with me in bed with my beautiful wife. Starting on a train would in itself be weird.

But there I was, later on, at the beginning of the story if not the beginning of the day, on a train to London and reading a rather spiffing script. My destination – Victoria. My reason for travelling – nice ones. I was undertaking the completely un-perilous journey for two reasons – to sign contracts and to receive feedback on a treatment; both for THE BIG IDEA.

Remember THE BIG IDEA?

No? I would link to it, but the icing is drying and I can’t be arsed.

Ah, getting ahead of myself, the icing comes later. Suffice it to say, if you want to know about THE BIG IDEA there’s a search box to the left which will bring you very little useful information.

Anyway, it’s all good. There’s that slight trepidation when receiving notes – just in case they tell you it’s the biggest pile of shit since the great dinosaur diarrhea epidemic of … um … last Wednesday? No. Dinosaurs are a bit older than that, aren’t they? Can’t remember and it doesn’t matter.

So part of me’s going “urk, they’re going to rip the contracts up in front of me and eat them, laughing at how unbelievably bad I am at treatment writing” while another part of me’s going “fuck it, it’s a work of genius, they’ll fucking love it and they’re fucking lucky to have it” and a third part of me’s going “where the hell’s the trolley girl? I want a cup of tea”.

The meeting, as it happens was fine – thanks for asking – but it was after the meeting. After! That was the weird part. For reasons which now escape me, shortly after the meeting I found myself in the secure bit of a police station having a discussion with an officer about whether or not criminal behaviour is genetic.

Now I don’t really like police stations, I find they bring back old memories of a mildly misspent youth. Nothing major, nothing you’d be able to pin down as particularly criminal … just a bit … naughty.

It’s not massively strange, there were no ostriches or adults with babies’ heads or anything – it was just something I wasn’t really expecting to do when I woke up this morning. And hey, they let me out again so that was a bonus.

And now, for reasons I’m not really prepared to go into, I’m trying to cut intricately shaped, tiny cats out of blue icing.

Like I say not strange, just a little unusual.

Categories: Random Witterings | 1 Comment

Exposé – Trailer

Looky, looky – more trailery goodness for you lucky people. This time for the horror/thriller remake of 70’s video nasty Exposé (or The House on Straw Hill as it was sometimes known). I didn’t have massive amounts to do with this one, written and directed as it was by Martin Kemp; but I did contribute to the story and in my world that makes it partly my film too.

And here’s the trailer:

http://www.fangoria.com/home/news/27-international-frights/3529-exclusive-first-look-expose-trailer.html

Categories: Exposé | Leave a comment

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