Monthly Archives: December 2011

2011

As the year limps to a close in a trickle of damp grayness, it’s time to reflect on what’s gone before and wonder vaguely about what may come.

How was your 2011? Mine went something like, if not exactly the same as, this:

 

JANUARY

I began the year by joining Twitter. Actually, I began the year by tweeting using an account some mysterious person set up for me against my will a year earlier. I still don’t know who that was, but would dearly love to know.

Wrote a post about a project so secret I can no longer remember what it was about.

Offered to write someone’s name on a fighter jet.

And then gave a free video projector to anyone who wanted it. Turns out the people who wanted it most were the people who were supposed to have been given it eight years earlier until idiocy intervened.

 

FEBRUARY

I was a guest on #scriptchat (transcript here) and waffled at great length about getting work without an agent.

Karma Magnet turned up online. You can still watch it here.

Persona launched!

If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, then I’ve failed and that’s pretty much all there is to it.

I revealed my deepest secrets. No, wait, not secrets … just a bit of witter about junk files.

And then tried to encourage everyone to whip off their drama condoms and ride that script bareback. Dramatically speaking.

 

MARCH

In which I finally explain how to read.

Gave some people £25 each.

Explained what a reboot means for the hard of thinking.

And explained why having your script re-written was exactly like having your best friend spunk in your face. (An analogy which came back to haunt me months later when someone pointed out I’d spunked in their face.)

 

APRIL

Karma Magnet was shown at the Brighton Movie Bar and I was invited to talk shit about it. And talk shit I did. And I won the movie quiz. ME! I WON FOR I AM THE WINNER (on this specific occasion).

Had a bit of a rant about sexism.

And another rant about getting excited in the wrong places.

And another one about why you should all feel inspired by my presence.

Then apologised for not ranting more.

 

MAY

I went on holiday and did this to my child:

Stole ideas from Jason Arnopp.

Felt guilty, so I linked to the Stormhouse teaser:

Was amazed to find out half of Neil Gaiman’s Doctor Who episode was exactly the same as half an episode I’d outlined for Big Finish. Just not the good half.

Told you all how to eBehave. Actually, this one’s important, you should all go and read it and spread the word.

Took you on a tour of my rooms on the secret writing island:

And reviewed a book I didn’t want to read about a program I don’t use.

Actually, somewhere around here Strippers vs. Werewolves went into production; but for reasons too horribly complex and horribly horrible, I didn’t actually mention it until months later.

 

JUNE

Explained why having to do re-writes mid-production is a good thing.

Denied I’d written The Dark Knight Rises. Because I didn’t.

Shouted at critics for reviewing the script they haven’t read instead of the film they have seen.

And promised to include more joy in my scripts. Joy like this:

 

JULY

I learnt a new word! Callipygous … and then explained why you should never use it in a script.

Explained why comedy is and isn’t subjective.

Called a producer a parochial twat.

Wrote a film-makers’ glossary. Wish I hadn’t.

Swore at Final Draft. A lot.

Debated misogyny. Still not convinced I spelt it right.

Gave you one of the most useful writing tools you’ll ever use: snippety-snip.

And voiced an opinion on gangsters and the low budget movie industry.

 

AUGUST

I explained why I keep swimming with the gangster fishes.

Demanded you tell me what to feel.

Explained my career in a series of pretty graphs and charts. Like this one:

Explained why I quite like being replaced on a project. Sometimes.

Warned everyone to stay clear of hyphenates … whilst consistently using a slash instead of a hyphen. I did a flowchart too:

And unsuccessfully tried to give everyone £30.

 

SEPTEMBER

Finally admitted I’d done the production re-writes on Pat Higgins‘ Strippers vs. Werewolves:

And listed all the lovely press about it.

Told people to stop hassling me, the script will be done when it’s fucking done.

Ranted about notes … before remembering Sam Bain said it better.

 

OCTOBER

Persona relaunched.

This time for the bargain price of free!

iPhone app here: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/persona-drama/id417940950?mt=8

Android app here: https://market.android.com/details?id=com.appmedia.persona

Explained the secret of success

Talked about the sheer horror of realising someone’s made a bad film out of your script.

Stalker had its London Première – hooray! Here’s the trailer:

Strippers vs. Werewolves had a fantastic set report in Bizzare Magazine:

http://www.bizarremag.com/entertainment/movies/11503/strippers_vs_werewolves.html

Highlighted why slagging people off and then asking them for a job is a bit daft.

Re-wrote Monty Python’s Parrot Sketch in an ill-advised attempt at humour.

Mumbled about being depressed in the middle of every script.

Was disappointed by the American art for Strippers vs. Werewolves:

Tacky. And has one notable lie on it.

Blogged about Fade In scriptwriting software – nearly what I want, but not quite.

And finally revealed the AFM Promo for Strippers vs. Werewolves:

My favourite comment about that promo is:

Looks pretty bad, but I like werewolf movies and tits, so I’ll probably watch it.

NOVEMBER

In which I finally admit there are no stupid notes.

Explained why Scrivener is brilliant … but no use to me.

Defended soapstars.

Reaffirmed the old maxim: PATRICK STEWART IS ALWAYS RIGHT.

Gave away a (very) small library.

And began using Fade In scriptwriting software because the developer developed it to suit me. Sort of.

DECEMBER

Explained how to think.

Debated the lack of comedy tribute acts.

Explained how to action a note now and undo it in the future.

Expounded my theory on how writers sideline themselves.

Went to see Piers‘ production of Hans Christian Anderson Fairy Tales. It’s awesome, if you hurry, you’ll catch it too.

Rambled on, at great length about mystery in TV

And rounded off the year by analysing decades old Star Trek films. Because I like to be topical.

—————————————————————————————-

So that was 2011. Wow. I explained lots of stuff, didn’t I? Did you need those things explaining to you or was I just being presumptuous? If the former, you’re welcome. If the latter, sorry.

But onwards and upwards!

What does 2012 hold?

Well, hopefully it holds nothing new.

Or rather, nothing new film-wise.

I’m hoping not to get involved in any more writer-for-hire jobs for a year or so. I really, really want to write some spec stuff, you know, something just for me.

I’ve got one or two commitments to tie up and then I’m going to (hopefully) spend the whole year writing stuff I want to write so I can build up a decent catalogue of spec scripts and venture into pastures new.

I say hopefully because I am easily swayed by money and may end up doing something completely different. Feel free to sway me. I like a good swaying.

How was your 2011? Did you enjoy it? Have you learnt stuff? What will 2012 hold for you?

Whatever happens, have a great New Year and I’ll see you in January.

Categories: Career Path, Future Tense, Industry Musings, LVJ, My Way, Persona, Progress, Publicity, Random Witterings, Rants, Sad Bastard, Software, Someone Else's Way, Stalker, Strippers vs. Werewolves, Things I've Learnt Recently, Writing and life | 2 Comments

Odd numbers

Christmas is nearly upon us once again and another year is nigh on spent. Soon I shall be compiling my traditional (if you can have traditions after only five years) end of year blog round up; but until then, may I amuse you with an ill-thought out treatise on the highs and lows of the Classic Trek films?

I may? Why, thank you!

You must have heard of the ‘Curse of the Odd Numbered Trek Films’?

 

If you haven’t it’s probably because you’re not interested, and fair enough, but in a nutshell: of the original six films, the second, fourth and sixth films are great while the first, third and fifth films aren’t.

Some people expand the theory to fit the Next Generation films, but since they start mediocre and wobble off into mundanity fairly quickly (with First Contact being a partial exception), it’s probably safest to ignore them. Or at least, it’s safest if I ignore them for the purposes of this blog.

So, if the odd-numbered Trek films are bad (or possibly merely poor by comparison to their even-numbered cousins) … why?

What can we learn from this? What qualities do 2, 4 and 6 share which are absent from 1, 3 and 5? Or vice versa?

Personally, I think it’s to do with connecting the overall goal of the film to an emotional goal for the protagonist, Kirk.*

The main questions I think you need in order to ask to understand why some of the films work and some don’t are:

Does Kirk have to be there? Is this story personal and unique to him? What would have happened if Kirk hadn’t been there or got bored halfway through?

Breaking that down, into internal and external goals or dramatic questions:

 

STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE

Kirk struggles with his promotion, he’s given up the job he’s destined to do and feels a bit lost.

At the same time, something vaguely hostile is en route to Earth.

Do these things connect?

Yes, the something hostile is a macguffin which puts Kirk back in command of a starship; but … has he got anything personal at stake here? Do we, at any point, believe if he sorts this out he’ll get his command back; but if he fails … he’s destined to rot at a desk forever?

Not really.

What about if Kirk wasn’t there? Could anyone else have done the same job? Yep, Decker looks like a pretty sensible, decent guy. If Kirk hadn’t turned up … probably would have worked out the same.

Result: protagonist has no connection to villain, no need to be there and nothing really at stake. Bit dull really. Which is a shame, because there are some great character moments – this was probably better suited as the first episode of Star Trek Phase 2 or The Next Phase or whatever the series was meant to be called.

 

STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN

Kirk struggles with pretty much the same things as he did in the first film, plus he’s now getting on a bit – basically, he’s getting old and feels like he’s not resolved issues with his youth.

At the same time: a decision he made in his youth puts his ex-girlfriend, his son and his own life in jeopardy: a weapon of devastating proportions falls into the hands of a man intent on killing him and everyone he loves!

Kirk has no choice but to be involved – Khan is coming for him. His own issues are intimately tied in with his son and his ex and the villain and the theme and … it’s just great. Kirk’s life and his loved ones are in danger – it’s a film about him.

Result: awesomeness.

 

STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK

Personally, I don’t think this is a bad film. I like number three … mostly. It’s kind of halfway there; but I didn’t go and see it as a child because the title felt like a desperate and pathetic attempt by the film makers to write themselves out of a hole. I mean, come on! Spock’s dead! His death was awesome and seminal … and now you’re telling me it didn’t happen? Fuck. Right. Off.

But anyway …

Kirk’s newfound youth is torn from him when he learns his ship (his home for many, many years) is to be decommissioned and he’s being forced back into his desk job.

At the same time: he learns his living best friend has his dead best friend’s memories – a situation which might drive one mad and cause the other’s soul to be lost for all time.

This is a deeply personal problem … but it only peripherally affects him. Remember that in the first film, they hadn’t seen each other for years … so, yeah, it’s upsetting that his best mates are a bit screwed … but he could, theoretically, get over it. There’s no life or death threat to Kirk (apart from the Klingons, which is a mild irritant near the end of the film).

There are some superb character moments: Kirk’s going to lose his two best friends (one’s already dead, but he’s going to lose him again). He loses his son (but that’s never threatened until seconds before it happens, so not really a driving force of the film) and he has to sacrifice his ship, his home, the very symbol of the life he’s still mourning. On top of that, he sacrifices his career, once and for all turning his back on ever getting his command back.

All of these things are great, amazingly powerful scenes … but they’re just scenes. There’s no dramatic question which runs from the beginning of the film to the end.

Or rather, there is: will Kirk get Spock’s body back and save McCoy’s sanity?

Okay, so this turns into resurrecting Spock … but that possibility isn’t there for Kirk until right near the end. There’s little potential for loss – once he’s given up on his career and stolen the Enterprise, all he has to do is wander over and pick up the body. It’s a taxi run, pick up and drop off … not really the stuff of legends.

Could someone else go and pick up Spock’s body? Yes. Okay, sort of no because of the disputed territory argument, but … McCoy could have stolen a smaller ship and nipped off on his own. It’s McCoy’s journey with Kirk’s consequences grafted on.

Add to that there’s no danger on the journey, they just leave Earth and arrive at Genesis with no consequences … it feels like there’s something missing from the middle of the film.

The shame about this film is all the ingredients are there and they’re awesome … but without a strong through line, the film is less than the sum of its parts.

 

STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME

If Kirk doesn’t travel back in time and save a few whales, the entire planet will be destroyed! Everyone he knows (except his bessie mates) will be killed! Kirk is the only person who can do this because all the other spaceships are knacked!

There isn’t really a whole lot to say about this one. There is some personal stuff tied into the premise, but generally it’s just a whole ball of fun. True, it has a very strong through line and Kirk HAS to be the one to do it; but it’s really just a string of really good scenes hanging off a random skeleton. Luckily, the scenes are so good and so funny that the result is a film better than the sum of its parts.

It’s not a big, dramatic action picture this one. It has drama and action in it, but for the most part it’s a comedy and is therefore exempt from needing more personal/dramatic tie ins. Like I say, the dramatic question is there and runs from beginning to end; but it’s just a macguffin for the fun: if you swapped the probe/whales for aliens/goldfish or space-cloud/meatballs … you’d have the same film.

 

STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER

Kirk is happy, relaxed and his mates are all fine. He’s got his ship and his career back, so he can just kick back and go camping.

At the same time: someone’s trying to find God; but instead of organising an exploratory mission, gets pointlessly weird and steals the Enterprise.

If Kirk wasn’t there … the weirdo would have stolen someone else’s ship.

If Kirk doesn’t stop him … doesn’t really matter. In fact, he doesn’t stop him – they trundle along for the ride.

Anyone thrilled by this concept?

Yes, Kirk saves the day in the end. Or maybe Spock saves the day and Kirk is just the catalyst for the day-saving?

Nothing personal for Kirk and no consequences for … anyone. No through line at all, I think? Apart from a vague family theme?

As an aside, there are some great moments in this film and some superbly memorable lines. Personally, I love the moment when everyone’s praising God and Kirk puts his hand up to ask a question. I fucking love that! That’s what makes Kirk, Kirk – he’s the only asking the right questions. I want to be like that!

Thinking about it, this might be the entire reason I get so prickly about iPhone adverts and homoeopathy.

 

STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY

Kirk must deal with part of his raison d’être disappearing over night. There’s peace coming with his lifelong enemies and his place in the world disappears with it.

At the same time: someone frames him for murder and grants his wish by extending hostilities.

Kirk can’t not be involved – he’s been framed. If he walks away … well, he can’t walk away, he’s in prison. If he wasn’t there, it would be someone else; but since this is a ‘getting into trouble coincidence’ then it’s fine. It’s not like 1, 3 or 5 where Kirk could have stopped halfway through and handed the reins to someone else with no consequences – once he’s in, he’s good and fucked unless HE sorts out his problems.

He has to overcome his prejudice while at the same time fighting enemies who can’t overcome their prejudice. The theme and the story are the same thing and the result is a gleaming tower of immenseness with a beacon of fantastic on top.
All six films have something to say; but only 2, 4 and 6 tie the something to the plot and make Kirk the absolute central pivot about which everything revolves.

That’s what turns a good film into a great film: plot tied to theme and a hero who has to act or lose something personal.

If there’s ever a point in your script where the hero could just walk away, or tag in a replacement … you might want to have a rethink. Why is your story happening to this person at this time and what does he have to lose?#

There’s no odd-numbered curse (surprise, sur-fucking-prise), there’s just a level of thought or involvement missing from every other film.

“Why?” is a different question; but maybe it could have been avoided if everyone involved had a clearer overview of what makes a story worth telling.

At least, that’s my theory. What’s yours?

Here, have a photo of a green woman in her underwear:

Why? Because, that’s why.

————————————————————–

*Incidentally, I think part of the reason ST:TNG films don’t feel so epic is because there are seven protagonists vying for screen time. True, Picard is the major protagonist throughout; but there are six minor protagonists as opposed to six supporting characters. Classic Trek has one major protagonist, two minor protagonists and a handful of supporting characters.

Seven story arcs is a lot to juggle and is much more TV territory. Maybe. I haven’t really thought that through.

#This is part of the reason I don’t really enjoy detective stories: if that detective doesn’t solve the case … someone else probably will. If no one else can, other people might die … but not people we know or care about, so … so what? If it gets a bit tricky in the middle, just give up and let someone else have a go.

Categories: Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Secrets and lies

I warn you now, this post has a nugget of wisdom in the middle; but is largely a long, rambling witter. You have been warned.

I think it’s probably safe enough to talk about ‘Lost’ now, I mean come on, it’s been a couple of years. Hasn’t it?

Or one year, maybe?

Either way, if you haven’t seen it all yet, you’re probably not going to; but just in case you are, now is the time to stop reading.

********SPOILERS********

I don’t really want to talk about ‘Lost’, I want to talk about mystery-driven shows and ‘Lost’ was the best I could think of under pressure.

I was going to talk about Season 6 of Doctor Who and the ‘Who is River Song?’ question; but since the answer had a limited number of possibilities (Doctor’s mum, Amy, Amy’s daughter) and I wasn’t really invested in the answer any which way because, well … so what? I mean, it’s hardly like Luke finding out his dad’s the font of all evil in the galaxy, is it? Whatever River’s origins turned out to be it would have had pretty much the same impact on the series:

Amy grows up to be someone quite cool.

Amy’s daughter grows up to be someone quite cool.

The Doctor’s mum is quite cool.

All three get the same response from me: “Oh, right. Cool.”

‘Lost’, on the other hand, was a show with mystery baked into the heart of it from the very beginning.

Okay, so Doctor Who has a mystery baked into the title from the very beginning; but … do you really want to know? It’s meant to be an unanswered question, the moment you answer it, it becomes less special. “Oh, right. He was a newsagent was he? Um … cool?”

‘Lost’ though – the mystery was the driving force of the show. It begged you to guess the answer because that’s what all the characters wanted to know and that’s the entire point of the series:

What is the island?

An open-ended mystery, it could be anything!

Okay, so the thought process behind it actually went:

The island is the afterlife where people who were special to each other meet up to travel onto the next life! Shit! People guessed it straight away! Fuck! Okay, let’s say it’s not the afterlife. Let’s pretend it’s … I don’t know! Fuck! Just trap them in bear cages for a season or so and make everyone do weird shit until we have a better idea. Hang on, what if instead of the island being the afterlife where people who were special to each other meet up to travel onto the next life, we let them off the island and then say the real world is the afterlife where people who were special to each other meet up to travel onto the next life. Does that make sense? Not really, but fuck it! Let’s do it!

The thing about creating a mystery is there are very few individuals who can out think a team of writers. Or even a single writer who’s clever enough.

I used to work in a cinema and regularly wandered in to watch the audience. If the premise of the film centred on a mystery, you could see people leaning forward in their seats as they tried to work it out. When they did work it out, you’d see them lean back, smug with their ‘Of course! Simple, really’ body language.

One or two individuals would sit back early on. A few at random occasions throughout and a good number a minute or two before the final bit of information. The majority of the audience wouldn’t solve the mystery until they were told the answer. One or two still didn’t know by the time the credits had rolled.

I’m guessing TV audiences are proportionately the same.

But there’s a difference. In TV, the audience have time to talk to each other. Whether that’s in the office round the hallowed water cooler or via the Internet, they have plenty of time to compare notes and theories. Especially if a show runs for five or six years – that’s ample opportunity for millions of people to unpick a mystery half a dozen people put together in a few weeks.

Simply put, I don’t believe mystery works in TV. In film, yes because you can’t really discuss it with the rest of the audience in the middle.

Well, I guess you could. People do, in fact. Annoyingly, they also discuss who Tasha was shagging at the weekend and whether or not Gary’s a better fuck since he had his cock pierced. Time and a place, people. Time and a fucking place.*

Theoretically though, people don’t talk about the film while it’s playing.

TV on the other hand …

It doesn’t work. You can’t keep a TV mystery mysterious for several years.

But does that mean you shouldn’t try?

Because, actually, this theory only holds up if you’re the type of person who goes to online forums or has a water cooler to chat around. I occasionally lurk on the former, but don’t have the latter. I’d quite like one though, just for the occasional gurgle and plop in the background.

The Internet though, it ruins TV. Ruins it, I say. TV shows are best experienced in a vacuum. Sneaky set photos and trailer analyses and script leaks and just a large number of people expounding their ideas ruins any mystery based show.

In fact, I’d go further – it ruins any show.

So, you know, I’m not going to do it. Not any more because, goddamn it, I want life to be mysterious again. Like it was when I was a kid, when a new series of Doctor Who kicked off and I had no idea who was in what episode or which enemies would be returning. If the Daleks arrive in the last few minutes of episode three, I want to shit my pants, not have preconceived ideas about how silly the new pantomime horse designs may or may not look.

(They do look a little silly, I’m sure there are two people in there now. Every time I see one of the new Daleks, I want to call it Dobbin.)

Spoilers, you spoil things. Kindly fuck off. Let me have my mystery again.

———————————————————-

* Seriously though, what the fuck goes through some people’s heads?

“Shaz, I’s got a well wicked story to tells you.”

“Yeah? Best go buy some of them movie tickets so’s we can have us a proper natter, yeah?”

“Fuck yeah! Hey, has yous fucked Gary since he gone got his nob pierced?”

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Hans Christian Anderson

Yesterday, Mandy, Alice and I went to see Red Table Theatre‘s production of Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington, courtesy of the esteemed Piers Beckley … and it’s fantastic!

Seriously, it’s brilliant.

Even Alice was captivated throughout and she’s got a fourteen second attention span.

If you live in or near London, you should go and check it out.

You can, and should, book tickets here.

Categories: Someone Else's Way | 1 Comment

Sidelined

I was listening to Danny Stack and Tim Clague‘s UK Scriptwriters Podcast (which if you haven’t heard, you should. Now. Do it now! Quicker than that!) and they were discussing Danny’s and James Moran’s letters to BAFTA and how writers and writing is generally undervalued by the industry.

It’s an annoying issue, writers just aren’t seen as central to film making.

You never see ‘From the Writer of’ (unless the producer and director are absolute nobodies) and writers are frequently not mentioned at all in a film’s publicity material.

One argument for the sidelining of writers is:

‘No one cares. People don’t know who writers are, so why mention them?’

To which the answer is:

Um, possibly no one knows who they are because you don’t mention them?

(Two great exceptions to that are John Hughes and Richard Curtis – two writers so well-known they each have a type of film associated with them and are (arguably) more recognised than the directors of some of their work. Laud them, that’s a hell of an achievement.)

Possibly part of the reason Hollywood doesn’t promote its writers is because once you hit the fifteenth or sixteenth writer on a single film, it starts to get embarrassing. I’m fairly certain there’s a direct correlation between number of writers and utter shitness, so playing down the number of writers might make sense if you want people to actually come and see the film.

The answer to that, of course, is to just pick one writer and stick with them. The present revolving door system of hiring and firing anyone who walks past and allowing actors and directors to throw out a script because it clashes with their ego is fucking mental. It doesn’t work, so why keep doing it?

But that’s another story for another time.

Writers in the UK get equally sidelined when they’re (mostly) the only ones working on a project. They single-handedly create the entire movie out of pure mind juice … and then get cast aside like a well licked yoghurt lid.

Except, that’s not really true, is it?

I think part of the problem (and I may have said this before) is in the way we and the industry describe our job.

We don’t write movies, we write scripts … but we’re not proud of that.

Movies are multiple people’s interpretation of our work. Sometimes a movie bears as little resemblance to the script as it does to the original novel (which, coincidentally, is often the only time critics mention the script – when the movie deviates from it and is fucking awful).

Part of the problem is there’s nothing physical to point at and tell people ‘I did that’.

You can point out the direction, the set design or the performance in a movie; but you can’t point at the script. Well you can, at home or if you take it to the cinema with you; but you can’t see it on screen.

You could tell people you wrote the dialogue; but since dialogue is one of the least important aspects of script writing and is frequently improvised to something stolen from somewhere else, is that helpful? It’s hard to point at the story, because it often seems obvious after the fact. Let’s face it, most things seem obvious after someone else has spent months inventing them.

Movie making is glamorous, script writing isn’t … and we contribute to that opinion. We get more excited about our script being filmed than we do about actually writing it. We accept the perceived wisdom that a script isn’t an art form in itself, but merely one step in the process.

Okay, so we tell people we believe it’s the most important step in the process; that nothing would exist without it … but do our actions back that up? Can you honestly say you know who wrote the last movie you went to see? Can you honestly say you care?

In short, does writing excite you as much as you think it does?

If not, why not?

Yes, it’s difficult. There is no audience for our art form beyond a handful of people who don’t always like us. We are the only creative people in the world whose art is never exhibited to anyone beyond a handful of technicians.

Is art art if no one sees it?

Goddamn it, yes!

I honestly think the first step towards getting more recognition for our work is to actually be prouder of our work and not theirs. For us, the script is the end result. It’s our product, it’s what we sell. The movie is not ours, it’s an interpretation of our work – something other people do.

Authors may be pleased a film is being made of their book, they may be excited about who’s directing it or being cast in it … but I doubt they think of the book as merely a step towards getting the film made.

My scripts aren’t made into films, because that implies the script is abandoned like a cocoon when the movie butterfly emerges.

(Or maybe it’s the caterpillar? This metaphor is a bit dodgy.)

My scripts aren’t made into films, but there are films based on my scripts. The script still exists and I’m always proud of the script even when the movie is a bag of unwatchable shit.

Especially when the movie is a bag of unwatchable shit.

I did my job properly, it was good enough to get funding and to attract a director and the actors. Even if the actors can’t act and the director has more ego than talent, everyone still liked the script enough to want to fuck it up in the first place (because, perversely, if the script’s awful they don’t want to have anything to do with it. If it’s good, they want to change everything about it).

If you’re interviewed, talk about the script not the movie. Make sure you make that distinction. Maybe we can make writers perceived as more integral to the process by first disassociating ourselves from the process?

I think we subtly sideline ourselves, so can’t really be surprised when other people do too. Maybe all it needs is a slight change in the way we value our own work to get people to follow suit? Maybe we should take the line ‘People pay us handsomely to make a movie based on our art’?

Or maybe I’m just talking shit?

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

It’s not(e) the end …

Some projects take years to get through development. I’ve got one feature script which has been in development for the best part of seven years now (which, to be fair, probably means it isn’t going to happen). In that time there’s been input from two directors, an actor, the producer and two executive-producers.

That’s a lot of notes.

A few are great, some are good, most are just different for the sake of it, some are ill-advised and the rest are fucking awful.

‘Great’ and ‘good’ notes should always be actioned.

‘ill-advised’ and ‘fucking awful’ can usually be argued successfully against. If there’s a damn good reason for not doing it, then simply stating the reason tends to cancel out the note. Assuming, of course, you deliver it in the right way. Shouting “YOU FUCKING MORON, THAT’S A SHIT IDEA!” at someone, in front of their friends, tends to be a little upsetting.

Some people advocate actioning the note to prove it’s terrible – I’m not sure that’s a great idea. You’re the writer, you’re supposed to be the story expert. If you just do what you’re told and hand in an awful script, it may be interpreted as you being so eager to say yes you’ll do anything; or worse, being bad at your job. Much better to persuade the idiots not to free the shark, as opposed to letting it eat you and saying “I fucking told you!” with your dying breath.

‘Different just for the sake of it’ notes – these ones are tricky. They’re not bad, they don’t ruin anything; but they don’t add anything either. They just change your film into theirs. Okay, so they’ve bought the script and can do what the hell they want with it; but wouldn’t you rather the finished product was your idea?

But you can’t just refuse. Well, you can and it might work; but it will probably result in you getting fired. In which case, not only will they hire someone who will make the changes, but someone who’ll change everything else you’ve fought over too.

I tend to compromise and bear one little phrase in mind:

This note doesn’t the end the process.

There will be more notes and more drafts. If this is the producer giving you notes at the beginning of the process, then you’re going to get notes from the director and the star. Possibly from several of each, depending on how many are hired/fired. Any number of department heads will add their tuppence to the mix, some of these thoughts will be passed on as notes, some will be ignored. Locations, schedule, budget – all these things get in the way between the ‘final’ draft and the film. You have plenty of opportunity to change things back to the way you originally wanted them.

These ‘different for the sake of it’ notes are just temporary.

I usually action 60 – 70% of them, depending on the note-giver’s ego. In other words, action enough of them to make it look like you value the note-giver’s opinion; but not so many it looks like you’re a yes man. Argue a few of them (politely), stick to your guns on a couple and compromise on a few more.

Then, over the course of the years, slowly change them back. Most people don’t notice the changes at all. Some think you’ve come up with a new, better way. Occasionally, someone suggests the original version and assumes they’re a genius for thinking of it (although, be wary of that – too much of that opinion and they start to wonder why they need you).

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It is possible to go with the flow, then gently steer the flow to where you want it.

And if all else fails, if you’re stuck with something you don’t like, there’s always snippety-snip.

Categories: My Way, Someone Else's Way | 1 Comment

Comedy tributes

I went to a stand-up comedy night last night and the last comedian finished his act with a Max Wall routine. It’s a bloody difficult routine to do and he did it amazingly; but it prickled slightly – that’s someone else’s material.

To be fair, he didn’t try to pass it off as his own; but somehow it just doesn’t feel right.

Which is weird.

If it was a band performing a cover version of a famous song, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Unless it was shit, then I’d just be annoyed; but I wouldn’t find it strange.

However, a comedian using someone else’s material? A comedian doing a cover version of a bit?

OUTRAGEOUS!

But … why? Why shouldn’t a comedian re-use another comedian’s material? Especially if that comedian is dead. Why should material be consigned to forgotten albums or lost performances? Why shouldn’t a man who was a genius in his day have his genius celebrated and repeated?

I don’t have an answer to this by the way, I’m just wondering.

Is there such a thing as a comedy tribute act?

If not, why not?

Is it because it’s easier to duplicate a pop song than it is to duplicate a comedy performance? On the surface, they should be similar – you learn the notes/words, the timing and sound/pitch and you should be able to replicate them perfectly; but maybe there’s something unique in the way an individual comedian performs his material (frequently written by a third party) that’s missing when a band plays?

Or is it just expectation?

If you go to see a stand-up twice and he repeats the same material, you feel duped. Like you’ve wasted your money.

If you go and see your favourite band and they don’t perform their biggest hit (usually in the fake encore) then you feel equally gypped … why?

Is it because comedy relies on shock and surprise whereas music relies on familiarity? A joke rarely feels funnier than the first time you heard it, but songs often grow on you.

But then, why do people buy DVDs of comedians? Why do certain sketches or moments (Del Boy falling through the bar) seem to tickle people eternally?

Monty Python’s live shows were repetitive performances of TV material and people loved them. Is it TV which makes it acceptable to reuse stuff and live performances which have to be fresh and original?

Why has there never been a Monty Python tribute act? Is it a copyright issue? Or has no one ever thought of it? Come to that, why aren’t there Eddie Lizzards and Freddie Izzards running around?

Or maybe there are and I’ve never noticed? I could Google it, but I can’t be arsed.

To put it into a script writing perspective, if you’re writing a sitcom aimed at teenagers – is it okay to re-use a joke from the 1950’s? They won’t have heard it before and it’s still funny – should that joke be left to moulder and die (or perhaps be a treasure unearthed by those curious enough to seek it out); or should a funny joke be celebrated and re-imagined for newer, fresher minds to enjoy?

I try hard not to reuse anything; but sometimes bits creep in, bits which hide in your subconscious and masquerade as your own ideas – should these bits be stamped out? Or should they have their origins celebrated and be held up for the world to admire?

I don’t know.

Would I pay to go and see Freddie Izzard? Possibly not. Maybe, if he was playing in the local pub and it was only a fiver. Would I go and see Freddie Izzard if the pub were paying him and entry was free? I still don’t know.

Maybe.

Is this a gap in the market? Or is it blasphemous and I should be burnt at the stake for even thinking it?

I don’t know, do you?

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

The clue’s in the question

I recently finished the first draft of a script which was causing me no end of problems. I could tell something was wrong, but couldn’t identify exactly what.

I sometimes find it hard to identify what’s wrong with a story because I’m too close to it – a bit like trying to work out what’s wrong with the house you’re building when you’ve got your face pressed up against one brick.

It’s usually fairly easy to spot the flaws with someone else’s script because you’re experiencing it unencumbered by preconceptions (which is why it’s easier to critique than create). If your mind isn’t clouded by what it’s supposed to be, you can see what it actually is.

I find I need to get distance from the script in order to figure out what’s not working; and since physically turning around and walking away just makes the text smaller, I tend to switch from the keyboard to a piece of paper and pen. The move helps me re-gear my brain and tricks me into looking at the project objectively.

One of the techniques I use is to try and boil the problem down to one simple question or statement. In this last script, the statement I came up with was:

I just don’t believe scene x follows scene y.

In other words, I don’t believe the character, after having experienced the events of scene y, would then go on to behave like he does in scene x.

The answer then becomes simple:

Put x before y.

That may seem simplistic; but that’s the point: boil an intractable problem down to a one you can solve.

Another example which springs to mind came from listening to Jeff Goldsmith interview Ben Ripley about Source Code.

By the way, if you don’t listen to Jeff Goldsmith’s Q & A Podcast series, you really should.

***MILD SPOILERS FOR SOURCE CODE TO FOLLOW***

If you haven’t seen Source Code (I liked it) and you’re still reading, then it may help to think of it as a bit like Quantum Leap with the leaper only having eight minutes to solve a problem on a train. The difference being, after eight minutes he gets to go back and try again an (more or less) infinite number of times.

It’s been a while since I listened to the podcast, so I may get some details wrong here or even be completely making all this up; but as I recall, one of the problems Ben faced with Source Code was how to get a girl on the train to fall in love with Colter (the leaper, or Source Coder) in eight minutes.

He gets an undefined length of time spread over multiple eight minute sections to fall for her; but she doesn’t remember him from one segment to the next – why would you fall for a complete stranger in eight minutes?

The solution is simple and elegant; but perhaps only obvious to an outsider (I believe Billy Ray actually spotted it) or someone who’s seen the finished film and already knows the answer. One way to come up with that solution may have been to boil it down to this statement:

There isn’t enough time for her to fall in love.

The solution then seems simple:

She needs more time.

Obviously there are many ways you could implement that, such as making the eight minute segments longer; but how much longer do make them before sitting through them becomes a chore? And is falling in love in half an hour more believable than eight minutes?

Perhaps a better statement might be:

I don’t believe she would fall for a stranger in only eight minutes.

In which case, the solution might be better stated as:

Don’t make them strangers.

If she already knows the guy Colter is leaping into, if she already fancies him; then eight minutes is long enough to tip over into love. Or at the very least, it’s better for the film’s purposes.

The point is, the initial abstract worry that the script isn’t making sense becomes a concrete, solvable problem when I vocalise or write down my concerns. Switching to a pen and paper (or just a new document) allows me the distance I need to re-frame the problem and come up with a solution.

Categories: My Way | 3 Comments

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