Monthly Archives: January 2012

Stalker on DVD

Stalker is out on DVD today and is available from Amazon, HMV, Tesco, Play.com and … well, lots of places. If you have a few pennies and 84 mins to spare, it’s well worth a watch.

Here’s the trailer again for those who may have missed it:

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Categories: Stalker | 3 Comments

Mystery vs. confusion

I’ve been reading/making notes on a lot of scripts recently; both for Persona and for other projects and it seems to me there’s a fine line between Mystery and Confusion; and I was wondering, why does one tip into the other?

Mystery is good:

Who is the villain? Why did the hero do that? Who is he talking to? Did he do that or didn’t he?

These are all good questions; and questions are what make a film or TV show interesting. If the audience is asking questions, then they’re engaged …

Up to a point.

Too many questions and they just shut off. Look at those questions again and instead of imagining yourself asking them in an interested, curious voice; imagine you’re frustrated and confused:

Who is the villain? Why did the hero do that? Who is he talking to? Did he do that or didn’t he? Seriously, what the fuck is going on?

Click. TV off.

So is it just sheer volume of questions? Or are there certain questions you absolutely should know the answers to? I think there are some essential questions you need to answer in order to hook a viewer in the first place:

  • Whose story is it?
  • What kind of story is this?
  • What does the hero want?
  • Why does he want it?
  • What’s stopping him getting it?
  • Something else I can’t think of right now, because I’m tired.

To clarify those:

  • Whose story is it?

I’ve seen films where 30 minutes in I’ve no idea if we’ve met the person whose story it is yet. I’m not saying you can’t have your hero introduced late (Star Wars) or have an ensemble cast; but at least give me some clue as to whether these are people I should care about or if they’re random extras who are going to be killed any second so the hero can turn up and investigate.

  • What kind of story is this?

Is it a horror, a crime thriller, comedy, some kind of hybrid of all three?

You can mix genres, you can slide in a bit of subtle sci-fi or show a twist in the last few minutes which lets you know you’ve been watching a horror, not the drama you think you were watching for an hour and a half (good luck marketing that one, by the way); but at least let the viewer get a handle on something, even if you subvert it later. Again, I’ve seen films/read scripts where I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be a comedy or just so unutterably bad it was comical (sometimes those are the best films!). What the hell is this? What am I watching?

  • What does the hero want?

Simple – does he/she have a goal beyond reacting? Knowing what someone wants helps you identify with them – you don’t have to like them, you just have to understand what they want and …

  • Why does he want it?

Because then you know why he’s doing things and can hope he gets it/hope he fails. Now you’re invested in the story. Again, I think you can keep this secret for a while, but if you don’t chuck in a fake goal or create a false assumption … it’s just a guy doing random shit for no good reason.

  • What’s stopping him getting it?

Why can’t he just walk over and pick it up? If the hero’s main goal is to pick up a piece of paper which is right in front of him … why can’t he get it? Ooh, mystery … oh wait, he’s just wandered off to a different room for no reason and complained about not being able to pick up a piece of paper. Why the fuck not?

  • Something else I can’t think of right now, because I’m tired.

I was making hats last night. I’m tired and my fingers are full of pin pricks.

I guess all of these things (bar the hat one) can be broken, they’re not all essential to answer immediately; but in most cases they do need to be answered fairly quickly. I think you’ve got a grace period of five, maybe ten minutes to confuse people before they start getting bored.

Every new film is a mystery for the first five to ten minutes – even if it’s a sequel you still need to know if the rules are the same or if the players have changed … but if you don’t start giving people a bit of information, they just get confused (and/or bored) and stop caring.

Perhaps confusion is just mystery which has gone on too long? Maybe it’s okay to be asking all those questions at the beginning of a film but not okay to still be asking all of them halfway through?

Yes, you can preserve a mystery for the duration of a film or TV show or sometimes even a series; but maybe mystery only works if you’ve got something to anchor it on?

I know I get annoyed if something is kept mysterious for seasons at a time. I begin to suspect the storyteller doesn’t actually know the answer and is not being mysterious, but merely fucking annoying – like someone who won’t let you in on a secret, sooner or later you just stop prying and smash their stupid smug face in.

But that’s not really crossing the mystery/confusion border, that’s a different thing.

I think the point I’m making is mystery works best for me when it’s over the short term or confined to a limited number of areas; and at its worst when I have no fucking idea how any image on screen is connected to any other image, word or character.

To paraphrase that great philosopher, Lion-o:

“Ha, ha, ha! Mystery can be a good thing, but sometimes too much mystery just really fucks you off.”

And just because this makes me giggle:

Categories: Things I've Learnt Recently | 12 Comments

How to beat procrastination

I’ve cracked it! After years and years of immersive research I’ve finally discovered a cure for procrastination!

Seriously, folks, this is the big one. This is the one which will make five years of reading this blog seem worthwhile. It’s gold, I tell you.

Gold!

Imagine a world where you can sit down and start writing without feeling the need to quadruple check your emails in case someone really important has emailed you in the last fifteen seconds. Imagine a world where Twitter is an unneeded distraction and not the focal point of your entire not-working campaign. Imagine not having to quickly check for pictures of cats being cute and/or nailed to stuff.*

Just think about how much work you’ll get done! Imagine the dizzy heights your career will rise to in the next twelve months if you follow my simple four step program!

And you know the best bit about this program? It’s free! Obviously I could make a fortune on the lecture circuit selling this. I imagine I could easily stretch it out to a full weekend at £300 a head … but hey, that’s just not me. No sir, you get this amazing, four step, anti-procrastination program for the princely price of FUCK ALL!

But first, a little background information on how I made this amazing and life changing discovery.

I have a car.

It is blue.

It is a blue car and one day it fucking exploded for no good reason. 

After a day doing this:

… at great personal expense, I was the proud owner of a blue car with a blown head gasket.

If you don’t know what a head gasket is, here’s a handy diagram to inform/confuse further:

Basically, it’s a thin bit of metal which seals the two halves  of your engine together. If it blows, the oil, exhaust gas and water mixes together and fucks everything up. I had about an inch of water in each cylinder (big hole thing where … oh it doesn’t fucking matter).

Point is, engine go bang. Engine now fucked.

For reasons which don’t make a lot of sense right now, instead of taking the car to a garage to get it fixed … I decided to fix it myself.

Outside.

In December.

On my own.

With no tools.

Let me just make that crystal clear – I am not a mechanic, I have little to no knowledge of how these things work, no workshop or garage and hardly any tools.

Basically, it’s just one idiot and a spanner.

Or two spanners, if you prefer.

The engine started out looking a little like this:

… but after mere days of back-breaking, knuckle-skinning, swear-inducing frustration, now looks more like this:

… and this:

With a bit here:

And some bits here:

… and some more bits here:

That’s a shed up there, by the way. It may look like a cozy indoor space to work in; but it’s fucking tiny with a low ceiling and jam packed full of shit. Storage only.

So I was quite pleased with myself at that point. I know it’s just unbolting shit from other shit, but it’s fucking hard and I really, really don’t know what I’m doing.

Spanner with a spanner, remember?

But I’d done it, I’d got the head off the block and removed the gasket.

Then I hit a bit of an impasse.

You see, the problem with a head gasket blowing is sometimes it blows because the engine overheats and overheating is bad. So bad, in fact, it can warp one or both halves of the engine. Before you put the new head gasket in, you have to check the surfaces are flat.

Very flat.

Flat to an accuracy of 0.06 of a mm.

That’s this much.

I’m holding my finger and thumb a short distance apart here, but you won’t be able to see it from there. I’d take a photo, but I can’t be arsed and you don’t care anyway. Let’s just say it’s as small as your finger and thumb actually touching.

0.06 mm … how the fuck do you measure that?

You need to put something flat on top of the head and see if there’s a gap (by shining a torch from behind, perhaps?) but … how?

Look around you, what have you got in the house which is machined flat to an accuracy of 0.06 mm? Can you see it? Can you?

Took me ages to figure this one out – most of you have (or will have had at some point) this in your house. You will have licked it, loved it and shoved it up your nose.

Lego! Lego is manufactured to a tolerance of 0.002 mm! It’s very. very flat. Very flat indeed.

Sadly, by the time I’d worked that out, I’d already decided to get the head skimmed (cut a teeny, tiny sliver off so it’s guaranteed to be flat) and no longer needed to repair my engine with Lego. Which would have been cool.

Alas, in order to get it skimmed, I have to remove two more bits. One of which, is going to be a massive pain in the arse (the overhead cams – which is actually lots of bits, but I’m thinking of the whole mechanism as one bit) because it can go back on in any orientation, but has to go back on in exactly the right orientation or the engine will explode worse than it did before.

And so you join me on that fateful Tuesday morning: fresh from dropping Alice off at nursery, breakfasted, tea-ed up and dressed in my scruffy best.

The thing about yesterday, is it was fucking freezing outside. Minus four to be precise. And the thing about touching metal when it’s fucking freezing outside is … well, this:

I wasn’t planning on licking the engine, obviously. Well, it’s obvious to me; maybe it’s not obvious to you? Depends on how stupid you think I am.§

Playing with a fiddly lump of metal, knowing I had to be clever and remove a part in a very precise way and mark it in some fashion so I can put it back in a manner which didn’t involve resetting the timing for the whole engine, in sub-zero temperatures … not my idea of fun.

So I did the sensible thing and sat down in the warm to fuck about on the computer until it warmed up a bit outside. I reckoned there would be a four minute window around midday when it would pop above freezing and be like working in a fridge as opposed to a freezer.

And that’s when it happened. I did all of the work I’ve got stockpiled for the week in one day.

All of it.

In one sitting!

No procrastination, no faffing or fucking about – just solid work which almost didn’t include a lunch break.

And there you have it:

HOW TO BEAT PROCRASTINATION:

FIND SOMETHING MORE UNPLEASANT AND COMPLICATED THAN WRITING AND TRY TO DO THAT.

It’s so simple, yet fiendishly clever.

You know how you sit down to write and find yourself cleaning the toilet or picking up the fluff from behind the door? Well it’s like that in reverse – you make writing the lesser of two evils!

To follow my method, simply do the following things:

  1. Buy a house with no garage.
  2. Throw away any tools and knowledge you may have acquired
  3. Buy a car.
  4. Drive recklessly without maintaining it for a few years.
  5. Kill the engine.
  6. Dismantle the engine in the most complicated manner you can manage.
  7. Force yourself to work on it on the coldest day of the year.
  8. Miraculously find yourself laser-focussed on your writing for hours on end.

And that’s it!

Yes, this was a pointless post.

No, it’s not really about writing.

Yes, this is eight steps when I promised you four, but that was words ago.

And yes, I am bored and am procrastinating by writing this instead of working.

On the plus side … um … oh fill in your own plus side, I’m busy.

—————————————————————————————————————-

* Delete as applicable

May or may not have involved being a fuckwit and failing to maintain the car properly.

They’re not halves, but it sounds better than five eighths and three eighths.

§ Answers in the comments, please.

 My idea of fun involves warmth, nudity and power tools.

Categories: Bored, My Way, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard, Things I've Learnt Recently | 40 Comments

The Box

One of my favourite writing techniques is The Box.

You use The Box when you’ve figured out the story, either in part or in full and you’re satisfied it works.

What you do is take that working piece and lock it away. Imagine it doesn’t exist and try to think up a different way of telling the story.

Not better, just different.

You’re not changing the story you’ve got, not adding to it, not muddying the waters with conflicting ideas. That working idea is totally separate and not to be interfered with … now, what else can you think of?

Sometimes you can’t think of any other way – that’s when you know it works.

Sometimes you think of a better way – put that idea in a separate box and try again.

Sometimes you think of a way which is merely different – it works equally well, but has no more merit than the first one.

The beauty of The Box is you win every way. Occasionally you can think of a way so diametrically opposed to the original version that it becomes a film in and of itself.

By the way, this is a mental box, not a real one. Don’t put your ideas in a real box because that’s just mental.

Choose to read that sentence anyway you wish.

The point is we sometimes get so focussed on our initial ideas we fiddle with them instead of making bold choices. Putting the idea in The Box allows you to mentally preserve it and try a completely different approach – the results of which are often surprising.

Sometimes you need to think outside the box. Sometimes the only way to do that is to lock your current thoughts inside.

This is just a quick post because I’m supposed to be doing something else.

But I’m not.

But I’m going to.

Now.

Categories: My Way | 5 Comments

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