Monthly Archives: February 2012

Drowning in bullshit

Sometimes I think the problem with the movie industry is it’s built on bullshit.

Writers are people who make up lies up for a living.

Actors are people who tell lies for a living.

Directors are people who imagine what the writers’ lies might look like for a living.

And producers bullshit everyone until the job’s done.

 

Producers’ bullshit can be the most complex, including such useful phrases as:

  1. “I’ve already got fifty percent of the financing.”
  2. “[INSERT MOVIE STAR HERE] has agreed to star in it.”
  3. “We’re thinking of moving in another direction.”
  4. “I respect your vision, but …”

Which loosely translate as:

  1. “I’ve got no money.”
  2. “No he hasn’t.”
  3. “You’re fired.”
  4. “You’re a twat. And you’re fired.”

This is all standard bullshit and merely serves to grease the creaky wheels of fragile egos. The producer knows it’s bullshit, everyone else knows it’s bullshit … and the world keeps on ticking. It’s fine.

There are other bullshitters though, usually confined to the low-budget end of the market, who genuinely believe other people believe their bullshit. And people do … but only at the low-budget end of the market.

Some of them, you can’t really blame for making shit up. They think they’re advancing their career. Okay, so actually they’re creating a situation whereby people are laughing at them; but to anyone who doesn’t really know any better they seem persuasively impressive.

A few case studies:

CASE NUMBER ONE

This guy once told everyone he was writing the next instalment of a major franchise. Actually he’d pestered the production company about a script he’d written until they agreed to read it … and quickly passed, on the grounds it was shit.

Still, for a week or two, he went around telling everyone who would listen that he was writing the next film and the production company had asked him to submit a script. A harmless little white lie … one which gained considerable traction on the Internet and made him momentarily famous (or as famous as an un-produced writer can be).

The end result?

People at the low-budget end of the business think he’s an amazing writer … are excited to work with him on their £25,000 epic … and are usually very disappointed when they find out he’s actually not very good.

Everyone else knows he’s a bit shit and it’s all a bit of a joke.

CASE NUMBER TWO

A sound guy who claims to have worked on several major blockbusters and actually has several major blockbuster credits on his IMDb page … all fake, all added by him.

Truth be told, he’s fucking awful at his job. No, that’s not fair. He’s really good at 50% of his job, he can capture sound beautifully … he just doesn’t seem to know what to do with it afterwards.

On one shoot, the production team thought it would be funny to add a few new blockbuster credits to his IMDb page. When this guy came in the next morning, he immediately began bragging about his involvement in these films … to the people who’d made it up.

He also claims to know where Jimmy Hoffa is buried, the recipe for KFC’s special herbs and spices and to have been involved in the Coke/New Coke scandal … despite having been too young and living in the wrong country at the time.

CASE NUMBER THREE

A producer whom, thankfully, I’ve only half-worked with once who genuinely thinks he’s the forefront of the British film industry. He gets half-involved in dozens of films … and pisses off everyone every time. He’s so massively incompetent and incapable he gets banned from sets, falls out with actors, directors, writers … everyone, to be honest. He fires people who tell him (truthfully) that something is impossible on a given budget, embezzles massive amounts of the budget every time and really believes he’s incredibly sly and getting away with it.

No one ever works with him twice, people feel sorry for anyone who’s worked with him once and anyone who asks around gets warned to run away. Fast.

How does he keep getting half-involved in new projects? Because there is a constant stream of new writers and directors entering the industry and he’s the troll under the low-budget bridge they have to pass over.

Those are all people whose bullshit traps them at a low-budget level. They seem really impressive … until you actually work with them and the truth comes out. The people who know the truth move onwards to better things (or get demoralised and drop out of the industry) meaning everyone above a certain level recognises them for what they are: chancing bullshitters.

In a way, this isn’t their fault. They achieve results, just limited ones because their lies trap them. One day, hopefully, they’ll realise they’re not doing themselves any favours, stop bullshitting, learn to do their fucking jobs properly … and gain some credibility and respect.

Other people though … I have to wonder what their thought process actually is. Take …

CASE NUMBER FOUR

… for example.

A … well, nothing.

He’s not anything in the movie industry; but he told a friend of mine he had five million to invest in a film if he could have a starring role. Contracts were signed, a story was developed specifically to work with his (presumed) lack of acting ability and other, bigger stars were approached to pack around him and make him look good … but of course, he didn’t have five million to invest.

He didn’t have five pence to invest, it was all bullshit.

Let’s be clear about this, he didn’t have slightly less money than he said on a film he’d promised to part-finance. Lots of people do that, hoping the film will get so far down the road before anyone notices that someone else will be forced to find the missing cash or write off all the investment so far.

No.

He, the sole financier, had no money.

At all.

Zero pesetas.

What did he think was going to happen? Everyone was going to work for free until the movie made a profit? Fair enough, movies can be made on a wing and a prayer … but only when everyone involved knows the score, or there’s at least a tiny bit of budget to get the ball rolling.

But nothing? Nothing at all?

Mental.

What’s worse is he’s done it several times. He’s a serial bullshitter without any hope of actually achieving anything. What’s the fucking point? He doesn’t even get to work at the low-budget end because he’s so fucking stupid nothing actually gets made.

Everyone bullshits in the beginning, and I mean everyone. Whether it’s padding their CV or claiming their first paid job is more than £50 and a tube of Smarties. Most people omit to mention their day job, or that they actually live nowhere near London and attend considerably fewer meetings than they profess to … but that kind of bullshit isn’t really entrapping. It’s self-promotion, selling yourself.

McDonald’s don’t fill their adverts full of fat people looking miserably at the difference between their rock hard, four-hour-old chicken nuggets and the succulent posters on the wall behind them, so why would you fill pages of the Internet with complaints about no one wanting to work with you, not getting paid, not winning competitions and how depressed and bitter the whole thing makes you?

But at some point the bullshit has to stop.

I de-bullshitted my CV a few years back because … well, it just wasn’t necessary any more. There are enough genuine credits (of vastly varying quality) to fill a couple of pages – it’s enough.

It doesn’t take much effort to work out a guy who’s had nothing produced, but ten scripts optioned by the same production company, one he co-owns with his brother probably isn’t quite as industry-respected as he bangs on about all the fucking time in every fucking forum he can find.

So just, knock it off.

Reign the bullshit in, people. Please, for the love of my left testicle, let’s keep it to a tolerable, background whiff.

Okay?

Thank you.

Right, I’m off to my fabulous Secret Writing Island in the Caribbean to write Mission: Impossible 5, straight after dinner with the Illuminati so we can plan out the next phase of our world domination. Oh, by the way, I just won six million on a scratch card and want to fund a movie where I get to repeatedly punch producers in the nuts for an hour and a half – any takers?

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Categories: Industry Musings, Rants | 11 Comments

Give me joy in my heart, keep me reading …

Recently my heart burst with joy.

This doesn’t happen very often, not in the writing sense anyway. The rest of my life is pretty joyful most of the time and I appear to be oversubscribed in the happy family department; but when it comes to writing … there are a lot of speed bumps in the road to happiness.

However, recently my heart did burst with joy and it’s all Rosie Claverton‘s fault.

“Why?” You ask.

“What did this heart-wrecking wench do to you?” You may or may not be thinking, depending on how interested you are.

Well, she wrote a script for Persona – that in itself is neither unusual nor a reason for joy.

What is mildly unusual is it was great from the first draft. Not that the majority aren’t; but … actually, the majority aren’t. The majority are good on the first draft, better on the second and great on the third.

The minority (hardly any) are instantly terrible and slowly improve.

Rosie’s script though (written in conjunction with director Cameron King) was great from the get go. How do I know it was great? Well, because it made me pull faces and gasp as I was reading it – that’s usually a good indication.

It wasn’t perfect though – because scripts aren’t – and it needed a bit of tweaking. There were notes and they needed actioning.

So I gave some notes and they were actioned – not unusual you might think, but some people argue EVERYTHING.

“I think the story lags a bit here.”

“No it doesn’t.”

“Oh, okay. Well I was a bit bored because–”

“No you weren’t. You’re wrong.”

“Right … um … I don’t think I want to work with you.”

But not in this case. In this case, notes were given and notes were actioned.

And yet … there was still something missing. It felt like the characters had abandoned the story for a whole appisode in the middle.

A bit like that recent Torchwood series where Captain Jack left the story to go to a nightclub and get laid. That’s not a spoiler, by the way, it had nothing to do with the story and therefore can’t possibly spoil anything. He literally walks out of the story, goes to a club and fucks someone. The next day, he comes back to find out what the plot’s being doing in his absence.

This felt a little bit like that, even if it was nowhere near as pointless.

I suggested a change which might help smooth things over …

And here’s where the heart-bursting joy came in.

Rosie COMPLETELY IGNORED THE SUGGESTION.

But not the note.

This is a crucial distinction, one which is really important to understand, yet incredibly difficult to do.

Notes and suggestions are not commandments.

Okay, sometimes they are. Ones like ‘BE LESS SHIT’ are fairly commanding; but generally when someone tells you they have a problem with something … they don’t.

Or rather, they might not.

The trick is to ask yourself ‘Why?’

Why is the note-giver bored?

Why doesn’t the note-giver care about the characters?

Why has the note-giver made this terrible suggestion?

In other words:

What is the underlying problem which has caused the note-giver to give this note?

It’s a general rule of thumb that boredom in the third act is caused by problems in the first or second acts; and that boredom in the first act means you’ve started the story in the wrong place or with the wrong people.

So when a note-giver tells you a story event doesn’t make sense, you don’t always need to change the event itself. Sometimes all you need to do is tweak something pages earlier and it all comes into focus.

In this case, the story event didn’t make sense to me because it wasn’t immediately clear why the characters were behaving the way they were. The delightful Ms. Claverton recognised that, ignored the suggestion which would have completely altered the story and merely tweaked one line of dialogue.

Suddenly the whole story clicked into place and the scene which felt completely removed from the story felt like an integral and vital part, without which the rest of the story couldn’t happen.

And to me, that’s joyful.

So the moral of the story is: Hire Rosie Claverton immediately, because she’s ace.

————————————————————————————————————-

For those of you who, inexplicably, still don’t know; Persona is a drama series delivered in daily byte-sized portions to your smartphone.

For those of you who have iPhones, yes an iPhone is a smartphone and doesn’t have its own special category.

It’s a free app and the content is free – it literally costs you nothing to get a couple of minutes of drama a day which builds into a series of monthly stories (with something darker and more sinister lurking underneath). You have nothing to lose except those dull minutes of day when you’re browsing the net looking for something more satisfying than nostalgic videos of old kids TV shows.

You can download the Android app here. Or the iPhone app here.

Categories: Persona, Someone Else's Way | 5 Comments

Tuesday numb-nuttery

I’ve gone on record as saying

THERE ARE NO STUPID NOTES.

Which is broadly true, every note has merit.

Except one.

And today, you lucky, lucky people, I’m going to tell you what it is.

It’s a fairly specific note, one you’re reasonably unlikely to ever come across.

It happened to me about four years ago on a produced feature; one which, if you’re really clever and scrutinise my IMDb page really, really carefully, you could possibly work out what it was.

Unless I’m lying about when it happened.

Which I am.

The rest of this post will be told in script form and I swear to you this is 100% true.

Except the bits which aren’t:

PRODUCER
We need you to cut out some of CHARACTER X’s scenes.

ME
Okay, why?

PRODUCER
Well, we’ve hired an actor and he can’t do Tuesdays.

ME
Right. Why have you hired him? Is it someone really famous who’s going to raise the profile of the film?

PRODUCER
No.

ME
Right.

PRODUCER
But he was in Star Wars!

ME
Oh, wow, really?

PRODUCER
Yeah! He was a Stormtrooper.

ME
I see.

PRODUCER
He’s perfect for the part.

ME
Is he?

PRODUCER
No, not really. But he’s available.

ME
Except on Tuesdays?

PRODUCER
Yeah.

ME
Okay. Which scenes are scheduled for Tuesdays?

PRODUCER
We haven’t done the schedule yet.

ME
Right. So how am I supposed to know which scenes he can’t do?

PRODUCER
I don’t know! Just cut out a seventh of his scenes.

ME
Randomly?

PRODUCER
Look, just do it, okay? He’s not available on Tuesdays, so just cut out all the Tuesday scenes.

ME
You do know this isn’t being filmed in real time, right?

PRODUCER
Don’t get fucking smart with me.

ME
Wouldn’t dream of it. Why would we want anyone smart around here?

PRODUCER
Oh and you need to cut out some of his walking scenes too. He’s got a dodgy hip, he can’t really walk very far. And maybe some of the more complicated talking.

ME
Just a thought, but have you considered hiring someone who’s actually available and capable of performing the role?

PRODUCER
No.

ME
No, I didn’t think so. I’ll see what I can do.

And so the director and I worked out a way to cut out one of the characters for a little over a seventh of his scenes. I can’t honestly say it didn’t harm the finished script because the character was built up … then vanished for a bit … then came back in at the end with a really weak excuse for being missing throughout.

But we did it.

The end result?

The producer hired someone else.

A guy who couldn’t do Mondays.

Incidentally, this kind of behaviour pretty much explains why I’m so keen to distance my writing from the actual films themselves.

Categories: Random Witterings, Someone Else's Way | 7 Comments

Twice upon a time

I mentioned on Twitter recently that I’d just remembered how to structure a dual time-period script, and was instantly flooded with almost two replies asking me how I go about such things.

Well, simple really, I remember stuff by running face-first into something solid until mind-images (I call them memories) are dislodged.

As for the dual time-period thing (which has a better name, I’m sure of it) … there are probably lots and lots of people selling seminars explaining the “NINETEEN CRUCIAL COMPONENTS OF SPLIT NARRATIVES WHICH WILL MAKE YOUR SCRIPT SHIT IF YOU DON’T GIVE ME SOME MONEY” and lots of other people telling you you should never do it because it lets evil pixies into your script or something; but I make it a rule never to pay for ‘how to’ classes by people I don’t trust, so I approach it something like this:

Rule number one (to be said in the voice of the Genie from Disney’s Aladdin):

I try not to think of the two time-periods as present day and the past (or flashbacks) because there’s something inherently dull about the past. I try to think of them as two present day stories, it’s just one of the present days was present in 1979. Or whenever – you may choose your own year. I don’t know why this is important, but it just is. To me. Doubtful if it’s important to anyone else.

Rule number two:

These aren’t really rules. I don’t even follow them most of the time. I should probably call them something different.

This one definitely isn’t a rule.

Vague idea number three:

Don’t make one time-period more interesting than the other. Sounds simple, but I’ve read a lot of scripts where one has way more story than the other. If you find yourself with two much of one time-period and nowhere near enough of the other … then do you need them both? Is this really a dual time-period script or is one of them unnecessary back story? Could you just tell one as quickly as possible and then move forward five, ten or three thousand years?

Some people think starting with one time-period then moving to the next fairly quickly means the original time-period is boring. If it’s short, then it’s just back story and doesn’t need to be seen – just get to the point. I think this is a damn good point in some cases; but not always – Pixar’s ‘Up‘ for example. The beginning and the montage meant I cried twice in the first eight minutes. You could easily have not shown them and explained what happened in a line here or there … but damn, those few scenes are better than most movies. Not seeing them would have been a crime.

Vague idea number four:

Leave each time-period on a cliffhanger. Doesn’t have to be huge, but it should pose a question you’re desperate to hear the answer to. Whatever time-period you’re in, you should be totally engaged … but at the same time, eager to flip back so you can find out what’s happening in the other one. Which kind of leads into …

Vague idea number five:

Forward momentum. Maybe flashbacks become naughty when the present day action stops for something in the past to be explained? If one time-period grinds to a halt while someone remembers something from their childhood … and then we come back to the same scene … it’s a bit dull. Nothing was happening in that scene while we were away.

Having said that, I think that’s a good writing tip in general – it’s not just the movie you’re watching which is important, it’s the movie which continues happening in your imagination while you’re off looking at something else. When you switch from the baddies to the goodies and back – hopefully the baddies have moved on with their plans. I think maybe it’s dull if they just stand around waiting for you to re-join them?

Vague idea number six:

Plot each time-period separately because it’s a real ball ache to try and do it all in one go. If you want to alternate scenes (which is what I’m doing at the moment) then split the movie in half and plot out each one separately. I do it on index cards – that way, when I shuffle them back together, the structures match up. The highs and the lows are in the same places and you don’t feel like you’re pinging around like a demented, bi-polar bee.

Or insect of your choice.

Vague idea number seven:

I’ve no idea how many of these ideas there are. That’s why they’re vague – I really haven’t thought this through in any great depth.

Vague idea number eight:

If you plot very loosely to begin with, once you shuffle the scenes into alternating time-periods, you can set consecutive scenes in the same locations or with the same characters so they feel more closely linked. Or maybe it’s better to plot them in pairs to begin with? Whatever works for you. Anything you can do with transitions or themes or bits of dialogue to link the leaps back and forward in time together will make the structure feel relevant instead of gimmicky.

Vague idea number nine:

I think maybe the first time you jump time-periods, you should have a completely different tone and feel so the audience are eager to find out how in the world the characters got from A to B.

I know it’s not a dual time-period movie; but I’m thinking about Iron Man here …

SPOILERS (ISH)

Tony Stark’s in Iraq or Afghanistan or somewhere made up.

He gets blown to shit … it’s chaos!

CUT TO:

Twenty-four hours earlier, Tony’s in a casino in Vegas.

What the fuck?

Go back to Iraq … actually, wait.

How the hell does he get from this happy playboy life to nearly dead in Iraq in only 24 hours? (Or is it twelve hours? I should really have watched the film again before using it as an example.)

It works as a flashback/cut to a different time-period because Tony’s situation is completely different with no clue as to how he got from here to there. If he’d been in his office talking about getting ready to go to Iraq … it would have been deadly dull. He’s in a different place, physically and emotionally – that’s why it’s interesting. Or at least, it’s interesting to me.

END OF SPOILERS

Vague idea number ten:

I haven’t got a ten; but it feels nice to have a list of ten things.

What else? Um … well, that’s about it, I think.

Maybe it’s nice not to have the past time-period labelled on screen as 1979 if the majority of the trailer will be set in the present day. That probably sounds odd and is more a directorial/marketing decision; but if you leave it out of your script then they might take some fucking notice. Probably won’t. Labelling the beginning as ‘The Past’ just creates a sense of ‘this isn’t important, the real story will start soon’.

Possibly.

Them’s my thoughts anyway. They probably could be more coherent and better thought out; but then I’m not really a coherent or well thought out kind of guy. If I’ve left anything glaringly obvious out, then it’s deliberate and there’s no need to pick me up on it.

Or you can educate me and leave your own ideas in the comments.

Yes, do the second one, that’s much more useful.

Categories: My Way | 8 Comments

SvW … coming soon …

Not really a proper blog this, more a bloglet while I’m otherwise engaged; but as a more permanent (and searchable) announcement than on Twitter, Strippers vs.Werewolves will be in UK cinemas from April 27th.

Which is a good thing, for me. Maybe for you too, who knows?

Here’s the trailer again because … well, just because:

Categories: Strippers vs. Werewolves | Leave a comment

Personal best

If there’s one thing that really aggravates me, it’s ‘Writing Advice’.

Actually, there are many, many things which aggravate me, including:

  • Earrings on babies  – why the fuck are you jabbing holes in your brand new child so you can attach sexualising jewellery to them? Aren’t babies cute enough without the need for decoration? And why the fuck would you want a sexy baby? You didn’t even ask them if you could shove a razor-sharp needle through their flesh, leaving a permanent wound – that’s just rude.
  • Fancy plugs in hotel sinks – they don’t fucking work! What’s wrong with a lump of rubber on a chain? Okay, it might not look as pretty as a stainless steel pop-up thing; but at least it fucking works! And by work, I mean keep the water from running out of the sink. I hate having to speed-shave before the water drains away from your poncy, inefficient, plug.
  • iTunes – stop, just fucking stop. There’s no need.

Let’s face it, most of the universe aggravates me in some form; but today I’m thinking about ‘Writing Advice’.

The Internet is full of the bloody stuff, largely from people who don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. That’s not to say the advice is useless or even wrong; but the people spouting it have no personal experience and have either made up some shit which sounds good or have nicked it from someone else.

I think all of this advice has its place; and that place is after you’ve learnt how to write.

The problem with that is there is no universal ‘how to write’ method. Nor is there a such a thing as a universally good script. All good scripts probably have certain things in common, but you can’t apply a one-size-fits-all formula to everything.

We all find different things to call ‘good’ in a wide variety of entertainment.

Personally, I find the idea of spending 90 minutes watching “22 petulant gang-rapists fighting over who can put a leather globe between two sticks” mind-numbingly tedious. Others may think spending 45 minutes watching “pyjama-clad benders bang on about morality inside a pretend, wobbly plastic spaceship” to be equally pointless.

Neither person is wrong, they just have different opinions about what constitutes entertainment.

Similarly, we all like different types of films or TV shows. There’s a very popular British detective show which is loved and praised by millions of people. I watch it and all I see is people sitting in a variety of rooms discussing stuff which happened to other people who aren’t even in the fucking show. My mind just slides off it – why can’t I see what actually happened instead of hearing about it second or third hand?

That doesn’t make that show badly written, it just means it’s not the sort of thing I enjoy watching.

I could write a weekend seminar about what makes that show appalling and wrong and why you should never write anything like that … and a large percentage of the ‘delegates’ would come away thinking I was absolutely right because I had flowcharts and examples and used complicated words …

But I wouldn’t be right, because that show is wildly successful and people love it. It’s a well written show, it’s just not written in a way that I enjoy watching.

Me, as an individual. An opinion, not fact.

So when people tell you every film has to have 3 acts or 5 acts or 8 sequences or 13 steps or whatever they’ve invented in the bath that morning – they’re not right.

Or rather they are right, but not universally so.

Learn how to write the things you enjoy watching. Construct rules for yourself based on observing and de-constructing the films or TV you like. Practise writing the kind of scripts you like and then get opinions on them from as many people as possible. Listen to everyone, but only believe the people who also like the same sorts of things as you.

Opinions from people who don’t like the same sort of things as you aren’t worthless, but they aren’t necessarily right either. If everyone’s telling you the same thing, then listen to them – unless every one of those people hates the things you enjoy.

Then, once you can identify exactly what it is you do and don’t like in other people’s writing; and can be pretty certain you know how to implement or avoid them in your own work … then, you can start reading other people’s advice.

Go on, you have my permission now.

I think the best way to approach writing advice is to look for nuggets of information which back up or crystallise things you already know. Maybe there’s something which points out an obvious piece you’re missing? Maybe there’s a saying or statement which strikes a chord in you and provides an easy mnemonic for you to remember when approaching a re-write? Maybe, there’s a technique you haven’t thought of which really helps tell the kind of stories you enjoy telling?

Whatever you do, for fuck’s sake, don’t pay to be indoctrinated into a system which teaches you how to write, created by someone who’s never actually written anything themselves. I’m not saying they’re wrong, but all that information is available for free online … mostly rehashed and misunderstood by other people who don’t know how to write either, true; but it’s all there, there’s no need to pay for bad advice.

Ultimately, a script is good when people who like the same things as the writer also like the script. It’s bad when the people who like the same things as the writer don’t like it. It’s not good or bad because it follows or breaks a set of rules.

Thinking for yourself will always trump ‘advice’ inherited from others. Seriously, don’t even believe this post unless you already agree with it or have suspected the same thing for a while now.

This isn’t advice, it’s just an opinion and should be treated as extremely suspicious.

In fact, don’t even read it – you’re far better off watching the telly you enjoy and thinking things through for yourself.

Categories: Random Witterings, Rants, Someone Else's Way | 4 Comments

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