Monthly Archives: September 2012

Changing horses midstream

There’s an odd practice in film making of hurling multiple writers at a project as if quantity and quality are interchangeable.

And to be fair, sometimes it’s necessary.

Sometimes a writer may not have the skills to take a project from inception to production. Sometimes they just can’t do it on this occasion because of an unfamiliarity with the genre or style. Sometimes it’s a personality clash with the producer or director. Sometimes each new addition to the team brings with them a preference for a specific writer and it’s all change.

But for whatever reason it happens, it’s not always a good idea.

Part of the problem is development is a long process of trial and error and scripts have a history. New writers, even if they’ve read all the previous versions of the scripts, aren’t privy to that history.

They don’t know why certain decisions were or weren’t taken or what obstacles prevented the script from taking certain routes.

I’ve joined projects halfway through, replacing someone else, and made suggestions which have previously been considered and discarded. It’s a frustrating and difficult process, trying to work out what has or hasn’t been tried before and why it was deemed to have been unsuccessful or unwanted. Frequently I can’t help feeling they’d have been better off keeping the last writer and just giving him more specific notes on the next draft, as opposed to spouting phrases like:

“This script feels yellow, can we make it more orange?”


“Can we add a dog, but not a real one. Maybe something else which smells like a dog?”


“I think this can be more.”

More what? That’s not a fucking sentence!

Thought for today: producers, if you don’t know what you want and can’t articulate it, a string of new writers hired and fired in rapid succession may well accidentally stumble on a solution for you … but they probably won’t.

And it’s not only changing writers which can be disastrous; changing producers or directors can throw a project of the cliffs of insanity and into the sea of ‘what the fuck?’ It’s really tedious having to patiently explain to the new director why he can’t have all the really cool-but-nonsensical images the old director was fired for insisting on.

You have to dredge up all the sensible and well thought out reasons you’ve already gone through, sometimes years ago, just to get back to the point where you can go forward. It’s like running a relay race by going back to the beginning with each pass of the baton.

Changing producers is a fucking minefield. If you had a good one before, you can guarantee the next one will have no fucking clue what they’re doing, embezzle most of the budget and insist you fill the script with roles for women they’re trying to penetrate.

If, on the other hand, you start with one of those, then the next one in will probably sack you for writing a script they can no longer afford full of pointless characters who stand around in skimpy outfits.

And that’s before you get to the thorny issue of extras’ dialogue.

Different producers have different views on this.

Some subscribe to the point of view that the only people who should be talking in scenes are the main characters, so you don’t have to pay much for people who wander in for a scene and are never seen again.

Others believe it’s better to give every minor character a line, bung a vaguely recognisable face a few quid to deliver the line and hence increase the profile of the film by a handful of Internet forums.

Needless to say, both camps think the other is fucking mental; but tend to agree it’s the writer’s fault for putting either option in the script.

In all of this, I can’t help thinking it would be simpler to just start with three competent people who can work together and let them meander through however many drafts are necessary to reach the goal.

Sadly, it appears that kind of attitude is just not acceptable.

Categories: Industry Musings, Someone Else's Way | 4 Comments

Take my advice

You know what I hate most about writing advice?

All of it.

Okay, so that’s not actually true; but statistically, given most people spewing advice onto the Internet (like the contents of a stomach filled with rancid butter, live snails and facial hair) have no idea what they’re talking about, it’s as close to all of it as makes no odds.

I get a little fucking annoyed at reading how this person says you should always do that or that person says pro-writers do the other … when this person is wrong and that person is a fucking idiot and neither of them have ever written, sold or in any way had produced a script of any description what-so-fucking-ever.

And no, I’m not saying you have to be able to do in order to teach. Of course that’s bullshit and doing and teaching aren’t the same thing … but so much of this shit is just plain wrong.

The worst part, for me, is the UK ‘gurus’ spout stuff they’ve found in someone else’s blog, book or seminar which only applies to America. It certainly isn’t fucking true in the UK and will do NOTHING to help you in your career.

The UK isn’t America. They have different flags, anthems and views on being polite to strangers. Americans have customer service, the UK has disdain. We are different. The rules you’ve heard regurgitated time and time again by people who have NEVER WORKED IN EITHER FUCKING INDUSTRY are just plain wrong.

Or at best, unnecessary.

I mentioned this to a friend recently and he felt it was some kind of Darwinian Gauntlet new writers had to run. If they can safely navigate the utter pointlessness of the bullshit bandied around by people who have NO FUCKING CLUE HOW THE INDUSTRY THEY DON’T FUCKING WORK IN works, then they deserve a career for having common fucking sense.

I’m not sure I agree with that.

I’m not convinced I shouldn’t point some fingers and jump up and down.

The problem is, some of these people, the ones who have NO FUCKING INDUSTRY EXPERIENCE WHATSOEVER, also have a large and rabid following built around some kind of weird brand-of-bullshit loyalty. I feel like maybe naming and shaming is tantamount to sitting down with the deeply religious and explaining how evolution really works.

Yes, the truth might break on them like the glorious dawn of an age of rationality … but more likely it will just leave them sobbing in disillusionment and wondering what life holds for them now.

So I (probably) won’t.

Instead, I’ll just say this:


Just, you know … be sceptical out there, people.

Categories: Rants, Someone Else's Way | 10 Comments

The pause

Hello, how are you? Did the rash clear up? What about that whole mess with the rugby team, the tree frogs and the Angel Delight? All sorted?


I’m still here on my secret writing island and I’m wallowing in luxury.

Not luxury in the fluffy towel, heated face mask, “you-there, rub my feet and wash my genitals in champagne” kind of way.

Although, if I’m honest, that’s a fairly standard Wednesday around here.

But no, the luxury I’m wallowing in, is time.

I have it now.

It’s here and I’m wallowing in it, like a hippo in the throes of sexual ecstasy.

In other words, the new regime is progressing marvellously.

True, all five of the five projects I have in development are threatening to need re-writes any day now, with various producers and directors sudden;y insisting it’s vitally important we speak really, really soon … but that’s the storm raging on the horizon. Here in the eye, it’s all calm and I have time to pause, down tools … and think.

Thinking has been a surprising luxury in my career to date. At one point I was failing to write twelve feature films at the same time. Failing both in terms of quality and quantity, three of them I just never quite got round to and the projects evaporated as these things are wont to do.

This is kind of an interesting aspect of the industry: feature film projects are like headaches – if you ignore them for long enough, they just go away.

The last feature I had produced, I was brought on a month or so before filming and given a week to fix it. For subsequent drafts, of which there were far too many (most of which during what some people would term ‘the shoot’ but is more correctly known as ‘the fucking disaster’) I was sometimes allowed up to 24 whole hours. One memorable batch, or the final nail as I like to think of them, needed to be done in 3 hours.

By the way, as a general rule of thumb, the more rewrites you have to do during production because of actors being sacked, an overly optimistic schedule or to accommodate pointless celebrity cameos – the bigger the pile of shit the film will turn out to be.

Not always, but usually.

So now I have time. I am my own boss. I can do whatever I like and what I like is to take a step back, stop writing and think.

Just pause for a while.

What have I done so far? Is it any good? Is it still what it was meant to be? Am I heading in the right direction? If not, is the new direction better or worse? Am I happy with the idea/treatment/script as a whole? Do I need to redo anything before continuing?

All good questions. Questions I not only have time to ask, but time to answer.

There’s a popular saying: A writer writes.

Which is a polite way of saying STOP WANKING AND DO SOME FUCKING WORK.

But actually, a more accurate saying would be: A writer thinks.

Thinking time is massively important. To me, anyway. You may disagree, which is fine and is your prerogative … even though you’re completely wrong.

To me, thinking is a luxury I’ve not really had before.

I’ve got a pause button now, and I’m not afraid to use it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Gunter is here with the champagne and these genitals won’t wash themselves.

Categories: My Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | 4 Comments

The Miracle Inspector

Helen Smith, of emperor’s clothes fame, has a new book out. Okay, so it came out a week or so ago; but I’m nothing if not a bit behind the times.

There’s some blurb about Helen and the book below; but I urge you to rush out and buy it for two reasons:

  1. Helen is a great writer and it’s bound to be awesome
  2. Helen is lovely.

If quality and loveliness aren’t good reasons to buy a book, then I don’t know what are.


The Miracle Inspector by Helen Smith, which has drawn comparisons with the work of Margaret Atwood, will be published in paperback on 4th September 2012. It is a blackly comic dystopian thriller inspired by Helen Smith’s time spent volunteering as a mentor for exiled writers in London through British charity Freedom from Torture.

Smith says, ‘Rather than try to tell the stories of the people I met, I wondered what it would be like if I had to flee from London without money or possessions. How would I escape? What kind of reception would I get if I arrived somewhere without money or possessions, with little understanding of the culture? How would I know who to trust? That was my starting point. I hope people will finish the book asking some of the questions I started with.’

The Miracle Inspector is set in the near future. England has been partitioned and London is an oppressive place where poetry has been forced underground, theatres and schools are shut, and women are not allowed to work outside the home. The book tells the story of a young married couple, Lucas and Angela, and the disastrous consequences of their decision to try to escape from London to make a new life and start a family.

The Miracle Inspector is one of the few novels that everyone should read, it’s a powerful novel that’s masterfully written and subtly complex.
SciFi and Fantasy Books

Helen Smith crafts a story like she’s the British lovechild of Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick, only with a feminist slant.
Journal of Always Reviews

About the author:
Helen Smith is a novelist and playwright who lives in London. She is the author of bestselling cult novels Alison Wonderland and Being Light as well as other books and plays. She was the recipient of an Arts Council Award for The Miracle Inspector and is a member of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and English PEN. She hosts the popular Literary Cabaret events at literary festivals.

About Freedom from Torture:
Freedom from Torture is a British charity that provides care and rehabilitation for individuals and their families who are survivors of torture and other forms of organised violence.

Categories: Someone Else's Way | 4 Comments

The new regime

I’ve been told I don’t blog frequently enough by Martyn Deakin. Martyn’s an excellent writer and all round decent bloke. He’s someone I both like and respect. You should hire him. Seriously, go do it now.

And, you know, he’s right … but he can fuck off.

I’ve been busy, I’m not here for your entertainment. It’s not my job to fill your worthless lives with diverting tidbits, nor to regale you with (largely imaginary) tales of …

What’s that?


Right, apparently it is my job to do all that. Apparently that’s what being a writer is all about.


Okay, so a funny thing happened to me today on my way to the secret writing island …

Actually, it didn’t. I had a lovely flight and had many an interesting conversation including ones about ‘the first ever genital piercing’ and ‘how to wake someone up with a spoon’.

I also had a lovely meal on the plane of creamed tomato soup with chive créme fraiche and coriander micro cress, followed by braised cheek of beef with horseradish mashed potatoes, cumin-scented hispi cabbage and red wine jus and topped off with a lovely lemon-curd-filled lemon cheesecake with raspberry couli .

That’s really not important, but it was yummy and I felt the need to share. The words, not the meal itself. I’m a bit Joey in that respect, I don’t share food under any circumstances.

Anyway, here I am, ensconced on my secret writing island and ready to roll up my metaphorical sleeves.

My sleeves are metaphorical because it’s too damned hot for real ones.

And so begins the new regime.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know I’ve decided to draw a line under the work I’ve done to date* and to pursue new career paths. Largely in the hopes of actually making a decent film. Or failing that, to know for certain the film is shit because of my script and not because of adventures it’s enjoyed on the torturous road to production.

The plan was to withdraw, write in isolation for a year or so until I had some scripts I wasn’t embarrassed of, and then make my triumphant return in a burst of technicolour splendidness.

I lasted about three days, snapped, rang up a director I know and asked him if he wanted to work on a new project with me.

Happily he does. Even more happily, he likes the idea and now all I have to do is write it. And be awesome. The former is well within my capabilities, the latter … well, we’ll see.

Oh, and then we have to try and make the fucking thing.

That’s probably the tricky part, but we’ll jump off that bridge when burns it down around us.

The beauty of the idea is it’s easily scalable. Five or six actors, one location (ish) and no special effects. It can be shot for pennies or for well, it’s all pennies I guess. This film could be made for thousands of pennies or billions … we’ll have to wait and see. It could even be split up and shown as webisodes if all else fails. The important thing is control, to execute the idea to the best of my ability as opposed to the best of people who haven’t got any.

Best of all, it’s an idea I want to write. Done well, it’ll be a complete and utter sci-fi head fuck with a very sweet and heartwarming tale at its core. Done badly, it’ll be … well, it’ll fit in with my back catalogue, if I’m brutally honest.

And there you go, that’s where I am. Warm, happy and full of cheek. Braised cheek.

How are you?


* save a few hangover projects which are still in development – four at last count, although a fifth may just have lurched back into life and punched its way out of the grave. Much to the horror of Aunt Nellie who was kneeling on said grave, paying her respects at the time. Poor Aunt Nellie, she may never recover from the indignity.

Categories: My Way, Progress, Random Witterings | 4 Comments

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