Monthly Archives: October 2012

Win DARK SHADOWS on Blu-Ray!

Fancy winning DARK SHADOWS on Blu-Ray for Halloween?

If the answer’s no, then … well, fair enough. You can go back to whatever it is you were doing.

If, on the other hand, the answer’s yes (because, hey – who doesn’t like free stuff?) then you’re in luck!

Maybe.

So some random people (who either are Warner Bros or have something to do with them) emailed me and said I could have a copy of Dark Shadows to give away if I did this post, and I thought … well, I didn’t know what to think really. I’m not sure I want this blog to be pimping films I haven’t seen; I’m not even really sure I want it to be one of those blogs which gives stuff away because … actually, I don’t know why.

I mean, I know I have given stuff away in the past, such as a handful of scriptwriting books I didn’t want any more and hundreds of pounds worth of video projector … which I also didn’t want any more. I guess technically I am giving £30 away to anyone who buys an LSWF ticket from me; but this feels different somehow.

This isn’t my stuff to give away.

This sort of makes me some kind of corporate whore.

But then I thought, ah fuck it – someone might want a copy and who am I to stand in their way?

So here we are, I’ve been given a copy of DARK SHADOWS to give away. If you want it, it’s yours. Just answer this simple question:

What?

Answers in the comments below and make sure I can contact you (email me, perhaps? phill@phillipbarron.co.uk), because I need to send your UK address to the give-away people by the 30th October.

So let’s say you have to have posted your answer by the 28th (this year) to give me enough time to get my shit together. That’s five days. That’s enough, right?

Other terms and conditions:

  • I’m just going to pick someone at random, there is no merit involved.
  • You have to have a UK address.
  • You have to post your answer naked.
  • For fuck’s sake, please don’t send me naked photos of you posting the answer.
  • Unless you want to.

I’m supposed to embed this web app too … but WordPress won’t let me. So instead here’s a photo of the web app which links to an online version elsewhere:

This may or may not completely invalidate the competition, in which case I don’t owe you nothing; but will probably buy you a drink at some indeterminate point in the future. Let’s be honest, the language and general apathy might invalidate the whole thing anyway. I certainly wouldn’t give me a free anything, I plainly don’t deserve it.

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Categories: Opportunity, Someone Else's Way | 7 Comments

File names

How do you label your drafts?

And by that, I don’t really mean ‘What do you put on your title page?’ (although that’s an extension of it) but more ‘How do you name your files?’

Do you have a system? Do you stick to it? Do you vary it from job to job?

I’ve found Producers, Directors and First ADs all tend to have their own preference and if a project is for a specific person or once it moves into pre-production it’s best to check with them and use their system; but what do you do on spec scripts or for those people who just don’t care?

Personally, I’ve experimented with several different versions and still haven’t quite made up my mind.

I used to put the date in the file name; but fairly quickly opted not to. Mainly because it just seems completely unnecessary; but also partly because it looks a bit messy to my eye. When I was working on PERSONA+, some writers would send in drafts with the date in the file name; but since the dates had no hyphens, dots, slashes or dashes in them it took me a while to work out what the numbers meant.

And by ‘a while’, I mean seconds (okay, maybe minutes) not hours or days. I’m not that stupid, I just come across that way.

At first I thought it was some kind of version/draft identification number akin to the Dewey Decimal System … but quickly realised I was being a fucking idiot. It all became a little more confusing when some writers would submit drafts with 17102012 in the title page, others would put it backwards 20121017 and the odd American writer puts 10172012.

Okay, so I’m organised and I separate out each draft into sub-folders by writer, story and season, which means the latest draft will probably be the bottom one (for I order them chronologically^); but not everyone’s like that. Some people dump them all in one folder. Others seem to dump everything on their desktop (or whatever the Mac version is called. Probably something cool* like ‘scorpion laser’ or ‘knife claw tiger’ or ‘launch view orgasmatron’ or something).

Anyone having to scroll through a list of randomly ordered dates to find the correct draft(s) is going to have a huge problem working out what’s what and which system the writer is using. Having said that, if they’re that disorganised they can’t keep files in neat folders, then fuck them anyway – it’s their own fault.

So I don’t put dates in file names, it’s simpler. Also, if it’s a spec script, the producer usually would rather there’s no date anywhere on the script or file – a dated script can seem … well, dated. If it takes 2 to 7 years to get a script into the production, anyone receiving the script in the seventh year with a seven year old date on the front may be a bit put off – if it’s such a good script, why has no one wanted to make it earlier?

Stupid question, but it gets asked.

Some writers like to put their own name in the file name. I don’t think that’s relevant either unless it’s a sketch show perhaps, where the production team receive hundreds of submissions – maybe it’s useful then … but maybe not. I’ve seen some scripts where the writer puts his name before the script’s … I find that weird and egotistical; but maybe you don’t?

Then there’s versions vs drafts. Some people use the two terms as if they’re interchangeable. Maybe they are? I don’t know. I tend to think of a new version as being a completely different story to the last draft. Usually accompanied by a change of writer. To me, a new version is what you get when the notes on the last draft go:

Change all the men to women, set it in the fourteenth Century instead of Present Day, make it about dogs instead of people and change the location from a newsagents to a florists. On the moon.

Right. That’ll be a completely different script then?

No, you can keep the same title.

FUCK ME SIDEWAYS

by

Phillip Barron

(Version 5 Draft 2 - 22/10/12)

I never, ever put Draft 1 on anything. Not ever. Not even when it’s the first draft of Version 7. Don’t know why.

At the opposite end of the scale, when the notes are so minor they’re not really changes at all but just tweaks (like changing a character name or fiddling with the odd word here and there) then calling it a new draft seems wrong. In these cases, I tend to go decimal – Draft 7.3 – It’s a neat way of keeping these drafts separate, without actually calling them different drafts, because sometimes people get nervous at the word ‘draft’ and assume you’re going to demand a new set of payments.#

So that’s kind of the system I settled on – PROJECT NAME (Draft #)  or sometimes PROJECT NAME (Version # Draft #)

Or rather, I haven’t quite settled yet.

Because I’ve noticed a small problem with that – if the PROJECT NAME is particularly long, then the draft number is sometimes hidden by email or file browsing apps. Again, that’s not always a problem if the receiver’s folder (or file list) is organised alphabetically or by date … but if it’s ordered in some odd way, it means that person has to hover over or right click on every draft to find out which one is the correct one. So sometimes I write:

(Draft #) PROJECT NAME

But then I think the client probably doesn’t understand why and just thinks it’s fucking odd behaviour.

I know this is a long post obsessing over a detail which probably doesn’t really matter and has no effect on the quality of the script … but I like details. I like obsessing over them and I like to make every aspect of the script, from the content to the file name seem presentable.

Sadly, the truth is whichever system you use, there are some clients who will lose every draft of the script every single time; because no matter what you put in a file name, it doesn’t cure absent-minded idiocy at the other end.

——————————————————————————

+ Other helpful practices included calling the submitted script file PERSONA – something which probably makes perfect sense on their computer, because it’s the only script they’re writing for the show. When you get four a month in with no identifying data beyond the title of the show … it makes a little less sense. Particularly when you have to email all four scripts to the casting director.

^ This in itself is stupid. Why don’t I sort them so the newest one is at the top and needs the least amount of scrolling/reading to find? Don’t know, that’s why.

* Wanky

# If your contract specifies a fee per draft and you go calling every tweak a draft, clients can get a bit wary of asking you to change the things which need changing – this is not a good situation to be in.

Categories: Bored, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard | 6 Comments

Horror movies

Recently I apologised and admitted The Thing never really made an impression on me and then apologised again. Lots of people I like said it was their favourite movie, one of them gave me the script to read.

I won’t name him here, because he’s … you know, distributing copyrighted materials and that’s naughty. But we all do it. He’s welcome to name himself, if he wants; I’ll just say thank you (again) and leave it at that.

So I read the script and … well, actually, I didn’t. I read about two thirds of it, went to bed and never bothered picking it up again.

Please, don’t come round my house in a large mob and burn me. Not again. The neighbours are getting fed up.

I know I’m wrong here. I know it’s an acknowledged classic and a masterpiece of the genre, if not several genres, if not just all genres in general; I don’t care. Or rather, I didn’t care, whilst reading it. About anyone.

My experience reading it was this:

  • There are some people.
  • One of them is Kurt Russell*, can’t remember which one.
  • There’s a mystery involving a similar group of anonymous people (these ones are Norwegian). I know the answer to the mystery because I vaguely remember seeing the film; but for the purposes of reading the script, I’m pretending I don’t know.
  • It’s working, because I am that stupid.
  • The mystery is engaging and mysterious. I want to keep reading.
  • Halfway through, the mystery is solved!
  • Characters are starting to die!
  • Not sure which ones because I can’t tell them apart!
  • Why can’t I tell them apart? Well, I guess it’s because I don’t care about any of them.
  • I reckon one of them will survive, but I don’t care which one. Whichever one is Kurt Russell; but it’s kind of hard to tell from the script. Maybe he hasn’t turned up yet?
  • Okay, tired now. Think I’ll go to bed.
  • zzzzzzzz … BADGERS! BADGERS! …  zzzzzz … little furry bastards … zzzzzz … NO! NOT THE BICYCLE! … zzzzzz
  • *Yawn* Morning! Shall I finish the script?
  • No, I don’t really care who lives or dies. Wonder what’s on telly?
  • Ooh, The A-Team! Cool.

And that was that.

And that was what got me thinking about horror in general and why I’m not really that fussed about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike horror. I just don’t go out of my way to watch it very often. I don’t think it’s rubbish or people are fools for watching or liking it. I just don’t really care for it. Mostly.

For someone so apathetic about the genre, I’ve actually written a surprising amount of it. Not a massive amount, just surprising. Or at least, surprising for someone who isn’t really that bothered about it.

Nineteen feature projects and a TV series at last count.

Hmm … that’s a lot.

For someone who doesn’t care.

Thing is, people keep asking me to write them a horror and, you know, I hate to say no. Especially if they’re paying.

So I write these things and I never think they’re any good, but in the main people seem to be exceptionally happy. This is a very confusing situation – I’m writing scripts I don’t like for a genre I don’t really understand and everyone seems to thing they’re brilliant.

Well, with one notable exception. I wrote a script I thought was fairly poor, the producer asked to read the horribly rough first draft and told me it was amazing. GENIUS, was his one-word critique … until he took it back to show his partners, who (rightfully) recognised it as a massive pile of shit and “went in another direction”~

Where are the other scripts now? Hopefully, dead and buried. I do have this small, nagging fear they’ll all rise up from the dead one day and march into production at the same time. Imagine a dozen or more of the buggers slopping all over the DVD racks of HMV and stinking up the place.

*shudder* Now that’s horror.

I’m thinking now that part of the new regime is NO MORE HORROR. I’m just not very good at it and don’t really enjoy it. In the main.

But why not? What’s not to enjoy?

I’ve been thinking about that in manageable chunks and come to a vague (and probably inaccurate) opinion about a subsection of the horror genre, of which The Thing is one, basically the films whose loglines start with:

A group of …

See? See my problem? It’s right there! Can you see?

A group of teens go into the woods …

A group of marines invade a tea party …

A group of … um … ice people (?) sit around at the North (or possibly South) Pole …

Always a group, rarely a person who has a specific need tied to the theme of the film. Just … some people. Randomers.

Okay, so quick test – some people are in a room, they might die!

Or:

Your best friend is in a room, (s)he might die!

Which one’s preferable? Which one’s scarier?

A lot of horror films seem to involve a random group of people involved in a scary situation. The choice of the random group is, well, random. They’re not important. It could be any group of teens or marines or … mineralogists? Ice scientists? Fuck it, I’ve only just read the script and I can’t remember. Was it a weather station?

A day or a week or a month later and it would have been a different group of teens or marines or whatever and you’d have exactly the same film. These people are not important. Except they are important, because they’re dying and I’m supposed to care about them … but I don’t. Not really.

I read a horror script for a producer once and told him what I thought, he passed that back to the writer (who may or may not have known I said them) and the writer responded with something along the lines of:

I don’t care, this character development bullshit doesn’t belong in horror movies.

Which might well be true. It certainly doesn’t seem to affect people’s enjoyment of them.

But why? Why isn’t character development important? Why shouldn’t horror films follow the more usual movie conventions of having a single protagonist who has a goal uniquely tied into the plot?

Maybe it’s because of the nature of the film? Maybe if these people were people you genuinely cared about and rooted for, then the horrible things happening to them would be too horrific to watch?

But I don’t think that’s it.

Maybe it’s because you need a body count and the only way to achieve that is to have a group of people you can winnow down to the single survivor? Perhaps if there was a clear protagonist for everyone to latch onto, with a goal they need to achieve before the film is done then it would be too obvious who was going to survive and the ‘scare’ is lost.#

Although, that doesn’t sound right to me either. It’s usually fairly obvious from the trailer who’s going to survive (not always mind) and I manage to suspend my disbelief in most other films to pretend the hero might just die this time.

Maybe it’s just that horror films aren’t for me? Maybe I’m supposed to JUST CARE because these are human beings being ripped apart in nasty ways and I’m a sociopathic monster for feeling indifferent about the whole thing?

Yes, that sounds plausible.

Either way, I know I don’t really write any more horror films.I’m done with that now, and it’s for the best. The question now is what do I want to write? Horror is pretty much all that gets made in the UK, apart from gangster and hooligan films and I’m buggered if I’m getting involved in them. So what’s the path? What’s next?

I have no idea.

Well, I do, sort of. What’s next, as soon as I’ve had lunch, is the outline for a Time-Travel-Head-Fuck film.

But after that … your guess is as good as mine.

—————————————————————————————————————

* I once got fired from a job for tearing Kurt Russell’s head off. This is 100% true story and not a metaphor or an idiom or euphemism for anything filthy. I tore the man’s head clean off, dumped it in a bin and got fired. I may have told this story before. If I haven’t, I really should one day.
~ Sacked me. As well they should have.
# Okay, so I know every character in (almost) every horror film has the same goal – survive; but that’s not what I mean. Anyway, if I don’t care about the character, I don’t care whether they live or die … so I’m not going to hang around to find out if there’s something better to do.
^ Unless I do.
Categories: Career Path, Industry Musings, Random Witterings, Someone Else's Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | 2 Comments

Recycling

Is it okay for a scriptwriter to re-use jokes?

I think most of you will have answered a firm and assertive ‘no’.

It’s not okay. It’s lazy, it’s unimaginative, it’s not what writing is about. There’s nothing creative in taking something someone else has written and regurgitating it. Anyone who even considers it is intrinsically a wrong ‘un and should be drummed out of the business.

Okay, fair enough.

And I’m not talking about clams here. I’m not talking about the ‘He’s behind me, isn’t he?’s of comedy. Re-using something that’s massively overused is obviously wrong. Although, sometimes excusable. Maybe the ten things you’ve seen the clam of your choice in were all written at the same time, went through production at the same … but then suffered various production delays and came out sequentially. Maybe that line wasn’t in the script, but the actor improvised it and the director let it slide because he’d never heard it before.#

There are extenuating circumstances, but it’s unacceptable to intentionally re-use jokes.

But what if it’s unintentional?

What if you think of something really funny … later to discover it was in the first Season of Blackadder, the season you’ve only seen once and didn’t really like, let alone remember any of?

Is it okay then? Or if you’re a comedy writer should you be well versed in ‘the classics’ and have an encyclopaedic memory of ‘jokes to avoid’?

Again, most writers would probably say re-using a Blackadder joke is unacceptable.

But what if you’re 18 and Blackadder finished before you were born? Is it acceptable then? There’s a tendency, particularly among the young, not to watch anything which is older than you. A lot of 18 year olds would struggle to name more than a dozen films which came out the year before they were born*. Should they be expected to watch EVERYTHING so they never, ever repeat the work of the ‘old’ masters?

Hmm … maybe. I mean, if they want a career in this industry then they should do their homework. Watching a classic comedy series or film should be part of their self-education.

Okay. But what if it’s an obscure comedy?

Lazarus and Dingwall. Hands up anyone who’s seen that?

Anyone?

Maybe you have. Maybe you all have. I don’t know. All I know is at my school there were only four people who watched it and that’s because I forced them to watch it. At knife point.

If I was dismissive of your carefully crafted joke on the grounds I’d seen it before, 20 years ago in a comedy show you’ve never even heard of, let alone seen … am I right to be dismissive? Or am I being a cunt?

What if the joke was from an obscure, French film from 1932? One you’ve never seen and never even dreamt existed? Is it okay to unintentionally use a gag from there?

Maybe? Yes?

What about intentionally?

If a joke is hilarious; but hasn’t been used since last millennium and only then in a different language on a different continent … is it okay to give it a new lease of life?

Should jokes be told once and then die? Or should they be part of our culture? Told and re-told in new formats and new situations for all time? An 80 year old writer will probably have heard/seen more gags than an 18 year old one. Why shouldn’t the 18 year old be allowed to re-use classic jokes in a show aimed at people his own age?

Is there a statute of limitations on comedy? Does it become acceptable after a certain period of time? Or should writers always strive to be new and inventive all the time, at all costs?

It doesn’t happen with music. I’m perfectly capable of listening to a pop song and appreciating it as a cover version … provided it’s different enough to not be a straight copy. This rap/”soul”^ thing of taking a song and just changing the lyrics annoys the piss out of me.

Except when it doesn’t.

So if it’s okay to cover a pop song, why is it not okay to cover a joke? It doesn’t take away from the original. The original version is still there and can still be enjoyed. If anything, covering a song or remaking a film helps draw attention to the original because there’s always a wide cross-section of the population who are desperate to prove they LOVED the original before you even knew it existed, because they’re awesome and you’re not. They will go miles out of their way to ‘casually’ drop their superior knowledge into any conversation.%

“Of course, ‘Sloop John B’ wasn’t written by ANY of The Beach Boys. I much prefer the 1911 jaws-harp and kazoo version.”

“That’s great; but do you want fries or not?”

I suppose the difference with pop songs is the original writer gets the credit and financial reward, if you re-use a joke, you’re stealing it. But is that okay or not? Is the original writer still using that joke? Are you taking their work illegally? Or once a joke is out there, are you merely keeping it in the public consciousness as is right and proper?

Is there a line in the sand? Is it about quantity? Can you liberate and rejuvenate one joke after a set period of time (10 years? 20? 50?) without needing to pay the original writer? Obviously copying the whole film verbatim without compensating the writer is wrong. Totally and utterly.

But the odd joke or two? Is that wrong? Where’s the cross over between acceptable and “I’m suing you, you thieving cunt”?

What about if something was a clam 50 years ago, is it okay to recycle it today? Now that everyone’s forgotten? Does that okay depend on your age? Can an 18 year old recycle a 10 year old clam because to them (and maybe their target, BBC 3 audience) it’s fresh?

I don’t have any answers to this. Genuinely. I ask because I don’t know and would love to hear your thoughts. Please enlighten me, either in the comments or by email … but not megaphone outside my house, you’ll disturb the cat.

———————————————————————

*Based on a cross-section of three terrified teenagers I cornered in the local Tesco this morning and quizzed intently on movies from 1993. They were shit.

#Nothing drives me to shouty-rage-time more than reading a (often deservedly) bad review of a film based on a script I’ve written, where the reviewer singles out a line the actor improvised as an example of how bad the script is. If you were a gardener and after you’d cut the grass, someone else came along, dug a big fucking hole in the middle of the lawn and took a shit in it … is that your fault? For fuck’s sake, please – review the film you’ve seen, not the script you haven’t read.

^“Soul” is in quotation marks because I find modern “soul” generally doesn’t have any. To my mind, if it doesn’t make your spleen quiver and your feet move involuntarily, it isn’t soul. Similarly, Rhythm & Blues should have both rhythm AND blues in it; and rock and roll should contain both rock AND roll. But then I have stupid opinions like that.

%Sadly, I suspect I’m one of those people.

Categories: Industry Musings, Random Witterings | 3 Comments

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