Monthly Archives: September 2013

Whine glass

A while back I was … something (Lead Writer? Script Editor? Co-creator? All of the above?) on PERSONA, a smart-phone delivered continuing drama series (which may, or may not, have been the first in the world).

Now there were a whole host of issues with that show, mostly my personal ones; but now’s not the time to go into them.

Next post. That’s probably a good time to go into them.

But this post, this post is just about a wine glass.

2013-03-20-Whine Glass

And possibly a tequila glass at a later date.

But definitely, a wine glass. An errant, naughty wine glass which should never have existed.

So the first scene of my first appisode of PERSONA had a man and woman getting on like a house on fire in a romantic setting. They’re sitting side-by-side on the sofa of a dimly-lit lounge. There are two, half-drunk wine glasses on the table and these two people clearly have a lot in common – there’s excitement, there’s laughter, there’s a connection … and then the woman’s flatmate enters, necks one of the glasses of wine, kisses the bloke and tells the woman not to wait up before dragging the guy off for a night of debauchery and leaving the woman alone to feel sorry for herself.

Persona Poster

Or something like that.

Okay, so it’s not a great scene; but hopefully you get the point – we’re meant to believe the man and the woman are a couple, then the reveal comes that this is someone else’s boyfriend.


So the scene is shot and there are THREE glasses of wine on the table. Not only that, the camera starts low, focuses on the THREE glasses of wine before moving to the couple, therefore making a huge fucking deal of there being THREE glasses of wine on the table despite there only being TWO people in the scene.

So now, to my eye, the whole scene is fucking ruined. RUINED! Now the audience will be wondering who the third wine glass belongs to, not really paying attention to the conversation and will probably guess what the reveal will be.

Okay, so as it turns out it wasn’t a problem because there was no audience. Not at that point, anyway.


And maybe later on, when there was an audience, they didn’t notice or just didn’t care; but I fucking noticed and I fucking cared and it seemed like a fundamental, yet stupid mistake to make.

The director apologised, he knew it was a mistake too; but had been too busy/stressed on the day to notice.

But how does this sort of thing happen? I specifically specified two specific glasses of specific wine. TWO. Why were there three in the scene? Obviously, some well meaning soul figured there were three people in the scene, therefore there should be three glasses and didn’t stop to consider why there were only two specified.

We writers like to believe there’s a point to every fucking word on the page. If there wasn’t a point, it wouldn’t be there. I would never specify the colour of someone’s jacket, for example, unless it was vitally important to the plot. I find one of the best ways to reduce my page count is to comb through the scene descriptions and ask myself if every word NEEDS to be there. So by the time the script is finished, the remaining words are the important ones. If something (like TWO wine glasses) is specified, it’s because it’s important and holds some plot significance … so why would someone ignore that?


Fast-forward a few years to a recent draft of a feature script I’m currently working on and I’ve written a scene where an upset man is drinking whisky in a bar. A drunken colleague demands the man cheer up and tries to top his WHISKY up with TEQUILA – provoking an irritated reaction.

When the notes came in, the client pointed out the man was drinking whisky, not tequila. The assumption being I’d made a mistake when it came to the attempted top-up line and forgotten what the upset man was drinking.

Initially, this irked me – I know what he’s drinking! That’s the fucking point! It helps illustrate that the man’s upset and it helps show the topper-upper doesn’t care about (or at least doesn’t pay attention to) the upset man. It isn’t a mistake – if you think about it for a minute, it’s perfectly obvious what’s going on. This is clearly a very stupid note!

Except, it’s not.

Not really.

It was about here I realised there are several problems with my “if it’s on the page, it’s fucking important so just fucking leave it alone/do it as it’s fucking written” stance. The problem is – it’s not true.


Or not entirely true.

Especially not during the script-development process.

I’d love to say every draft I hand in is a work of art with no mistakes anywhere on any page; but that wouldn’t be true. There are mistakes. Some of them are small, some are glaringly obvious. Sometimes things I think make sense, don’t make sense to anyone else. Sometimes that’s my fault, sometimes it’s just because the other person has a different set of experiences and a different world view.

Rarely, and this is important, is it because the note-giver is stupid and/or bad at their job.

This script is set in America, to be made by Americans – therefore, everything is in dollars. Every financial reference uses dollars as its currency … except for one reference on page 107, tucked away in a particularly exciting action line. One reference to millions of pounds which escaped my and the client’s detection for three drafts. It’s a clear mistake, one which an American would pick up on instantly; but because the client and I are both British, our brains just skated over it. It’s normal to us, a phrase we don’t really read – we just know what it is from the shape and skip over it. In the smae way you can wrtie a senetnce wtih laods of lettres in the wrnog plcae and the brian jsut auto-corrcets it to waht it konws it shuold be.


That’s one mistake, there are others. Especially in the early drafts. There are the odd spelling mistake, the odd grammar mistake, a few bits left over from previous drafts, tiny references to things which no longer exist and a load of sentences which can be interpreted in ways I couldn’t even begin to conceive.#

If the client is reading the script in order to make suggestions for things which can be improved, then he has a ‘find the flaw’ mentality. Given there are several flaws to find (because everything can always be improved) then it’s not unreasonable for him to occasionally misinterpret a correct sentence as a mistake.

Especially when it’s not crystal clear.

The information that the upset man was drinking whisky was on one line; the fact someone tried to top his glass up with tequila is on a separate one, half a page later. And that’s how it was worded:


Realising this isn’t a mistake takes a certain amount of mental agility. It’s obvious to me because I wrote it. It’s not obvious to anyone who’s looking for mistakes, finding several of them and jotting them down.


In order to establish this isn’t a writer’s error, it needs to be written:


But more than that, it illustrates to me why it’s vitally important I comb through the script and weed out as many mistakes as I can. Every uncorrected mistake increases the chances of other stuff being misinterpreted. If I want actors, directors, producers, wardrobe, props, editing, lighting … everyone, just everyone who reads it to assume every word on the page is important and thought through … then every word on the page has to be important and thought through.

If I want someone to only put the clearly specified TWO glasses of wine on the table, then I need to make damned sure there isn’t a single mistake, be it line, word or punctuation mark throughout the entire script. I want people to follow the script verbatim (except when I don’t) so I have to make sure everything is clear, unambiguous and exactly what I want it to be.

Until I stop making mistakes, how can I reasonably expect anyone else not to?


#Actually, that’s something which never fails to amaze me. People read whatever the hell they like into a sentence – frequently misreading a word to find new and confusing meanings. If the client has a fixed idea of who the character is, then no amount of evidence to the contrary can change their internal vision of that person. Instead of realising they’ve misunderstood what type of person the character is, they just assume everything in the entire script is wrong because the character they’ve invented in their own heads isn’t the same as the one who’s actually written on the page.

A good example of this would be Spock and Bones in Star Trek. You could read one of those scripts and come to the conclusion that those two people hate each other. Maybe you could even interpret them as gay rivals for the Captain’s affections, each hell bent on humiliating/discrediting the other. That version of the characters would hold up remarkably well throughout the entire script … until you come to the one scene where one risks his life for the other.


If you were just reading the script for fun, then that might be a startling revelation which makes you rethink how you’re imagining the characters. If, on the other hand, your job was to look for inconsistencies and errors in the script, you might just decide this was out of character for them.

Actors do that a lot too. Instead of looking at all the things the character does and finding a way to play a person who does those things, they create their own version of the character first and then vehemently argue that their character wouldn’t do that sort of thing.

It’s annoying. Especially when they’re right.

Categories: My Way, Persona, Someone Else's Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | 2 Comments

What not to wear






I’ve always said format is the suit your script wears to its interview.

Well, not always. Sometimes I’ve said other things like “Please” and “Thank you” and “Where the fuck’s the remote gone now?”. Perhaps consistently said format is the suit your script wears to its interview is more apt?

And whereas I believe that, I’ve also always believed what we wear as writers is largely irrelevant.

So long as it’s not a suit and tie. For some reason, people don’t seem to trust a creative person in a suit and tie. Businessmen wear suits and ties, creative people wear berets. That’s a fucking fact.


Okay, maybe not a beret; but you get the idea. As (someone whose name I’ve forgotten) put it “dress like a slob to get that job”. And he should know, he wrote (a really good film I can’t remember) and (another really good film I can’t remember. Possibly something by Pixar). People who write stuff like that know stuff like this.

Although, recently … I’m not so sure.

About the slob bit. I’m still convinced (the person whose name I’ve forgotten$) is awesome, that’s probably not going to change.

At the BBC TV Drama writers Festival last year, I couldn’t help noticing most of the really successful people were smartly dressed. Not suit and tie smartly dressed; but … just smart. Smart/casual, if you prefer.


Okay, so maybe they’re dressing up just for the festival. Maybe they normally attend meetings barefoot and dressed in rags. I don’t know … but I doubt it.

A few years back, a friend of mine was a session musician and he told me the really well paid session musicians, the true artists and recognised genii of their fields tended to turn up early, be exceptionally well dressed and very polite.

As opposed to the charting teens they were recording over, who tended to be drunk, abusive and fashionably scruffy – the media’s portrayal of rock and roll, in other words.

The moral I took from that is the people who are currently in vogue and making money can dress/behave however the hell the want; but the people who make a career out of it, the ones with longevity, tend to dress/behave in a manner which is much more acceptable to the money people.


And I think scriptwriting is the same, because here’s the thing – the people who have money, the people who invest in films, tend to wear suits. They tend to trust people who also make a similar effort to look smart. Producers tend to be well dressed because investors may well be reluctant to hand over millions of pounds to someone who dresses like a junkie.

Producers want writers to be creative, but manageable. No one wants to deal with a tortured artiste who rends his clothes in twain when the wrong kind of biscuit is served with elevenses.

Unless their last ten films have all made millions – then people will deal with them no matter how difficult/awkward/bastshit insane they are.

People want to work with professionals – people who will get the job done on time, on budget with the minimum of fuss. People who are creative enough to be good, but grounded enough to be pleasant to work with.

happy as an idiot

And I think that creative/professional balance needs to come across in your clothing. In the past, I’ve experimented with different types of clothing when meeting people for prospective script work (although I never quite got round to turning up in my Batman costume, just to see what would happen) and I, incredibly unscientifically, came to the conclusion that slightly smart got me more jobs than ripped and dirty.

Ultimately, it’s your ability which counts – but a lot of us are on the same level when it comes to ability. Very few of us are towering geniuses. Very few of us can roll in pissed, call the producer a cunt, vomit on his desk and walk away with twice our normal fee because we’re so damned awesome we’re worth it.

So if there are plenty of people who can do the job, then the job tends to go to the one who makes the best impression as a person. Just like any job. And if the people who are handing over large sums of money tend to hang around with people who are dressed smartly, then maybe they feel more comfortable hiring you if you’re dressed just a teensy bit smartly too?


Or maybe not.

Maybe I’m talking shit.


But I keep thinking back on the BBC Drama Festival and how everyone whose work I admired looked … neat. Tidy. Professional.

Maybe this is obvious? Maybe everyone except me has always known this?

Possibly. But there you go, no one else seems to talk about this kind of shit (probably because it’s fucking inane) and I do like to ruminate on the minutae.

Next week – what kind of panties to wear on the first day of principal photography.*

dr who pants


$ Nope, still can’t remember.

*A liquorice thong. Always. Preferably crotchless.

Categories: BBC, Bored, Festivals, Industry Musings, Random Witterings, Someone Else's Way | 3 Comments

Ending with a beginning


I went to see Monsters University recently. Or rather, recently to when I’m writing this; probably not recently to when I’m posting it. It seems to be taking me longer and longer between writing and posting.


Anyway, Monsters University …




… is a really, really good film which I just didn’t really enjoy. I liked all the component parts. I liked the characters, scenes, dialogue, imagery, story and music … but was, largely, bored.

No, not bored … disinterested. Disconnected. I watched, but didn’t care.


I think that’s because of Monsters Inc. If Monsters Inc. didn’t yet exist or I hadn’t yet seen it, I would have loved Monsters University …

But it does and I have.

To me, the central dramatic question of Monsters University is “Will Mike become a scarer?”

Well … no. No, he won’t. I know I won’t because he isn’t. Present tense. Monsters University is all in the past. Monsters Inc. is the present. Mike isn’t a scarer. That’s one of the facts which was indelibly stamped on my brain before I went to see the film. It’s part of who the character is. In the same way I know Captain Kirk isn’t a painter and decorator or Batman isn’t a florist.

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Or perhaps a more relevant way of looking at it is Doctor McCoy isn’t a starship captain and Alfred isn’t a costumed vigilante. If they had grown up wanting to be the hero, then that would be an interesting and semi-tragic bit of backstory; but I’m not sure it would make for an interesting film. It’s a good piece of a film, but is watching a character fail to become the person you already know they’re not a good story in and of itself?

Putting it another way: can you root for a character/invest in their story when you know they’re not going to achieve their goal?

The odd thing about the Monsters University is that’s the whole story, there’s nothing else to it. I can’t remember ever seeing another film where the ending was so clearly set in my mind.*

Okay, so I didn’t know the how or the why of Mike’s failure; but I knew he would fail.

You could argue you know the end of most films – Superman will save the day, Indiana Jones will find the treasure and James Bond will get the girl. Sometimes twice and occasionally (and uncomfortably) whether she wants him to or not.

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But to me, that’s normal suspension of disbelief. I know the hero will win but am prepared to pretend I don’t in order to enjoy the film because, fuck, this might be the one time they fail. I’m 99.9999999% positive they won’t; but they might.

To me, the fun of a film lies in that 0.0000001%

But that’s not what I saw in Monsters University. This was knowing the hero is going to fail. 100% positive. Worse than that, it’s knowing the hero will be much better off (and happier) once he has failed.

It’s watching the hero pursue the wrong goal and having to wait 90 odd minutes for him to work it out.

To me, Monsters University is an origin story, which is fine. I love stuff like that. I love watching how famous partnerships began or careers got started. I know Clark Kent will become Superman, Bruce Wayne will become Batman and Peter Parker will become Spider-Man. I know all this and can’t fool myself into pretending they might not. I can’t suspend my disbelief. When I know the outcome, it stops being a WILL question and becomes a HOW. I don’t really find HOW questions dramatic – they can be interesting on an intellectual, documentary level; but rarely on a visceral, emotional level. Luckily, origin stories are usually structured so the origin, the HOW they become the thing you know they will become, is at most half of the film. After that, you get another story.

Most recently: Superman had to fight off Kryptonians intent making Earth more dangerous for themselves; Batman had to stop some loons from destroying Gotham by making everyone else loonier and Spider-Man had to stop a bit of a dull lizard-bomb.


Sometimes these origin stories weave the second story into the origin narrative (like in X-Men or in Batman Begins); sometimes the first story comes to a grinding halt (there you go, sir: snazzy cape, natty boots and a set of super powers … you’re all done! I expect an arch-nemesis will be along to monologue at you in a minute or two); but either way you get two stories:

How did X become X?
Will X overcome Y?

I like WILL questions. Will X fall for Y? Will X rescue the thing from the other thing? Will X find his glasses?

HOW … meh. Okay, I am interested; but I don’t care.

Monsters University is all HOW and no WILL.

Which is such a shame. Monsters University is clearly a superb film. It would have been fantastic as a stand alone film. And Monsters Inc. would have been fantastic as a sequel.

But that’s not what happened.

Monsters Inc. is a superb stand alone film; but I found Monsters University to be oddly empty and just backstory. I think it adds a lovely new sheen to Monsters Inc. Next time I watch Monsters Inc. it will be with fresh eyes, seeing nuances I didn’t know were there before. Monsters University has made Monsters Inc. even better than it already was … whilst at the same time failing to keep my attention.


I guess the problem was, although there were two questions, one cancelled the other out:

How did X become X?
Will X become someone else?

In order to become emotionally engaged in the second question, I would have had to stop asking the first question. I would have needed to not know it was an origin story. To me it needed a different second question – a WILL question which I didn’t already know the answer to which was wholly resolved in the movie. WILL Mike find the thief? WILL Mike uncover the dastardly plot? WILL Mike unmask the villain?

I guess the lesson I learnt is HOW questions pique my curiosity, but WILL questions engage me in the story.

Or something like that.

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I also thought it was really odd the way they ended the university section of the film. When Mike and Sulley discover they don’t need Monsters University in order to be the people they want to be, it’s kind of akin to the filmmakers telling you you don’t need to bother watching everything until this point in order to enjoy Monsters Inc. It’s a film about a character going to university where he discovers he doesn’t need to bother going to university. Oh. Right. So Monsters University is a waste of time? Is that an allegory for this whole film being a bit of a waste of time? Is allegory the right word?

We may never know.

Obviously I’m in a minority with this feeling – certainly the family behind me in the cinema loved the film. Loved it so much they shrieked with laughter at everything. EVERYTHING. Mike walks into a room, hilarious. Sulley breathes, hysterical. Randall has fingers, tears of laughter and whoops of fucking joy.

In fact, come to think of it, the HOW and the WILL of Monsters University were drowned out by the more pressing WHAT and WHEN of the family behind:

WHAT the fuck are they laughing at?
WHEN will they either shut the fuck up or laugh themselves to death so I can enjoy the film?

Maybe that was just the problem all along?

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* People usually toss Titanic into the conversation round about here, because they knew the boat would sink. The boat sinking isn’t the fucking point! The boat sinking is a HOW question, one you watch with detached interest. The WILL question is “will Jack and Rose get together?” If you thought the answer to that was obvious from the start, then I think you’re lying. Because they didn’t and NO is almost never the answer to that question.

Obviously, if you didn’t like either of the characters or the film as a whole then you probably thought maybe, maybe not – I don’t care … but you didn’t KNOW.

Unless someone told you.

Or it’s mentioned in the beginning of the film and I’ve just forgotten. Which it might be.

Lincoln! That’s a film where I was a hundred percent certain of the answer to the WILL question. That film tries to ask WILL he succeed; but really it’s just a docudrama about HOW he succeeded. I kind of enjoyed that film without really being emotionally involved.

Categories: Bored, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard, Things I've Learnt Recently | 5 Comments

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