Monthly Archives: March 2015

Everything that follows is a lie

I went to see Focus at some point prior to writing this post and it was … alright. Entertaining enough. Sort of.

I thought it suffered in a couple of ways. One movie-specific, the other genre-inherent.

Oh …

SPOILERS FOR FOCUS

POSSIBLY

BUT PROBABLY NOT

The movie-specific problem was a lack of through line throughout the script. There was no clear goal for the protagonist, no indication of what he wanted or needed and (crucially) when he will have achieved it.

In other words, it’s a bit like watching a race and not knowing if it’s a 100 metre sprint or a marathon. Or possibly a triathalon. Or maybe they’re all running to a pasty shop? If you don’t know when the race will be over, it’s hard to build tension towards the end or care about whether or not the protagonist will win.

finish-line-hang-in-there-300x300

I’m aware not everyone wants this in a film, but I do. I like to know where the finishing post is … and then be surprised at how the protagonist crosses it.

Or not. Not crossing the finishing line is fine too. Not saving the day or the guy or the girl or the city or yourself or … anything. That’s fine too. So long as I know what they meant to do.

Focus doesn’t seem to have that. Or if it does, it’s not apparent to me what it was. Which might be my failing rather than the film’s. To me, stuff just happened … for a bit. And then, at an undefined point … it stopped happening. Then it turned out to be carrying on for a bit. Then it really stopped. Then it started again a few years later … and then stopped again.

Are-you-done-qxu80b

Fun, entertaining stuff … but just stuff for no apparent reason all the same. Maybe it would be more fun the second time around?

The genre-inherent reason is more problematic and pretty much derailled the story for me.

And it’s this: it’s a heist movie. Specifically, it’s a conman heist movie.

Or conwoman.

Conperson movie.

Con movie. The whole movie is a con.

article-2013894-0CFB543400000578-106_468x309

The problem there is we all know how these movies work – nothing you see is real. Nobody is who they say they are and nothing they do or say is what you think they’ve done or said.

Nothing.

Don’t bother getting attached to any of the characters or invested in the plot because it’s not real. The movie is lying to you. Everyone on screen is lying to you. The filmmakers are challenging you to spot the lie.

1391802973507642

That police man? He’s working for them.

That older person? She’s someone’s parent.

That bank? It’s not a bank, it’s a fake bank.

They’re not in a taxi, it’s a lie.

That’s not a plane, it’s a lie.

It’s all lies. All of it. Nothing’s real. Believe nothing and trust no one!

liar

And that’s a problem for me. I find my brain making assumptions which aren’t right. Assumptions which obfuscate whatever character goals may or may not be present.

In Focus, I thought she was playing him from the beginning. I thought she might be a cop. I thought maybe he was a cop. Or maybe they both were and it was just a very badly planned operation.

None of those things happened …

WARNING!

THAT THING I JUST WROTE IS AN ANTI-SPOILER!

I JUST MADE THE FILM BETTER!

… but because I spent the whole film assuming one of them would, I didn’t bother getting invested in what was actually happening because I didn’t believe it was.

This might be the old age cliche kicking in – perhaps I’ve just seen too many of these kinds of films and it’s aimed at a younger audience who don’t expect these kinds of twists?

Yeah, maybe.

skepticzone_logo

But maybe we should be trying to compensate for this built in suspicion? Maybe the only way to effectively write a modern con movie is to start the con before the movie opens? Maybe the only way to nip this kind of audience detachment in the bud is to hide the fact you’re watching a con movie?

That’s what I’m doing with my current script. I’m not letting anyone know it’s a con performed by a conwoman until the very last scene. I’m giving her a completely false set of goals, problems and intentions … with a genuine need underpinning it all. She will never achieve any of the things she sets out to do because she never intended to do them.

The film can be marketed and sold as a completely different genre and (hopefully) no one will know what they’re really watching until the final image.

images

Hopefully.

I don’t think that’s a unique solution and I know other films have done the same thing … but to me it’s an elegant solution which fixes a genre-inherent problem which may not even exist outside of my own brain.

But fuck it, it’s my brain and I want to write a movie which will fool me.

Basically, I’m running a con on myself.

Or am I?

Bullshit or not?

Categories: Industry Musings, My Way, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

The best is not enough

I caught a few episodes of Firefly on TV the other day and was suitably gobsmacked – I’d forgotten just how good it was.

I mean, I’ve always known it was awesome and I’ve blogged before about its connection to my descent into scriptwriting …

The Morning Star

…but I’d forgotten just how good it was. It’s truly exceptional and I’d say it’s got to be one of the best Sci-Fi shows (if not the best of all shows) ever made.

There are shows  I love more (Doctor Who for example) but, to me, nothing is as consistently good as Firefly was.

Every single person involved in Firefly was at the top of their game – dialogue, stories, characters, set design, actors, direction, music, costumes … just superb.

firefly-cast-science-channel

And I find that really depressing. Firefly is the HTC of science fiction.

Every year HTC make (what most reviewers agree is) the best premium smartphone. In terms of features, design and software they’re ahead of the pack* – a perfect storm of loveliness wrapped in sheer beauty …

And no one buys them.

Well, not no one. Nearly no one.

I’ve had a few now, three in a row I think. Every 18 months I go looking for something different, because I have no brand loyalty and just fancy a change … and every time I end up buying another one because there doesn’t seem to be any competition.

Still, me aside, it’s near enough to no one to make it quite rare to see anyone toting one.

download (1)

Which must be incredibly frustrating for the HTC boffins – every year they make the best phone. Everyone tells them it’s the best phone … and they still can’t sell any.#

Okay, so a large part of that is down to advertising budgets. There tends to be a huge correlation between advertising spend and best selling phone. HTC don’t have the budget to compete with Samsung or Apple – the lower level of sales does make sense.

But damn it must be frustrating. Just knowing you’ve done the best you can do, that everyone involved is at the top of their game … only to find out your best isn’t good enough.

Just like Firefly.

I’m not as good a writer as Joss Whedon. I’m just not. There’s no shame in that. Just like there’s no shame in an animated movie not being as good as a Pixar one. Not being as good as someone who’s exceptional still leaves plenty of room for merely being better than good enough.

download

That’s fine.

But if, as with Firefly, being that good still isn’t good enough … well, that’s just faintly depressing, isn’t it?

Or is it?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Maybe knowing something truly exceptional can still fail takes the pressure off? Maybe it’s a comforting thing?

Bullshit or not?

I mean, if Firefly and HTC can fail by being the best of the best, then maybe being lower down the scale and failing is fine too?

Maybe.

I don’t know.

What I do know is, although it’s a crying shame there will never be any more Firefly, there’s still half a season and a movie and that’s plenty of awesomeness to keep anyone happy.

If you haven’t experienced the awesomeness, it’s never too late:

—————————————————

* In some areas well ahead, in some just a little ahead, in one or two a teensy bit behind. Everyone has a preference for OS or design and everyone’s opinion is correct because the reality is the difference between the top ten smart phones in any given year is so minimal it may as well not exist … but the general consensus, when rolled up into one uber-opinion, tends to favour an HTC over their competitors.

You may disagree … and you’re entitled to do so. You’re just wrong.

# Obviously they must sell some and indeed do sell plenty or they wouldn’t keep making them … it just feels like this sometimes. You’d think the phones  which consistently top the best phone charts would at least place somewhere in the top ten sales charts.

I would anyway.

Categories: My Way, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Page thinking

how-to-think-faster

I appear to have two different ways of solving script problems – one is to just ignore it, let it fester and hope inspiration strikes; the other is to sit down with a pen and paper (or laptop and fingers) and work it out as if it were a maths problem.

I know writers who take great umbrage with one or the other of these approaches. Some who seem to believe it’s all art and inspiration, others who apparently think it’s all formula and beats and nuts and bolts.

Most, thankfully, realise it’s a mixture of the two.

Most art is, isn’t it?

Art Llama

Carpentry, for example, has a lot of maths in it. There are a lot of angles and sums and calculations and possibly even trigonometry … but the end result (can be) a work of art. There’s inspiration in there, talent, craft and an underlying formula … isn’t scriptwriting the same?

Inspiration, letting your unconscious mind sort it all out, is one tool; pen and paper plotting, calculating what goes where in a logical manner, is another. Both are useful, in different contexts for different reasons.

pic5

Generally, but not always, I find character and emotional stuff works best by just staring out the window or having a shower or watching the telly or otherwise just ignoring it until the answer gets pissed off and starts jumping up and down to get my attention.

Generally.

Plot stuff, on the other hand, the nitty gritty of what bit goes where and what beat I’m hitting when and the order of scenes – that stuff I find best to commit to pen and paper. That stuff is like quadratic equations to me – there’s too much information for me to hold in my head, jotting it down makes it easier to solve.

denial

I find it really useful to be able to switch approaches when solving a script problem. If mulling something over or talking it through with a writing friend doesn’t produce results, then maybe writing it all down in columns will?

Maybe what we need here is a spreadsheet or a table or a graph?

enhanced-buzz-32260-1278689714-5

And vice versa.

When the columns are all full and the answer is no clearer than it was five days ago, when plotting out the character’s emotional state or journey isn’t helping … give up. Maybe throwing all that stuff away and letting my mind wander will help?

Or maybe I should just write a totally pointless post just to annoy everyone else?

Procrastinate-1

Categories: Bored | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Old age cliché

RiddleMeThis

When is a cliché not a cliché?

That’s not a riddle, by the way. It’s a question because I have no idea.

I know a cliché when I see one … but not always when I use one.

On occasion I’ve had people asserting something I’ve never seen before is a cliché even when they can’t give any examples of where or when it’s been used.

2010-07-30-yet-another-cliche

But, you know, I know that does happen sometimes.

I know there are some campfire tales which are so widespread that no one could get away with using them in a script … or at least get away with claiming they came up with them. But sometimes I’m surprised by what people consider a cliché without being able to list either specific stories or specific characters.

This surprises me more the older I get, because as younger people roll up to give me notes, I would expect them to recognise less clichés rather than more.

tumblr_mt2xy9O4vG1r664h6o1_1280

We all know, for example, that escaping in a ventilation duct is a cliché. Everyone knows that, no one would even consider using it in a film … except the people who do.

Why on Earth would anyone do that though when it’s such an overused cliché? Not just a cliché, an overused one. A double cliché, if you like?

Well … my daughter’s six and she wouldn’t consider that a cliché. She doesn’t really know what a cliché is and even if she did, she probably hasn’t seen anything where anybody uses a duct to escape something.

So does that mean it’s okay for people writing scripts aimed at six-year-olds to use the vent-duct cliché?

I mean, apart from the fact it’s fundamentally stupid and wouldn’t work?

Is there a statute of limitations on clichés?

Again, I don’t know, I’m genuinely asking.

As we get older, do more things seem like clichés? Do we inadvertently limit ourselves by avoiding clichés our potential audiences have never seen?

I think I’ve written a similar post to this before about jokes … but I can’t be arsed to look for it and it might have been a dream anyway. So take clams – the jokes which seem fresh and funny but quickly go off.

“He’s behind me, isn’t he?”
“Did I say that out loud?”
“Another joke I can’t be bothered to think of.”

Are these off the table forever?

Never-say-that

Or do we just have to wait ten years or so? Can we use them in kids’ stuff? Is it even a problem anyway?

Who are the people who complain about clichés?

Scriptwriters, critics and people on the Internet who think they’re critics?

Writers spend a disproportionate amount of time watching films and TV and trying not to do anything anyone else has done. Critics and Interneters just do the first bit.

200206548-001 Television Screens

Are these people representative of the audience as a whole? Should we be taking their (and our) opinion as to what is or isn’t a cliché as gospel?

Or should we accept that the majority of the audience find these things funny or inventive years after people with too much screen-time on their eyes are bored of them?

Yet again, I don’t know. Just thinking in public.

When The Matrix came out – every damned concept or idea in that film was a hoary old cliché from a Century or so of science fiction pulps … yet people loved it because it (the first one! Just the first one!) was incredibly well done and packaged in a new way and, most importantly, watched by people who had never, ever come across those concepts before.

images

It literally blew people’s minds.

Science fiction fans, on the other hand, could happily list a half-dozen books with the same concepts and point out (in dreary detail) that every long running sci-fi TV show has at least one episode with the same set up. Along with an episode where the characters end up in a parallel dimension and one where two (or more) of the major characters swap bodies.

Imagine if the Wachowskis had brought that script to me:

“Yeah, well it’s well written and all … but you’re clearly just ripping off Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin. Can’t you think of something original?”

That, by the way, is why I’m not a development exec – I’d be fucking terrible at it.

So the question remains – should we as writers avoid all clichés forever more? Or is it acceptable to reanimate the classics after a certain rest period? Maybe each individual writer should be allowed to use each cliché exactly once? Or maybe individual writers should avoid the clichés they recognise, but not get bent out of shape when script-ociety as a whole keeps using them?

I don’t know

All I know is that’s more than one question and I wish I had some answers.

359u3o

Categories: Industry Musings | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Failing towards success

WARNING!

THIS POST MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR BIG HERO 6

… OR IT MAY NOT.

I DON’T KNOW, I HAVEN’T WRITTEN IT YET.

Big_Hero_(film)_poster_003

Over the half-term my family and I watched Big Hero 6 and we loved it. We thought it was exciting and emotional and hilarious and … well, all the things we expect from a Disney and/or Pixar film.

Following on from last week, it can quite clearly be broken down into thing/reason chunks and just generally hit each emotional beat bang on. It’s the kind of movie I’d love to be writing.More than that, it was written in a manner I’d love to be able to employ. I don’t know if you know how Disney/Pixar write their animations, if you do then there’s no new insight here. If you don’t it’s well worth checking out Jeff Goldsmith’s The Q&A Podcast:

download

This isn’t the first time the process has been mentioned in the podcasts, but I was listening to it this morning (which was last week some time in your universe) and once again it struck me how much I’d love to write movies that way.

If you haven’t come across this yet then basically the writer(s) write their script (with input at every stage – outline, treatment, script -from The Braintrust: a whole bunch of writers, directors and animators and other clever people) …

images

… and then hand it over to be roughly animated in a kind of big-screen flickbook with temp voices and soundtrack.

Once they have a watchable film, everyone piles in, watches it and tears it to pieces.

The writers take whatever’s left, whatever everyone agrees are the good bits along with suggestions from everyone present, go away and begin the process again.

They do this half a dozen times or so. I think they did it eight times for Big Hero 6.

Eight times.

Eight times they ‘made’ the movie, screened it and then tore it apart and started again.

Eight. Times.

Over several years. Three, I think in this case.

images (1)

That’s not eight drafts of the script. Each scratch-movie goes through several drafts of the script before being animated.

Some people might find that soul-destroying, but I find it wonderful. An impossible dream, an environment where you’re expected to make mistakes. Over and over. An environment where everyone just wants the script to be right before they start spending serious money on it.

3362

Okay, so I know that’s kind of what happens with every script – you write a draft, it gets notes, you write it again … but that’s just not the same as seeing it on the screen before you.

I’ve had the opportunity to do endless rewrites on a project and it (usually) produces good results – providing the people I’m working for have the best interests of the story at heart.

I’ve also had situations where the first thing I’ve written has been filmed. Sometimes without my knowledge.

tumblr_n3px4rLpzk1s5k0eto1_1280

I’ve written on projects where my first draft, the horribly rough one I haven’t even had time to spellcheck, the one which makes no fucking sense whatsoever, has been sent out to investors and cast and directors and … yeah, that’s not good.

I’ve written for people whose company motto is ‘get it right first time or you’re sacked’. You get one crack at this and I want it by tomorrow!

That rarely goes well.

What I’ve never had is anyone telling me it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to just take your time, meander in and out of blind alleys and dead ends and let’s just see where this thing goes.

frank-cotham-let-s-just-start-cutting-and-see-what-happens-new-yorker-cartoon

‘Failing towards success’ is how Robert L. Baird or possibly Paul Briggs described it. And I like that idea.

I know it’s not really practical in live action to make and remake the film eight times … but, actually, why not? Why can’t you make a flick-book version before you go out and film it?

I mean, I know things go wrong on set and have to be abandoned or the actors insist on improvising so much they miss the point of the story or directors want the freedom to suddenly decide to shoot the sun-tan scene at midnight because it looks cool.

What_The_Fuck_Were_You_Thinking

But in principle, wouldn’t every film benefit from having test-screening before anyone’s stumped up $100,000,000 for something which fundamentally doesn’t make any sense?

Reading scripts is hard. Even people who are good at it and are good at giving notes still miss glaring mistakes which are obvious when you’re sat watching the movie. A joke on the page may be amazing … until you realise what or who they’re saying it in front of. Or how what they’re wearing affects what you feel about them.

context-is-everything

Test screenings and reshoots help catch those^ but while you may be able to reshoot a few scenes or even a whole sequence, you can’t rewrite the entire script from scratch to incorporate newer, better ideas. To a large degree, whatever you have at the end of the shoot is what you have to make a movie out of – regardless of how little sense it may make.

I love the idea of being able to fail fast and fail early in complete safety, knowing that’s the entire point: make your mistakes now so we don’t have to fix them (or lump them) later on.

images (2)

I love the idea of multiple notes from mulitple sources all of whom want your script to succeed.

But most of all, I love the idea of being able to write a draft, seeing it on the big screen and then being able to have a second, third or eighth crack at it.

That, to me, sounds like heaven.

I’d like to do that, please.

images (3)

—————————————————————————-

* I have written things like this, one of them seems to be gaining a bit of traction … but then these things always seem to be when all you get is the occasional producer update.

^ I’ve writte quite a few movies where, not only are they not test-screened, but the producers don’t let anyone (sometimes including the director) see the edit until it’s released … by which time it’s too late. That’s quite frustrating, especially when there’s a simple bit of dialogue you could have ADR’d which would have made the story seem less implausible. Or shit.

Categories: Industry Musings, Someone Else's Way | 1 Comment

Blog at WordPress.com.