Author Archives: phillbarron

About phillbarron

UK based scriptwriter: 9 produced features, handful of shorts, bits and bobs of TV and Lead Writer for a Smartphone drama. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1802461/

Moving

Oh hello, it’s been a while. Haven’t the months been kind to you? I like what you’ve done to your hair/shoes/teeth.

And so on.

I moved house back in April and blogging seemed less important than unpacking and DIY. I’d like to say I’m back now, but I’m probably not. In the meantime though, here’s a quick video of me moving my office from the old house to the new.

Hopefully see you soon?

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Categories: My Way, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard, Writing and life | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Death Star problem

I was 10 when I first saw Return of the Jedi and, like the rest of the trilogy, loved it. It was the film I’d been waiting three years for and every frame of it etched itself onto my heart.

But even then, deep in my prepubescent lust for all things Star Wars, I recognised a problem … the second Death Star. The same thing again.

 

I didn’t know what a plot was, but I knew doing the same one twice was … well, a bit shit.

But it also kind of makes sense.

I’ve always found it weird in Batman comics when a supervillain almost succeeds in their nefarious schemes only to be thwarted at the last second by a combination of Batman’s awesomeness and pure dumb luck. It almost worked, if one variable had been different, if Batman had been one second longer defusing the bomb … different outcome. Surely it’s worth giving it another go?

And yet they rarely do.

The Death Star almost worked. If not for that one niggly exhaust port the Emperor would have been cruising the space lanes, giggling like a loon as he blew planets out of the black.

So yeah, put a cover on the exhaust port and try again. Makes sense.

 

Makes sense so long as you don’t think about the economics of it all, but from a character point of view I absolutely believe the Emperor would do it again.

And yet, from a writing point of view … there’s that tinge of shitness to it. That’s my Death Star Problem – when plotting a sequel do I stay true to the character who probably would build a second one* or do I service the viewer and just move on to new evil plots?

I tend to err on the side of newness, but I’m never quite sure that’s the correct answer. Repetition certainly hasn’t harmed Star Wars so maybe I shouldn’t worry about it either?

I don’t have an answer and I guess like most of these things it’s either down to personal preference.

Or it’s execution dependent.

I have no idea. What camp are you in?


* But not a third. Doing the same thing a third time is just stupid.

Categories: Random Witterings | Tags: | 7 Comments

Using my Magnum voice

One of the problems with writing a film script is the length of time it takes to write/produce versus the length of time it takes to read/watch.*

A script of 110 pages may take an hour/hour and a half to read# but it probably took the best part of a year to write from spark of conception to final draft. Sometimes longer. I have a script due to go into production which began life in 2009 or maybe even 2008. The first six months was an intense period of rewriting and thrashing things out. Everything since then has been periodic rewrites to accommodate various cast members as they get attached or to please an array of investors/producers/whims as they appear and disappear.

Coming back to a script after a couple of years of not thinking about it is an enlightening and terrifying experience.

“Why did I think that was a good idea?”

After that long away from the page the script needs a thorough rereading before altering just to get a sense of how the new material will impact the old.

That seems fairly obvious, but what’s perhaps less obvious is the gap between writing FADE IN: and FADE OUT. on the first draft. That might be a few weeks or it might be a few months,~ either way it can sometimes be tricky to keep in mind what the characters are thinking and feeling at any given point. Even at the note card/treatment stage, when I’m finding my way through the story, I sometimes find characters doing things which don’t feel real given what just happened before. This can often lead to feedback such as:

“Hang on, they’ve just discovered the whole world’s under threat from this alien thingy and they’ve only got 24 hours to find a cure … so he pops off to buy some new shoes and she decides now’s the time to learn Greek?”

Written down like that it’s plainly nonsensical … but I won’t have experienced it in one short sentence. I’ll have had the various scenes on note cards and reshuffled them late in the day. Or cut and paste scenes from different parts of the script because they were in (a different) wrong place. Or inserted them in the second or third draft at the behest of the client because we’re getting development money from Clarks and … well, Greece I suppose.

Those scenes may have been written years apart and taken days to write, it’s only when they’re read in sequence do they seem stupid.

One way to combat this is to read through what I’ve written to date before beginning the day’s work … which is fine on page 20 but a ball ache on page 80. So a method I find myself applying more and more is what I like to call The Magnum Voice+.

You remember the bit, probably immediately following an ad break in America but often seemingly random in the UK-reduced-ad-version, when Magnum would narrate what’s just happened and how his little voice is feeling about it?

I do that.

Often whilst wearing my Magnum costume.

Sometimes I write it down, sometimes I just say it in my head, but in essence all I do is imagine the character narrating what’s been happening and how they feel.

“As soon as I found out the world was ending I decided to … “

Well, not learn Greek. Probably. Not unless the cure to the world-ending thing is written in Greek somewhere and even then it’s probably better to just go find a Greek to translate it for you.

“When I first heard the world was ending I was a bit upset … but then I remembered the money I owed in library fines and cheered up a bit. Feeling better, I decided to buy those shoes I’ve always wanted using a credit card because … eh, fuck it. Why not?”

Oh. I guess the shoe buying thing does make sense.

I find the Magnum Voice is particularly good at keeping track of emotions. It’s nice to remind myself of the shit I’ve been putting the character through because, whereas to me 30 pages ago was three weeks back, to the character it was only three hours ago. They’re probably still upset at that baboon eating their sister in front of them. Probably still quite a touchy subject and too soon for them to go to a fancy dress party dressed as a bonobo. And if they absolutely have to dress up then maybe having a little weep about it first would feel appropriate?

It’s not a universally useful tool, but then what tool is? Personally I like having a range of tools to fall back on and the Magnum Voice is one of my current favourites.

I can’t think of a snappy way to end this post, but I feel it’s gone on long enough … so here’s the Magnum soundtrack to fill your ears with awesomeness:


* I imagine novels have a similar problem, although having no experience in that realm I think I’ll just keep my fool mouth shut.

# I used to read a lot faster, bordering on speed reading … until I realised I was never doing a script justice. A script should be read at the speed you’d watch it so you appreciate the emotion properly. Or that’s what I think anyway.

~ Occasionally it’s been a few days … but that’s rarely a good idea and even rarer as necessary as the producer insists it is.

+ I know Magnum wasn’t the first show to do it, but to my mind it’s the most successful version of it. You may like to think of this as The Gold Monkey Voice or The Philip Marlowe Voice … knock yourself out.

Categories: My Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

2017 Shore Scripts Screenwriting Competitions

I’ve been asked to bring this to your attention:

Shore’s Feature, Short Script and TV Pilot contests offer you the opportunity to get your script read by the most respected industry Judges drawn from around the world; including 37 Oscar, Golden Globe, Emmy & Bafta winners, and 79 Prod Comps, Agents, and Managers.

With prizes including meetups in Hollywood with producers and agents, cash prizes, script consultancy and software, this year’s competition offers an unparalleled opportunity for new screenwriters to launch their careers.

Further details on submissions, deadlines, and more can be found at http://www.shorescripts.com/

Which I have now done. Feel free to go about your day.

Categories: Opportunity, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Emotions first

 

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I have a nasty tendency when I’m plotting out a script to get too focused on the events. I work out what the beginning and end scenes are and then split the story into quarters, give each quarter a rough title and then start fleshing each quarter out with scenes.

The problem with this approach is it can sometimes leave me with cool sequences I’m very attached to which look great … but don’t really service the character’s journey. Because that’s what a film is: the protagonist’s journey, following along as they learn their most important, life changing lesson.

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No matter how big or blockbuster-y the film is, I want that emotional core. I want it to the story of one person learning and changing and growing (or dying and failing, that works too) … and I want that journey to be integral to the story. I don’t want the story to happen and then the character to suddenly change at the last moment or to change independently of the events. I want the events to alter her worldview, to shape and change how she feels until she’s forced to make a difficult transition which is the only way to meet the challenges of the film.

I don’t care if it’s a superhero film or a small-scale drama. Whatever the story-flesh is, I want it wrapped around a solid emotional-skeleton.

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The problem is, when I start with the flesh I end up with too many arms or not enough legs or a weird lumpy bit in the middle of the stomach which is soooooo cool … but has nothing to do with the main character’s turmoil at all.

So maybe, just maybe, the answer is to start with the emotions first?

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Maybe the way forward is to write down who she is at the beginning, who she has to be at the end and then divide the film up into segments which represent the emotional steps on that journey?

Maybe if I give each step a relevant name, let’s say I’m using the five stages of grief or something, then I know the sequences need to represent denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance*.

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Only when I know what the steps have to mean should I then work out what they actually are. I can construct the physical events of the story around those steps. So it’s not “She has to get the key to unlock the thing!” but “She needs to realise not all people are untrustworthy” and then figure out which bit of action best represents it. That way the emotional change is smooth, it happens gradually and every scene adds to the whole. Every scene can still be funny or cool or thrilling or whatever … but they have meaning, they contribute to the film instead of being diversions.

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Films tend to get written the other way round. Certainly whenever I get a rewrite job it’s usually because the original writer didn’t have (or couldn’t convey) a clear emotional journey, resulting in a script which has good bits in it … but none of those bits add up to anything satisfying. It’s really, really hard grafting an emotional skeleton on afterwards because, obviously, skeletons are meant to be on the inside, baked into the core of the story.

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It also means there’ll inevitably be that conversation with the client where they have a specific scene they’re in love with which has nothing to do with the story they’re trying to tell but looks sooooooo cool. Trying to persuade people they don’t need the thing they love most is never easy, but often the best options are cut it or tell a different story, one where that scene makes sense.

This is often most clear in action films, in the difference between a good action film where every fight scene and set piece changes the protagonist in some way and a bad one where shit just blows up for no reason.

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On the other hand, we all have favourite films where nothing makes any sense and the fact it’s just shit blowing up for no reason is what makes the film so great. So perhaps this emotion-first approach isn’t always needed?

Or maybe those films we love would be even better if there was some point to them?

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Maybe they’re good not because of the script (blasphemy – everything comes from the script!) but despite the script? Maybe it’s a mediocre script which has been acted, directed, edited, lit, dressed and scored well?

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I don’t know. I just know that for me starting with the emotional journey makes the script a lot less painful to write than starting with the physical one.


* You may be of the opinion that these five stages are bullshit. I may be of the opinion you’re right, I may not. Doesn’t matter.

Categories: My Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

We interrupt this blog …

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… for some politic musings.

Like many writers I tend to be left-leaning in my political views. I tend to ascribe to notions of equality and fairness and eschew racism and prejudice in all forms. I’m by no means perfect in that pursuit, but I aspire to improve, to understand and above all to change the world through words and reason.

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So like many people I too am appalled at what’s happening in America at the moment. It’s inconceivable to me that a racist, misogynist moron can become president. That a man who’s bankrupted every business that doesn’t rely on writing his name on a building and walking away can be in charge of a complex web of lives and destinies.

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Like many people I feel action must be taken to limit the damage he does before his vindictive stupidity pushes the whole world beyond the point of no return … and yet I’m also appalled at the way people are choosing to voice their concerns.

When Jeremy Clarkson punched his producer, people were (rightly) outraged, yet when someone punches alt-right Nazis, they applaud it.

Violence is not now nor has ever been the answer.

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Calling out Trump’s behaviour, his racism, his intolerance is our civic duty. Calling him names, like I did above, is in no way helpful and does nothing to help the cause because (and this is really important) 59 million Americans believe Trump is the man who’s going to save them.

Calling him names is calling them names and no one likes to be called names.

I firmly believe Trump is wrong in almost everything he says. When he is occasionally right it’s because he’s lying and saying what he’s been told people want to hear. There’s one phrase I find particularly incorrect, one he’s used to justify his Muslim ban: fighting fire with fire.

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This is wrong. You don’t fight fire with fire, you fight fire with water.*

When people are getting angry and aggressive, you calm them down. You listen to them, you address their concerns and, where appropriate, you educate them.

Calling them names and punching them does not help.

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Donald Trump is the symptom of a far deeper problem here, namely a broken and corrupt system designed to protect inequality and prevent social mobility. All of the money in the world funnels upwards leaving nothing at the bottom. All of our businesses and corporations are run for the benefit of shareholders instead of customers or employees. No one owns anything so there’s no one to complain to, there is no Mr Vodafone or Mrs Tesco to care if their companies don’t work properly or screw people over. The employees are paid very little, the CEOs just slash and burn before moving on to a competitor or a completely different field.

No one cares and there’s no one to complain to.

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Politicians have degraded themselves to the point where no one has any faith in them or believes a word they say. Decades of political corruption, sleaze and scandal has undermined any faith the public has in these people whilst at the same time the press has undermined faith in science – the very fabric of our society, the ability to think and the reason why we’re not sitting in caves freezing to death. Science is a method of proving something does or doesn’t work – that’s it. The opposite of science is guessing or lying and yet the papers would have you believe scientists can’t be trusted, that science itself is somehow fundamentally wrong about everything.

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Globalisation should be our future. We started off as tribes and then villages and then city-states. We banded together until each county had a king. Then the counties merged until we had countries, then conglomerations of countries, then whole continents under the same governance. There are pluses and minuses to this merging of borders and cultures and ideas. One downside is the intermediary step of businesses being free to move their factories to the cheapest labour force or to import the cheap labour to their location. This can either be stopped by closing the borders or by bringing all people of the world onto an even footing. New things can be scary, but just as people in Surrey no longer fear people from Sussex or think of them as strangers, the world can become a united people. This middle ground we’re in now is painful and scary for some people, especially people closer to the bottom of the pile.

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Out of this maelstrom of chaos and lies and poverty, Americans were offered a choice – keep everything the same or choose a man who claims to offer something new. Despite the fact Trump doesn’t offer anything new, despite the fact he’s an integral part of the system which keeps people poor, despite the fact he admits his campaign promises were lies, despite the fact he admits he sexually assaults women and even brags about it, despite all that he represents change in the minds of his followers and believers.

They aren’t all racist or stupid and yelling at them won’t help change their opinion.

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And here’s an uncomfortable thought. Removing Trump, assassinating him, impeaching him, declaring his presidency null and void will be a massive middle finger to the 19% of Americans who voted for him. They see him as their President. They believe he represents their interests and wishes and hopes and dreams. Take that away from them and how will they react? Depression? Despair? Anger? Violence? Revolution?

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Trump cannot be allowed to curtail the freedom of whoever he chooses. He cannot be allowed to remove the civic and human rights of people he doesn’t like. He cannot be allowed to impose his will and agenda on others based on nothing more than a whim or half-remembered ‘facts’ he saw on the TV … but equally, perhaps he needs enough rope to hang himself? Perhaps he needs to be given the time and the room to prove he has no one’s interests but his own at heart because whereas he’s clearly a buffoon, he’s a buffoon who’s learnt to push people’s buttons and if we don’t allow those people to understand how dangerous that manipulation is then who will manipulate them next?

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If you take hope away from desperate people, people who feel Donald J Trump is their best and only option, if we take away their hope before they get to see the truth behind his lies … then what comes next will be worse.

Obviously this is a dangerous game, allowing him to mess with a world he doesn’t understand, but maybe allowing an idiot to smash a broken system will lead to something better forming in its place?

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Or maybe not.

Probably not.

I do think calling his followers and supporters names, or punching them is not helpful. Listen to what they have to say, listen to why they think he’s their saviour. Engage with them, disagree with them and by all means call out racist, sexist or hateful language when it crops up, but do it in a noninflammatory way. Don’t divide the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’. There is no ‘them’, ‘we’ are all there is. All of us are ‘us’, in it together for the long haul.

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The best path to peace, tolerance and understanding is to be peaceful, tolerant and understanding.

If you disagree with me, please debate me. Don’t abuse me or threaten me, use your mind to change mine. Use your words to change the world for the better.

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† Save them from what is unclear. Presumably save them from mixing with anyone who isn’t them or from immoral capitalists. You know, people like Donald Trump.

* Okay, technically you can fight fire with fire such as demolishing buildings to stop a fire from spreading … but that’s not really the point.

Categories: Random Witterings | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

Happy (not-so) new year

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Am I still allowed to say Happy New Year this far into January? I don’t know. The etiquette, like most etiquette, eludes me.

Normally at the end of the year I do a roundup of the whole year’s blogposts, but this year I didn’t. I meant to, but instead spent a large chunk of the festive season here:

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Doing this:

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And this:
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And this:

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And watching baboons do this:

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Which left no time for either festive recommendations or end of year reflections. I would do it now, but it feels a bit late and I can’t be bothered.

So instead let me recommend something which might make you happy:

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I think Moana is just amazing. Easily my favourite film of last year. And this year so far, I guess.

All I want when I go to the cinema is to enjoy the film. If I’m not enjoying the film my brain starts to analyse why it’s not grabbing me:

“Oh, there isn’t a protagonist, there’s just a bunch of people milling around.”

“None of these characters want to be in the movie, they don’t want anything except to be left alone. I hope they hurry up and achieve their goal so I can go home too.”

“Hang on, when those people killed her mother she thought they were bastards, but when the other people killed her father (who she apparently loved more) she decides they’re the good guys?”

And so on.

Moana has none of those problems, it’s just beautiful in every possible sense of the word.

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The characters have clear and concise goals with clear and concise reasons why they can’t achieve them without fundamentally changing who they are. And those reasons are good! They’re the kind of reasons we’d all be conflicted about.

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The locations are just stunning, the animation is incredible, the songs are superb. I mean, listen to them:

Everything works, everything gels together.

There are no moments where characters suddenly change their minds and do completely the opposite of what they’ve just done for no other reason than the plot demands it.

 

There’s no sudden monologue-ing from the villain who’s just murdered everyone else but somehow intuits that this person is the protagonist of the movie he doesn’t know he’s in and deserves a bit of a chat.

Nor is there a sudden culling of characters immediately after (not before or during to add tension and a sense of ‘oh fuck they’re not going to make it!’) they’ve completed their allotted task because no one can think of anything else for them to do and it’s less work to just bump them off.

Moana is one of those films where the mechanics of it are so Swiss-watch perfect I didn’t even notice them until well after the film has finished and I was on my way home.

I found it so joyful and life affirming and magnificent that merely thinking about it brings a smile to my face.

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Obviously after this kind of build up you’ll think it’s terrible … but I loved it and can’t recommend it enough.

If you’re feeling a touch of the January blues then you could do far worse than heading on down to your local cinema and giving it a go.

It’s reminded me of the kind of films I want to write, maybe not in content but in terms of the emotional effect it’s had on me. Hopefully that inspiration will stay with me for the year ahead.

So Happy New Moana Year to you and may you always know the way.

Categories: Someone Else's Way | Tags: | Leave a comment

#PhonePhill – Conversation #16: Darren Goldsmith

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This is a #PhonePhill I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, even though it was only arranged last week. Darren Goldsmith (this is him, here, go read about him) is someone I’ve followed on Twitter for years and chatted to on and off via email or DM every now and then. I don’t know the bloke and have never met him, but he’s always just sounded so … interesting.

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eDarren is a lovely bloke, someone I always have time for. Obviously I’ve no idea who he really is, but thanks to the wonders of technology I now can update that eStatus with a healthy dose of reality.

The truth is Darren’s as lovely over the phone as he seems online.

The conversation began with the usual Skype greeting of “Hello? Can you hear me? Are you there? Hello? Damn it. If you can hear me, hang up and I’ll call you this time. Is that better? I can hear you, can you hear me?”

And so on.

But once I’d worked out the only way to get a decent signal in my hotel room was to press myself against the window (which must have looked great to the office workers opposite), we were away.

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Chat was easy from the get go … apart from that weirdly unsettling few minutes at the beginning where we both realise neither of us sounds the same as the version of each other we’d created in our own heads.

We nattered for a good two and a half hours and only really stopped because I was fucking starving and needed something to eat.

Darren and I have a lot in common, we both like Sci-Fi and movies and we’re both bassists – he’s actually a good one.

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He’s the general all round arty type who seems to be good at everything he does (or at least the things I’ve seen/heard of his) and has even turned his hand to scriptwriting … before realising it just wasn’t for him because it’s not really an art form in and of itself.

And that is a problem with being a scriptwriter, you’re not really creating art anyone ever sees beyond the cast and crew who make it. Also, it’s not really up to the writer what ends up in the final draft which means it’s much harder to write a script which challenges our notions of what a film can be than it is to, say, paint a picture which challenges concepts of art.

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Scriptwriting is a constant loop of feedback and rewriting, perhaps more so than any other art form. This is both good and bad. The good side is that scriptwriting is incredibly complex – the script is not just a story, but a technical document which has to be understood by dozens of people. It’s trying to convey a unity of vision to people who are thinking about costumes and lighting and camera placement and tone and theme and meaning and location and time and … so on.

Whereas a book can leave people with differing opinions as to its contents (as can a film, in some ways), a script can’t. Or shouldn’t. The people reading it need to be on the same page which means certain conventions have to be adhered to.

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On top of that you need to entertain and surprise over at least 90 minutes without repeating or contradicting yourself. This is especially difficult when you consider it can take months to write the first draft and years to refine it. Getting constant feedback helps the script evolve.

The downside is constant feedback from multiple sources does tend to homogenise scripts. Some producers or directors will celebrate risky or unusual script behaviour, others just won’t tolerate it. Somebody will be sinking a lot of money into this in the hope of getting it all back and making a profit – risk taking isn’t always a good thing.

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A painter trying a new technique which doesn’t work wastes time, canvas and paint. A filmmaker who does the same wastes millions of pounds.

It’s in the interests of most people to make scripts groundbreaking within certain safe parameters.

Darren didn’t really enjoy that process.

We spoke a lot about herd mentality and how we prefer to go our own way. I’m certainly very contrary when it comes to what I do and don’t like. Often if I find I’m fairly neutral about a film everyone else loves, I find myself professing to dislike it in order to provoke debate or just to voice the opposing point of view.

We spoke about this video:

… and how we’d both (like most people, I guess?) like to think we wouldn’t join in, but are aware we probably would.

Perhaps the most interesting topic of conversation was about how people learn an art form. We were talking about bass playing and I mentioned I’d initially learnt to play it ‘wrong’. Bass strings should be plucked with the pad of the finger, a kind of rubbing motion as opposed to the flamenco tip-of-the-finger picking of a six-string guitar.

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I was self-taught and I taught myself wrong, which was fine for a while but eventually I reached the limit of where my poor technique could take me. I had to unlearn my crap plucking and relearn it – that was a massive ball ache.

I’m experiencing a similar problem in Kung Fu at the moment – I’ve switched to a different style and am having to slightly alter my foot and hand positions. Slightly altering something you’ve done for twenty years is much harder than learning something completely different; but I have a fantastic teacher (he’s here, if you’re interested?) and he’s indulging my desire to be drowned in criticism and detail.

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Not everyone likes learning like this, but I do.

Or rather, I do now. Perhaps when I first began learning Kung Fu I wouldn’t have been able to cope with a deluge of technical details? Maybe back then I needed to find my own way, much like I did with bass playing.

Darren is very definitely of the opinion that artistic form should be discovered first and taught second. He believes (and I agree with him) that if you’re taught the rules of your art you may become very good at following them, but you won’t make the mistakes necessary to break them successfully. Left to your own devices you will wander off into new creative pastures … most of which turn out to be dead ends with no value, but that journey of discovery is invaluable if you’re to create the kind of art which moves people.

Rules can be learnt later, once you’ve figured out most of them for yourself. Then you’re refining your knowledge with that of those who came before you. Learning rules from the beginning is (or can be, there are no absolutes here) really limiting.

The true danger point is what’s happening in scriptwriting at the moment: too much information. Too many people telling you what you should and shouldn’t do before you’ve had the chance to work it out for yourself.

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Obviously there’s a happy middle ground between finding your own path and being shown the one which everyone agrees works … but maybe as a community we’re tipping to far towards the latter?

Or is it just two routes to the same place? Learn the rules and then make mistakes trying to apply them or make mistakes and then learn the rules to refine what you’ve taught yourself – is there really a difference?

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What I do know is talking to Darren was an absolute delight, one you should try for yourself if you ever get the opportunity.

If you fancy a natter about anything you fancy with a scriptwriter then please get in touch. My email details are in the side bar, drop me a line and we’ll schedule a #PhonePhill.

Whoever you are, whatever you do, I’m really looking forward to hearing from you.

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Categories: #PhonePhill, My Way, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Ever changing

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Imagine you’re a co-pilot for an airline. You get to your hotel, get changed and head down to the bar. The captain comes down wearing a dress – what do you do?

This is/was a psychology question given to pilots. Have a think about what you’d do, the answer is at the bottom of the post.

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On a different note, I went to see Doctor Strange the other day and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Okay, so it’s not a GREAT film … but then I feel like I’m past that point with Marvel movies now – there’s too many of them for them to thrill, but I find them all to be of a consistently high, enjoyable standard.

Watching the movie I was thinking about Tilda Swinton (who occupies a particular spot in my affections for reasons I can’t quite remember. Every time I see her in a film I feel like she’s a friend who’s doing incredibly well for herself, even though I’ve never met her – I have no idea why) and the brief furore about her playing The Ancient One.

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Obviously the Internet likes to get wound up about stuff like this, often going from standing apathy to outright, insult-flinging indignation in mere seconds … but what I found interesting about this one was that the fuss wasn’t about changing The Ancient One’s gender, but his/her ethnicity.

And I thought, isn’t that interesting?

No one seemed to object to the character being played by a woman (maybe because Tilda Swinton is unspeakably awesome?) but because s/he’s meant to be … actually, I don’t know. Tibetan? Chinese? Mongolian? I have no idea.

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I guess the reason this was a brief furore was because Doctor Strange is fairly unknown character (amongst non-comic fans)?

White-washing the character seems wrong, but should Marvel be given points for rebalancing the genders? Maybe they could have gone further with that? We have a female Thor in the comics now, so why not start off a female Doctor Strange in the movies?

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And then my mind began wandering (not during the film, afterwards). I began thinking about Nick Fury and how they’ve changed his appearance in the comics from this:

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To this:

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Sort of. I know it’s technically his son (because that makes sense) but it’s pretty much all because Samuel L. Jackson is now so firmly established in our minds as Fury that people are confused when they see a fluffy-haired white guy in the comics.

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Okay, so once again he’s not a widely known character in the vein of Superman or Batman or Spiderman. He’s not a cultural icon, but I’ve known him as a character in comics since I was a kid and I can no longer imagine him as white. If I pick up an old comic and see the white version my first thought is “Who’s that?” followed very quickly by “Oh shit, yes, that’s Nick Fury.”

I find that interesting too. I like that my attitude has changed.

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Once upon a time (not that long ago) I would have consider a black Superman to be just plain wrong. Superman’s not black, he’s white!

Now … I don’t care. I still want him to be tall, impossibly handsome and ripped … but skin colour? I just don’t see how that’s important?

Chinese Batman? Yeah, sure … so long as he’s big and buff and has a nice chin, what does it matter?

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Female Batman? Don’t know. Maybe that’s odd given the actual name of the character? Same for Superman, Spiderman et al.

But a female Doctor Who?

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Yeah, bring it on.

A few years back I’d have said that was impossible. Time Lords get married and fall in love, they would get really pissed off if they woke up to find their wife had become a man over night (or vice versa).

Now my attitude has changed. We already live in a time where our perceptions of gender are being challenged. Gender, like sexuality, is more fluid and layered than has always been held to be true. Surely an advanced civilisation millions of years ahead of us will just do that as a matter of course?

 

My attitudes towards these sorts of things* have changed. I’d happily watch a black, female James Bond. Might be wonderful, might be terrible – who knows?

A while back I wrote this blog post on sexism by design – now I look at that and think … what was the problem? I’d happily write a male protagonist fighting a female antagonist now. Wouldn’t even occur to me it was a problem.

I get that some white men feel under threat, as if all movies now are being made about women or people of colour or LGBTQ characters. We’re under-represented, damn it! Where are our movies?

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Oh do fuck off.

The default is still white male, let other people have a go.

My favourite illustration of that comes from somewhere I can’t remember. It was designed to highlight the lack of people of colour in movies (I think?) but it holds true for all ‘minorities’:

Imagine two bowls of sweets. One bowl is full to the brim, this is the bowl for a white child. The other bowl has two sweets in it, this is the bowl for a black child.

Does that seem fair?

Now imagine taking one sweet out of the white bowl and adding it to the black bowl (or gay bowl or transgender bowl or … whatever, doesn’t matter). Now imagine the Internet going fucking nuts because someone dared to make an all-female Ghostbusters.

Guys, our bowl is still full. It’s fine.

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Attitudes are changing and that’s a great great thing. Everyone should have movie-heroes, someone to aspire to be like.

I tend to include more female, poc or LGBTQ characters in scripts now. Often I just write an outline and assign gender/sexuality randomly throughout because it doesn’t really matter unless the story demands something specific.

At the moment I skew more towards female leads than male because the field needs levelling … but not always.

Variety is a good thing.

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Change is a good thing. Challenging perceptions is a great thing.

Which leads us back to the original question:

Imagine you’re a co-pilot for an airline. You get to your hotel, get changed and head down to the bar. The captain comes down wearing a dress – what do you do?

The answer ten years ago was: ask her what she wants to drink. People hear ‘captain’ and they picture a man.

They shouldn’t.

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The answer now is maybe more complicated. Maybe it’s a man in a dress? Maybe it’s a someone undergoing a transformation? Maybe it’s none of your business?

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I like these kind of changes. I like acceptance and tolerance and understanding. I love that my attitude has changed and continues to change. I want to grow as a human being and increase my understanding of the world … so if I’ve used the wrong word or inadvertently offended anyone in this post, I’d love to hear from you.

Alternatively, if you’re upset by people and lifestyles other than your own becoming more acceptable in mainstream media then … don’t worry? You’re still special too.

 


* And by ‘these sorts of things’ I mean a wide range of completely different human experiences and states of being which only get lumped together because of the intolerance of others.

Categories: Industry Musings, Random Witterings, Someone Else's Way | Leave a comment

#P̶h̶o̶n̶e̶ MeetPhill – Meeting #2: James Moran

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So this meeting happened earlier the same day as the last one, hence the confusion of numbers since I like to be chronological about this sort of thing.

James Moran is one of those guys I see around every now and then with the occasional flurry of Twitter DMs and even the odd phone call. He’s a nice guy*. I like him. I like to think of him as a friend, but perhaps don’t see him often enough to have reached that status? I don’t know, I get a bit confused by social interaction.

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Some of what we chatted about is the kind of stuff you don’t really repeat, you know, stuff like what projects we’re working on, who we’re working with and who never, ever to work with.

These kind of chats are the reason I never record the #PhonePhill conversations because, while they would make a good podcast (their half of the conversation, not mine – mine is generally moronic) and provide an insightful look into the lives of working writers … I’d just rather they were confidential. I like chatting to people when neither of us are guarding what we might say, it’s more fun.

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For me, obviously. Not necessarily for you since you don’t get to read or hear about all the juicy bits.

James, for example, has killed 17 Belgians in the last few years. No one knows what he’s got against Belgians since they seem like generally inoffensive people to me … but he can get awfully stabby in their presence.^

Amongst the deeply personal, unprofessional and unrepeatable witterings, there were two things which bear repeating and may be of general interest.

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The first, as mentioned elsewhere on this blog, is the state of genre TV in the UK … basically, it’s a rare beast.

Except on kids’ TV.

For reasons best known only to commissioners the general opinion in the UK seems to be that kids love genre shows (sci-fi, horror, super powers …) but that adults grow out of it.

Which doesn’t make sense to me, a card-carrying geek. It also doesn’t seem to be true if you look at cinema or US TV … but in the UK, adult genre fare is hard to find …

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… and even harder to get made.

Maybe there’s just a dearth of good scripts around. Or maybe I’m just not looking hard enough since series 2 of Humans just started airing? And Red Dwarf X just finished. Maybe I’m talking shit?

My perception is though that kids’ TV is the place to aim for if you want to write genre stuff.

Which I do.

The second observation is a vitally important one. It’s applicable to all meetings, whether formal or informal, be it with a prospective client or a friend.

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Picture the scene, James and I have arranged to meet in yumchaa in Soho (where he bought me a cup of tea and a most excellent slice of cake) and I’d arrived first. I mooched around looking for somewhere to sit and eventually opted for a comfy looking sofa.

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The sofa was as comfy as it looked … and there in lies my mistake because there was only one sofa and a coffee table, forcing James to sit NEXT TO ME ON THE SOFA.

This is weird.

Sitting next to someone on a sofa is great if you want to both watch TV. Even better if you both want to cuddle.

As much as I like James, I do not want to cuddle him.+

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Chatting to someone who’s sitting next to you is ridiculously uncomfortable, no matter how comfy the sofa. One of you has to contort yourself into unnatural shapes in order to face the other person. Obviously, being the bigger sociopath of the two, I made myself comfortable and let James to the contorting.

I’m nice like that.

Imagine if this had been a client meeting and I was trying to persuade someone to part with their cash? It’s just not a good idea.

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For chat, chairs are where it’s at.

Preferably sit-up ones at a table rather than comfy armchairs you sink into.

I’ve made this mistake before at a meeting with a development exec at a large TV company. She sat on a sensible chair in her office, I sat on a low-slung sofa … and ended lolling around on it as if I was in therapy.

It’s hard to sell your skills when the person you’re trying to impress is looking up your nostrils.

For chat, chairs are where it’s at.

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James, as ever, was delightful and funny and insightful and just generally lovely. I can’t tell you what he’s working on next, but I can tell you what he’s been doing recently … this:

And this:

And this:

And … well, all these: https://minasjournal.wordpress.com/episodes/

Turn off the lights, make yourself comfortable (on a sofa is perfectly acceptable) and treat your eyeballs to his incessant genius.

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Meeting James was lovely. I probably don’t want to meet you, but I do want to chat with you on the phone.

Yes, you.

Not that person, you. The one with the face.

If you’d like to #PhonePhill then email me and we’ll work something out.

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*For a given value of ‘nice’. Obviously as a horror writer he’s a psychopathic lunatic … but lovely with it.

^Not true, obviously. He only killed 16 and only stabbed one – he doesn’t like to repeat himself. Apparently it’s ‘research’.

+Well … maybe a little.

Categories: #PhonePhill, Things I've Learnt Recently | Leave a comment

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