Bored

A time and a place

Somebody once said that “comedy has a time and a place”, meaning that specificity is funnier than ambiguity.

At least, that’s what I think it means.

Sitcoms should be set somewhere, not just a generic town but Surbiton or East Cheam or Torquay. Locating the characters in a physical location helps define them, the range of stories and the type of humour.

They should also be set some-when. This is something I feel quite strongly about, not just where comedy is concerned but for all genres. When I read a script the first thing I want to know is when it’s set. It’s hard to get a decent mental image of someone ‘dressed in their Sunday best’ or ‘polishing his new car’* if you’ve no idea whether the script is set in the ’20s or the present day.

I expect to read the time period in brackets at the end of the first scene header.^ If someone doesn’t include the time then I guess it could be read as default Present Day, but just like a story where you don’t see a character’s face makes me suspect it’s a character who’s being deliberately kept secret, not reading the time period makes me wonder if it’s a deliberate trick.

Now I’m expecting the rug to be pulled out from under me, if it doesn’t happen it’s always faintly unsettling. On screen you can see instantly roughly when a story is set (assuming it’s not opening at a present day ’80s fancy dress party or something) so why not mention it right off the bat?

Similarly, keeping the location vague rarely makes it feel inclusive because either that place looks like your home town or it doesn’t.# Knowing where in the world the story takes place as quickly as possible helps the viewer concentrate on the story.

I’ve been watching two TV programmes recently which having confusing time periods: Sex Education and Star Trek: Discovery.

The first episode of Sex Education confused the hell out of me. The adults are wearing ’50s clothes in their ’50s houses. The kids are wearing ’70s clothes. Except those kids who are wearing ’80s clothes, driving a new ’90s car. The school looks American but everyone’s talking in an English accent. The English accented Head Boy is even wearing an American Jacket.

When the fuck is this set? And where? What am I watching?

Which is fine, I guess. For some reason this is the look they wanted for the show: deliberately confusing. The problem I have is while I’m being confused by all the visuals I’m not concentrating on the characters or the story. I’m not empathising with anyone because I’m trying to figure out the basic details, the minimum information I need to get started.

I’m not sure this is a great idea.

Similarly, ST: Discovery – what the fuck is going on there? Two seasons in and I still keep wondering why it’s a prequel? I mean, why? What possible benefit is there to telling a prequel story when everything on screen tells you it’s set sometime after Voyager? It’s almost like they got to the end of production before someone decided to make it a prequel.

“But it’s clearly a sequel, it looks nothing like the pre-Kirk era.”

“Fuck it, it’ll be fine. Just change the dates on the screen. Ooh! And call those new aliens Klingons!”

“The aliens which look and act nothing like Klingons?”

“Yeah, fuck it. Just dub everything into Klingon. People won’t notice.”

I just don’t understand why? So they can introduce Spock’s hitherto unspoken of sister? Why is she Spock’s sister? Why is that important? What does it add beyond a quick nod of recognition followed by weeks of … wait a minute. It’s not even like they’re filling in any details we’ve longed to hear about for years.

I mean, at least the Star Wars prequels told the origins of characters we already knew. I’ve always thought a Star Trek series set aboard Pike’s or April’s Enterprise would be cool. I felt ’90s ST became a little too utopian for effective drama, all those well balanced, nice people weren’t great for storytelling. A prequel show has the opportunity to be a little more ‘Wagon Train to the Stars’. Less tech is more interesting, let’s see how they cope without stuff … but a prequel with more tech?

I guess the difference between these examples (at least for me, I’m aware my opinion isn’t valid outside my own head) is I care about the characters in Sex Education. I relate to half of them and can see my friends reflected in the rest. It may not look or feel like anywhere I’ve ever lived but the characters feel familiar and once I’d gotten over the weirdly conflicting visual information I was hooked.

Discovery, not so much. I mean, the characters are okay … but they keep doing nonsensical things which make it hard for me to believe in them. I think the show has many problems (and the odd nugget of joy) but a good chunk of them would be resolved by not being the prequel it doesn’t look like.

I guess the point I’m trying to make (apart from character is king) is why add more confusion than is necessary to tell the story? If something’s not meant to be a mystery, don’t make it one. Don’t deliberately try to confuse the audience$ about things which don’t need to be confusing.

Not knowing when or where something is set is disorientating. If there’s no story need for doing it, why do it?


Was it Galton and/or Simpson? Or maybe Barry Cryer? I can’t remember. Maybe it was me? Sounds a bit too clever for me.

* I would never write something like this because a car tells you a lot about a person. The kind of person who polishes a new Ford Ka is a very different to the kind who’s just bought a new Lamborghini. Probably. Unless they’re the kind of person who’s got one of every car ever made, in which case they might be equally happy with whatever they’ve bought.

Maybe.

^ Which, I suppose, makes it the second thing I want to know since it immediately follows the location.

# I think this is only true of a story which takes place in your home country. Or one you know well. As a kid I had no concept that Hill Valley was geographically adrift because I just assumed all American towns look like that. Take the town in Gremlins, for example, that looks nearly identical!+

+ Yes, I know. That’s the joke.

$ Or me. Don’t try to confuse me. I confuse easily and then cry about it.

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In defence of traditional martial arts

I want to take a break from my regular scriptwriting rambling to talk about one of my other passions, martial arts. I may find some vague link to writing at the end, but probably not.

If you’re not involved in the world of hitting people for fun there’s a weird running argument online about the value of traditional martial arts, (things like Karate, Kung Fu, Aikido, Taekwondo … etc). The main thrust of the argument is that they’re inherently useless because nothing except for MMA or possibly Brazilian Jujitsu will win a fight. Maybe boxing at a push.

I tend to disagree with this. I’ve trained in a few different martial arts over the last couple of decades, picking up the odd back belt here and there. I’m currently learning Tiger Crane Kung Fu from Neil Johnson in Lewes and will (hopefully) continue to do so until one of us gives up or dies.

One of my black belts is in what the internet deems the ‘most useless’ of martial arts, Aikido. You can never win a fight with Aikido, goes the refrain.

I have two issues with this line of thinking.

1) How do you define useless?

At no point during my Aikido training did I think I would eventually be able to use it to square up to a trained professional in a ring and win a fight. I did it because I enjoyed, because it made me happy, because I made friends doing it, because we used to stop in the middle for a biscuit and a cuppa, because it kept me supple and active, because the black skirt looks like Darth Vader’s, because my Sensei was a lovely, lovely bloke, because … well, lots and lots of reasons really.

It was so clearly not a fighting art that it wasn’t even taught as a martial art, it was taught as a physical philosophy. My classes were intended to be physical exercises which helped promote a way of thinking about life and confrontations. The principles of Aikido work equally well in verbal confrontations as in physical ones and I use them to improve my interactions with people on a daily basis.

As fun as Aikido was, Kung Fu has always been my first love (Lau Gar from Carl Jones in Swansea, Wing Tsun from Paul Hawkes in Crawley and Lau Gar again from Carl Sims in Brighton before switching to Tiger Crane – each change being necessitated because either I or my instructor moved rather than me being fickle!) Kung Fu doesn’t really have a direct translation into English (or so I’m told), it kind of means ‘good health’ or ‘self improvement’ or something like that.

I tend to like the idea of it meaning ‘self improvement’. This, to me, is one of the most important aspects of a martial art. I think humans are happier when their life has direction, that we all need achievement and progression to be happy, whether that comes from work or a hobby. Martial arts help provide that, you’re always working towards something, improving on old skills whilst learning new ones. You have grades or belts to achieve, giving you a way of marking your progress over time.

Kung Fu is a fighting art, yes, but more than that it promotes health, vitality and fitness. It’s good for both physical and mental health, for concentration and confidence. I’ve seen students start a class barely able to look people in the eye but a few years later have the wherewithal to actually interact with humanity.

Fighting is a game for the young, Kung Fu can be practised for an entire lifetime and can help extend that lifetime. I struggle to see this as ‘useless’.

Which brings me to my second niggle:

2) You can’t win a fight with traditional martial arts.

I suspect the problem here is the definition of the word ‘fight’.

What is a fight? Is it two highly trained professionals squaring up to each other in a ring? Or is it someone taking a swing at you in a pub? Is it a shoving match in a takeaway restaurant? Is it a verbal argument? Perhaps one that escalates?

Is it, maybe, all of these things?

Here in the UK we’ve spent the last two years screaming ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and ‘Leave means leave’ at each other without bothering to define what either of those things mean, rendering the whole argument pointless.

A ‘fight’ can be many things. Sometimes several different things in quick succession.

Could a twice-a-week Aikido practitioner hope to win a cage fight against a six-hours-a-day MMA fighter?

Probably not. Almost certainly not, but I guess nothing’s impossible.

Can someone use the principles of Aikido to deflect a drunken swing and immobilise an assailant?

Yes. I’ve done that. Was that a fight?

I’ve also stopped someone hitting me in a night club brawl simply by adopting a Kung Fu fighting stance. The guy in question was charging at me with his fist raised, as soon as I dropped into a fighting stance he stopped, lowered his fist and pretended to be interested in a nearby section of wall before selecting an easier target and hitting him instead. Was that a fight?

I’ve de-escalated a verbal argument which was getting very aggressive and threatening by calmly offering to fight both of the shouters. They backed down and then sent one of their girlfriends to apologise. Was that a fight? Did I win?

Did I win the fight when one of a group of teens attacked me and knocked me over? I performed an Aikido roll and came back up to my feet right in his face … at which point he shit himself and ran away. Who won that one?

None of these things are a ring fight, but all of them perhaps come under the umbrella term of ‘a fight’ in which traditional martial arts were useful. I’ve had people try to punch me and fail because I blocked it or stepped out of the way. Techniques which would never, ever work against a sober, trained fighter work perfectly well on a night out.*

I see people on YouTube debunking all sorts of breakaway techniques by grounding themselves in a firm stance and gripping someone in a completely static manner … and then looking smug when the technique fails. Which is a little bit like someone opining that a hammer is a useless tool because it can’t be used to change a plug.

The correct Aikido technique to use if someone grips you in a solid and completely static grip, tensing their muscles and holding on for dear life is to … wait. Maybe have chat until they get bored and let go? People who grab you with threatening intent will probably try to push or pull you or hit you with the other hand. Either don’t let them grab you or react to whatever else they’re doing. If they’re just holding you without doing anything else then maybe they want to be friends?

Most people I’ve ‘fought’ against in a real situation can barely stand up, not in a martial arts sense. They don’t have perfect footwork, they don’t have a balanced stance and they’re usually drunk. Almost any body movement, trained or not, throws them off balance or makes them fall over.§

I guess the other side of this argument comes from the people who think training a couple of nights a week in a traditional martial art makes them Bruce Lee or Batman or something. The kind of people who go on forums and yell ‘my art’s better than yours’ without ever having trained anything else. Or ‘we don’t compete because our art is too deadly!’ which always smacks of bullshit to me.

Some arts are better for fighting than others, but it’s  really more dependent on the person than the art. Realistically the only way to be great at fighting is to get into lots of fights.

If I have a point at all in this long ramble, it’s that traditional martial arts aren’t useless and they can be used to win a fight, depending on your definition of ‘useless’ and ‘fight’. If nothing else, martial arts should give you an understanding of balance, a stance to work from, the confidence to stand face to face with someone who’s aggressive, an awareness of how people move just before they hit you, a familiarity with being hit and the ability to react rather than freeze.

All of these things are useful, but perhaps not so useful as doing something you enjoy with people you like. I don’t really get into fights anymore. I’m never really in a situation where that sort of thing happens, but I still train because it’s fun and that to me is all the usefulness I need.


* Let’s be perfectly honest here, if you want to win most ‘street’ fights then your best  option is just to stay sober. You’re more likely to see trouble coming, less likely to inadvertently cause the trouble in the first place and it’s far, far cheaper than training all day every day.

Hurts less too.

† If you’ve let someone grip you and root themselves in a firm, static stance then you’ve done the equivalent of letting your opponent in chess take all of your pieces bar the King before you decide to make your first move. Mind you, if they settle into a static grip it’s a bit like they’ve got to that point and decided not to make any more moves anyway.

§ Which I guess is where the oft-touted wisdom of ‘most pub fights end up on the ground’ comes from. They probably do, mainly because neither person knows how to stay on their feet. I don’t want to end up on the ground. It’s dirty down there. I’ll stay standing while the other person sprawls on the floor, thank you very much.

‡ There was a Karate club in Swansea which used to engage in what they called Kingsway Katas on a Friday night after training (The Kingsway being a street with lots of pubs and clubs on it). Basically, under the watchful eye of their Sensei, they would go out after training, get drunk and get into fights. I’ve no doubt they won a lot of these fights … but fucking hell. These are the kind of people who watched The Karate Kid and thought Cobra Kai was a cool club.

I feel they’ve missed the point somewhat, but each to their own.

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The elephant in the room

There’s something I want to talk about, I think you know what it is … because I mentioned it in the title: it’s the elephant in the room.

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No, seriously. There’s an elephant in the room, not a metaphorical one, a real elephant with tusks and wrinkles and ears and everything. I’m looking at him now …

How do you feel about that?

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Presumably you feel I’m lying … and you’d be right. An elephant in the room? Madness … it’s a wildebeest.

The thing about the elephant (or wildebeest) in the room is it’s the kind of statement I might write into a script, which is fine … but it doesn’t mean anything, not on its own. Take the following scrippet for example:

INT. LOUNGE – DAY

SALLY saunters in and freezes … there’s an elephant in the room.

If I wrote that in a script, I’d be really cross with myself. Why? Well, because it doesn’t really mean anything.

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Okay, so it’s a concise rendering of the images in my head into written form … but is it? Is that conveying anything?

What’s a ‘lounge’? Is it the living room/TV room in someone’s house? Sally’s house perhaps? Or flat? If so, what kind of house/flat? How big or small is this lounge? Maybe it’s the lounge in a hotel? Or maybe it’s a lounge bar? I think lounge is fairly self-explanatory … but does the person reading it? Are they sharing the same mental image of what the lounge looks like?

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Possibly not.

Obviously I don’t want to burden the reader with descriptions of the colour of the wallpaper or where the furniture was bought and when (although, age and type of furniture can help set the scene) … but maybe a bit more of a description is needed here?

And what about that elephant? How does Sally feel about that? More importantly, how does the reader feel about it? The reader’s reaction should be a response to Sally’s reaction and ultimately the audience will share the reader’s response to Sally’s reaction.

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In the finished movie the audience will have facial expressions and a score telling them how to feel … the reader has none of that. All the reader has are my words. Okay, so hopefully anything leading up to this scene will inform the reader’s interpretation … but what if this is the very first scene? What if this is our introduction to Sally?

Clearly we need an approximate age and brief description of Sally, but I think we also need to clarify what her reaction is.

Sally saunters in and freezes. Creeping dread overtakes her … there’s something behind her … oh for fuck’s sake! It’s that bloody elephant again!

Is very different from:

Sally saunters in, freezes in shock … there’s an elephant in the lounge! Fuck! Panic!

Some people think you shouldn’t swear in action lines. They may be right. I do it sometimes … depends on the script.

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The point is that merely stating the facts doesn’t really add to the experience. I’m all for letting the audience work out the meaning of a film … but in order to do that they have to understand what they’re seeing. The audience won’t be seeing a still image of an expressionless Sally and an elephant in a undefined space.

Or maybe they will? In which case the script needs to make it clear that this lack of emotion/reaction is intentional and not a mistake.

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More likely the actor will be emoting her tits off whilst the music tinkles, crashes or thrums appropriately. I try to give the reader the same experience as the audience, which means ensuring they have access to the same information about tone and emotion … and the only tools I have to do this are words on a page.

My intention is to get a reader reading straight through without having to flick back to check anything or pausing because something doesn’t make sense or because they don’t understand the significance of the events. Every time they pause to figure something out or flick back, they’re out of the story, they’re not emotionally invested.

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Scripts are hard to read because they’re a technical document trying to convey everything that goes into making a movie in the fewest possible words. I want my readers engaged, so I try not just to talk about the elephant in the room, but to explain what it means.

I’m not saying I always succeed, but I try.

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2015

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So that was 2015.

No flying cars, there were hoverboards … but they didn’t hover, they just set fire to people’s houses.

Behind the scenes I had a thrilling and exciting year … but I can’t really talk about it.

Not yet, anyway … but one day. soon.

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This is what’s immensely frustrating about being a scriptwriter – all the exciting things happen (and often die) out of the spotlight. By the time I’m allowed to talk about things (because contracts have finally been negotiated and signed) it’s old news and any excitement is feigned.

Well, not feigned … diluted. Like having to remember how excited you were about a Christmas present you got last year when it’s since been broken by the kid next door.fake-smile

But hey, it’s been a busy year with lots of stuff going on. On paper, it probably looks like not a lot … but that’s just the nature of the business. I’ve done a few uncredited rewrites, one of which has just been released … which is a yay I can’t publicly acknowledge.

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But never mind. If I was in it for the applause, I wouldn’t be a writer.

The rest of 2015, the bits I did talk about, went something like this:

JANUARY

Apparently all I did in January was talk about 2014, which although it included Ghostbusters and a suspicious looking codpiece …

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… seems a bit of a waste of a bloggy month.

FEBRUARY

Ah, hello groove I was wondering where you’d gone.

February was a proper blogging month full of blogs and … well, just blogs.

First off I tried to get you all to commit acts of phone-related mischief by adding ‘Okay Google’ phrases into scripts which would punish anyone who had their phone on in the cinema.

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Did any of you do it? Please say someone did it.

Then I defended Footloose because … it’s fucking Footloose. Footloose is awesome.

After succcessfully re-educating the world about the joys of ’80s dance, I went on to prove the three act structure is fine – stop trying to reinvent the wheel, it works just fine.

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And then I immediately explained why it doesn’t really work that well for a scriptwriter.

Aren’t you glad you’ve got me around to explain these things to you?

MARCH

March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb …

I, on the other hand, came in with a thing about the joy of failing

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… stumbled into a confused ramble about clichés

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… mumbled something I can’t be bothered to reread about page thinking

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… compared Joss Whedon to HTC and rambled about how frustrating it must be to be either of them …

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… and went out with an in-depth discussing about liars and lying for a living.

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APRIL

April is where things got interesting …

Just not at first. First I wondered if maybe you shouldn’t really be able to point to the midpoint in a film.

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Then I used my blog to educate my producer as to why he shouldn’t get his hopes up about the first draft I was just about to deliver …

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Just as it might have got interesting … I got angry about spoilers instead.

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Then it got interesting. I had a phone call

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It was Danny Stack … and he didn’t want anything except a chat.

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Where it got interesting was it kicked off a string of phone calls between me and … well, just people. Nice people. People like Calum Chalmers.

MAY

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And it carried on with more nice people like Robin Bell, Andrew Mullins and Dominic Carver.

In fact, most of May was taken up with phone calls, broken only by me trying to figure out how to write the perfect cameo (it worked! I wish I could tell you how well it worked … but I can’t) and to celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary.

Oh and I went on a bit about competition and how much I enjoy it.

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JUNE

June continued the #PhonePhill-ing bringing delightful chats with Dee Chilton, Rosie Claverton and Rebecca Handley.

In fact, June was all phone calls apart from one post about being better and how we should all pursue knowledge as if it were a … thing. I don’t know. Insert your own simile, I’m tired.

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JULY

July brought yet more telephone awesomeness …

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This time in the shape of Mac McSharry, James Moran, Jay Sutherland and Terry Newman.

As well as yakking to people, I also (gasp!) worked over a weekend.

Apparently this is so shocking to me I felt the need to blog about it.

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I also made an uncredited appearance as Iron Man at a little boy’s birthday party in a homemade, cardboard costume:

I enjoyed that.

AUGUST

In August I had a little panic about potentially offending  someone I quite like by giving them script notes. In order to cover my anxiety, I wrote this post about the kind of script notes I get and how upsetting they can be … if you don’t take them in the spirit they’re intended.

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Later on, I followed that post up by giving myself notes on an old script.

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I also pretended a meal/drink with some friends was a sort of #PhonePhill episode … even though it wasn’t.

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But it did lead to this picture, which is my favourite of the year:

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I rounded off August by highlighting my inability to not focus on background detail.

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SEPTEMBER

Man, I did a lot of blogging in 2015. Too much, some might say.

In September I added one more thing to a script and felt the need to tell everyone.

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Then I added a second thing and banged on about that too.

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I did a thing about tokenism and … well, I don’t know what my point was there. Feel free to read it and let me know.

Oh, and then I added some nonsense to Jason Arnopp’s blog post about hands.

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OCTOBER

I kicked off October by contrasting Rose Tyler with Jurassic Park … which, you know, is clearly two different things and needs a blog explaining why.

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And then … the future arrived!

I meant to take a photo of myself with my trousers on inside out … but I didn’t. Possibly because I don’t think I wore any in October.

Instead of wearing trousers, I watched some videos about deleted scenes from all three Star Wars films:

I say three because I’m a prequel denier. At that point I was adamant there were only three Star Wars films. Now, of course, there’s been another half of a Star Wars film.

Hopefully we’ll find out in a couple of years whether or not any of it makes sense.

NOVEMBER

Just when you thought I’d forgotten about it, another #PhonePhill – this time with William Gallagher. He’s written a book, you know. Bits of it are about me.

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Inspired by the resurgence of telephonic communication, I immediately didn’t do it again and instead waffled on about River Theory …

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Expressed my love for the Verity podcast …

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And raved on and on and on about this speech from Doctor Who:

Oh, and I found this photo of a Burt Reynolds crab.

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DECEMBER

Which brings us to now. All I did in December was a handful of short blogs about other people’s stuff. Things like:

Arnopp’s patreon campaign, the UK Scriptwriter’s Handbook and the Heaven Sent/Hell Bent scripts.

There were meant to be more, but there wasn’t.

I didn’t even wish you a merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas.

There, I did it.

And so, with this year nearly spent, all eyes turn to the next one.

Hopefully it’ll include at least one blog about my new office:

And loads and loads about my next script to be produced:

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Happy New Year, let’s chat soon.

Categories: #PhonePhill, Bored, Career Path, Christmas Crackers, Industry Musings, My Way, Progress, Publicity, Random Witterings, Rants, Sad Bastard, Someone Else's Way, Sparkle, The Ties That Bind, Things I've Learnt Recently, Two steps back, Writing and life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Director of better

I love W1A, it’s easily one of my favourite sitcoms of recent years. I’m pretty certain that’s not how the BBC operates, but it feels like it probably could be.

I’ve definitely been the writer in that meeting where it’s clear the producer not only hasn’t read the script but has no idea what it’s about. I think we’ve all had that meeting, haven’t we?

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I’ve also borne witness to the same kind of corporate fucking-about-ness which gives birth to jobs with bullshit titles like ‘Director of Better’. The urge to leap onto the table and shriek “what’s the fucking point of you? I mean, what do you actually do here?” is often overwhelming.

And yet … I like the idea of better.

I think humans are happiest when they’re getting better. When they achieve things and have a sense of progression. Doesn’t matter what those things are, even if it’s just collecting stamps … but the ability to look at your life and understand you’re this much better than you were last year is invaluable.

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Or at least I think it is.

I feel like it’s my job to be better.

A better husband, a better father, a better friend, a better writer … just better.

Every day I try to be a little nicer, to refine how I interact with people in the hope of pissing less of them off and getting pissed of at less of them in return.

I exercise. I try to get a little fitter, a little healthier. I read. Try to get a little smarter, a little more depth or breadth to my knowledge.

I … do you know what? This is something I’ve been thinking about a bit recently – gym bunnies.b6b95da840183b3ea1e9dce216d97be4

I’m using that as an asexual term.

I know people who go to the gym every day. They’re obsessive about it … but not in a good way. They’re not trying to be better in a positive way, they’re worried about how physically attractive they are and are actively trying to be more attractive.

Most of these people are already extremely physically attractive. They have what most people would consider perfect physiques given that ‘perfect’ isn’t one shape, but a wide range that most of you already fall into.

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The gym isn’t going to make them any more attractive. It might help them maintain their current level, but an extra millimetre off or on a thigh here and there won’t make a blind bit of difference.

So why not swap one of those gym days for a day at the library? Your body gets you the first ten seconds of attention, your personality carries you for the rest of your life.

Realistically, wearing a top hat will get you exactly the same amount of attention as a year’s worth of gym membership.

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Probably.

Maybe it won’t.

Sorry. Someone asked me last week if a millimetre was more or less than half a centimetre and it really depressed me. All that gym time only to fall flat the first time she opened her mouth.

I think we, as writers, spend a lot of time learning new things. I certainly do, I squirrel away bits of information about all sorts of odd things … just in case they come in useful.

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Which they rarely do.

Lots of people don’t seem to do this. They don’t seem to seek out knowledge. I’m not sure why. I guess it isn’t really useful to them.

On the other hand, looking at this a different way – that woman (she was 27) was actually asking about millimetres. She was trying to find out and I guess mocking her for it is a bad thing.

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It’s never too late to learn new things. Even things we should have learnt at primary school.

It’s never too late to get better.

Categories: Bored, Random Witterings | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Spoiling yourself

WARNING!

CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR

SAVING MR BANKS

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

AND

THE SIXTH SENSE

MIND YOU, IF YOU’VE READ THIS WARNING THEN YOU’VE ALREADY SPOILERED SAVING MR BANKS

Too many cooks may spoil the broth, but too much information definitely spoilers the movie.

For me, at least.

I’ve long been bamboozled by the level of spoilers in soap operas. I can’t understand why people want to know what’s happening in an episode before they’ve seen it.

“This is the one where so and so finds out thingamajig is her dad!”

As far as I can tell that’s every episode of every soap ever, but why would you want to know that before you watch it? Why is that fun? Why would you want to know anything about an episode of your favourite show before you’ve seen it?

Same goes for films. Why do people spend the year before a film is released dissecting trailers in the hope of finding out what the story is about? Why do people hunt down leaked screenplays and set images?

Isn’t half the fun of seeing a movie being surprised?

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Or is that just me?

Some films don’t wait for their audience to hunt down spoilers, they just spoiler themselves right off the bat.

The piece de resistance when it comes to spoilers has to be Saving Mr Banks – never before has a film been so comprehensively spoilered by its own title.

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How much more amazing would that film have been if you didn’t know P L Travers’ objections were all about Saving Mr Banks? Imagine what a revelation it would have been to have got to the Walt Disney speech where he figures it out and have a light bulb click on in your own head.

I don’t even know if I’d have linked the flashbacks to P L Travers if I’d hadn’t read the title of the film.

But no, they put the twist in the title of the film. That’s like calling “The Empire Strikes Back”, “Vader is Luke’s Dad!”.

And just in case you didn’t get it from the title, they put the revelation scene in the fucking trailer. Right in there. Front and centre. Who made that decision? And why?

Imagine that person or persons cutting a trailer for The Sixth Sense. Would that film have been better or worse if it had a shot of Bruce Willis staring at the camera and saying “I’m dead, aren’t I?” in the trailer?

I’m voting worse, you may beg to differ.

“Let’s not call it “The Sixth Sense”, let’s call it “Kid Counseled by Dead Guy” that would be sooooooooo coooooooooool.”

“It’s about Saving Mr Banks, isn’t it?” For fuck’s sake – why was that line in the trailer? Why was anything from that late in the film in the trailer?

All I want in the trailer is the set up and maybe a montage-y thing summing up the first half of the second act. I want it to be a pictorial version of the blurb on the back of a DVD.

Or BluRay, if you want to be fancy.

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“This is a story about someone who wants something but can’t get it because of reasons.” Thanks very much, that sounds interesting, I’ll go and see that.

“This is a story about someone who wants something but can’t get it because of reasons and there’s this really cool bit at the end where you realise everyone has escaped from his imagination.”

No! Noooooooooooooo! Fucking NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Stop spoilering films for me! Stop spoilering them in trailers and posters and especially stop spoilering them for me on Facebook, at great length, and then tagging me in the post.

UNFRIEND ROTTEN CARD

I don’t want to know. Honestly, I don’t. I’ll unfriend you. Seriously, I’ll fucking do it.

Well, okay, I won’t do it because I’m vaguely interested in your amusing cat stories and the outside chance you might post a photo of yourself in your pants … but, come on! Don’t spoiler the film for me.

Hell, don’t spoiler the film for yourself.

And trailer makers, just fucking don’t.

In general.

Please?

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Categories: Bored, Random Witterings, Rants, Sad Bastard | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Vanishing point

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I once accidentally got involved in a discussion/argument about the midpoint of Back to the Future.

It was one of those pointless online scriptwriting debates where lots of people who’ve never sold scripts harangue each other for not following rules laid down by other people who have also never sold scripts and have instead taken to writing books about how people can achieve successful writing careers by following the advice which didn’t work for them.

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For some reason (call it capricious youth, call it naivety, call it shit-stirring) I chipped in with my opinion:

The midpoint in Back to the Future is when Doc Brown points at the audience and says “We’re sending you back to the future.” The reason I think that’s the midpoint is because that’s where the intermission was in the cinema … so it’s probably roughly halfway through.

I got called a lot of names.

Actually, I don’t think I did. I think people just disagreed … but that doesn’t sound as interesting as the version where everyone except me is an idiot. Despite the precise opposite being true in almost every case.

Some people thought the midpoint came a few sentences later when the characters realise Marty’s past is disappearing.

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Others thought it was at the end of the scene when Marty accidentally outshines George in the town square/skateboard bit.

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Others still thought it was later on again, when Marty fails to get Lorraine interested in George and they come up with the new plan to get them to kiss on the dance floor.

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Yet more people thought it was when Marty threatened to melt George’s brain.

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One or two even thought it was earlier when Marty finally managed to persuade Doc to listen to him. An upbeat midpoint.

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I believe there was even one lone voice who insisted (quite vocally, possibly in ALL CAPS) that the midpoint comes when Doc realises it’s impossible to generate the 1.21 gigawatts needed for time travel.

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At the time I remember distinctly not caring.

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But it’s been playing on my mind ever since.

Well, not ever since. Occasionally. When I’ve got nothing better to do. Or when I have got better things to do and don’t want to do them.

It’s not that I think I was right (which is weird – I always think I’m right) and don’t get me wrong, I still don’t care … but my not caring has become the point. For me.

I don’t think these points should be points. I don’t really like having a specific frame of film I can point at and go “Aha! That’s the inciting incident!”

Or the midpoint or the ‘all is lost’ moment or … you know, stuff.

Apart from those times where the midpoint is a twist or shock reveal which throws the film onto a completely different path … I think these story points should be kind of smeared out.

To me, a midpoint isn’t point, it’s curve. It’s where the story changes trajectory because sustaining the pursuit of one goal for the entire second act is a tricky thing to do.

Something happens which either knocks the protagonist off course or changes their goals. Or introduces a new goal they have to accomplish before they can achieve their original one.

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Sometimes these are instant, right-angle changes … but more often than not they’re a slight change of course. Sort of heading towards the original goal but on a tangential path. Or maybe a parallel one?

A single event may initiate that course correction but more often than not several things have to happen to push the protagonist onto the new course. The curved path between course A and course B is a constant state of change during which the protagonist tries to stay on course A like a satnav refusing to accept the driver is trying to avoid the A259 … before finally (and grumpily. I’m sure my satnav gets the hump) accepting the new route home.

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In other words, it’s not an obvious text-book point. It’s a gentle, organic change from one state of play to another. The midpoint I scribbled on an index card at the beginning of the process becomes a scene or a sequence, smearing the point out over several pages of script.

I kind of see that as my job, to make clear and identifiable points and then hide them in the flesh of the piece. The changes should feel surprising but also inevitable. They should feel like there was no other way for that change to happen … but not stand out as a plot point we were aiming to hit precisely on page 55.

I like my stories to have smooth transitions from one act to another rather than sharp and spiky points which flag themselves as screenwriting 101.

Except when I don’t.

Sometimes that shock twist or reveal is the best thing for the story. I guess each story defines its own type of plot points.

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So in the case of Back to the Future – who was right? Where is the midpoint?

Well … all of the above. Surely? All of those things contribute to a change of direction and a new goal for the character. All of those things happen somewhere in the middle and the fact no one can agree on which one is THE one is kind of the point.

At least I think it is anyway.

Bullshit or not?

I don’t know how to end this post, so I’ll end it on a largely unconnected anecdote. My six-year-old daughter watched all three Back to the Futures on consecutive weekends. During the third film, Doc Brown tells Marty to take the time machine back to 1985 and dismantle it. My daughter made me stop the film and demanded to know why he wanted the time machine destroyed?

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“Well,” says I, “you remember in the second film when Biff got hold of the time machine? He changed everything didn’t he? He made it all bad and Doc doesn’t want that to happen again.”

My daughter thought that was silly:

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“He doesn’t have to destroy it though, does he? Why doesn’t he just put a lock on it? It could be an electric lock with a voice thing so you have to say ‘Hello, this is Doc’ or ‘Hello, this is Marty’ and the door would open. But if you didn’t say it then it would electrocute you and kill you.”

Which, as points go, is a damned fine one … and one I wish I’d thought of.

A bit like this watch:

I’m going to stop now. Choco-delirium has set in.

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

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.

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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?

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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

Okay google

I love technology. I love gadgets. I love how they make simple things slightly more complicated but cooler. In particular, I love mobile phones.

People who know me well find that amusing because of my outspoken hatred of mobiles for many, many years. I hated them. I found them intrusive and unnecessary and socially destructive … but, as I often say, if you’re going to change your mind, change it properly.

The best way to change your mind isn’t by increments, it’s by swerving wildly from one extreme to the other.

Probably.

To be fair though, the point at which I changed my mind coincided with the point at which phones stopped being just phones and became cameras and music players and Internet portals.

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Nowadays I use my phone for emails, for satnav, for web browsing, as a remote control for the telly (and our lounge lights), as a camera (a 3D-ish camera, even!), for messaging and as a calendar … but rarely for phone calls. When it rings, I’m surprised – what the hell is that noise?

From a scriptwriting point of view, I still hate mobile phones. I hate how they can deflate dramatic situations – why is he running across town? Why doesn’t he just phone her? Why doesn’t she just google how to pick the lock? How come all these people keep running into trouble in areas with no phone signal?

I also hate sitting in cinemas while people are checking their phones. Presumably they’ve paid to be there, why aren’t they watching the film? And if they haven’t paid to be there, I fucking have! Turn it off!

Or maybe don’t?

Maybe it’s time to use this technology for mischief?

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Apparently 60% of smartphone users own an Android device. If you think that’s incorrect and believe close to 80 or 90% of people have iPhones then you probably work in media of some description because, for some reason, everyone in media has an iPhone.

You may choose to believe that’s because they’re the best phones on the market or because media-folk are unusually susceptible to marketing, depending on your point of view. Neither of which are probably correct.

Anyway, according to official(ish) figures, 60-odd percent of smartphones are Android and (as far as I’m aware) all Android smartphones can run Google Now and a significant proportion of them are always listening for the words “Okay Google”.

For those of you who don’t have an Android phone (which given the media-focus of this blog is probably everyone reading this), Google Now is the Android equivalent of Siri, but a bit more intrusive and Big Brother-ish. It watches you, it collects information, it makes frighteningly accurate suggestions about things you might want to do, visit or be interested in and … it listens.

“Okay Google” is the activation phrase. Say it while the screen is on^ and the phone responds to any command you give it. No buttons need pressing, no other action is required.*

It occurs to me that it’s our civic duty as scriptwriters to abuse this technology wherever possible.

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I hereby call upon all our writers worldwide to include the phrase “Okay Google” in every film from now on … and follow it with something embarrassing and/or annoying.

Feel free to be as creative as possible here.

“I understand you! I just disagree, okay? Google it, call mum and see if she gives a fuck, because I fucking don’t.”

At which point, a small proportion of people watching the film will find their phones dialing their mothers. The ‘it’ probably won’t register since there is a slight lag between saying the phrase and the phone activating.

Why not call a henchman ‘Google’ because he’s dead clever and knows how to find all sorts of shit. Then you can crowbar in phrases like:

“Enough’s enough, okay? Google, send John a message, I can see you … want to hurt him.”

If you make the pause between ‘you’ and ‘want’ big enough then a small percentage of the world’s Johns will get a text saying “I can see you.”

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Or why not include a phrase like … butt plug? The phone will search for anything it doesn’t recognise as a command. Best case scenario, it will read out the Wiki definition of ‘butt plug’ to everyone in the cinema. Worst case, Google Now will spam the fuck out of them with ads and articles for butt plugs forever more.

I think the potential here is limitless. It’s our civic duty to do this. If we work together we can really, really annoy a small handful of people worldwide … which, when I put it like that sounds slightly less appealing.

Plus … I’m not really sure it would work.

Still, it would amuse me and sometimes that’s all that matters.

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^ I’ve just found out some Samsungs do this with the screen off, which is even better. I guess other phones must do it too?

* I think Siri does it too, but I’ve no idea what the activation phrase is. “Hello Siri” maybe? I think I heard that somewhere … kind of hard to get into a script. Cortana … no idea. Sorry.

Categories: Bored, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard | 4 Comments

Needy writer

needy

I’ve discovered recently that I’m a needy writer and I’m working hard not to be.

Not needy in an emotional sense or a whiny, weepy, please love me, I need your approval sense …

Although I am that as well. Come on, we all are. Deep down?

Validate_Me

No? Just me?

Not like that anyway, more in the sense of thinking in terms of what the script/story/characters need.

Several times recently on a couple of projects I’ve been deep in discussion with the director or my co-writer about a script which isn’t quite working and saying something like:

“What we need is a scene which shows the character loves gerbils and is a homicidal maniac who’s afraid of cheese.”

To which everyone agrees … but how do we show both in the same scene?

Hmm.

What can we do to visually show both of these things in a single page or image? I mean, after the script needs it.

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Needs. It.

Or does it?

What happens if we take that bit out? What happens if we change it? What if we make the character love cheese and get all stabby over gerbils? What if we make the character something completely different?

How much of what we think we need do we actually need?

In both cases, the answer was the same – we don’t need that. Not at all. In fact, if we do the complete opposite then the story actually works and is completely satisfying as opposed to merely kind of okay.

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The script I’ve just finished, to get specific without giving any of the plot away, is about risk and the taking thereof. We needed the protagonist to be risk-averse and to be forced into taking a huge risk in order to win through at the end.

We needed that. The script needed that. The story hinged on it. It had to happen.

The only problem is, it was making the protagonist incredibly boring. It’s quite hard (within the confines of the pre-existing story) to make this particular protagonist interesting and fun and likeable (or empathetic or loveable … or whatever you want to call it) and still be risk-averse.

I mean, how do you show that someone’s risk-averse?

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You show them not doing dangerous things. You know, fun things like not skydiving or not being spontaneous or not gambling their career on a promotion or not … well, anything. And in order to show someone isn’t doing something, you have to have her standing next to people who are doing things. You have to see her next to someone (or someones) who do throw themselves out of a plane or off a building or running across a busy road while she waits behind looking scared and/or disapproving.

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One of the quickest ways to build empathy with a character is to show them being good at something. Or compassionate about something. But if all you’re doing is showing them not doing it, then they’re just not interesting.

Okay, so there are ways around this but we found ourselves building in an incredibly detailed backstory to explain why she’s like this so the audience are on her side. She’s risk-averse because her mother was a compulsive gambler who lost the family home and was forced to work as a drug mule, taking the young protagonist along for cover who then witnessed first hand what happens when you are indebted to the mob and/or get busted for … blah, blah, blah.

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An extra fifteen pages later and the script is waaaaay too long.

And the protagonist is still dull. Justifiably so – we understand why she’s dull and know this is the story of how she learns to stop being dull … but still, dull is dull.

But this is what the script needs, it’s about risk. Stories work best when the character has a thematically ironic problem to overcome. The theme is risk. The irony is she doesn’t take any.

That’s what the script needs.

Needs.

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Or does it?

What if we put that idea aside (because it’s terrible) and look at it from the other direction?

What if, instead of being risk-phobic, she’s a riskophile?

What if she’s the one throwing herself out of a plane while someone boring looks on disapprovingly? What if she’s a fuck-load of fun?

Well, for one thing it makes the story much more enjoyable.

She takes too many risks, learns about consequences and then, when she’s begining to fear taking risks, has to take the biggest one of her life.

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Suddenly the script is far, far better.

Why do people take risks? Why aren’t they afraid of the consequences? Why doesn’t she care enough about herself to rein it in?

Suddenly the script is wide open … without actually changing any of the pre-existing story points.

But what about the antagonist? He was the one taking the risks she was afraid of, now he’s pretty much the same as her. If we change him, we change the whole story … which we can’t do.

Okay, fine. So let’s make him the worst version of her to show her how dangerous her present course of action is. He is what she will become if she doesn’t begin to comprehend consequences …

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And so on.

Forgetting about what we thought the script needed allowed us to find something the script actually needed. It allowed us to find a way to make it actually work.

So that’s my plan from now on – every time I find myself with a fixed idea about what the script needs but not what that thing might be, I’m just going to set that aside and try to imagine what the opposite might be.

And the end of the day, the previous option is still there. Thinking outside of what I believe the script needs might not provide the results, but it doesn’t hurt either. It’s a technique which is serving me well at the moment so, you know, it might be worth a try?

Bullshit or not?

Categories: Bored, My Way, Random Witterings | 2 Comments

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