Persona

2013

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Oh come on! That was never a year!

Really? Did we have all the months? Does everyone remember having all the months? We must have skimped on one of the summer months. July? Anyone remember there being a July in 2013?

The rate time’s passing is getting ridiculous.

On the plus side, if it’s 2014 tomorrow, then it means we only have one more year until hoverboards and flying cars!

And yes, they are both on my future Christmas list.

So how was your 2013? Was it good? Did you enjoy it? All of it? Even the July which I’m sure the Government have covertly pinched?

Mine, since you’re doubtlessly asking, went something like this:

JANUARY

I started the year by getting a bit excited about January. No, I have no idea why either.

Then, inspired by this post by Debbie Moon, I got a bit ranty about jealousy.

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And I finished off the month by rambling on a bit about HMV maybe shutting down.

Which it didn’t.

The essence of my argument was it would be a shame if HMV went bust because the immediate next wave of filmmakers would never know the elation of walking into a shop and buying a copy of your own DVD. HMV is one of the last outlets who stock pretty much any low budget films. If they went, the only shelf space would be in supermarkets and they are a bit funny about what films they’ll sell.

Now, okay, DVDs (or Blu-Rays, if you prefer) will ultimately go away and people will feel giddy and excited about something else.

But a year later, DVDs are still here (as is HMV) and they’re still exciting. I don’t know about you, but I have a hierarchy of film-love. Only my absolute favourites get bought on DVD. Films I really enjoy … I probably won’t bother to buy. I might watch it several times on TV or pay to stream something … but only my absolute bestest films get bought.

Unless I know the writer and want to annoy/promote them.

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Having a film produced is exciting. Attending the première is more exciting. Seeing it in released in the cinemas is even more exciting still. But holding a physical copy in your hand, one you can put on the shelf or lend to people or just look at and smile … that’s the best bit.

For me.

Because that, in a small way, puts the thing I wrote on a similar footing to all the other films I love. Even when I fucking hate the actual film itself.

FEBRUARY

I began February by busting the shit out of the motivation, willpower and confidence conspiracy myth bullshit.

Or possibly by just ranting aimlessly about those imaginary things. One of the two.

simplicity

I finished off the month by loving Wreck-It Ralph. A lot.

At least I was right about that.

Was that it? Hmm … didn’t blog much in February, did I? Probably because I gave up chocolate, biscuits, sweets, crisps and cake in a vague effort to stop looking like a fucking hippo. That kind of thing is bound to make someone less bloggy.

MARCH

I began March by explaining, politely, that they don’t fucking love your script in Cannes – no matter what they may have said. If they loved it, they would have bought it. Did they buy it?

No. Then they didn’t love it.

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Yes, you can still pay me to re-write it.

I also blogged about exercise, P90X and biscuits – somehow finding it appropriate to insert myself into Death in Paradise wielding a spoon.

ginge-in-paradiseNo, I have no idea why either.

That was a weird thing to do. Although, the good news is I still have that spoon. In a lovely bit of serendipity, I stole it from the Jamaican hotel which initially inspired Death in Paradise. It’s now my emergency back up spoon.

Then I wrote a blog about Other People’s Ideas and how hard they are to write. For some reason I equated it to making a human being and having too many ears.

Seriously, never give up biscuits. It’s just not worth it.

APRIL

Wait … what the fuck? THERE WAS NO APRIL! I fucking knew we hadn’t had a full year! Here’s the proof …

Or rather, here isn’t the proof because April never fucking existed. It can’t have existed or I would have blogged about it.

You fuckers stole my April!

I’m a bit cross about that.

MAY

All I did in May was give away a really cool book which, despite the cover, has no information in it about how to get laid by writing scripts.

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What a rotten swizz.

JUNE

Apparently, some insanely exciting things were happening in June … but I have no idea what they might have been.

My laptop had a bit of an accident. That was annoying.

laptop-exploding-battery-fireBut I fixed it. Sort of.

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What else happened?

Ooh, I wrote some stuff and edited some stuff and had some meetings and all sort of proper writing stuff. That was exciting.

I then went on to promote a writing development scheme thingy.

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What was exceptionally exciting about that is a writer friend of mine later told me she’d applied and been accepted onto the course – something she never would have known existed if I hadn’t mentioned it.

That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. I love being vaguely useful occasionally.

Buoyed on by that, I promoted some free stuff. Which probably isn’t free any more, so … don’t bother clicking that link.

Assuming anyone’s still reading and is even clicking anything. Are you?

Really?

Why? Go do something more fun.

Oh, no, wait! This next post was my most popular post of the year. Still is.

I think.

MAN OF STEEL – 3 THINGS I TRY NOT TO PUT IN A SCRIPT

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JULY

July was simple. All I did in July was reveal the meaning of life and the meaning of illegal.

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I got both of them completely and utterly right too.

Because I’m awesome.

I totally rocked July.

AUGUST

I’m getting bored now. Anyone else getting bored?

August! What did I do in August?

NOTHING!

There was no August either.

Wait a minute … no April? No August? No months beginning with the letter A?

Hmm …

That video would probably be more relevant if it was actually about the letter A.

SEPTEMBER

There was a September! Since September doesn’t begin with the letter A, this completely proves my theory.

It fucking does!

In September I went to see Monsters University.

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Then I gave you writer-based fashion advice.

dr who pants

And I rounded out the month by getting upset about a wine glass.

fu8bkhJesus.

OCTOBER

In October I had a letter from Linda Aronson, which was far politer than I deserved.

Then I wrote the first two parts of my fantastically successful Notes from the Other Side series; which was about my inept fumblings as a script editor for PERSONA.

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They were called Part One and Part Two. I’m original like that, I am. I was the first person ever to think of calling something part one and part two.

NOVEMBER

I’m really bored with this now. I’ve no idea why I do this every year, I mean what is the fucking point? Does anyone read this far? I will send a five pound note to the first person who quotes these three words in the comments:

Fresnel

Turpentine

Jamais vu

That’s a serious offer. I’ll send you a proper five pound note through the proper mail and everything if you’re the first person to copy and paste those three words into a comment.

And 12p to the first person who can use them in a sentence.

And now that I’ve (hopefully) successfully proved no one’s reading any more … on with November.

First up, Part Three of the Notes from the Other Side trilogy. I broke boundaries here by calling the third part Part Three. I also got a bit ranty about it all.

Sorry.

Especially to the person I referred to as a fucking twat; but to be fair. You were.

Or I was.

One of the two.

Possibly both.

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Then I talked about tailoring. It was in relation to an upcoming meeting … at which everyone behaved in almost exactly the way I hoped they wouldn’t.

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For some reason I then had a pop at actors who don’t afford my scripts the same respect as Shakespeare’s.

No, seriously. I can only assume I was heavily medicated at the time.

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And I finished the month by gushing about my love for a man. Well, eleven men. Twelve, as it turned out. Thirteen now.

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If you’re feeling particularly geeky, you can spot seven differences between this photo and the one uploaded in November. Although, I warn you now imaginary person who’s never going to fucking bother doing this … number four is almost impossible to spot.

DECEMBER

I began December by delivering my verdict of The Day of the Doctor … I fucking loved it. I know I fucking loved it because I wrote “I fucking loved it.”

You can’t argue with that kind of proof.

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Then I decided to tattoo something on my forehead so I wouldn’t forget it. This is the worst possible way of remembering stuff … mainly because it’s really fucking hard to see your own forehead.

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Don’t do this. Seriously, it’s silly.

And I finished off the year with a series of Christmas crackers – little bloglet mentions of things I either think are cool or just felt like mentioning:

  1. The Elephantom
  2. Totally Serialized (there’s a competition on this one – you can win free tickets!)
  3. Dead Elf
  4. Production Hell
  5. Kung Fury

And that was pretty much it in blogging terms.

Behind the scenes, this was an interesting year. It’s the first year for nearly a decade I haven’t had anything produced or released … and yet I probably earnt more this year than any previous year to date.

Apparently a writer can earn more money by not getting films made than by actually getting involved in all that icky and annoying shooting business.

Who knew?

At the beginning of the year, I made a conscious decision to write something for myself. Something I really, really wanted to write which I would then try to sell.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, I worked almost continuously on other people’s ideas with varying degrees of success.

I had some lovely meetings with some lovely people and at least one of them I didn’t completely screw up.

I got paid to write stuff I enjoyed writing for people who actually cared about the script and wanted to get it right … as opposed to caring about the shooting date (tomorrow) and wanting to get it finished … even if ‘finished’ means ‘nobody fucking cares how good it is, we just need some words’.

As an added extra bonus, a producer sent one of my scripts to a director whose work I really, really admire. I’ve no idea if that guy actually liked the script or not. Probably not, but he wanted to read it and therefore at least now knows who I am.

I’m the guy who’s script he (probably) didn’t like.

Unless he hasn’t read it yet. Which is entirely possible and extremely likely.

2014 already has some super cool awesome stuff lined up with a couple of projects lining up on the starting blocks and even a few lumbering asthmatically towards the final set of hurdles.

Beyond which are another set of even higher hurdles, because that’s what the whole writing gig’s about.

So bring it on 2014, do your worst!

Just nicely.

Please?

Categories: BBC, Bored, Career Path, Christmas Crackers, Industry Musings, My Way, Opportunity, Persona, Progress, Random Witterings, Rants, Sad Bastard, Someone Else's Way, Strippers vs. Werewolves, Things I've Learnt Recently, Two steps back, Writing and life | 16 Comments

Notes from the other side (Part Three)

THINGS WHICH PISSED ME OFF

 

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I know I was no great shakes as a script-editor. I know I probably pissed people off by giving them what they thought of as stupid notes. I’ve had those notes, I know what it feels like to send in a script thinking it’s amazing … only to feel like you’ve failed miserably because it’s not loved unconditionally.

Notes are part of the process. Rejection is part of the process. Even when a script is good, parts of it have to be rejected – this is just what happens. It happens to the best writers in the world, it’s going to happen to you.

How you deal with the notes is what sets you apart from other writers. The best writers on PERSONA dealt with the notes in a timely, imaginative manner, with good humour and professionalism. These were the majority of the writers – I loved reading your work, you were, and hopefully still are, wonderful.

But I was under a lot of pressure, working late into the night every night for no reward on something I didn’t believe in. Sometimes writers, good and bad, did things which made me really, really fucking angry.

If you did any of these things during the writing of PERSONA, it doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad writer. It doesn’t change how likely I am to hug you if I meet you in public+ or to buy you a drink^. I’m keeping these anonymous because I don’t want to point fingers or name names – I just want people to understand some of the additional pressures your note-giver might be under and how a writer’s attitude, behaviour or style might come across.

These are the things I found particularly irksome, the things I will be trying not to do to anyone giving me notes in future:

 

1. NON STANDARD FORMAT

Go Your Own Way

When you’re reading a lot of scripts very quickly, then you need to be able to read them quickly. Peering at a script trying to work out if the bit left-justified, halfway up the page in a narrow block is action, dialogue or an accident is just fucking annoying. Learning the craft means learning the format – a small army of people all have to be able to read this thing in order to make it. Standard format makes it easy for everyone, if you want to invent your own, write a novel.

I’m not talking here about things like when to use caps or when to underline stuff or whether you use passive voice or not – none of that shit matters, not really. Not writing dialogue which goes all the way across the page with the character names on the same line – that’s important. Don’t do shit like that.

Or shit like this:

Morgan

Morgan

Nathan

Morgan

confused

Morgan

You're Morgan too?

Nathan

Sorry, that's the limit of my German.

Morgan

Your name's not Morgan?

Nathan

Nathan thought Morgan was saying hello in German!

Nathan talks about himself in the third person.

Morgan

What?

Versus this:

                MORGAN
          Morgan.

                NATHAN
          Morgan!

                MORGAN
             (confused)
          You're Morgan too?

                NATHAN
          Sorry, that's the limit of my German.

                MORGAN
          Your name's not Morgan?

                NATHAN
          Nathan thought Morgan was saying 
          hello in German!

NOTE: Nathan talks about himself in the third person.

                 MORGAN
           What?

Okay, it’s still shit; but at least now it’s readable shit.

 

2. HARD TO USE FILES

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I don’t know if it’s still the case, but at that time CELTX didn’t play well with any other software. Scripts for PERSONA had to be put into the house style, and collated into a master document for the editor to assemble the appisodes. If I couldn’t export the script to anything, then I had to copy, paste and reformat or retype every script by hand.

Once you get past midnight, that becomes old really, really fast.

I know CELTX is free and is probably really fun/easy to write in … but (back then) the files it produced were completely fucking useless unless everyone on the production team switched to new software. That’s not going to happen. By all means use whatever software suits you, but deliver it in a format the rest of the production team can use/edit.

I apologise to the makers of CELTX if there was a simple way of exporting their files to something editable on other other software; but if there was I couldn’t find it. I fully accept this may be my failing, not theirs.

Still made my life needlessly more complicated though.

 

3. SCRIPT GURU TERMINOLOGY

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I come from a movie background, I think in three acts. Or rather, I talk in three acts. I actually think in four. The point is, three acts is an industry shorthand most people understand. Specific TV shows might have more or less acts and that’s great – you have to be able to use the terminology of the show. Myself and the producer/directors of PERSONA spoke in terms of three acts … so when I’d get replies to my notes from writers who talked in terms of whatever script book they’d read that week – it was difficult to translate.

I wasn’t just dealing with that one writer, I was dealing with up to nine at any one time. And when those nine are variously talking about 5 acts, 22 steps, 8 sequences or 16 keystone moments … I can’t keep up. I can’t really be expected to read every theory going and translate the prodcution team’s opinions into a different script language every fucking time. If those things help you write, then great – use them; but when you’re dealing with a note-giver who’s also dealing with eight other writers and a production team … just learn the common language.

Also, if you’re going to buy into your favourite script guru’s terminology, then please …

 

4. LEARN WHAT THE TERMINOLOGY MEANS

you keep using that wordAn inciting incident is an incident which incites. It should be both inciting and an incident. Two people talking about a third person’s shoes isn’t really either. Telling me it is because it comes on page x and your favourite script guru says that’s where the inciting incident always is doesn’t make it more inciting or incident-y. You can’t just point at random bits of script and declare that they’re inciting incidents in the same way you can’t point at a car tyre and declare it’s a carburettor.

Well you can, but it won’t make building a car any easier.

 

5. FINAL DRAFT

3u75m8Writing FINAL DRAFT on the title page of your script because you think you’ve done enough … yeah, don’t do that. I’ll tell you when it’s the final draft. It’s the final draft when it’s right, not when you get bored.

 

6. THE UNDERLYING CAUSE

Missing-the-PointOne script we had generated only one note – the protagonist wasn’t really in it. The main character didn’t appear in well over fifty percent of the appisodes – that’s not good. The writer disagreed and drew up a chart illustrating that the protagonist was actually in at least 75% of the appisodes.

Bear in mind here, some of these appisodes are a week apart. If your protagonist isn’t in two in a row, they won’t be seen for over a week. Also, there are four stories running consecutively, all mixed together in a different order on different days – if your protagonist isn’t in the appisode, the audience may not know which story this piece belongs to.

I rechecked the script and the writer was completely right – the protagonist was actually in 75% of the scenes. In the background, not speaking. The wallpaper was also in the background, that doesn’t make it a protagonist.

If someone can read your script and NOT NOTICE WHETHER THE PROTAGONIST IS PRESENT OR NOT, then you have a problem. It doesn’t actually matter if the reader is wrong – the problem is still there. The difference between an absent protagonist and one we didn’t notice is exactly the same.

Because, and here’s the thing, people have to film this. Cast members have to be scheduled – if the three of us didn’t notice her; maybe no one else will. Maybe no one will notice until the day of the shoot … and then we find the actor is in Tahiti.

Or something.

A lot of people have to read and UNDERSTAND your script in order to film it. If it’s important, make it stand out – make if noticable. If the note-giver is accusing you of not including the vital information you know is there, then don’t argue – just go back and make it stand out. Put it in bold if you have to.

 

7. UNDERSTAND WHAT CONSTITUTES A SCENE

where-the-fuck-am-i-lets-ask-that-statueEach new location is a new scene. This is fairly basic stuff. The reason each new location is a new scene is because the entire crew have to move to a new place. That’s a lot of people. Okay, so you can have a continuous move from one room to the next, assuming the location has a kitchen next to a lounge (or whatever); but if the lounge is on the first floor and the kitchen is in the basement then a continuous scene is going to involve a lot of stairs. In a 30 second episode … there’s no fucking time for stairs!

There isn’t really time to move from one room to another unless they’re talking while they’re walking.

We had quite a few occurrences of:

She enters through the front door, walks up the stairs and into the bedroom.

That’s your entire appisode, right there.

It gets even worse when people write things like:

He follows her across the bridge, along the street, past the shops and watches 
her climb the steps to her front door.

What the fuck?

Unless this is a really small bridge, with shops on it, which are also really small and the flat is above the shop which is less than four feet away from the place the character started … then it’s at least three scenes. At least.

But, hey, you know … everyone has to learn. Most of these writers had never had anything produced, so we have to be kind and make allowances. So in this case, I did. I reformated it to separate scenes and explained, politely, all about camera set ups and what constitutes a new location.

HINT: AN ENTIRE CITY IS NOT A LOCATION AND THEREFORE NOT SUITABLE FOR A SCENE HEADING

But here’s the key thing – when you’ve written something unfilmable, had it pointed out and explained to you and had it properly reformatted at great time-expense by the script-editor … don’t submit the next draft WITH THE SAME FUCKING MISTAKES IN IT.

That’s quite annoying, that is.

 

8. PAGE COUNT

the-countOne page equals one minute of screen time.

Roughly.

Not always, but roughly.

The only way to know for sure is to read the script out loud and act out all the parts.

Even then, you will be wrong because actors love dramatic pauses and directors love slow panning shots. But, in general, one page equals one minute.

So if, for example, the show you’re writing for has at that point expanded it’s appisodes to a minute and a half … you need to submit a page and a half of script.

Roughly.

A page … maybe. Two pages … yeah, if it’s all fast paced banter.

6 pages?

No.

Really, no.

Most importantly, and this is really, really important, after having been told the appisode is only a minute and a half long and then having submitted 6 pages of script … don’t claim it’s a directorial issue.

It really fucking isn’t.

Also, when the script editor asks you to cut it down, saying “I don’t want to because it will lose intensity” just isn’t going to fly. I guaran-fucking-tee it will lose more intensity if it’s filmed as is and the editor randomly chops four and a half minutes off the end.

 

9. DEVELOPMENT HELL

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If you’re the same person who did both of the above, don’t fucking go on Twitter and claim you’re “Stuck in development hell” because you don’t know what a scene is or how page count translates into screen time.

You’re not stuck in development hell, you’re just a fucking twat.

This is draft two. Draft fucking two! Draft 200 is development hell. Not draft 2, especially when it’s your fucking fault for not knowing how to write a fucking script.

And guess what, we know what Twitter is! And we can read. You just said that to our faces.

If it’s that bad, just give up. Say you don’t agree that one page equals one minute or that a bridge, a street, a shop and a flat is more than one scene. Tell us that, call us names and just fuck off. Or convince us we’re wrong.

Either would be fine … complaining about it on Twitter is just …

Well, it’s a mite annoying.

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I could go on. I have gone on. And on. But I think that’s enough, don’t you?

The essence of these last three posts, in case you hadn’t guessed, is I didn’t really like being a script editor; but (briefly, sort of) being one gave me a much better understanding of what it’s like to be giving notes on a script which is going into production. Not just an opinion on a friend’s spec script, which is a different thing; but on something which is actually going to be filmed very soon.

Essentially, what I learnt is: it’s really fucking hard, frequently frustrating and mostly unrewarding … but completely necessary. Those of you who do it on a regular basis as your profession – I salute you. It’s a hard job, congratulations on being good at it.

I’m not and I’m not doing it again.

Probably.

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+Very unlikely, I’m not one of life’s huggers.

^Quite likely.

Categories: My Way, Persona, Rants, Software, Someone Else's Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | 7 Comments

Notes from the other side (Part Two)

HOPES, EXPECTATIONS AND REALITY

Did you read Part One? You probably should before you read this, I’m not doing any of that recap nonsense. Go read it and come back …

All done?

Jolly good.

quote-are-you-all-sitty-comftybold-two-square-on-your-botty-then-i-ll-begin-stanley-unwin-274633

Actually, before I begin, I think I should probably clarify something – this isn’t a definitive guide to being a script editor. It’s not a ‘How to’ post, it’s just my experience of trying on someone else’s hat (it didn’t fit, I looked ridiculous in it) for a short period of time. I wasn’t even any good at it; but it gave me an insight into what the people I write scripts for might be going through – something I found invaluable.

If you’re a proper script editor, you may well think my blundering attempts at your job are nothing like the reality.

In which case, I’d love to hear from you.

Anyway.

Throughout my time as a script-editor on PERSONA (this is a fucking recap! I lied! I lied right to your face!), I was always optimistic when I received a new script – maybe this one will be awesome and I won’t need to write any notes at all! Won’t that be amazing! Please, please be awesome …

There's little worse than disappointing Christmas presents

Hmm … it’s not written in standard script format. But maybe that won’t matter? Maybe this guy’s a natural genius who hasn’t learnt script format yet because his talent is so towering it …

Nope.

Bugger. Where’s that red pen?

I really, really wanted to love every script I got; because it meant less unpaid work for me on something I had no faith/interest in in the first place.

But no script is perfect. First drafts are always, ALWAYS, at least fifty percent shit. This is just a fact of life. Things need to be changed. The (at best) fifty percent which is great, often also needs to change for production reasons.

Which is frustrating.

Unhappy Customers are not Engaged Visitors

Even knowing this, knowing the best I could reasonably expect would be fifty percent of greatness … I still hoped each and every draft would be a 100% of pure awesome.

I think this is probably true of every note-giver. No one wants to give notes. Everyone wants to be amazed and enthralled. I certainly didn’t want to give any notes at all. I wanted to just tick the ‘lovely’ box and get on with something more fun … like nailing my genitals to something poisonous.

So every time I read a new draft, I did so with nervous excitement tinged with trepidation. If it was truly awful after three rewrites, then I was going to have to politely thank the writer for their time and do it myself. Even if each draft was a million times better than the last, I’d still have to tweak the writer’s last draft for the final production pass. In the best case scenario, I was still going to have to do a lot of work.

On the occasions when the script mostly made sense, I was so deliriously overjoyed that I almost broke down in tears. This script is consistently mediocre! I only have to make a few suggestions to get it on track!

tears_of_joy

Don’t get me wrong, we had some great writers on PERSONA – I honestly feel privileged to have worked with them … but all writers need prodding in the right direction.

Or I do, anyway. Constantly. Sharpest stick you’ve got.

So my hope was I would have no work to do.

But that, of course, is an impossible dream.

Instead, my more realistic expectation was 50% of the script would have to be changed. I was still sometimes disappointed. Most scripts hit that 50% watermark, some fell short, luckily, only a very rare few were completely unusable.

choc_teapot-groovy

Well, unusable apart from some of the shorter, more common words like ‘the’, ‘and’ or ‘nipple’ for example.

I also expected writers to take the notes politely and action every single one. That didn’t mean they had to do everything I said in the manner I said it; but I did expect them to take the thoughts I’d collated from the production team seriously and address them.

The reality is, that didn’t always happen either. Mostly, yes; but a few writers just refused to change things. Point blank. Others changed things around without really addressing the note so they were just different rather than fixed.

An example of that might be telling someone they don’t need to waste half the appisode having people saying ‘hello’ to each other – just start the scene later and get to the meat. The script would come back with everyone saying ‘hi’ instead.

The most annoying thing writers do (and I know I do this myself), is actioning a note … but not actioning it enough. Don (the producer) wanted every emotion to be heightened. He felt quiet moments, pointed silences and dramatic looks were just lost on a phone screen. Especially since he envisaged people watching it on their way to work on the tube or in some other similarly crowded, noisy environment – subtle only works if people are paying attention.

subtle_df6c22_2148292

Shouting! Tension! Drama! That’s what he wanted. Don’t have characters looking hurt and upset, forcing the audience to try and remember what was said in the last appisode a week ago – have them screaming at each other!

Fuck it, it was his show, his rules.

So I would try to get the writers to up the emotional stakes – sometimes they would, but would only turn it up by 2%. Which was no good.

I often felt it was like trying to get someone to move a stick from here to a point six feet away. The person I asked to move it would nudge it a few centimetres and then look to me for approval.

No! Move it further!

Prod.

Any good?

In the end it was easier to tell people to take the fucking stick and hurl it as far as they could. Fling it like a javelin, all the way down the field. Hurl it a good eighty metres away … and it would finally get moved about four feet, at which point I would give up.

close-enough

I think the problem is, when you tell someone something’s great but just needs to be more so; they only hear the first bit and tweak rather than change.

Writers (including me) please take this one piece of advice – be bold, be courageous … change the fucking thing, don’t just fiddle with it.

So the hope was for perfection, the expectation was 50% useful, the reality varied from bang on 50% to nearer “Oh fuck, I’m going to be up all night.”

The most interesting thing for me was no writer, no matter how good (and we had some excellent writers) turned in a script which was without flaw. Not one of them. Because the reality is, all scripts need to be developed and all scripts need time and feedback to make them work.

The best writers took the feedback, swore in private and then publicly handed us what we needed so we could film it. Those writers I would work with again in a heartbeat.

One of the best writers wouldn’t take any feedback at all – I never want to work with that person again. That person’s script was the best first draft we received … but never got any better than a first draft because they refused (or were unable) to improve it past that 50% mark.

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Next time: Part Three – things which pissed me off.

Categories: My Way, Persona, Someone Else's Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | 3 Comments

Notes from the other side (Part One)

WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A SCRIPT EDITOR

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Scriptwriters know that all note-givers are idiots and all their notes are idiotic. Be they script-editor, producer, director, actor or whoever – their notes will be fucking moronic.

This is a fact.

All scriptwriters know this.

We all know it in exactly the same way all children know Santa is real; and grown fucking adults who really shoud know better know homeopathy is REAL magic and not just water-infused sugar sold by quacks who should be locked up for the greater good.

In other words, it’s not true.

Well, not always true. Some notes are stupid, so are some note-givers*; but on the whole, notes are given by intelligent people who have a specific set of needs for the next draft. Those needs might be to make your story clearer or to make it fit in with the house-style or for budget/production reasons or for any other of a dozen or so reasons which you, the writer, aren’t always privy to.

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I script-edited a movie once. That was fine. I read the script, told them what I thought, they took some of my ideas on board and ignored the rest.

All well and good. No stress, no problem – just a writer/director/producer looking for a fresh opinion.

I was also once the script-editor/lead writer/co-creator for PERSONA and that whole process was just fucking horrible. I mean, it was kind of fun in a ‘ooh, this is challenging and pushing me to think in new ways’ kind of way; but overall it was just frustrating and not what I want to do ever again under any circumstances ever.

Until I change my mind.

So having been on both sides of the note-giving process, and having doubtlessly pissed off scores of people on both sides of the line, I thought it might be interesting to blog about what it was like working with writers whilst under pressure in a job I didn’t really want to do.

Does that sound interesting? If not, you probably should stop reading right now.

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You could read this comic instead. I like this comic.

I suspect this is going to be a horrendously long waffle, so I’m going to split it into three:

  • Part One will deal with the job itself, how I came to be doing it, the conditions I was doing it under and what it basically entailed.
  • Part Two will be about the difference between my hopes, expectations and the reality.
  • Part Three will cover some particularly annoying examples of things which enraged me as a script editor. That’ll be the most ranty, you might want to just come back for that bit.

So, first off, a little background.

PERSONA was (possibly still is) meant to be a daily continuing drama series which you could only watch on a smartphone. When producer Don Allen first told me about it, I thought “well that will never fucking work” and decided I didn’t want to be involved.

Don asked if I would at least help him with the format and I said yes. After a bit of thought, we came up with a way to make it (mostly) work – the details of which are all here, if you’re particularly interested.

That, I thought, would be that. Don asked me if I would meet the writers and chat to them about how the show would work … and again, I said I would; because I like Don and I like chatting to writers.

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So I did.

Then he asked me if I would just have a glance over the scripts as they came in. Just to give him an opinion (in return for a percentage of the show). Yeah, sure, why not? The scripts at that point were a dozen or so 30 second or 1 minute appisodes each and there were only four of them, so why not?

And that’s kind of where I got sucked in.

Because PERSONA was being made on almost no budget and everyone was working for a deferred cut, then there were limitations on the kinds of writers we could ‘hire’. Obviously, there are hundreds of writers who are keen to have something, anything made; but they tend to be people who are just starting out and have little or no experience of having a script produced. Don was able to choose writers with very good spec scripts from the submission pile; but because this was a completely new venture and new to everyone on the production team and the writers were (mostly) unproduced, turning in scripts we could actually use would be incredibly difficult.

There is a HUGE difference between writing an awesome spec script and writing a thirty second appisode which will stand on its own, be dramatic, end on a note which leaves you wanting more, is filmable under very restrictive production conditions, looks good on a tiny phone screen and tells part of a continuing story.

It’s hard. It’s fucking hard, in fact.

Most of the writers rose to the challenge, a few didn’t. Some needed gentle encouragement and general right-direction-pointing, some needed a complete set of lectures on scriptwriting for production.

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At this point, Don was getting writers to submit their own stories and we’d pick the ones we thought we could shoot. The plan was a secondary character in each of the first month of stories would become a main character in the second month. Secondary characters in each of the second month stories would become the primaries in the third batch … and so on. This rotating character thing is stupid for a show which wants to be a continuing drama, but it was believed this was the only way to cope with actors working for a deferred payment – we couldn’t ask them to remain available indefinitely, it’s just not fair.^

I took all the submitted stories and wove them into a narrative which kind of made sense – we could tweak them as we went along. Very early on, one of the writers for the first block of production bailed out. With deadlines looming, I stepped in and decided I would write the script. Obviously, I couldn’t write that person’s story because it was their story, so I had to do some fancy thinking and come up with a new story which didn’t disrupt the next month’s story.

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In order to provide a slightly more cohesive feel to the show, I decided I would write my story last, using a couple of minor characters from the other stories. That way it at least vaguely felt like one show rather than four independant stories running side by side.

Unfortunately, that meant my story could only be written when the other three were locked and we knew who was available on what days in which locations.

But fine, it’s only twelve pages or so, it wouldn’t take long to do.

There were two directors on the first couple of months, each giving notes to me. I was collating them, adding my own (plus a ton of explanation as to why we all felt things wouldn’t work) and sending them to the writers.

Some writers took more drafts than others. I loosely imposed a three-draft limit on the rewrites, partly for time and partly because I don’t think it’s fair to continuously ask for rewrites from people who aren’t getting paid upfront. In the worst case scenario (which happened more than once), if we couldn’t get a usable script out of a particularly inexperienced writer, then I could just do the final draft myself.

As it turned out, I needed to give a quick production polish to every script anyway, just so they all fit together in the style of the show. Nothing major, just minor tweaks because I was the only writer who was reading all the scripts and had the complete picture in mind.

So that’s two or three drafts of three lots of outlines to read and comment on, each outline being a couple of pages long. Say 16 (ish) pages. Then 12 (ish – I can’t really remember exactly) pages of script for three drafts of three stories – 108 pages to read and comment on; plus 12 of my own to write, plus a couple of my own rewrites to do, plus notes to collate from two other people, emails to answer and … yeah, it’s a lot.

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Per shooting month. So maybe up to three times that much at any one time.

Bearing in mind, we were shooting one month, in pre-production on the next and preparing the scripts on the third at the same time. Suddenly, what seemed like a simple read and comment became a full time job which had to fit around the two feature scripts I was also writing for my own career.

So if a writer then sent me a 15 page document containing their thoughts on my notes, it was quite annoying. Especially if they were disputing a production issue which needed to be resolved.

“But elephants are thematic!”

“No! No fucking elephants! We have no elephant money. We have no fucking money of any description. Do it again!”

Except, of course, you can’t say that. You have to be polite and say:

“You’re absolutely right, elephants are thematic and I love what you’ve done here. Clearly 257 elephants in one living room is very thematic; but …”

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Having to wait until all three scripts for a particular month were locked before I could start writing mine just added a lot of extra pressure. Quite a few of my PERSONA scripts were written at four in the morning.

Mid-shoot on season one, the decision was made not to do this ‘secondary character from month one becomes primary character in month two’ thing. Quite sensibly, it was decided to try and stick with the same actors for as long as they were available/wanted to keep coming back.

Hooray!

Except, oh fuck – all of my planning and half of the scripts I’ve “commissioned” (if you can call it that when there’s no money involved) no longer worked. Some could be rewritten to fit the new continuing protagonists, but some had to be delayed until the next month in order to make sense. New scripts had to be started, generating even more sets of notes for me to write.

Balls.

Month three – the decision was made not to use in house directors, but to get four outside directors to film the scripts. Oh, and half the new continuing cast wouldn’t be coming back because … I have no fucking idea. Politics, mostly – as far as I can tell.

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So not only did the planned scripts need to be delayed, or brought forward or completely rewritten; but now I’m getting notes from the orginal two directors (now working purely as producers) as well as the four new directors, collating them all, adding to them, and passing them on to the writers.

As well as still writing my own story (I think – memory is getting a little hazy here).

Obviously, the new directors wanted everything to be completely different – mainly to fit in with the resources they had available, but also because they are directors who have their own vision.

Month four was more of the same, but with new scripts written by writers I’d chosen with input from directors who were also producing it themselves. Lots of notes to write, lots of egos to balance, ruffled feathers to smooth, arguments to resolve where these two strangers had a disagreement … lots more work

The number and length of appisodes per story kept changing too as the production team were blindly feeling their way towards something which might work. Every time the format shifted, I had to rewrite the writer’s guide to accommodate the changes. I had to try and explain how to do something I’d never done before without really knowing how it would work.

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Month five – the financial decision was made to farm out the stories to writer/director teams. So they would come up with the stories themselves, using their own characters and PERSONA would distribute them. This meant all of my planning was completely pointless – all the future scripts in development were useless and my workload became …

What? Easier? Pointless?

Nope, just much, much harder.

Now I’m having to give notes on scripts which are written by a team who are going to make them. When the scripts don’t work, don’t make sense or just don’t fit in with the producer’s vision – I’m having to persuade several people to change their mind. These people don’t want to hear my opinion – they’ve already persuaded each other that what they’ve got is fucking celluloid gold. It’s hard to politely burst people’s bubbles.

Most of these guys were great and turned in excellent work. A few really weren’t and really didn’t.

I think I finally gave up somewhere around here.

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So that was the job – long hours for no reward on a project I didn’t believe in, working with writers who ranged from fucking excellent to fucking awful. Each with a differing attitude to my involvement – some were very appreciative of the time and effort I was putting in, some thought I was a twat who was being deliberately obtuse/obstructive. One even complained about the whole developmental process on Twitter. (Part Three, leave that until Part Three.)

It was a difficult job done in difficult circumstances where the rules kept changing around me. I was stressed, irritable and way outside my comfort zone. Some weeks I was working all night and on one occasion even had to deal with production issues whilst on holiday – all for no money.

Would money have made it better? Probably not. Was I any good at it? Probably not either.

But next time you get questionable notes back from someone you dismiss as bring an idiot, just pause to think for a moment:

  • What is their job like?
  • How stressful is it?
  • How many other writers are they dealing with here and how many of them are being dicks?
  • If the plot point they’re requesting is in the script – does that mean they haven’t read it properly or does it mean it’s not clear enough and they missed it because they’ve got a high workload?
  • If they missed it, is it just them being shit or will everyone else involved in actually filming the script miss it too?
  • Are their bosses giving them shit?
  • Is the production falling apart around them?
  • Are they really fucking idiots, or just out of their depth?

Next time – what it was like to open a new script. The hopes, the expectations and the reality.

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* Me!

I have no problem with people working for a deferred fee … as long as EVERYONE is working under the same conditions.

Categories: Industry Musings, My Way, Persona | 5 Comments

Whine glass

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

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

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

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

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And possibly a tequila glass at a later date.

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

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

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Or something like that.

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

Fine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except, it’s not.

Not really.

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

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Or not entirely true.

Especially not during the script-development process.

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

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

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

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

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

Especially when it’s not crystal clear.

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

… TRIES TO TOP UP (the man)’S GLASS WITH TEQUILA

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

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

… TRIES TO TOP UP (the man)’S WHISKY WITH TEQUILA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012

Every year, for reasons I can’t quite remember, I do a post which rounds up exactly what happened to me over the past twelve months. To me, these recap posts seem interminably long, dull and quite pointless … but for some reason they always get read more than the original posts did. I have two theories to explain this odd behaviour:

  1. The majority of you wait until the end of the year so you can get the whole  sordid tale in one go.
  2. The majority of you are fucking mental.
  3. I said two theories, why would there be a three?

But with that in mind, let’s  begin. I promise this list will be as dull and as pointless as ever. We begin, in …

JANUARY

I began the year seven days after everyone else because I’m fucking hardcore, despite having been teetotal for 22 years now.

Maybe I just forgot the new year had begun?

Either way, I began with an explanation of one of my favourite writing techniques, THE BOX.

This technique is so awesome and so useful, not only have I not used it since; but I have no recollection of ever using it in the first place. I’m assuming I just made it up.

You know, lied.

Then I had a moment of genius. I know it was genius because Steven Moffat said it was. On Twitter. This is as close to a fact as you can possibly get without using things like set-squares and alphabet-heavy theorems.

This post garnered more views than my arse did that time I accidentally left it in Trafalgar Square. What’s more, people seemed to  like it. It wasn’t really anything much to do with writing and had more to do with my inability to repair a car … but it’s quite funny.

Essentially, I explained How to beat procrastination and was generally awesome while I was doing it. Assuming ‘awesome’ is a synonym for ‘a bit sad’.

You should read it.

I’ll wait.

I immediately failed to capitalise on this massive new following by bloging about some confused Thundercats and rounded off January by having a film I had almost nothing to do with, Stalker, released on DVD.

FEBRUARY

And lo, the second month did dawn and lower, I did shout a bit about baby-earrings, hotel sink-plugs, iTunes and shitty writing advice.

Ten days later, I was still pretty upset about people charging writers for bad advice and gave my own bad advice for free. This time about dual time-period script writing. I have since ignored every single one of these ‘rules’ … with catastrophic results.

I should learn to listen to me more.

Or at least learn to read the stuff I write.

I also got upset about Tuesdays and stupidity.

Decided Rosie Claverton is ace …

… and then drowned in bullshit.

MARCH

I watched Deviation in various international locations.

Wondered when The Descendants was going to end.

Showed you the quad for Strippers vs. Werewolves

… which is far better than the film itself.

And then went on a trailer frenzy for season three of Persona:

I finished March by getting into the quarter-finals of The Sitcom Mission.

APRIL

Don’t know about you, but I’m bored now. I’m also full of duck and empty of sleep. I might give up at any minute.

April!

April was the month … some stuff happened.

Stuff a bit like …

Pointed out ONCE IN A LIFETIME OPPORTUNITIES happened fairly regularly, best not to get too upset about them.

Explained the difference between a character being likeable and people fucking right off with their stupid fucking notes about kittens and fucking rainbows. Or something.

Swore I’d fucking show you all by explaining why script format was important. This would be it, the definitive guide to every aspect of script format explaining why I’m right and you’re all fucking wrong.

Which isn’t egotistical at all, it’s just the way of the world.

And then there was the Strippers vs. Werewolves première.

This post is well worth reading. It’s a master-class in how to blog about the première of your own film when you think it’s shit, without mentioning how shit you think the film is; but instead mentioning sausages. A lot.

Seriously, go read it. See if you can find any mention of how shit the film is.

They were fucking awesome sausages, mind.

After the première, the film came out in the cinemas because this is what happens.

Here, watch the trailer. Just because, alright? Just fucking watch it so I can have a rest from all this fucking typing.

MAY

I began May by making good on my promise to explain every aspect of script format. I started with the title page … and then gave up. For ever. I mean … what’s  the fucking point?

The 7th of May was Me Day when the whole world revolved around me for 24 hours.

It wasn’t my birthday or anything, it was just a day when the whole world gathered round to worship me and celebrate how amazing I am. Or was. You may not remember it because I think you were temporarily dead that day.

Ooh, this post on Script Trajectory was quite good. Must have been ill that day.

The papers in May did a mighty fine job of promoting the BluRay/DVD release of Strippers vs. Werewolves by pretending not to know something they patently do and being all sniffy about it in a headline grabbing way.

I can’t be fucked with this, I’m knackered. I’ll finish it off tomorrow.

JUNE

Hooray! It’s tomorrow!

For me, probably not for you.

June! The month of … more stuff.

Surprisingly little stuff, actually.

All I did was make a mis-step and bitch about people asking me perfectly reasonable questions.

Fuck you, June, you suck.

JULY

July was the month I was recruited by a clandestine organisation to invade a nation of pixie warmongers who live in an old forgotten tea cup behind my garden shed. I was given a spud gun, a nifty secret hat and a licence to break wind in public and sent off to murder pixies. After a series of, frankly, quite dull adventures involving grit and teaspoons, I found myself in Yakatang (the capital of the pixie nation, it looks a bit like Harlow only not quite so grim and with a few extra pixies). I was all set to assassinate King Ian (Yakatang’s chief biscuit maker and all round bastard) when I realised the whole incident was merely the result of a dodgy kipper that morning and I had actually invaded Lakeland, naked save for a pink Santa’s hat and brandishing a small clockwork frog.

Come to think of it, that might not have happened either.

I can’t really remember July, can you?

Oh wait, yes I can. In July I …

Went to the BBC TV Writers’ Festival, met all sorts of splendid people and burbled insanely about The Dukes of Hazzard at every opportunity.

I also said Fuck You, Mr Arnopp.

… and then got all serious with some musings on disability in scripts. That one’s worth reading again.

AUGUST

In August I declared myself FREE to whatever the fuck I want, any time I fucking want to do it!

Then did this …

… which probably wasn’t worth the effort.

Then I watched The Dark Knight Rises … which was worth even less effort.

I did fuck all for a couple of weeks and then I had a serious think about the difference between horizontal and vertical careers. Basically, producers can opt for horizontal careers, scriptwriters can’t.

I rounded off August by giving away literally hundreds of literal pounds … because I’m either nice or a complete fucking mug.

HELLO-is-it-tea-youre-looking-for-Mug

SEPTEMBER

Slipped off to the secret writing island for interesting conversations about ‘the first ever genital piercing’ and ‘how to wake someone up with a spoon’ before proclaiming I had a new regime … and then failing to do anything about it.

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Bigged up Helen Smith‘s new book The Miracle Inspector, because she’s all kinds of lovely and I felt like it.

The Miracle Inspector by Helen Smith

I paused for a bit longer and dropped in a secret plug for Jason Arnopp’s new book without anyone knowing I’d done it.

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Hmm … it kind of looks like I spent the entire month on my secret writing island. Wonder if that was true?

Ooh! I got really shouty about people giving bad advice!

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Which was probably uncalled for. Except it wasn’t! Don’t listen to the cunts!

And finally I rambled a bit about changing writers/directors/producers on a film. Which is just fucking annoying, so stop it.

OCTOBER

For fuck’s sake, are you still reading? Go out, get some air. Have some fun or otherwise do something more useful than your time.

Like what I am.

October was the month I …

Rambled about recycling jokes.

BillHicksDenisLeary

Realised I shouldn’t be allowed to write horror movies because I don’t really like ’em.

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Wrote a long, boring, yet strangely fascinating blog about file names.

And then gave away a free BluRay of some shit or other.

Here’s a photo of me with a spoon.

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Why? Why the fuck not?

NOVEMBER

Thank fuck this is nearly over. I’m not doing this again, I’m bored shitless, fuck knows how you feel.

Met up with some writers …

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… and talked about Pets and Zombies. A subject which is nothing to do with either, but just more dull talk about scripts.

And then I saw Looper and explained the RULES OF THE UNIVERSE. There are surprisingly few of them.

Wait, is that all I did in November?

Cool. Let’s hope December was as pointless and then I can go and get some food. I’m having a curry, in case you cared.

DECEMBER

Got beaten up by a four year old.

Explained why fighting naked isn’t always sexy and having your arse and boobs on the same side definitely isn’t.

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Somehow managed to defend iPhones while slagging off myself. How the fuck did that happen?

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And then promoted a festival because someone asked me to and it was easier than thinking of anything new to write.

totally serialized

And really, that was it. That was the whole year.

Fuck me.

I did do quite a lot of proper writing too, I just didn’t really talk about it much. I script edited hours and fucking hours of Persona, wrote far too much of it and worked on multiple drafts of seven features … so not too bad.

But not good enough.

I will do better next year.

Which is in about five hours’ time.

If you want proper stats and all kinds of flashy animation about all the stuff I blogged about this year, then you need help.

Or this link.

Hope 2012 was super-sexy-awesome for you, now stop reading this, go out and get pissed.

New-Year-2013-Celebration-Wallpaper-600x450

Categories: Bored, Career Path, Festivals, Industry Musings, My Way, Opportunity, Persona, Progress, Publicity, Random Witterings, Rants, Sad Bastard, Sitcom Mission, Someone Else's Way, Stalker, Strippers vs. Werewolves, Things I've Learnt Recently, Two steps back, Writing and life | Leave a comment

Freedom!

I’m free!

Ish!

Mostly!

Sort of!

For most of this year I’ve been trying to divest myself of all prior commitments and I’ve finally done just that.

Kind of.

Nearly.

Not really.

I’m down to four active feature films at the moment, two of which seem to be good enough (for now, until they actually start shooting) and the other two are in-between drafts.

Season 6 of Persona has just started (app available from AppStore or Google Play for three minutes a day of top notch drama). This season marks the end of my involvement with the show. I’ve co-created it and helped shape it for a year or two now and, quite frankly, I’ve had enough.

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with the show, but I spent most of my time script editing and it’s just not something I want to do. I was lucky enough to have worked with some fantastic writers and although every script needs work, most hit the mark very quickly and actioned my (frequently idiotic) notes with good humour and grace.

Or at least they didn’t call me names to my face, which is pretty much the same thing in my book.

Persona has four stories running every month, but we sometimes needed five or six scripts for each season because producers, directors or writers would occasionally let us down. When a writer can’t or won’t make the changes we need, it was frustrating because I’d often need to write a new story very quickly; but when a producer/director team let us down, it was heartbreaking. The hardest thing I had to do was go back to a writer and tell them we wouldn’t be able to use their script after they’d worked so hard on it.

So with five or six scripts per season and having to think a season ahead, I was often working with writers on ten to twelve scripts a month. Although each script was only 10 x 1.5 minutes long, it still adds up. An average of 3 to 4 drafts per script, 15 pages per draft of 10 scripts per month equals … um … shit, maths again … um … oh, fuck it. It equals something like hundreds of pages to read, digest and comment on; plus writers to find, directors to placate … it took up pretty much all my time.

Which would be fine, if script editing was something I want to do; but it isn’t. I hate it.

Or hated it.

I’ll probably talk about that in more detail one day, but not today; because all that really matters is I’m not doing it any more!

I’m free!

In an (incorrect) manner of speaking.

Free to work on anything I like! Free to pursue the projects I want to , to write something I’m really proud of, just for me. Something I can try and sell on when I’m happy with it, rather than rushing a script I’m not happy with to a deadline which isn’t really feasible.

I haven’t actually written anything on spec for about four years. I tried a couple of years back, but I made the mistake of mentioning the idea to a producer and he had me a buyer before I’d even written a single word.

Yeah, I know, champagne problems, right?

But you know what? I want to take my time on something and do it right.

Which is what I’m going to do.

I’ve amassed a long list of projects I desperately want to tackle across radio, TV and film and I now have the time to evaluate them all properly and work out which one I’m most excited about. Then I’m going to write the shit out of it for ages and ages.

Or until I get notes back for the next draft of one of the four features.

So, you know, I’m not really free; but for the first time in years (YEARS!) I have nothing which needs my immediate attention. I can even do nothing, if I so desire.

Which I don’t.

FREE! Free to do whatever I want!

Even if it’s stupid stuff like this:

Categories: Career Path, My Way, Persona, Random Witterings | 4 Comments

Happy Me-day!

It’s Me-day!

Happy Me-day, everyone!

Take the day off! Have a public holiday all you hard working banks, for today is all about me.

ME, I TELLS YOU!

Don’t believe me?

You fools! Why, take a look at this incontrovertible truth:

 

EXHIBIT A: STRIPPERS VS. WEREWOLVES ON DVD AND BLURAY

It’s kind of what it says really: out on DVD and BluRay today, a film loosely based on a script I re-wrote some bits of.

Okay, so technically there were other people involved in this, like Pat Higgins who had all the ideas and Jonathan Glendening who directed it and the cast who either sprouted hair or took their clothes off accordingly … but fuck them! This is Me-day, celebrate me!

Here, have trailer:

 

EXHIBIT B: PERSONA SEASON 4

PERSONA is the world’s first daily drama-app made entirely for smartphones … and if you don’t already know that then you’re either missing out on three seasons worth of top-notch entertainment delivered directly to the palm of your hand for NOTHING … or you don’t have a smartphone.

Or you don’t care.

Either way, you’re missing out.

Season 4! Starts today, on Me-day!

Again, there were some other people involved. Rosie Claverton:

 

Martyn Deakin:

 

But more importantly, me!

And … um … there should be another trailer here. Not sure where that one is.

But never mind!

Watch PERSONA for free:

iPhone

Android

Watch Strippers vs. Werewolves for not-free:

Amazon

Play

HMV

ASDA

Or better yet, do both and celebrate Me-day in style.

So go on, have a drink, be entertained (probably) and revel in the awesomeness (maybe) which is me (doubtful)!

 

Categories: Persona, Strippers vs. Werewolves | 3 Comments

PERSONA – trailers for season three

Season three of PERSONA launches on the 26th of March with four amazing stories courtesy of John Soanes. Cleo Appolonia, Mandy Lee and Andy Mark Simpson.

To be fair there were some actors and directors and clever technical people involved, but since this is a writing blog I’m just focusing on the writers. Feel free to run your own blog and no mention the departments of your choice.

But hooray! New PERSONA!

And some trailers!

Mark’s PERSONA

 

Eve’s PERSONA

 

Kate’s PERSONA

 

Karen’s PERSONA

If you’re not already watching, you can download the iPhone app here or the Android app here.

Or if you don’t trust links, try searching for PERSONA DRAMA in either the App Store or the ill-advisedly named  Google Play.

It’s a free app and PERSONA is completely free to watch; although  I don’t seem to be capable of wording this in a way which doesn’t sound suspicious. There’s no cost to you – simply download the app and get 3 minutes a day of dramatic goodness.

You have nothing to lose … except about three minutes a day; but to be fair, you’re exchanging those three minutes of your life for adventure, romance and excitement … so it’s not all bad.

PERSONA – Season three launches 26th of March.

Categories: Persona | Leave a comment

Give me joy in my heart, keep me reading …

Recently my heart burst with joy.

This doesn’t happen very often, not in the writing sense anyway. The rest of my life is pretty joyful most of the time and I appear to be oversubscribed in the happy family department; but when it comes to writing … there are a lot of speed bumps in the road to happiness.

However, recently my heart did burst with joy and it’s all Rosie Claverton‘s fault.

“Why?” You ask.

“What did this heart-wrecking wench do to you?” You may or may not be thinking, depending on how interested you are.

Well, she wrote a script for Persona – that in itself is neither unusual nor a reason for joy.

What is mildly unusual is it was great from the first draft. Not that the majority aren’t; but … actually, the majority aren’t. The majority are good on the first draft, better on the second and great on the third.

The minority (hardly any) are instantly terrible and slowly improve.

Rosie’s script though (written in conjunction with director Cameron King) was great from the get go. How do I know it was great? Well, because it made me pull faces and gasp as I was reading it – that’s usually a good indication.

It wasn’t perfect though – because scripts aren’t – and it needed a bit of tweaking. There were notes and they needed actioning.

So I gave some notes and they were actioned – not unusual you might think, but some people argue EVERYTHING.

“I think the story lags a bit here.”

“No it doesn’t.”

“Oh, okay. Well I was a bit bored because–”

“No you weren’t. You’re wrong.”

“Right … um … I don’t think I want to work with you.”

But not in this case. In this case, notes were given and notes were actioned.

And yet … there was still something missing. It felt like the characters had abandoned the story for a whole appisode in the middle.

A bit like that recent Torchwood series where Captain Jack left the story to go to a nightclub and get laid. That’s not a spoiler, by the way, it had nothing to do with the story and therefore can’t possibly spoil anything. He literally walks out of the story, goes to a club and fucks someone. The next day, he comes back to find out what the plot’s being doing in his absence.

This felt a little bit like that, even if it was nowhere near as pointless.

I suggested a change which might help smooth things over …

And here’s where the heart-bursting joy came in.

Rosie COMPLETELY IGNORED THE SUGGESTION.

But not the note.

This is a crucial distinction, one which is really important to understand, yet incredibly difficult to do.

Notes and suggestions are not commandments.

Okay, sometimes they are. Ones like ‘BE LESS SHIT’ are fairly commanding; but generally when someone tells you they have a problem with something … they don’t.

Or rather, they might not.

The trick is to ask yourself ‘Why?’

Why is the note-giver bored?

Why doesn’t the note-giver care about the characters?

Why has the note-giver made this terrible suggestion?

In other words:

What is the underlying problem which has caused the note-giver to give this note?

It’s a general rule of thumb that boredom in the third act is caused by problems in the first or second acts; and that boredom in the first act means you’ve started the story in the wrong place or with the wrong people.

So when a note-giver tells you a story event doesn’t make sense, you don’t always need to change the event itself. Sometimes all you need to do is tweak something pages earlier and it all comes into focus.

In this case, the story event didn’t make sense to me because it wasn’t immediately clear why the characters were behaving the way they were. The delightful Ms. Claverton recognised that, ignored the suggestion which would have completely altered the story and merely tweaked one line of dialogue.

Suddenly the whole story clicked into place and the scene which felt completely removed from the story felt like an integral and vital part, without which the rest of the story couldn’t happen.

And to me, that’s joyful.

So the moral of the story is: Hire Rosie Claverton immediately, because she’s ace.

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For those of you who, inexplicably, still don’t know; Persona is a drama series delivered in daily byte-sized portions to your smartphone.

For those of you who have iPhones, yes an iPhone is a smartphone and doesn’t have its own special category.

It’s a free app and the content is free – it literally costs you nothing to get a couple of minutes of drama a day which builds into a series of monthly stories (with something darker and more sinister lurking underneath). You have nothing to lose except those dull minutes of day when you’re browsing the net looking for something more satisfying than nostalgic videos of old kids TV shows.

You can download the Android app here. Or the iPhone app here.

Categories: Persona, Someone Else's Way | 4 Comments

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