#PhonePhill

#PhonePhill – Conversation #17: Dominic Carver (strikes back)

I had a lovely, if brief, chat with Dominic Carver not-so-recently – probably a couple of months back now. In fact, no probably about it – it was ages ago.

NB: This post was written the day after that call … and then I got distracted. I started making a vague attempt to update the tenses so it makes sense … then gave up. Just bear in mind most of this was true five months ago, not necessarily today.

In other words: don’t worry, I’ve been working on your project all day. Honest.

As ever (or for the second time at least) the man was entertaining, erudite and delightful. The brevity was mainly due to half-term child and family commitments*, which are both unavoidable and should never be avoided. What’s the point of being a writer if you can’t slope off to spend time with your kids every now and then?

Dom, as ever (see caveat above) has an exciting array of projects simmering away.

I … well, back then I was having a bit of a lull.

It’s not that there’s wasn’t work out there and it’s not like I wasn’t being offered anything. It’s just … eh … I couldn’t be arsed at that point.

Dom and I spoke about this ebb and flow of ambition. Sometimes you want to write 24 hours a day, 7 days a week as the words burn white-hot in your brain and you find yourself getting furious with your own bladder for occasionally demanding time off to drain itself of the ludicrous amount of tea you’ve tried to drown it in.

Other days … it’s all about the procrastination.

To be fair, most days it’s about the procrastination. Any excuse not to write is a good excuse.

Usually those days will eventually result in some writing.

Usually.

And then there are the periods when the desire to write just evaporates completely. When the burning need to express myself via hitting a keyboard just isn’t there.

Writing is hard. It’s hard to do and then it’s hard to sell and then it’s hard to deal with the notes and then it’s hard to cope with the disappointment of seeing how the production process destroys the story and then it’s hard not to join in with the critics in slagging off your own work.

And then it’s hard having to start the whole process all over again.

Sometimes, usually when I’m generally content with life, it gets hard to want to throw myself back into the mill. You don’t put your nose to the grindstone as a scriptwriter, you get dragged between two grindstones and pulverised.

When life is lovely and fulfilling, when there’s lots of other exciting things to do … well, I just can’t be fucked.

Not that I’ve not been doing any work at all. I have a feature film casting at the moment which is shaping up to be the best thing I’ve ever done with a perfect cast. There’s another feature which is being touted around LA and yet another I’m slowly excavating from the mountain of possibility with a director who started out as a #PhonePhill but is now (probably) a friend.

So there’s three things.

Oh, and the short film which just won’t behave. That’s four.

Then there’s that TV show, the one I feel I’ve been accidentally writing for the last twenty years. The one which feels like its nearly perfect … even though I’ve not written a single word beyond a one page synopsis.

By rights I should be shouldering all other commitments aside to focus on that one … but then there’s that ennui.

Don’t get me wrong – there are flashes of inspiration and perspiration. Moments when I suddenly burst into feverish scribblings … but those are mostly when there’s an interesting casting choice which requires a character tweak or the odd simple paid rewrite job. Those I’m all over. Those I snap to attention and type until my fingers ache.

The rest of it, especially the stuff I’m doing just for me … not so much.

But you know, as was discussed with Dom, those times are okay. Sometimes you care, sometimes you don’t. Always do the stuff people are waiting for … the rest … just don’t be too hard on yourself.

The trick is to know the difference between procrastinating and general demotivation. Procrastination is just silly: man and/or woman up and knuckle down. Demotivation periods … that’s fine. Just do something else. You don’t owe anyone your literary genius and no one will care+ if you down tools for a week or a month or even ten years. Just come back to it when you’re ready.

Or don’t. Find something more fulfilling to do, it’s your life.

Just accept it’s all part of the ebb and flow of a writer’s self-motivation. Beating yourself up to it just leads to depression and anxiety, give yourself permission to slack off.

Them’s my thoughts anyway and Dom seemed to agree. Or maybe I just ranted at him until he had to go spend time with his lovely family? That’s probably it.

Either way, catching up with Dom was cool and yet another enchanting #PhonePhill. If you’d like to have a natter, why not drop me a line at the email address in the sidebar and we’ll arrange a time to chat? Doesn’t matter what your experience level is or whether you’re a writer or not. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you do and however long you’ve been doing it, if you fancy a chat, I fancy listening.


* His, not mine. I’d retreated to my Secret Writing Island to avoid mine. My commitments, not necessarily my family and certainly never for extended periods.

 

+ So long as there’s no one actually waiting for your work. Do that. Always do that promptly and professionally.

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Categories: #PhonePhill, My Way, Progress, Random Witterings, Writing and life | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

#PhonePhill – Conversation #16: Darren Goldsmith

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

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

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

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

And so on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darren didn’t really enjoy that process.

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

We spoke about this video:

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

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

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

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

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Not everyone likes learning like this, but I do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#P̶h̶o̶n̶e̶ MeetPhill – Meeting #2: James Moran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except on kids’ TV.

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

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

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… and even harder to get made.

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

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

Which I do.

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

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

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

This is weird.

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

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

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

I’m nice like that.

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

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For chat, chairs are where it’s at.

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

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

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

For chat, chairs are where it’s at.

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

And this:

And this:

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

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

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

Yes, you.

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

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

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

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

+Well … maybe a little.

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

#P̶h̶o̶n̶e̶ MeetPhill – Meeting #3: Michelle Lipton, Paul Campbell and Piers Beckley

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So this post is sort of the last in a trilogy of posts about one pagers. The first post talked through my method, the second was the BBC opportunity (closed now! It’s closed, you missed it. Unless you didn’t.) and here’s my final thoughts on how to write a one pager, possibly the most vital part:

Feedback.

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Preferably peer, but anyone who can articulate honestly how they felt reading it, why they did or didn’t like something or what they didn’t understand.

In this respect I got lucky since I had (coincidentally) arranged to meet a few of my writer chums for drinks. Those of you keeping track of these things may notice the meetPhill numbers aren’t quite sequential – this is because there was someone else that day whose identity I may or may not reveal in a future post.

Not to create any mystery or tension, but because I might get sidetracked. I only mention it so he doesn’t think he’s less important than these three or any less of a chum.

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So forearmed in the knowledge I was meeting up with Paul, Piers and Shel a few days before the BBC deadline, I figured I might as well print out a few copies of my entry and see if I could t̶r̶i̶c̶k̶ persuade them into giving me some feedback.

Which they happily did.

Or at least, they didn’t complain too much.

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And in return I read their entries and in fact it all set off a cascade whereby we all read each other’s.

If you haven’t got writer chums, it’s a really good idea to find some. It’s nowhere near as hard as it might seem since there’s probably a local Shooting People meet or maybe a writers’ group. If not, there’s always the LSWF which is chock-full of potential chums desperate to make friends with you.

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Or at least they should be desperate to make friends with you, because peers are the most valuable asset we have in this otherwise solitary industry.*

Obviously getting people to read a full script is a big ask, one not to be thrown away on a first draft unless you’re reciprocating in someway. All reads should be reciprocal. No, strike that. You should be happy to read your friends’ work and offer an opinion because it’s a nice thing to do. If they do the same for you, great. If not … that’s fine.

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Unless they’re taking the piss, I suppose …

Oh, you know what? You’re all adults (probably?) you can figure out the rules for yourself. Suffice it to say I rocked up for drinks and dinner with friends who gave me an invaluable insight into how my one-pager came across to them.

Not whether it’s good or bad, but which bits they didn’t understand, which bits confused them or made them reread or even slowed them down a little. The benefit of something short in person is the conversation afterwards, because that way you can find out how they imagine the story and see if it matches the story in your head.

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On this occasion all three of them offered comments which vastly improved the one-pager. They didn’t add anything to the concept or the characters, but rather helped me present the idea in a clearer, more succinct way.

Which was awfully nice of them.

Hopefully they got some mileage out of my comments on their work in return.

It’s difficult to know exactly how something will be perceived. In my case a mention of a character in her early sixties got misread three times as the series being set in the early sixties.

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Okay, so I could have argued that they just didn’t read it properly … but they did. They read it as quickly and as thoroughly as anyone at the BBC will. People make mistakes and if even one person can misinterpret something they how do you know the person reading a judging your work won’t?

In this case (I think?) all three made the same mistake … so the mistake is actually mine. It needs to be crystal clear or the meaning is lost.

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This is the sort of feedback I couldn’t give myself because it was perfectly clear to me … or I wouldn’t have written it down.

So hooray for writing chums! And hooray for those who are willing to be honest and supportive because they really are (or should be) an invaluable part of the process.


*Supposedly solitary. I have the slightly skewed experience of writing nearly everything for someone. It’s very rare I write a spec script with no input, it’s been years in fact. Maybe even a decade. Every time I try, someone either options it before I’m finished or commissions me for something.

That probably sounds like bragging, it’s not meant to. Sorry. I’m not bragging and have nothing to brag about … it’s just the way my career seems to work.

Categories: #PhonePhill, BBC, My Way, Someone Else's Way, Writing and life | 1 Comment

#PhonePhill – Conversation #15: Calum Chalmers (again)

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MILD SPOILERS FOR EDDIE THE EAGLE … BUT NOT REALLY.

IT’S UNSPOILABLE.

IF YOU’VE SEEN THE TRAILER, THAT’S THE FILM – THERE IS NOTHING ELSE TO SPOIL.

This is the third time Calum Chalmers has rung and the third time we’ve spent the entire morning gossiping. At this point, I’m beginning to suspect we’re having an affair.

Three hours this time.

Three.

Hours.

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Three hours of delightful chat about stuff and things. Too many stuff and things to mention … or even remember since it was a couple of weeks ago and remembering stuff is such a faff.

I do remember talking about our unfettered love for Eddie the Eagle … despite it not really being a very good film.

Not really.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad film. It’s not one of those so-bad-it’s-good deals. It delivers everything it promises, it’s just … not good.

I love it, but I’m not sure why.

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On paper it shouldn’t really work. Story wise it’s a direct copy of Cool Runnings … or at least the version of Cool Runnings I remember after not having seen it for twenty years.

Must watch that again.

It’s not even as complex a story as Cool Runnings since there’s only one Eddie as opposed to four bobsleighers. Or sledders. Sledders? Sleighers? Slayers?

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Eddie wants to be in the Olympics … that’s pretty much it. There’s no character development beyond that. There’s a vague reconciling with father/father figure thing going on for him and his coach … but it’s kind of incidental (except it’s not). Other than that, the story is:

Man wants to go to the Olympics … so he tries hard and gets to go.

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That’s it.

Even the obstacles aren’t really obstacles, they’re hurdles. I like stories where the obstacle is insurmountable so it forces the protagonist to take a different path – a different path which changes the protagonist. It’s not the path they wanted to take, but it’s perhaps one they needed to.

Hurdles don’t block the straight line between the protagonist and the goal, they’re just minor setbacks the protagonist needs to hop over.*

Eddie doesn’t change, he doesn’t grow. He doesn’t discover love instead of lust for Olympic glory … he just plods towards his goal occasionally hurdling minor irritants until he gets there.

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This is not the way to write a compelling story! And yet … it works. And it works magnificently. Eddie the Eagle is a fucking great film … despite not being especially good. I genuinely, with no reservations, adore it.

So what’s the take home from this? What did I (and Calum) learn?

Maybe that constructing compelling characters with internal and external goals and a flaw they need to overcome is a great start … but a nice person without a trace of malice who keeps trying to do the same thing, over and over again, no matter what … sometimes it just works.

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Movie Eddie is lovely. He’s sweet. I want him to get everything he wants and I want him to be happy … and that’s enough.

Much the same as I feel about Calum Chalmers – he’s a nice guy, I want him to be happy.

If you’d like me to want you to be happy too, why not #PhonePhill? Go on, you know you want to … and if you don’t, I want you to. Email me and we’ll schedule a call.


* Generally I find movies with hurdles instead of obstacles unsatisfying, but two other examples which prove that rule would be Gravity and The Martian. I really enjoyed both of those films, even though all the characters wanted was to not be in the movie^ and all that happened to them is hurdle after hurdle. Solve this problem, carry along on the same path until you hit the next problem – should be dull, but isn’t … IF you like the protagonist.

^ This too is a bugbear of mine – when all the characters want is to NOT be in the movie I find it difficult to warm to them – “Well why don’t you just fuck off or die and we can all go home?”

I’m looking at you Rey and Finn.

Categories: #PhonePhill | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

#PhonePhill – Conversation #14: Calum Chalmers (The Revenge)

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Hello, what have you been up to? I’ve been chatting to Calum Chalmers (again) who’s still a lovely writer-director type chappy. Calum was the first (sort of) ever #PhonePhill in April last year, proving this talk-to-a-stranger-malarkey* might just actually work. Last time, we spoke about this sort of thing.

This time we spoke about many, many things over the course of about two and a half hours.

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Blimey. Was it really that long? Or did the clocks go forward midway through? Doesn’t seem likely, so yeah … must have been.

In that long, meandering two and a half hours we covered more many, many things. Including, but not limited to:

  1. Dealing with notes, both giving and receiving.
  2. Weird behaviour from apparent professionals.
  3. Bland trailers.
  4. Remakes and reboots.
  5. Small island/small industry.
  6. Social media implosions.
  7. Other stuff.

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On which topics I generally feel:

  1. I’d rather be taking notes than giving them.
  2. Just be fucking nice to each other. Why is that so difficult?
  3. Trailers don’t excite me any more. They might as well just be a poster informing me of the film’s existence. Are trailers badly made? Or is it because most trailers I watch are for franchises which I’m probably going to go and see anyway and my enjoyment will depend entirely on the execution? This is the only trailer this year I’ve been excited about:
  4. I don’t care any more if anyone remakes anything. When they remade Bedazzled my friends hid Empire magazine from me for six months, afraid of what I might do if I found out. Now they’re remaking Ghostbusters … fine, whatever.
  5. See point 2. Calum and I have never met … but we know a lot of the same people. We swapped stories. Years ago I read a script he’s recently optioned. It’s all very incestuous … so be nice.
  6. See point 5. We all get bitter or blue sometimes … keep it to yourself. Ranting about it on your network of choice is unlikely to get you any work. Quite the opposite in fact.
  7. Yes.

One other thing we discussed was pigeon-holing. Should writers do it to themselves? The advice for American writers is a resounding yes. Be the go-to guy for something … you can always break out and back in again later on.

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But does that hold true in the UK?

I think it does. Writing is a hard craft to master and different genres require different skill sets. Not specialising has hurt my career because when I get to the point where someone says:

“I like this, but don’t want to make it … have you got anything similar?”

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The answer is always: no. I’ve got something of equal quality but a completely different genre or medium … which is of no interest.

Unfortunately I’ve had movies produced in a variety of genres. I like switching it up every now and then. Right now I’ve got a political black comedy casting and a teen-vampire-sex-comedy in development. Okay, so technically they’re both comedies … but they are poles apart. Ready to go I have a seriously dark moral drama film, the first film in a kid’s Christmas franchise and a sword and sorcery action-adventure movie. I write what  interests me at the time and … well, I shouldn’t. I should specialise in something.

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I think, perhaps, maybe … kids’ TV is the place to specialise in the UK because … well, it covers everything, doesn’t it? It seems to get treated as one genre despite covering drama and soap and comedy and sci-fi and horror and … stuff. At least, that’s how it seems to be from the outside. Maybe writers for kid’s horror finds people are resistant to them writing comedy?

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I have no idea. I’d like to find out, maybe there’s someone working in kids’ TV in the UK who fancies a #PhonePhill? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Once again I finished this conversation thinking I like Calum, he seems like a nice guy. Hopefully we’ll work together one day.

If you fancy a natter, email me and we’ll have a chat. It doesn’t have to be for two and half hours, it can be for fifteen minutes. You don’t have to be in the industry, you can anything or anyone … so long as you have a phone and the willingness to use it.

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* This is the first time I’ve ever typed the word ‘malarkey’ it’s not spelt the way I thought it was. Unless it is and my spell check is wrong.

Some handy note-links for you:

How to Deal With Notes (a silly list)

Notes From The Other Side – Part 1 (why I was giving notes), Part 2 (how reality got it wrong), Part 3 (a rant about things not to do when receiving notes).

Categories: #PhonePhill, Career Path, Industry Musings, My Way, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

#PhonePhill – Conversation #13: Robin Bell (Redux)

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD FOR STAR WARS, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, THE FORCE AWAKENS, INSIDE OUT, SUPERMAN, STAR TREK … BUT NOT REALLY.

VERY MILD.

CHICKEN KORMA MILD.

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So #PhonePhill is still a thing. Anyone is welcome to ring me and natter about anything they like. You don’t have to be a scriptwriter, I’ll talk to anyone. Actors, director, producers, sound effects person … or, you know, people not even connected with the industry – maybe you’re a gas fitter (I don’t know what that is) or a mortician or a … something on a submarine (chef? Do they have chefs on a submarine? Submarine polisher, is that a job? I have no idea).

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In essence, no matter who you are, if you fancy chatting to a scriptwriter drop me a line and we’ll work something out.

This week I’ve been talking to Robin Bell. Again. Hey, there are no rules. I can talk to whoever I want whenever I want.

To be honest, this is a lie. It wasn’t this week, it was weeks ago. Possibly even months.

So long, in fact, that I’ve completely forgotten what it was we talked about. I’ll have a vague stab at remembering:

Robin’s a wandering minstrel who’s recently invented a new type of electric jock strap. He’s hoping to market it exclusively to Iranians with asthma.

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At least, I think that’s what he said. Either that or he’s still the co-creator of Twisted Showcase and has recently been writing children’s TV scripts – at least one of which sounded awfully good to my tin ear.

We spoke of many, many things. Well, I didn’t – I spoke exclusively about me because I’m like that, but Robin had lots of interesting things to say. Probably.

I definitely remember talking about how difficult it can be to get some concepts into a script. Sometimes these things will be obvious on screen, but will mean nothing on the page. Or maybe we spoke about the need to create a physical something on screen to represent abstract ideas – show, don’t tell … basically. We concluded that the only film we completely and utterly agree on is Mamma Mia which we both, unashamedly, love. Which is odd given how partial we both are to genre movies.

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Although I suppose Mamma Mia is a genre movie. Musical is a genre, right? A very broad genre, but a genre nonetheless.

Genre (as in sci-fi, horror … etc) itself was discussed, specifically how British TV is mad keen on genre for children … but for some reason assumes those children grow out of it and don’t want to watch it as adults. Which is weird. American TV doesn’t same to have the same attitude.

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Ooh! One thing we did get stuck on for a while was fridge logic and how the difference between it working and it derailing the film is largely down to how much you’re enjoying the film.

Examples which came up were the Millennium Falcon flipping between the two Star Destroyers in Empire Strikes Back – at the time it seems amazingly cool and thrilling … but later (almost a decade later for me) whilst your mind’s wandering as you’re opening the fridge (fridge logic) you start to think … hang on. What the fuck were those Star Destroyers playing at? They’re something like a mile long … and it’s in space! It’s not like they couldn’t see each other coming. What was their plan? To squish the Falcon between them? That’s a bit like two people deciding to kill a wasp by running at each other with their chins out.

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But it works. The scene is fantastic. The logic holds at the time because the story is gripping and we completely believe Han can out fly those Imperial slugs.

The opposite is true (for me) in Star Wars when Han and Luke climb out of the trash compactor and ditch their stormtrooper outfits to reveal they had their own clothes on underneath all the time. Even as a five year old I struggled with that one. Wait … did they … how does that work? Is that under the formfitting bodysuit?

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But I loved the film, so five year old me let it slide. It’s one flaw, it doesn’t matter.

As it turns out, we now know stormtroopers wear trousers under their uniforms. Not leggings. Trousers. Possibly with pockets.*

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Good fridge logic: George Kirk tells his pregnant wife he CAN’T leave the ship because he HAS to stay behind and steer it … then goes to sit in the Captain’s chair, roughly six feet from the place where you steer the ship from. That didn’t click with me until after the film – at the time I was too busy sobbing.

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Bad fridge logic: why didn’t Joy put the core-memory globes in the tube-thing which leads straight back up to the control room? She’s asking the … peanut things … how to get back up there. They show her, right in front of her, how to send them up … and she just ignores it.

That nearly derailed the film for me – I had to find a way to rationalise it to myself: “She can’t send them up because the whole point of the film is she can’t let go. She has to be in control, she has to take them there herself – it just wouldn’t occur to her to send them up on their own” … which does make sense, but I shouldn’t be having to do that kind of thinking whilst watching an otherwise amazing movie.

Or at least, that’s what I think.

What makes something fridge logic and not confusing is whether or not it’s noticed during the first watching of the film. The problem with that is scriptwriters have no real control over whether or not the audience will notice. Some people will, some won’t. I guess the real problem is quantity – one or two instances of fudging what people wear under what (why can’t you see Superman’s costume through his white shirt?) or which seat someone sits in is fine. If there’s something like that in every scene it becomes a problem … unless you’re enjoying the film so much it just doesn’t matter to you.

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We’ve all been in that situation right? When someone points out a flaw in a film you love and it just doesn’t matter? If anything it makes the film more endearing.

This is what most of the hour-long conversation with Robin consisted of – disagreeing over whether or not the flaws in films are irritating or endearing. A disagreement which in itself is endearing. And yet we both agreed, Mamma Mia is awesome despite (and in some cases because) of its flaws. If you’d like to disagree with me about something, #PhonePhill


 

* Which is another reason why I don’t believe Finn was really a stormtrooper. Surely that’s proof he actually worked in the sweet shop and stole the uniform minutes before that first battle? Come on, a cowardly, klutz of a stormtrooper who wears trousers under his uniform? Yeah … I don’t think so. There’s more than meets the eye there.

Unless he put the trousers on because he knew he was going to defect? Yeah, maybe that was it.

Categories: #PhonePhill, Random Witterings | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

#PhonePhill – Conversation #12: William Gallagher

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“One day, someone on the other end of the phone won’t be lovely. On that day I will break with tradition and refuse to name them as such.”

Phillip Barron

I said that back in July.

I haven’t done a #PhonePhill since July because of school holidays and actual holidays and deadlines and spending most of my free time swapping my daughter’s bedroom and my office around*. It’s not that there’s  a shortage of lovely people in the world I want to talk to (although the list is open if anyone fancies a natter), it’s more that I temporarily ran out of nattering time.

But I’m back. With a bang.

Well, maybe not a bang. More of a continuous exchange of reasonably volumed telecommunication signals. This week’s #PhonePhill is William Gallagher and he was …

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Lovely. Super double-plus extra lovely, in fact.

To be honest, I’m not sure why I led with that quote or why I felt the need to quote myself. I’m fairly certain only an imbecile would quote me.

William Gallagher is a scriptwriter, author, journalist and tea drinker. You can learn lots about him on his Wikipedia page here or on his excellent blog here.

We were on the phone for a mammoth two and a half hours, nattering on about … well, pretty much everything really. The first half an hour or so was me trying to convince him I was being honest about the nature of the Secret Writing Island and how it works. For some reason William demanded a lot of detail before accepting I wasn’t spinning a yarn … considering the context (which I’m not going into here) I consider that a compliment.

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After that we covered  Doctor Who (he’s written some, I haven’t), Blake’s 7 (he has a teleport bracelet, I don’t), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (neither of us are particularly fussed about it), the Midlands (we’ve both lived there, he still does), New York vs. London (we both prefer New York but aren’t really sure why), fuel economy vs. train tickets (it’s complicated and depressing), technology (he prefers iOS, I prefer Android … both are amazing and frustrating in different ways at different times and for different reasons) and how an actor’s delivery of a line can make or break a scene.

This one I find endlessly fascinating. My favourite example is from this scene:

“Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed.”

Terrible, terrible line which almost completely derails the entire film (which I think is otherwise fantastic).

Except … is it a terrible line? Or is it just delivered wrong? I’m certain I’ve read somewhere that line was meant to be sarcastic. Run it back through your mind, imagine it not as a breathless, yet cheesy, declaration of love … imagine it as a being actually quite funny. How much better is that scene?

Now think about Queenie:

Miranda Richardson’s delivery is extraordinary. Continuously. In a exceptionally well-written sitcom performed by a uniformly amazing cast, she stands out as an absolute genius. A genius among geniuses, I guess … but her performance lifts that role to incredible heights.

As much as we like to think good writing makes good drama, it’s nothing unless it’s performed well.

Or at least I think so anyway. I am frequently wrong about such things.

William, for example, asserts I’m completely and utterly wrong about my dislike for one of the four modern Doctor Who actors. I’m just wrong, apparently.

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Adding to that, William also thinks I’m wrong about believing only an imbecile would quote me (because he has and he clearly isn’t one).  He’s so convinced of my wrongness in this regard that he’s written an entire book just about me:

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Okay, so it’s not just about me. Other bloggers are available and quoted/interviewed at great length … but surely the likes of Jason Arnopp, Katherine D’Souza or Diane Leigh can’t possibly hold a candle to my magnificence?

Oh … apparently they can.

Well, that’s a blow.

Presumably they can also spell magnificence without resorting to spell-check.

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This is the official blurb for William’s book:

Everybody tells you that you must have a website and you must have a blog but nobody tells you how – or why. In this book you will learn the key steps to creating your blog but, more importantly, what you can use one for and how it will become an important part of your creative work.

BBC writer William Gallagher shows you how to write a blog that people will read – and then how to keep on writing new entries. See how to write fast blogs and more considered ones. How to make a blog that works for you because it works for your readers.

The good news is it’s available right now on Amazon.

The better news is there’s a far cheaper PDF version here.

The bestest news is you can get a whopping 40% discount off the PDF version if you use the code: JAMAISVU

£3 for a book which features me? How can you not want that? Go on, treat yourself.

And while you’re treating yourself, why not treat me to the sound of your voice? I’d love to hear from you, no matter who you are or what you do. You don’t have to be a writer or even in the entertainment industry. You could be a plumber or a mystery shopper or a retrophrenologist …. I really don’t care, I just want to have a bit of a chat.

If you’re at a loose end and not sure what to do, buy William Gallagher’s book. If you’re still at a loose end after that, why not email me and arrange a time to #PhonePhill?

Come on, let’s have a chat.

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* My office is now much smaller … but much cooler. I’ll show it off properly when it’s finished.

As certain as I am I’ve said all this before.

Categories: #PhonePhill, BBC, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

#P̶h̶o̶n̶e̶ MeetPhill – Meeting #1: Piers Beckley, Michelle Lipton & J̶a̶s̶o̶n̶ ̶A̶r̶n̶o̶p̶p̶

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A very special #PhonePhill this week in that it didn’t involve a phone at all, but rather an actual face to face meeting with all the delights and risk of contamination these things bring.

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How can such a thing happen, you’re doubtlessly asking?

What kind of Earth-shattering calamity could persuade Phill to leave the relative safety of the Secret Writing Island and venture into deepest, darkest London where people can actually see him face to face and possibly even (gasp!) be nice to him?

Well, I’m glad you asked. It’s all Piers Beckley‘s fault.

Piers used to (or possibly still does but hasn’t for a while) run these monthly get togethers for writers in London. He was nice enough to invite me to join in and as is my want, I declined.

For I am shy.

Except when I’m not.

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But he persisted and I eventually caved in to his smooth-talking big city ways and found myself venturing into London to meet a lovely bunch of lovely people who were in various states of drunkeness.

And fun was had by all.

For largely geographical reasons (except Piers, who travels. Possibly in some kind of mysterious wrought iron carriage powered by dreams), Piers, Michelle, Jason and I began a tradition of extra-curricular meetings in Brighton. And sometimes London.

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Which is where this inaugural #MeetPhill took place.

Although, obviously, this wasn’t our inaugural meeting. Nor was it an opportunity for them to meet me so much as for all of us to meet each other. Again. Also, inaugural implies there’ll be more opportunities for people to meet me.

There won’t.

Well, there will. But I’m far too lazy to traipse into London for a random natter with anyone who emails me.

To be honest, this was just three friends meeting up for a chat about writing and life and stuff.

Wait a minute. Three? Don’t I mean four?

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No. One person has been strangely elusive of late. He says he’s doing this newfangled thing called writing … but that sounds frankly ludicrous and can’t be true.

The truth is … we’ve lost Arnopp. Has anybody seen him? If you spot him, give him a cuddle and some gin and send him home.

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The rest of us had a lovely time. We saw dinosaurs and ate Japanese food and got caught in a Tube strike and, oh … everything. We regaled each other with discussions, including but not limited to:

  1. Getting a proper writing job on a proper TV programme  … and then having to turn down another proper writing job on another proper TV programme because they clashed.
  2. Writing erotic fiction.
  3. Writing for a proper A-list actor who actually read the script and loved it and wanted to do it … and then didn’t because of reasons which are depressing but totally understandable.
  4. Something so insanely exciting but also very, very personal and private which can’t be discussed despite it being the bestest news ever.
  5. Developing a new TV series for and with someone.
  6. The pitiful amount of custard served with the steamed treacle pudding in the last pub we went into. Which also didn’t have a working kettle and hence, no tea. Which was disappointing.
  7. Purging the urge to write scripts for existing TV shows by actually writing them in a useful way.
  8. Other stuff.

Usually in a #PhonePhill there’s some aspect of the discussion which I’ll pull out and highlight in great length, but in this case the meeting of peers is the point. Sideways networking, meeting up with other writers, having a bit of a chat and building those relationships is vital.

Networking with producers and directors is all well and good. Vital, in fact … but it’s the other writers, the other people on the same journey who will help you the most.

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Yes, sometimes we read each others’ scripts. Sometimes. Sometimes we share information or opportunities. Sometimes those things even lead somewhere.

Just prior to meeting Piers and Shel, for example, I had a meeting with a new producer to discuss optioning a feature script. That meeting came about because of Piers – he knew the guy was looking for scripts and thought I may have had the sort of thing he was looking for.

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Piers was right.

That new contact, that new opportunity and new option is a direct result of sideways networking. Writers tend to be awfully nice people who have a lot of time for each other and are very supportive. Well, in my experience anyway.

If you’re a writer who doesn’t know other writers, find some and know them. You’ll be glad you did.

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Categories: #PhonePhill, Career Path, Writing and life | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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