Random Witterings

Director of better

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

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

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

And yet … I like the idea of better.

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

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Or at least I think it is.

I feel like it’s my job to be better.

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

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

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

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

I’m using that as an asexual term.

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

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

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

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

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

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Probably.

Maybe it won’t.

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

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

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Which they rarely do.

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

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

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

It’s never too late to get better.

Categories: Bored, Random Witterings | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Spoiling yourself

WARNING!

CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR

SAVING MR BANKS

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

AND

THE SIXTH SENSE

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

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

For me, at least.

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

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

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

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

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

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Or is that just me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or BluRay, if you want to be fancy.

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

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

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

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

UNFRIEND ROTTEN CARD

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

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

Hell, don’t spoiler the film for yourself.

And trailer makers, just fucking don’t.

In general.

Please?

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Categories: Bored, Random Witterings, Rants, Sad Bastard | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Vanishing point

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

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

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

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

I got called a lot of names.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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At the time I remember distinctly not caring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except when I don’t.

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

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

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

At least I think it is anyway.

Bullshit or not?

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

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

My daughter thought that was silly:

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

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

A bit like this watch:

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

Categories: Bored, Industry Musings, My Way, Random Witterings, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Fancy free

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The other day I heard Footloose described as a guilty pleasure.

Why? Why is liking Footloose a guilty pleasure? What’s wrong with Footloose?

Some people seem to think it’s this cheesy teen dance-movie … but have you actually sat down and watched it beginning to end recently? It’s an awesome movie with some really nuanced and poigniant moments.

Okay, so there’s the cheesy “I’m so pissed off I have to dance” moment. And there’s a cheesy-ish montage. And maybe the final dance is a bit cheesy … but overall the film really isn’t.

To me, Footloose feels like it was meant to be cheesy, like Dean Pitchford was given the assignment (I don’t think it was an assignment, I think it was a spec – loosely based on a real story, if memory serves) of writing a cheesy teen-dance movie and instead handed in a script which is all grey areas and no absolutes.

No one in the film is right or wrong. There’s no villain. John Lithgow is, nominally, the antagonist, but he’s not a bad guy by any means.

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All the characters have satisfying arcs … except Sarah Jessica Parker, but … fuck it, you can’t have everything.

Take some of the potentially more cliched scenes:

The love-interest’s boyfriend shows he’s the unsuitable suitor by hitting her.

Well, yes … but actually she hits him first. The scene starts with him pissed off at her because he thinks she’s cheating on him … which she is. She hits him. He hits her back. She smashes up his truck. He loses his temper and hits her again to make her stop.

Violence is (almost) always wrong … but who’s in the right in that scene? Is it good girl/bad guy or is it more nuanced than that?

What about the town hall scene?

Kevin Bacon makes an impassioned speech to the council about dancing, using their terms and their religious text to make his point. A more cheesy film would have him win and then go straight to the dance … but he doesn’t win. He loses. You rarely change people’s mind with one speech, no matter how impassioned. Life’s not really like that and neither’s Footloose – so it takes a more difficult route to the final dance.

Kevin Bacon (sort of wins) when he goes to ask John Lithgow if he can take his daughter to the dance … but John Lithgow isn’t humiliated. He’s not taught a lesson and he doesn’t really change his mind – he’s still terrified and uncertain at the end.

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Every scene is like that. Nothing’s clear cut. It’s not pro-teen, adults are stupid. It’s not dancing is the be-all and end all of living. It’s not even chock full of super-amazingly good looking people. I mean, yeah, it’s a Hollywood movie and everyone’s attractive … but no one looks like a model.

I love it. It’s a genuinely great movie with a few cheesy moments and 80’s songs … but it’s easily one of my favourite films and one I can watch again and again and again.

In lesser hands it would have been a cheesy piece of shit. It sounds shit … but it’s really not. And it shouldn’t be a guilty pleasure – it should be a fucking joy to behold for everyone.

Plus, if you don’t at least tap your feet to the theme tune then you’re clinically dead.

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

Okay google

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

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

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

Probably.

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

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

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

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

Or maybe don’t?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feel free to be as creative as possible here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Bored, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard | 3 Comments

2014

2015

Hooray it’s 2015. The future! The actual future. That’s where we live now. We’re here.

That’s the Back to the Future future anyway. Other futures include 1999 (as in Space), 2001 (as in a Space Odyssey) and 2010 (as in … another Space Odyssey). We’ve smashed through all those future and they were all fucking wrong … but this time, this time I’ve got a feeling we’re actually here.

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Hoverboards and flying cars by October!

So this is my yearly end-of-year round up which I completely failed to do at the end of the year and am instead doing now.

2014 was a funny old year. I didn’t have a film produced for a start – which is odd for me, I’ve had one (more or less) produced every year for almost a decade so it feels a bit lacking.

On the other hand, it was a year of new stuff and exciting things. A year of regrouping and changing direction. Twice.

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It was a year of earning more money by not getting films produced – a strange phenomena whereby people seem to be paying me to keep quiet. I earnt more last year than in the few previous years combined by writing things I actually enjoy with and for people who are actually interested in that specific film as opposed to just banging out any old tosh.

I’ve been doing uncredited re-writes on things and polishes and itty bitty bits and bobs like that.

I’ve written a couple of features for new clients which have come out well and been thoroughly enjoyable experiences.

Money

I even got to work a bit more on one of my favourite scripts which has since gone out to actors (including a popstar whose jeans I once wore after his ex-girlfriend stole them and an actor so ridiculously A-list and cool that I’m not even allowed to think his name let alone tell anyone).

At the beginning of the year I was thinking all telly with some really cool meetings … but halfway through the year I accidentally got myself some US management and switched gears to US-focused studio movies. Well, sort of switched gears – it’s taken me six months to politely disengage myself from all previous UK commitments.

But I’m disengaged now and re-engaged with US stuff for 2015.

As for 2014 in blogs … well, it was a bit sparse. These things take up a lot of time and I don’t have much of it to spare. Still, for anyone who was or wasn’t paying attention, the blogging year went something like this:

JANUARY

A witter about Christmas and a moan about Sherlock, followed by bigging up Danny and Tim and then slating myself for being sexist.

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FEBRUARY

First up was The Spec Chain … which we all agreed was a waste of everyone’s time. Particularly mine. Next up was a rumination on cliffhangers and page three (not the booby kind, the normal kind between pages two and four). In an amazing splurge of blogging I managed to write another post about minor character names which is at least vaguely interesting and then in an even more amazing splurge I actually wrote yet another post where I decided I’m the font of all factual knowledge.

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So there.

Wow! Four posts in one month! I’m awesome at this blogging lark!

MARCH

Ah, right … so March wasn’t so good. All I managed in March was that Blog Tour meme (which doesn’t count as a proper post) and a bit of a ramble about using bold in a script.

I think I’d decided to post every Monday at this point … and was already failing. Still, it’s good to fail fast.

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Isn’t it?

APRIL

Another 50 percenter – two out of four, not too bad. Unless there were five Mondays in April? In which case it’s piss poor. All I did that month was tell people not to get upset about not getting through the first round of the Red Planet Prize and burble on about synopses and why my first draft ones are always terrible.

Ooh, I also transformed a TARDIS into a War TARDIS – the first of many extra-writing projects I undertook in 2014.

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MAY

The Need to Know List – ooh, that sounds exciting.

Oh. No. No it isn’t.

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JUNE

June brought the first installment of my Conversations to Quit Over series – a pointless grumbling of fucking moronic things I’ve been asked to do by people who should know better. I wonder how many installments of this thrilling series there will be?????!!!?!?!?!?!???!!!?!?   !   ?

The rest of the month was me bemoaning my own inability to hold my enthusiasm back and a second shout out to Tim and Danny or, rather, to Nelson Nutmeg – pffft, bet they’ll never get that off the page.

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JULY

Repointing the Pyramid – I like that analogy far more than I like that post which largely seems to be covertly apologising for not having finished a script.

Sorry.

AUGUST

Two posts this month! Hooray!

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Or not, depending on your taste.

One about how script readers aren’t as stupid* as we think they are. And even when they are, just pretend they’re not. The other was about how one extra word on page one added a complete page to the end of the script – incredibly frustrating when you have to keep the page count under a certain (arbitrary) number. This is when the one page = one minute rule falls apart: one extra word = one extra page =/= one extra minute.

* Incidentally, a director who read the title as opposed to the post itself helpfully pointed out I’d written a script for him which was incredibly well received by script readers as proof they’re not all stupid. He then sent me all the super-positive comments to remind me how universally loved that script is. That was a lovely little ego-boost that was.

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SEPTEMBER

Hooray! Part two of Conversations to Quit Over – thank god for that, I was beginning to think there wasn’t a part two … or maybe that was just wishful thinking? Clearly I was a bit bored or busy in September since I rambled on about Tales of the Gold Monkey for ages in the first installment of a new series I’ll probably instantly forget about, posted photos of sexy TV stars …

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… and then compared writing to cooking. I quite like that post. Here’s a musical interlude.

OCTOBER

In October, shit got serious – I decided to be brave and attempt to do two projects live on-blog for all the world to see. No more fucking around, this would be a warts and all insight into the creation of a script and a Ghostbusters Proton Pack. Every Monday, without fail, an update. Here goes …

NOVEMBER

Yeah … well that didn’t happen.

The updates, I mean.

Or the script – other projects got in the way.

The proton pack, on the other hand …

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Yeah … that was okay.

I also fessed up to being a Needy Writer in a post I quite like.

Which brings us to …

DECEMBER

When all I did was re-plug this ebook:

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Which is enough for one month, don’t you think?

December was a mad scramble to get everything done before Christmas and to finish off my last extra-writing project of the year for a New Year’s Eve party:

2014-12-31 21.31.33I made that costume. All of it. From scratch. Well, from material at any rate. Do you know how difficult it is to starch an Elizabethan ruff?

I do.

I made bits of Mandy’s too – the cool bits like the cape (actually made for a Robin costume) and the voice changer sewn into the hankie/mask.

Come to think of it, I made the background too.

But not the sofa.

Or the throne.

My favourite part of the costume was the codpiece – complete with squeaker. That’s the mark II codpiece there, the mark I codpiece went a bit wrong …

10857800_10152979701338338_1041508421043160588_nNot really suitable for a child-infested party. Still, all in all, I’m pleased with that.

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And that was my year – a good year all round with codpieces and writing and new management and a proton pack. And a War TARDIS.

Who knows what 2015 will bring?

I do.

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Happy (almost) New Year!

Categories: Career Path, My Way, Random Witterings | 1 Comment

Needy writer

needy

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

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

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

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No? Just me?

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

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

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

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

Hmm.

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

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Needs. It.

Or does it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s what the script needs.

Needs.

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Or does it?

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

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

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

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

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

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Suddenly the script is far, far better.

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

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

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

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

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And so on.

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

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

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

Bullshit or not?

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

Oh dear

So … regular updates. Yes. That didn’t quite happen, did it?

I think it’s fairly safe to say October didn’t go quite as planned.

On the writing side, I had to do a rewrite for a script which is just tipping over into production, got sidetracked by being asked for ideas for a completely different genre to the one I intended to write and also ended up completely junking my existing idea and starting again from scratch. So it’s not like I’ve done nothing, it’s more like I’ve got nothing to show for it.

At least nothing useful to show for it.

Yet.

This is as far as I got with the new idea in October.

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That’s my new laptop, by the way. Sometimes it looks like that, sometimes it looks like this:

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All courtesy of my lovely wife.

On the Proton Pack side of things … well, it turns out a month of weekends isn’t quite enough time to build one. Not when you’re using papier mache anyway. You see, it turns out papier mache takes ages to dry. Hours and hours. Bordering on days. Five layers of papier mache at three days per week takes … well, several weeks.

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Luckily it all accelerates after that …

2014-10-09 12.42.32 2014-10-10 14.41.14 2014-10-11 08.36.09 2014-10-11 15.21.57 2014-10-13 21.43.42 2014-10-13 21.46.47 2014-10-17 22.27.45 2014-10-17 22.27.51 2014-10-17 23.47.11 2014-10-17 23.50.30 2014-10-18 11.11.45 2014-10-19 00.03.12 2014-10-19 12.07.59 2014-10-19 17.15.55 2014-10-20 00.07.38 2014-10-20 00.07.59 2014-10-21 00.31.02 2014-10-25 21.33.09 2014-10-27 19.48.39

But not fast enough.

I even had to take some sewing to my secret writing island in order to get it all done.

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On Halloween itself, desperately jetlagged, I was still fucking about with LEDs and soundcards and painting bottle tops and lolly sticks. I didn’t quite manage to get the smoke machine working, but it kind of came out okay though:

And although the paint was still wet and a few glued on bits fell off … overall, it was a successful night of tricking and treating:

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I even got a free cup of tea from the lovely people at Tennis in the Park.

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So that was my October.

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November won’t involve any Proton Packs (well, bar maybe a teeny bit of finishing off) …

SMOKE!

… but hopefully should involve a new script.

Probably.

Categories: Random Witterings | 1 Comment

Recipe for success

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I hate following recipes.

That’s not to say I’m one of those people who can fashion a gourmet meal out of kitchen scraps, artfully combining them in new and inventive ways by pure instinct. Truth be told, I hate cooking anything I haven’t cooked before – especially if it’s meant to be something recognisable at the end.

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The problem I have is recipes aren’t really instructions. They kind of try to be sometimes, but generally assume you have a degree of cooking knowledge and can understand the difference between complex terms like ‘fold’, ‘beat’ and ‘whisk’ which to my feeble mind all mean ‘stir’.

Possibly vigorously.

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They also use phrases like “a pinch”. A pinch? How much is a pinch? My fingers might be bigger than yours. How do you know I haven’t got massive fucking fingers? That’s hardly fucking science, is it?

My main issue with following recipes though is the fact I can follow them exactly and still not produce the meal I was supposed to be cooking.

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“This is what we’re having for dinner” says Mandy “and here’s the recipe.”

Okay, should be easy. We’ve eaten this dozens of times over the years. I know what it’s supposed to look like and taste like and …

By the way, there is a scriptwriting link coming. Honest.

… roughly what goes into it. Following the recipe should be a doddle.

Except it’s not.

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It never is.

Because one of two things happens: either I get halfway through and discover Mandy hasn’t bought a vital ingredient (for she does the shopping in our house since she spends far less time in the Caribbean than I do) forcing me to stop at a crucial junction and either run to the shops or substitute something random for something I have no idea what it was supposed to be.

“Olive Tapenade? What the fuck is a tapenade? Will Frosties do?”

More often than not, it’s at this point I give up and head for the nearest burger joint.

If I’m not missing an ingredient then I finish cooking to discover the result doesn’t look, smell or taste anything like it does when Mandy makes it.

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Which is frustrating since I was following her recipe.

Of course, the key to unravelling this mystery is to understand one simple fact: Mandy doesn’t follow recipes. She invents bits, for she is a wonderful cook. She doesn’t use Olive Tapenade because she knows I don’t like olives (I once drank a pint of olive oil – that sort of silliness tends to put you off) so substitutes it for something tomato-y.

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In other dishes she doubles, halves, omits or adds various ingredients because she’s cooked these dishes a few times and likes to experiment. When she serves a specific dish it’s not actually the one specified by the recipe because she’s altered it into something else. I can follow the same recipe a hundred times and never come close to approximating the dish she serves because I have no idea what it actually is.

And I don’t think this is uncommon. A good cook looks at the recipe and then disregards the bits which don’t fit his or her tastes. A good cook recognises a recipe isn’t a set of instructions, it’s a set of guidelines. It’s a statement which says:

“I did it this way because it works for me, do something similar which works for you.”

It occurs to me that this might be the correct approach to use when learning screenplay structure. Some writers are appalled by the notion that something artistic might have rules … completely ignoring the fact that ALL art has rules. Or perhaps just guidelines. Or recipes.

They’ll point to great artists like Picasso and go “well he didn’t follow the rules, so why should I?”

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Which is odd, because if you ever go to the Picasso museum in Barcelona (you know, that one somewhere down off Las Ramblas – near that bar which has trees in it and fairies and a haunted castle-room-thing at the back … no idea what it’s called. The museum. Or the bar for that matter.) then you can clearly see Picasso learnt all the rules, painted some rather dull portraits before giving up and just taking the piss out of people.

At least, that’s my theory. There’s this great exhibit which you see an original artwork by someone or other and then Picasso’s version next to it. The original is a near-photo-quality portrait. Picasso’s version looks like Bod.

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And is worth ten times as much.

In other words, Picasso learnt the recipe and then did his own version. He changed the bits he felt needed changing to suit his style … but he still followed certain rules of composition.

Probably.

I have no fucking idea what I’m talking about and appear to be mixing metaphors all over the place.

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Or am I folding them?

Possibly beating. Not sure.

The point, if I ever had one, is there’s nothing wrong with seeking out other people’s recipes for scriptwriting. I find it interesting to study them and see what I can learn from them. I don’t follow them to the letter though – I like to mix and match, to deviate from the recipe in ways which enhance the script.

Or at least I think they enhance the script.

Maybe they don’t?

Maybe I should just follow the recipes exactly? Maybe I should just shut the hell up because I’ve no idea why I started talking about this crap?

Yes, that sounds more likely.

Here, have some recipe-themed funk instead.

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

TV programmes only I’ve seen: #1 – Tales of the Gold Monkey

I had a spare afternoon recently so I sat down and wrote out four new blog posts – four weeks’ worth of pointless tosh … and now I can’t find them. I suspect I saved them to my desktop and then deleted them in some frenzied docu-purge … but I can’t be sure.

Bugger.

So, instead of what was probably a torrent of meaningless rambling, I’m forced to write something meaningful and insightful … or talk about 80’s TV.

Yeah, fuck it, 80’s TV it is.

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There are certain TV programmes I loved as a kid which no-one else appears to have heard of. Well, clearly not no-one because somebody must have heard of them or seen them. I find it highly unlikely I was the only person in the UK to have watched these things … it just sometimes feels like that.

Which is a shame, because these programmes are an important part of my childhood memories – they’re cultural touchstones only I seem to have touched… thus rendering them completely and utterly useless. I mean, what’s the point of holding onto a memory for thirty-odd years if you can’t reminisce about them with anyone? So this post (and any subsequent ones, if I can be arsed) are solely designed to see if anyone else shared these tiny moments of joy in the dark and dangerous past.

First up:

TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY! What a fucking awesome show! It had everything: planes, violence, a one-eyed dog, sexy (important to a ten year old) women, violence, Nazis, exotic locations and more violence. And cigars.

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Cigars were very important on TV in the 80’s.

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Tales of the Gold Monkey was a cross between (rip off of) Indiana Jones and Only Angels Have Wings (which apparently no-one else has seen either, so it’s pointless mentioning).

Set on a fictional South Sea island (probably – I was ten! I have no idea where it was set.) Tales of the Gold Monkey was a rollicking adventure series, the story of pilot Jake Cutter, played by Decker from Star Trek (not to be confused with Riker from ST:TNG who was completely different. Completely. Honest, he had a beard and everything!).

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Jake was the pilot (and one time owner, until he lost it in a poker game or something like that) of Cutter’s Goose, a frankly awesome sea plane … or possibly the only sea plane I’ve seen portrayed in a TV show. One of the two.

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Jake, together with his alcoholic engineer, Corky(?) …

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… and Jack (a one-eyed dog who barked once for yes and twice for no (or the other way round, probably the other way round) and was the most intelligent character in the show)

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… they flew around a bit and fought Nazis and hunted treasure and punched people and … just generally had adventures. They may or may not have discovered a few lost civilisations – I can’t remember.

Yes, I know I can just use the Internet to fill in the details, but that’s really not the point, is it?

Is it?

What else?

There was Sarah (I think she was called Sarah, she looks like a Sarah in my head) who was … um … something. A US spy, perhaps? Did she run the company which employed Jake? That sounds about right. I think she owned Cutter’s Goose. Or maybe she didn’t?

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Now I come to think of it, maybe Jake lost Jack’s eye in a poker game and not the plane? I’m guessing Sarah was Jake’s will-they/won’t-they love interest and/or added to keep Dads from turning over in the way all 80’s adventure shows added at least one token woman to be tokenly sexy … but then usually dressed them in oddly unsexy, neck to ankle dresses with lots of frills.

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Apart from Jodie in The Fall Guy, of course.

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Oh, and Daisy Duke.

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And maybe one of the truck-bound engineer women in Knightrider? I’ve a feeling there were two of them and one was decidedly more token-sexy than the other … but I may be wrong.

Did this happen on women-based adventure shows like Charlie’s Angels or The Bionic Woman? Did they chuck in a scantily clad bloke just for kicks? Probably not.

Fuck it, I will – just to add balance.

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Tales of the Gold Monkey did have a female co-lead (or co-sub-lead) anyway. Oh and a Dragon Lady-type character who probably wasn’t actually Chinese since I’m not sure they let Chinese people be on telly much in the 80’s.

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In my mind she ran the drug trade and was in league with the Nazis and was very sexy, but I might be getting her confused with a character from Buck Rogers?

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Or maybe even Flash Gordon?

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Fucking hell, did Princesses in space never wear clothes?

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I think there was a fornicating vicar who was a Nazi spy and a guy who ran the bar (Golden Monkey Bar?) who might have been in Planet of the Apes.

Or am I making this up now?

Maybe Tales of the Gold Monkey wasn’t as formative a memory as I first thought? There certainly seems to be less of it than I thought I remembered.

I don’t know why no-one except me saw this show. Possibly it was an age thing? It only ran for one season so anyone a year or two younger than me (apart from my brother, who definitely saw it) might not have been allowed to stay up until whenever it was on whatever day it was on?

Or maybe it was shit?

Maybe I’m largely getting mixed up with this:

I’ve got a vague feeling Bring ’em Back Alive was on at the same time on the other side (yes, THE other side. There were only two channels back then … if you don’t count BBC 2, which no one did when we were ten).

Regardless of the quality of the actual Tales of the Gold Monkey, the version in my head is awesome and I’d love to write a movie version of it. So, you know, if you can arrange that for me it would be greatly appreciated.

I’m going to stop now because I’m bored.

TALES  OF THE GOLD MONKEY – find it, watch it, love it!

Categories: Bored, Random Witterings | 5 Comments

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