Random Witterings

A time and a place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m not sure this is a great idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Maybe.

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

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

+ Yes, I know. That’s the joke.

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

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

In defence of traditional martial arts

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

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

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

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

I have two issues with this line of thinking.

1) How do you define useless?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings me to my second niggle:

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

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

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

Is it, maybe, all of these things?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Hurts less too.

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

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

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

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

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

In the background

 

A film script I’ve been writing has a second level of story which (hopefully) won’t be obvious on first viewing. It’s a story which reflects on the theme and deepens your understanding of the events, but happens almost exclusively in the background. The kind of thing which helps give a film longevity and makes people want to re-watch to see how much of it they’ve missed.

The problem with that is it’s all well and good having stuff on screen that happens solely in the background, but I find it tricky to do in a script. The act of writing it down draws attention to it. Writing IN THE BACKGROUND or WE’RE* NOT FOCUSING ON THIS, BUT … is all well and good, but you can’t read that stuff without paying attention.

Sure, you can bury it in a big chunk of text, but then people reading get annoyed because their brain keeps skipping over stuff. I know that’s the point, but annoying people isn’t.

So how do you do it?

No, seriously, how do you do it?

I tend to put that stuff in italics with a note to the reader on the first occurrence like:

We’re not focusing on this, but IF YOU CARED TO NOTICE: in the background there’s a giant rubber duck hiding behind a car. The audience probably won’t notice, the protagonist certainly doesn’t.

And from then on just title each unobserved piece with IF YOU CARED TO NOTICE:

But is there a better way?

What would you do?


*Oh no! I used a ‘we’ in an action line! But that breaks all the rules! I’ll be put up against the wall and shot! No one will ever buy my work again! Oh hang on … no, that’s right. No one cares. Sorry, as you were.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Suspiciously positive

Last week’s blog post wasn’t actually written last week, it was written months and months ago … and then I lost interest. So when I mentioned a script that was about ready to be sent out to trusted friends for a read through, that’s already happened and the results are in.

It’s always a nail-biting time waiting for those first opinions. Okay, so this time it wasn’t a spec script, it’s one written with a friend whose opinion I respect and trust. We’ve argued with each other and slagged off bits of the script and finally come to a consensus about what the film should be. The question now is: does what we intend come over on the page?

I mean, the version in our heads (which may or may not be the same version) sounds great and works brilliantly. It’s funny and scary and exhilarating and intriguing … but maybe we’ve talked each other into things which don’t make sense? Or maybe it just doesn’t translate properly onto paper? Maybe we’ve missed out the key bit of information which makes the protagonist as fun as we think she is?

It’s always stressful opening yourself up to critique, even when it’s just from people we know.

However, the results are in and on this occasion … the opinions are overwhelmingly positive.

Which is weird.

And suspicious.

You’d think I’d be elated by all the positive feedback, but … well … I enjoy rewriting. I like the process of figuring out what’s wrong and how to fix it. I expect to throw away a minimum of 50% of any first draft.

Minimum.

An excellent first draft is fifty percent utter toss, in my ill-informed opinion.

I expect to replace roughly 50% of each new section in each subsequent draft until the fourth draft hits something reasonably coherent.

So far, that’s how this script has progressed. Draft 4-ish went out for opinions and received broadly positive comments.

Scratch that, it’s received a veritable fountain of praise.

Which has left me feeling like a puppy who’s chewed through a sofa and been petted rather than smacked with a rolled-up newspaper. I’ve got one eye still closed, waiting for the pain which doesn’t appear to be coming.

That’s not to say there wasn’t criticism, but it’s mostly about clarity of certain points. This script is a time-travel murder-mystery spanning several realities. One of the characters turns up in three different guises at two different ages. Another spends a good portion of it not existing. The story teeters right on the confusion event horizon and it doesn’t take much to miss a plot point which leaves the reader falling into the black hole of ‘huh’?

There’s all sorts of bits which will be blindingly clear on screen but which are difficult to differentiate on the page and some of these things did confuse some of the readers … but they’re an easy fix. In most cases it involves merely underlining, bolding or separating crucial sentences out into separate paragraphs.

Other things just need spelling out clearly and succinctly.

All of those things have been addressed now and apparently the script is good to go.

Apparently.

It remains to be seen what producers think about it since they have different criteria to writers and directors, but hopefully they’ll like it as much as everyone else has so far.

There’s still a long way to go to get this made, but it’s a nice way to start the New Year and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all pans out.

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

The power of three, the peril of two

Hello, how are you? What have you been doing with yourself?

I’ve been beavering way, writing this and that, having the biggest film of my career quietly fall apart without the slightest idea why.*

One of the ‘this’es I’ve been writing is a feature script I’m very proud of, one of my favourite to date. It’s kind of everything I love in a film whilst being utterly achievable on a small budget.

Except the bits that aren’t.

The project was born of a #PhonePhill conversation (or one of many such conversations) with Calum Chalmers. This is a completely unintended and lovely side effect of the whole #PhonePhill thing. It was never meant to spawn anything other than chat.

But there you go. Chat led to chats led to ideas led to a feature script. It’s currently residing with a couple of trusted friends who are reading and (hopefully) tearing the fucking thing to shreds.

As pleasant as this process has been and and good as Calum and I think we’ve got the script (me as writer, him as director) there’s always a chance we’ve completely overlooked something. Or that something we think makes sense doesn’t. Or that there’s somehow a massive and glaring plot hole right in the bit between the opening and closing credits.

It strikes me that even if we have nailed it and gotten a water-tight, plot-tight, sense-making script … we still have to face the Peril of Two.

For me, the preferable way of writing is to have the script triumvirate (writer, director, producer) in place from the very beginning. That way, when we’re all in agreement, the script stands. Anyone else who has an input after that has to run the gauntlet of three people who are already in agreement.

That’s the Power of Three.

The peril of having just two (writer and producer or writer and director) on board during scripting is there’s a very high chance I’ll have to do the whole thing again when the third member arrives. Everyone likes to put their stamp on the project and (for the most part) everyone has good ideas which help refine what’s already there … but for some reason there seems to be an inordinate number of producers or directors who sign onto a project because they love the script … and then demand a complete page one rewrite.

So, okay, if the idea is awesome and it’s just the execution that’s appalling then fair enough. But it often seems to be a complete change of the core idea itself.

“I love this script, love it. Please choose me to realise your ideas … only, maybe instead of a drama about homeless teens it could be a thriller about some murderous ostrich eggs?”

Or, on one memorable occasion a few years ago, a prospective producer told the director and I the equivalent of telling George Lucas:

“I love this penetrating family drama about moisture farming, it’s a world I understand really well … but then it veers off into this weird space thing. We need to cut all the space stuff and get back to the core of the story.”

Yeah … I’m not sure you’ve understood this script.

Frequently the incoming person goes through all the ideas we discarded during development, the ones we tried but don’t work. Those aren’t bad ideas, they just don’t have a place in this script and we have to try and remember all the arguments and discussions we had which led to one or both of us letting go of what we’d become erroneously attached to.

That’s frustrating and time consuming … but that’s not the Peril of Two.

The peril comes when the one of us who’s not me is so enamoured with the incoming director/producer they agree with them. Suddenly, the script they paid me for, the one we worked on together which they loved and fulfilled their brief completely … is no good. In the absolute worst case scenario I’ve been secretly blamed for managing to accommodate all of their ideas, for making their flights of fancy work.

That’s quite annoying. Sometimes I get to rewrite it, which feels like a waste of time when it’s essentially a new project and means burning all the ideas developed so far … and sometimes I get replaced. Which, to be honest, is probably the preferable outcome.

It’s annoying though. Annoying when you get hired to write an idea, the client loves the idea, the client finds someone else to help make the idea … only to have the new person say they don’t like it, the client to agree and then claim it was my idea in the first place and they don’t know what I was thinking.

Luckily, that’s an extreme case and doesn’t happen very often. I like to think I’ve got better at spotting those people and avoiding working for them in the first place. I’m pretty sure I have, it hasn’t happened for a long time at any rate. The last time it happened the director told the ‘moisture farming guy’ where to go, so that was a win.

Hopefully that won’t happen this time. I’m pretty certain (almost, if not 100% certain) there won’t be any secret blaming with Calum, he’s not that kind of guy, but sooner or later we’ll have to start bringing other people into the mix and then … well, we’ll have to see what we shall see, won’t we?


* It fell apart very quietly. So quietly in fact I had literally no idea it wasn’t happening until I tried to find out where and when I was supposed to report for the shoot.

Still don’t know why.

It was probably cancelled by aliens. Or ghosts. Those are the only two possible explanations.

Imagine you were a prop designer, hired to design a new TARDIS. The producer gives you the brief – make it red, like the Glasgow Police Boxes originally were.

You suggest sticking with the traditional Doctor Who/Metropolitan blue might be better, but they disagree. They want to take a bold new direction, a Scottish direction. It’s their TARDIS, they want it red and they want to pay you to design it.

So you do your research, find the exact shade of red the original boxes were painted, you work out which red will most closely resemble it under studio lights and location lighting and … you know, stuff. You submit the plans and the producer loves them – this is exactly what they wanted!

Then someone else comes along and points out that making the TARDIS red is a stupid idea. The producer actually respects/is a little afraid of this person so they blame you having the idea in the first place and get you fired.

Hooray.

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

The information pass

The other day I had a fantastic idea for a blog post. One of those light bulb, one in a million ideas which would greatly benefit the scriptwriting community and help raise the level of writing the whole world over.

Unfortunately … I’ve forgotten what it was. A bit like that time I invented time travel in the bath, but got distracted by some grout and forgot how it worked.

Time travel. Not grout. I know how grout works.

So instead, I’m going to witter on about the first thing which pops into my mind.

Um …

Maybe I don’t know how grout works? I mean, I’ve used it … but do I really understand it?

Meanwhile, back at the point:

Ooh! Got something!

So, one of the techniques I use when plotting out a script or writing a treatment or even rewriting an existing script is The Information Pass … which … I’ve got a sneaking suspicion I’ve rambled on about before but called it something else?

Never mind, I’m committed now. It’s this or a 10,000 word musing on the nature of grout and its impact on humanity.

Let’s go with The Information Pass.

Feel free to say THE INFORMATION PASS in a deep, booming voice. If you feel it helps?

Sometimes I find I get carried away with a story and miss out the crucial piece of information which makes the whole thing make sense. I find the art of scriptwriting is partly the art of parcelling out information.

Too much and the audience gets bored.

Too little and they get confused.

What I’m aiming for is the fine line betwixt boredom and confusion, the line of engaging mystery.

Feel free to say ‘the line of engaging mystery’ in a spooky voice, if it makes you feel better? I’d go for the same tone as ‘Have you ever seen a shirt make a phone call?’ in the Son of the Invisible Man.

So what I do is I go through the treatment or script or whatever and I try to clinically and coldly describe exactly what information I think a scene is conveying.

For example:

There’s a spaceship. Shooting at a bigger ship that’s chasing them. The people on the smaller ship look scared. There’s two sentient robots. Apparently there’s a princess somewhere who won’t be able to escape whoever’s on the bigger ship. Not this time at least, which implies she’s escaped a lot before …

And so on.

I am, of course, doing an information pass there on Kramer vs Kramer.

 

This helps me keep the story on track.

Sort of.

The downside of the information pass is it doesn’t really help me work out what the audience will be able to guess. I mean, it kind of does but it’s also limited. The idea is to imagine you’re watching the film cold, with no foreknowledge, and trying to piece all the clues together.

Certain events come with built in knowledge, like: someone crying over a grave.

I’d probably assume that person has lost someone they love, hence the tears. Depending on the age of the person crying, I’d probably make a stab and guessing who’s in the grave. A child … probably lost a parent. An elderly person … probably a spouse. Someone in the middle … could be anyone – parent, lover, offspring … who knows?

Being able to figure out what information the audience is likely to guess at helps subvert it or not make a mystery of things they’ve already guessed. I hate watching the protagonist, particularly one who’s meant to be a detecting genius, desperately trying to figure out something the audience guessed straight away.*

Understanding what information the audience have helps me work out what information they haven’t got … then all I have to do is figure out if they need it and when to give it to them.

I find it helps me to separate out the logic of structure and information from the emotional journey of the characters. Writing, like all arts, has a logical, ordered component which some people can do instinctively, but others (like me) need to think about in a separate pass.

I find it useful, if you don’t already do something similar, maybe you’d find it useful too?


* The caveat there being, if there are five suspects for a murder then a tiny portion of the audience will have decided each person is the murderer and then claim it was obvious who it was, when in fact it’s just an unavoidable statistic.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Quadruple whammy

I love my daughter and, like any concerned parent, I want to protect her from harm. Occasionally that protection means telling the odd white lie. I don’t enjoy lying to her, but sometimes it’s for her own good.

So when she came home from school, excited because someone had told her there was a fourth Indiana Jones film, my heart sank. She’s so young! I don’t want her exposed to that sort of thing at such a tender age!

More importantly, I don’t want to have to sit through it ever again.

But she kept asking to watch it and wondering why I’d told her there were only three films and eventually I caved in. Who knows, maybe it’s a far better film than I originally gave it credit for?

So next pizza and movie night we watched it, in silence, all the way through … and at the end she turned to me and said:

“It’s not very funny, is it?”

“Nope,” I agreed, “It’s not very good either.”

“No. Can we not watch that again?”

Which I readily agreed with and we decided never to speak of it. There are three Indiana Jones films and they are all excellent.

But the (nonexistent la, la, la, la, la …) fourth film had left a bad taste in the mouth. Luckily, since then I’ve managed to watch four awesome movies in a row. This is fairly uncommon, there are far more bad movies than good in this world. Mainly because film making is really, really hard and even when all the talent aligns, the arcane hoops they have to jump through to get a film made pretty much ensures it’ll limp over the finish line a shadow of what it was meant to be.

Four great films in a row (great being a term subjective to my personal taste) is pretty damn unlikely, so I thought I’d give you a heads up, just in case you too have been exposed to Indiana Jones vs the Aliens and needed something to cleanse the palate.

These then are what I’ve been enjoying recently:

 

The Babysitter

Cool, funny, stylish and just all round enjoyable. There’s not a lot else to say, it’s fun.

 

Happy Death Day

Perhaps the weakest of the four, but still damned enjoyable. A slasher take on Groundhog Day which knows what it is and is thoroughly unashamed of it. This got me wondering what the horror version of other ’80s films might look like.

Even though Groundhog Day was in the ’90s.

 

Thor: Ragnarok

I can’t remember the last time a film filled me with such glee. Hilarious and stupid with some great action and even greater dialogue. An upmarket Flash Gordon with all the colourful ’80s paraphernalia that entails. Plus, it finally turned me round on The Immigrant Song – previously my least favourite Led Zeppelin track and one of the few I ever skip over.

Obviously ‘least favourite Led Zeppelin track’ still puts it in the top five percent of all music ever created, but it turns out it’s even better if you play it over a Norse god knocking the crap out of baddies.

 

Paddington 2

What can I say? It’s just perfection. The first film was amazing, the sequel is its equal in every respect. Everything about this film is fantastic, from the set design to the lighting, the costumes, the performances, the humour, the pathos, the effects and the nagging feeling I should try to live my life more like a fictitious talking bear.

Paddington sees the good in all of us. Paddington for President of the World.

 

Clearly all these movie opinions are mine and you’re free to disagree with them (that’s not me giving you permission; you just are, it’s a fact) but if you’re feeling a bit blue or just need a dose of awesomeness then maybe you could do far worse than seek them out?

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

The other Death Star problem

A while back I was musing over the issue of the baddie continuously doing the same thing, this post … has nothing to do with that. It’s a completely unconnected musing which just happens to share a few words of the title.

A bit like the entire Star Trek canon and Star Trek Discovery.

Recently, someone pointed out (or maybe I read it online? I get confused between real people and the Internet) that the Death Star wouldn’t need a big laser, because merely rocking up in a planetoid-sized spaceship would wreck a planet’s orbit so much it would probably either tear itself apart or go spiralling off into deep space.*

In essence, Star Wars had failed to understand the gravity of the situation.

Damn. ‘The gravity of the situation’ would have been a far better title. Then I wouldn’t have had to have that little dig at Star Trek Discovery. I should probably change it, but then again I should probably do a lot of things, like not eat that massive pile of ice cream five minutes ago.

Apparently some people get really pissed off when a fictitious spaceship rocks up to a fictitious planet in a fantasy story which is barely one step away from dragons and fairies and then said spaceship fails to obey the laws of physics … and hey, I get that.

I understand why it’s important to follow the rules.

I’ve said elsewhere that it’s okay for Daredevil (Affleck version) to have an echo power and super senses, because they’re inherent in the set up … but it’s not okay for him to suddenly sprout bionic knees halfway through the film, giving him the ability to land on his feet after a twenty storey drop with no explanation.

Rules are important. The first half hour or so of a script is estabishing the rules of the universe. Star Wars has spaceships and laser swords and sentient robots and telekinesis … but not teleport. Them’s the rules. If they want to start using a teleport, we have to either see someone inventing it or make damn sure the characters tell us it’s as new to them as it is to us.

We set the rules … but, crucially, we don’t set all of them. Some of them you just have to take on faith. Something like the Death Star’s gravitational pull, well, as an audience member we have two choices:

1) Decide it’s bullshit and it’s ruined the film.
2) Invent our own in-story reason.

Why doesn’t the Death Star’s gravity ruin every star system it travels through? Well, maybe it’s because the Star Wars universe, clearly and demonstrably, has invented some kind of artificial gravity. No one floats around on the Millennium Falcon, so it must have some kind of control over gravity. The Death Star probably has the same tech, so maybe it can also manipulate its own gravity field?

Maybe George Lucas considered this in the seventies and decided it wasn’t important?

Maybe the next time the baddies rock up in a Death Star (because, apparently, that’s all they know how to do) some bright spark will just switch off the gravitational dampers and they’ll all giggle like schoolchildren as the rebel planet gets destroyed by tidal waves?

Maybe I should just assume the acid which blinded Daredevil also upgraded his knees?

Nah. That was just bad storeytelling.

Or maybe it’s not and it’s just personal preference? We tend to forgive lapses of logic in films we’re enjoying, so maybe it’s just not important?

I think our tolerance varies from film to film, but perhaps we should look for plausible explanations before reaching for the bullshit button?

I’ll just leave this one here for anyone who feels the need to click it:


* I’m not convinced that’s true anyway. I’m not sure the Death Star was big enough, but I’ll happily admit I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Oh, maybe they were talking about Starkiller Base?

In which case, the title of this post makes even less sense.

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

The story wind and the flappy plot sail

Sometimes, usually about 3.14 in the morning, I find myself imagining the story is wind filling the plot sail. When the wind’s blowing strongly, the sail is full and the film rattles along at a beautiful pace, skimming the waves of … um … I don’t know, character? Interest?

Yeah, okay, I haven’t really thought this through.

When the story wind is blowing, the plot sails are full and all is well. But what happens when you need the story to take a sudden left turn? On a sailing boat …

I know nothing about boats. Why am I making an analogy using boats?

On a sailing boat, when you need to change course … well, I guess you can steer a bit with the rudder (or is it a tiller? What’s the difference?), but presumably that only takes you so far and there’s a point where you need to come about?

I think that’s what it’s called, when you turn into (or away from?) the wind enough for the sail to no longer function and you need to move the … back end of the sail to the other side so the wind fills the other side of the sail.

An experienced, competent writer/sailor can come about (if that is what it’s called?) with minimal flapping and no loss of forward momentum. Bad story telling, to me, is when the story takes a left turn or has a false ending a half hour or so before the actual ending and the plot just flaps about for a bit.

I don’t like that sort of thing.

Except when it works, then I love it.

Ideally, I think the plot sail should stay taut and keep the boat surging forward. Bits of plot flapping around just annoy me. For example:

The character’s inner need/goal should be achieved at the end of the film. Not in the middle. Or after ten minutes. There shouldn’t be a point at which the character achieves everything they wanted … but there’s still forty minutes of movie left, so he/she has a cup of tea and then toddles off to solve the problem without any personal issues or emotional engagement.

Similarly, I don’t like it when there are two stories which have no connection. A plane crashes on an island inhabited by vampires – they have to fix the plane before nightfall!

That sounds cool.

They fix the plane by four in the afternoon on the first day, they have no idea the island is inhabited by vampires so they decide to have a spot of lunch and a swim and they’ll take off in the morning … oh no! Vampires!

That sounds less cool. To me anyway.

I don’t like it when the first story is properly resolved and everyone’s just hanging around waiting for the second story to kick off again.

Although, having said that, I can envisage a kind of Father Ted tone where they realise there’s vampires on the island, race to fix the plane … and manage it in plenty of time. “Gosh, that was easy.” says the protagonist “Can you imagine how terrible it would be to get stuck on this island with all these vampires after dark?”

And then there’s an eclipse.

I can see someone being able to make that work … but outside of knowingly parodying bad storytelling … just don’t let the plot sail flap around. Keep it tight and full of story wind so the boat of … something … um … I wish I hadn’t started this now.

Analogies … make sure you’ve thought them through before you start writing them down.

Or don’t.

Do what you like.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings | Leave a comment

#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.

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

Blog at WordPress.com.