Someone Else’s Way

The best is not enough

I caught a few episodes of Firefly on TV the other day and was suitably gobsmacked – I’d forgotten just how good it was.

I mean, I’ve always known it was awesome and I’ve blogged before about its connection to my descent into scriptwriting …

The Morning Star

…but I’d forgotten just how good it was. It’s truly exceptional and I’d say it’s got to be one of the best Sci-Fi shows (if not the best of all shows) ever made.

There are shows  I love more (Doctor Who for example) but, to me, nothing is as consistently good as Firefly was.

Every single person involved in Firefly was at the top of their game – dialogue, stories, characters, set design, actors, direction, music, costumes … just superb.

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And I find that really depressing. Firefly is the HTC of science fiction.

Every year HTC make (what most reviewers agree is) the best premium smartphone. In terms of features, design and software they’re ahead of the pack* – a perfect storm of loveliness wrapped in sheer beauty …

And no one buys them.

Well, not no one. Nearly no one.

I’ve had a few now, three in a row I think. Every 18 months I go looking for something different, because I have no brand loyalty and just fancy a change … and every time I end up buying another one because there doesn’t seem to be any competition.

Still, me aside, it’s near enough to no one to make it quite rare to see anyone toting one.

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Which must be incredibly frustrating for the HTC boffins – every year they make the best phone. Everyone tells them it’s the best phone … and they still can’t sell any.#

Okay, so a large part of that is down to advertising budgets. There tends to be a huge correlation between advertising spend and best selling phone. HTC don’t have the budget to compete with Samsung or Apple – the lower level of sales does make sense.

But damn it must be frustrating. Just knowing you’ve done the best you can do, that everyone involved is at the top of their game … only to find out your best isn’t good enough.

Just like Firefly.

I’m not as good a writer as Joss Whedon. I’m just not. There’s no shame in that. Just like there’s no shame in an animated movie not being as good as a Pixar one. Not being as good as someone who’s exceptional still leaves plenty of room for merely being better than good enough.

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That’s fine.

But if, as with Firefly, being that good still isn’t good enough … well, that’s just faintly depressing, isn’t it?

Or is it?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Maybe knowing something truly exceptional can still fail takes the pressure off? Maybe it’s a comforting thing?

Bullshit or not?

I mean, if Firefly and HTC can fail by being the best of the best, then maybe being lower down the scale and failing is fine too?

Maybe.

I don’t know.

What I do know is, although it’s a crying shame there will never be any more Firefly, there’s still half a season and a movie and that’s plenty of awesomeness to keep anyone happy.

If you haven’t experienced the awesomeness, it’s never too late:

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* In some areas well ahead, in some just a little ahead, in one or two a teensy bit behind. Everyone has a preference for OS or design and everyone’s opinion is correct because the reality is the difference between the top ten smart phones in any given year is so minimal it may as well not exist … but the general consensus, when rolled up into one uber-opinion, tends to favour an HTC over their competitors.

You may disagree … and you’re entitled to do so. You’re just wrong.

# Obviously they must sell some and indeed do sell plenty or they wouldn’t keep making them … it just feels like this sometimes. You’d think the phones  which consistently top the best phone charts would at least place somewhere in the top ten sales charts.

I would anyway.

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

Failing towards success

WARNING!

THIS POST MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR BIG HERO 6

… OR IT MAY NOT.

I DON’T KNOW, I HAVEN’T WRITTEN IT YET.

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Over the half-term my family and I watched Big Hero 6 and we loved it. We thought it was exciting and emotional and hilarious and … well, all the things we expect from a Disney and/or Pixar film.

Following on from last week, it can quite clearly be broken down into thing/reason chunks and just generally hit each emotional beat bang on. It’s the kind of movie I’d love to be writing.More than that, it was written in a manner I’d love to be able to employ. I don’t know if you know how Disney/Pixar write their animations, if you do then there’s no new insight here. If you don’t it’s well worth checking out Jeff Goldsmith’s The Q&A Podcast:

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This isn’t the first time the process has been mentioned in the podcasts, but I was listening to it this morning (which was last week some time in your universe) and once again it struck me how much I’d love to write movies that way.

If you haven’t come across this yet then basically the writer(s) write their script (with input at every stage – outline, treatment, script -from The Braintrust: a whole bunch of writers, directors and animators and other clever people) …

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… and then hand it over to be roughly animated in a kind of big-screen flickbook with temp voices and soundtrack.

Once they have a watchable film, everyone piles in, watches it and tears it to pieces.

The writers take whatever’s left, whatever everyone agrees are the good bits along with suggestions from everyone present, go away and begin the process again.

They do this half a dozen times or so. I think they did it eight times for Big Hero 6.

Eight times.

Eight times they ‘made’ the movie, screened it and then tore it apart and started again.

Eight. Times.

Over several years. Three, I think in this case.

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That’s not eight drafts of the script. Each scratch-movie goes through several drafts of the script before being animated.

Some people might find that soul-destroying, but I find it wonderful. An impossible dream, an environment where you’re expected to make mistakes. Over and over. An environment where everyone just wants the script to be right before they start spending serious money on it.

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Okay, so I know that’s kind of what happens with every script – you write a draft, it gets notes, you write it again … but that’s just not the same as seeing it on the screen before you.

I’ve had the opportunity to do endless rewrites on a project and it (usually) produces good results – providing the people I’m working for have the best interests of the story at heart.

I’ve also had situations where the first thing I’ve written has been filmed. Sometimes without my knowledge.

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I’ve written on projects where my first draft, the horribly rough one I haven’t even had time to spellcheck, the one which makes no fucking sense whatsoever, has been sent out to investors and cast and directors and … yeah, that’s not good.

I’ve written for people whose company motto is ‘get it right first time or you’re sacked’. You get one crack at this and I want it by tomorrow!

That rarely goes well.

What I’ve never had is anyone telling me it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to just take your time, meander in and out of blind alleys and dead ends and let’s just see where this thing goes.

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‘Failing towards success’ is how Robert L. Baird or possibly Paul Briggs described it. And I like that idea.

I know it’s not really practical in live action to make and remake the film eight times … but, actually, why not? Why can’t you make a flick-book version before you go out and film it?

I mean, I know things go wrong on set and have to be abandoned or the actors insist on improvising so much they miss the point of the story or directors want the freedom to suddenly decide to shoot the sun-tan scene at midnight because it looks cool.

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But in principle, wouldn’t every film benefit from having test-screening before anyone’s stumped up $100,000,000 for something which fundamentally doesn’t make any sense?

Reading scripts is hard. Even people who are good at it and are good at giving notes still miss glaring mistakes which are obvious when you’re sat watching the movie. A joke on the page may be amazing … until you realise what or who they’re saying it in front of. Or how what they’re wearing affects what you feel about them.

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Test screenings and reshoots help catch those^ but while you may be able to reshoot a few scenes or even a whole sequence, you can’t rewrite the entire script from scratch to incorporate newer, better ideas. To a large degree, whatever you have at the end of the shoot is what you have to make a movie out of – regardless of how little sense it may make.

I love the idea of being able to fail fast and fail early in complete safety, knowing that’s the entire point: make your mistakes now so we don’t have to fix them (or lump them) later on.

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I love the idea of multiple notes from mulitple sources all of whom want your script to succeed.

But most of all, I love the idea of being able to write a draft, seeing it on the big screen and then being able to have a second, third or eighth crack at it.

That, to me, sounds like heaven.

I’d like to do that, please.

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* I have written things like this, one of them seems to be gaining a bit of traction … but then these things always seem to be when all you get is the occasional producer update.

^ I’ve writte quite a few movies where, not only are they not test-screened, but the producers don’t let anyone (sometimes including the director) see the edit until it’s released … by which time it’s too late. That’s quite frustrating, especially when there’s a simple bit of dialogue you could have ADR’d which would have made the story seem less implausible. Or shit.

Categories: Industry Musings, Someone Else's Way | Leave a comment

Reasons and things


Story

I may have said all this before, I may not. To be honest I tend to get a bit confused nowadays and can often be found wandering the aisles of my local supermarket in my pants demanding to know where Kevin went.

But that’s another story for another time.

What I may or may not have said before is this:

I’ve been thinking about structure a lot recently and looking for shortcuts to my writing process which I can apply to scripts/stories which don’t appear to be working properly.

As I said last week, I like the three act structure. It makes sense to me … but it’s fairly useless when it comes to writing a script because it’s the story-telling equivalent of saying this is how it begins, then some stuff happens for ages, then this is how it ends.

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I’m quite fond of looking at animated features when I’m musing on structure because I think they tend to get it right far more frequently than anyone else (Pixar/Disney in particular) so I was delighted when the excruciatingly awesome Michelle Lipton pointed me in the direction of this by Michael Arndt:

Which pretty much sums up how I think about beginnings but using much more better wordences than what I can.

That’s the first act sorted … but what about the rest of the film?

To me writing a script is a process of breaking it down into ever smaller chunks. A sentence which sums up what’s going on becomes four bits (act one, act two (a), act two (b) and act three) which becomes eight bits which becomes umpteen scenes which finally becomes 100+ pages.

At each stage, I try to find names for the bits.

Well, not the pages. I rarely name the pages. Unless I’m feeling exceptionally procrastinaty: Anna, Bruce, Caitlin, Devon … only 106 more to go!

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At the four-bit stage I’ve taken to experimenting with:

SET-UP
WRONG THING/WRONG REASON
RIGHT THING/WRONG REASON
RIGHT THING/RIGHT REASON

… which seems to work for me. Now I know in the grand scheme of things this is equally unhelpful for creating a story, but it helps me to break the story into chunks so something changes goal/personality-wise on the long plod through the second act.

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Take The Incredibles as an example (because it’s superb). The set up follows Michael Arndt’s video (more or less. Mostly more) and establishes Mr Incredible needs to come to terms with the loss of being a superhero and the gain of having a family. Or perhaps integrate the two?

WRONG THING/WRONG REASON – Mr Incredible lies to his family and sneaks off to be a superhero again. This gets him into a lot of trouble and puts his family in danger.

RIGHT THING/WRONG REASON – working together, they beat the bad guys and get off the island. This gets his family out of danger … but isn’t the answer. When they get back to the city, Bob is still trying to keep his family life/super life separate. He’s still driven by fear.

RIGHT THING/WRONG REASON – only by fully merging his two lives and allowing his family to help him can they work together to beat the bad guy. He can be a family guy AND a superhero!

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Wreck It Ralph’s another great example:

THE SET UP – Ralph wants to be accepted by the ‘good’ people in the game. He wants to be thought of a hero.

WRONG THING/WRONG REASON – he tries to steal a medal because he thinks that’s what make the Nicelanders like Felix. He can’t see the cause preceding the effect.

RIGHT THING/WRONG REASON – Ralph helps Venelope attain her goal for purely selfish reasons, to get the medal back. He’s doing what a hero would do, but not why the hero would do it.

RIGHT THING/RIGHT REASON – Ralph tries to sacrifice himself to save not just Venelope but the entire arcade. He is a hero.

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I’m not sure if this always applies to all stories, but it seems to apply to the kind of films I like to watch and tends to be a useful tool to get me thinking about my own stories.

I don’t really believe in universal rules or solutions … but I do believe in stocking my toolbox with a variety of ways of getting the job done and at the moment this appears to be working for me, so … you know … it might be worth a go?

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

Three acts – why not?

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This week I’ve been listening to/reading about writers who rail against a three act structure – it doesn’t apply to my art, it’s constrictive, it’s prescriptive, it’s just plain bollocks …

I’ve never quite understood the problem. To me the three acts are BEGINNING, MIDDLE and END … don’t all stories have those?

Except Mr and Mrs Smith, which I seem to remember just stops at the end of the middle.*

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But generally, all stories have a beginning, middle and end, don’t they? They might not follow chronologically, but all three bits should be there.

“Aha!” people exclaim, righteously pleased with themselves for having out-thunk me ” MOMENTO doesn’t follow the three act structure and that’s a great film!”

Well, yes it is … but it still has a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning is a murder, the middle is a ‘why did/will he do it’? and the end is when the story concludes and we understand what did/will happen.

Still three bits to my brain.

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Generally the beginning and the end are shorter than the middle, that makes sense to me.

Beginning: this is a story about someone who wants something but can’t get it because of reasons.

Middle: this is all the things they go through trying to get the thing they want.

End: they get it. Or don’t, in a way which is fairly permanent.

That’s it, three acts.

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“Aha!”

Oh fuck, it’s him again.

“Shakespeare wrote in five acts and Shakespeare is awesome so therefore the three act structure is wrong!”

Well … maybe. I don’t have any Shakespeare to hand (at the time of writing this) but I’m fairly certain those five acts will divide up into beginning, middle and end.

Maybe acts one and two are the beginning, three and four are the middle and five is the end? Or some other combination, but I’m fairly certain there’ll always be three bits.

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Every time I read someone who propounds a five act structure, on closer examination there turns out to be three acts broken into smaller bits. People break the beginning into two bits: before and after some kind of inciting incident (which seems to be what Shakespeare does, if memory serves). Then they break the middle into two bits and call them different things. Five act people rarely seem to divide up the end, but sometimes they do.

The other advice which comes with the three act structure is exactly that: chuck in an inciting incident halfway through the first act – in other words, introduce us to the main character before you start changing things for them. After the inciting incident, maybe have them worried about accepting that change before taking the plunge?

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In the middle, maybe consider changing something around halfway through? It’s a fuck-long way from the beginning to the end, so maybe get to halfway and pull the rug out from under them? Or in someway alter the story to stop it being monotonous?

At the end of the middle, it’s dramatically satisfying to make the audience thing everyone is fucked. Then they win. Maybe.

That’s all the three act structure is … but still people rail against it and I think the problem is the word ‘act’ – it’s either misleading or completely the wrong word.

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What is an act?

To me, it’s a place where you could cut to an ad break or close the curtains for an interval or otherwise just pause for a da-da-daaaaaaa! moment.

And that’s it.

I guess we should feel free to divide it up anyway we like to help us write it … but when we’re discussing it with anyone, it helps to think in three acts because the three act structure is just a codified way of talking about the components of a film. It’s the beginning, the middle and the end … with a few handy signposts along the way which *most* satisfying stories hit.

Most. Not all, just most.

So why is the idea of a beginning a middle and an end so offensive to some writers?

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* Lots of films seem to struggle with the concept of a beginning, middle and end. Like HANCOCK which has a beginning, middle, end and then another beginning, middle and end. Or CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER which has a very clear beginning, middle and end … and then carries on for another hour because there are apparently there are still story-extraneous Nazis who need punching.
The lesson I learnt from these is to try to put the end of the story at the end of the film. Like all lessons, it’s easier to say than to do.
Categories: Industry Musings, Someone Else's Way | 3 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

Cracking follow up

Detective Strongoak book cover

It’s December! That means snow is in the air! Or on my blog at the very least.

Somehow I’ve completely failed to post all of the fantastic posts I’ve written over the last few weeks. Why? No idea. Just haven’t, leave me alone.

Ah well, maybe next year.

Last year around this time I posted a series of Christmas Crackers promoting random things. I was going to do the same again this year … but haven’t. (see above)

This one I will re-post though, because good things have happened:

https://phillbarron.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/christmas-cracker-3-a-dead-elf/

Since (roughly) this time last year the almighty Terry Newman has had his ebook epublished by Harper Collins. Ooh! Good job that man! And he’d quite like you to buy it.

I’d like you to buy it too.

And read it.

And tell me if it’s any good because I still haven’t got over my dislike of ebooks despite never having read (or tried to read) one. I’m waiting for the paperback because that’s how I roll … over trees.

This is what it’s about:

Private eye Nicely Strongoak is your average detective-for-hire, if your average detective is a dwarf with a Napoleon complex. In a city filled with drug-taking gnomes, goblins packing heat and a serious case of missing-persons, Strongoak might just be what’s needed.

But things are about to turn sour. When on the trail of the vanished surfer, Perry Goodfellow, Nicely receives a sharp blow to the head, is burgled by goblins and awakes in a narcotic-induced haze on the floor of a steamwagon with an extremely deceased elf, who just happens to have Nicely’s axe wedged in his head.

Nicely must enter the murky world of government politics if he is going to crack his toughest case yet. He’ll have to find Perry, uncover who the dead elf is and leave no cobblestone unturned…

And this is where you can but it:

http://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008101206/detective-strongoak-and-the-case-of-the-dead-elf

Go on, treat yourself. More importantly, treat Terry because he’s ever so nice.

Categories: Someone Else's Way | Leave a 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

Hi-tech vs. State of the Art

There is no point to this picture

Which is better?

Do they mean the same thing?

Can I arbitrarily choose one over the other?

Does it actually matter?

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Well … yes, it does. The knock on effect of one over the other is an entire page of script and several hours more work.

By the way, this post is really fucking whiny. If you’re having a good day, don’t bother reading this – it’s all a bit pointless.

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There’s that odd point in a script’s life where everyone loves it. It’s done. We’ve spent months heading down numerous blind alleys and years tweaking it as new people come and go from the project and opportunities rise and fall.

Yes, if it goes into production then there’ll be continuous fire-fighting as we try to match the budget or cope with the usual strops, disasters, incompetence, death and just general misfortune … but for now, the script is as good as it’s going to get.

Except for that one lone voice, somewhere in the production tangle, who decides the script is too long. It needs to be under so many pages. Needs to be.

Personally, I’ve never met the people who say this because it always come to me through a third party – the pronouncement comes down from on high and suddenly the script needs to be trimmed.

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My first drafts are always under 110 pages (well, nearly always … except when they’re not) because I control exactly what I’m putting in there. Second drafts are usually shorter because I hate everything I put in the first draft. Third draft onwards stuff keeps getting added – we need this scene and we want this actor who wants to do this and we’ve got this location which we MUST use and someone’s lent us a Ferrari so we need that in there somewhere. Oh and we need a sex scene. Preferably in the Ferrari … but with a towel down.

And so on.

The script gets longer for a bit, then it gets shorter for a bit and finally it balances out somewhere in the mid hundred-and-teens.

Then the “under x number of pages” bomb gets dropped. As it always does, even when the script is already lean and everyone agrees that everything in the script is absolutely essential to the story.

Obviously half of the absolutely essential stuff won’t get filmed because the actors on the day will have a ‘better’ idea, but at the moment it all seems essential.

There’s just too much essential stuff, can I fix it?

I hate this point in the script, it’s a fucking moronic request because I’m not going to make it shorter by cutting anything expensive or time-consuming … I’m going to make it shorter by cheating.

This script will magically lose five to ten pages without actually losing anything worthwhile. It won’t be cheaper to make or quicker to film, it will be exactly the same film … just have less pages.

That’s why it’s fucking moronic.

I don’t blame anyone, I’m not calling anyone a fucking moron … I’m just pointing out the accepted wisdom on what page count actually means in terms of screentime/budget really just means a day or two of pointless fiddling for me.

This always felt impossible when I first started – how can you trim five to ten pages from a script without changing it?

are

Well, now I can. I’m sure everyone has their own tricks, but basically I just try to kill all the widows and orphans.

Get rid of them. Every single fucking one. No block of dialogue nor piece of action can have even one word slipping onto the next line. I hate doing this with dialogue, so I’ll do it with action first – if that’s not enough, then I go back through with a dialogue pass.

Frequently I can get away with just tweaking the right-hand margin by one character. Weirdly, if I do this to the whole script, say move the global dialogue margin one space to the right … then it’s immediately noticeable. It all just looks wrong and people can tell I’ve cheated.

One of the first things I do when I get a Final Draft script from someone else is put the margins back to where they should be so I can see how long the script actually is. But one space here and there, now and then … it’s less noticeable. Practically undetectable in fact. Two spaces stand out a mile, one space … yeah, fine.

If I’ve used an ellipsis to end dialogue or action then I’m not so bothered – that can run three or four spaces out and it’s not really a problem. To me. Other opinions are available.

just

If that’s not enough (and it’s surprising how much space I can reclaim) then I might have to delete a word or two or comb through the thesaurus for a similar word which is one or two characters shorter.

I try to get the first line (of whatever, dialogue, action … sometimes even scene headings) of page 2 onto page 1. There’s always a way, somehow. Then I do the same for the first line of page 3 (onto page 2, not page 1 – that would be fucking weird) and so on. Every page HAS to have the first line on the preceding page.

Except when it’s impossible. Then I don’t bother.

for

Sadly, among the first casualties are the bits which make reading the script easier. Passages like:

He shoots …

 

Misses.

 

She shoots …

 

Misses.

 

Reload! Reload! Hurry the fuck up! Reload!

 

She drops her powder – oh shit.

 

Triumphant, he snaps his pistol closed, takes careful aim …

 

… sneers …

 

… and …

 

… the escaped Bolivian rhino smashes through the wall, charges straight over him and tramples him into strawberry jam.

Become:

He shoots … Misses.

 

She shoots … Misses.

 

Reload! Reload! Hurry the fuck up! Reload!

 

She drops her powder – oh shit!

 

Triumphant, he snaps his pistol closed, takes careful aim … sneers … and … the escaped Bolivian rhino smashes through the wall, charges straight over him and tramples him into strawberry jam.

Or maybe:

He shoots … Misses. She shoots … Misses.

 

Reload! Reload! Hurry the fuck up! Reload!

 

She drops her powder. He snaps his pistol closed, takes careful aim … sneers … and … the escaped Bolivian rhino smashes through the wall, charges straight over him and tramples him into a gooey mess.

Or in extreme cases.

They shoot, miss and scramble to reload. She drops her powder. He snaps his pistol closed, aims … and is flattened by a charging rhino.

Now the last sentence is probably better being shorter. The spacing of the first bits just makes it all a bit worse. And that’s my problem with this process – I’m not making it cheaper or more tightly written, I’m just making it a little bit worse for no real reason.

Michelle

Because of the way Final Draft (and probably other programs) clumps action or dialogue together, a small change on page 1 can make a HUGE change at the end of the script. In my last script, saving one line on page 1 dragged an action block up from page 2 which knocked on all the way through the script until it moved ALL of page 106 onto page 105. All of it. An entire page of action and dialogue moved to the requisite 105 pages by changing four words:

State of the Art into Hi-Tech.

Saving those nine characters cuts off an entire page of script. Not just one line which had spilled onto page 106, but an entire pageful of text.

And everyone’s happy.

Lipton

Everyone except me.

and

Because I like the phrase STATE OF THE ART more than I like the phrase HI-TECH. Same all the way through – I originally chose all those words and pacing for a reason. The script is now shorter, but it reads worse as a result.

Does it matter?

maybe

Maybe. Maybe the short, truncated rhythm will put readers off. Maybe it won’t. In the end, if the film gets made, no one will ever know … but, damn it, the script is my art form. It’s what I produce. The film is my work filtered through the minds of a small army of creatives. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. But the script … that’s mine and I’m forced to make it (slightly) worse to please people who think the page count is somehow important. Which it isn’t.

Not really.

Piers

But the myth persists and as long as people believe it, I’ll continue to spend hours staring at every page in the vague hope I can delete a preposition or remove a punctuation mark without removing all meaning.

Writing – occasionally it’s hard work.

Beckley

 

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard, Someone Else's Way | 2 Comments

Who killed Nelson Nutmeg?

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I don’t know, do you know?

Of course you don’t.

Do you want to know?

Well, probably not without some context. Let me elucidate …

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Tim Clague and Danny Stack are people. Specifically they’re people who write/direct/generally make things. They also host the monthly UK Scriptwriters’ Podcast which they deliver direct to your ears for absolutely nothing.

Nothing. Free.

They give you that.

For free.

For nothing.

Because they’re nice like that.

Or they have some secret agenda involving sterilising zebras, eradicating the genes responsible for toe hair and generally interfering with the natural order of things to leave them joint kings of the world.

Probably the first one though.

If you’re a UK scriptwriter and you don’t listen to the UK Scriptwriters’ Podcast, then you’re a fucking idiot.

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Or, you know, you just don’t bother/haven’t heard of it/haven’t got the time or have heard it and aren’t that interested.

Probably the second-delete-as-applicable-option in this case.

Whether you listen to the Podcast or not (I do, I like it. Despite them occasionally abusing me on air for no apparent reason other than apparently deserving it … which is apparently fair enough. I’d abuse me too if I wasn’t me. Which I am. Sadly.) is kind of irrelevant.

Much like most of this blog.

What is relevant is Danny and Tim are making a film and they’d like you to come along for the ride. They’re not demanding or wheedling or asking permission – they’re going anyway, you can come if you like.

Or not.

But as is so often the case in life, coming would be lovelier than not.

You may choose to read that as an innuendo if it makes you feel better.

Tim and Danny are two guys who give unceasingly to the scriptwriting community. Their blogs http:///www.dannystack.com/blog and http://www.projectorfilms.blogspot.com/ are two of the longest running in the blogosphere and packed to the … well, not rafters, um … edges? with helpful and friendly info and advice. Those too are delivered to your eyes for free.

They give and they keep on giving, for they are nice guys.

Tim_Danny-label.large

Well, I think they are, anyway. They certainly seem to be whenever we’ve met. I like them. We’re almost friends.

Almost.

Internet friends, as Tim has pointed out. On air (on pod?). To everyone who cares to listen. Which I assume means “we can be friends so long as we don’t have to actually interact in any meaningful way” or “no, you can’t come round my house. Ever”.

Which is fair enough. I am ginger (ish).

Anyway, the point is they’re making this film: Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? and they’d quite like you to join in. They’re doing it anyway, but if you want to give them something back for all the stuff they’ve selflessly given to you, then now’s your chance.

“How can I do this fabulous thing?” you are, doubtlessly, yelling at your electronic blog-reading device. Well, it’s simple, you can go to Kickstarter, to a page which is remarkably similar to this one. So similar, it is this one, in fact. Simply go there and pledge some money. Only a little bit, if you like.

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Or a lot. You could always pledge a lot.

But you don’t have to. Every pound is accepted with grace and humility and much appreciation.

I assume.

To be honest, they may sneer at your gullibility and immediately spunk it all on fags and wicker-prostitutes (which are all the rage round the intelligentsia of Dorset), I don’t know for I am not them.

Seems unlikely though. I’ve had noodles with Danny and it was extremely delightful.

You may choose to read that as an euphemism if it makes you feel better.

I’ve not had noodles with Tim, but he did once offer me some sage advice:

“If you’re ever at a screenwriting event, sitting next to someone influential who’s giving advice … just nod sagely. Not as if you’re agreeing, but as if they’ve got it right. Well done them.”

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I think that’s what he said, anyway. I might have imagined it.

(I didn’t imagine it, he did say it. He said it about Armando Iannucci in Cheltenham. I’m just pretending to be vague in case he doesn’t want people to know he said it … but he did! He fucking did!)

Sounds like something he’d say.

(Because he did say it!)

It’s good advice anyway.

Free advice too.

It cost me nothing.

Just like all the other free advice they give to you all the time. For free.

So if you, like me, want to know Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? then you, like me, can go to their Kickstarter page and give, like me, some small pittance towards helping them get their film made.

They’re doing it anyway, why not join them on the ride? And nod sagely at them from the sidelines:

“Yes. Yes, good. Uh-huh. Well done, that’s exactly right.”

 

Categories: Someone Else's Way | 2 Comments

Red Planet blues

Red Planet

By now, everyone will have heard about their Red Planet Prize entry.

Well, not everyone. I’m pretty certain not everyone entered. 7 billion entries would be quite tricky to get through and the ones from babies would be terrible.

So no, not everyone; but everyone who entered. Oh for fuck’s sake. I’ll start again.

By now, everyone who entered will have heard about their Red Planet Prize entry. Some of you will be doing the Snoopy dance …

Snoopy Dance

The rest of you won’t.

Charlie Brown

 

But here’s the thing … it doesn’t matter which group you’re in. Not really.

I’ve blogged about this before: Ivory Tower (that post is far better than this one. I’d go and read that one, if I were you) and six years later the same’s pretty much true – competitions are great, but they’re just diversions from your career.

Okay, so *possibly* winning something prestigious will catapult you to the top of the pile. Doors will open. Contracts will rain down upon you and all will be well in the world.

Possibly.

But probably not.

Probably, even if you win a competition, you’ll find yourself lauded and fêted for a bit … probably for as long as it takes for someone to ask “what else have you got?”

I’ve been there. Years ago I won a thing which got me some coverage, which got a very prestigious Hollywood manager sniffing around … which led to absolutely nothing, because my answer to “What else have you got?” was … nothing good.

Things

Because here’s  the thing (really? Here‘s the thing? I thought the thing was a few lines back?) being a scriptwriter isn’t about a script.

Competitions are, true.

Competitions are all about that one specific script you entered. They aren’t judging you, your ability, your dedication or your craft … they’re judging a script.

Just one.

Not even one, not really. In this case they’re making a judgement based on one sixth of a script.

Their reasons for rejecting that sixth of a script (not you, the script – no one’s rejecting you) are probably bang on the money.

Okay, so there may be mitigating factors. Chances are, no matter how ‘out there’ you feel your premise is, they had several very similar ones in. Perhaps yours was identical in all but character names to five other scripts? Perhaps yours got rejected because they had to choose one and that person on that day preferred the name Algernon to the name Reginald?

Want that one

It doesn’t matter.

Just as your career isn’t hung on one script*, it isn’t hung on one competition either. Winning a competition gives you a brief moment of access and attention – you still have to have the skill and determination to use that moment. You need exactly the same skill and determination (and stick-at-it-ness – I’m sure I know a word for that, but can’t think of one at the moment) to succeed whether you win a competition or not.

Winning isn’t everything, playing the long game is.

Because here’s the thing (another the thing! Fuck me, how many of these singular things are there?) people who win or place in competitions (and I’m not talking specifically about the Red Planet Prize here) don’t always have a career afterwards.

I can think of at least one guy who’s won loads of competitions and it doesn’t seem to have helped at all.

I’ve met another who was a runner up in the Red Planet Prize (and I am talking specifically about the Red Planet Prize here) who had twelve months of access to Red Planet Productions … and didn’t take advantage of it at all.

Why? Because he (or she! Could have been a she! It wasn’t, but it could have been) never really came up with an idea he thought they’d be interested in.

double_facepalm

In twelve months.

For fuck’s sake!

Many writers I know are no longer writers. They’ve given up because it’s a hard frustrating battle of constant rejection. Always. All the time. Everyone gets rejected. Everyone. All the time. It’s the whole point of the game:

“Do you like this?”

“No.”

“What about this?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“No.”

To paraphrase John  Sheridan, all you need to have a successful career is to ask the question one more time than they can say no.

The one! Or one of them.

And possibly some talent. And maybe a computer of some kind. And probably enough social skills not to fling your own shit at people who are trying to pay you.

The Red Planet Prize is an awesome competition and a great opportunity for those who get through to the final dozen or so; but it’s just one thing in a whole forest of things; because here’s the real thing – there’s more than one thing.

fail-if-stop-writing

 

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* Because one script isn’t a career, it’s a script. Statistically, probably a bad one. We all write them. Some of us are unlucky enough to have them made into films.

JFTR

 

Categories: Industry Musings, Random Witterings, Someone Else's Way | 6 Comments

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