Someone Else’s Way

#PhonePhill – Conversation #11: Terry Newman

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This week I have been chatting to the great Terry Newman. Or Dr Tel as he’s famously known.

What a nice guy.

But I already knew that.

Tel is one of those writers whose list of credits is unfeasibly long across multiple genres and media. His CV is so ridiculously packed and varied that you could almost be forgiven for asuming he’s more than one person, that ‘Terry Newman’ is a brand masking the input of a dozen writers.

But it’s not. He’s real … and he’s lovely.

Tel’s written stuff like this:

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And this:

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And this:

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And, most recently, this:

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Which you can (and should) buy here for mere pennies.

Tel and I first met … fuck, years ago. When was that? 2008? Maybe? No, looking at script dates it was 2005. Blimey.

We were brought together to write a sitcom about Saddam Hussain by Lewis Alsamari* – an Iraqi who’d escaped from his regime and felt the bastard needed satirising like buggery. It came out really well and got as far as attracting a great cast and one of the proper sitcom-royalty directors … before fizzling out in a burst of apathy.

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Or maybe someone else did a serious version of it and it was felt our version was making fun of that seriousness and not the psychotic imbecile it was meant to be lampooning.

I don’t know. It died anyway.

Which is a shame, because it was good.

Tel and I chatted for the best part of two hours about a wide variety of stuff. The first ten minutes or so were, in the best Skype tradition (for I was on my Secret Writing Island), spent wondering if we could hear each other and shouting hello a lot.

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Wifi was particularly terrible on that day. So terrible I was forced to leave my room and take my chances in the hotel lobby, dodging families of wailing Brits abroad (learn to fucking behave and put some fucking suncream on you lobster fucks!), Americans (you guys are LOUD in public!) and mediocre reggae blasting at unnessary volume from hidden speakers.

There’s always one spot in every hotel lobby which is far enough away from the noise but close enough to the router to be perfect … it usually takes a lot of wandering back and forth to find it.

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But find it I did. However, since I was now in public, the mooted possibility of a video chat was abandonned. Which was a shame since I’d put clothes on and everything.

This is the wall Tel would have been chatting in front of:

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This is what I would have been chatting in front of:

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This is actually ten minutes after I’d hung up, right in the middle of the storm but about five minutes before the earthquake hit.

Secret Writing Islands – they’re not all fun in the sun.

Once we’d established a clear(ish) line of communication we chatted in earnest about all sorts of things.

Tel and I are (I think) very similar. We both have a love for comedy. We both have a love of superheroes.

This is Tel’s recent purchase, melding together both of those loves:

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This was my latest self-build, keep me sane, project:

And we both have damaged our own careers by refusing to stick to one genre, style or medium. Neither of us are the go-to-guy for anything.

Well, I was (for a while) the go-to-guy when you had a terrible script you needed bringing up to scratch in an absolutely hurry because you were filming on Wednesday and for some reason hadn’t bothered to get the script right before committing to a start date.

But I’ve managed to extricate myself from being that guy because being that guy is fucking annoying, stressful and ultimately unrewarding since panicked page one rewrites on a script which is almost at the end of pre-production is unlikely to yield a good film.

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Being the go-to-person for something is a good idea. It’s the way to build a career. Being the best at one thing means people will come to you first. Like, back in the day when these things still existed, people would go to record shops to buy records first … and if they couldn’t find it there, go to Woolworths as a last ditch, deperate attempt without really expecting to find it there.

I inadvertently set myself up as the Woolworths of script writing. I can do all the genres … but people would tend to go to the specialists first.

I guess Tel’s the same. Although I don’t want to attach that sobriquet to him in case he finds it offensive.

Apparently not being the go-to-person makes you less attractive to agents because they find it harder to promote and sell you.

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I say apparently because I’ve never really tried to get one and therefore have no idea what I’m talking about.

Meetings become harder because, although you can meet with a wider range of producers, you may only have one script in the genre they specialise in. And since producers rarely want the thing you’ve gone to sell them and tend to love asking ‘what else have you got?’ … well, it’s just more difficult.

But more rewarding. I’ve had films produced in a variety of genres: horror, sci-fi, comedy, action-thriller … and The Evolved (Part One) which just defies all classification and common sense. I’ve written sitcoms, I’ve written sketches, I’ve written movies …

Tel’s done that and more. He’s also written a novel.

Which you should buy. Here.

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That’s what we got into writing to do – whatever the fuck crossed our minds. It’s just not the best idea if you want to make a solid career and earn a decent wage.

Says the man sitting on his own (not-so) private island.

We both fucked up there. But given our time over again, I’m not sure either of us would do anything differently.

One thing about Tel which surprised the hell out of me is that he rarely redrafts anything. He’s a meticulous planner and outliner and tends to get it right before he starts writing.

I start out planning things meticulously … and then get bored and jump in feet first. Things go wrong. Things change. I lose my way. I discover strange and wonderful new things … and I write multiple drafts of everything.

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I’m assuming we essentially run through the same number of versions of each thing … but mine’s long form where as his is either at the treatment/beat sheet stage or all in his head.

I’m kind of jealous … but I find my process usually takes me where I need to be (if not where I intended to go) so it’s all good.

From there, talk wandered on to adaptations for some reason … oh yes, because Tel’s book (which you can buy here) was Harper-Voyager’s first foray into digital first publishing.

And I don’t read eBooks.

Can’t fucking bear them. I’m a dead-tree kind of guy.

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Until very, very recently I didn’t have anything I could read them on beside my phone … which is a bit too small to be satisfying.

I now have a laptop with a removable screen so I could read eBooks if I wanted to … but I don’t. And haven’t. Yet.

Tel was asking how I approached adaptations since he tends to search and reference the eBook whilst planning his.

I tend to approach them like this:

Step one: Read the book. This is probably quite an essential step.

Step two: Decide if I like the book or not. If I don’t, apologise and back away from the project. If I do …

Step three: Is it a filmable book? Does it read like a movie with a clear beginning, middle and end with a protagonist and a theme and all that kind of stuff? If so, go to step four. If not I just throw the book away and make something up using the same character names and claim it’s ‘inspired by the book’ or ‘just uses it as a jumping off point’.

Step four: Plan out the film using only what I can remember from the book after reading it once. Chances are this is what the other readers can remember too. Unless it’s a cult classic which will have been read many, many times – in which case I need to be more specific about stuff.

Step five: Re-read the book and see if I’ve missed out/forgotten anything. Which I tend not to have done since I have a pretty good memory … when I want to. Or need to. Or someone’s paying me to switch it on.

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From there I proceed as normal until the client is happy with the script.

I’ve adapted a few books now. The clients have always gone away happy … and then never made the movie.

Oh well.

Tel and I spoke about many, many things and never quite ran out of things to say. Eventually we had to just end the conversation because we both had work to do and would otherwise have spoken all day.

He’s a nice guy, is Tel. You should hire him.

Or buy his book.

Or both.

So that was #PhonePhill #11. Who wants to be #12? If you’re thinking this might be fun but feel you’re not really the kind of person I’d want to talk to … you’re wrong. I do want to talk to you, no matter who you are or what you do. Doesn’t have to be about writing and you don’t have to be a writer or even involved in media.

Don’t be shy, email me, arrange a time and #PhonePhill.

Fuck it, here’s Iron Man again because … well, just because.

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* If you have time, read his bio on that iMDB page … then reflect on how easy your life has been up until now. Unless, of course, you have endured even worse, in which case … fuck.

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

#PhonePhill – Conversation #9: James Moran

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Still going! Next week’s conversation has already happened too – I’m a week in hand!

Frankly, this is quite surprising … but lovely.

Conversation #9 is writer/director/raconteur/blogger/kitten-lover James Moran. He used to be known in these parts as TV’s James Moran but nowadays he’s got his fingers in every pie imaginable and has long-outgrown the confining title.

As is now customary, he was lovely.

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

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But today is not that day.

Full disclosure: I already know James, but haven’t spoken to him for a long time. Ages, in fact. Maybe even longer.

We do know each other though, so we do have each other’s phone numbers. With most #PhonePhillees I email them my phone number so they can call me – this isn’t because I’m cheap and don’t want to use my free minutes (even though I am and I don’t) but because I don’t want to go round harvesting complete strangers’ phone numbers – if they have mine, they can choose not to ring me on the day or withhold their number and keep their anonymity.

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But because I already have James’ number (which I will sell for the right price. Or even the wrong one) I rang him.

Or at least, I tried to.

First time it went to his voicemail, so I hung up and immediately tweeted him to accuse him of leading me on.

He assured me he was there, ready and waiting. Possibly moist with anticipation … I mean, he didn’t say he was, but he probably was.

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So I rang him again and got the same voicemail. Only … what was that surname? The voice (which didn’t sound like his voice at all) definitely said it was James someone … but it was a bit muffled and didn’t sound like Moran.

Closer examination revealed his contact had two mobile numbers. Only one of which was his. The one he text me from. The only mobile number he has. The one I hadn’t just called. Twice.

So apologies if you’re called James something and are wondering why I called you twice on Friday without leaving a message, but the truth of the matter is I hung up because you’re not James Moran.

Hey, few are.

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James Moran, luckily, is.

Chat was wide and varied. We started off with a discussion about haircuts – James had just had his cut at a very reasonable price. My barber is slightly more expensive than James’, but worth sticking with because (for some reason I don’t quite understand) he’s convinced I wrote Iron Man 3.

I’ve never bothered to correct this mis-assumption because … fuck it. I’ll take that credit.

After that (and a few pleasantries) we moved on to directing.

James does it.

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I don’t.

James has also taught himself editing and grading and possibly even flower arranging. He seems like the kind of chap who’s determined to learn it all.

Normally I’m wary of writer/directors* feeling that, although there are many people who are awesome at both, they are a tiny percentage compared to the people who aren’t.

Generally speaking^ someone who lists themselves as more than one creative contributor tends to be someone who’s failing at more than one thing. As if they have a limited pool of talent and would probably be really good at one thing or the other … but when that talent is divided between writing, directing, producing, catering, dress making … it just doesn’t work.

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James, happily, belongs to the people who can. He’s directed a few shorts:

and this FrightFest intro/ident thingy:

He’s good. At all of it.

He’s working towards directing his first feature … that will be a day worth waiting for.

James thinks every writer should direct their own thing. He says it’s massively illuminating and helps your writing immensely.

Since I haven’t done it, I can only assume he’s right. I do occasionally think about directing a little web series … but then I don’t bother, I’m too busy.

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Maybe one day … and then I too can be terrible at two things.

Conversation then drifted, quite naturally, onto Matt Houston.

Well, not specifically Matt Houston, but those kind of action adventure shows in general. James and I loved them growing up and lament the fact no one really makes them any more.

I suppose The Flash is probably the nearest thing. Which I love and can’t wait for the next season.

But where are all the Saturday adventure shows? Where are The Fall Guys and The A-teams? Who’s the spiritual successor to Matt Houston, Magnum, The Dukes of Hazzard, Tales of the Gold Monkey, Automan?

Why does no one make the kind of things the ten year old me loved?

Or maybe they do and I just don’t watch them because I’m not ten? Maybe all those shows of my youth were terrible to anyone who was an adult and I’m missing out on the modern day equivalent because I am now (nominally) an adult and therefore dismiss them as terrible?

Maybe. I don’t know.

For those of you interested in that period, you could do a lot worse than watching this interview with Glen A. Larson.

Glen A. Larson, for those of you young enough not to remember his name on the end of every other US TV show in the 80s was the driving force behind … well, every other US TV show in the 80s. Stephen J. Cannell created all the others.

And Donald P. Bellisario of course. He did the third half.

Why did everyone in the 80s have a middle initial? If I use my middle initial, will I be able to create a raft of amazing action adventure shows?

Might be worth a try.

The big question, of course, is which of those shows would you most like to remake as a movie?

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James went for Knight Rider – which is an excellent choice. Four times someone has tried to remake it and each time they’ve fucked it up because … well, watch those Glen A. Larson interviews to find out. He knows, because he was dead clever.

Me? I’d go for either The Fall Guy (which is supposed to be happening with The Rock as Colt Seavers! I really, really want to see that movie!@) or Tales of the Gold Monkey.

And that was #PhonePhill #9.

#10 is already done and awaiting a write up … so who’s next?

I would love to talk to you no matter who you are or what you do. Industry connected or not. Aspiring something or professional something completely different.

Anyone, I don’t care. Email me and we’ll work something out.

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*I wrote a post about this once, referring to them scathingly throughout as hyphenates … until someone pointed out in the comments I always used a / and not a –

^Generally, not always and not YOU. You, of course, are amazing at both … that’s why either no one will pay you to do it or why all your films (which you are in complete control of since you also produced them yourself) got a whopping 1 star rating on IMDb#.

#IMDb reviews for terrible low budget movies always follow the same pattern. The first five reviews will be 10 stars … because that’s someone’s family/friends/alternate personality posting them.

Then the film gets released, real people actually get to see it and it tanks completely.

How do I know? Because I’ve tracked many of the terrible movies I’ve written.

@Just use the theme tune. Please. The theme tunes are part of what made those shows so awesome and so memorable. I loved The A-Team movie (why didn’t everyone else?) but it really, really needed to rip into the theme tune after the voice over before the end credits. Not using the theme there was just silly. I know they did use it earlier … but come on! I wanted to leave the auditorium humming the theme.

Actually, I was anyway.

Categories: #PhonePhill, Industry Musings, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

#PhonePhill – Conversation #7: Rebecca Handley

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Good Lord, it seems like all I do these days is natter on that infernal telephonic voice-casting contraption.

This (last) week I had a chat with Rebecca Handley who, as is fast becoming traditional, was lovely.

But it very nearly didn’t happen. I was firmly ensconced on my Secret Writing Island, so Skype was once again pressed into service. Alas, the island’s rather poor Internet was playing silly buggers and I was forced to leave my room, roaming the hotel grounds in search of a shady spot chock full of WiFi.

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Sadly, everyone else in the hotel had the same idea and so the hunt was on – somewhere out there must be the holy trinity: shade (for I am afflicted with Ginge and tend to burn surprisingly easily), WiFi and peace and quiet.

Hang on, is that four things?

Probably needs an Oxford comma in there.

I hate Oxford commas.

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And Oxford.

And commas.

Luckily, via the judicious deployment of a few sharp elbows, I claimed my spot as King of the Wifi.

Well, it is my fucking island after all.

Writing island. Not fucking island. There is no fucking on the Secret Writing Island. That sort of thing is just not on.

Anyway, crisis averted, bring on the chat.

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Rebecca is a writer who, in her own words has: Won some awards, usually get to 1/4 or semi-finals in screen contests, have a co-written project in development and another optioned script ‘gearing up’.

Most of the hour and a half was spent discussing parenting – which was great! Rebecca’s daughter is a few years older than mine and it was lovely to pick up some helpful tips.

Parenting is one of those things which people rarely criticise you on. I’d love to be able to have frank and open discussions with my friends about the mistakes I may be making and the long-term psychological damage I may be inflicting on my offspring.

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But it doesn’t really happen. People tend to get the hump quite quickly if there’s even the vaguest suggestion they’re anything less than a wonderful, naturally skilled parent.

Rebecca and I spent a bit of time meandering back and forth over the nature/nurture debate. My position on which is this:

I think everything is probably a complex combination of both factors. I don’t know anyone who’s exceptional at anything who hasn’t practised a fuck load … but maybe they had some initial spark of innate talent in the first place?

Despite that entrenched belief, I choose to come down on the side of nurture more often than not; because, if ability is inherent then my options are limited. If it’s all nurture, just finding a way of learning/practising something which makes sense to me … then I can do anything.

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To me, it feels far more useful to believe you can do anything if you try hard enough than to believe it’s all in your genes.

Them’s my thoughts anyway.

Rebecca sounds like she’s in a good place with her writing. It certainly sounds to me like she’s heading in the right direction. Like Dee Chilton, Rebecca is utilising Hayley Mackenzie’s Script Angel service. And like Dee, Rebecca is finding Hayley’s services invaluable.

We talked over the weird compulsion to write – why are we? What keeps us cranking out stories even in those dark times when no one else gives a shit? I’m kind of privileged in that I’ve not gone longer than a few months between jobs for over a decade … but if I wasn’t continualy working for/with a client, would I have the staying power to keep writing? Or would I get disheartened and give up?

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Don’t know.

Occasionally I do get hacked off with the whole thing. Sometimes a job gets so far beyond fun it becomes a chore … and in those times I try to do something creative on the side.

Something just for me. Something I have control over and can be proud of because, even when everything goes right, the quality of the end product of scriptwriting often bears little relation to the effort put in.

Last year I made a Ghostbusters costume.

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This year I’m making an Iron Man suit*.

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These little side projects recharge my batteries and give me time to think. They’re an important part of my process.

Rebecca sounds like an up and coming writer who we’ll be hearing more of in the near future and I wish her the best of luck. I really enjoyed chatting to her.

And that was #PhonePhill 7.

Roll on next week!

Would you like to have a chat about something? Anything really, doesn’t have to be scriptwriting. I’d love to talk to anyone about anything. Maybe you’re a director or an AD? A script supervisor? A gaffer or a best boy? Or maybe you’re a mid-wife or an undertaker? Doesn’t really matter, it’s just about reaching out and having a bit of a natter.

If you are a person and are bored enough to want to talk to a complete stranger (or maybe we know each other and haven’t spoken for a while?) then drop me a line and we’ll get our people to contact each other and arrange a time.

Assuming you have people?

I don’t.

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* The process for this is called Pepakura … and it’s awesome. Several online prop-making geniuses have modeled the suit and unfolded it using this program. All idiots like me have to do is print out the pattern, cut it out of cardboard and glue it together.

Actually, you’re supposed to then cover it in resin and fibreglass and car body-filler so you can sand it to a metal-like finish. Done properly, the results are stunning … but I’m on a budget, a schedule and only have to fool a five year old.

To my eyes, and the eyes of proper builders it looks terrible … to most people I actually know it looks fantastic. And you know what? I’m happy with how it looks – it accurately represents the effort involved.

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

#PhonePhill – Conversation #6: Rosie Claverton

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Wow … I never expected this to carry on this long, never mind it being this much fun.

This week (or last week, depending on when I get round to posting this*) I spoke to Rosie Claverton. Rosie’s a scriptwriter and novelist and blogger (the rather excellent Swords and Lattes) who is also a consummate medical professional and runs the monthly #psywrite over on Twitter.

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She’s lovely.

I’ve known Rosie for a few years now, but never spoken to her. Rosie was one of the writers on Persona (the mobile-delivered drama series I got conned into being the lead writer for). In fact, Rosie was one of the best writers on Persona, something I’ve banged on about before.

And yet, despite knowing Rosie for all this time, this was the first time I’ve spoken to her.

The first thing you need to know is: she’s not Welsh.

That’s neither good nor bad, it just is. I thought she was. She’s not.

She is highly articulate, very interesting and great fun to talk to though.

Conversation got off to a shaky start when Skype (for I was in America and she wasn’t) did that weird thing of ringing on my phone and my laptop but refusing to stop ringing when I answered it on only one of them.

Then it did that weird thing of not bothering to give me any audio until I’d hung up and redialed several times.

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Skype – a wonderful program … until it isn’t.

So the first few minutes of our chat were that old Skype classic of:

Hello? Can you hear me? Hello? I don’t know if you can … Hello? If you can hear me I’m going to hang up and ring you back.

And so on.

Once we did finally get a decent connection, we quickly established neither of us is very good at auditory concentration. Which, you know, is quite important on a phone call.

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But we persevered.

I’m not sure what was going on with me, but I seemed to be a bit brain addled and kept forgetting which word I was intending to use whilst in the middle of using it. I’m not convinced I was saying what I meant to say … but if I wasn’t, Rosie was polite enough not to comment.

Chat ranged across the difference between writing novels and scripts (for Rosie has done both and knows these things), the NHS, the perils of regular blogging, the value of a good editor and the disappointment you feel when you first get to see the filmed version of something you wrote … which seems to have random bits added somewhere during the process – bits which don’t really make any sense.

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That’s the main difference I think between novels and scripts – you’re unlikely to open your own novel and find someone’s changed all the words and put them in a different order.

Novels are written, then edited. And presumably rewritten a lot too, but the editor’s notes are guidelines to help bring out the best in your story. They’re not mandatory (I believe!) and ultimately the choice of what word goes where is the author’s. They make the decisions, they get the glory … or the blame.

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Contrast that to a movie where (even if you wrote the initial draft on spec) you have to bend, alter and break the story to fit the director’s vision, the actors’ whims and the producer’s nervous breakdown.

Even if, after all that, you still end up with a script you’re proud of … it can still be thwarted by actors saying their own words (or, more commonly, someone else’s – essentially ‘improvising’ lines from different movies), directors pointing the camera at the wrong thing, an editor who cobbles together all the worst takes in a way which makes no fucking sense and then finishing the whole mess off with a soundtrack which is completely at odds with what’s going on on screen.

It’s a wonder any film is ever even barely watchable.

The worst bit of that process is then having people watch the film and tell you the script is terrible. The script they haven’t read.

No wonder talented scriptwriters like Rosie occasionally toddle off to write novels. Must be nice to be actually responsible for all the mistakes.

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable chat. Rosie was even kind enough to explain to me that I probably wasn’t a serial killer, despite me believing I have the same psychological make up. Apparently, so long as I don’t kill any dogs, I’ll be just fine.

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Which is nice to know.

If you’re a writer, you could do a lot worse than reading Rosie’s blog or participating in #psywrite. Hell, you could even show how lovely you are by buying one of Rosie’s Amy Lane novels.

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Go on, be nice.

Rosie is.

And so ends another lovely #PhonePhill. Who’s next?

Well, not next. I know who’s next because I did this morning. Who wants to join the one after? Which, confusingly, is the next one because I’m now a week adrift.

Are you a person? Do you have a mouth and a telephone and/or Skype?

If so, I’d love to chat to you, drop me an email and we’ll work it out.

Come on, #PhonePhill

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* Last week. Definitely last week.

 It’s  pain in the arse and takes up too much time. From my point of view, it’s not the words, it’s the pictures. The words I knock out in fifteen minutes … the photos take me hours to carefully select.

Bullshit or not?

Categories: #PhonePhill, Someone Else's Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

#PhonePhill – Conversation #5: Dee Chilton

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A new person! And a woman. A new woman!

Exciting.

This week I’ve been chatting to Dee Chilton who was absolutely lovely and very easy to chat to. Dee’s a scriptwriter. Specifically, she’s a photographer and Navy veteran who (in her own words) woke up one morning four and a half years ago and decided to be a scriptwriter.

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Hooray! One of us.

Our chat ranged across a wide variety of topics, as these things are wont to do, but mostly centred around those first few years as a scriptwriter, how to approach your career and the industry in general.

The through line throughout it all for me though was attitude. Dee’s is excellent. Her approach is just brilliant and something I think everyone (including me) can learn from.

She says she learnt to get on by getting promoted to a junior commissioned officer pretty quickly in the Navy – crossing the line from non-com to com (is that how you say it?) meant she no longer belonged to her old peer group but felt like an interloper in her new peer group.

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That imposter syndrome is how most scriptwriters feel when they start out.

Actually, scratch that. That’s how I feel all the time. Every time I work with new people I feel like they’re going to catch me out, realise I don’t belong … but that never happens.^

Dee’s answer was to just get on with people, learn to network and prove she deserved to be where she was, that she’d got there by merit.

Sage advice.

Dee seems to have the attitude it took me years to cultivate – she’s enjoying her scriptwriting journey. She’s enjoying the process with no fear of failure (doubts, of course … but she doesn’t seem to be afraid) or yearning for some imagined end goal. I think most of us focus so much on getting that first script produced, of ‘breaking in’* that we miss the point.

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There is no destination.

It’s all a ride, baby.

A scriptwriting career largely means achieving nothing … if by ‘achieving’ you think it means ‘being produced’. Scriptwriting isn’t a race with a clearly defined finish line. It’s not over once you get a film produced. It’s a hurdles race where no-one expects you to clear all the hurdles.

You’re expected to fall at the first hurdle.

Next time out, you might fall at the next hurdle.

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Maybe after ten attempts you might make it to the penultimate hurdle and fall there … or you might fall at the first hurdle again.$

Think of the most successful scriptwriter you can … last week, they got a project rejected. Possibly at the pitch stage.

At some point, totally unexpectedly, on a day when you’re only wearing one shoe and you’ve ripped your shorts whilst forgetting to wear pants … you’ll get to the end.

Congratulations!

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Now do the race again.

And fall at the first hurdle.

If you don’t learn to appreciate the process, the sheer joy of trying your hardest all the time … you’ll just get disheartened.

Personally, I tend to think of the script as the end goal – that’s the end of my process. If I get to a point where the client likes the script … I’m happy. I’ve won, time to find a new race to run.

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Another thing we talked about is why we opted for this life instead of writing books … a question I get asked a lot and don’t have a satisfactory answer for.

Usually when people ask me what I do, just after I’ve explained what a script is, what it looks like and how the talking is actually the least important bit+, immediately following that confused pause as they try to work out if their favourite movie was actually written by someone or just somehow accidentally captured on film … that’s when they ask.

Have I thought about writing a book? Yes.

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But I haven’t ever bothered.

Instead of choosing to be the Captain of my own destiny, writing my own stories and fuck everyone else’s opinion because they’re my goddamn books … instead of that, I choose to write scripts where everybody wants to argue with me and demand changes and generally stick their oar even when there’s no point in changing that character’s name from Danny to Donny or making the protagonist of a true-crime story a talking shoe.

Why?

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(Why did I choose scripts? Not the talking shoe bit.)

I don’t know.

Books have had just as much impact on me as movies. I love books. I read … well, not a lot anymore, but certainly every day.@

I usually tell people it’s because my vocabulary isn’t good enough to write the kind of books I enjoy reading.

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But I’m not sure that’s true.

What is true is now I’m this far down one path, switching to novels would be very difficult. It’s a completely different skillset I’d have to learn and one I’m not sure I could … but I didn’t know that then. Why didn’t I write books?

Okay, so there was this post which kind of explains it … but still … why not books?

Not sure.

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But maybe next week’s #PhonePhill guest will have a better answer?

Who knows?

All I do know is chatting to Dee Chilton was a lovely experience. She’s doing so much right (in my opinion). She’s working with the equally lovely Hayley McKenzie (Hayley! We should chat!), she’s formed her own bespoke online writing group, she’s availing herself of the myriad of opportunities the Internet has to offer (including winning a competition), she’s networking in a friendly, non-needy manner … and she’s enjoying herself to boot.

These are the ingredients to success and I wish her all the best.

So there you go, another #PhonePhill. Who’s next?

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Actually, I know who’s next … but who’s after her? Come on, don’t be shy – I’m ready to chat.

Email me.

——————————————————————————–

^ Suckers!

On a related note, everyone feels this at some point. It’s normal. I remember a good friend of mine who was the general manager of the Imax in Waterloo telling me about being in a meeting with Anthony Minghella (who was something high-and-mighty in the BFI at the time) and quietly freaking out inside because he was convinced someone would just stand up, point at him and say:

“Why are we listening to this guy? He’s a fucking cinema usher, for fuck’s sake! He’s the guy who used to scrape the puke off the auditorium floor!”

Even though that was ten years and several management jobs in the past.

* Breaking into where? Nine movies down the line, have I broken in yet? Because if I have, I have to tell you ‘in’ looks and feels almost exactly like ‘out’.

$ Wait … do you fall at hurdles in a hurdle race? Or is falling a horse racing term? In which case, do I mean scriptwriting is … whatever horse-jumping-races are called? Steeplechases? Is that right? Bollocks, I’ve got myself all confused now.

+ Lots of actors like to make up their own words … and then feel smug because they’ve helped ‘write’ the script. Yay you. Dialogue is the smallest, least important bit of writing. It’s the icing on the cake, it helps the cake look pretty but in no way affects the taste or enjoyment# because the actual baking was far more important and arduous.

# Except when it does.

@ Mostly the back of cereal packets, but it still counts!

Categories: #PhonePhill, Career Path, Someone Else's Way, Writing and life | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Competition

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Competition. I’m not afraid of it, are you?

That’s not to say I’m confident I can out-write any other writer, far from it. In fact, if anything, I tend to assume everyone else is better than me and I need to try harder.

Those of you who’ve seen any of the films I’ve written might well agree. Those of you who understand the filmmaking process might well decide to reserve judgement until after you’ve read one of the scripts they were loosely based on.

Either way, I rarely compare myself favourably to anyone else.

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And still I’m not afraid of a bit of competition.

Every project I’ve ever worked on has involved a degree of competition. Every co-written job has me jostling with the co-writer to get my ideas and my lines into the script instead of his.

When I was writing sketches, I was competing with dozens of other writers. Sometimes I won, sometimes I didn’t. When I didn’t, it was because I either wasn’t good enough or someone else was just better.

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Every time I submit a script to anyone I’m competing with every other script on the market. Competition is just what the job is … so I was amazed to hear this story from a fellow writer:

The gist of it is she was contacted by a produced and repped writer who had an idea he didn’t have time to write – would she be interested in writing it for him in return for a co-writing credit? There’s no money upfront, but he’ll take it to his agent and hawk it round his producer contacts.

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Now … yeah.

This is a really odd thing for one writer to ask another. It’s just not cricket … but, it’s not unheard of. It does happen. Sort of. I’ve collaborated with friends with no money involved with the intention of selling the script afterwards.

It happens.

I get contacted every couple of months by someone with a similar propostion – will you write my fantastic idea for me? I’ll split the writing credit and if we sell it …

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I’ll write it for a fee for sole writing credit and if you sell it, you can pay me the rest.

These request usually come from people who aren’t writers, producers or anything else in the industry. They come from people who have an (usually crap) idea and a whim.

They rarely consider offering to pay me for my time and effort.

Well, almost never.

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But this case was different.

This was an established writer (ostensibly) looking to enter into a mutually beneficial deal with a new writer. He even offered to let the writer take the script if they couldn’t sell it within a specified time period … so essentially it’s an unproduced writer writing a spec script with the assistance and input of a produced writer who was better placed to sell it than she was.

Probably worth a gamble.

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Hell, she thought, I may even get representation out of it since he’s going to show it to his agent. If I do a good job he’ll probably recommend me.

So she signed a contract (good start) and got to work.

After a lot of faffing and pointless, terrible notes later they had a script he liked. She didn’t, but he clearly knew more than her so she went with his opinion.

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At the end of the specified period, he reneged on the contract because he liked the script and wanted to keep it. She hated the script, so … fine. Keep it. But, um, since you liked my work so much, would you mind recommending me to your agent?

No. Or rather, yes. Yes he would mind. He wasn’t going to recommend her because she writes the same kind of stuff as him and he doesn’t want the competition.

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I believe, correct me if I’m wrong, but this is what the words “utter fucking shitbag” were invented for.

Absolutely fucking appalling behaviour from an utter coward.

I just don’t understand that kind of behaviour. I love championing new writers. I love it when I find someone better than me, because I get to watch something exceptionally well written which I can fall in love with and learn from.

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Michelle Lipton, Piers Beckley, Danny Stack, Rosie Claverton, Dominic Carver, Jason Arnopp, James Moran, Tim Clague, Paul Campbell, Julie Bower … fuck it, everyone on the blogroll to the right, all of them are better writers than me. You should hire them, all of them. You should be banging on their doors (I have their addresses) and offering them work.

But you know what? Come see me too. I may not be as good as them, but I may surprise you.

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Competition is good, it raises the bar for everyone and forces us all to continually up our game.

I’m not afraid of competition and genuinely don’t understand anyone who is.

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

#PhonePhill – Conversation #2: Robin Bell

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Strangely enough, more than one person fancies a natter and so we’ve actually made it to Conversation #2.

This time it’s Robin Bell, a guy I have actually met and really enjoyed chatting to.

Robin’s a writer/director/producer and co-creator of Twisted Showcase, an online anthology series beloved by The Guardian.

Robin and I met at the BBC’s TV Drama Writing Festival in Leeds and instantly became best mates.

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For the day.

Or two days, possibly.

Actually, maybe I’m overstating that a little. I like the bloke anyway.

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He’s a nice guy with interesting stuff to say. He’s carving out his career and, by co-creating Twisted Showcase, has taken his career into his own hands.

Why don’t more of us do things like this? It’s really not that hard in the 21st Century to shoot stuff which looks half-decent, so why do so many of us wait for other people to do it for us?

I don’t know. If I did, maybe I’d be making my own stuff too?

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Chat roamed across what we’d done since last we met, what we want to do next, TV gems like episode 2 of series 2 of Inside No. 9

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… and TV-not-so-gems like the last season of Doctor Who.*

As usual, Robin proved himself personable and easy-going. He’s a nice. I like Robin.

So there you have it, #PhonePhill the sequel.

Anyone else fancy a random chat? You can be someone I know or someone I don’t. You can be a fellow writer or not. Someone connected to the industry or someone with a proper, less frustrating job. We can chat about anything you like, whatever takes your fancy.

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Drop me a line and we’ll see what we can work out.

——————————————————————————————–

Stuff.

More stuff.

*I struggled with this much more than Robin did. He warmed to it halfway through, I cooled continuously until it went from a show I was prepared to pay to see in the cinema … to one I had on in the background a couple of days later whilst I was doing something else.

If you’ll indulge me:

The problem I had was threefold:

1) They seemed to think the best route to take here was to make the Doctor fundamentally unlikeable. I’m not convinced this is a good idea, it certainly didn’t seem to work very well for Colin Baker and I’m not convinced repeating that unglorious period of Who-History is the way forward.

It worked though. It was brilliantly written and did exactly what it was meant to do … made me not like the Doctor.

2) They seemed to feel the need to apologise profusely and continuously for casting an older, non-sexy Doctor. This highlighted over and over again how little confidence they had in their own decision. Why mention it at all? Why not just bang on with the story and drag people along for the ride?

“This is who the Doctor is now, he’s still awesome, come with us and enjoy the fun!”

As opposed to:

“I’m really sorry. Really sorry. It won’t be that bad. Honest. Look how old and wrinkly he is. Had you noticed how old and wrinkly he is? I bet you’re really upset about how old and wrinkly he is, but just give us a chance. Please give us a chance, it might not be that bad. Look, here’s the young sexy Doctor giving you permission to like the wrinkly old one. Except … we don’t want you to like him because he’s a bit of a nob. Just tolerate him for a bit. He’ll probably die soon anyway given how old and wrinkly he is.”

And so on. For what felt like weeks and weeks and weeks …

3) New-Who clearly establishes that companions are chosen to travel with the Doctor and only the brightest and best are allowed onboard. Even in this series, a potential companion who has all the attributes needed, is refused travel because she has one tiny flaw – she’s a soldier.

Being a companion is an honour reserved for the precious few.

Clara is the precious few. She’s the chosen one. Only she, out of the whole universe, has the right qualities to earn her place on the TARDIS … and she isn’t really sure if she wants to.

“I would come and explore the furthest frontiers of space and time, bearing sole witness to the most amazing sights the universe has to offer … but Eastenders is on and I’ve got some homework to mark and … maybe next week?”

Companions do tend to leave the Doctor because they crave a normal life. That usually happens over the course of one story.

Clara took an entire season to think about it.

If you haven’t worked it out, I don’t really like Clara.

This left me watching a show about a guy I wasn’t supposed to like hanging around the flat of a woman who wasn’t sure if she liked him either. There are two characters – one is deliberately unlikeable. The other is (presumably) accidentally unlikeable. Enjoy!

But never mind, the good thing about Doctor Who is next year will be something completely different.

Categories: #PhonePhill, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

#PhonePhill – Conversation #1: Calum Chalmers

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Surprisingly, this actually worked. It turns out there are people in this world who actually want to talk to a complete stranger about writing and/or random stuff on a whim.

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Conversation #1 was with Calum Chalmers.

Actually, technically #1 was Tim Clague who rang up on a whim just because … well, just because he can, I guess. I think it was meant to be a gag but it was foiled by technology – my phone correctly identified him before he could spring his dastardly trap. But hey, he rang, so let’s call him Conversation #0 and use that opportunity to slip in teaser trailer #2 for Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg?

But back to Calum Chalmers, the proper Conversation #1.

Calum is a writer/director who has also acted at least once. Here he is, on the left, in David Lemon‘s Faintheart:

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As often happens in these situations, although Calum and I have never met or spoken before, we do have a few mutual friends. It’s a small industry on a small island, be nice to people – everyone knows someone who knows you.

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As the appointed time for the call approached, I remembered one key fact: I fucking hate talking on the phone. Especially to strangers. You might think it’s odd that I decided to try this experiment … and you’d be right.

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Still, as it happens the conversation was easy and flowing and genuinely interesting, entertaining and fun. Or at least I thought it was, I’m not going to round putting words into Calum’s mouth.

We talked about a lot of industry stuff, films in general and about Calum’s career so far and his future plans.

I had no idea going into this how long the call might last and was quite surprised to find out it went on for about an hour and a half. Didn’t feel that long, but unless there was some kind of incredibly localised temporal anomaly … that’s how long it was.

Calum’s written and directed two shorts so far:

If You Go Down

and

Graduation Afternoon

He was kind enough to send me a link for Graduation Afternoon and it’s very good. Here’s a trailer:

One of the things we talked about is something I think we all struggle with: what should I do next?

We have all these ideas, far more than anyone could possibly write in a lifetime and somehow we have to pick the one to focus on, the one we think has the best chance of moving our career forward.

The glib answer is ‘pick the one you care most about’.

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But which one’s that?  I know I have a good dozen ideas I’m equally as excited about … until I actually try to write them then I quickly discover how interesting things like bus time tables and bits of wall are.

So maybe we should be more mercenary?

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Maybe we should focus on the one which is most likely to catapult us to fame and fortune and … something else beginning with ‘F’.

Um … Fridge? Foot spa? Falafel?

No idea.

But which one is that? Which project is most likely to get us the falafel we so desperately crave? Is it the low budget thing we can make ourselves? Is it the sell out thing we’re pretty certain we can get funding for even though it’s bound to be terrible? Even if we can get the money, do we use it for a micro-budget feature or a big-budget short? Do we aim for commercial success? Or Internet notoriety? Or festival love?

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Well, the answer’s simple:

I have no idea.

In pretty much the same I have no idea why anyone would want this:

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All I do know is I enjoyed chatting with Calum and look forward to Conversation #2 on next week’s #PhonePhill.

If you want to be Conversation #3 then drop me an email and we’ll work it out.

If you’d like to chat with Calum yourself, you can find him on Twitter here.

Categories: #PhonePhill, Career Path, Industry Musings, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Vanishing point

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

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

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

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

I got called a lot of names.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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At the time I remember distinctly not caring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except when I don’t.

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

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

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

At least I think it is anyway.

Bullshit or not?

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

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

My daughter thought that was silly:

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

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

A bit like this watch:

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

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

Everything that follows is a lie

I went to see Focus at some point prior to writing this post and it was … alright. Entertaining enough. Sort of.

I thought it suffered in a couple of ways. One movie-specific, the other genre-inherent.

Oh …

SPOILERS FOR FOCUS

POSSIBLY

BUT PROBABLY NOT

The movie-specific problem was a lack of through line throughout the script. There was no clear goal for the protagonist, no indication of what he wanted or needed and (crucially) when he will have achieved it.

In other words, it’s a bit like watching a race and not knowing if it’s a 100 metre sprint or a marathon. Or possibly a triathalon. Or maybe they’re all running to a pasty shop? If you don’t know when the race will be over, it’s hard to build tension towards the end or care about whether or not the protagonist will win.

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I’m aware not everyone wants this in a film, but I do. I like to know where the finishing post is … and then be surprised at how the protagonist crosses it.

Or not. Not crossing the finishing line is fine too. Not saving the day or the guy or the girl or the city or yourself or … anything. That’s fine too. So long as I know what they meant to do.

Focus doesn’t seem to have that. Or if it does, it’s not apparent to me what it was. Which might be my failing rather than the film’s. To me, stuff just happened … for a bit. And then, at an undefined point … it stopped happening. Then it turned out to be carrying on for a bit. Then it really stopped. Then it started again a few years later … and then stopped again.

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Fun, entertaining stuff … but just stuff for no apparent reason all the same. Maybe it would be more fun the second time around?

The genre-inherent reason is more problematic and pretty much derailled the story for me.

And it’s this: it’s a heist movie. Specifically, it’s a conman heist movie.

Or conwoman.

Conperson movie.

Con movie. The whole movie is a con.

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The problem there is we all know how these movies work – nothing you see is real. Nobody is who they say they are and nothing they do or say is what you think they’ve done or said.

Nothing.

Don’t bother getting attached to any of the characters or invested in the plot because it’s not real. The movie is lying to you. Everyone on screen is lying to you. The filmmakers are challenging you to spot the lie.

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That police man? He’s working for them.

That older person? She’s someone’s parent.

That bank? It’s not a bank, it’s a fake bank.

They’re not in a taxi, it’s a lie.

That’s not a plane, it’s a lie.

It’s all lies. All of it. Nothing’s real. Believe nothing and trust no one!

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And that’s a problem for me. I find my brain making assumptions which aren’t right. Assumptions which obfuscate whatever character goals may or may not be present.

In Focus, I thought she was playing him from the beginning. I thought she might be a cop. I thought maybe he was a cop. Or maybe they both were and it was just a very badly planned operation.

None of those things happened …

WARNING!

THAT THING I JUST WROTE IS AN ANTI-SPOILER!

I JUST MADE THE FILM BETTER!

… but because I spent the whole film assuming one of them would, I didn’t bother getting invested in what was actually happening because I didn’t believe it was.

This might be the old age cliche kicking in – perhaps I’ve just seen too many of these kinds of films and it’s aimed at a younger audience who don’t expect these kinds of twists?

Yeah, maybe.

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But maybe we should be trying to compensate for this built in suspicion? Maybe the only way to effectively write a modern con movie is to start the con before the movie opens? Maybe the only way to nip this kind of audience detachment in the bud is to hide the fact you’re watching a con movie?

That’s what I’m doing with my current script. I’m not letting anyone know it’s a con performed by a conwoman until the very last scene. I’m giving her a completely false set of goals, problems and intentions … with a genuine need underpinning it all. She will never achieve any of the things she sets out to do because she never intended to do them.

The film can be marketed and sold as a completely different genre and (hopefully) no one will know what they’re really watching until the final image.

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Hopefully.

I don’t think that’s a unique solution and I know other films have done the same thing … but to me it’s an elegant solution which fixes a genre-inherent problem which may not even exist outside of my own brain.

But fuck it, it’s my brain and I want to write a movie which will fool me.

Basically, I’m running a con on myself.

Or am I?

Bullshit or not?

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

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