Things I’ve Learnt Recently

Reasons and things


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.

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 09.00.14

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!


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


… 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.


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!


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.


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?


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

Repointing the pyramid


Somebody I follow recently tweeted:

Saying the script’s great but the end needs tweaking is a bit like saying “Great pyramid, but can you move the point six inches to the left?”

Actually, it might not have been recently. Or someone I follow. Or even on Twitter. I have no idea. Not even convinced it’s 140 characters and I’m far too lazy to bother counting to find out.

It might be a famous quote.

It may even have been something I overheard in a public toilet, but that seems unlikely.


Whoever said/wrote it in whatever context, pat yourself on the back and (if you read this) feel free to identify yourself in the comments so others can (virtually) pat you too.

Because it’s a great analogy.

Recently I’ve had to do the opposite. I’ve had a script which needed the beginning moved six inches to the left. Or right. To be honest, no one was really sure where it needed moving to.

The problem was, no one who read the script cared about the protagonist. For he is a massive cock. Which was kind of the point. The idea was to have the protagonist gradually reveal himself to be the antagonist and for his girlfriend to gradually take over as the protagonist.


Which, structually, works really well.

In terms of caring about the protagonist … not so much.

The problem is, the stakes don’t really become apparent until halfway through the story. Until then, it’s interesting … but only in an intellectual way. That’s not good enough, it needs to be interesting in an interesting way.

The solution was clear, the proper protagonist needs to be more of a protagonist from the beginning. Dual protagonists from the word go. More than that, she needs to be the primary protagonist in a 51/49 percent split. It’s about both of them, but it’s more about her than it is about him.

Sounds easy enough, just give her more dialogue, subtly refocus the early scenes so she’s the instigator from the get go, essentially shuffle him six inches to the left and her six to the right until she’s in the spotlight instead of him.*



Except it’s not. Because it turns out, under the glare of the spotlight, that as a character, she’s paper thin. Bordering on transparent.

She seemed fully rounded and well thought out with motivations and goals and all the stuff a character is supposed to have … but somehow, moving her into the spotlight made all that stuff disappear. And, as a consequence, the entire film collapsed with her.

Now this isn’t a writing boys vs writing girls moral. It’s not about me developing male characters better than female ones. It’s about a character designed to be a protagonist being more meaty than one designed to (initially) support the protagonist.


If it helps, think about (arbitarily) trying to tell Star Wars (the proper Star Wars, the first one. I’m not down with all that Episode 4 – A New Hope retconning bullshit. It’s fucking called Star Wars because that’s its fucking name) from Obi Wan’s point of view.

Obi Wan’s a great supporting character, but really all he does is impart wisdom, fill in some backstory and then get killed. That is his function. He doesn’t learn anything or need anything, there’s no central irony to his character … or at least none I can think of with PEOPLE FUCKING SHOUTING! IN MY FUCKING EAR! WHAT? WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT?

Oh right, I have to move. Hang on.


I’m back.

I should probably stop typing everything I’m thinking but … well, I’m in the flow.

Sorry, where was I?

Oh yes, so Obi Wan works well as a supporting character in Star Wars, but if you decided to tell the whole film from his point of view then you’d (probably) find out he’s a bit on the thin side. You’d need to give him an inner goal or a need or perhaps a more concrete goal from the off.

Maybe you’d need to go into more depth concerning how he feels about being the last (as far as he knows?) Jedi?

Or maybe there’d need to be more about how he secretly looks out for Luke (assuming he does?).

Or maybe even a good hour of him looking in the mirror and wondering what the fuck happened considering he’s apparently only in his mid-forties. I mean, seriously, what the fuck? What kind of bad paper round would you have to have as a kid to look like that in your forties?


See? All this prequel bullshit makes life so complicated.

No prequels, just the trilogy. Just the trilogy, just the trilogy …

Imagine me rocking back and forth and dribbling, if it helps.

The point is, in order to move any secondary (tertiary?) character into the lead role isn’t as simple as repurposing a bit of dialogue or the odd scene, it involves a complete and utter tear down and rebuild of the script.

It’s repointing the pyramid.

Finding a motivation, need and want for a protagonist which ties in thematically and carries an inherent irony AFTER the script has been written is a complete and utter pain in the arse.


Five fucking times I’ve started, got as far as page 40 and realised it makes no fucking sense.

Yes, I should have planned it out before I started rewriting.

But I didn’t.

Not properly.

Every time I started, it seemed to work. It seemed to be clear and obvious and … well, it fucking wasn’t.

But I’ve cracked it now. I think. Maybe. It seems to be working anyway and I’ve got to the final act. In a way, I guess I’ve moved the base of the pyramid six inches to the left without moving the point.

The only question I have now is … was did the client mean his left or my left?




* Does that work? Would that not put both of them in the spotlight? Or both of them out? Wait, let me think about this. I need some volunteers and a lightbulb. Or my fingers. I’ll do it with my fingers. Yeah, it works. Kind of.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings, Things I've Learnt Recently | 1 Comment

Too much too soon


I’ve lost a few jobs over the years by being too keen, by doing more work than is required; which probably sounds counter-intuitive, but actually makes sense if you just fucking let me finish, alright? Stop fucking interrupting!

What’s that?

No one’s interrupting except the voices in my head?

Oh really? What the fuck would you know, Mr Sock? You’re just a fucking sock, you’re not real. It’s me doing your voice. Me! Without me, you’re nothing!

images (1)

What’s that, Mr Sock?

If I’m going to have a mental spasm I should stop typing until after I’ve had a little lie down?

Oh. Yes, right.

Um … I didn’t type all this, it was dictation software left running. Sorry.

What’s that, Mr Sock? I’m a fucking liar?

Fuck you, you woolly bastard.

Sorry, got distracted there.

Right. So. Where was I? Ah yes, making sense.

The scenario usually runs something like this:

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A producer/director/actor or some combination of all three gets in touch regarding a film project they have which doesn’t really exist. I mean, it sort of does. They want to make something, they have some money of some description and possibly even a track record. The project exists in potentia, but in reality all they have is the vague feeling they want to make a film of some kind. Any kind, maybe, they’re not really sure.

What they are sure about is they absolutely have to film it only on Tuesdays and (for finance purposes) it all has to be set in Pease Pottage … although, for tax purposes it actually has to be filmed in Antigua; but they can easily fake Pease Pottage in Antigua, they just have to digitally erase the palm trees. And the climate.

Pease Pottage Honest


It also has to be a genre film (although not horror, sci-fi, western, a rom-com, martial arts, action, thriller or comedy – although it has to be funny), feature at least three parts for actors over-fifty who refuse to play characters over thirty, a dog, lots of nudity (but not from any of the actors, male or female), a Lamborghini (which can’t be driven), at least one sword fight and show child-abuse in a positive light.

Other than that, it’s completely up to me. I can do whatever I want, what have I got?

Besides a fucking migraine.

Oh, and they absolutely have to have a final draft before the end of the month or they’re going to lose the big name stars.

The ones I’ve never heard of.


I know, I know, I should learn my lesson and walk away from these things. And to be fair, I am doing so more and more.

What has tended to happen in the past is in order to make the ludicrous deadline, I need to start working before the contract arrives … which I do, because I’m a trusting soul.

Never, ever trust anyone. That’s a lesson to learn right there.

So I beaver away, come up with a bunch of ideas, talk it over with them, incorporate their feedback into the plot and generally hash it out until we (amazingly) have something they like the sound of.

Even if I have (accidentally) forgotten the child-abuse.

Now they need a one-page synopsis.

That’s all, just one page.

Contract still hasn’t arrived, but that’s fine. It’s only one page after all … but they need it immediately. By nine the next morning.

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Okay, so I should claim I need the contract the next morning too. That’s exactly what I should do and am doing from now on; but on several occasions, I’ve been more trusting … like the fucking fool that I am.

Just one page.

Except it’s not one page, because the idea has to be so convoluted to match the laundry list of conditions that I have to plan it all out on index cards before I can condense it down to one page. Then I find I need to write it all out to make sure it makes sense, because I’m not sure it does.

After staying up ALL FUCKING NIGHT I have a ten page document which is EXACTLY what we’ve agreed on. The deadline is in four minutes, I just don’t have time to whittle it down to one page … so, fuck it. Sorry about this, guys; but I’ve skipped a step – this is where we’re heading anyway and since you don’t need the one pager to show the financiers or the actors, just as a document for us to discuss, then it’s possibly actually better this way.

images (2)

Except it isn’t.

Because, although this document features everything they wanted and everything we’ve already discussed and agreed on … it isn’t actually what they want. It isn’t what they want because they have no fucking idea what they actually want.

They haven’t got an idea for a film, the only idea they’ve got is that they want to make a film.

It’s a bit like someone asking you to paint their kitchen, only they’ve no idea what colour they want. All they know is they’d like something dark-ish. Or light-ish. Or something in-between. Maybe a primary colour? Or one of those colours you get when you mix primary colours together? One of those.

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So you pick a random colour. Blue, what about blue? Oh, they love blue! What shade? You discuss it, show them samples, suggest they look at other people’s kitchens which are the same colour … until they state, adamantly, that they want a specific shade.


So you paint their kitchen … and they don’t like it. They didn’t realise that was what blue was. They thought blue was more redish yellow. They didn’t realise I meant blue blue, even though that’s what they said they wanted.

They don’t say this right away, of course. First off they forget to look at the colour of the kitchen for three months because although it was vitally important you stay up all night painting it, they don’t actually need to look at the colour for ages yet. There’s no rush for them, just you.

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The second reason they don’t say this right away is because they decide not to bother saying it at all. The fact you’ve painted the kitchen the wrong colour clearly means you’re not the right painter for them, even though you’ve painted the kitchen the colour they asked for and not got anything on any of the woodwork and even managed to do that fiddly bit across the top of the boiler without spilling a single drop … despite doing a good job, the job they asked for, the fact you’ve painted it a colour which, on reflection, they don’t actually like, means you’re clearly not suited to this job … oh, and hey! Since they haven’t got round to sending the contract yet, they don’t actually need to pay you! They can get someone else to paint the kitchen another colour. Or better yet, just give up on the whole idea because they’ve lost interest in kitchens and might just get the bathroom painted instead. No need to tell the painter what they think of the colour, let’s just pretend he doesn’t exist.


What’s that Mr Sock? I’ve stretched that metaphor well past the point of being useful? Why yes, I do believe you’re right.

No, you can’t come out of the hamper.

Because I don’t like you, you insufferably smug git. Get back in your hamper. Back! Back in your hamper!

Essentially, instead of developing the idea to suit the (pretend) film they think they’re going to make, they just give up and cease all communication.


Maybe if I’d delivered a one-pager it would have been different? Maybe if it was a bite-sized idea they would be more inclined to pass comment and work towards something better? There’s a lot less information in a one-pager which is therefore easier to interpret in a way which makes sense to them. A ten-pager nails down characters and tone and theme and all those sort of things. There’s very little room for interpretation in a ten-pager. A one-pager can be anything.

It also feels easier to change, to discuss, to develop. A ten-pager? Well, it’s all decided now, isn’t it? It’s not what they want, so no point pursuing it. They don’t know what they do want, but they know it’s not this.

And because they didn’t have a strong investment in a specific idea in the first place, just some money and some free time, then they’ve no real interest in continuing. A bump in the road? Might as well just give up then. No, don’t bother telling the writer we’ve decided not to bother – he’ll work it out in a few months time when we haven’t replied to a single email, phone call or text.


This has happened to me a couple of times now. Apparently it takes me a long time to learn a few simple lessons, namely:

  1. Never do more than is expected, no one will thank you for it.
  2. If the client is unclear what they want, keep ideas loose and vague for as long as possible – that way their expectations are being met.
  3. Don’t do anything until the contract is signed by you and them. Not that contracts actually guarantee you’ll get paid. I’ve worked on films where no one got paid, despite their contracts. Where everyone sued the producers, and won … and still didn’t get any money. Films where I was the only person to get even a fraction of my payment, despite not actually having a contract at all. Doesn’t hurt to wait though.
  4. Most importantly: never, ever get involved in these type of projects in the first place, it’s just not worth the hassle.

This all probably sounds very cynical, and in a way it is … but maybe that’s actually a good way to be?#

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Or maybe not?

I don’t know.

I would ask Mr Sock, but we’re not on speaking terms any more. Although his cousin, Ms Teatowel is here and she has this amazing idea for a movie. Well, not idea as such, more of a yen to make something, but that bloke from Eastenders has agreed to be in whatever it is, well, not agreed as such, but he muttered something which sounded a bit like yes when she cornered him in Tesco. Which bloke? Oh you know, the fat one who was always in the background of the market scenes in the first couple of years – never spoke, but he’s quite famous. Or was. She wants to shoot it in one location, in Arabic with Dutch subtitles and it has to feature at least three hamsters and …

Hang on, this is all sounding a little familiar.

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Categories: Bored, Career Path, Industry Musings, Random Witterings, Things I've Learnt Recently | 2 Comments



Oh come on! That was never a year!

Really? Did we have all the months? Does everyone remember having all the months? We must have skimped on one of the summer months. July? Anyone remember there being a July in 2013?

The rate time’s passing is getting ridiculous.

On the plus side, if it’s 2014 tomorrow, then it means we only have one more year until hoverboards and flying cars!

And yes, they are both on my future Christmas list.

So how was your 2013? Was it good? Did you enjoy it? All of it? Even the July which I’m sure the Government have covertly pinched?

Mine, since you’re doubtlessly asking, went something like this:


I started the year by getting a bit excited about January. No, I have no idea why either.

Then, inspired by this post by Debbie Moon, I got a bit ranty about jealousy.

And I finished off the month by rambling on a bit about HMV maybe shutting down.

Which it didn’t.

The essence of my argument was it would be a shame if HMV went bust because the immediate next wave of filmmakers would never know the elation of walking into a shop and buying a copy of your own DVD. HMV is one of the last outlets who stock pretty much any low budget films. If they went, the only shelf space would be in supermarkets and they are a bit funny about what films they’ll sell.

Now, okay, DVDs (or Blu-Rays, if you prefer) will ultimately go away and people will feel giddy and excited about something else.

But a year later, DVDs are still here (as is HMV) and they’re still exciting. I don’t know about you, but I have a hierarchy of film-love. Only my absolute favourites get bought on DVD. Films I really enjoy … I probably won’t bother to buy. I might watch it several times on TV or pay to stream something … but only my absolute bestest films get bought.

Unless I know the writer and want to annoy/promote them.

2012-07-13 14.54.12

Having a film produced is exciting. Attending the première is more exciting. Seeing it in released in the cinemas is even more exciting still. But holding a physical copy in your hand, one you can put on the shelf or lend to people or just look at and smile … that’s the best bit.

For me.

Because that, in a small way, puts the thing I wrote on a similar footing to all the other films I love. Even when I fucking hate the actual film itself.


I began February by busting the shit out of the motivation, willpower and confidence conspiracy myth bullshit.

Or possibly by just ranting aimlessly about those imaginary things. One of the two.


I finished off the month by loving Wreck-It Ralph. A lot.

At least I was right about that.

Was that it? Hmm … didn’t blog much in February, did I? Probably because I gave up chocolate, biscuits, sweets, crisps and cake in a vague effort to stop looking like a fucking hippo. That kind of thing is bound to make someone less bloggy.


I began March by explaining, politely, that they don’t fucking love your script in Cannes – no matter what they may have said. If they loved it, they would have bought it. Did they buy it?

No. Then they didn’t love it.


Yes, you can still pay me to re-write it.

I also blogged about exercise, P90X and biscuits – somehow finding it appropriate to insert myself into Death in Paradise wielding a spoon.

ginge-in-paradiseNo, I have no idea why either.

That was a weird thing to do. Although, the good news is I still have that spoon. In a lovely bit of serendipity, I stole it from the Jamaican hotel which initially inspired Death in Paradise. It’s now my emergency back up spoon.

Then I wrote a blog about Other People’s Ideas and how hard they are to write. For some reason I equated it to making a human being and having too many ears.

Seriously, never give up biscuits. It’s just not worth it.


Wait … what the fuck? THERE WAS NO APRIL! I fucking knew we hadn’t had a full year! Here’s the proof …

Or rather, here isn’t the proof because April never fucking existed. It can’t have existed or I would have blogged about it.

You fuckers stole my April!

I’m a bit cross about that.


All I did in May was give away a really cool book which, despite the cover, has no information in it about how to get laid by writing scripts.


What a rotten swizz.


Apparently, some insanely exciting things were happening in June … but I have no idea what they might have been.

My laptop had a bit of an accident. That was annoying.

laptop-exploding-battery-fireBut I fixed it. Sort of.


What else happened?

Ooh, I wrote some stuff and edited some stuff and had some meetings and all sort of proper writing stuff. That was exciting.

I then went on to promote a writing development scheme thingy.


What was exceptionally exciting about that is a writer friend of mine later told me she’d applied and been accepted onto the course – something she never would have known existed if I hadn’t mentioned it.

That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. I love being vaguely useful occasionally.

Buoyed on by that, I promoted some free stuff. Which probably isn’t free any more, so … don’t bother clicking that link.

Assuming anyone’s still reading and is even clicking anything. Are you?


Why? Go do something more fun.

Oh, no, wait! This next post was my most popular post of the year. Still is.

I think.




July was simple. All I did in July was reveal the meaning of life and the meaning of illegal.


I got both of them completely and utterly right too.

Because I’m awesome.

I totally rocked July.


I’m getting bored now. Anyone else getting bored?

August! What did I do in August?


There was no August either.

Wait a minute … no April? No August? No months beginning with the letter A?

Hmm …

That video would probably be more relevant if it was actually about the letter A.


There was a September! Since September doesn’t begin with the letter A, this completely proves my theory.

It fucking does!

In September I went to see Monsters University.


Then I gave you writer-based fashion advice.

dr who pants

And I rounded out the month by getting upset about a wine glass.



In October I had a letter from Linda Aronson, which was far politer than I deserved.

Then I wrote the first two parts of my fantastically successful Notes from the Other Side series; which was about my inept fumblings as a script editor for PERSONA.


They were called Part One and Part Two. I’m original like that, I am. I was the first person ever to think of calling something part one and part two.


I’m really bored with this now. I’ve no idea why I do this every year, I mean what is the fucking point? Does anyone read this far? I will send a five pound note to the first person who quotes these three words in the comments:



Jamais vu

That’s a serious offer. I’ll send you a proper five pound note through the proper mail and everything if you’re the first person to copy and paste those three words into a comment.

And 12p to the first person who can use them in a sentence.

And now that I’ve (hopefully) successfully proved no one’s reading any more … on with November.

First up, Part Three of the Notes from the Other Side trilogy. I broke boundaries here by calling the third part Part Three. I also got a bit ranty about it all.


Especially to the person I referred to as a fucking twat; but to be fair. You were.

Or I was.

One of the two.

Possibly both.


Then I talked about tailoring. It was in relation to an upcoming meeting … at which everyone behaved in almost exactly the way I hoped they wouldn’t.


For some reason I then had a pop at actors who don’t afford my scripts the same respect as Shakespeare’s.

No, seriously. I can only assume I was heavily medicated at the time.

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And I finished the month by gushing about my love for a man. Well, eleven men. Twelve, as it turned out. Thirteen now.

2013-12-30 14.36.45

If you’re feeling particularly geeky, you can spot seven differences between this photo and the one uploaded in November. Although, I warn you now imaginary person who’s never going to fucking bother doing this … number four is almost impossible to spot.


I began December by delivering my verdict of The Day of the Doctor … I fucking loved it. I know I fucking loved it because I wrote “I fucking loved it.”

You can’t argue with that kind of proof.


Then I decided to tattoo something on my forehead so I wouldn’t forget it. This is the worst possible way of remembering stuff … mainly because it’s really fucking hard to see your own forehead.


Don’t do this. Seriously, it’s silly.

And I finished off the year with a series of Christmas crackers – little bloglet mentions of things I either think are cool or just felt like mentioning:

  1. The Elephantom
  2. Totally Serialized (there’s a competition on this one – you can win free tickets!)
  3. Dead Elf
  4. Production Hell
  5. Kung Fury

And that was pretty much it in blogging terms.

Behind the scenes, this was an interesting year. It’s the first year for nearly a decade I haven’t had anything produced or released … and yet I probably earnt more this year than any previous year to date.

Apparently a writer can earn more money by not getting films made than by actually getting involved in all that icky and annoying shooting business.

Who knew?

At the beginning of the year, I made a conscious decision to write something for myself. Something I really, really wanted to write which I would then try to sell.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, I worked almost continuously on other people’s ideas with varying degrees of success.

I had some lovely meetings with some lovely people and at least one of them I didn’t completely screw up.

I got paid to write stuff I enjoyed writing for people who actually cared about the script and wanted to get it right … as opposed to caring about the shooting date (tomorrow) and wanting to get it finished … even if ‘finished’ means ‘nobody fucking cares how good it is, we just need some words’.

As an added extra bonus, a producer sent one of my scripts to a director whose work I really, really admire. I’ve no idea if that guy actually liked the script or not. Probably not, but he wanted to read it and therefore at least now knows who I am.

I’m the guy who’s script he (probably) didn’t like.

Unless he hasn’t read it yet. Which is entirely possible and extremely likely.

2014 already has some super cool awesome stuff lined up with a couple of projects lining up on the starting blocks and even a few lumbering asthmatically towards the final set of hurdles.

Beyond which are another set of even higher hurdles, because that’s what the whole writing gig’s about.

So bring it on 2014, do your worst!

Just nicely.


Categories: BBC, Bored, Career Path, Christmas Crackers, Industry Musings, My Way, Opportunity, Persona, Progress, Random Witterings, Rants, Sad Bastard, Someone Else's Way, Strippers vs. Werewolves, Things I've Learnt Recently, Two steps back, Writing and life | 16 Comments

Finding the irony

If there’s one lesson I need tattooed onto my fucking face, it’s FIND THE IRONY.


I know this, you probably do too. It’s so fucking obvious and makes the whole writing process so much easier and more meaningful … and yet, I forget. Every fucking time.

The irony I’m talking about is the one inherent in the premise. The ironic element which links the protagonist to the story. The thing which makes the protagonist the perfect and only choice of character to tell this particular story.

A recent example which springs to mind (recent to me watching it, not to it being produced) would be Pitch Perfect. If you haven’t seen the film, you really should. I loved it. Everything about it. It’s funny, well constructed and the music’s fantastic.


If you haven’t seen it, you may consider the rest of this post to be chock-full-o-spoilers … but it’s not really the sort of film you can spoil, so it probably doesn’t matter.


So, partly for the benefit of those who haven’t seen it but mostly just for the sake of discussion, Pitch Perfect is about rival a cappella singers at an American university. To me, it’s one of those films like Dodgeball or Strictly Ballroom where you take an inherently silly competition and have everyone take it really, really seriously. In a funny way.

The irony in Pitch Perfect comes, as it should, from the protagonist – Beca.

beca anna kendrick pitch perfect

She’s a loner, someone who doesn’t really interact (or harmonise) with others, who finds herself joining a competitive a cappella club for (slightly) spurious reasons. Basically, in order to be left alone to pursue her loner musical interests, she has to work intimately with a close-knit group.


If she was a loner who had to live as a hermit … it just wouldn’t be the same. The beginning and end of that story, the character arc doesn’t leap out at you because “a person gets everything they want without trying” isn’t really a sound basis for a story.


A loner who has to join something, especially something which relies heavily on working so closely with others … a loner who can only achieve her goal by not being a loner … it’s all there.

You have the start point for Beca’s character (loner) and the end (joiner-in-er). Done badly, the film would start and end like that with the main character turning completely around to be someone else.

Pitch Perfect is better than that. Beca keeps her individuality whilst working within the group. She learns how to use her loner, anti-harmonic tendencies within the crowd. As do the rest of the Barden Bellas. She learns how to fit in without forgetting how to stand out … and that’s great.


What’s also great is she realises she was pursuing the wrong goal. Or at least, she can achieve her goal in a completely different way to the one she expected. An ironic way, for her.

The rest of the characters spring from this central irony. You could argue for Aubrey or Bumper as the antagonist – both represent opposite ends of the spectrum. Aubrey wants everyone to fit in and be exactly the same, following the same path … which just isn’t going to work. The more she pushes the Bellas to conform, the worse they do.


Bumper, on the other hand, is almost sociopathic in his pursuit of his own goals, screwing over his team mates for personal gain.


Aubrey is what Beca is scared of becoming if she fits in. Bumper is what she could become if she doesn’t. The solution is the middle way. The ironic way.

The annoying thing about this kind of irony is it’s so fucking obvious … yet so easy to forget. Like I say, I need it tattooed on my face so I don’t forget, because I do … all the fucking time.

If you’re writing a story about a guy who becomes a hermit then the protagonist should either be a sociable soul who can’t be on his own; or a loner who took the job to get away from people only to find the hermitage is infested with squatters or has a lot of annoying neighbours … or something.

Something better, preferably.

But that’s the point I need to remember – find the irony in the premise. Find the worst possible character to star in the story and then use them as the branching out point for everyone else. Make the antagonist either the opposite or the same but further down the road. All the other characters should reflect this irony in some way.

Then make sure it’s all very subtle and hidden in the subtext.

Now all I need to remember is to tattoo it backwards so I can actually read it in the mirror.


Categories: Someone Else's Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | 2 Comments

Notes from the other side (Part Three)




I know I was no great shakes as a script-editor. I know I probably pissed people off by giving them what they thought of as stupid notes. I’ve had those notes, I know what it feels like to send in a script thinking it’s amazing … only to feel like you’ve failed miserably because it’s not loved unconditionally.

Notes are part of the process. Rejection is part of the process. Even when a script is good, parts of it have to be rejected – this is just what happens. It happens to the best writers in the world, it’s going to happen to you.

How you deal with the notes is what sets you apart from other writers. The best writers on PERSONA dealt with the notes in a timely, imaginative manner, with good humour and professionalism. These were the majority of the writers – I loved reading your work, you were, and hopefully still are, wonderful.

But I was under a lot of pressure, working late into the night every night for no reward on something I didn’t believe in. Sometimes writers, good and bad, did things which made me really, really fucking angry.

If you did any of these things during the writing of PERSONA, it doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad writer. It doesn’t change how likely I am to hug you if I meet you in public+ or to buy you a drink^. I’m keeping these anonymous because I don’t want to point fingers or name names – I just want people to understand some of the additional pressures your note-giver might be under and how a writer’s attitude, behaviour or style might come across.

These are the things I found particularly irksome, the things I will be trying not to do to anyone giving me notes in future:



Go Your Own Way

When you’re reading a lot of scripts very quickly, then you need to be able to read them quickly. Peering at a script trying to work out if the bit left-justified, halfway up the page in a narrow block is action, dialogue or an accident is just fucking annoying. Learning the craft means learning the format – a small army of people all have to be able to read this thing in order to make it. Standard format makes it easy for everyone, if you want to invent your own, write a novel.

I’m not talking here about things like when to use caps or when to underline stuff or whether you use passive voice or not – none of that shit matters, not really. Not writing dialogue which goes all the way across the page with the character names on the same line – that’s important. Don’t do shit like that.

Or shit like this:







You're Morgan too?


Sorry, that's the limit of my German.


Your name's not Morgan?


Nathan thought Morgan was saying hello in German!

Nathan talks about himself in the third person.



Versus this:



          You're Morgan too?

          Sorry, that's the limit of my German.

          Your name's not Morgan?

          Nathan thought Morgan was saying 
          hello in German!

NOTE: Nathan talks about himself in the third person.


Okay, it’s still shit; but at least now it’s readable shit.




I don’t know if it’s still the case, but at that time CELTX didn’t play well with any other software. Scripts for PERSONA had to be put into the house style, and collated into a master document for the editor to assemble the appisodes. If I couldn’t export the script to anything, then I had to copy, paste and reformat or retype every script by hand.

Once you get past midnight, that becomes old really, really fast.

I know CELTX is free and is probably really fun/easy to write in … but (back then) the files it produced were completely fucking useless unless everyone on the production team switched to new software. That’s not going to happen. By all means use whatever software suits you, but deliver it in a format the rest of the production team can use/edit.

I apologise to the makers of CELTX if there was a simple way of exporting their files to something editable on other other software; but if there was I couldn’t find it. I fully accept this may be my failing, not theirs.

Still made my life needlessly more complicated though.




I come from a movie background, I think in three acts. Or rather, I talk in three acts. I actually think in four. The point is, three acts is an industry shorthand most people understand. Specific TV shows might have more or less acts and that’s great – you have to be able to use the terminology of the show. Myself and the producer/directors of PERSONA spoke in terms of three acts … so when I’d get replies to my notes from writers who talked in terms of whatever script book they’d read that week – it was difficult to translate.

I wasn’t just dealing with that one writer, I was dealing with up to nine at any one time. And when those nine are variously talking about 5 acts, 22 steps, 8 sequences or 16 keystone moments … I can’t keep up. I can’t really be expected to read every theory going and translate the prodcution team’s opinions into a different script language every fucking time. If those things help you write, then great – use them; but when you’re dealing with a note-giver who’s also dealing with eight other writers and a production team … just learn the common language.

Also, if you’re going to buy into your favourite script guru’s terminology, then please …



you keep using that wordAn inciting incident is an incident which incites. It should be both inciting and an incident. Two people talking about a third person’s shoes isn’t really either. Telling me it is because it comes on page x and your favourite script guru says that’s where the inciting incident always is doesn’t make it more inciting or incident-y. You can’t just point at random bits of script and declare that they’re inciting incidents in the same way you can’t point at a car tyre and declare it’s a carburettor.

Well you can, but it won’t make building a car any easier.



3u75m8Writing FINAL DRAFT on the title page of your script because you think you’ve done enough … yeah, don’t do that. I’ll tell you when it’s the final draft. It’s the final draft when it’s right, not when you get bored.



Missing-the-PointOne script we had generated only one note – the protagonist wasn’t really in it. The main character didn’t appear in well over fifty percent of the appisodes – that’s not good. The writer disagreed and drew up a chart illustrating that the protagonist was actually in at least 75% of the appisodes.

Bear in mind here, some of these appisodes are a week apart. If your protagonist isn’t in two in a row, they won’t be seen for over a week. Also, there are four stories running consecutively, all mixed together in a different order on different days – if your protagonist isn’t in the appisode, the audience may not know which story this piece belongs to.

I rechecked the script and the writer was completely right – the protagonist was actually in 75% of the scenes. In the background, not speaking. The wallpaper was also in the background, that doesn’t make it a protagonist.

If someone can read your script and NOT NOTICE WHETHER THE PROTAGONIST IS PRESENT OR NOT, then you have a problem. It doesn’t actually matter if the reader is wrong – the problem is still there. The difference between an absent protagonist and one we didn’t notice is exactly the same.

Because, and here’s the thing, people have to film this. Cast members have to be scheduled – if the three of us didn’t notice her; maybe no one else will. Maybe no one will notice until the day of the shoot … and then we find the actor is in Tahiti.

Or something.

A lot of people have to read and UNDERSTAND your script in order to film it. If it’s important, make it stand out – make if noticable. If the note-giver is accusing you of not including the vital information you know is there, then don’t argue – just go back and make it stand out. Put it in bold if you have to.



where-the-fuck-am-i-lets-ask-that-statueEach new location is a new scene. This is fairly basic stuff. The reason each new location is a new scene is because the entire crew have to move to a new place. That’s a lot of people. Okay, so you can have a continuous move from one room to the next, assuming the location has a kitchen next to a lounge (or whatever); but if the lounge is on the first floor and the kitchen is in the basement then a continuous scene is going to involve a lot of stairs. In a 30 second episode … there’s no fucking time for stairs!

There isn’t really time to move from one room to another unless they’re talking while they’re walking.

We had quite a few occurrences of:

She enters through the front door, walks up the stairs and into the bedroom.

That’s your entire appisode, right there.

It gets even worse when people write things like:

He follows her across the bridge, along the street, past the shops and watches 
her climb the steps to her front door.

What the fuck?

Unless this is a really small bridge, with shops on it, which are also really small and the flat is above the shop which is less than four feet away from the place the character started … then it’s at least three scenes. At least.

But, hey, you know … everyone has to learn. Most of these writers had never had anything produced, so we have to be kind and make allowances. So in this case, I did. I reformated it to separate scenes and explained, politely, all about camera set ups and what constitutes a new location.


But here’s the key thing – when you’ve written something unfilmable, had it pointed out and explained to you and had it properly reformatted at great time-expense by the script-editor … don’t submit the next draft WITH THE SAME FUCKING MISTAKES IN IT.

That’s quite annoying, that is.



the-countOne page equals one minute of screen time.


Not always, but roughly.

The only way to know for sure is to read the script out loud and act out all the parts.

Even then, you will be wrong because actors love dramatic pauses and directors love slow panning shots. But, in general, one page equals one minute.

So if, for example, the show you’re writing for has at that point expanded it’s appisodes to a minute and a half … you need to submit a page and a half of script.


A page … maybe. Two pages … yeah, if it’s all fast paced banter.

6 pages?


Really, no.

Most importantly, and this is really, really important, after having been told the appisode is only a minute and a half long and then having submitted 6 pages of script … don’t claim it’s a directorial issue.

It really fucking isn’t.

Also, when the script editor asks you to cut it down, saying “I don’t want to because it will lose intensity” just isn’t going to fly. I guaran-fucking-tee it will lose more intensity if it’s filmed as is and the editor randomly chops four and a half minutes off the end.




If you’re the same person who did both of the above, don’t fucking go on Twitter and claim you’re “Stuck in development hell” because you don’t know what a scene is or how page count translates into screen time.

You’re not stuck in development hell, you’re just a fucking twat.

This is draft two. Draft fucking two! Draft 200 is development hell. Not draft 2, especially when it’s your fucking fault for not knowing how to write a fucking script.

And guess what, we know what Twitter is! And we can read. You just said that to our faces.

If it’s that bad, just give up. Say you don’t agree that one page equals one minute or that a bridge, a street, a shop and a flat is more than one scene. Tell us that, call us names and just fuck off. Or convince us we’re wrong.

Either would be fine … complaining about it on Twitter is just …

Well, it’s a mite annoying.


I could go on. I have gone on. And on. But I think that’s enough, don’t you?

The essence of these last three posts, in case you hadn’t guessed, is I didn’t really like being a script editor; but (briefly, sort of) being one gave me a much better understanding of what it’s like to be giving notes on a script which is going into production. Not just an opinion on a friend’s spec script, which is a different thing; but on something which is actually going to be filmed very soon.

Essentially, what I learnt is: it’s really fucking hard, frequently frustrating and mostly unrewarding … but completely necessary. Those of you who do it on a regular basis as your profession – I salute you. It’s a hard job, congratulations on being good at it.

I’m not and I’m not doing it again.



+Very unlikely, I’m not one of life’s huggers.

^Quite likely.

Categories: My Way, Persona, Rants, Software, Someone Else's Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | 6 Comments

Notes from the other side (Part Two)


Did you read Part One? You probably should before you read this, I’m not doing any of that recap nonsense. Go read it and come back …

All done?

Jolly good.


Actually, before I begin, I think I should probably clarify something – this isn’t a definitive guide to being a script editor. It’s not a ‘How to’ post, it’s just my experience of trying on someone else’s hat (it didn’t fit, I looked ridiculous in it) for a short period of time. I wasn’t even any good at it; but it gave me an insight into what the people I write scripts for might be going through – something I found invaluable.

If you’re a proper script editor, you may well think my blundering attempts at your job are nothing like the reality.

In which case, I’d love to hear from you.


Throughout my time as a script-editor on PERSONA (this is a fucking recap! I lied! I lied right to your face!), I was always optimistic when I received a new script – maybe this one will be awesome and I won’t need to write any notes at all! Won’t that be amazing! Please, please be awesome …

There's little worse than disappointing Christmas presents

Hmm … it’s not written in standard script format. But maybe that won’t matter? Maybe this guy’s a natural genius who hasn’t learnt script format yet because his talent is so towering it …


Bugger. Where’s that red pen?

I really, really wanted to love every script I got; because it meant less unpaid work for me on something I had no faith/interest in in the first place.

But no script is perfect. First drafts are always, ALWAYS, at least fifty percent shit. This is just a fact of life. Things need to be changed. The (at best) fifty percent which is great, often also needs to change for production reasons.

Which is frustrating.

Unhappy Customers are not Engaged Visitors

Even knowing this, knowing the best I could reasonably expect would be fifty percent of greatness … I still hoped each and every draft would be a 100% of pure awesome.

I think this is probably true of every note-giver. No one wants to give notes. Everyone wants to be amazed and enthralled. I certainly didn’t want to give any notes at all. I wanted to just tick the ‘lovely’ box and get on with something more fun … like nailing my genitals to something poisonous.

So every time I read a new draft, I did so with nervous excitement tinged with trepidation. If it was truly awful after three rewrites, then I was going to have to politely thank the writer for their time and do it myself. Even if each draft was a million times better than the last, I’d still have to tweak the writer’s last draft for the final production pass. In the best case scenario, I was still going to have to do a lot of work.

On the occasions when the script mostly made sense, I was so deliriously overjoyed that I almost broke down in tears. This script is consistently mediocre! I only have to make a few suggestions to get it on track!


Don’t get me wrong, we had some great writers on PERSONA – I honestly feel privileged to have worked with them … but all writers need prodding in the right direction.

Or I do, anyway. Constantly. Sharpest stick you’ve got.

So my hope was I would have no work to do.

But that, of course, is an impossible dream.

Instead, my more realistic expectation was 50% of the script would have to be changed. I was still sometimes disappointed. Most scripts hit that 50% watermark, some fell short, luckily, only a very rare few were completely unusable.


Well, unusable apart from some of the shorter, more common words like ‘the’, ‘and’ or ‘nipple’ for example.

I also expected writers to take the notes politely and action every single one. That didn’t mean they had to do everything I said in the manner I said it; but I did expect them to take the thoughts I’d collated from the production team seriously and address them.

The reality is, that didn’t always happen either. Mostly, yes; but a few writers just refused to change things. Point blank. Others changed things around without really addressing the note so they were just different rather than fixed.

An example of that might be telling someone they don’t need to waste half the appisode having people saying ‘hello’ to each other – just start the scene later and get to the meat. The script would come back with everyone saying ‘hi’ instead.

The most annoying thing writers do (and I know I do this myself), is actioning a note … but not actioning it enough. Don (the producer) wanted every emotion to be heightened. He felt quiet moments, pointed silences and dramatic looks were just lost on a phone screen. Especially since he envisaged people watching it on their way to work on the tube or in some other similarly crowded, noisy environment – subtle only works if people are paying attention.


Shouting! Tension! Drama! That’s what he wanted. Don’t have characters looking hurt and upset, forcing the audience to try and remember what was said in the last appisode a week ago – have them screaming at each other!

Fuck it, it was his show, his rules.

So I would try to get the writers to up the emotional stakes – sometimes they would, but would only turn it up by 2%. Which was no good.

I often felt it was like trying to get someone to move a stick from here to a point six feet away. The person I asked to move it would nudge it a few centimetres and then look to me for approval.

No! Move it further!


Any good?

In the end it was easier to tell people to take the fucking stick and hurl it as far as they could. Fling it like a javelin, all the way down the field. Hurl it a good eighty metres away … and it would finally get moved about four feet, at which point I would give up.


I think the problem is, when you tell someone something’s great but just needs to be more so; they only hear the first bit and tweak rather than change.

Writers (including me) please take this one piece of advice – be bold, be courageous … change the fucking thing, don’t just fiddle with it.

So the hope was for perfection, the expectation was 50% useful, the reality varied from bang on 50% to nearer “Oh fuck, I’m going to be up all night.”

The most interesting thing for me was no writer, no matter how good (and we had some excellent writers) turned in a script which was without flaw. Not one of them. Because the reality is, all scripts need to be developed and all scripts need time and feedback to make them work.

The best writers took the feedback, swore in private and then publicly handed us what we needed so we could film it. Those writers I would work with again in a heartbeat.

One of the best writers wouldn’t take any feedback at all – I never want to work with that person again. That person’s script was the best first draft we received … but never got any better than a first draft because they refused (or were unable) to improve it past that 50% mark.


Next time: Part Three – things which pissed me off.

Categories: My Way, Persona, Someone Else's Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | 2 Comments

Letters from Linda

Last year I went to the BBC Drama Writers’ Festival in Leeds and had a merry old time. On my return, I wrote this post about it.

You can read the whole post again if you like, but it’s not really relevant. The relevant bit  is this description of a session:

Non-Linear Storytelling with Linda Aronson was a complete and utter head-fuck.

There was days’ worth of information squashed into 50 minutes.

Most of it seemed pretty decent, but I’d need to re-watch a lot of the examples used in order to agree or disagree. A lot of it seemed quite obvious, but was stuff I hadn’t really given names to before.

There were one or two things I think are obvious which seemed to be missing … but I may be wrong because I zoned out more than once. When I get information like this, I like to mull it over and apply it to as many films as possible; but there just wasn’t really enough time.

I think maybe you’d need to read her book or attend a longer seminar to figure out if any of it was useful.

Which is not to say it wasn’t useful, just a bit compressed.

Which, frankly, I think could be interrupted as being a bit rude. It wasn’t meant to be, but I am severely socially inept and tend to say the wrong thing more often than not. The fact I wasn’t saying this, but typing it is even worse.

Linda later got in touch with me and asked, very politely, what information I felt was obvious, but missing?

And I duly replied in a hastily thrown together email which I’ve since lost. In fact, I seem to have lost all emails from 2009 until May this year.

This is annoying.

The lost emails, not the communication with Linda.

To be honest, I can’t really remember what I wrote in that email. I remember being on the secret writing island, so I would have been in a different time zone to my brain; but beyond that … I know there were random witterings about WHEN to begin a story with a flashforward and … some other stuff.

Nope, it’s all gone.

I can only assume it was long, badly worded and burbled quite a bit; but Linda replied with another polite thank you and stated her intention to think about my opinions.

Which she did.

For fourteen months.

And now she’s replied with a fantastically in-depth, well thought out essay. Luckily, Linda had a copy of the email I sent her and quoted some of it, so I’ve at least been able to glean this snippet of my witterings:

It seems to me a lot of films adopt that structure [preview flashback] primarily because they otherwise wouldn’t open with a genre scene. Comedies start with a joke, musicals start with a song, action films start with action … but sometimes the stories need to start in a different place. If it’s an action film, for example, then the easiest way to get round this is to pinch 3/4 of an action sequence from later on and stick at the beginning.

To my mind, that buys you about 20 – 30 mins of scenes which aren’t action (or whatever the genre is) because you’ve shown the audience it’s coming and hopefully whetted their appetite enough to sit through the essential, often non-genre, character scenes. Although I only think this works if the scene you flashback to is completely opposite from the initial scene and you can’t see how the protagonist goes from A to B. If it’s too similar or you can easily imagine the journey, then it doesn’t work.

Opening with a genre scene and flashing back is frequently done because otherwise the first act of the script is non genre and therefore not what the audience has paid to see.If the following scene is too similar in tone or it’s too obvious how the character will get from there to the opening scene, then it just feels like a gimmick instead of a natural story structure.

If  you want to read Linda Aronson’s response and her thoughts on the matter, then you can find them here:

You need to scroll down the homepage to the subscription form, fill it in, and  hit  the ‘view previous campaign’ button.

You’ll be subscribing to Linda’s Newsletter about screenplay structure and parallel narratives and the like; but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Linda’s made an incredibly in-depth study of alternative screenplay structures which makes for an interesting read.

So thank you to Linda for (hopefully) not taking offence at a badly worded review of her session and for taking the time and effort to really think about and codify the kinds of things I should pay more attention to.

Categories: BBC, Festivals, My Way, Someone Else's Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | 1 Comment

Whine glass

A while back I was … something (Lead Writer? Script Editor? Co-creator? All of the above?) on PERSONA, a smart-phone delivered continuing drama series (which may, or may not, have been the first in the world).

Now there were a whole host of issues with that show, mostly my personal ones; but now’s not the time to go into them.

Next post. That’s probably a good time to go into them.

But this post, this post is just about a wine glass.

2013-03-20-Whine Glass

And possibly a tequila glass at a later date.

But definitely, a wine glass. An errant, naughty wine glass which should never have existed.

So the first scene of my first appisode of PERSONA had a man and woman getting on like a house on fire in a romantic setting. They’re sitting side-by-side on the sofa of a dimly-lit lounge. There are two, half-drunk wine glasses on the table and these two people clearly have a lot in common – there’s excitement, there’s laughter, there’s a connection … and then the woman’s flatmate enters, necks one of the glasses of wine, kisses the bloke and tells the woman not to wait up before dragging the guy off for a night of debauchery and leaving the woman alone to feel sorry for herself.

Persona Poster

Or something like that.

Okay, so it’s not a great scene; but hopefully you get the point – we’re meant to believe the man and the woman are a couple, then the reveal comes that this is someone else’s boyfriend.


So the scene is shot and there are THREE glasses of wine on the table. Not only that, the camera starts low, focuses on the THREE glasses of wine before moving to the couple, therefore making a huge fucking deal of there being THREE glasses of wine on the table despite there only being TWO people in the scene.

So now, to my eye, the whole scene is fucking ruined. RUINED! Now the audience will be wondering who the third wine glass belongs to, not really paying attention to the conversation and will probably guess what the reveal will be.

Okay, so as it turns out it wasn’t a problem because there was no audience. Not at that point, anyway.


And maybe later on, when there was an audience, they didn’t notice or just didn’t care; but I fucking noticed and I fucking cared and it seemed like a fundamental, yet stupid mistake to make.

The director apologised, he knew it was a mistake too; but had been too busy/stressed on the day to notice.

But how does this sort of thing happen? I specifically specified two specific glasses of specific wine. TWO. Why were there three in the scene? Obviously, some well meaning soul figured there were three people in the scene, therefore there should be three glasses and didn’t stop to consider why there were only two specified.

We writers like to believe there’s a point to every fucking word on the page. If there wasn’t a point, it wouldn’t be there. I would never specify the colour of someone’s jacket, for example, unless it was vitally important to the plot. I find one of the best ways to reduce my page count is to comb through the scene descriptions and ask myself if every word NEEDS to be there. So by the time the script is finished, the remaining words are the important ones. If something (like TWO wine glasses) is specified, it’s because it’s important and holds some plot significance … so why would someone ignore that?


Fast-forward a few years to a recent draft of a feature script I’m currently working on and I’ve written a scene where an upset man is drinking whisky in a bar. A drunken colleague demands the man cheer up and tries to top his WHISKY up with TEQUILA – provoking an irritated reaction.

When the notes came in, the client pointed out the man was drinking whisky, not tequila. The assumption being I’d made a mistake when it came to the attempted top-up line and forgotten what the upset man was drinking.

Initially, this irked me – I know what he’s drinking! That’s the fucking point! It helps illustrate that the man’s upset and it helps show the topper-upper doesn’t care about (or at least doesn’t pay attention to) the upset man. It isn’t a mistake – if you think about it for a minute, it’s perfectly obvious what’s going on. This is clearly a very stupid note!

Except, it’s not.

Not really.

It was about here I realised there are several problems with my “if it’s on the page, it’s fucking important so just fucking leave it alone/do it as it’s fucking written” stance. The problem is – it’s not true.


Or not entirely true.

Especially not during the script-development process.

I’d love to say every draft I hand in is a work of art with no mistakes anywhere on any page; but that wouldn’t be true. There are mistakes. Some of them are small, some are glaringly obvious. Sometimes things I think make sense, don’t make sense to anyone else. Sometimes that’s my fault, sometimes it’s just because the other person has a different set of experiences and a different world view.

Rarely, and this is important, is it because the note-giver is stupid and/or bad at their job.

This script is set in America, to be made by Americans – therefore, everything is in dollars. Every financial reference uses dollars as its currency … except for one reference on page 107, tucked away in a particularly exciting action line. One reference to millions of pounds which escaped my and the client’s detection for three drafts. It’s a clear mistake, one which an American would pick up on instantly; but because the client and I are both British, our brains just skated over it. It’s normal to us, a phrase we don’t really read – we just know what it is from the shape and skip over it. In the smae way you can wrtie a senetnce wtih laods of lettres in the wrnog plcae and the brian jsut auto-corrcets it to waht it konws it shuold be.


That’s one mistake, there are others. Especially in the early drafts. There are the odd spelling mistake, the odd grammar mistake, a few bits left over from previous drafts, tiny references to things which no longer exist and a load of sentences which can be interpreted in ways I couldn’t even begin to conceive.#

If the client is reading the script in order to make suggestions for things which can be improved, then he has a ‘find the flaw’ mentality. Given there are several flaws to find (because everything can always be improved) then it’s not unreasonable for him to occasionally misinterpret a correct sentence as a mistake.

Especially when it’s not crystal clear.

The information that the upset man was drinking whisky was on one line; the fact someone tried to top his glass up with tequila is on a separate one, half a page later. And that’s how it was worded:


Realising this isn’t a mistake takes a certain amount of mental agility. It’s obvious to me because I wrote it. It’s not obvious to anyone who’s looking for mistakes, finding several of them and jotting them down.


In order to establish this isn’t a writer’s error, it needs to be written:


But more than that, it illustrates to me why it’s vitally important I comb through the script and weed out as many mistakes as I can. Every uncorrected mistake increases the chances of other stuff being misinterpreted. If I want actors, directors, producers, wardrobe, props, editing, lighting … everyone, just everyone who reads it to assume every word on the page is important and thought through … then every word on the page has to be important and thought through.

If I want someone to only put the clearly specified TWO glasses of wine on the table, then I need to make damned sure there isn’t a single mistake, be it line, word or punctuation mark throughout the entire script. I want people to follow the script verbatim (except when I don’t) so I have to make sure everything is clear, unambiguous and exactly what I want it to be.

Until I stop making mistakes, how can I reasonably expect anyone else not to?


#Actually, that’s something which never fails to amaze me. People read whatever the hell they like into a sentence – frequently misreading a word to find new and confusing meanings. If the client has a fixed idea of who the character is, then no amount of evidence to the contrary can change their internal vision of that person. Instead of realising they’ve misunderstood what type of person the character is, they just assume everything in the entire script is wrong because the character they’ve invented in their own heads isn’t the same as the one who’s actually written on the page.

A good example of this would be Spock and Bones in Star Trek. You could read one of those scripts and come to the conclusion that those two people hate each other. Maybe you could even interpret them as gay rivals for the Captain’s affections, each hell bent on humiliating/discrediting the other. That version of the characters would hold up remarkably well throughout the entire script … until you come to the one scene where one risks his life for the other.


If you were just reading the script for fun, then that might be a startling revelation which makes you rethink how you’re imagining the characters. If, on the other hand, your job was to look for inconsistencies and errors in the script, you might just decide this was out of character for them.

Actors do that a lot too. Instead of looking at all the things the character does and finding a way to play a person who does those things, they create their own version of the character first and then vehemently argue that their character wouldn’t do that sort of thing.

It’s annoying. Especially when they’re right.

Categories: My Way, Persona, Someone Else's Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | 2 Comments

Ending with a beginning


I went to see Monsters University recently. Or rather, recently to when I’m writing this; probably not recently to when I’m posting it. It seems to be taking me longer and longer between writing and posting.


Anyway, Monsters University …




… is a really, really good film which I just didn’t really enjoy. I liked all the component parts. I liked the characters, scenes, dialogue, imagery, story and music … but was, largely, bored.

No, not bored … disinterested. Disconnected. I watched, but didn’t care.


I think that’s because of Monsters Inc. If Monsters Inc. didn’t yet exist or I hadn’t yet seen it, I would have loved Monsters University …

But it does and I have.

To me, the central dramatic question of Monsters University is “Will Mike become a scarer?”

Well … no. No, he won’t. I know I won’t because he isn’t. Present tense. Monsters University is all in the past. Monsters Inc. is the present. Mike isn’t a scarer. That’s one of the facts which was indelibly stamped on my brain before I went to see the film. It’s part of who the character is. In the same way I know Captain Kirk isn’t a painter and decorator or Batman isn’t a florist.

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Or perhaps a more relevant way of looking at it is Doctor McCoy isn’t a starship captain and Alfred isn’t a costumed vigilante. If they had grown up wanting to be the hero, then that would be an interesting and semi-tragic bit of backstory; but I’m not sure it would make for an interesting film. It’s a good piece of a film, but is watching a character fail to become the person you already know they’re not a good story in and of itself?

Putting it another way: can you root for a character/invest in their story when you know they’re not going to achieve their goal?

The odd thing about the Monsters University is that’s the whole story, there’s nothing else to it. I can’t remember ever seeing another film where the ending was so clearly set in my mind.*

Okay, so I didn’t know the how or the why of Mike’s failure; but I knew he would fail.

You could argue you know the end of most films – Superman will save the day, Indiana Jones will find the treasure and James Bond will get the girl. Sometimes twice and occasionally (and uncomfortably) whether she wants him to or not.

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But to me, that’s normal suspension of disbelief. I know the hero will win but am prepared to pretend I don’t in order to enjoy the film because, fuck, this might be the one time they fail. I’m 99.9999999% positive they won’t; but they might.

To me, the fun of a film lies in that 0.0000001%

But that’s not what I saw in Monsters University. This was knowing the hero is going to fail. 100% positive. Worse than that, it’s knowing the hero will be much better off (and happier) once he has failed.

It’s watching the hero pursue the wrong goal and having to wait 90 odd minutes for him to work it out.

To me, Monsters University is an origin story, which is fine. I love stuff like that. I love watching how famous partnerships began or careers got started. I know Clark Kent will become Superman, Bruce Wayne will become Batman and Peter Parker will become Spider-Man. I know all this and can’t fool myself into pretending they might not. I can’t suspend my disbelief. When I know the outcome, it stops being a WILL question and becomes a HOW. I don’t really find HOW questions dramatic – they can be interesting on an intellectual, documentary level; but rarely on a visceral, emotional level. Luckily, origin stories are usually structured so the origin, the HOW they become the thing you know they will become, is at most half of the film. After that, you get another story.

Most recently: Superman had to fight off Kryptonians intent making Earth more dangerous for themselves; Batman had to stop some loons from destroying Gotham by making everyone else loonier and Spider-Man had to stop a bit of a dull lizard-bomb.


Sometimes these origin stories weave the second story into the origin narrative (like in X-Men or in Batman Begins); sometimes the first story comes to a grinding halt (there you go, sir: snazzy cape, natty boots and a set of super powers … you’re all done! I expect an arch-nemesis will be along to monologue at you in a minute or two); but either way you get two stories:

How did X become X?
Will X overcome Y?

I like WILL questions. Will X fall for Y? Will X rescue the thing from the other thing? Will X find his glasses?

HOW … meh. Okay, I am interested; but I don’t care.

Monsters University is all HOW and no WILL.

Which is such a shame. Monsters University is clearly a superb film. It would have been fantastic as a stand alone film. And Monsters Inc. would have been fantastic as a sequel.

But that’s not what happened.

Monsters Inc. is a superb stand alone film; but I found Monsters University to be oddly empty and just backstory. I think it adds a lovely new sheen to Monsters Inc. Next time I watch Monsters Inc. it will be with fresh eyes, seeing nuances I didn’t know were there before. Monsters University has made Monsters Inc. even better than it already was … whilst at the same time failing to keep my attention.


I guess the problem was, although there were two questions, one cancelled the other out:

How did X become X?
Will X become someone else?

In order to become emotionally engaged in the second question, I would have had to stop asking the first question. I would have needed to not know it was an origin story. To me it needed a different second question – a WILL question which I didn’t already know the answer to which was wholly resolved in the movie. WILL Mike find the thief? WILL Mike uncover the dastardly plot? WILL Mike unmask the villain?

I guess the lesson I learnt is HOW questions pique my curiosity, but WILL questions engage me in the story.

Or something like that.

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I also thought it was really odd the way they ended the university section of the film. When Mike and Sulley discover they don’t need Monsters University in order to be the people they want to be, it’s kind of akin to the filmmakers telling you you don’t need to bother watching everything until this point in order to enjoy Monsters Inc. It’s a film about a character going to university where he discovers he doesn’t need to bother going to university. Oh. Right. So Monsters University is a waste of time? Is that an allegory for this whole film being a bit of a waste of time? Is allegory the right word?

We may never know.

Obviously I’m in a minority with this feeling – certainly the family behind me in the cinema loved the film. Loved it so much they shrieked with laughter at everything. EVERYTHING. Mike walks into a room, hilarious. Sulley breathes, hysterical. Randall has fingers, tears of laughter and whoops of fucking joy.

In fact, come to think of it, the HOW and the WILL of Monsters University were drowned out by the more pressing WHAT and WHEN of the family behind:

WHAT the fuck are they laughing at?
WHEN will they either shut the fuck up or laugh themselves to death so I can enjoy the film?

Maybe that was just the problem all along?

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* People usually toss Titanic into the conversation round about here, because they knew the boat would sink. The boat sinking isn’t the fucking point! The boat sinking is a HOW question, one you watch with detached interest. The WILL question is “will Jack and Rose get together?” If you thought the answer to that was obvious from the start, then I think you’re lying. Because they didn’t and NO is almost never the answer to that question.

Obviously, if you didn’t like either of the characters or the film as a whole then you probably thought maybe, maybe not – I don’t care … but you didn’t KNOW.

Unless someone told you.

Or it’s mentioned in the beginning of the film and I’ve just forgotten. Which it might be.

Lincoln! That’s a film where I was a hundred percent certain of the answer to the WILL question. That film tries to ask WILL he succeed; but really it’s just a docudrama about HOW he succeeded. I kind of enjoyed that film without really being emotionally involved.

Categories: Bored, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard, Things I've Learnt Recently | 5 Comments

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