Things I’ve Learnt Recently



I don’t know about you, but I’m loving Doctor Who this season. Last season wasn’t for me, I found it increasingly difficult to watch to the point I had the last episode on in the background but didn’t really pay attention.

As a long term fan of the show I’ve come to accept this as normal. Some seasons I’ll love, some I won’t. Some Doctors I’ll love, some I’ll find annoying.

Last season … there was nothing for me to like. That’s not to say the show was fundamentally unlikeable, it’s just a personal preference.


This season, I’m so excited. I’ve enjoyed every episode so far. Does that mean it’s quantitatively better?

No, it’s just how I feel about it. There’s always a chance that when I get round to rewatching the season I’ll feel differently, but for whatever the reason# I’m totally hooked again this year.

One of things which is deepening my enjoyment is listening to the Verity Podcast. If you haven’t listened to it, it’s (mostly*) American/Canadian female fans discussing the show. When the show’s airing, they discuss the episodes. When it’s not, they discuss other Who-related topics.


Now, I know quite a lot of Doctor Who fans … but not many who live close by. I could ring them up to talk about the show … but we’re all busy and ringing people up takes time away from our respective families. Listening to other people discuss the show helps fill that void. I like to hear other people’s opinions, even if they differ from my own.

Actually, especially when they differ from my own. There’s not a lot of point listening to your own opinions repeated back to you (apart from when they codify or clarify something you didn’t know how to express).


I like to listen and I like to learn to think about things in a different way.

There are a lot of Doctor Who podcasts, but the Verity one achieves this better than most by dint of being (mostly*) Americans/Canadians and solely women.

I don’t know any female Doctor Who fans. Not personally anyway. I know women who enjoy or quite like the show … but would never really describe themselves as fans. I could probably track some down if I really felt the need … but if I were my wife and saw me deliberately seeking out women who shared an interest we didn’t … well, I’d be a bit cross with myself. It would be a weird thing to do.


Hearing women discuss the show is fascinating because, although most of the things they talk about are universal, there are certain points of view which don’t come naturally to me. This might be because I’m a man or it might be because I’m British or maybe just because I’m me and not them. Doesn’t really matter, I just enjoy hearing a different slant on things.

Similarly, it’s interesting to hear transatlantic opinions on something which feels so quintessentially British. Especially since their depth of knowledge and level of fandom are far greater than mine.


It also makes me swell with pride. Doctor Who is a massive part of my life but has always been this tiny show, kicked about by the BBC and prematurely murdered just as it was finding its feet again. It had a moment of greatness … but became an embarrassment and something to be mocked. Hearing people halfway around the world loving it feels like a vindication. This is popular, it’s global, liking it is normal.


If you haven’t listened to the podcast, I highly recommend it and would welcome similar recommendations in return.


* Mostly. There’s a Scot in there. And an Australian, I think.

# It might be my new office? Yeah, it’s probably my new office.

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

Deleted from a galaxy far, far away …


Last week, while wallowing in nostalgia for Back to the Future* I managed to sidetrack myself by watching deleted scenes from all three of the Star Wars movies. Specifically, the ones in these videos here:

Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to watch those videos … although they are interesting. Two things struck me though:

  1. It amazes me that I’m still learning things I never knew about Star Wars after 38 years of continuous fandom.
  2. All deleted scenes are essentially the same – deleted for a good reason.

Okay, not all. Barring scenes which were omitted from the theatrical version due to lack of money or interference by people who thought they knew better but didn’t … most deleted scenes are deleted because of pacing or because they restate information the audience already has.

Or both.

In other words, they slow the film down. They’re just not needed.


All films have scenes like this: subplots which go nowhere, exposition heavy scenes which just aren’t needed, character development scenes which show the character doing character-y things which reinforce the type of character we’d already assumed they were …

And so on.

In retrospect, they’re clearly pointless or a waste of time … so why write them in the first place? If it’s so obvious watching the film, why isn’t it obvious when reading the script?

I mean, okay, writers are in the maze trying to figure their way through … but script readers, directors, producers, they have an overview, don’t they?


No, not always.

A good director is down there in the maze with you. A good producer might be there too. On the first draft they may have an objective view, sure … but on the tenth? Or the twentieth? Sometimes the opposite thing happens and whole chunks of exposition and character development get deleted because we all know he’s a murderer due to his mum forcing him to wear the wrong colour pants – it’s obvious!

But it’s not. Not to anyone who hasn’t read fifteen drafts of the script, including the fourteen drafts which actually mention the pants in the first place. Sometimes obvious things are a lot less obvious than we imagine.


Similarly, a script is not a movie. An actor standing on a set, wearing specific clothes under specific lights with specific music playing whilst holding a specific prop against a specific background can convey a lot more information than a single action line in a script.

In a script, you either have to call things out and explicitly state something … or allow the context to build up to an inescapable conclusion.

Often these conclusions are quite escapable because readers all read their own stuff into a script§. Part of the development process is weeding out words which may cause confusion. If a character is a werewolf in half of his scenes and occasionally growls in annoyance when he’s not … well, the word growl is confusing. Is he a wolf at this point or just annoyed?


Clear on screen, not so clear on the page.

So sometimes whole sequences feel absolutely vital on the page … only to be completely redundant on screen. There’s an oft-quoted story of Steve McQueen crossing out dialogue, knowing he could say it with an expression … and that’s fine. He knows he can do that. Not all actors can. Not all readers/producers/directors can see that expression when it’s written down.

Deleted scenes will always exist because of the disconnect between translating one media (writing) into another (film). Pace on the page doesn’t always equate to pace on screen … and vice versa.

It would be nice to be able to identify which scenes will be deleted before filming. Or even before writing … but I’m not convinced that’s possible. There will always be deleted scenes, most of them are interesting … but ultimately pointless.

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A bit like this post.

I might just delete all the stuff about the elephant.^


* 2, technically. I guess?

Yes, three. There are only three Star Wars films. Shut up.

Excluding that one summer when my younger brother watched the film once or twice a day, every day for six weeks. That was pretty annoying and almost put me off for life.


∞ Underpants, if you’re American – no one ever became a murderer because of their mother’s taste in trousers. That’s just silly.

§ And completed scenes, to be fair. Think of that whisky scene in Skyfall – your interpretation of Bond’s reaction may well decide how you view the rest of the film. Is he hiding how upset he is or is he a callous misogynist~? Bet that was clearer in the script.

~ Who wants to guess how many attempts it took me to spell ‘misogynist’?

^ There is no elephant. Don’t look for the elephant, you’ll never find it.

Categories: Industry Musings, Random Witterings, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment



I have a second spec TV project on the go at the moment. That’s second to the one I’ve been talking about the last few weeks. If you haven’t read those posts, this possibly needed clarifying … or possibly not.

Anyway, there’s two of the buggers.

Unlike the first (which is genuinely the best thing I’ve written for years) the second isn’t quite right yet and is undergoing a B-story-ectomy. This is a massive pain in the arse and something I’ll talk about in the future.

Unless I’ve already blogged about it, in which case I won’t. I often get confused about which way round time moves.

This second script is something I’ve been kicking around for years (without really putting much effort into). Over a decade ago, the movie version of it won stuff and got me interviews with managers … which came to nothing because I didn’t have any other scripts of similar quality. I was, back then, a one trick pony.

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Now I have more tricks and sleeves to keep them up and everything.

That movie script was okay, but really it needs to be a TV series. So I’ve rewritten it as a pilot episode … and I love it. It’s one of those kind of programmes I’ve been lamenting the lack of. It’s a rollicking Saturday evening, team-adventure thing with a sci-fi twist. It’s exactly the kind of thing child-me would have loved.

The main difference, I guess, between this programme and its ’80s equivalent is that the ’80s version would have had an all white, male cast. With maybe a token sexy-woman thrown in.

Keen not to write the ’80s version, this one is much more diverse.

For a start, three of the five team members are women because … well, I feel like there’s an awful lack of women in these kind of things and I don’t really understand why. Some or all of them may or may not be sexy, it’s hard to tell from words on a page.


There is a token sexy-bloke though because … well, why not?

The other guy may or may not be sexy too, it’s hard to tell from … blah, blah, blah.

The secondary character in the movie was a young Indian woman because fourteen years ago (when I first wrote it) I had more Indian friends than then existed in movies and wanted to redress this. She’s still Indian in the TV version.

One of the other women is Egyptian because … well, she needs to be for the story.

She’s also in a wheelchair because I’ve been trying to include at least one clearly disabled role in everything I’ve written since that BBC drama thing a few years back.

This one feels odd to me since, generally, it doesn’t matter if two, three or all of them are disabled. I don’t think it matters to the story one way or the other … but I want to help represent the large percentage of disabled people in the UK and this is my way.


Is she a token disabled person?

Maybe. Depends on who’s cast in the other roles. Hopefully there would be disablity-blind casting … but, sadly, we all know that any character whose gender, ability, race or sexuality isn’t specified ends up being a white, able-bodied, male hetrosexual.

Even in our minds, say BARTENDER or DOCTOR or SKIER and our default image tends to be white and male and … so on.

So at least one of the main roles is specified as disabled.

One of the women is a lesbian because it’s the best thing for the pilot story and it helps (un)define the relationship between her and one of the men. They become best of friends, but will never be lovers. There is no sexual tension between them and never will be. That’s important for later.


Similarly, one of the men is gay because it’s the only mechanic I could find which makes sense and creates the right reasons for the events which unfold throughout. He’s not necessarily camp though. His sexuality is absolutely incidental to the week to week unfolding of the story … until the end. At the end of the first season his actions retrospectively make sense because of who he’s in love with.

So there’s a gay one and a lesbian one and an Egyptian one and a disabled one and an Indian one and three out of five of them are women and …

Oh, hang on. None of them are black.

Right … so, whereas it would be nice if there was naturally an ethnic mix across the remaining three cast members, we come back to that default white casting setting.



So why not specify one or more of them as black?

And maybe one should be Chinese or Japanese or Korean?

Ooh, and transgender! They’re not very well represented, one of them should be transgender.

And I’ve always thought one of them would be best played by Warwick Davies. This isn’t a “let’s get a little person in there” thing. I just think he’s awesome and genuinely the best actor for that role, irrespective of height.

So now my mental casting looks like it’s been done by the commitee for minority integration. It’s starting to look less like a bunch of people doing a job and more like they were all hand picked to represent something.

Which is kind of 50% true, I guess.


The playing field isn’t level. The default casting tends to discriminate against a lot of people. I don’t know why this is, I don’t know if there’s genuinely a dearth of variety among actors or if there’s an unconscious bias which prevails in a predominantly white, male industry. It kind of doesn’t matter because I have no control over any of that.

Unless I give up and reduce the straight, white, able-bodied male writers by one.

What I do have control of is how I specify characters in my scripts. If I say nothing, there’s a better than average chance they’ll cast the default. If I get specific, they’ll search for that type of person.

Unless there’s a bloody good reason not to. Isms not being a good reason.

It’s kind of part of my job to write diversity into the script.

But. and here’s the thing I need to keep reminding myself,  I don’t have to fight every battle all the time.

This isn’t the only script I’m going to write. I can keep some of my white, middle class male guilt for the next script and the one after that and the one after that. Maybe the next script will have a transgender character in it? Preferably one whose story doesn’t revolve around their trans-ness. Maybe the next script will have five transgender characters in? Or five wheelchair users? Maybe there won’t be a single white, able-bodied, straight man in the whole script?

Or maybe the next script will be only about white men because that’s what the story demands?

I don’t know what story that might be, but maybe it will?


I hope not.

The point I keep having to relearn is that no one script will change the world … but a general trend towards diversity will.  At the moment, making sure the characters are an even mix of race, sexuality and ability can look a little odd. Hopefully that’s changing and in the near future it won’t?

I guess my job is to add to the trickle which builds to the flood.


Categories: For Want of a Nail, Industry Musings, My Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The second thing


Last week I went on (at great length) about how changing the arena of a script instantly made it more appealing to people. This week’s post is kind of an extension of that, a further twist to the arena knife which allows the story to haemorrhage awesomeness.

Wow. Haemorrhage is a really hard word to spell.

My writing partner and I had moved our story from a council estate to a community which grew out of the Great Sunday Squat. Set on an illegally occupied airbase it had all the qualities of a council estate with none of the resistance we’d been meeting whilst trying to get people to read it.

But something still wasn’t right.


All the time Jay and I had been writing this, the story had been fighting us. Scenes felt dated. Attitudes and locations felt somehow wrong. It was a real struggle to keep it feeling fresh and modern … and then the shift in location/arena added a new problem.

This society had been set up in 1946. Most of these squats were gone by the mid-fifties. Keeping one around longer than that is a stretch, but not a huge one. Maybe one or two did continue longer than that? Maybe one is even still around to this day?


But then … does that ring true? Would a large swathe of illegally occupied land be left to fester under the no-longer-caring control of a bunch of squatters? Would any modern council allow those people to keep what will have become prime real estate?

In short, is it believable?


Not to me, no.

It may actually be true (maybe?) but it’s not believable … and that’s a problem.

The way I’ve written this blog, it makes the solution seem obvious … but it really wasn’t. This blog makes it sound like there was a dead body with a stab-wound and a man holding a bloody knife … but that description doesn’t include the thousands of other facts which could obscure that obvious conclusion.

It took us a while, but eventually the blindingly obvious struck us – this wasn’t a contemporary story any more, it’s an historical one.


Suddenly, all the scenes which had felt horribly 80s became typically 80s. We went from thinking people don’t live/behave like this to realising people did live/behave like this.

Suddenly it all made sense.

And the more I looked into moving the script through time, the more sense it made.

This script has a parallel narrative – the same characters go through two different yet interconnected stories which are set 7 years apart.

Think about what someone in 2015 wears. Now think about what someone in 2008 wore. Could you identify which set of clothes belonged to which year instantly?


Think about someone holding an iPhone 3G up to their ear. Now imagine it’s an iPhone 6. Or an iPhone 5 (if they can’t afford the latest model) … is the difference so pronounced there’s no possibility of confusion?

What about cars? Is there a significant difference between now and then?

Not to my eyes.

Now think about the difference between 1978 and 1985. Think about seventies clothing. Now think about the eighties … is there a clear and recognisable difference to you? There is to me.


Okay, so I know there was a blending of styles between 1978 and 1985. Some people in ’78 wore flares, some were punks. Not everyone wore decade-defining clothes … but the point remains. I think it’s easier to spot the difference between a 70s’ suit and an 80s’ one

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… than it is between a modern day one and one from 08.

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Hell, even the police cars were completely different. The 70s’ ones were the blue and white panda cars:

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The 80s brought us red and white jam sandwiches.

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What did police cars look like in 2008? Exactly the same as they do now? Silver Battenberg models as far as I can remember.

Police_car_in_Edinburgh_Scotland_2008 image

To our eyes, changing the script from present day to the seventies/eighties gives it another level of intrigue – it’s another change to the arena which is inherently interesting. Plus, in that time Britain moved from a Labour government to a Tory one. Drastically so. There’s a world of difference between Callaghan and Thatcher – visually and in terms of policies. Policies which exactly mirror the attitudes of our dual protagonists.

If the Prime Minister was on a black, flatscreen TV in the background … could you tell at a glance if we were in 2008 or 2015?

Well, yes, probably. Especially if it was a close up of his face. Brown vs Cameron is an easy spot. Blair vs Cameron is trickier – two suited pretty boys who look like they’re dressed by the same stylist.

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Now think of the difference between Callaghan on a wooden TV and Thatcher on a brightly coloured plastic one.

Changing the time just made sense.*

Suddenly the script was set in an interesting location at an interesting time. Visually it’s striking and it just sounds different. The arena is unusual and therefore more intriguing.

So although this post and last week’s are technically about two different things, they’re really about one thing – arena. Where does the script happen? What’s the world, is it interesting to explore?

A sitcom about a  office worker who’s desperately in love with a girl but keeps fucking it up because he’s an imbecile sounds … familiar. I guess the execution might be good.

The same story set in Ancient Rome … that’s more interesting.

The arena is different. It’s the same com and needs to be equally as funny, but the sit’s different. The sit is what attracts people to a sitcom. The com is what keeps them watching.


Or maybe not. I just made that up without really thinking it through.

If it is true, then I think the same is (at least partially) true with all stories – find an interesting arena and you’re one step closer to making a sale.

Bullshit or not?


* It also made a fuck load of annoying work while I tried to figure out what was invented when and how people did simple everyday things in 1978. 1985 I can remember fairly accurately, but 78? I was 6, I have no idea how petrol stations worked or banks or the police.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings, The Ties That Bind, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

One more thing …


I wrote a script a while back (with Jay Sutherland) and the result was … well, pretty good. We like it anyway. We had something we wanted to say, something we wanted to achieve and a story we wanted to tell. After multiple drafts and a lot of head-scratching, we achieved all three.

The end result was a great script … which no one wanted to read.

Not a script no one wanted to option, but one no one wanted to read.

Hmm … why not?

Maybe it was the pitch?


Well, obviously it was the pitch since that was the only thing we could get people to read. Clearly there must be something wrong with it?

But there wasn’t. Or rather there was, but it wasn’t the pitch’s fault. The pitch accurately described the project in an exciting way … but the project itself was fundamentally flawed.

I say fundamentally flawed, but that may not be strictly true. Maybe the problem lies in other people’s perceptions/prejudices? Because, in essence, the fundamental flaw was two words – two words which, unfortunately, describe the arena in which the story takes place.

Those two words were ‘council estate’.%


Okay, so I kind of get this. There are certain kinds of story which get set on a council estate. Often the kinds of story described by adjectives like ‘grim’ and ‘gritty’.

I’m not a fan of grim and gritty.

I recognise these stories have their place and can accurately reflect modern society or even inform people about the kinds of lives people do or have lived in the UK. I even enjoy such stories when I’m in the right mood … but generally I like my films to be escapist. I like to leave a cinema feeling good. Films which make me feel bad or an emotional wreck can be excellent … but for preference, I’d rather be uplifted.

British working class dramas tend not to be uplifting.


Tend. Not ‘are never’, just tend.

Jay and I wanted to follow more in the footsteps of American blue-collar films which tend to be about triumphing over adversity or be somehow more life-affirming.

Again, this is a tendency, not a hard and fast rule.

Maybe these aren’t even tendencies and just the perceptions/prejudices of Jay and I#?

I don’t know.


The problem is, as soom as people read ‘council estate’ they put the pitch down. They weren’t really interested in that kind of grim and gritty story.

Which is a shame, because we’d specifically written a non-grim-and-gritty story.

So what to do? We’d written a genre-busting* script which no one wanted to read because they didn’t like the genre. This is a colossal waste of time.

Thing is, I like the script. I like the story. I think people would like it too if they read it … we just needed to find out how to do that.

It just needed one more thing.


It needed that extra twist which makes the script inherently more interesting.

In the end we settled on two more things.

The first was to change the arena. If people don’t want to read a script set on a council estate (I live on a council estate, by the way. My wife and I own our house, but it’s on a council estate) then we need to change it to a different location without losing the essence of the story.

So … reverse engineering time. What is it about a council estate which made it right for the story? What elements of an estate do we need to keep? Which elements do we need to throw away?


Well, there were two tower blocks and stuff happened involving people looking down from them – is that important?

No. Not really. They can look across. Or up. It doesn’t matter.

What else?

We wanted to write an inspirational/aspirational working class story. Does that need to be set on a council estate?


We wanted it to be a self-contained society on the outskirts of a town which was marginalised by the more affluent people in the town and downright ignored by the police. So long as people stayed on the estate, the police didn’t care what they did.


That felt more tricky. I mean, we could have transplanted this story to an off-planet colony. One which was failing and being ignored by Earth … but then that tips it over into science fiction and whereas I love sci-fi,  I don’t want it for this story.

Still, that’s not a bad idea because it adds one more thing: an unusual arena.

This, I feel, is important because it automatically piques someone’s interest. The Martian looks like exactly the same (or at least a very similar) story as Cast Away or Robinson Crusoe.

Someone is stuck somewhere on their own, having to survive in ridiculously tough circumstances.


Clearly there are a million ways to tell this story without changing the arena. Cast Away and The Martian may well be exactly the same story (it doesn’t look like it, but I haven’t seen or read The Martian so I can’t be certain) but setting one on a deserted island and the other on Mars makes them instantly feel different.

Changing the arena changes the level of interest. It can make the difference from someone going “Oh for fuck’s sake! Not another stranded on a desert island story!” to “Ooh, stuck on Mars! How’s he going to survive that?”

If people feel they know everything about one arena (even when they probably don’t), then switching it to one they know less about can make the difference between a read and a pass.

So what arenas are like a council estate … but not? What haven’t we seen on screen before? Or recently?


And this is where an eclectic reading habit comes in useful. Hoover up knowledge, you never know when you might need it.

Two things sprang to mind, two things I remember reading and being fascinated by: The Principality of Sealand and Freetown Christiania. Both are small communities set up on the fringes of society, occasionally attacked by the authorities before settling down into an uneasy truce.

Sealand’s story I know was optioned by someone at some point – there may well be a film about that (or inspired by that) in the works.


Freetown Christiania feels uniquely Danish … but maybe there’s a British equivalent? After all, we did have a lot of abandoned Air Force bases after WWII.

A brief spot of googling turned up The Great Sunday Squat of 1946. Turns out there were hundreds (or possibly tens) of these kind of mini-societies set up in the UK. Some of them set up their own councils and laws and schools and existed for over a decade.

So … what if one of them still existed today? What would that look like? How would that fit into modern Britain if it were on the edge of a more affluent town?

In the 1940s squatting was an accepted part of normal life. Nowadays it’s villified. That’s interesting, isn’t it?

We think so anyway. It’s not a council estate, it’s something else. It’s visually interesting to look at and (as far as I know) it’s never been done before.

So that’s the first thing. By changing the arena, we’ve created a much more appealing story. It’s exactly the same story (mostly) but the setting makes it instantly more intriguing.^

The second thing … I’ll talk about next week.



% And the last paragraph of the original pitch. The last paragraph made us sound like egotistical wankers who believed we were the saviours of the British film industry. We don’t and we’re not. Sorry about that.

# The Full Monty is pretty uplifting, for example.

* Okay, maybe not busting. Bending? And not really genre since ‘council estate’ isn’t a genre … it’s just apparently perceived as one.

^ Other options could have been a Model Village which was abandoned by it’s philanthropist owner, or a factory village created to house workers for a factory which then went bust, or railway village whose station was closed by Dr Beeching, something like The Epcot Centre (which was designed to be lived in but never was, imagine if it had?) … and so on.

Categories: The Ties That Bind, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

#PhonePhill – Conversation #6: Rosie Claverton


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


* 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



Last Monday my phone suddenly, and unusually, emitted a strange sound. It was a sort of warbling, chirping noise I hadn’t heard before.

And it didn’t stop. It just kept on warbling and chirping.

Quick as a flash, I ambled out into the garden and found a stick to poke it with (just in case it was dangerous) and upon my return I was delighted to discover an email from the lovely Danny Stack informing me he’d tried to ring and inquiring how I was.

As it happens, I was perplexed.


Apparently my phone can receive phone calls, a capability I was hitherto unaware of. Truly we live in an age of wonders where mere phones can receive phone calls. I’m half convinced it can make calls too … but further investigation is required before I commit myself to such outrageous claims.

Monday was a good day. It was the day we finally had our hall carpet fitted after months of sanding, scraping, painting and varnishing. Here it is:

2015-04-20 12.41.16

I think it looks quite nice.

On a day which included the culmination of months of hard work, a phone call from Danny was absolutely the highlight.

If you don’t know Danny, you should. His blog, here, is one of the very, very, few of the UK-advice-blogs which is worth reading. Danny’s the real deal, a working writer who shares vaulable insights. If you don’t read his blog, then you should at least listen to his and Tim Clague’s podcast which is equally as informative.


Danny and I keep in touch via the odd email or social media message. Occasionally, once in a blue moon, we’ve meet face to face … but that’s kind of it. So to get a phone call out of the blue with no motive attached is … well, it’s special.

It’s lovely, in fact.

And it got me thinking.


Maybe there are other people out there who fancy a natter? Maybe you’re a novice writer who’d like to chat to someone a teeny bit further down the path? Maybe you’re an incredibly experienced writer who’s (inexplicably) got no writing chums to talk to? Maybe you’re an avid movie watcher who’d like to ring up and know just how the fuck utter dross like Strippers vs Werewolves got made? Maybe you just want to complain to someone about your boy/girlfriend’s utter inability to grasp simple concepts like special relativity?

Maybe. I don’t know.


I’m usually procrastinating so if you fancy a little chat, email me (the address is on the right – take this as a simple intelligence test, if you can’t find it you probably can’t operate a phone anyway), I’ll send you my phone number and you can ring up and have a chat.

I don’t know if anyone wants to do such an outlandish thing as actual voice-to-voice contact with another human being … but if you do … great. If there’s more than one of you per week (which seems unlikely) then we’ll form some kind of queuing system.


Or line up in height order or something.

If you’re in one of those dangerous foreign places then maybe we can Skype or something. So long as you don’t expect video because that involves me putting pants on and that’s never going to happen.

Share this post with people if you like. Or don’t. It’s up to you. I’m just curious to see what happens.



Categories: #PhonePhill, Things I've Learnt Recently, Writing and life | Tags: , , | 13 Comments

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:

download (1)

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

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