Writing and life

#P̶h̶o̶n̶e̶ MeetPhill – Meeting #3: Michelle Lipton, Paul Campbell and Piers Beckley

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So this post is sort of the last in a trilogy of posts about one pagers. The first post talked through my method, the second was the BBC opportunity (closed now! It’s closed, you missed it. Unless you didn’t.) and here’s my final thoughts on how to write a one pager, possibly the most vital part:

Feedback.

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Preferably peer, but anyone who can articulate honestly how they felt reading it, why they did or didn’t like something or what they didn’t understand.

In this respect I got lucky since I had (coincidentally) arranged to meet a few of my writer chums for drinks. Those of you keeping track of these things may notice the meetPhill numbers aren’t quite sequential – this is because there was someone else that day whose identity I may or may not reveal in a future post.

Not to create any mystery or tension, but because I might get sidetracked. I only mention it so he doesn’t think he’s less important than these three or any less of a chum.

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So forearmed in the knowledge I was meeting up with Paul, Piers and Shel a few days before the BBC deadline, I figured I might as well print out a few copies of my entry and see if I could t̶r̶i̶c̶k̶ persuade them into giving me some feedback.

Which they happily did.

Or at least, they didn’t complain too much.

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And in return I read their entries and in fact it all set off a cascade whereby we all read each other’s.

If you haven’t got writer chums, it’s a really good idea to find some. It’s nowhere near as hard as it might seem since there’s probably a local Shooting People meet or maybe a writers’ group. If not, there’s always the LSWF which is chock-full of potential chums desperate to make friends with you.

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Or at least they should be desperate to make friends with you, because peers are the most valuable asset we have in this otherwise solitary industry.*

Obviously getting people to read a full script is a big ask, one not to be thrown away on a first draft unless you’re reciprocating in someway. All reads should be reciprocal. No, strike that. You should be happy to read your friends’ work and offer an opinion because it’s a nice thing to do. If they do the same for you, great. If not … that’s fine.

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Unless they’re taking the piss, I suppose …

Oh, you know what? You’re all adults (probably?) you can figure out the rules for yourself. Suffice it to say I rocked up for drinks and dinner with friends who gave me an invaluable insight into how my one-pager came across to them.

Not whether it’s good or bad, but which bits they didn’t understand, which bits confused them or made them reread or even slowed them down a little. The benefit of something short in person is the conversation afterwards, because that way you can find out how they imagine the story and see if it matches the story in your head.

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On this occasion all three of them offered comments which vastly improved the one-pager. They didn’t add anything to the concept or the characters, but rather helped me present the idea in a clearer, more succinct way.

Which was awfully nice of them.

Hopefully they got some mileage out of my comments on their work in return.

It’s difficult to know exactly how something will be perceived. In my case a mention of a character in her early sixties got misread three times as the series being set in the early sixties.

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Okay, so I could have argued that they just didn’t read it properly … but they did. They read it as quickly and as thoroughly as anyone at the BBC will. People make mistakes and if even one person can misinterpret something they how do you know the person reading a judging your work won’t?

In this case (I think?) all three made the same mistake … so the mistake is actually mine. It needs to be crystal clear or the meaning is lost.

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This is the sort of feedback I couldn’t give myself because it was perfectly clear to me … or I wouldn’t have written it down.

So hooray for writing chums! And hooray for those who are willing to be honest and supportive because they really are (or should be) an invaluable part of the process.


*Supposedly solitary. I have the slightly skewed experience of writing nearly everything for someone. It’s very rare I write a spec script with no input, it’s been years in fact. Maybe even a decade. Every time I try, someone either options it before I’m finished or commissions me for something.

That probably sounds like bragging, it’s not meant to. Sorry. I’m not bragging and have nothing to brag about … it’s just the way my career seems to work.

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

Time to grieve

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This is a post for producers and directors, or any note-givers really. It’s about how writers receive notes.

Or maybe it isn’t? Maybe it’s just about how I receive notes? After all, I don’t speak for all writers everywhere.

Receiving notes is tricky because of two key factors:

1: Most writers suffer from impostor syndrome.

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Most of us fear we’re terrible at this whole writing lark and no matter how many people keep paying us to write and claiming to be happy with the results, sooner or later everyone’s going to work out we can’t do it and no one will ever work with us again. Lots of people in lots of occupations suffer from this sort of thing, it’s incredibly common as well as being incredibly silly. Every time I receive notes I assume there will only be one: YOU’RE SHIT, GET OUT.

Luckily, this rarely happens to me. You’d think, looking at some of the terrible films which have been produced from my scripts that it would happen more often … but it doesn’t because either those films bear little resemblance to the scripts they were loosely based on, or they are exactly what I was asked and paid to write. In all but two occasions* I can recall, the producer or director (or both) has ended the rewrite process happy.

The second reason for receiving notes badly is probably more important:

2: Writers hate writing and are incredibly lazy.

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Every note comes with a calculation attached – how much of what I’ve done am I going to have to destroy in order to action that note? How long is this going to take me and will the end result actually make the script better? Or just different?

  • Changing names or locations – easy. Two minutes and I can get back  to Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes.
  • Swapping genders – might be easy, might be tricky. Depends on whether we’re swapping all the genders or just some and how homophobic the producer  is. Could be five minutes, could be five days.
  • Changing the ending/the beginning – arghh! That might be simple, or it might be moving the point of the pyramid two feet to the left. That involves thinking through the entire script from the beginning to see if everything still lines up. Especially if the new ending involves the protagonist having a new motivation/goal which could mean rewriting every single scene from beginning to end. That might make draft two take longer than draft one! How will I fit in my afternoon naps?

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Ultimately I want the script to be better and will put in whatever work it takes to make it the best it can be … but it can be really upsetting to get one of those notes, even if it will fundamentally benefit the script in an amazing way. Some note-givers like to deliver notes via phone or face to face … which I hate. These notes are like stun-grenades which shut down my ability to do anything while I frantically try to calculate how much work it will take versus how much better the script will be afterwards.

Which is why I prefer to have notes delivered via email first – it gives me time to grieve.

Time to grieve over the loss of my favourite idea, the one I spent weeks working on which you’ve dismissed in one vague sentence, as well as time to grieve over the days I’ve just lost in the coming week or two.

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After grief comes acceptance and calculation – is this better or not? Am I being resistant because it’s not my idea or because I’m lazy? What’s best for the script? That is the bottom line – will it improve the script?

If I get that idea in an email I have time to follow the proper foot-stamping, swearing, calm down and get on with it procedure.

If I get that idea face to face or  over the phone … I’m going to go quiet for a bit. That bit might be a few seconds or it might be a few hours. Depends how long it takes me to scream inside my head and then process all the ramifications for every single event in the script.

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The point of this post is just to warn you, the note-giver, that it’s fine to give notes by phone or in person if that’s what you prefer. You just need to understand that when I go quiet or gibber a little, it’s not because I hate the idea. It’s because I need time to grieve before I can add anything to the discussion. That’s why I prefer an email with a follow up phone call after I’ve had time to think, but hey, it’s your money and you can have it anyway you want it.

 


* One of those was because the producer told me the rough, not-even-first draft was a work of genius and, foolishly, I believed it must be exactly what he wanted. The director pointed out it was shit and the producer immediately agreed with him so as not to look like a moron. The other was when I gave the director exactly what he asked for … which was a mistake because he didn’t actually understand that what he’d asked for was an extra 90 pages added to the script. Even after I told him. Twice.

Categories: My Way, Writing and life | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Public grief

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Towards the end of the last Millennium I was a young whipper snapper who’d just started a job. A proper job, mind you. One where you actually had to do things and interact with people, none of this hide-in-my-room-with-my-imaginary-friends nonsense.

Day two (or perhaps three, I forget) of the initial training course I came into the room early one morning to find everyone in tears.

Everyone.

Great wracking sobs of grief.

“What’s happened?” I asked, realising something truly awful must have happened to have so deeply affected such a diverse group of people.

“Haven’t you heard?” came the reply “Diana’s dead.”

“No!” I exclaimed, scanning the room for an empty chair … “Which one was Diana?”

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Now you may think it’s blatantly obvious they meant Princess Diana, but this was pre-instant-news-to-your palm-smartphones and almost pre-internet. At that time in the morning I hadn’t seen, heard or read the news. Given everyone in the room was crying, I immediately (and erroneously) assumed it must be one of the people we’d all met the day or so before.

But no. It was the Princess of Hearts.

“So … why is everyone crying?” I asked. Because (and you may or may not remember or agree with this) before her death, Diana wasn’t the Princess of Hearts, she was the feckless whore who was threatening to steal the heirs to the crown and spirit them out of the country with her Johnny Foreigner lover.

At least, that’s how the papers portrayed her.

So why was everyone crying? Why was the death of someone so vilified in the papers the cause of floods of tears?

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I still don’t know. I think it’s sad when anyone dies, but there are very few people I’d shed actual tears over because … well, I just don’t know them. The exceptions would be Christopher Reeve (because he was my hero when I was six) or Douglas Adams (because he was my most favouritest author ever since, like, forever).

Although I never met them, their work touched my life and (I think) improved it. They meant something to me.

Princess Diana – yeah, I felt sorry for her family, but I didn’t know her … at all.

And yet the streets were awash with very public grief.

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Nigh on 20 years later and Twitter is awash with grief when anybody vaguely famous dies. Friends who I’ve never heard even mention David Bowie, let alone listen to his music, were distraught after his death. On social media, that is … not so much in real life.

2016 has been a public griever’s playground. Every month someone of note has (sadly) passed away … and every month people fill my Twitter and Facebook timelines with heartfelt distress and incredibly public mourning.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand what it’s like when someone who meant something to you dies. It is sad and does feel like a piece of you has died with them. I get it, I really do. I have friends (both real and online) who mourn the passing of Bowie or Prince or Ronnie Corbett or whoever because they genuinely meant something to them. They write little online eulogies because it helps them express their grief and the results can be beautiful and, occasionally, makes me wonder if I should perhaps re-evaluate the artist’s work to find out what it is they saw in that person.

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And maybe having R.I.P. insertnamehere trending on Twitter makes the families of the deceased feel better. I don’t know.

So far this year, the only person whose passing made me a properly sad (as opposed to “oh, that’s a shame”) was Paul Daniels. Jason Arnopp and I were reminiscing a few days before he died about how good a magician he was and how he kick-started our interest in magic.

And yet Paul Daniels got unfairly swept up in the wholesale dumping of traditional entertainers during the eighties. The old guard got swept away in a torrent of radical newness … and that shouldn’t have happened.

Yes, some entertainers were sexist and crass. Some merely committed the crime of being warm and cosy and didn’t swear or punch things. They were old, we were all about the new. Paul Daniels was one of the babies thrown out with that bath water and he didn’t deserve that. He was an amazing magician and a fantastic entertainer in the true sense of the word.

I loved Paul Daniels … but I didn’t feel the need to rush out a Tweet or blog letting everyone know.

I’m not sure if that makes me a better person or a worse one. Probably worse. My sad face is just for me.

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Except when it’s not, for if I’m anything it’s contradictory.

Recently I remembered that Douglas Adams wasn’t always my favourite author. I was introduced to him by Miss Seaman in the last year of Coten End Middle School when I was ten or so. From then on Douglas Adams’ work had a significant effect on my life … but he wasn’t the first.

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Before Douglas Adams, there was Nicholas Fisk. I don’t know who turned me on to his work, but I loved it and consumed it voraciously. His shelf was the first I scoured in the library, on the off-chance he had something new out. Or something old I hadn’t read yet. Starstormers was a particular favourite of mine. As was A Rag, a Bone and a Hank of Hair. Grinny is still my go-to cuckoo story, more so than The Stepford Wives or The Midwich Cuckoos.

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Nicholas Fisk steered me deep into sci-fi waters and became my gateway author to Heinlen and Arthur C. Clarke and Asimov and Harry Harrison and even Terry Pratchett. Without Fisk, there probably wouldn’t have been any Douglas Adams in my life … and that would be a great shame.

Somehow I’d forgotten Nicholas Fisk, sold or lost all his books and even stopped really reading sci-fi all together.

Last month I suddenly remembered him. I can’t tell you why or what caused his name to resurface, but I suddenly remembered I had a favourite author as a child. How could I have forgotten? Maybe I can read his books with my daughter? Maybe she’ll love them as much as I did?

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And then, yesterday, I found out Nicholas (or David Higginbottom as I learnt he was called) has just passed away. Sometime last week at the age of 92.

He didn’t die tragically young or while he was still writing and had so many more stories to offer … but, you know, he was a large part of my childhood and even if I had forgotten him, I’m a bit sad that he’s gone. Deaths like his nibble away at our past and bring the darkness of non-existence that little bit closer.

Like I say, I’m not one for public grief (although I’m dreading the day I see Tom Baker’s name all over my feeds – hopefully that day’s a long way off) but just this once I want to shed a single, public tear for a man who meant a lot to me all those years ago.

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Rest in peace, Nicholas.

Categories: Random Witterings, Two steps back, Writing and life | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

2015

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So that was 2015.

No flying cars, there were hoverboards … but they didn’t hover, they just set fire to people’s houses.

Behind the scenes I had a thrilling and exciting year … but I can’t really talk about it.

Not yet, anyway … but one day. soon.

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This is what’s immensely frustrating about being a scriptwriter – all the exciting things happen (and often die) out of the spotlight. By the time I’m allowed to talk about things (because contracts have finally been negotiated and signed) it’s old news and any excitement is feigned.

Well, not feigned … diluted. Like having to remember how excited you were about a Christmas present you got last year when it’s since been broken by the kid next door.fake-smile

But hey, it’s been a busy year with lots of stuff going on. On paper, it probably looks like not a lot … but that’s just the nature of the business. I’ve done a few uncredited rewrites, one of which has just been released … which is a yay I can’t publicly acknowledge.

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But never mind. If I was in it for the applause, I wouldn’t be a writer.

The rest of 2015, the bits I did talk about, went something like this:

JANUARY

Apparently all I did in January was talk about 2014, which although it included Ghostbusters and a suspicious looking codpiece …

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… seems a bit of a waste of a bloggy month.

FEBRUARY

Ah, hello groove I was wondering where you’d gone.

February was a proper blogging month full of blogs and … well, just blogs.

First off I tried to get you all to commit acts of phone-related mischief by adding ‘Okay Google’ phrases into scripts which would punish anyone who had their phone on in the cinema.

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Did any of you do it? Please say someone did it.

Then I defended Footloose because … it’s fucking Footloose. Footloose is awesome.

After succcessfully re-educating the world about the joys of ’80s dance, I went on to prove the three act structure is fine – stop trying to reinvent the wheel, it works just fine.

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And then I immediately explained why it doesn’t really work that well for a scriptwriter.

Aren’t you glad you’ve got me around to explain these things to you?

MARCH

March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb …

I, on the other hand, came in with a thing about the joy of failing

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… stumbled into a confused ramble about clichés

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… mumbled something I can’t be bothered to reread about page thinking

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… compared Joss Whedon to HTC and rambled about how frustrating it must be to be either of them …

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… and went out with an in-depth discussing about liars and lying for a living.

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APRIL

April is where things got interesting …

Just not at first. First I wondered if maybe you shouldn’t really be able to point to the midpoint in a film.

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Then I used my blog to educate my producer as to why he shouldn’t get his hopes up about the first draft I was just about to deliver …

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Just as it might have got interesting … I got angry about spoilers instead.

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Then it got interesting. I had a phone call

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It was Danny Stack … and he didn’t want anything except a chat.

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Where it got interesting was it kicked off a string of phone calls between me and … well, just people. Nice people. People like Calum Chalmers.

MAY

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And it carried on with more nice people like Robin Bell, Andrew Mullins and Dominic Carver.

In fact, most of May was taken up with phone calls, broken only by me trying to figure out how to write the perfect cameo (it worked! I wish I could tell you how well it worked … but I can’t) and to celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary.

Oh and I went on a bit about competition and how much I enjoy it.

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JUNE

June continued the #PhonePhill-ing bringing delightful chats with Dee Chilton, Rosie Claverton and Rebecca Handley.

In fact, June was all phone calls apart from one post about being better and how we should all pursue knowledge as if it were a … thing. I don’t know. Insert your own simile, I’m tired.

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JULY

July brought yet more telephone awesomeness …

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This time in the shape of Mac McSharry, James Moran, Jay Sutherland and Terry Newman.

As well as yakking to people, I also (gasp!) worked over a weekend.

Apparently this is so shocking to me I felt the need to blog about it.

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I also made an uncredited appearance as Iron Man at a little boy’s birthday party in a homemade, cardboard costume:

I enjoyed that.

AUGUST

In August I had a little panic about potentially offending  someone I quite like by giving them script notes. In order to cover my anxiety, I wrote this post about the kind of script notes I get and how upsetting they can be … if you don’t take them in the spirit they’re intended.

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Later on, I followed that post up by giving myself notes on an old script.

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I also pretended a meal/drink with some friends was a sort of #PhonePhill episode … even though it wasn’t.

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But it did lead to this picture, which is my favourite of the year:

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I rounded off August by highlighting my inability to not focus on background detail.

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SEPTEMBER

Man, I did a lot of blogging in 2015. Too much, some might say.

In September I added one more thing to a script and felt the need to tell everyone.

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Then I added a second thing and banged on about that too.

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I did a thing about tokenism and … well, I don’t know what my point was there. Feel free to read it and let me know.

Oh, and then I added some nonsense to Jason Arnopp’s blog post about hands.

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OCTOBER

I kicked off October by contrasting Rose Tyler with Jurassic Park … which, you know, is clearly two different things and needs a blog explaining why.

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And then … the future arrived!

I meant to take a photo of myself with my trousers on inside out … but I didn’t. Possibly because I don’t think I wore any in October.

Instead of wearing trousers, I watched some videos about deleted scenes from all three Star Wars films:

I say three because I’m a prequel denier. At that point I was adamant there were only three Star Wars films. Now, of course, there’s been another half of a Star Wars film.

Hopefully we’ll find out in a couple of years whether or not any of it makes sense.

NOVEMBER

Just when you thought I’d forgotten about it, another #PhonePhill – this time with William Gallagher. He’s written a book, you know. Bits of it are about me.

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Inspired by the resurgence of telephonic communication, I immediately didn’t do it again and instead waffled on about River Theory …

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Expressed my love for the Verity podcast …

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And raved on and on and on about this speech from Doctor Who:

Oh, and I found this photo of a Burt Reynolds crab.

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DECEMBER

Which brings us to now. All I did in December was a handful of short blogs about other people’s stuff. Things like:

Arnopp’s patreon campaign, the UK Scriptwriter’s Handbook and the Heaven Sent/Hell Bent scripts.

There were meant to be more, but there wasn’t.

I didn’t even wish you a merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas.

There, I did it.

And so, with this year nearly spent, all eyes turn to the next one.

Hopefully it’ll include at least one blog about my new office:

And loads and loads about my next script to be produced:

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Happy New Year, let’s chat soon.

Categories: #PhonePhill, Bored, Career Path, Christmas Crackers, Industry Musings, My Way, Progress, Publicity, Random Witterings, Rants, Sad Bastard, Someone Else's Way, Sparkle, The Ties That Bind, Things I've Learnt Recently, Two steps back, Writing and life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Welcome to the future!

 

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Happy Future Day!

It’s today!

Today’s the future!

Welcome to it.

In the course of my life many days have been thought of as the future. 1984 because of surveillance culture; 1999, because that’s what we used to party like it was; 2001 because … fuck knows, something to do with black rectangles and Space Jesus; 2010 because Space Jesus did something to Chief Brody …

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All of these days (and more) have come and gone and somehow the future never arrived, I mean we always seem to be living in the now. Star Trek would had us believing the future would involve everyone on each planet wearing the same clothes (or lack of them, if you’re a woman).

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That didn’t happen.

2001 would have us believe we’d be harangued by mental computers on our way to Jupiter (or Saturn – depending on whether you prefer the book or the film).

That didn’t happen.

Prince would have us believe the future involves … death? Is that right? Why were we supposed to party in 1999? Is it because the moon got ripped out of orbit and things went correspondingly wonky?

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Who knows?

Didn’t fucking happen anyway, but at least women got to wear something on the moon.

Today though, today is actually the future. It’s future day as foretold in Back to the Futures I and II.

We made it! And um … yeah. Very few hoverboards. No flying cars. Can’t see anyone wearing their trousers inside out. In fact, weirdly, everyone I’m currently looking at is wearing clothes from 1985.*

Fax machines are slightly less prevalent than expected. TVs are smaller … but not by much. Portable computer tablet device thingys are here. Weather forecasting … hmm …

But you know what? Who cares? The fact is Back to the Future II was set in the distant, far flung future of today.

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Wow.

I was 12 going on 13 the year Back to the Future came out and I loved it … despite the fact I should have been annoyed by the obvious Doctor Who ripping off – which never bothered me in the slightest and is probably just all coincidence.

Back to the Future was the first film I saw with my friends without grown up supervision. It marked the beginning of adulthood for me, a freedom to come and go (at least as far as the cinema) as I pleased.

I remember coming home and describing the film to my parents in excruciating detail. I can even remember how bored they looked.

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It’s one of my favourite films, one of those films I can watch from any point every time I catch it on TV without feeling bored.

Huey Lewis and the News became the first band I decided to like because I liked them, as opposed to liking because everyone else did and they were in the charts. I made it my mission to track down their back catalogue. They kindled my interest in guitars and led (indirectly) to me learning bass a few years later. They were the first gig I ever went to (again on my own, for my 16th birthday – cementing my friendship with the guy who was to be my best man at my first wedding).

I became a little obsessed with Deloreans (didn’t we all?) and used to moon over the Volkswagen Sirocco because it looked a little similar. I even bought one of these …

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… for much the same reason.

Okay, maybe not from that angle.

I read and reread the novel until I could no longer distinguish between the film I’d seen and the words I’d read.# Did Marty’s thrilling escape from detention with the chewing gum, the matches and the elastic band happen in the movie or not? I could see it vividly … but couldn’t be sure. No one else remembered it, but that’s no guarantee of accuracy.^

I became obsessed with finding a Walkman which was as small as his … and eventually found one smaller.

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I tried (surreptitiously) to copy Marty McFly’s style – for years I never left the house without wearing a t-shirt under my shirt. I even found a body warmer (a Washington Redskins one died black) to wear over my (orange) denim jacket.

I. Looked. Awesome.

Probably.

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I also loved his fifties’ ensemble and have been vaguely in love with fifties’ stylings ever since.

Most of all though, whenever I lose my way with my writing, I think of Back to the Future and I try to remember that it’s exactly the kind of film I want to be writing – adventure and excitement with a heavy dose of comedy.

The sequels I like~, the original I love. I love the world, I love the characters and I love the way they make me feel. I want to write something which has that effect on someone. Even if it’s only one person, that’s my ultimate goal.

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It feels utterly bizarre to be in the future of Back to the Future. It feels equally bizarre that my seven year old daughter loves the film – I’m not convinced I’d have loved a film in 1985 which told the tale of someone from 1955 travelling back to 1925. But hey, maybe she’s just more sophisticated than me?

Oh who cares?

The future, we made it.

Happy Future Day!

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* This is a lie. The only people I can see from the window of my rooms on the Secret Writing Island are wearing bikinis. Which may or may not be inside out, hard to tell from here.

# Remember this was in a time where it took AGES for films to come out on video … and then pretty much only to rent, buying was still expensive. Going to see the same film twice at the cinema was expensive and pretty much didn’t happen (for me) so the book was the only way to re-experience the movie.Remember this was in a time where it tooks AGES for films to come out on video … and then pretty much only to rent, buying was still expensive. Going to see the same film twice at the cinema was expensive and pretty much didn’t happen (for me) so the book was the only way to re-experience the movie.

^ A similar thing happened to me with Terminator 2 – I have vivid memories of scenes which didn’t show up until the director’s cut because they were in the novelisation.

The opposite happened to me with Return of the Jedi – there was this photo in one of the tie-in books which showed Luke hanging from the grating in Jabba’s Palace. The text described him leaping over the Rancor and going hand over hand along the grate … until the denizens of the palace knocked him back into the pit. Everyone I know insisted it happened in the film, I was adamant it didn’t. By the time the film came out on video I was no longer friends with any of those people and missed out on a rare opportunity to be right.

~ Have you watched Back to the Future II recently? Watched it through the eyes of a writer? Every second scene is exposition. Almost literally every second scene involves someone explaining to someone else what’s going on. Occasionally with diagrams. If you just assumed people understood how time travel works then that film would be about 14 mins long.

Categories: Future Tense, Random Witterings, Writing and life | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

What do producer’s notes look like?

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A couple of weeks ago, whilst panicking about possibly offending a friend with my callous note-giving, I asked if anyone would be interested in seeing what script notes look like.

Apparently,  a few of you would be.

Although only one of you is prepared to say that in public.

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I should probably mention at this point that this post will largely benefit writers who have yet to enter production or receive notes from anyone who isn’t either a friend (being nice) or someone they’ve paid to get notes from (being polite). If you’re a more experienced writer, you may like to chuckle along in recognition or perhaps be outraged because you’ve never had notes like this.

Don’t be outraged. Be thankful.

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So these notes are second or third draft notes. First draft notes tend to be a bit more general and hand wavy:

I know we’re doing a live-action remake of Dumbo, but I’ve just found out how expensive elephants are … so can we make him a hamster?

or

The first act is great. The second act flags a bit and … well, there isn’t a third act. Can we fix this?

In essence, they like the concept and see potential … but want everything else to change.

By the second or third draft, all these things have been fixed. The big pieces are (mostly) in the right places (even though they’ll all change next time round) and attention can be spared for the finer details.

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So that’s what these notes are … but there’s a problem. In order to show what notes look like, I need a script to make notes on.

I had considered writing a deliberately early-stages three page script … but decided it was probably impossible to write something I thought was good enough to hand in and then immediately find all the flaws in it as if I was someone else reading it for the first time.

Then I considered asking someone to send in a short script … and quickly decided it would be a fairly unpleasant thing to tear someone’s script apart like this.

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So instead, I opened up my long-forgotten short-scripts folder and picked the first script off the list. This one is alphabetically and chronologically the first short script I ever wrote.

Boy is it shit.

But, saying that, it got optioned twice and won a short script competition … so some people saw some merit in it somewhere.

Fuck knows why.

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So here it is: 1939 – 1945 pm by (the young) Phillip Barron – it’s the entire history of WWII told in one afternoon in one street. Ish.

First off, have a read of the virgin, un-noted first three pages of a 14 page script. Imagine you’re a fresh-faced writer who thinks he’s written a work of genius.

Try not to form your own opinions just yet.

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

 

Yeah.

Right.

Okay. So let’s now imagine you’ve sent it off to a producer and they’ve gushed on about how wonderful it is and made your head all big and swollen. Maybe you are a genius! They love it! They’ve optioned it!

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Fame and fortune here you come!

Because that’s exactly how this business works – you option a short script and are instantly catapulted into a full-time, fully paid professional position where people are hurling Oscars and BAFTAs at you.

Sometimes I want to build a time machine so I can go back in time and beat some sense into myself.

Anyway. You’ve had a meeting, you’ve made some big changes … which they love! They love you! Here comes the teeny, tiny little nit-picky notes:

Notes 1

 

Wait, what the fuck? (The bits in bold are me then. The bits in brackets are me now. Me now doesn’t like me then much)

What’s all that red? I thought they loved this? How come they no longer seem to understand what’s going on? I deliberately left out all the scene descriptions because they told me the script was too long and needed to be trimmed! They know the answers to all these questions!

How fucking dare they point out a typo (damn it! I missed that!) in the same paragraph they make a typo!

Do they really not know what ‘etc’ means?

(Later on you’ll find out they’re asking exactly how many Germans ‘etc’ means since they have to work out how many people to hire. For now, you’re just wrongly outraged.)

Why are they asking about the uniforms? How is that my decision? That’s down to the wardrobe department, surely? Isn’t that what they tell us in scriptwriting school?

Notes 2

 

Christ, it gets worse!

Hitler’s accent is up to the actor playing him, surely?

(Yes and no. They will make up their own mind (and possibly accent), but you still need to give the reader some clue as to how to read it.)

What does ‘too political’ mean? Do they want me to whitewash the Jews out of history? I can’t just not mention them, but the holocaust isn’t funny – what do they want me to do?

(They don’t know. Neither did I. Or do I. That note probably means we need to talk about this.)

Why bother giving me a note saying they understand something when they could just wait to the next line and find out?

(Because they’re giving you their impressions as they read. They think you’re someone they can just chat to through their typing. They probably found it easier to type an apology than to go back and correct it. Anyway, sometimes things like this are useful – knowing where you lost a reader (or viewer) can be the difference between someone finishing a script and hurling it at the bin).

More rousing? Fuck!

(Typically, writers will make it five percent more rousing for the next draft instead of 3000%. When someone wants more, give them MORE!)

I genuinely can’t remember if Arthur is historical or not … 

Notes 3

 

Two beats? What the fuck does two beats mean?

(Doesn’t mean anything – it’s just an observation. There are two beats in a short space of time, one in dialogue, one in parentheses.)

Who’s confused? They are, obviously! It’s so fucking clear who’s confused!

(Yes … but will it still be clear when there’s dozens of people standing around on set?)

Himmler was always a child!

And where’s the typo on that line? I’ve been looking at it for ages – there fucking isn’t one!

(Usually, when queried about this, producers can’t remember what they thought was a typo either.)

Discuss black and white? Okay: You’re a fucking imbecile for considering it.

There, how was that?

(It’s a whim. The producer will probably have forgotten why they thought that when you actually talk over these notes).

Of course Hitler wasn’t Himmler’s dad! Don’t be a fucking moron!

Chevy Chase? What the fuck does that mean?

(They won’t remember. They won’t even remember writing it. Just move on.)

Notes 4Has he got that power? Um … I don’t know. Does it matter? Wait, do you mean in real life or in this story? Oh fuck, I’m confused now.

Why do they love the word ‘promise’?

(They just do. Don’t question it, it doesn’t matter.)

Several means … I don’t fucking know! You choose! How many can you afford?

The English house looks like whatever the actual house looks like in the fucking location you pick. How is that my job to know that?

(Because someone has to go looking for a house which matches the picture in your head. It’s helpful if they know what that picture is.)

Peace and piece … those are Chamberlain’s actual words, you fucking idiot! And I’ve just realised you spelt his name wrong on the last page. Hah! I win the notes!

Swearing … yeah, okay. I like swearing but maybe you don’t?

No? What does ‘no’ mean on the last line?

And so on until your liver explodes in a shower of bile.

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If you want to know how to deal with notes, the answer is here.

The main problem with receiving notes like these is they’re all right. All of them. Even the ones which aren’t. They hurt because they feel like everything you’ve done is wrong … but that’s not what they’re saying. If everything you’d done was wrong, there’d either just be one note:

This is shit.

Or, more commonly, no notes because you’d never have heard back from the producer in the first place.

These notes, the myriad of tiny notes on every line, are the notes of someone who is on your side and is trying to help finesse the details. They may feel like a personal attack, but they’re not. This is just what the job is and how the process works.

Forewarned is forearmed. If you’re expecting this sort of evisceration then you can prepare yourself for it. Script editors tend to be more woolly and lovely about giving notes. Directors and producers tend to be more technical and clinical, brusque even.

As is always best practice, don’t respond straight away.

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Think it over, get a face to face meeting or a phone call and go through the notes. You’ll get the chance to explain and defend the bits you’re certain are right (I’m rarely certain and like being persuaded) and they’ll get the chance to explain what they actually mean by things like ‘Chevy Chase’ … if they ever meant anything in the first place.

Categories: Someone Else's Way, Writing and life | Tags: , | 4 Comments

#P̶h̶o̶n̶e̶ MeetPhill – Meeting #1: Piers Beckley, Michelle Lipton & J̶a̶s̶o̶n̶ ̶A̶r̶n̶o̶p̶p̶

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A very special #PhonePhill this week in that it didn’t involve a phone at all, but rather an actual face to face meeting with all the delights and risk of contamination these things bring.

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How can such a thing happen, you’re doubtlessly asking?

What kind of Earth-shattering calamity could persuade Phill to leave the relative safety of the Secret Writing Island and venture into deepest, darkest London where people can actually see him face to face and possibly even (gasp!) be nice to him?

Well, I’m glad you asked. It’s all Piers Beckley‘s fault.

Piers used to (or possibly still does but hasn’t for a while) run these monthly get togethers for writers in London. He was nice enough to invite me to join in and as is my want, I declined.

For I am shy.

Except when I’m not.

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But he persisted and I eventually caved in to his smooth-talking big city ways and found myself venturing into London to meet a lovely bunch of lovely people who were in various states of drunkeness.

And fun was had by all.

For largely geographical reasons (except Piers, who travels. Possibly in some kind of mysterious wrought iron carriage powered by dreams), Piers, Michelle, Jason and I began a tradition of extra-curricular meetings in Brighton. And sometimes London.

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Which is where this inaugural #MeetPhill took place.

Although, obviously, this wasn’t our inaugural meeting. Nor was it an opportunity for them to meet me so much as for all of us to meet each other. Again. Also, inaugural implies there’ll be more opportunities for people to meet me.

There won’t.

Well, there will. But I’m far too lazy to traipse into London for a random natter with anyone who emails me.

To be honest, this was just three friends meeting up for a chat about writing and life and stuff.

Wait a minute. Three? Don’t I mean four?

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No. One person has been strangely elusive of late. He says he’s doing this newfangled thing called writing … but that sounds frankly ludicrous and can’t be true.

The truth is … we’ve lost Arnopp. Has anybody seen him? If you spot him, give him a cuddle and some gin and send him home.

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The rest of us had a lovely time. We saw dinosaurs and ate Japanese food and got caught in a Tube strike and, oh … everything. We regaled each other with discussions, including but not limited to:

  1. Getting a proper writing job on a proper TV programme  … and then having to turn down another proper writing job on another proper TV programme because they clashed.
  2. Writing erotic fiction.
  3. Writing for a proper A-list actor who actually read the script and loved it and wanted to do it … and then didn’t because of reasons which are depressing but totally understandable.
  4. Something so insanely exciting but also very, very personal and private which can’t be discussed despite it being the bestest news ever.
  5. Developing a new TV series for and with someone.
  6. The pitiful amount of custard served with the steamed treacle pudding in the last pub we went into. Which also didn’t have a working kettle and hence, no tea. Which was disappointing.
  7. Purging the urge to write scripts for existing TV shows by actually writing them in a useful way.
  8. Other stuff.

Usually in a #PhonePhill there’s some aspect of the discussion which I’ll pull out and highlight in great length, but in this case the meeting of peers is the point. Sideways networking, meeting up with other writers, having a bit of a chat and building those relationships is vital.

Networking with producers and directors is all well and good. Vital, in fact … but it’s the other writers, the other people on the same journey who will help you the most.

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Yes, sometimes we read each others’ scripts. Sometimes. Sometimes we share information or opportunities. Sometimes those things even lead somewhere.

Just prior to meeting Piers and Shel, for example, I had a meeting with a new producer to discuss optioning a feature script. That meeting came about because of Piers – he knew the guy was looking for scripts and thought I may have had the sort of thing he was looking for.

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Piers was right.

That new contact, that new opportunity and new option is a direct result of sideways networking. Writers tend to be awfully nice people who have a lot of time for each other and are very supportive. Well, in my experience anyway.

If you’re a writer who doesn’t know other writers, find some and know them. You’ll be glad you did.

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Categories: #PhonePhill, Career Path, Writing and life | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

What do script notes look like?

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An actor friend of mine recently asked if I could read his script for him. Now normally I would say no*, but I like this guy and I’ve been we’ve been chatting about the concept for a while now and I thought – what the hell?

So I read the script and gave some opinions. Just opinions, not facts, just my (flawed) perception of the script as I understood it.

He went away, did some rewrites and came back with a better draft.

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Now there’s an odd thing with a script – the better it is, the more notes it generates … until it gets really good and the notes slowly dry up.

Essentially it’s because first drafts are terrible and need major de-and-reconstruction to make them work. I expect to throw out 50% of every first draft. Notes will be along the lines of:

It’s great up until the third act (this means the first act is shit).

or

I don’t like the protagonist but her friend is really cool (usually because the protagonist was their idea and their friend was the one I wanted to write).

or

I don’t know, the (insert whatever plot element they specified) is so clichéd now.

or

None of this makes any fucking sense (which usually means … yeah, I fucked up).

The notes are big notes about big things because the big things don’t work. There are fewer big notes about big things than small notes about small things because there are fewer big things than small things in a script.

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The second draft is (hopefully) far better. It actually works as a movie.  It’s coherent, it’s funny/sexy/affecting (or whatever it’s meant to be) … it just works.

Now we can start to make it good.

Now we get onto the small notes about small things.

Now we tear out the writer’s heart and stamp on it.

These kind of notes are awful and upsetting and often feel pointless and overwhelming and … hurtful.

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But they’re not. Not really. Well, not always. They’re usually right or at least right from the note-giver’s point of view. They’re not given in a malicious sense, they’re given in a sleeves-rolled-up, let’s-get-into-the-details-and-make-it-better sense.

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These notes are polishing. And polishing, by its nature, involves methodically going over every square inch of script.

Every line, every name, every scene heading … all of it.

Experienced writers … well, we don’t enjoy getting these notes, but we expect them. When people don’t interrogate the script and just go “Brilliant! Let’s film it!” (which has happened to me), when they’re apparently not interested in refining the script … the film will be shit. Because they clearly don’t care enough to put the effort into improving it.

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Actors, like my friend, I don’t know if actors are used to notes like that. Actors get notes on their performance, true. But I think (and correct me if I’m wrong) that they tend to be along the lines of:

That was great. Can we try one where you’re angry?

Followed by an in-depth discussion/explanation of why the director thinks the character should  be angry at this point.

Actors (I think – I may be talking out of my arse here) rarely get notes which go:

Your left foot, can you move it two inches to the left? Your right foot doesn’t make sense. Let’s rotate it 30 degrees so you’re standing on the outside edge. Your left ankle is fine but your right ankle is too fat – change that …

And so on, all the way up their body, criticising every joint, muscle and sinew until they get told to make their blinking asynchronous.

Maybe that does happen – I suspect (and hope) it doesn’t.

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So I gave my in-depth, nit-picky notes on what is now a much better script, sent them off … and was immediately worried – what if he’s upset by my notes? What if he reacts to them the way I did the first time I received notes like that? I think maybe he’s done devised work and de-constructed scenes until they’ve learnt to fucking behave themselves … but what if he hasn’t?

Oh no! What if he doesn’t understand the more notes=better script equation?

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Eh … he’s a big boy, he’ll get over it.

But then I was thinking – would it be useful to newer writers to get a sense of what kind of notes they’re going to get once they’re working for a client?

Is that the kind of thing you’d like to read? Would you like me to post an excerpt from a script with development-style notes attached?

I was just going to do it, but this post is already too long and frankly I’m boring myself here … so I put it to you, is this something which would be helpful to those of you just starting out? Or even those of you far along the path who want to know we all get the same level of script-hammering?

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Answers in the comments (or by email, which seems to be your preferred means of communication – why is that? Why have you all gone so shy all of a sudden?).

Vote with silence or NO and I’ll not bother. Vote yes and I’ll post something next week … or maybe the week after since there’s a #PhonePhill to write up.

Here’s some Bohemian Rhapsody because … because.

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* Because it takes a lot of time to read, think and opine.

Because people (especially non-writers or writers with limited experience) get pissed off and take it to heart if my opinion is anything other than ‘GENIUS! YOU ARE ONE!’

Because people often think agreeing to read one draft is actually agreeing to read the next 78 nigh-on-identical drafts where nothing I say is ever taken into consideration and none of the problems are ever resolved.#

Because I don’t want to.

#This is weird – you don’t like/trust my advice enough to actually follow it … but you want more of it? Lots more of it? Are you just trying to see how wrong I can be?

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings, Writing and life | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Weekend warrior

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I did something this weekend (or last weekend. The weekend just gone. You choose, it doesn’t matter) which I haven’t done in a long time.

I worked.

I used to do that a lot. I used to write every day. Then I got a girlfriend and decided (completely voluntarily and of my own free will. Honest) to limit my working time to five days a week.

Not just Monday to Friday, but a random five days so we could have two days off together depending on her shift pattern.

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Tuesdays and Wednesdays for preference.

 

Then (after marriage and house buying, for we are awfully traditional) we had a kid. Just the one, that’s enough thank you very much. At first this was fine, but then she went to school and suddenly having days off midweek seemed wildly inappropriate.

I mean, what’s the point of having a kid if you’re only going to see her for an hour or two after school?

I am aware, by the way, that I have an incredibly privileged ability to choose when I do and don’t work. I know that’s rare. I’ve worked shi(f)t jobs. I know how it is and what’s good and bad. Some people like it, some people don’t. Lots of people don’t have the choice.

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Life (sometimes) sucks. I’m not having a go at you if your chosen profession (or Joe job) involves working ungodly hours to make ends meet. We all do what we have to do to get by.

But I do have a choice and choosing to not be part of my daughter’s life on the only days she’s not at school seems … callous? Wrong? Unnecessary, at the very least.

So I chose not to. I opted to become a Monday to Friday nine-to-five kind of guy.

Well … let’s be honest. Tuesday to Friday lunchtime.

Ish.

Mondays are my fannying around day, doing things like writing this. Is this work? I don’t know. Maybe.

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Anyway. I don’t work weekends any more. Unless we’re in production or I have a deadline I’ve massively miscalculated.

So what went wrong this last weekend?

I’m glad you asked or this blog would be even more pointless than it doubtlessly is.

A couple of weeks ago I sent a list of scripts to a producer. These are my archive scripts, the good ones which I’ve never found time to do anything with. Every time I think I’m going to take one out, dust it off and sell it … someone offers me some work and I get caught up in that. So they never get sold. Poor, lonely creatures sitting all by themselves on a dark hard drive.^

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I sent five or six one-pagers, he asked to read three of them. One I was halfway through rewriting as I’d just had the two extra ideas# needed to make it better. That took a day or two to finish off.

The other two were a decade and three years old respectively. The decade old one I know I’d worked on fairly recently because I remember doing it. That’s pretty good. The other one I’d written one draft three years ago and then forgotten about it.

Well, not forgotten. I’d been thinking about it on and off during that time but hadn’t got round to actually rereading or rewriting it.

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The decade old script I pulled out, skimmed through … and it was … well, not terrible, but not good. Not as good as I’d like it to be. It had won a competition at some point in the past and gotten me some interest from a US manager … but since I had nothing else to show him, that came to nothing at the time.

Obviously it was a script with some merit … but my standards have risen over the years. I’m a better writer now than I was then.

So that needed rewriting. That took a couple of days.

Fine.

The other one, the first draft … well, it was a first draft.

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It was shit.

Bollocks, it needs completely rewriting.

Now, I’d already said I was going to take a couple of days to go over the scripts and make sure they were as good as I wanted them to be. I had delivered one on the Friday and promised to deliver the other the following week … but by the following Friday I hadn’t finished.

I could have just waited until Monday before resuming. I could have just emailed, apologised and handed it in on the Wednesday. This guy has only asked to read the script – he’s not paying me, it’s not a production draft, there’s no guarantee he’s even going to like it. Presumably he has dozens of other scripts to read and may even have forgotten he’s asked to read this …

But … I said I’d send it over this week. Not next week. This week.

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Sunday’s still this week so I decided to work over the weekend.

And now we’re at the point. Fuck me that took a long time, didn’t it?

Mandy was away for the weekend, making me chief child-carer.

Yes, she trusts me to look after a child. I know! I don’t believe it either!

I couldn’t work during the day, but in the evenings, once she’s (finally) gone to bed, I could crack on.

So at around nine o’clock each night I was breaking open the script and typing furiously.

Which, in itself, is fine.

But it’s knackering. I’d forgotten how knackering it is writing late into the night when you’ve still got to get up around eight the next day.

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In my twenties I twice went 10 days without sleep. Now, if I get less than seven hours a night, I’m miserable.

And so I was. Miserable. With my daughter. That’s not meant to happen.

On top of being irritable and annoyed with everything, I’d forgotten how difficult it is to stop thinking about writing during the day.

There’s a great bit about this on one of the Scriptnotes podcasts talking about how writers carry their workplaces in their heads and how hard it is to stop working when you’ve left your desk. Bricklayers don’t find bricks in their pockets when they’re putting their kid to bed, but writers are, likely as not, wondering if they’ve got enough vampires left for the final showdown when they really should be concentrating on bathtime.

I’m normally pretty good at this sort of thing. Given that I go to the Caribbean to write most weeks, it’s absolutely fine to spend all of my working week thinking about the script. I have no requirement to interact with reality at all during that period.

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I’m also pretty good at setting and meeting targets so my weekends off are my weekends off. I leave it all in a folder at the back of my mind and pick up again the following week.

Sometimes, if I’m very lucky, my unconscious mind sorts it all out for me.

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This is how I like to work and it benefits my family too.

Spending the whole day thinking about structure and tone whilst not having had much sleep and trying to amuse a seven year old is not my idea of fun.

Or hers.

And yet, I know that’s what lots of writers have to do. Lots of us have day jobs and families and have no choice but to write late at night and over the weekends … and you know what, I salute you.

You’re awesome. To keep that up week after week is, frankly, amazing.

I did it for one weekend and I have no intention of doing it again.

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Unless I have to for production/deadline reasons. I’m not cut out for that kind of thing. Those of you who are and do … I just think you’re brilliant and this blog post is a virtual toast aimed squarely in your direction.

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I used to hate having weekends off as a youth because going out on a Friday or Saturday night was so unrelentingly awful. It’s amateur night, when all the nine-fivers come out to play and try to forget how unpleasant their lives are*. Everyone’s out for a fuck or (possibly and) a fight. People are desperate to enjoy themselves because this is their only chance before getting back to the grind on Monday.

Standing in a pub which is so packed I can’t move my arm far enough to drink the drink which is pressed up against my chest by a wall of people I don’t like isn’t really my idea of fun.

For some reason, nightclubs opt for playing the worst music imaginable on weekends too. I don’t know why they do this, presumably because most of the people who are miserable during the week want to be miserable over the weekends too.

Midweek you get lovely people meeting up to share a love of the same specialist music. Weekends you get a load of …

I never liked going out on a weekend. Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?

* If you’re a nine-fiver and your life isn’t unpleasant, then congratulations!

^ Have Pixar made that movie yet? Bet they will soon.

# Oh. I went to link to the blog post about this … but I haven’t written it yet. One day this will link to it. Probably.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings, Writing and life | Tags: | 1 Comment

#PhonePhill – Conversation #8: Mac McSharry

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Mac McSharry! @MacBullitt!

Damn, I need a third name for him to make that opener work properly. The rhythm’s all askew now. I wish I’d gotten a third name for him during the TWO HOURS we were nattering.

Two hours. The longest #PhonePhill yet and possibly the most enjoyable.

Or possibly not. Depending on whether or not that upsets the other seven callers who may be longing for the position of most enjoyable phone call. I don’t want to offend anyone, I love you all.

Mac McSharry!

Blog writer! Produced script writer!

Damn it, I’ve done it again.^

Let’s just say he sounds like a lovely bloke and leave it at that, shall we?

I say “sounds” because he could have been eviscerating kittens whilst chatting and I would never know – such is the mystery of the vision-less telephone.

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It was a lovely, relaxed, meandering chat though. We covered a lot of ground, kicking off with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – a film I think I’d never really seen all the way through until the night before.

And, to be fair, I wasn’t really paying attention since I was concentrating on my Iron Man costume.

It’s done now, by the way. There he is, guarding the fish:

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You probably can’t see much different from the photo last week, but … um … well, presumably there is. Excuse me while I indulge myself:

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Sorry about that, back to Bond. I’d only just half-seen OHMSS the night and needed someone writer-y to express my incredulity to.

What on Earth were they thinking? I’ve always known the fight sequences were crap and pretty much unwatchable … but otherwise it’s  a pretty good film … except for two incredibly stupid bits:

1) Bond turning to the camera and saying “This never happened to the other fella.”

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For fuck’s sake! Don’t do that. This guy’s bond now, move on. Let’s just get on with it and entertain – the audience will soon forget about the other fella … unless you remind them.

It’s like Doctor Who – this is the Doctor now. Don’t apologise, don’t explain, just get on with earning our affection.*

2) Although it’s probably a lot more realistic to have Bond pretend to be someone else other than rampaging around the world introducing himself … is it really a good idea for him to do it in this film?

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What was the thought process there? People might struggle to accept Connery’s not Bond any more … how can we make sure we cement this new fella as Bond in their minds?

I know! Why not have him pretend to be someone else and talk in a Scottish accent for most of the movie?

Genius. Let’s have the new Bond not be Bond!

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Mac was kind enough not to interrupt my ranting and even offered some salient information – apparently Lazenby was dubbed throughout all those scenes.  They should have just put a bag on his head and cobbled together a voice track from Connery out takes.

Poor George – he was really good but never stood a chance.

Other topics of conversation included note-blindness (Mac’s got a great blog about that here), whether or not you’d look like a prick driving a replica of KITT, and how to present yourself online.

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That last one’s a thorny issue. I’m pretty certain I’ve fallen far short of ideal on many, many occasions.

If Twitter/Facebook/your blog/website is your shop front, then how should you come across?

Professional?

Yes, sounds good … but what does that mean?

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What about bigging yourself up? Should you be constantly telling everyone how wonderful you are and pretending that time you and that bloke who was an extra in Holby once in 2003 were coincidentally eating in the same McDonalds was a script meeting and you’re now being considered for a role as the new messiah?

What about the opposite? Should you be constantly apologising about your lack of ability and general tendency to be a bit shit?

What’s more important? Honesty or salesmanship?

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Or is it, as is the case in almost everything in life, merely a question of balance? Is it best to be roughly somewhere in the middle?

But where is the middle?

Apart from halfway between both ends?

Actually, I don’t think you should be in the middle. I think you should err on slightly towards self-aggrandising.

Maybe don’t boast about how wonderful you are and insist on offering sage advice to all the other (clearly less-talented) writers who are lucky enough to come into e-contact with you.

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Maybe instead be a little modest but appear like someone who really knows his shit and would do an awesome job for any prospective employer without turning into a massive arse?

Maybe.

I don’t know.

Like I say, I think I flail around in the dark on this issue a bit.

A few rules I frequently forget to live online by:

  1. Don’t slag people off. You may have to work with them. You may have to work with people who like them. You just look and sound like a dick … and it’s not nice anyway. Maybe imagine yourself sitting across from that person at a dinner party and what you’re about to write is being announced to the whole table?
  2. Don’t slag yourself off. Be positive without being big-headed. You’re good, solid, dependable with flashes of brilliance. You’re good at your job and you know what bit of story goes where.
  3. Don’t whinge, whine, carp or moan about how unfair writing, competitions or life in general is. It’s just depressing and paints yourself as a loser.
  4. Don’t celebrate every single tiny achievement as if you’ve won an Oscar. A PRODUCER SENT ME AN OUT OF OFFICE REPLY TODAY! MY CAREER IS GOING SO WELL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  5. Do make it seem like you’re in demand. You don’t have to go overboard, but make yourself sound busy and successful. Make it sound like you’re actually someone worth hiring.
  6. Don’t be desperate.
  7. Don’t hound/stalk people.
  8. Don’t …

You know what? This is all the same advice people get given when they’re dating.

Just be a nice, normal human being who’s positive without being self-obsessed.

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Think about your shop front – what kind of shop are you? Or maybe a better way of thinking about it is: what kind of service-provider are you?

Your pipes have just burst. Which one of these plumbers would you choose?

Plumber 1: I’m fucking awesome. I know everything about plumbing. I can tell everything in your house is wrong even though I’ve never been to your house. Windows are shit, aren’t they? I hate windows. Only a fucking idiot would live in a house with windows. Here’s  a list of people I’ve never met who I’ve badgered into saying nice things about me.

Plumber 2: I’ve got one spanner … I’m not sure how to use it. I tried once and it all went horribly wrong. I’m a bit shit at plumbing really.

Plumber 3: No one will hire me. It’s not fair. I’m better than all the other plumbers but I’ve never been given a chance to prove it. All of you people hiring plumbers are wankers who wouldn’t know a good plumber if he hit you in the face with a saw.  I’m so depressed I think I might kill myself.

Plumber 4: I’ve been a plumber for ten years. I’m good at my job and my rates are reasonable. Here’s a list of the jobs I’ve done and people who would recommend me.

Plumber 5: Here’s a photo of my cat! Here’s another photo of my cat! Look, my cat’s wearing a tutu! My cat is awesome!

We all make mistakes. We’re all occasionally guilty of being too honest or too humble or too immodest or … you know, not in the middle.

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But if your online presence is your shop front … then maybe it’s worth thinking about how to get better at presenting yourself?

Maybe.

I don’t know.

What I do know is chatting with Mac McSharry was lovely and easy and the TWO HOURS went by comfortably and quickly. It was fun. I enjoyed it.

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So who’s next for #PhonePhill?

Any actors fancy a chat? I fancy chatting to an actor.

Or anyone really.

Email me and we’ll see what we can work out.

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^ Bond-lover. Car-lover. Lover (presumably) … I can think of lots of other things here, I’m just trying (failing?) to be humorous.

* Ringing the previous Doctor to ask permission to like the new one who’s clearly being a bit of a bell end is a similarly odd thing to do.

My wife and I have long agreed you wouldn’t so long as you didn’t turn the red light on on the front. That’s a prick’s light right there.

Categories: #PhonePhill, My Way, Publicity, Writing and life | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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