Posts Tagged With: Doctor Who

Schrödinger’s TARDIS

Fans are a funny old lot, aren’t they? Ever since I built my proton pack last year …

… I’ve been dipping in and out of the Ghostbusters forum and there’s a contingent of fans on there who are absolutely outraged that there’s going to be an all-woman Ghostbusters reboot.

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And yes, for some the fact it’s a female team is a huge problem. Presumably for extremely valid and adult reasons like “ur, girls suck!” or “girls are stinky” or something?

Others hate Paul Feig for … reasons.

It’s all very weird.

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To a point, I understand the reboot-phobia. To a point. I get that this is a beloved thing, something some of them have devoted their entire lives to loving. Personally I’d prefer the new movie wasn’t a reboot but a continuation, the story of a different franchise operating out of a different city.

Hell, maybe it is – I haven’t really been paying attention.

But to me a reboot doesn’t diminish my love of the original. In fact, given my feelings on the Star Wars prequels, perhaps a reboot is better than another story in the same universe? It’s become increasingly difficult to think of myself as a Star Wars fan over the years, tipping now to the point where I’m not sure I really am any more.

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If it’s a reboot, the original is still there. No one’s tampered with it, or diluted it or otherwise retconned it to be something else – you can still love it.

But fans aren’t like that. Fans are vicious.

Some of them.

Others are lovely. I suspect, as is common, it’s only the really vocal ones who are unpleasant. Some fans are so vicious they don’t seem to actually like the thing they profess to be a fan of at all.

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Take the latest Doctor Who news, for example: Steven Moffat’s leaving, Chris Chibnall’s arriving. The internet is up in arms. They’re absolutely furious, Chris Chibnall is a hack who will definitely ruin Doctor Who.

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This is despite the fact the same people have been complaining Steven Moffat ruined Doctor Who. And before that, Russell T Davies ruined Doctor Who. Don’t even bother mentioning John Nathan Turner.

But here’s the thing, before Steven Moffat ruined Doctor Who, he was the saviour who was going to fix all Russell T’s wrongs. Which he may have done … or he may have created a whole new list of wrongs depending on your point of view. For some people, his run has been amazing and the best the show’s been for ever and ever. For others, he deposed the true saviour who brought the show back from extinction.

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The point is, opinions vary and few of them are accurate predictions.

Personally, I think writing Doctor Who must be incredibly difficult. Show running must be even more so. There’s no doubt in mind that both Russell and Steven are amazing writers … yet some of their episodes were dreadful. Some. Others were amazing.

I think being a Doctor Who fan is like being in a bad relationship – we go for long periods of time putting up with terrible to mediocre stories … and just when we’re summoning up the courage to stop watching there’s a piece of genius which reminds us why Doctor Who is the best TV show ever made.

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And I believe that, I really do. It’s the best TV show ever. Your contradictory opinion is just wrong.

The problem is, it’s not always the best TV. Individually, when taken episode by episode it can sometimes be creaky or just plain shit.

Like I say, writing it is probably really hard*. And when things are hard, sometimes people fail at it. Professional golfers sometimes slice the ball – it happens because no one, no matter how good, is at the top of their game all the time.

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Part of what makes Doctor Who as good today as it was in 1963 is the constant turnover of talent both before and behind the camera. Change is good. We should celebrate change because, crucially, we have no idea what it may bring.

Chris Chibnall, regardless of how you feel about Broadchurch or Torchwood or his previous Who episodes, may turn out to be the best thing ever to happen to the show.

Or he might not.

This though is (to me) the absolute underlying truth: it hasn’t happened yet.

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Currently the probability waveforms have yet to collapse and we’re left with multiple options: it may be good, bad or somewhere in between … but we don’t know which because it hasn’t happened yet.

Fans of Chris’ may be disappointed. Haters may be swayed and surprised … there’s no way of telling.

So why get bent out of shape? Yes, you love the show and yes, you’re worried about its future. I get that … but do we really need all the hate and prophecies of doom?

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Instead of spending the next year or two stewing in hatred and fear, why not stay positive and look to the future … you can always sell all your merchandise in a fit of pique later, if needs be.

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* I’d love to write an episode. Maybe two … but I wouldn’t want to be the show runner for love nor money. I’d burn out in seconds. And imagine  if you got a job doing the thing you love most for the programme you love most … and the entire Internet explodes in waves of hatred over it. That can’t be a nice thing to go through.

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

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

2015 Christmas Cracker #3: Heaven Sent/Hell Bent scripts

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As I may or may not have mentioned elsewhere, I really enjoyed this season of Doctor Who. For me, as a whole, it’s the strongest season since Sylvester McCoy’s final year.

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Battlefield, Ghost Light, The Curse of Fenric, Survival … that was a great year. Ironic really since it was also the year the show died.

This season has been just as enjoyable … or rather, I’ve enjoyed it just as much. I can see there are flaws, there always are, but I’ve immensely enjoyed the season as a whole. To my mind there’s only been one duff episode

Okay, maybe one and a half.

But all in all it’s been great fun. Everyone involved has been at the top of their game and really pulled out all the stops …

And then there was Heaven Sent … which was just sublime.

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Again, to me. You may disagree. Personally I found this to be not just one of the best Doctor Who episodes ever^, but one of the best bits of TV I’ve ever seen.

Maybe I get out too much?

Anyway, Cracker number three is the scripts for Heaven Sent and Hell Bent. Even if you’re not a Doctor Who fan, you should read these scripts because they’re amazing. Well, Heaven Sent is amazing; Hell Bent is merely very, very good. Which in itself is amazing but script writing is hard.

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Anyone who criticises a film or TV show for having a bad script because they don’t like one or two lines of dialogue should read these scripts and hopefully understand that the dialogue is the smallest part of script writing. It’s the last thing, the decoration, not even the icing on the cake but the dusting of icing sugar put on the plate after the ingredients have been farmed, processed, bought, baked decorated, packaged, sliced and arranged neatly on said plate.

Script writing begins with choosing which piece of land would be best to buy in order to grow the wheat to bake the cake. Dialogue … pfft. That’s such an infinitesimally small part of script writing it may as well not exist.

Um … this rant has nothing to do with Doctor Who, just a reaction to reading something which annoyed me on Facebook earlier.

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Never mind, carry on stuffing your faces with mince pies and snuggle up by the fireplace with a cup of tea and these two scripts.

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* Make your own mind up as to which one. We’ll have different opinions … I just thought this one was a real stinker.

^ Which is odd since, depending on your point of view, you could argue it’s not really a Doctor Who episode.

Categories: Christmas Crackers, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Going on and on and on …

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There are many hard and fast rules about scriptwriting which writers seem singularly incapable of following. Time and again writers break rules which were laid down to ensure their scripts are readable, if not actually good.

One of those rules I see broken over and over again is length:

  • Action description shouldn’t be longer than four lines. Shorter than three is preferable.
  • Dialogue should never be longer than four lines. Again, less is preferable.
  • Scenes themselves should never be longer than three (ish) pages without a damned good reason. Find yourself north (or south?) of five pages and you’re in big, big trouble.

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The problem, of course, with these rules are they’re utter bollocks.

Well, not utter bollocks. Mostly bollocks. They’re just not rules. Guidelines, maybe? Rules ofs thumbs.* Suggestions, perhaps?

Action should be short – yeah, I see that. Doesn’t really matter but it does make it far, far easier to read. And, if broken up properly, may bring your page count closer to one page=one minute.

Since most scripts are written with gaps between action lines then reading one without them is hard. Why make it harder to love your script?

Dialogue should never be longer than four lines – yeah, maybe. It does make sense because people rarely talk for that length of time without being interrupted.

Unless they’re giving a speech. Or lecturing someone. Or are really angry. Or boring. Or … well, lots of reasons really.

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Part of the problem with long speeches is what do the other actors do while someone’s banging on?

Listen? That would be some very polite characters. People don’t tend to listen much. They tend to interject or change the subject or just wander off to make a cup of tea.

Except when they don’t.

Bad actors can’t stand and listen. Probably because it’s quite an unnatural thing to do. If you’re writing low-budget, cast fucking anyone who’ll accept, movies then you might want to consider both the quality of the actor listening and the ability of the one delivering it to maintain the same expression for that length of time.

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Plus, it does slow things down. Actors love dramatic pauses.+ They fucking love ’em. Give an actor a one-page speech and you’ll end up with five minutes of footage.

Which may or may not be the director’s fault, I suppose. I don’t know.

This, of course, depends on what the scene’s about. A one-page rant will move faster than a one-page stare-mournfully-into-the-distance-and-recount-the-moment-where-it-all-went-wrong speech.

Both can work. Both can go horribly wrong.

Scenes should never exceed three pages – who the fuck thought that one up?

Okay, so again there is an element of truth in there. Long scenes can, sometimes, slow the pace. If everything’s meant to be fast paced and buzzy, then seven pages of people bantering about shoes may well slow it down again.

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Or it may not. Depends on the delivery, I guess.

The Aaron Sorkin walk-and-talk schtick helps with this. Get the characters moving, get them doing something and people won’t get bored.

Except when it’s done badly and after five minutes of fast-paced walking you start to wonder how fucking big this newsagent’s is and why they’ve gone past the Chocolate Hob Nobs seven times.

Personally, I get nervous when a scene hits five pages – usually it’s because there’s a lot of irrelvant banter in the middle or because the scene’s trying to do too many things and needs to just wind its bloody neck in.

Three pages feels about enough for most of the stuff I do.

So, you know, it doesn’t hurt to think about limiting action, dialogue and scene lengths … just in case.

Except when you shouldn’t. Except when it’s scenes like this from Doctor Who – The Zygon Inversion.

SPOILER ALERT!

DON’T WATCH THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE EPISODE!

I love that scene. I fucking loves it, I does. I love the length, the staticness^, the wordiness … it’s just amazing.

To me this proves any rules about length are really there to disguise dullness in a script. Make a scene crackle, make it tense, make it have immediate and terrifying stakes and all the rules can just fuck off.

Limiting the length of things is probably a good rule of thumb@ … but it’s just that. Sometimes your scene can blow all that away with it’s sheer awesomeness. When you’ve got a scene which demands page-count … go for it!

I guess the real skill in writing comes from knowing when it’s appropriate.

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* I didn’t know how to pluralise this so I just went all out.

+ Possibly while they scramble to remember the next massive chunk of dialogue.

^ Real word or not? Probably not.

@ Except for thumbs. Don’t limit the length of your thumbs.

Categories: Random Witterings | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Verity

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: , , | 3 Comments

#PhonePhill – Conversation #12: William Gallagher

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

Phillip Barron

I said that back in July.

I haven’t done a #PhonePhill since July because of school holidays and actual holidays and deadlines and spending most of my free time swapping my daughter’s bedroom and my office around*. It’s not that there’s  a shortage of lovely people in the world I want to talk to (although the list is open if anyone fancies a natter), it’s more that I temporarily ran out of nattering time.

But I’m back. With a bang.

Well, maybe not a bang. More of a continuous exchange of reasonably volumed telecommunication signals. This week’s #PhonePhill is William Gallagher and he was …

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Lovely. Super double-plus extra lovely, in fact.

To be honest, I’m not sure why I led with that quote or why I felt the need to quote myself. I’m fairly certain only an imbecile would quote me.

William Gallagher is a scriptwriter, author, journalist and tea drinker. You can learn lots about him on his Wikipedia page here or on his excellent blog here.

We were on the phone for a mammoth two and a half hours, nattering on about … well, pretty much everything really. The first half an hour or so was me trying to convince him I was being honest about the nature of the Secret Writing Island and how it works. For some reason William demanded a lot of detail before accepting I wasn’t spinning a yarn … considering the context (which I’m not going into here) I consider that a compliment.

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After that we covered  Doctor Who (he’s written some, I haven’t), Blake’s 7 (he has a teleport bracelet, I don’t), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (neither of us are particularly fussed about it), the Midlands (we’ve both lived there, he still does), New York vs. London (we both prefer New York but aren’t really sure why), fuel economy vs. train tickets (it’s complicated and depressing), technology (he prefers iOS, I prefer Android … both are amazing and frustrating in different ways at different times and for different reasons) and how an actor’s delivery of a line can make or break a scene.

This one I find endlessly fascinating. My favourite example is from this scene:

“Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed.”

Terrible, terrible line which almost completely derails the entire film (which I think is otherwise fantastic).

Except … is it a terrible line? Or is it just delivered wrong? I’m certain I’ve read somewhere that line was meant to be sarcastic. Run it back through your mind, imagine it not as a breathless, yet cheesy, declaration of love … imagine it as a being actually quite funny. How much better is that scene?

Now think about Queenie:

Miranda Richardson’s delivery is extraordinary. Continuously. In a exceptionally well-written sitcom performed by a uniformly amazing cast, she stands out as an absolute genius. A genius among geniuses, I guess … but her performance lifts that role to incredible heights.

As much as we like to think good writing makes good drama, it’s nothing unless it’s performed well.

Or at least I think so anyway. I am frequently wrong about such things.

William, for example, asserts I’m completely and utterly wrong about my dislike for one of the four modern Doctor Who actors. I’m just wrong, apparently.

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Adding to that, William also thinks I’m wrong about believing only an imbecile would quote me (because he has and he clearly isn’t one).  He’s so convinced of my wrongness in this regard that he’s written an entire book just about me:

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Okay, so it’s not just about me. Other bloggers are available and quoted/interviewed at great length … but surely the likes of Jason Arnopp, Katherine D’Souza or Diane Leigh can’t possibly hold a candle to my magnificence?

Oh … apparently they can.

Well, that’s a blow.

Presumably they can also spell magnificence without resorting to spell-check.

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This is the official blurb for William’s book:

Everybody tells you that you must have a website and you must have a blog but nobody tells you how – or why. In this book you will learn the key steps to creating your blog but, more importantly, what you can use one for and how it will become an important part of your creative work.

BBC writer William Gallagher shows you how to write a blog that people will read – and then how to keep on writing new entries. See how to write fast blogs and more considered ones. How to make a blog that works for you because it works for your readers.

The good news is it’s available right now on Amazon.

The better news is there’s a far cheaper PDF version here.

The bestest news is you can get a whopping 40% discount off the PDF version if you use the code: JAMAISVU

£3 for a book which features me? How can you not want that? Go on, treat yourself.

And while you’re treating yourself, why not treat me to the sound of your voice? I’d love to hear from you, no matter who you are or what you do. You don’t have to be a writer or even in the entertainment industry. You could be a plumber or a mystery shopper or a retrophrenologist …. I really don’t care, I just want to have a bit of a chat.

If you’re at a loose end and not sure what to do, buy William Gallagher’s book. If you’re still at a loose end after that, why not email me and arrange a time to #PhonePhill?

Come on, let’s have a chat.

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* My office is now much smaller … but much cooler. I’ll show it off properly when it’s finished.

As certain as I am I’ve said all this before.

Categories: #PhonePhill, BBC, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Rose vs. Jurassic Park

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Following on from last week, I’ve been thinking more about parcelling out information. Whereas there are undoubtedly lots of different approaches to this, two examples always spring to mind.

My mind, anyway. Maybe not yours.

These examples are polar opposites yet are equally as effective as each other. As I’m sure you’ve deduced from the title of this post, the first of those is Jurassic Park, the second is Rose (the first episode of the current run of Doctor Who).

Both are master-classes in delivering exposition and yet take totally different approaches.

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Jurassic Park goes for the info dump. The first … what? Half an hour? 45 mins? … is a science lesson. We get told how dinosaurs died, evolved, what a velociraptor is (because none of us knew back then) what DNA is, how it’s extracted, how it’s spiced with things, how it’s turned into new dinosaurs, how incredibly fucking stupid that is … and so on.

The genius for me here is I didn’t get bored. I didn’t roll my eyes or start yelling “Get on with it!” at the screen … I just sat there and learnt the things I needed to know. The fact a lot of the exposition was disguised as either a theme park ride or a story told to scare a child/accountant helped. The fact the theme park info-ride didn’t go the way Hammond planned nicely foreshadows what’s to come.

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To me there was the perfect amount of information, all clumped together so the following action can be uninterrupted thrills and spills.

That’s version one for me: get it out of the way upfront and then get on with the story. But make it fun and thematic and part of the story.

Version two makes me think of Rose. Russell T. Davies does a fantastic job of feeding us the information in tiny sips. This was probably the best choice here because half of the audience were Doctor Who fans who knew all this, the other half were brand new who had no idea what the show was about.

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So he feeds us a morsel at a time.

We focus on Rose*, we see the normal, boring world from her point of view – it’s normal and boring.

Then something scary happens! And there’s this guy who shows up and saves her! He’s weird! He’s exciting! He’s called The Doctor! He blows something up!

And then he’s gone.

And life is even more boring without him.

Who is he?

And then there he is again! He’s an alien! He’s clever, he knows things we don’t!

And then he’s gone again.

Just before the mystery tips over into confusion (which is problematic), there’s a conspiracy theorist who gives us a mini-info dump … which we deserve. We’ve earnt a little respite from the mystery.

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Now we have some answers … and a lot more questions. Is this guy immortal? Is there more than one of them? Is he some kind of time traveller?

And then he’s there again and it’s all action and adventure! And we’re in the TARDIS, which is … what? Another mini-info dump. It’s a spaceship, it’s bigger on the inside … stuff like that.

There’s only about ten minutes to go now and we nearly know everything … except we don’t. The Nestene Intelligence hints at things even hardcore fans don’t understand – why is it scared of the TARDIS? What’s a Time War? Something’s happened in the 16 years the show was off air. Something we won’t find out about for a few weeks yet.

Even when all’s resolved, there’s still one more piece of information. The very last line of the first episode completes the basic set up:

45 mins to fully educate the new audience as to the nature of the show. Without leaving people confused or bored.

Well, I wasn’t anyway.

True the actual story feels a bit light … but that feels inevitable in reintroducing the concept to the masses. It’s a simple story with few twists and turns … but they are there and the sense of mystery the episode creates makes up for the lack of story.

I think so, anyway. You may have a different opinion. Good for you.

Those two extremes are how I think about exposition. Which serves the story better? Is one inherent to a film (because you have a captive audience in a cinema and more (or less, depending on how you look at it) time to tell the story?) and the other better suited to TV (because people will change the channel if they’re being lectured for 30 mins)? Can you do a mixture of the two? Is there a better, third way?#

All these questions and more will probably never be answered by me because by now I’ve either forgotten I’ve written this or am already bored of thinking about it.

I just like to think about these two examples whenever I start a new project.

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*To me, this centring the show on the companion is both a genius move and a bit of a problem. I may talk about this in more depth at some point … or I may not.

#Depends, probably not, possibly, I imagine so, probably.

Categories: Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

#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

#PhonePhill – Conversation #2: Robin Bell

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

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

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

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

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For the day.

Or two days, possibly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So there you have it, #PhonePhill the sequel.

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

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

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Stuff.

More stuff.

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

If you’ll indulge me:

The problem I had was threefold:

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

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

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

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

As opposed to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clara took an entire season to think about it.

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

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

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

Categories: #PhonePhill, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Old age cliché

RiddleMeThis

When is a cliché not a cliché?

That’s not a riddle, by the way. It’s a question because I have no idea.

I know a cliché when I see one … but not always when I use one.

On occasion I’ve had people asserting something I’ve never seen before is a cliché even when they can’t give any examples of where or when it’s been used.

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But, you know, I know that does happen sometimes.

I know there are some campfire tales which are so widespread that no one could get away with using them in a script … or at least get away with claiming they came up with them. But sometimes I’m surprised by what people consider a cliché without being able to list either specific stories or specific characters.

This surprises me more the older I get, because as younger people roll up to give me notes, I would expect them to recognise less clichés rather than more.

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We all know, for example, that escaping in a ventilation duct is a cliché. Everyone knows that, no one would even consider using it in a film … except the people who do.

Why on Earth would anyone do that though when it’s such an overused cliché? Not just a cliché, an overused one. A double cliché, if you like?

Well … my daughter’s six and she wouldn’t consider that a cliché. She doesn’t really know what a cliché is and even if she did, she probably hasn’t seen anything where anybody uses a duct to escape something.

So does that mean it’s okay for people writing scripts aimed at six-year-olds to use the vent-duct cliché?

I mean, apart from the fact it’s fundamentally stupid and wouldn’t work?

Is there a statute of limitations on clichés?

Again, I don’t know, I’m genuinely asking.

As we get older, do more things seem like clichés? Do we inadvertently limit ourselves by avoiding clichés our potential audiences have never seen?

I think I’ve written a similar post to this before about jokes … but I can’t be arsed to look for it and it might have been a dream anyway. So take clams – the jokes which seem fresh and funny but quickly go off.

“He’s behind me, isn’t he?”
“Did I say that out loud?”
“Another joke I can’t be bothered to think of.”

Are these off the table forever?

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Or do we just have to wait ten years or so? Can we use them in kids’ stuff? Is it even a problem anyway?

Who are the people who complain about clichés?

Scriptwriters, critics and people on the Internet who think they’re critics?

Writers spend a disproportionate amount of time watching films and TV and trying not to do anything anyone else has done. Critics and Interneters just do the first bit.

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Are these people representative of the audience as a whole? Should we be taking their (and our) opinion as to what is or isn’t a cliché as gospel?

Or should we accept that the majority of the audience find these things funny or inventive years after people with too much screen-time on their eyes are bored of them?

Yet again, I don’t know. Just thinking in public.

When The Matrix came out – every damned concept or idea in that film was a hoary old cliché from a Century or so of science fiction pulps … yet people loved it because it (the first one! Just the first one!) was incredibly well done and packaged in a new way and, most importantly, watched by people who had never, ever come across those concepts before.

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It literally blew people’s minds.

Science fiction fans, on the other hand, could happily list a half-dozen books with the same concepts and point out (in dreary detail) that every long running sci-fi TV show has at least one episode with the same set up. Along with an episode where the characters end up in a parallel dimension and one where two (or more) of the major characters swap bodies.

Imagine if the Wachowskis had brought that script to me:

“Yeah, well it’s well written and all … but you’re clearly just ripping off Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin. Can’t you think of something original?”

That, by the way, is why I’m not a development exec – I’d be fucking terrible at it.

So the question remains – should we as writers avoid all clichés forever more? Or is it acceptable to reanimate the classics after a certain rest period? Maybe each individual writer should be allowed to use each cliché exactly once? Or maybe individual writers should avoid the clichés they recognise, but not get bent out of shape when script-ociety as a whole keeps using them?

I don’t know

All I know is that’s more than one question and I wish I had some answers.

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Categories: Industry Musings | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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