Posts Tagged With: Magnum

Nagging yourself

So I’ve got this script I’ve been working on with a director and it’s in good shape. Great shape, if I’m honest.

If I were being really honest (as opposed to my normal self-effacing, self-abasement) I’d say it’s my favourite thing I’ve ever written, stopping just shy of calling it ‘the best’ because … well, I don’t tend to think that highly of my own abilities.

But there you go and there it is, my favourite script for a long, long time.* It rockets along at a fair old clip, being simultaneously entertaining and meaningful. It’s a comedy horror with a complex time-travel plot which can be enjoyed at a superficial level but reveals more depth with each subsequent reading.

It’s great, I love it … except for this one section about the halfway mark. For about ten minutes or so it gets a bit … not so great. Maybe. I don’t know. It seems fine, but then there’s this little voice telling me it’s not.

I find it really difficult to be totally objective with my own scripts. According to others (for I fear to toot my own horn) I’m brutally honest and insightful when I read their scripts. With my own I find it a little trickier. Luckily the director for this project is a writer in his own right and has sensible, insightful suggestions of his own which have really helped lift the script.

Sadly, that still doesn’t help with this section.

He’s just as invested and steeped in the mechanics of the story as I am. We’re both looking down on the maze instead of experiencing it at ground level like a reader does. Even when we put ourselves in the place of the reader, trying to experience the maze from within we still hold an image of it from above. Basically, we know what’s going on so it’s hard to tell if anyone else will find it risibly easy to guess or completely impenetrable.

Which is why having peers external to the project to read the script is invaluable.

This script has been read and dissected by others and some people identified that section as mildly problematic, but didn’t know why. Others didn’t find it a problem at all. It’s a change in pace but maybe that’s fine? Maybe it’ll work better on screen?

Yeah. Maybe. It has to get there first though says the little voice.

And so we’ve begun sending the script to producers, waiting for feedback, waiting to find out if that section is “fine, stop worrying, I didn’t notice anything wrong” or “completely ruins the story”.

The first producer to come back with feedback loved the script … but thought it got a little dull between pages 48 and 60. It lost her a bit.

Bugger. I know that’s just one opinion, but it matches the one I’m hoping to be wrong about. My little voice is now whistling smugly to itself.

So the director and I break it down.

The sequence fulfils a function. It’s introducing characters who become red herrings later on. In fact the script at that points shifts into being a “whowilldoit”^ but that in itself is a red herring because none of these people do it. The script becomes a murder mystery for about 20 pages and then turns into something much more unpleasant. These 12 pages serve an important function, without introducing this small gang of characters and giving them all distinct personalities and a motive for the coming murder then the script is not the murder mystery we’re selling it as.

I mean, it’s not anyway. Well, it kind of is but there’s this twist and … yeah, it’s complicated, shifting genres at least twice.

So yeah, it serves a function.

The characters are interesting, there’s definitely good meat for the actors in these pages. So that’s fine.

The location is … a bit dull. But we’re saving the budget for the ending and, honestly, we can’t think of any other situation in which these characters would be together in one place but able to be split off into individual scenes so the protagonist can investigate them. She has to be free to move around so she can find the red herring clues.

I feel like it’s the location which makes it a bit dull? Maybe? Is that what that little voice is trying to tell me?

Or maybe it’s because the characters aren’t really doing anything other than dropping clues and giving themselves away? Maybe they need to be playing Laser Quest or trying to build a gazebo or something? Maybe we need to add more action to this sequence so that … nah. The script’s 105 pages long. It’s too long for what it is.

So maybe … maybe … hang on …

The function of this sequence is to sow the red herrings which make this seem like the murder mystery we’re selling it as. It’s there so people will begin to try to piece together the clues which won’t amount to anything because the genre is about to shift and it’s going to be a completely different film to the one people were expecting.

Sort of. I mean it’s in the same wheelhouse, enough so that it won’t upset the punters. It’s not like we’re trying to sell a slasher flick to the rom-com crowd~ or anything like that. Maybe it’s best to think of it as a gear change rather than a genre shift?

So actually the red herring is in the marketing of the script/film. We tell people it’s a murder mystery before they read/watch and when we get to that point we can very, very quickly segue into the second part of the film. How many pages do we actually need to fill in order to make this bait and switch land?

1? 2? Certainly not 12.

And suddenly it becomes clear – my little voice is right. The sequence is problematic because it doesn’t need to be there. How much misdirection do we actually need? Just enough to be clear that one of these six people committed the murder, enough time for the audience to begin to form their suspicions and then … we’re off to the races.

I should have spotted this before. Cutting 10 of the 12 pages gives us space to intensify some of the emotions at the beginning and the end. A 105 page script becomes a 98 page script# and it’s a blast from beginning to end.

Why didn’t I spot this redundancy before? Who do I never fully believe that little voice telling me something’s wrong? I’m not nagging myself for no reason for God’s sake.

I guess I did listen to the voice, I just didn’t ask myself the right questions. Or rather, I just didn’t frame the questions in the right way.

Regardless, it’s fixed now. 98 pages of glory. Or, you know, 98 pages of a dosh garn good read.

And with that I think it’s done. It’s ready to be properly sent out into the world and then … we shall see what we shall see.


* Excluding the one I wrote for you, obviously. That one’s both my favourite and my best or I wouldn’t have taken your money.

Maybe. I mean, it’s not bad. I quite like it. A bit.

^ Time travel. Tenses are tricky.

~ I suspect you can shoehorn a rom-com plot into a slasher flick far easier than a butt-tonne of murders into a rom-com. I mean, I think rom-com fans will come to see a murderous rom-com, but at least some of them wouldn’t be happy if they didn’t know that going in. Whereas as long as the slasher flick delivers the corpses I think horror fans would be only to delighted to realise it’s a secret rom-com.

# If you read a lot of scripts you’ll know how psychologically comforting a sub-100 page script is. A turgid 105 pager goes on forever. 98 pages … eh, even if it’s dross it won’t take up too much of my time. It’s the 99p in the land of the poundshops.

Categories: My Way, Progress | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Using my Magnum voice

One of the problems with writing a film script is the length of time it takes to write/produce versus the length of time it takes to read/watch.*

A script of 110 pages may take an hour/hour and a half to read# but it probably took the best part of a year to write from spark of conception to final draft. Sometimes longer. I have a script due to go into production which began life in 2009 or maybe even 2008. The first six months was an intense period of rewriting and thrashing things out. Everything since then has been periodic rewrites to accommodate various cast members as they get attached or to please an array of investors/producers/whims as they appear and disappear.

Coming back to a script after a couple of years of not thinking about it is an enlightening and terrifying experience.

“Why did I think that was a good idea?”

After that long away from the page the script needs a thorough rereading before altering just to get a sense of how the new material will impact the old.

That seems fairly obvious, but what’s perhaps less obvious is the gap between writing FADE IN: and FADE OUT. on the first draft. That might be a few weeks or it might be a few months,~ either way it can sometimes be tricky to keep in mind what the characters are thinking and feeling at any given point. Even at the note card/treatment stage, when I’m finding my way through the story, I sometimes find characters doing things which don’t feel real given what just happened before. This can often lead to feedback such as:

“Hang on, they’ve just discovered the whole world’s under threat from this alien thingy and they’ve only got 24 hours to find a cure … so he pops off to buy some new shoes and she decides now’s the time to learn Greek?”

Written down like that it’s plainly nonsensical … but I won’t have experienced it in one short sentence. I’ll have had the various scenes on note cards and reshuffled them late in the day. Or cut and paste scenes from different parts of the script because they were in (a different) wrong place. Or inserted them in the second or third draft at the behest of the client because we’re getting development money from Clarks and … well, Greece I suppose.

Those scenes may have been written years apart and taken days to write, it’s only when they’re read in sequence do they seem stupid.

One way to combat this is to read through what I’ve written to date before beginning the day’s work … which is fine on page 20 but a ball ache on page 80. So a method I find myself applying more and more is what I like to call The Magnum Voice+.

You remember the bit, probably immediately following an ad break in America but often seemingly random in the UK-reduced-ad-version, when Magnum would narrate what’s just happened and how his little voice is feeling about it?

I do that.

Often whilst wearing my Magnum costume.

Sometimes I write it down, sometimes I just say it in my head, but in essence all I do is imagine the character narrating what’s been happening and how they feel.

“As soon as I found out the world was ending I decided to … “

Well, not learn Greek. Probably. Not unless the cure to the world-ending thing is written in Greek somewhere and even then it’s probably better to just go find a Greek to translate it for you.

“When I first heard the world was ending I was a bit upset … but then I remembered the money I owed in library fines and cheered up a bit. Feeling better, I decided to buy those shoes I’ve always wanted using a credit card because … eh, fuck it. Why not?”

Oh. I guess the shoe buying thing does make sense.

I find the Magnum Voice is particularly good at keeping track of emotions. It’s nice to remind myself of the shit I’ve been putting the character through because, whereas to me 30 pages ago was three weeks back, to the character it was only three hours ago. They’re probably still upset at that baboon eating their sister in front of them. Probably still quite a touchy subject and too soon for them to go to a fancy dress party dressed as a bonobo. And if they absolutely have to dress up then maybe having a little weep about it first would feel appropriate?

It’s not a universally useful tool, but then what tool is? Personally I like having a range of tools to fall back on and the Magnum Voice is one of my current favourites.

I can’t think of a snappy way to end this post, but I feel it’s gone on long enough … so here’s the Magnum soundtrack to fill your ears with awesomeness:


* I imagine novels have a similar problem, although having no experience in that realm I think I’ll just keep my fool mouth shut.

# I used to read a lot faster, bordering on speed reading … until I realised I was never doing a script justice. A script should be read at the speed you’d watch it so you appreciate the emotion properly. Or that’s what I think anyway.

~ Occasionally it’s been a few days … but that’s rarely a good idea and even rarer as necessary as the producer insists it is.

+ I know Magnum wasn’t the first show to do it, but to my mind it’s the most successful version of it. You may like to think of this as The Gold Monkey Voice or The Philip Marlowe Voice … knock yourself out.

Categories: My Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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