Posts Tagged With: #PhonePhill

The power of three, the peril of two

Hello, how are you? What have you been doing with yourself?

I’ve been beavering way, writing this and that, having the biggest film of my career quietly fall apart without the slightest idea why.*

One of the ‘this’es I’ve been writing is a feature script I’m very proud of, one of my favourite to date. It’s kind of everything I love in a film whilst being utterly achievable on a small budget.

Except the bits that aren’t.

The project was born of a #PhonePhill conversation (or one of many such conversations) with Calum Chalmers. This is a completely unintended and lovely side effect of the whole #PhonePhill thing. It was never meant to spawn anything other than chat.

But there you go. Chat led to chats led to ideas led to a feature script. It’s currently residing with a couple of trusted friends who are reading and (hopefully) tearing the fucking thing to shreds.

As pleasant as this process has been and and good as Calum and I think we’ve got the script (me as writer, him as director) there’s always a chance we’ve completely overlooked something. Or that something we think makes sense doesn’t. Or that there’s somehow a massive and glaring plot hole right in the bit between the opening and closing credits.

It strikes me that even if we have nailed it and gotten a water-tight, plot-tight, sense-making script … we still have to face the Peril of Two.

For me, the preferable way of writing is to have the script triumvirate (writer, director, producer) in place from the very beginning. That way, when we’re all in agreement, the script stands. Anyone else who has an input after that has to run the gauntlet of three people who are already in agreement.

That’s the Power of Three.

The peril of having just two (writer and producer or writer and director) on board during scripting is there’s a very high chance I’ll have to do the whole thing again when the third member arrives. Everyone likes to put their stamp on the project and (for the most part) everyone has good ideas which help refine what’s already there … but for some reason there seems to be an inordinate number of producers or directors who sign onto a project because they love the script … and then demand a complete page one rewrite.

So, okay, if the idea is awesome and it’s just the execution that’s appalling then fair enough. But it often seems to be a complete change of the core idea itself.

“I love this script, love it. Please choose me to realise your ideas … only, maybe instead of a drama about homeless teens it could be a thriller about some murderous ostrich eggs?”

Or, on one memorable occasion a few years ago, a prospective producer told the director and I the equivalent of telling George Lucas:

“I love this penetrating family drama about moisture farming, it’s a world I understand really well … but then it veers off into this weird space thing. We need to cut all the space stuff and get back to the core of the story.”

Yeah … I’m not sure you’ve understood this script.

Frequently the incoming person goes through all the ideas we discarded during development, the ones we tried but don’t work. Those aren’t bad ideas, they just don’t have a place in this script and we have to try and remember all the arguments and discussions we had which led to one or both of us letting go of what we’d become erroneously attached to.

That’s frustrating and time consuming … but that’s not the Peril of Two.

The peril comes when the one of us who’s not me is so enamoured with the incoming director/producer they agree with them. Suddenly, the script they paid me for, the one we worked on together which they loved and fulfilled their brief completely … is no good. In the absolute worst case scenario I’ve been secretly blamed for managing to accommodate all of their ideas, for making their flights of fancy work.

That’s quite annoying. Sometimes I get to rewrite it, which feels like a waste of time when it’s essentially a new project and means burning all the ideas developed so far … and sometimes I get replaced. Which, to be honest, is probably the preferable outcome.

It’s annoying though. Annoying when you get hired to write an idea, the client loves the idea, the client finds someone else to help make the idea … only to have the new person say they don’t like it, the client to agree and then claim it was my idea in the first place and they don’t know what I was thinking.

Luckily, that’s an extreme case and doesn’t happen very often. I like to think I’ve got better at spotting those people and avoiding working for them in the first place. I’m pretty sure I have, it hasn’t happened for a long time at any rate. The last time it happened the director told the ‘moisture farming guy’ where to go, so that was a win.

Hopefully that won’t happen this time. I’m pretty certain (almost, if not 100% certain) there won’t be any secret blaming with Calum, he’s not that kind of guy, but sooner or later we’ll have to start bringing other people into the mix and then … well, we’ll have to see what we shall see, won’t we?


* It fell apart very quietly. So quietly in fact I had literally no idea it wasn’t happening until I tried to find out where and when I was supposed to report for the shoot.

Still don’t know why.

It was probably cancelled by aliens. Or ghosts. Those are the only two possible explanations.

Imagine you were a prop designer, hired to design a new TARDIS. The producer gives you the brief – make it red, like the Glasgow Police Boxes originally were.

You suggest sticking with the traditional Doctor Who/Metropolitan blue might be better, but they disagree. They want to take a bold new direction, a Scottish direction. It’s their TARDIS, they want it red and they want to pay you to design it.

So you do your research, find the exact shade of red the original boxes were painted, you work out which red will most closely resemble it under studio lights and location lighting and … you know, stuff. You submit the plans and the producer loves them – this is exactly what they wanted!

Then someone else comes along and points out that making the TARDIS red is a stupid idea. The producer actually respects/is a little afraid of this person so they blame you having the idea in the first place and get you fired.

Hooray.

Categories: Industry Musings, Progress, Random Witterings, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

#̶P̶h̶o̶n̶e̶P̶h̶i̶l̶l̶ #PhoneDanny – Conversation #̶1̶8̶ #1: Danny Stack (Full Circle)

I have questions, damn it! Questions which need answers.* And who should you turn to when you have questions?

No, not him. Why, Danny Stack of course.

Danny Stack is a UK scriptwriter who mainly focuses on children’s scripts. He’s written for things like Octonauts and Thunderbirds as well as co-creating the UK Scriptwriters podcast and co-directing the feature film Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg?

He’s also the reason #PhonePhill exists at all, seeing as it was his impromptu phone call which got me wondering who else I might like to talk to. Hell, he’s the reason this blog exists in the first place.

Danny is a grafter, finding new and innovative ways to promote himself and to help all of us. Always moving forward, always breaking new ground and exploring new avenues, both on his own and with his partner in crime Tim Clague.

A while back Danny positioned himself as a children’s scriptwriter as opposed to an all-rounder, and found he’s been steadily employed ever since.

Last year I wrote a kids’ feature film which got partially shot before falling apart (which seems to happen to me a lot) and has left me with a completed script (which is mine, I own the rights) and about half an hour of footage (which belongs to the director). There’s something in the idea I really like and the footage shot seems to lend itself more towards a kids’ TV series than a film … so that’s what I wanted to chat to Danny about.

What should I do with it?

As ever, Danny was friendly and helpful and insightful and used a term to describe the kind of writers we both are which was hilarious, apt and completely and utterly unrepeatable in public.

Danny’s advice and extremely useful and had me thinking about the project in new ways – this is exactly what I wanted from him. Not help, not a leg up or for him to do the work for me, just a brief chat about the kinds of things I could do and the kinds of places/people who might be interested.

For me there are two universal lessons to be learned here:

  1. Make friends with other writers. Seek them out, be nice to them, help them when you can. Sideways networking is important – expect nothing from them and only keep in touch if you genuinely like them – but build that support network. It’s invaluable.
  2. Pick a genre and stick to it. I think most writers naturally want to write a little bit of everything. We all enjoy a wide range of entertainment and like to think we can be good at all of it … but typecasting helps. Be the goto person for that thing and reap the benefits of being known as ‘good at …’ We can always write our way out of the pigeonhole if we get bored.

If you want to know what Danny (and Tim) is (are)  up to, then you can see details here: nelsonnutmegpictures.com/projects

If you haven’t listened to the UK Scriptwriters’ podcast then you can do so here.

And if you want more advice and insight than any one man should be able to deliver in a lifetime whilst holding down a career, then you can check out his website/blog.

If, on the other hand, you just fancy a chat with me, then drop me an email at the address in the sidebar and we’ll arrange a time to call/skype/bang on the pipes in adjoining cells.


* Are there any other kind?

I’ve told the tale many times, but basically back in 2006 I was wondering why I kept hearing his name when I hadn’t seen anything he’d written, discovered he had a blog, what a blog was and thought I’d give it a go.

Categories: #PhonePhill, Career Path, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

#PhonePhill – Conversation #17: Dominic Carver (strikes back)

I had a lovely, if brief, chat with Dominic Carver not-so-recently – probably a couple of months back now. In fact, no probably about it – it was ages ago.

NB: This post was written the day after that call … and then I got distracted. I started making a vague attempt to update the tenses so it makes sense … then gave up. Just bear in mind most of this was true five months ago, not necessarily today.

In other words: don’t worry, I’ve been working on your project all day. Honest.

As ever (or for the second time at least) the man was entertaining, erudite and delightful. The brevity was mainly due to half-term child and family commitments*, which are both unavoidable and should never be avoided. What’s the point of being a writer if you can’t slope off to spend time with your kids every now and then?

Dom, as ever (see caveat above) has an exciting array of projects simmering away.

I … well, back then I was having a bit of a lull.

It’s not that there’s wasn’t work out there and it’s not like I wasn’t being offered anything. It’s just … eh … I couldn’t be arsed at that point.

Dom and I spoke about this ebb and flow of ambition. Sometimes you want to write 24 hours a day, 7 days a week as the words burn white-hot in your brain and you find yourself getting furious with your own bladder for occasionally demanding time off to drain itself of the ludicrous amount of tea you’ve tried to drown it in.

Other days … it’s all about the procrastination.

To be fair, most days it’s about the procrastination. Any excuse not to write is a good excuse.

Usually those days will eventually result in some writing.

Usually.

And then there are the periods when the desire to write just evaporates completely. When the burning need to express myself via hitting a keyboard just isn’t there.

Writing is hard. It’s hard to do and then it’s hard to sell and then it’s hard to deal with the notes and then it’s hard to cope with the disappointment of seeing how the production process destroys the story and then it’s hard not to join in with the critics in slagging off your own work.

And then it’s hard having to start the whole process all over again.

Sometimes, usually when I’m generally content with life, it gets hard to want to throw myself back into the mill. You don’t put your nose to the grindstone as a scriptwriter, you get dragged between two grindstones and pulverised.

When life is lovely and fulfilling, when there’s lots of other exciting things to do … well, I just can’t be fucked.

Not that I’ve not been doing any work at all. I have a feature film casting at the moment which is shaping up to be the best thing I’ve ever done with a perfect cast. There’s another feature which is being touted around LA and yet another I’m slowly excavating from the mountain of possibility with a director who started out as a #PhonePhill but is now (probably) a friend.

So there’s three things.

Oh, and the short film which just won’t behave. That’s four.

Then there’s that TV show, the one I feel I’ve been accidentally writing for the last twenty years. The one which feels like its nearly perfect … even though I’ve not written a single word beyond a one page synopsis.

By rights I should be shouldering all other commitments aside to focus on that one … but then there’s that ennui.

Don’t get me wrong – there are flashes of inspiration and perspiration. Moments when I suddenly burst into feverish scribblings … but those are mostly when there’s an interesting casting choice which requires a character tweak or the odd simple paid rewrite job. Those I’m all over. Those I snap to attention and type until my fingers ache.

The rest of it, especially the stuff I’m doing just for me … not so much.

But you know, as was discussed with Dom, those times are okay. Sometimes you care, sometimes you don’t. Always do the stuff people are waiting for … the rest … just don’t be too hard on yourself.

The trick is to know the difference between procrastinating and general demotivation. Procrastination is just silly: man and/or woman up and knuckle down. Demotivation periods … that’s fine. Just do something else. You don’t owe anyone your literary genius and no one will care+ if you down tools for a week or a month or even ten years. Just come back to it when you’re ready.

Or don’t. Find something more fulfilling to do, it’s your life.

Just accept it’s all part of the ebb and flow of a writer’s self-motivation. Beating yourself up to it just leads to depression and anxiety, give yourself permission to slack off.

Them’s my thoughts anyway and Dom seemed to agree. Or maybe I just ranted at him until he had to go spend time with his lovely family? That’s probably it.

Either way, catching up with Dom was cool and yet another enchanting #PhonePhill. If you’d like to have a natter, why not drop me a line at the email address in the sidebar and we’ll arrange a time to chat? Doesn’t matter what your experience level is or whether you’re a writer or not. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you do and however long you’ve been doing it, if you fancy a chat, I fancy listening.


* His, not mine. I’d retreated to my Secret Writing Island to avoid mine. My commitments, not necessarily my family and certainly never for extended periods.

 

+ So long as there’s no one actually waiting for your work. Do that. Always do that promptly and professionally.

Categories: #PhonePhill, My Way, Progress, Random Witterings, Writing and life | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

#PhonePhill – Conversation #15: Calum Chalmers (again)

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MILD SPOILERS FOR EDDIE THE EAGLE … BUT NOT REALLY.

IT’S UNSPOILABLE.

IF YOU’VE SEEN THE TRAILER, THAT’S THE FILM – THERE IS NOTHING ELSE TO SPOIL.

This is the third time Calum Chalmers has rung and the third time we’ve spent the entire morning gossiping. At this point, I’m beginning to suspect we’re having an affair.

Three hours this time.

Three.

Hours.

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Three hours of delightful chat about stuff and things. Too many stuff and things to mention … or even remember since it was a couple of weeks ago and remembering stuff is such a faff.

I do remember talking about our unfettered love for Eddie the Eagle … despite it not really being a very good film.

Not really.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad film. It’s not one of those so-bad-it’s-good deals. It delivers everything it promises, it’s just … not good.

I love it, but I’m not sure why.

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On paper it shouldn’t really work. Story wise it’s a direct copy of Cool Runnings … or at least the version of Cool Runnings I remember after not having seen it for twenty years.

Must watch that again.

It’s not even as complex a story as Cool Runnings since there’s only one Eddie as opposed to four bobsleighers. Or sledders. Sledders? Sleighers? Slayers?

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Eddie wants to be in the Olympics … that’s pretty much it. There’s no character development beyond that. There’s a vague reconciling with father/father figure thing going on for him and his coach … but it’s kind of incidental (except it’s not). Other than that, the story is:

Man wants to go to the Olympics … so he tries hard and gets to go.

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That’s it.

Even the obstacles aren’t really obstacles, they’re hurdles. I like stories where the obstacle is insurmountable so it forces the protagonist to take a different path – a different path which changes the protagonist. It’s not the path they wanted to take, but it’s perhaps one they needed to.

Hurdles don’t block the straight line between the protagonist and the goal, they’re just minor setbacks the protagonist needs to hop over.*

Eddie doesn’t change, he doesn’t grow. He doesn’t discover love instead of lust for Olympic glory … he just plods towards his goal occasionally hurdling minor irritants until he gets there.

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This is not the way to write a compelling story! And yet … it works. And it works magnificently. Eddie the Eagle is a fucking great film … despite not being especially good. I genuinely, with no reservations, adore it.

So what’s the take home from this? What did I (and Calum) learn?

Maybe that constructing compelling characters with internal and external goals and a flaw they need to overcome is a great start … but a nice person without a trace of malice who keeps trying to do the same thing, over and over again, no matter what … sometimes it just works.

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Movie Eddie is lovely. He’s sweet. I want him to get everything he wants and I want him to be happy … and that’s enough.

Much the same as I feel about Calum Chalmers – he’s a nice guy, I want him to be happy.

If you’d like me to want you to be happy too, why not #PhonePhill? Go on, you know you want to … and if you don’t, I want you to. Email me and we’ll schedule a call.


* Generally I find movies with hurdles instead of obstacles unsatisfying, but two other examples which prove that rule would be Gravity and The Martian. I really enjoyed both of those films, even though all the characters wanted was to not be in the movie^ and all that happened to them is hurdle after hurdle. Solve this problem, carry along on the same path until you hit the next problem – should be dull, but isn’t … IF you like the protagonist.

^ This too is a bugbear of mine – when all the characters want is to NOT be in the movie I find it difficult to warm to them – “Well why don’t you just fuck off or die and we can all go home?”

I’m looking at you Rey and Finn.

Categories: #PhonePhill | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

#PhonePhill – Conversation #14: Calum Chalmers (The Revenge)

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Hello, what have you been up to? I’ve been chatting to Calum Chalmers (again) who’s still a lovely writer-director type chappy. Calum was the first (sort of) ever #PhonePhill in April last year, proving this talk-to-a-stranger-malarkey* might just actually work. Last time, we spoke about this sort of thing.

This time we spoke about many, many things over the course of about two and a half hours.

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Blimey. Was it really that long? Or did the clocks go forward midway through? Doesn’t seem likely, so yeah … must have been.

In that long, meandering two and a half hours we covered more many, many things. Including, but not limited to:

  1. Dealing with notes, both giving and receiving.
  2. Weird behaviour from apparent professionals.
  3. Bland trailers.
  4. Remakes and reboots.
  5. Small island/small industry.
  6. Social media implosions.
  7. Other stuff.

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On which topics I generally feel:

  1. I’d rather be taking notes than giving them.
  2. Just be fucking nice to each other. Why is that so difficult?
  3. Trailers don’t excite me any more. They might as well just be a poster informing me of the film’s existence. Are trailers badly made? Or is it because most trailers I watch are for franchises which I’m probably going to go and see anyway and my enjoyment will depend entirely on the execution? This is the only trailer this year I’ve been excited about:
  4. I don’t care any more if anyone remakes anything. When they remade Bedazzled my friends hid Empire magazine from me for six months, afraid of what I might do if I found out. Now they’re remaking Ghostbusters … fine, whatever.
  5. See point 2. Calum and I have never met … but we know a lot of the same people. We swapped stories. Years ago I read a script he’s recently optioned. It’s all very incestuous … so be nice.
  6. See point 5. We all get bitter or blue sometimes … keep it to yourself. Ranting about it on your network of choice is unlikely to get you any work. Quite the opposite in fact.
  7. Yes.

One other thing we discussed was pigeon-holing. Should writers do it to themselves? The advice for American writers is a resounding yes. Be the go-to guy for something … you can always break out and back in again later on.

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But does that hold true in the UK?

I think it does. Writing is a hard craft to master and different genres require different skill sets. Not specialising has hurt my career because when I get to the point where someone says:

“I like this, but don’t want to make it … have you got anything similar?”

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The answer is always: no. I’ve got something of equal quality but a completely different genre or medium … which is of no interest.

Unfortunately I’ve had movies produced in a variety of genres. I like switching it up every now and then. Right now I’ve got a political black comedy casting and a teen-vampire-sex-comedy in development. Okay, so technically they’re both comedies … but they are poles apart. Ready to go I have a seriously dark moral drama film, the first film in a kid’s Christmas franchise and a sword and sorcery action-adventure movie. I write what  interests me at the time and … well, I shouldn’t. I should specialise in something.

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I think, perhaps, maybe … kids’ TV is the place to specialise in the UK because … well, it covers everything, doesn’t it? It seems to get treated as one genre despite covering drama and soap and comedy and sci-fi and horror and … stuff. At least, that’s how it seems to be from the outside. Maybe writers for kid’s horror finds people are resistant to them writing comedy?

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I have no idea. I’d like to find out, maybe there’s someone working in kids’ TV in the UK who fancies a #PhonePhill? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Once again I finished this conversation thinking I like Calum, he seems like a nice guy. Hopefully we’ll work together one day.

If you fancy a natter, email me and we’ll have a chat. It doesn’t have to be for two and half hours, it can be for fifteen minutes. You don’t have to be in the industry, you can anything or anyone … so long as you have a phone and the willingness to use it.

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* This is the first time I’ve ever typed the word ‘malarkey’ it’s not spelt the way I thought it was. Unless it is and my spell check is wrong.

Some handy note-links for you:

How to Deal With Notes (a silly list)

Notes From The Other Side – Part 1 (why I was giving notes), Part 2 (how reality got it wrong), Part 3 (a rant about things not to do when receiving notes).

Categories: #PhonePhill, Career Path, Industry Musings, My Way, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , , , | 4 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

#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

#PhonePhill – Conversation #11: Terry Newman

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This week I have been chatting to the great Terry Newman. Or Dr Tel as he’s famously known.

What a nice guy.

But I already knew that.

Tel is one of those writers whose list of credits is unfeasibly long across multiple genres and media. His CV is so ridiculously packed and varied that you could almost be forgiven for asuming he’s more than one person, that ‘Terry Newman’ is a brand masking the input of a dozen writers.

But it’s not. He’s real … and he’s lovely.

Tel’s written stuff like this:

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And this:

Electric Eddy and Kettle

And this:

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And, most recently, this:

Detective Strongoak book cover

Which you can (and should) buy here for mere pennies.

Tel and I first met … fuck, years ago. When was that? 2008? Maybe? No, looking at script dates it was 2005. Blimey.

We were brought together to write a sitcom about Saddam Hussain by Lewis Alsamari* – an Iraqi who’d escaped from his regime and felt the bastard needed satirising like buggery. It came out really well and got as far as attracting a great cast and one of the proper sitcom-royalty directors … before fizzling out in a burst of apathy.

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Or maybe someone else did a serious version of it and it was felt our version was making fun of that seriousness and not the psychotic imbecile it was meant to be lampooning.

I don’t know. It died anyway.

Which is a shame, because it was good.

Tel and I chatted for the best part of two hours about a wide variety of stuff. The first ten minutes or so were, in the best Skype tradition (for I was on my Secret Writing Island), spent wondering if we could hear each other and shouting hello a lot.

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Wifi was particularly terrible on that day. So terrible I was forced to leave my room and take my chances in the hotel lobby, dodging families of wailing Brits abroad (learn to fucking behave and put some fucking suncream on you lobster fucks!), Americans (you guys are LOUD in public!) and mediocre reggae blasting at unnessary volume from hidden speakers.

There’s always one spot in every hotel lobby which is far enough away from the noise but close enough to the router to be perfect … it usually takes a lot of wandering back and forth to find it.

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But find it I did. However, since I was now in public, the mooted possibility of a video chat was abandonned. Which was a shame since I’d put clothes on and everything.

This is the wall Tel would have been chatting in front of:

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This is what I would have been chatting in front of:

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This is actually ten minutes after I’d hung up, right in the middle of the storm but about five minutes before the earthquake hit.

Secret Writing Islands – they’re not all fun in the sun.

Once we’d established a clear(ish) line of communication we chatted in earnest about all sorts of things.

Tel and I are (I think) very similar. We both have a love for comedy. We both have a love of superheroes.

This is Tel’s recent purchase, melding together both of those loves:

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This was my latest self-build, keep me sane, project:

And we both have damaged our own careers by refusing to stick to one genre, style or medium. Neither of us are the go-to-guy for anything.

Well, I was (for a while) the go-to-guy when you had a terrible script you needed bringing up to scratch in an absolutely hurry because you were filming on Wednesday and for some reason hadn’t bothered to get the script right before committing to a start date.

But I’ve managed to extricate myself from being that guy because being that guy is fucking annoying, stressful and ultimately unrewarding since panicked page one rewrites on a script which is almost at the end of pre-production is unlikely to yield a good film.

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Being the go-to-person for something is a good idea. It’s the way to build a career. Being the best at one thing means people will come to you first. Like, back in the day when these things still existed, people would go to record shops to buy records first … and if they couldn’t find it there, go to Woolworths as a last ditch, deperate attempt without really expecting to find it there.

I inadvertently set myself up as the Woolworths of script writing. I can do all the genres … but people would tend to go to the specialists first.

I guess Tel’s the same. Although I don’t want to attach that sobriquet to him in case he finds it offensive.

Apparently not being the go-to-person makes you less attractive to agents because they find it harder to promote and sell you.

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I say apparently because I’ve never really tried to get one and therefore have no idea what I’m talking about.

Meetings become harder because, although you can meet with a wider range of producers, you may only have one script in the genre they specialise in. And since producers rarely want the thing you’ve gone to sell them and tend to love asking ‘what else have you got?’ … well, it’s just more difficult.

But more rewarding. I’ve had films produced in a variety of genres: horror, sci-fi, comedy, action-thriller … and The Evolved (Part One) which just defies all classification and common sense. I’ve written sitcoms, I’ve written sketches, I’ve written movies …

Tel’s done that and more. He’s also written a novel.

Which you should buy. Here.

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That’s what we got into writing to do – whatever the fuck crossed our minds. It’s just not the best idea if you want to make a solid career and earn a decent wage.

Says the man sitting on his own (not-so) private island.

We both fucked up there. But given our time over again, I’m not sure either of us would do anything differently.

One thing about Tel which surprised the hell out of me is that he rarely redrafts anything. He’s a meticulous planner and outliner and tends to get it right before he starts writing.

I start out planning things meticulously … and then get bored and jump in feet first. Things go wrong. Things change. I lose my way. I discover strange and wonderful new things … and I write multiple drafts of everything.

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I’m assuming we essentially run through the same number of versions of each thing … but mine’s long form where as his is either at the treatment/beat sheet stage or all in his head.

I’m kind of jealous … but I find my process usually takes me where I need to be (if not where I intended to go) so it’s all good.

From there, talk wandered on to adaptations for some reason … oh yes, because Tel’s book (which you can buy here) was Harper-Voyager’s first foray into digital first publishing.

And I don’t read eBooks.

Can’t fucking bear them. I’m a dead-tree kind of guy.

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Until very, very recently I didn’t have anything I could read them on beside my phone … which is a bit too small to be satisfying.

I now have a laptop with a removable screen so I could read eBooks if I wanted to … but I don’t. And haven’t. Yet.

Tel was asking how I approached adaptations since he tends to search and reference the eBook whilst planning his.

I tend to approach them like this:

Step one: Read the book. This is probably quite an essential step.

Step two: Decide if I like the book or not. If I don’t, apologise and back away from the project. If I do …

Step three: Is it a filmable book? Does it read like a movie with a clear beginning, middle and end with a protagonist and a theme and all that kind of stuff? If so, go to step four. If not I just throw the book away and make something up using the same character names and claim it’s ‘inspired by the book’ or ‘just uses it as a jumping off point’.

Step four: Plan out the film using only what I can remember from the book after reading it once. Chances are this is what the other readers can remember too. Unless it’s a cult classic which will have been read many, many times – in which case I need to be more specific about stuff.

Step five: Re-read the book and see if I’ve missed out/forgotten anything. Which I tend not to have done since I have a pretty good memory … when I want to. Or need to. Or someone’s paying me to switch it on.

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From there I proceed as normal until the client is happy with the script.

I’ve adapted a few books now. The clients have always gone away happy … and then never made the movie.

Oh well.

Tel and I spoke about many, many things and never quite ran out of things to say. Eventually we had to just end the conversation because we both had work to do and would otherwise have spoken all day.

He’s a nice guy, is Tel. You should hire him.

Or buy his book.

Or both.

So that was #PhonePhill #11. Who wants to be #12? If you’re thinking this might be fun but feel you’re not really the kind of person I’d want to talk to … you’re wrong. I do want to talk to you, no matter who you are or what you do. Doesn’t have to be about writing and you don’t have to be a writer or even involved in media.

Don’t be shy, email me, arrange a time and #PhonePhill.

Fuck it, here’s Iron Man again because … well, just because.

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* If you have time, read his bio on that iMDB page … then reflect on how easy your life has been up until now. Unless, of course, you have endured even worse, in which case … fuck.

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

#PhonePhill – Conversation #10: Jay Sutherland

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This #PhonePhill didn’t begin life as a #PhonePhill. It started out as a random phone call about a script.

But I’ll get to that, first, some background.

Jay is an actor. Here he is starring in a feature film:

And here he is pissed up and armed:

I’ve known Jay for an awful long time … without really knowing him. He’s my younger brother’s best friend’s younger brother. A few years ago he got in touch about maybe writing a script together. We had a chat, found some common ground and words flowed from there.

That script never got made, which is a shame because it’s really good … or rather, it was quite good. I’ve just made it really good by tweaking two things … but that’s another story and shall be told another time.

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Since the two tweaks had struck me, I’d been meaning to ring Jay and tell him about them … but he rang me first to talk over a new project he’s writing. It’s a good project and hopefully you’ll get to see it one day.

Being primarily an actor rather than a writer, Jay had a couple of writerly things he wanted to run by me – specifically, how to introduce a complex backstory in the opening minute or so.

People keep telling him not to use voice over or news reports because it’s against the rules.

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This is, of course, utter bollocks.

What they mean to say is “Don’t use voice over or news reports badly“.

That last word is vitally important.

Voice over in films can be fantastic.

News reports can be a superbly quick way of getting across lots of information.

They’re incredibly useful tools which, unfortunately, are incredibly easy to misuse.

So how should they be used?

Well … so here’s the thing. I hate giving advice. I hate laying down the law and saying “this is the way to do it!”

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… because it probably isn’t.

The problem with all script advice is someone, somewhere has broken it and created something wonderful. Every time I think I’ve taught myself a rule … I realise I’ve been ignoring all this other evidence to the contrary.

Humans are like that, we remember the evidence which backs up our conclusions, ignoring that which contradicts it instead of basing our conclusions on all the evidence. It’s just the way we’re wired.

So I apologise in advance if what I’m about to say is total bullshit.

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I think (but can’t be certain) that voice over works best when it’s either present tense or very, very brief. As in a few introductory lines and then disappears until the end of the movie.

Why?

Well, because I think if it’s all past tense then it makes what you’re watching feel like information you need to know before the story starts. If that past tense voice over goes on for the whole film … I spend the whole film waiting for the story to start.

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After an hour of waiting for the story to start, I get a little bored – come on! Hurry up!

Present tense voice over gets around that problem by seeming to be the voice overer’s inner thoughts. And even then, I think that only works if the character’s inner thoughts contradict or add additional information to what we’re seeing on screen.

Except when it doesn’t. I can see it being amusing to have a voice over explaining exactly what the character is about to say. But maybe not all the time?

Or maybe do. If it works.

Jay and I love voice over in films. Both of us (sorry) prefer the film noir version of Blade Runner (sorry) to the director’s cut (so sorry).

Which, now I think about it, may all be in past tense.

So’s Goodfellas’ voice over. That’s awesome too.

See what I mean about ‘rules’?

The other thing, the news report thing … well, to me, the problem with that is it’s not the protagonist talking. It’s a third party, explaining to you what’s happening in the background or last week or somewhere else.

A little of that is fine. A lot … well it just keeps me from connecting emotionally with the protagonist.

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Except when it doesn’t.

Used well, you get to see how the news affects the protagonist. If she’s watching the news, for example. Or maybe we get snippets of news reports interspersed/playing over the protagonist going about tasks which reflect/contrast with what’s going on in her life.

Something like that.

Again, I’m fairly certain there are films which blow this ill-thought-out theory out of the water.

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The good thing is, this kind of meandering musing was exactly the kind of food for thought Jay was looking for. And it struck me that this was exactly the kind of phone call #PhonePhill works well as – a reconnecting with an old acquaintance whilst chatting about random (occasionally writing-related) stuff.

So I’ve retconned this conversation as #PhonePhill #10. If you’d like to be #11 (assuming I haven’t already had #11 whilst you’ve been reading this) then get in touch. I want to talk to you, whoever you are, old friend or new, about whatever the hell you fancy.

Come on, #PhonePhill

Categories: #PhonePhill, Industry Musings, My Way | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

#PhonePhill – Conversation #9: James Moran

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Still going! Next week’s conversation has already happened too – I’m a week in hand!

Frankly, this is quite surprising … but lovely.

Conversation #9 is writer/director/raconteur/blogger/kitten-lover James Moran. He used to be known in these parts as TV’s James Moran but nowadays he’s got his fingers in every pie imaginable and has long-outgrown the confining title.

As is now customary, he was lovely.

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.

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But today is not that day.

Full disclosure: I already know James, but haven’t spoken to him for a long time. Ages, in fact. Maybe even longer.

We do know each other though, so we do have each other’s phone numbers. With most #PhonePhillees I email them my phone number so they can call me – this isn’t because I’m cheap and don’t want to use my free minutes (even though I am and I don’t) but because I don’t want to go round harvesting complete strangers’ phone numbers – if they have mine, they can choose not to ring me on the day or withhold their number and keep their anonymity.

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But because I already have James’ number (which I will sell for the right price. Or even the wrong one) I rang him.

Or at least, I tried to.

First time it went to his voicemail, so I hung up and immediately tweeted him to accuse him of leading me on.

He assured me he was there, ready and waiting. Possibly moist with anticipation … I mean, he didn’t say he was, but he probably was.

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So I rang him again and got the same voicemail. Only … what was that surname? The voice (which didn’t sound like his voice at all) definitely said it was James someone … but it was a bit muffled and didn’t sound like Moran.

Closer examination revealed his contact had two mobile numbers. Only one of which was his. The one he text me from. The only mobile number he has. The one I hadn’t just called. Twice.

So apologies if you’re called James something and are wondering why I called you twice on Friday without leaving a message, but the truth of the matter is I hung up because you’re not James Moran.

Hey, few are.

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James Moran, luckily, is.

Chat was wide and varied. We started off with a discussion about haircuts – James had just had his cut at a very reasonable price. My barber is slightly more expensive than James’, but worth sticking with because (for some reason I don’t quite understand) he’s convinced I wrote Iron Man 3.

I’ve never bothered to correct this mis-assumption because … fuck it. I’ll take that credit.

After that (and a few pleasantries) we moved on to directing.

James does it.

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I don’t.

James has also taught himself editing and grading and possibly even flower arranging. He seems like the kind of chap who’s determined to learn it all.

Normally I’m wary of writer/directors* feeling that, although there are many people who are awesome at both, they are a tiny percentage compared to the people who aren’t.

Generally speaking^ someone who lists themselves as more than one creative contributor tends to be someone who’s failing at more than one thing. As if they have a limited pool of talent and would probably be really good at one thing or the other … but when that talent is divided between writing, directing, producing, catering, dress making … it just doesn’t work.

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James, happily, belongs to the people who can. He’s directed a few shorts:

and this FrightFest intro/ident thingy:

He’s good. At all of it.

He’s working towards directing his first feature … that will be a day worth waiting for.

James thinks every writer should direct their own thing. He says it’s massively illuminating and helps your writing immensely.

Since I haven’t done it, I can only assume he’s right. I do occasionally think about directing a little web series … but then I don’t bother, I’m too busy.

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Maybe one day … and then I too can be terrible at two things.

Conversation then drifted, quite naturally, onto Matt Houston.

Well, not specifically Matt Houston, but those kind of action adventure shows in general. James and I loved them growing up and lament the fact no one really makes them any more.

I suppose The Flash is probably the nearest thing. Which I love and can’t wait for the next season.

But where are all the Saturday adventure shows? Where are The Fall Guys and The A-teams? Who’s the spiritual successor to Matt Houston, Magnum, The Dukes of Hazzard, Tales of the Gold Monkey, Automan?

Why does no one make the kind of things the ten year old me loved?

Or maybe they do and I just don’t watch them because I’m not ten? Maybe all those shows of my youth were terrible to anyone who was an adult and I’m missing out on the modern day equivalent because I am now (nominally) an adult and therefore dismiss them as terrible?

Maybe. I don’t know.

For those of you interested in that period, you could do a lot worse than watching this interview with Glen A. Larson.

Glen A. Larson, for those of you young enough not to remember his name on the end of every other US TV show in the 80s was the driving force behind … well, every other US TV show in the 80s. Stephen J. Cannell created all the others.

And Donald P. Bellisario of course. He did the third half.

Why did everyone in the 80s have a middle initial? If I use my middle initial, will I be able to create a raft of amazing action adventure shows?

Might be worth a try.

The big question, of course, is which of those shows would you most like to remake as a movie?

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James went for Knight Rider – which is an excellent choice. Four times someone has tried to remake it and each time they’ve fucked it up because … well, watch those Glen A. Larson interviews to find out. He knows, because he was dead clever.

Me? I’d go for either The Fall Guy (which is supposed to be happening with The Rock as Colt Seavers! I really, really want to see that movie!@) or Tales of the Gold Monkey.

And that was #PhonePhill #9.

#10 is already done and awaiting a write up … so who’s next?

I would love to talk to you no matter who you are or what you do. Industry connected or not. Aspiring something or professional something completely different.

Anyone, I don’t care. Email me and we’ll work something out.

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*I wrote a post about this once, referring to them scathingly throughout as hyphenates … until someone pointed out in the comments I always used a / and not a –

^Generally, not always and not YOU. You, of course, are amazing at both … that’s why either no one will pay you to do it or why all your films (which you are in complete control of since you also produced them yourself) got a whopping 1 star rating on IMDb#.

#IMDb reviews for terrible low budget movies always follow the same pattern. The first five reviews will be 10 stars … because that’s someone’s family/friends/alternate personality posting them.

Then the film gets released, real people actually get to see it and it tanks completely.

How do I know? Because I’ve tracked many of the terrible movies I’ve written.

@Just use the theme tune. Please. The theme tunes are part of what made those shows so awesome and so memorable. I loved The A-Team movie (why didn’t everyone else?) but it really, really needed to rip into the theme tune after the voice over before the end credits. Not using the theme there was just silly. I know they did use it earlier … but come on! I wanted to leave the auditorium humming the theme.

Actually, I was anyway.

Categories: #PhonePhill, Industry Musings, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

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