Sunday, January 31, 2010

Nearly three weeks...

...since I last blogged. A record.

It's not that my life has been operating at absolute zero - no energy - quite the contrary, I've been doing all sorts of stuff but it's all been a bit unfocused. So I've had nothing really concrete to say.

I'll sum up:

I've been working on my new web project which will be revealed presently - it's nearly in a working condition although there's still loads to do.

I've done some re-working of the Winter project and sent it for some professional feedback. I know a lot of things that are wrong with it but, again, it's a bit unfocussed so I need some focussing.

I wrote and delivered a pitch for Big Finish in their New Writers initiative. What I thought was a nice little Fifth Doctor & Nyssa story. I have a friend who's a complete DW geek, so was able to confirm that my Earth-historical had never been done in any of the books, audio stories or in TV in the entire history of DW. Conename: Boots, just in case it goes anywhere.

Still doing the contract day job, part of my unfocusedness was due to the contract being finished and having to spend time looking for a new contract. As it turns out the current company decided they had enough money for another two months and want me to create a fairly radical piece of work. Should be very interesting.

Went to see Sherlock Holmes - what a lot of fun that film is, certainly too much fun to nit-pick. Interestingly enough I actually pitched for that job as well. Don't believe me? Well, 18 months ago a message came up on the Shooting People screenwriters bulletin offering the opportunity to pitch for a big industry movie. The producers thought it might be interesting because they might come up with something new. And it was a Sherlock Holmes story. I may have pitched but I screwed it up anyway, by not reading the brief carefully enough. Though my story featured Irene Adler as well.

The Boy was on TV again: and it's a nail-biting finish.

I've also been pumping my existing stuff out to various screenwriting competitions.

So that's about it really. My main focus right now is to complete the web project up to a point where my partner on this project can start creating content. Oh, perhaps I should say at this point that the project is relevant to screenwriting but it's new*.

So until the next time: au revoir.

* I rewrote that line half a dozen times but every time I came across like some ignorant pleb thinking he's going to create a copy of ebay, Facebook, Shooting People, Zoetrope - or anything like that - and make a million (some people really do ask web designers for that - "I've got £500 make me the new ebay"). It isn't any one of those.

What's on the turntable? "One Vision" by Queen from "A Kind of Magic"

Monday, January 11, 2010

Bill does it again

Screenwriter Bill Martell has been writing some new Script Secrets for his web site and this is the latest:

Conflict driven

I've read other stuff by him on the importance of the antagonist in a story, but this is the best so far. Also explains why Indy II and IV, are so poor compared to Indy I and III.

What's on the turntable? "Why don't we live together" by the Pet Shop Boys from "Please"

Sunday, January 10, 2010

In the mood

If writing is your profession, then "mood" and "whether you feel like it" are irrelevant. Do you take time off work because you just "don't feel like it today" - well, you better not do it too often or you'll be in deep doo-doo.

I have been known to say this on a number of occasions, of course it's harder when it's yourself.

Personally if I take a day off from the day job I don't get paid because I'm a contractor. That's a fairly convincing argument. Luckily I can also work from home which has meant that the snow preventing me from travelling to Sheffield (all the Pennine passes have been closed) hasn't stopped me from working.

What brought this on? Well I really didn't feel like writing today: sleepy tired, and me old bones a bit achy. But I have less than two episodes of Winter to write and they need to get done. (Then there's re-writing, getting 3rd party analysis and critique, then working with the Director - Hi, Chris - and shooting in just a few of months.)

So I forced myself to sit down in my office in front of the computer and start writing.

You know what? I feel so much better for it. Getting things done does wonders for the way you feel.

EDIT: Couple of hours later - first draft of Winter is now complete and printing, for typographical and sanity check. (I deliberately changed some things halfway through, now I need to make sure the beginning agrees with the end.)

What's on the turntable? "Preludes" by Gordon Giltrap from "The River Sessions"

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Now is Winter

I spent over an hour working on the web serial Winter yesterday evening - and a whole two hours on it this evening.


Spent the time yesterday re-acquainting myself with it and re-writing whole sections to improve the flow of the action sequences. And did more of that this evening until I reached the point I had previously written up to and then wrote a whole chunk more, finished episode 3 and nearly finished episode 4 too - it's in 6 x 5 minute episodes.

Basically it's an action feature in 30 minutes, with the added extra that each episode has to end with sufficient cliffhanger to make people want to tune in for the next episode.

Not entirely sure how we're going to shoot it, although the locations are quite simple. There are stunts required, though I've got rid of the first gun (replaced with something more effective and more personal) we will need guns for later. Hey ho. At least it won't be in public.

Bill Martell (bless his cotton socks) has some of the best advice for writing action, which you can read over on his Script Secrets site (go via his blog). I just love writing action.

But a good action story isn't just about the action, you have to fit character development into that as well, and I think I'm managing to do that too. All squeezed into 30 minutes, what fun.

Of course what I forgot to put in my 2010 Goals was shooting and releasing Winter. Silly me.

What's on the turntable? "Go your own way" by Fleetwood Mac from "Rumours" - except this is one of the extras on the Deluxe album; it's slightly different to the original album version.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Application of Drama #1

There's a potential confusion ahead - let me make it absolutely clear that when I talk about Role-Playing Games I am not talking about anything to do with attempts to spice up my married life.

I am talking about a type of game invented in the late 70s: The original Dungeon & Dragons followed closely by a whole plethora of similar games.

Just in case you don't know here's a potted explanation: Take a group of, say, 6 people. One of them runs the game, essentially creating a whole universe (using one of the aforementioned games, or out of his head) and the others become characters within that universe. Unlike other games (and especially unlike the so-called computer "RPGs") in this type of game the players can essentially do anything.

Let's get a little more concrete: the players might be a group of unwilling Assassin Hedgehogs (the result of genetic modification) that have been co-opted into an organisation called Animal Spectrum (as in "Captain Scarlet" but with animals) and go on missions to protect society from zombie terrorists.

Okay, that's a little extreme but a genuine game. Or a bunch of Samurai from medieval Japan escorting their Daimyo to Kyoto, and staying at a village plagued by demons (the Teacher likes running Japanese games).

Or Superheroes in Manchester (I first ran that game over 10 years ago). Or Victorian adventurers in the Martian Wilderness. Or outlaws in Sherwood Forest in a Babylon 5/Robin of Sherwood mash-up. Or Time Lords who have forgotten who they are. Or fighting time-travelling Nazis. Or 1960s secret agents like Austin Powers. Or Immortals who discover their world is a computer-generated illusion in a Highlander/Matrix combo. Or in the Wild West with magic.

This is a sample of the games that our group have played over the last 25 years. We take turns at running games and go for as much variety as possible. Sometimes we've even been known to play straight D&D as light relief.

Role-playing games are interesting, the role-playing itself is improvisational acting. You get some people who can only play one type of character (regardless of game) - others who are versatile and create different personas.

The person running the game, for the purposes of this blog I'll call him/her the "Referee", is responsible for the game - responsible for creating the environment in which the players can role-play. A good referee can create an excellent experience - and a good referee can do this off the top of his/her head without planning. Planning is a good thing - or at least having a plan is a good thing - being able to respond to the actions of the players is an even more valuable skill.

You want the players to follow a clue that will take them to the next set-piece. But they don't, instead they decide to go down the pub, the Referee cannot force them to follow the clue (that negates the concept of the game) instead he must adapt.

A common misconception of RPGs of this sort is that the Referee "narrates" or "tells the story" to the players. That would be a very poor game, and certainly not one I'd want to be involved with. But there is a story and the players go through it.

This is all leading somewhere and I shall explain. Prior to getting my recent contract in Sheffield and being able to live at home I was working away for nearly two years. In that time I hadn't been playing (0bviously) but that is also the time period where I began scriptwriting.

The Sheffield contract started in the Summer. Come December we finished a game and it was my turn to run a game. I decided to go for Superheroes in Manchester again with completely new characters (since it had been over 10 years).

But it also occurred to me that there must be a similarity between scriptwriting and running an RPG. Players enjoy games when they are involved with the drama, so I wondered if applying what I knew about creating drama would work.

RPGs are a very different animal to scripts for one very important reason, mentioned above, the Referee cannot tell the players what to do. Scripts are ... well ... scripted. RPGs are free-form. So it's an interesting experiment.

In Part #2 I'll describe how I constructed the opening and went about using scriptwriting drama techniques to make the game work - and what I did wrong.

What's on the turntable? "Hide in Your Shell" by Supertramp from "Crime of the Century"

Friday, January 01, 2010

New Year Happy!

Last year I said this:
  • Get a commission
  • Finish all work in progress
So how did I do?

I didn't get a commission, although I got a lot of excellent feedback from various TV companies, including a promise to be considered as a writer if the series in question is renewed. (Which is about as good as it gets without actually getting a commission.)

The project entitled Traitor for which I was creating one paragraph story ideas has yet to come to fruition but the person running the project (after an email nudge) promised to take a look over Christmas. They will be commissioning this February. So that is still the most promising option.

So although I didn't get a commission this year, I have made good progress towards the goal and I'm waiting on the board to roll a 6 exactly.

As for finishing projects: There was Air, that's done and dusted and got rave reviews from the industry readers (you can read the first 10 pages). Unit X, a US TV pilot, which I finished but have put aside as needing a lot of work. Une Nuit a Paris, a feature, also finished and put aside as needing a lot of work.

And Winter which was originally a short, then became my "exciting new web project" proposal for the BBC- which they turned down, and now it's the new Web series which we'll hopefully shoot in 2-3 months. But it needs finishing. So technically it's never been finished.

I also mentioned at the end of that post last year that I needed to get a paying job fast. Which I did, and my web development contract work has been pretty good all year (after a slow start).

My current contract ends at the end of January but the agents are already ringing my phone off the hook - it's nice to be wanted. Though it's getting to the point where I'm getting picky - I want the next contract to be in Birmingham specifically (for various reasons).

Anyway, next year's goals.
  • Get a commission - I really must work harder on this one.
  • Finish the works in progress.
  • Develop 10 new TV ideas.
  • Enter four screenwriting competitions.
For the commissions I need to promote myself more which means finding more places to send my information to. Obviously the ones that might come off are already in place but one cannot rest on one's laurels.

The works in progress this time are:

Winter as mentioned above.

Tec which is the TV detective thingy that I've written once but needs more and lots of changes.

I do need to work on new stuff because I don't have enough on the go currently - new ideas needed.

And enter screenwriting competitions - why only 4? Well, I'm not much of a feature writer currently so I'm stuck with TV. And I need to pick and choose what I work on and submit. So just four is fine. One will be Red Planet (but I'll need Tec finished for that), one might be Screenwriters Festival (I'll need Tec for that too). And we'll see what else.

Happy New Year!

What's on the turntable? Not a thing.