Thursday, April 30, 2009

Evening off

As my reward to myself for finishing Scriptfrenzy successfully I'm having the evening off and just watching some TV. And catching up on my email.

Due to my Internet problems I haven't had any email for 2 days and it all came flooding through this evening once the gates were opened - and, as I stepped delicately through the sea of messages, picking my way through the flotspam and jetspam. I came across the report on my fun Being Human/Torchwood 15-minute crossover script. See this for full details.

I have to admit that, after my little debacle with Unit X, I had suffered a little from self-doubt. Was it possible I only had two good scripts in me? I didn't actually believe it, but those little niggles can be hard to squash (even with the heel of your shoe). Besides you can't let something like that stop you. Pah!

So what was the result? It got what you might call a 6/10 - characterisation and dialogue good for all the Being Human characters (particularly George) and Jack Harkness from Torchwood, but less so for Ianto and Gwen. Lots of nice Wizard of Oz references; and basically a fun read.

BUT, viewed as real script, the plot was more Torchwood style so didn't do the Being Human characters any favours and 15 pages really isn't enough for character depth when you have seven major characters (don't forget the baddie: Mrs Wormwood from The Sarah Jane Adventures).

I've decided to get another opinion on this - not because I disagree, I completely agree - but one viewpoint (even one as good as Philip Shelley) is never enough. Not even for this - because you need to be able to compare and contrast viewpoints to extract the full meat.

However it does answer one really important question: Can I write in the voices of characters from someone else's show? Apparently I can.

This is good.

(I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I have spent some time re-doing my background research on my next project, Tec . Have to put together a nice complex plot.)

What's on the turntable? "Hunter" by Bjork from "Homogenic"

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Done it!

So, this evening my Internet was completely failing to do anything useful. (As I am not at home we are, of course, back to Rubbish Internet(tm) except it's been okay, until this evening.)

And there was nothing on the TV.

So I analysed future probabilities - what if my Internet didn't come back? I must finish the script tonight so that I can upload it tomorrow at work to be sure that I win ScriptFrenzy (I hate failing - especially when it's just words on a page).

So I did.

I wrote the final action scenes involving lots of people getting shot to death.

It was also one of the more poignant scenes in the whole script - plus lots of little twisty turny twisty-turny bits. It all came out in the wash very cleanly, every plot point resolved, everything rounded off nicely.

Not as quickly as that zenith of action writing Die Hard which resolves about eight plot lines in 30 seconds at the end. A masterpiece.

Now Celtx has to send the file to its online PDF creator - which meant I had no idea how many pages I'd written. I needed six.

But come 10:30pm my Internet was back and Celtx told me I'd written 101 pages (not including the title page). I'm a winner! Part of the deal with ScriptFrenzy is that they engage in charitable activities, and I always give - but after I complete the task.

My third ScriptFrenzy win - 101 pages in 15 days. Cool.

Now I have to let it compost for a while before taking an objective look and ripping it to shreds.

What's on the turntable? "No Expectation Boulevard" by Vangelis from "Bladerunner CD3"

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Walk in the Park

The Screenwriter's Festival has got a new-look website and they've told the whole world who I am. I order you not to go and find out - assuming you don't already know.

And then they have the audacity to suggest that writing this blog (as they put it "significantly more regular than many others", of course I haven't actually posted in - what? Two days? That's bad for me) ... they have the audacity to suggest that this might actually interfere with my screenwriting.

How little they know me.

I'm up to 88 pages on Running which means that I have 12 pages to do in the next 3 evenings - a walk in the park. I have just completed a car chase which was almost embarrassing for a script to do with Parkour. However the characters had to get somewhere fast, and the main character was, at that point, not even capable of walking unaided.

But she's better now, thanks to the miracle of nano-technology.

Speaking of walks in the park - I have now done two days in my new job. As previously mentioned I am now working at the Open University in Milton Keynes. It's a very special kind of University, it has all the trappings of academia but (blessing from heaven) no students - at least none on campus.

I'm staying at a B&B - sorry, 4-star Guest House - a little over a mile from where I'm working so once again I can walk to work. Through leafy lanes, fields and parkland surrounded by English rural countryside. I could get used to this. Yesterday I got soaked from the rain as I walked back - and I really didn't care. It's worth checking out the Wikipedia entry to see how Milton Keynes was designed to work for both cars and people.

It's true that there is the constant sound of cars in the background but that's the price you pay for being both rural and urban simultaneously.

In case you're interested the contract is going well so far, except that all the work I did yesterday was deleted by someone else at the end of the day. Thanks. It took me less time to get back to the same position, of course, and I have powered onwards.

I was brought in because they are on deadline and their programmers were taken ill (not Swine Flu as far as I know). I'm not sure I can hit their deadline (particularly not losing a day and a half - the day's work plus re-doing it) but I shall try.

I'm not a fan of the news, I am a fan of Charlie Brooker and his Newswipe prog - it explains exactly why I have ignored the news as much as possible for the last 20 years. Except he explains it more succinctly and with more humour than me.

But the Swine Flu thing did scare the life out of me - it sounded exactly like the backstory in my TV script Monsters. I had to go and do some research just to confirm that it wasn't killing too many people. That's one future I'd rather not be the prophet of.

So let's see how many pages I can knock out, at least 4, tonight.

EDIT: 6 pages. Oh yes.

What's on the turntable? "An Architect's Dream" by Kate Bush from "Aerial CD2: A Sea of Honey"

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Scriptfrenzy 4 days to go

Well, I needed to catch up today.

And I also needed to prepare for my first week in Milton Keynes and the trip down, new place to stay.

Everything went off fairly smoothly, the trip down was reasonably quick - only 1.5 hours on the train plus 30 min at the start and 15 min at the end: 2.25 hours end to end. (When I was doing Dundee last year it was 8 hours total travel time.)

But I was falling behind on Running. I got up and walked the dog at 6:15am this morning, got back about 7am, and wrote a couple of pages. Later I wrote a couple more.

Then I piled it on in the train and wrote some more this evening before watching William Goldman being interviewed on The South Bank Show.

So how did I do? Twelve pages. Result! I'm now on 87 pages, and if I had taken the trouble to write a couple more I'd be on same level as someone who'd started at the beginning and done 4.6 pages per day. (But I didn't.)

So that was good. Well it was semi-good, the actual content is not so hot, lots of tightening up needed and probably junking most of this sequence I've just written. But it's first draft so we don't really need to worry about that.

Anyway, off to bed now ready for discovering what the new contract will bring tomorrow.

What's on the turntable? "Pi" by Kate Bush from "Aerial CD1: Sea of Honey"


Fresh out of university I did not want the type of job that other graduates of possibly the best computer degree in the world were getting.

I graduated in Computer Science from Manchester University about 28 years ago. It was a course that I doubt gets taught anywhere any more. We were taught everything about computers: from how the electrons flow through the wires, through constructing the basic circuits that all computers are built on, up through programming basics that have never and will never change, to managing massive database systems. Nowadays the courses tend to specialise - we covered everything.

And where did most graduates of this amazing course go? They went to write payroll systems for large corporations.

I was always bit of a rebel, in a very middle class sort of way. In my third year I did a subsidiary course in the History of Music, I've always had an interest in music - I can get a tune out of most things but can't play any individual instrument at all well. Doing this additional course caused real problems because it ran to a completely different schedule and entailed a long walk between the various campus areas.

My intentions were less about learning music history and more about the girls - no, that's a lie - I really wanted access to the Music Faculty's music technology lab, I wanted to play with the synthesizers. I wanted to be like Mike Oldfield. I had a band in the second year that managed just one performance, although we had some real talent, in the third year I wanted to go it alone.

Getting back to the point, when I finished my degree course I wanted something different, and eventually landed myself a job with the Open University, making these new-fangled personal computers talk. I added speech output to various types of micro-computer.

It was from there I went off into my career as magazine writer and editor.

The circle turns. On Friday I got offered a new contract, not the one I wanted, once again I'm working for the Open University, this time at their HQ in Milton Keynes. Not to do with talking computers though.

As mentioned in my previous post one thing that will stop you from writing is outside influences - and getting things organised, not to say actually getting the job, has rather interfered with my committing Running to script. I've managed to keep it going but not at the proper rate unfortunately. I'm on 77 pages with 4 days to go, about 6 pages per day.

But I will have a train ride from Manchester to Milton Keynes in which to write, plus evenings in the B&B that I've booked for the week. Six pages per day is not a huge number.

The B&B does have a TV in every room which may be a bit of a problem, and hopefully I'll be able to organise the room so that I can type fairly comfortably. I hope so.

After Running, according to my plan, I'm writing the pilot for my detective TV series Tec (working title). I have been looking for the notebook that contains the notes for Tec I made with my wife a couple of years ago. Unfortunately I can't find it anywhere which is a shame. Still, I can remember most of the points about the plot and a bit of re-research into the unusual disease required for the pilot will tell me what I need to know.


In other news: I note that this new series of BBC's Robin Hood lost 1.3 million viewers last week. It's got lower figures than Primeval. I haven't watched the Robin Hood because of no interest, the first ones were just so poor (in my opinion); Primeval however has got into its stride and this series has had some really good episodes (including actually killing the lead character, permanently).


I have downloaded all the episodes of Robin Hood to watch them and see why it's lost so many viewers. Is it just because it can't match the Primeval/Britain's Got Talent combo? Or has it improved and driven away some of its viewers? (Ooooh, harsh!)

Of course it's all my opinion, but I shall let you know what I think.

(I also downloaded BBC4's repeat of a Kate Bush concert from 1978. I have been madly in love with Kate Bush since Wuthering Heights.)

What's on the turntable? "Mrs Bartolozzi" by Kate Bush from "A Sea of Honey", CD1 of "Aerial"

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Block and tackle

I wrote nothing yesterday, I hit a wall.

As regular readers will know, I loathe the concept of "Writer's Block". I believe I am justified in this loathing (obviously) and I shall explain (this is my view):

When someone says "I can't write, I have writer's block" it's as if they have some sort of disease, that it's something outside themselves preventing them from writing.

There certainly are things from "outside" that might stop you from writing, like worries about money, or a loved one's had an accident, or you have someone close to you who is constantly undermining you.

These are real external issues - they are not a disease and they are not "Writer's Block", but they can stop you writing.

From my personal experience the only thing that stops me from writing (and I tempted to believe that this is the real truth generally) is that I don't know what to write.

If you don't know what to write then you can't write it.

So clearly the trick is: find out what to write.

I've known for a couple of days that I have a problem with my plan for Running, it was too low-level from the start. In other words what I was writing as an Act-level description was really more of a Sequence-level.

And I ran out of plot. I was trying to write my Act III notes when I was barely halfway through. And then I made the mistake of sitting in front of the computer pretending that I was trying to solve the problem - because I knew what it was - when really I was doing nothing.

I faced the fact that I was deluding myself yesterday evening and decided not to try to fix it then and there - because other issues were intruding. Like the fact that I had an interview for a contract in Bristol today and I had to get everything sorted for that.

However that was to my advantage because it meant I had 6 hours of writing time available without interruptions sitting on the train. I made the decision I would sort out my plot problems and write a goodly number of pages today.

Then I had a terrible night. I had to get up about 5:30am, I went to bed at midnight and the dog decided to disturb us during the night. So I was really tired.

I drank a lot of coffee today - but not in the interview, didn't want to get coffee-breath. (The interview seemed to go well but, frankly, I've given up trying to second guess the result. Anyway I have a telephone interview tomorrow and another possibility coming up.)

So I spent the first part fo the journey figuring out how to fix my plot problems. I'm not a fan of flashbacks generally but I thought adding a few really short ones spaced out through the script would help explain things. I made a big note to add some more stuff in one particular scene. Then I sorted out how to fill up Act IIb and Act III.

Then I fell asleep.

I woke up at Birmingham and set about integrating the flashbacks. Rather than abrupt changes to flashback, I wanted to have common elements between the flashback and the present, to make the integration smooth - and that seemed to work well. I also kept them very short, 30 seconds max. (I can always take them out later if I decide they don't add anything.)

Thing is there is the issue that in order to "win" ScriptFrenzy I have to write a script that's 100 pages long. Which may mean padding, though I try not to.

On the way back from Bristol I carried on writing, though I was so tired I fell asleep twice and seemed to jump in space because I almost failed to notice I'd fallen asleep.

In the end I still added only another 7 pages but they were good pages for the most part.

I had a very bright idea for a Parkour action scene in a location I'm betting that no one else has ever done. I like the process of putting your hero into a situation that it's completely impossible to get them out of, and then getting them out of it in an entirely logical way. In this instance the "getting them out of the impossible situation" put them into the new location.

(I had fun with that one in my Une Nuit a Paris script where the hero and the prostitute are chained up in an S&M room in a brothel. Getting them out of there was ... interesting.)

However I ran into an interesting problem: It was rubbish. There was no drama, no impetus, nothing.

Now I like writing action, apparently I'm good at it. The stuff I usually write is exciting and full of will-they won't-they tension.

But not this. It was as limp as a dunked Rich Tea biscuit. There is no tension because the people running away are not being closely pursued by their enemies, and there are no enemies ahead of them. Just look at all the Die Hard movies, the real tension comes when the jeopardy is right there, right NOW.

So that needs sorting out.

In the meantime I now know where I'm going again, and I can write again. There is no "Writer's Block" - just not knowing what to write.

What's on the turntable? "The Last Time I Saw Richard" by Joni Mitchell from "Blue"

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My Yesterday

What a yesterday.

I'd had this cunning plan about taking the dog for the morning constitutional. Settling down to a day of things (some involving writing), job applications, household chores and so forth.

Step 1 usually proceeds as follows: Leave house about 7:10am (the Teacher and the Boy will already have left by this point) take dog on nice big walk - mainly for my health. Meet the Daughter heading for the bus to college on the way back, about 8:00am. Into house for coffee, proper breakfast then start work.

This went well, met the Daughter, arrived at house. No keys. Hurry to try to catch the Daughter before bus arrives. Fail. Locked out of house. Most neighbours already gone to work. Find one who's still in and get a selection of tools: (a) hammer; (b) crowbar; (c) screwdriver; and (d) wallpaper stripper. This neighbour then leaves for work as well.

So there I am at the back of the house. The large set of windows are too big to tackle. The smaller window is one possibility, and there's the pane in the backdoor. Which is the smallest.

I try to take the window frame in the door apart to see if I can remove the pane intact. I make the edges of the glass pane accessible, using my motley tools, but it refuses to shift. I contemplate taking out the wood in the door panel - decide against it.

Frustration, a barking and confused dog, and a desire to go the loo force me to the decision I don't want to make. I grab my hat and the hammer. Place hat against glass and belt it with the hammer.

I gain access, carry the dog over the glass and call a glazier to fix it. Which happens four hours later.

I leave the dissection of the above story into its component dramatic parts as an exercise for the reader.

This morning proceeded according to plan, apart from the meeting of the Daughter on her way to college. This is because she didn't go to college. Instead she's off to that London for her audition at RADA, I sent her off a little while ago. She's done a fair amount of long distance train travel by herself so it's not too much of a worry. But she's never been to London by herself.

Not that I'm worried - for a start RADA is close enough to walk from Euston station. Not that you would walk anyway, but you could. And, as has been mentioned occassionally, but for the benefit of new readers (Hi Ellie!), her personal safety is not an issue she is competent at killing and maiming any potential attacker (2nd Dan Jujitsu - Jujitsu is the Samurai self-defence art from which both Karate and Judo are derived, the training involves disabling your opponent as fast as possible by any means; she's been training since she was 5, she fought off three attackers several years older than herself when she was 7).

I hope she does well, Bristol Old Vic very annoyingly said she was good but too young - she's of small stature and looks young but she's 18 (in two weeks) for heaven's sake! And also far more worldly wise than most people her age.

Sorry, rant over.

As I mentioned in my brief note last night I only managed 6 pages for ScriptFrenzy yesterday, though that's still ahead of the required average. Problem was there was a fair amount of action again which takes longer to write and occupies less space on the page.

But as I also said I wrote possibly the best scene I've ever written.

As we all know, as a writer, you do not put in camera instructions or anything that is "telling the director how to direct" - this, in some ways, is purely practical because the director will automatically not do that if you put it in.

But, with good use of language, you can create direction in the reader's mind's eye, and perhaps the director will do it because he imagines it the way you wrote it - but you're not telling him how to do it.

This is why I felt this particular scene is my best. Through the description of the scene I directed attention. It's not a long scene, it has only one line of dialogue, but I felt it directed the attention of the reader clearly and in such a way that the events in the scene had maximum emotional impact, and it is a hugely emotional scene with a major reveal for the audience and a different huge realisation for the protagonist - the thing everyone else had been telling her that she did not want to admit.

Which makes me think of Frankenstein's monster.

Lucy discussed themes recurring in your work I said I write about outsiders and trying to find a place in the world. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I write about Frankenstein's monster - in different ways, of course.) Maybe that's why I love "Rocky Horror" so much.

What's on the turntable? "Speak to me/Breathe" by Pink Floyd from "Dark Side of the Moon". Perfection. If any band ever used the theme of alienation, it would be the Floyd.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Scriptfrenzy 9 days to go

Just a quickie as I need to go to bed - 6 pages today but included one of the best scenes I've ever written. What a hell of day: highs, lows, I'll tell thee tomorrow.

What's on the turntable? Not a sound.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Scriptfrenzy 10 days to go

Another seven pages today, this is a good average which I shall certainly try to maintain. You might think I have lots of time as I'm not currently working but, of course, I haven't. I have ajob interview on Thursday in Bristol (again!) but that means seven hours on trains which should make for plentiful writing. Excellent.

I did this evening's writing in two chunks, one chunk before "Ashes to Ashes" and one chunk after.

Did I like Ashes To Ashes? Well yes, I believe I did. I knew from an interview I read that Kudos weren't entirely happy with the first season - that they hadn't made the story enough "itself" it was more a pastiche on "Life on Mars". They've made a huge effort to get away from that this time and add new elements. Which they have.

What I didn't like was the insanity of putting "Ashes to Ashes" against "Heroes" ... which, by the way, is improving again. They are fixing it, but as Tim Kring said "it's like trying to turn an ocean liner" (or something like that) it takes a while.

As aforementioned I have been concerned about the pages on my ScriptFrenzy script Running it will comfortably make an 80-90 minute script which is good for an independent production. But for ScriptFrenzy it needs to be 100 pages to qualify as completed.

However I passed the midpoint of the story at roughly page 50 (although that's without taking out the scene that needs to go elsewhere). But that's not bad on the whole.

Thing is, while I'm not keen on slavish adherence to structure, it is a fact that the so-called three act structure delivers films that people can watch comfortably. And I am a fan of Aristotle's analysis of story (him being a scientist and all) so for this particular script it needs to have that discipline applied to it.

Anyway, more tomorrow.

What's on the turntable? Guitar & Piano version of "Perilous Journey" by Gordon Giltrap (he's jolly good you know)


No, not that appalling film adaptation of the superb book by Frank Herbert.

Over here that phenomenon of writing, Paul Campbell, has mentioned something that's nothing to do with screenwriting, namely the interesting phenomenon the barchan sand dunes on Mars. And they are cool.

The barchan dunes also exist on Earth but it lead me to doing something I've been meaning to do for ages: Look up "Star" dunes. The Wikipedia entry specifically mentions the Badain Jaran Desert in Northern China as having the largest examples on the planet: 500 metres high.

I know. I've seen them.

I rode a bike in China once, to raise money for MENCAP. On the plane over, near the end of the trip we were crossing the Gobi Desert at dawn. I looked out to see these huge cross formations on the ground below. I supposed they were sand dunes, but I never imagined you could have cross-shaped dunes. And they had to be big to be visible from 7 miles up.

That was many years ago and I've never enquired though occassionally wondered.

Oh, and they can sing too.

What's on the turntable? "Take the Long Way Home" by Supertramp.

Soul ravioli

This is going to be a bit of a random post - hello to you if you followed the link from my Shooting People post.

I need another coffee.

The disadvantage of being a contractor is that there is that awkward time between jobs when you wonder whether you're going to get another one - and it happens every couple of months. I failed to get that Sheffield job. [sigh] The agent for the job was very put-out, in fact quite angry - she said "Perhaps he won't turn up, or he'll be rubbish."

He probably won't be rubbish. But contractors often don't turn up - apparently.

So today I shall to spend a big chunk of time contacting agencies and generally job hunting. I reckon we have about a month of money before things get tight. Trouble is the Teacher is a terrible worrier - well, no, actually she's extraordinarily good at worrying.

The Daughter is at her RADA audition this week, the Boy is not jetting off to any foreign countries in the forseeable future - but he's started working his way through the book of saxophone solos. Amazing how good the sax can sound even when it's not being played brilliantly - and he's not bad.

Oh, we all went to see "Monsters Vs Aliens" - it's fun. Most of the jokes are for adults but there's plenty of visual stuff for younger kids. The opening sequence introducing Susan and her situation is probably a couple of scenes too long but once you're past those the pace is pretty solid.

I should also mention we saw it in 3D. Excellent, some of the scenes (like the Rings of Saturn in the opening) were just wonderful.

Of course you can't believe anything I say - after all I preferred "Space Chimps" to "Wall-E", but I do have a reason. Of course Wall-E was technically beautiful but it is not the protagonist who beats the antagonist in the story. Wall-E has no desire to change anything, except make Eve like him, if he had not been in the story what would have changed? "Chimps" had a clear protagonist/antagonist conflict and structure.

I really liked Wall-E - I just thought Chimps was a better story. And funnier.

After the film I said to the Boy: "What was the film about?" "About her learning that she can do anything she wants" he says wisely. As I have mentioned previously, he's got a natural feel for TV/Film even at 11 years old, he also has a great sense of humour (he's been brought up on the right material).

The family were eating ravioli - the Daughter says "What's in ravioli?" with perfect timing the Boy growls "Your soul." Hilarity ensues. (Did I mention we are the Non Sequitur Family?)

Of course our kids are doomed. Can't remember what we were watching but it was an interview with some actor who's father was a screenwriter and mother was a teacher. A devastating combination - they are doomed to a life in entertainment. (Especially as the Teacher is also a writer, and I have been known to teach once in a while.)

Must get on, got the household chores to do, jobs to apply for - and screenplays to write.

(Hm, just had a call about a job in Brussels - not ideal, I suspect the pay won't be enough to cover the costs and taxes are higher.)

What's on the turntable? "You Better You Bet" The Who. Would you prefer to be a Mod or a Rocker?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Scriptfrenzy 11 days to go

Am I really going to do another ten blogs telling you how many pages I wrote today and what my pages per day target is?

I might. I wrote another seven pages this evening and that brings my target down to 5-a-day.

But I'm concerned about the number of pages again. I'm on 45 which is not halfway and I really feel like I'm hitting the end of Act II which means I shall have to string it out a bit. That's the problem with Scripftfrenzy - and the fact that I'm more used to writing TV-length episodes than features.

But that's really no excuse.

Although, in theory with Scriptfrenzy, you're not supposed to go back and edit - that's exactly what I intend to do. I have a scene that needs to appear much later - the point where ther police start to figure out what's going on. They've done it too early and they would no longer be pursuing the protagonist, they'll be after the antagonist instead.

Can't have that.

However it's not a hard thing to edit, just a matter of removing a scene and keeping it for later.

What's on the turntable? "Clear Light" by Mike Oldfield from "Tubular Bells 2"

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Scriptfrenzy 12 days to go

Are we bored yet?

Eight pages this evening, some action but nice big chunks of dialogue to help the pages along. So that's 38 pages and the average drops to 5.2 pages per day to finish.

The script has gone slightly off the rails I had laid down in my detailed planning, but that's to be expected. Essentially it's on target.

I had been a little worried about the number of pages but my Act IIa has become chunkier (more things happen in a slightly different way to the planning) which means when I do reach the middle I should be at about 50 pages.

(And welcome to Foxi Rose, my 20th follower - forgot to welcome Mattson Tomlin who was #19. Hey you guys!)

If anyone else is doing Scriptfrenzy, by the way, I am known on there as "Gile Wemmbley-Hogg " (two Ms, two Gs).

What's on the turntable? "No Expectation Boulevard" by Vangelis from "Bladerunner CD3"

Friday, April 17, 2009

Scriptfrenzy 13 days to go

Okay, I wrote a chunk on the train and finished off a couple of pages this evening another 7 in total: Daily target is now down to 5.4 pages day. The wonder of Maths.

What's on the turntable? Nothing, just about to watch "Pushing Daisies"

Narrativitus Interruptus

I'm on the train. Virgin Trains have finally got their act together with wireless internet - over a year behind National Express.

I have been writing but I just realised something.

You have to make stories interesting. Mustn't bore the reader. Raymond Chandler said "When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand."

The way I keep things interesting is that when I feel a piece of narrative is on the verge of going on too long, I have something happen to redirect the narrative. It might be a change of scene, it might be something in the scene. But I just make sure it changes.

On the advice that "Come in late, leave early" on scenes, I always, always, always cut a scene back to before it can even logically end, just a tiny bit. The reader/viewer can fill in the rest and, per the other wisdom that "script momentum is what you don't write", that seems good technique.

Back to the script...

What's on the turntable? None, I'm in the Quiet Carriage.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Scriptfrenzy update

So my second day of writing, I needed to do 5.6 pages to stay in the game, and I wrote 7, cool. We're 23 pages in and we just hit the end of the Act I. Pretty much on schedule.

In fact it was a very tough 7 pages because a lot of it was action and no dialogue so it ended up being a lot of black on the page and a lot of typing just to fill the page. Dialogue eats through the pages a lot quicker.

The script is called Running and there's an awful lot of running in it. The opening action sequence, and then the end of Act I which runs (ha-ha-ha-ha, geddit "runs") into Act II. Well it is intended to appeal to a certain type of audience, and hopefully it will.

Maybe Luc Besson will exec produce it like he did "Banlieue 13", then he'll listen to my insane idea to adapt a brilliant 1960s SF book ... but I can't talk about that. Let's just say it could turn into a cult movie like Bladerunner. Really.

What's on the turntable? "Empty Room" by Vangelis from "Bladerunner CD3"


Just a quickie - apart from writing Running I'm also thinking about Tec my coming detective series. As previously mentioned this was originally a co-creation with the Teacher, we worked on it as a novel a few years ago.

I was giving some thought to the main character, and realised there was absolutely no reason for her to be in a job where "detecting" was the norm - because, for her main area of knowledge, she would be completely employable. Also, as a character, she lacked bite and depth.

I mentioned this problem to the Teacher who promptly threw out a few ideas which were not much help - but note the extreme creativity. I explained the issue in more detail.

Then the Teacher came up with The Idea. The gimmick, the whole thing that suddenly made it all fit. Why wasn't she employable in her natural skill area? Why is she being a detective? What is her dark past?

It's perfect.

Of course the Teacher demanded payment. She's running a role-playing game in a few weeks, it's called Space:1889, Victorian SF basically. And she needed some ideas, she has a particularly awkward group of players (well, some of them are awkward). So she demanded that I assist her in creating a plot that would work, provide interest and excitement, and get the awkward players involved.

Curiously I haven't run an RPG since I started writing screenplays on a serious basis (mainly due to being stuck in Reading) so it was interesting to apply screenwriting tools to an improvisational game.

My main thrust was the principle that the plot is driven by the antagonist and that the stakes need to be very high indeed. The bigger the better. Plus I invented a race of creatures that I'm fairly sure has never been used before in any medium - the bad guys. Talk about spectacle: the destruction of the Earth is on the line ... well, if the players fail to stop the bad guys that's how bad it will get.

The Teacher appreciated my efforts and we agreed the debt was paid - besides she'll get a full co-creation credit on Tec.


What's on the turntable? Nuffink ... but "The Office ... An American Workplace" is on Comedy Central.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Here I am in my parent's house North of London. I've already had an argument with my Dad [sigh]. Had no e-mail for over 24 hours but now connected with the help of parent's neighbours - with their approval.

Came down on the train yester-eve, and spent the time figuring out the plot structure for Running using one of Jeff Kitchen's writing tools (called Sequence-Proposition-Plot - I'm not going to explain it - get the book). This is another tool for ensuring your plot is tightly focussed and doesn't have extraneous stuff lying around. It also makes you actually look at your plot.

I don;t know about you but I sometimes pretend I'm working out the plot when I'm not really, I'm just fiddling around.

I've signed in to ScriptFrenzy but need to get some pages written today - I'm currently on about 6 pages a day required to finish in time. If I write more than that each day then I'll make things easier as I approach the end.

Feeling a bit low because, though I am pleased for all the scribosphere Red Planet finalists who've been invited to Tony Jordan's masterclass - I'm not one of them. Disappointing.

Clearly: Must Try Harder.

Better stop prevaricating and get writing... (must just get the progress bar set up).

(The interview in Sheffield seemed to go okay, but I never seem to do well in the interviews up north - is it because I have a posh southern accent?)

Later that evening...

The progress bar isn't working ... perhaps Google have changed the interface.

Anyway, I've been writing like a man possessed and knocked out 5 pages in the last 90 minutes. With the pages I've already done that brings me up to 16 pages. So my average (for reasons of mathematics) has dropped from 6 pages a day down to 5.6 pages a day. But from now on I really must exceed that and write at least 6 per day.

What's on the turntable? "Amarok" by Mike Oldfield

Thursday, April 09, 2009

When one window opens...

...a door slams shut in your face.

Wild weekend of chocolate debauchery, what more could you want?

Finished off the second draft of my Torchwood/Being Human 15min crossover, Which? Gave it to the daughter, who likes it but then what else would she say? She never expresses an opinion about my work. Then the wife (remember: wife was also magazine editor for 15 years, she was my boss for a chunk of that [while we were married], a rare creature: a relative whose opinion is trustworthy) she felt a feature of the plot wasn't clear but the voices were right - she could hear the characters saying the lines.

Which was the point.

Anyway I always intended to treat this script seriously from the writing viewpoint (even though it was a bit of fun) so it's heading off for reading by my usual consultants. (Hope they don't charge their usual prices...)

In my own writing I tend to write strong female characters as the protagonists. Being Human and Torchwood currently have 3 main characters each, one in each group being female. For this script I found them the hardest to integrate - but let's face it 6 strong characters in 15 pages, not the recipe for balance. Not to mention the baddie: a strong female character.

So the first part of my target is complete. Now I have to join Scriptfrenzy and get cracking on Running.

Liked the Dr Who, quite liked the Primeval a bit holey on the plot front but done with confidence and panache. I adore No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

What's on the turntable? "The Wind Chimes" by Mike Oldfield from "Islands"

End of an Era

My last night in the Reading flat.


Financially the flat was good when I was working in Reading, as I was for the first 6 months, but when I was elsewhere and then in London it became less useful.

I have just had my contract extended by 3 days at Paramount Comedy, tidying up some final stuff that'll be Wednesday to Friday next week. Tuesday I have an interview in Sheffield - which would be a nice place to work as I could live at home. Other than that I'll be staying at my parents next week.

I moved out 30 years ago, now I'm going back.

It was in The Goonies (make sure you see the uncut version, especially for the "where to keep the drugs" sequence) that the mother says that she wants to make sure the house is clean and tidy before they knock it down. Not that they're knocking down this house, but I am packing and cleaning tonight.

I've been a good tenant. The landlord had some horror stories - and one of them was enacted in another flat in this building which resulted in the place being boarded up and sterilised before being completely redecorated.

It can be easy to think that, for some people, life is a luxury they don't deserve. "In a moving statement the judge decreed that if truth was beauty and beauty truth then life itself was in contempt of court for being neither beautiful or true, and confiscated it from all those present." (To quote the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy from memory.)

So, what to do about the writing, eh?

I was on the train this evening (would I be anywhere else?) in my last trip from Paddington to Reading, with my trusty notebook...

[aside] I had a note in my notebook to buy a new notebook because I was down to a single unmarked sheet left. I decided I would buy a notebook for work and notebook for writing-related stuff. I found these cool "Pantone" ones which have different coloured covers, although the paper stock is not as good as my usual choice. [/aside]

... and I made a list of all the scripts I have finished, in development, written and so on. Then I rated them in terms of their value (to what degree will they progress my career?) and how much work is needed to finish them. This was with a view to deciding what to work on next.

Monsters and Air come top, of course, they are finished and are good examples which have already progressed my career.

My feature Une Nuit a Paris and (sad to say) Unit X ended up at the bottom. The main purpose for writing Unit X was because someone, with the power to get it made, had expressed an interest. That person hasn't responded to any communication in the past few months.

That leaves: Which?, Tec and Running.

Which? is finished in 1st draft, and short. It has value in demonstrating an ability to write for existing show characters (hopefully).

Running, though a bit SF, is mostly thriller (and I do know how to put good action sequences together - even the target producer was impressed when I sent him the first 10 pages, let's just say the opening sequence and the title had something in common). And also has a clearly identifiable protagonist. This gets extra points because there is already a producer who's interested - and he could get me to Luc Besson, but that's another story.

Tec is a "normal" private investigator type show. It has a clear protagonist and the standard genre context means it wouldn't suffer from the "lacks focus" problem that I'm good at. (Which, incidentally, is why Air worked, right from original concept it had a strong protagonist. While Monsters originally had half a dozen "main" characters and took a lot of work to bash into shape.)

So. I think I will do things in that order, finish up Which? then use ScriptFrenzy as my deadline generator for Running. Hm ... 30 - 9 = 21 days to do 90 pages = 30 / 7 = 4.5 pages per day. I'd only worry if it got up to 10 pages per day, that would be hard. But I have plenty of time.

Then I'll dig up the notes I previously made on Tec and put the first episode together.

Target's should always have deadlines, so let's say Which? by the end of the Easter weekend, Running by the end of April (obviously) and Tec (a mere 60 pages) by the end of May. (Which means Tec will be easily ready for the next Red Planet competition.)

That's a plan.

Have you got a plan?

What's on the turntable? "Four Sticks" by Led Zeppelin from "Led Zeppelin IV" This song is called "four sticks" because the drummer, Bonham, used four drumsticks for this song - two in each hand. Cool.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Living it large on humble pie

Edit: "humple pie"? He-he-he-he. Humple! (I misspelt humble in the title.)

I got the feedback on Unit X today. Philip Shelley was concerned that I might be upset by his blunt comments about it. I am going to repeat my e-mail reply to him here, I think it's that important.

Hi Philip

I have read your notes. I smile wryly: that’s pretty much what the original notes about Monsters said.

Lacking in focus.

Clearly I have learned nothing.

Except that if you had asked me, when I first sent out Monsters, what I thought was wrong with it, I would have had no idea. (This was before you saw it.)

But if you’d have asked me what I thought was the main problem with Unit X, I would have said “lack of a clear protagonist”. (So why did I send it to you? Because I needed someone else to tell me and point at bits going “what on earth is that?”

So I have learned something. Which is good. Comments like “baffling” also applied to Monsters.

Besides what are my normal high standards? You’ve only seen two scripts by me - you didn’t see Une Nuit a Paris which was absolutely slammed by Dave Bull (“sub-Carry On”). He wanted me to tell him that I had written it before Monsters, but I hadn’t - however I had sent him a first draft. Won’t do that again!

I needed a bit of humility. You have handed me some humble pie on a plate. I eat with relish.

I’m not past writing rubbish and, as far as Unit X goes (and Une Nuit a Paris) I just haven’t found the story yet.

As I said, I’m not a tender flower, and when you told me I had some talent you lit a fire under my writing which can’t be put out.

Loving that humble pie - smothered in raspberry sauce.

What's on the turntable? "All is Full of Love" by Bjork from "Homogenic". Bjork is just so ... Bjork.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

An Alien in a Suit

This blog will have something about screenwriting nearer the end, so you can skip all this other stuff if you want. (Perhaps I should colour-code the various bits.)

So the Comedy Central launch went off mostly okay although if you decided to watch the countdown you will have seen the glitch. For reasons I won't go into - none of them my fault, or indeed the fault of the internal team - the site arrived 15 minutes late. Which was slightly embarrassing but not seriously.

My next contract is getting lined up, hopefully, according to the agency the company are so desperate they are willing to pay a lot of money for someone to work over Easter. I explained that as I hadn't been home for 3 weeks the answer, though tempting, was no. Anyway the agent is going to arrange an interview on Thursday. So I said, okay as long as they don't expect me to wear a suit. He said "They'd think you were an alien if you did" and I said "that's good because I look like an alien in a suit".


You see the problem with that line. It's really not as funny as it's supposed to be. I defused it with "that line was supposed to be a lot funnier than the way it came out". The agent guy paused then laughed. Phew, good save.

Screenwriting bit

I really can't decide whether or not to do ScriptFrenzy this year - yes, I know, it's already the 7th, but the words and the pages don't scare me, if I chose to do it I could fill the pages. It would help me get the first draft of Running out the way.

I did some "Thirty Six Dramatic Situations" work on Running partly as an experiment. Starting from "Situation I: Supplication" I looked to see if there were opportunities for a version of that situation in the story - which there were, so I made a note of it - and it helped to clarify the ending. Then Situation II, and so on. I got up to VIII. I have to say this is good stuff.

This is the story where I have to bring in Parkour (like Free Running but not exactly the same) and although I wanted to make it integral I was having problems with what to do with the Parkour practitioner. To be honest I could rip him out of the script (well, outline) and the script would remain pretty much intact. Not good, because if you can take something out of a script without affecting it, then you should.

But then I would lose the entire point.

The 36DS (it's quicker to type that), even though I've only looked at a few, gave me a way of making the character integral to the plot and giving him his very own dilemma. Not bad for half an hour's work.

Here's a thought: Let's suppose you wanted to mount a picture on a brick wall. If you had a hammer and nails, you could do it, probably - though you might end up with a bent nail and a large useless hole. Or maybe you've got a hand-drill (with a masonry bit) plus a screwdriver, rawlplugs and a proper hook. It would take a lot of elbow grease but eventually you could get a decent hole, and have the hook properly secured. Or, you have a power drill/screwdriver plus rawlplugs and hook, you get a good result in a fraction of the time.

With the proper writing tools you can get your picture mounted on the wall in a fraction of the time, and people will come around and admire how nice the picture is.

It's a thought.

What's on the turntable? "The Look of Love" by Dusty Springfield. I love Dusty though she is no longer with us. Burt Bacharach wrote this song for her.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Comedy Central goes live

I didn't create the whole thing, a lot of it was already in place from the previous version and I had a whole heap of designers and other developers helping at the end, but I guess I'm responsible for about 50% of the site:

Watch the countdown, watch it go live on a computer near you...

(This is called tempting fate ... however it's been stable for the last couple of hours.)

See you on the other side.

What's on the turntable? Nuffink


Rachael has thrown a meme into the aether, to see where it sticks. And as we all know I just love the sound of my own typing. (Of course, right now, I'm at work preparing for the big launch this evening - I wrote this last night.)

When you get to be successful it is an absolute certainty that you will be asked: "Where do you get your ideas from?" Or, as this not-really-a-meme is worded: "Where do you get your inspiration?"

Me. Other people. Anything.

Monsters evolved from a desire to create something Buffy-like that didn't involve the supernatural or superpowers. But the original inspiration was Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Air was originally seen as a new take on the 1970s TV series Sky which it is, but completely different.

Unit X came from me mis-hearing what two of my friends were saying.

Running started from "I have to write something with Parkour in it" for this producer.

I wrote a radio play based on a Eurythmics song: Would I Lie to You. I had this idea to write a whole series of them.

Une Nuit a Paris was inspired by a 10cc album.

Winter was (originally) inspired by the need to produce an action short.

Strings was pure me "I have to write a new story concept RIGHT NOW".

My novel Elona originally came from a live fantasy role-playing game.

The poetry I've written was either personal emotion, someone else's emotion, commentary on what I saw around me, or seeing something and zooming off on a flight of fantasy.

There was a time I was writing 3 poems a day based on current affairs, I was trying to get a newspaper to pay me to print them. I did it for three weeks. That's a lot of poems. It didn't work.

I don't get ideas from dreams or "my subconscious" or the news (except as mentioned above) - I do get inspiration from me, songs, other TV, the world. But it's all me in the end. (If that's not too philosophical.)

What's on the turntable? "Here is the news" by ELO from "News of the World" (I think)

Sunday, April 05, 2009

On the run

The 60th wedding anniversary party went off smoothly. I was required to make a speech as eldest child present. I was going to prepare but was shoved in front of 30 assorted relatives (20% of whom I had never met) before I got a chance to think about it.

So I improvised. According to the daughter people laughed in all the right places. Phew.

Families are funny things, aren't they? I always found the TV sitcom the Royle Family to be unwatchable - I thought it was really funny, but I couldn't watch it. Because it's far too close to the reality of my relations for comfort - even though it's set in Manchester not London.

Here's the thing: I'm a Londoner even though I've lived North of Watford for over 30 years. I've never lost my accent - kinda. Technically I'm a cockney. I lived in the centre of London (and I mean Westminster) for the first 5 years of my life: in two rooms in a family of 5, toilet down the hall, only cold running water (also down the hall), gas lighting - well, maybe not that bit.

Slums, but good quality slums.

Then we moved up and out. Straight to the suburbs. Detached house with 9 rooms. It would have been culture shock but I was only 5. My accent softened and when I went to university it went "posh". And still is. Unfortunately my poor northern kids have "posh" accents. Their school friends assume they must be rich. Stereotypes.

Anyway I have an enormous London family on my mother's side. It's a matriarchy, the women are strong - the men are - well - less so. They do as they're told. Of course it can go to extremes. I have a cousin (naming no names) she has four brilliant kids. No husband. Never had one and, as far as I can tell, she never wanted one. I'm not entirely sure how many fathers are involved but it's 3 or 4.

I had an uncle, rough London working-class bloke, loved opera - the real stuff.

So we had a relatively small gathering of the clan, my sister couldn't come over from Australia because she's just had an operation, my mother's brother is in the Far East on business. Only one of my father's sisters could make it, others being ill. Well, they are getting on.

I saw my wife and kids - first time in three weeks! Oh yes! Then four hours later had to say good bye again. Well, I'll be seeing them on Friday and for the next few days after that. Until I find the next contract.

The daughter is having her second audition for drama college tomorrow, in Oxford. It'll be good practice for her RADA audition in a couple of weeks.

So, I was at work again today, the website goes live tomorrow evening. Still a ton of stuff to do but my brain was seizing up by the evening. I felt a bit guilty about leaving when others were still working, but I had been there a good couple of hours before them. And work at least an hour a day longer than anyone else. Hmm, justifications not working, still feel guilty.

You might think with the pressure that I don't have time for writing - actually it's mostly the blogging that gets in the way :-)

If I get to be a professional writer I'm going to have to get a First Class season ticket to, say, York and back and write on the train. It's a lot easier. This evening, on the train, I got out my trusty notebook and decided I needed to figure out what's wrong with Running. So I did.

I'd been thinking about it and realised that, although I have a beginning and I have an idea of an end I really haven't got it straight in my head. So I chose a tool from my writer's toolbox: Writing backwards.

This is one of the excellent tools from "Writing a Great Movie" by Jeff Kitchen, and involves starting with the end and working backwards stating exactly what caused the step before - it helps you create a joined-up plot. Of course as I was doing it for the plot as a whole I only had about 8 steps in it but even then it clarified the sequence and made me think about some new ideas.

I also want to analyse it in terms of the 36 Dramatic Situations to see if there's anything interesting I can plumb into the story to generate more emotion. (I've already got lots of sacrifice - scacrificing self for an ideal, sacrificing loved ones, yummy stuff, but sacrifice is easy, what about Conflict with a God?)

I'll be getting my professional feedback notes on Unit X Wednesday or Thursday which is just fine as I'll be a bit tied up tomorrow with the website launch.

Anyway peeps, be careful out there, and keep on writing.

What's on the turntable? "China girl" by Bowie from ... "Let's Dance"? Brilliant song, drippping with irony.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

One Year Blog

My blog is one year old today! (Cue cheers!)

It's a year since I moved into Reading (Berks, UK) to work on a Government education website. Moving away from home for a very long time. It's true I had worked in Dundee but that was only for a month. This was a major commitment.

Six months later the project ended, with me under something of a cloud (not all my fault but it felt like it). I scrabbled through a couple of other jobs, had nearly two months of not working over Christmas. Got a short job in Bristol that went well. Then my current job with Paramount Comedy which ends next week, which has also gone very well.

At home the family coped. It's not been easy for them. When I was there I used to do most of the cooking and cleaning. The son changed schools, which was hard, but now he's playing the saxophone which he really enjoys. And though he's not as academic as his sister he's in the top class in every subject. Plus he's been to Norway and France. And he'll shortly be on the CBBC website as an animation, and is shortlisted for appearing in CBBC's Bamzooki TV series.

The wife, everybody else seems to have names for their respective spouses, so I shall call her The Teacher, managed to finally lose the junior that was causing her incredible stress. The assistant's body was never found. Her new Foundation Stage team are brilliant and this year has been much easier. But we miss each other horribly, a couple of days a week is not enough. Once upon a time we worked together, day in, day out for 13 years. It was magic.

The daughter finished her first year college and exams and did pretty well. But she had to give up drama to do English, Chemistry and Biology in the second year. Her acting has stagnated somewhat especially when she failed to get the part she was expecting at the local AmDram for Christmas. She's not the forgiving sort. But she got settled on her alternative career: Zoo Biology, if the acting doesn't work out. She had her audition with Bristol Old Vic on Wednesday - it did not go as well as she'd hoped and she probably won't get in - but the truth is they told her she had brilliant comic timing and that she should try again next year (and that she should not go to an inferior drama college). So it really wasn't that bad.

The less said about our horrible dog the better. Eating us out of house. (No, I haven't forgotten to add something to that sentence.)

Then there has been the writing. The important bit. The bit that this has always been about. Through this blog I have met some brilliant other writers all of us at different stages of development. It's been good.

This year I went from "I can kind of write but I don't know if I'm really any good" to "it's just a matter of time before the commissions start". It's weird, really, but kind of like my elder sister who became a painter at about the same age as I am now.

It took us this long to find out what it is we really want to do. Now we have we really don;t want to do anything else.

What's on the turntable? "Tubular Bells, Part 1" from "Tubular Bells"

Friday, April 03, 2009

It's cloutin' time!

As Ben Grimm might have said if he were British.

Language is a funny thing, innit? My daughter's English class were comparing words in the various English periods today. Unsurprisingly she had a wider grasp of meaning than the rest of her class - various tables comprise the Bimbos, the Primary School Boys and so on. Yes, it really happens.

But "clout": (a) A blow (as in striking); (b) A flag used as a target in archery; (c) Influence; (d) a short nail; (e) a piece of clothing (unspecified).

Thing is, I saw several hawthorn trees blooming today. And it was a fairly balmy day all round.

Casting a clout seemed quite in order now that the may is out. May is, as you knew, Hawthorn.

There is some discussion about this particular phrase here.

Now you can see how enormously clever the title is. (Ahem.)

The one year birthday of my blog is tomorrow. Coinciding, as it does, with the end of the financial year. A year of gibberish. I would write the blog tomorrow but tomorrow will be a busy day. I will be in work again in the morning, the afternoon is a party to celebrate the 60th Wedding anniversary of my parents. And they get a letter from the Queen. Oh yes. And one automatically every year from now on.

So I shall compose my one year blog birthday blog this evening and arrange for it to be shown tomorrow.

What's on the turntable? "The Time Has Come" by Mike Oldfield from "Islands". To be honest this is my least favourite Oldfield album, I much prefer QE2 from this period. But it's one of the albums I don't have on CD.