Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wouldn't you know it, part deux

So I'll send them Monsters and then when they say "what else have you got" I'll say "Well..."

That should do the trick.

I'm now halfway through the treatment for the first episode of Clones - I hate writing treatments, I want to do action and dialogue. I'm desperate to do my exciting* on-page editing - where I change scene dramatically between different bits of action. But in Clones we have only one hand-held camera (it's a little bit Cloverfield) in the first episode and I'm feeling all hemmed in.

Such is the writer's life.

* apparently

What's on the turntable? "Lunar Sea (live)" by Camel from the extended "Moonmadness" on Spotify

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Wouldn't you know it

Earlier this year I got distracted writing a spec US pilot - Unit X - which got a big thumbs down from the readers. Basically it needed a lot of work - far more than Tec currently needs.

Turns out this week (according to Inktip) a US production company is looking for high concept SF pilots. Do I send them something that really isn't in good condition (and hope they see the potential), or do I let the opportunity slip by? Would sending something unpolished damage my future opportunities, or does it give me more of chance if I do send it?

I've sort of decided, but I probably haven't thought of everything.

What do you think?

What's on the turntable? "Reeling in the years" by Steely Dan from "Can't by a Thrill"

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Flying hours: nil

Over on his blog Danny Stack references an interview with Kate Harwood (BBC Controller of Series and Serials) where she talks about there being no substitute for a writer seeing their work on screen: Flying hours.

Except that's a catch 22 in a professional sense, unless you do it yourself which Danny has (as well as his paid-for work), as have others in the scribosphere (like Lucy for example), and as I have now, with the scenes from Monsters.

I knew I needed to write something about this but I couldn't get a handle on what to write - until Danny's blog gave me some context. Though you have to bear in mind that we have no finished product as yet - though it will be ready for the Cheltenham Screenwriters Festival.

First things first: I did not direct, I just wrote it. I did not make last minute changes, the script is essentially the one I used for the Red Planet competition last year. I did not question or comment on any of the decisions the Director made, except when asked, either before or during the shoot. In fact I wasn't present for much of it - I was there but not in the room.

Danny said the question he most gets asked is "how has it turned out as opposed to how you imagined (or wrote) it?" Well, I got that too. For which I have no answer. Putting aside the fact it's not finished, I don't expect it to be the same - how could it be? Director, actors, DoP and the rest all put in their bit, their creativity. It's going to be different to how I imagined it.

But if it communicates the right ideas I will be happy.

During the shoot one actor added a line, I asked the director to ensure that they didn't do that because it sounded wrong. If he hadn't I wouldn't have argued, I'd made my point. But he agreed, the actor didn't say it again.

Later an actor changed the words of a speech in such a way that a sequence of words were repeated three times in 5 lines of dialogue. I didn't like it. But it was a speech full of passion and if I'd asked for it to be corrected the actor would have been concentrating on the words instead of the passion which would be worse. Plus it had been shot seven times from different angles with the wrong words already. Never mind.

There was one line where the emphasis was on the wrong word. It needed to be on the right one otherwise the line was pointless. So I asked the Director to mention it, he did, the actor changed it. I was happy.

I'm not precious about my words.

When it came to my own 15 minutes of fame, the flow of the dialogue that I had written did not work. I said my first line (changing it slightly to make it more cutting), then the other actor cut in over the top preventing me from saying the next bit.

But that worked so much better in the context of the scene as set up by the Director. I had not been explicit with my directions on the page, and the location we were using dictated how the scene had to be played.

That whole scene ended up quite different to the way I had written it - but it communicated the same thing. And that is the point.

It was a good set of scenes from the first act of the story, which utilised a surprisingly wide range of locations: packed classroom, almost empty classroom, external industrial, in-car, school lockers, and back into the classroom. The emotional structure flows well too, I think. As well as comprising the main expositional sections (filled with character).

If those things are communicated I will be very happy indeed.

So, will this affect how I write? How could it not?

Other questions I've been asked: Who paid for it? Me. How much did it cost? Less than £500. Didn't you want to direct? No.

What's on the turntable? "A Coral Room" by Kate Bush from "Aerial" (on Spotify but I do own this)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Something about writing

I thought I'd say something about writing since, at least theoretically, this is a screenwriting blog.

The TV-related project Traitor required me to write eight story ideas, a paragraph on each, which I have now done.

I compiled them into a single sheet - made a point of using the same font that the company used for their briefing sheet - adjusted the font size so that it was nicely readable but all fitted on to one page and off it went.

So that's another job complete. Nothing may come of it but that's the way things work in the writing world.

Next comes the proper treatment for Clones.

What's on the turntable? "Oye como va" by Santana from "Viva Santana" (which is a huge compilation of Santana tracks)

Nothing important

Yesterday was my birthday (thinks: I shall have to update the profile).

I have a cousin who is exactly three days older than me (I also have a friend who's exactly 1 day older but that's not important here) and when I was younger it seemed the important parties were always hers. She lived nearer to the majority of our relatives so our birthdays were combined and took place at the familial epicentre.

This probably isn't actually true but that was the perception.

We had a joint 18th birthday but it was family and her friends mostly - then again I didn't really have a lot of close friends. (See I'm trying to be fair.)

When it came to my 21st I did have a group of friends and we partied away the evening in a large Victorian mansion somewhere in London which was also a recording studio and I spent the evening spinning the discs in a back room. On my own.


Then again I'm not one for big parties. My 30th passed unnoted, we were amused by my 40th, last year my 50th was pretty quiet and for various reasons I was unable to go my cousin's 50th.

The Teacher has a birthday a little over a week before me (she's younger and I'm not giving away the details) but the kids and I managed to make that one quite successful. Best organised one for years. She loves the Biederbecke trilogy and I got it on DVD for her (it's an Alan Plater masterpiece).

So yesterday was my 51st. To be honest we had decided that since we were both running around madly over the weekend (me shooting Monsters and she with the Boy at the BBC) we would defer even our meagre celebrations until next week - I'm to have an official birthday next Saturday.

Honestly I don't know what happened yesterday but it was one of the worst days that I and the Teacher have had in years.

Not on a personal level between ourselves, though it's true we were both tired, but the kids!

We have two of the best kids anyone could possibly want, not only can we take them to places, we can take them back and not to apologise. They are both decent and thoughtful. We almost never have to raise our voices, they never have tantrums (really), they like us and we like them.

But not yesterday.

I'm not going into detail but yesterday they turned into satanic abominations. The Daughter needed kid gloves and the boy needed the Riot Act.

Must be something in the water.

What's on the turntable? "I am the Law" by The Human League from "Dare" - not that I'm a massive Human League fan, but when it's free on Spotify...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I'd like to thank...

It's 6pm on Sunday and I just got out of bed.

It's been a long time since I engaged in anything as stressful as the Monsters shoot and I needed to go back to bed when I got in this afternoon - though probably not as much as our Director who got 1 hour's sleep due to his day job keeping him up all night.

It's difficult to know where to start - let's face it if I did a shot by shot rendition of the weekend we'd be here all night. So let's try for some high points and low points.

Saturday I arrived on location with the Daughter and three of her friends. (Director and Producer had been there the night before prepping the rooms we were using.) We were very early because I didn't figure the times very well. Then Anna the Make-up, arrived, and slowly the rest appeared. Everybody except the DoP and all the equipment.

Unfortunately they were coming up from Birmingham and couldn't find the location. We lost an hour. Not an auspicious start.

But after that things started to move and the first shots of the first scene were set-up, as I watched the first time my words were committed to screen. Gosh. I can't say I was excited but it was gratifying.

The first shots involved only two cast then we added a few extras for other shots, and then the classroom was filled and I withdrew - it was hot and difficult to find anywhere to sit out of the way.

The classroom scene dragged (from my viewpoint) through the morning. Then we moved to the locker scene which was handled in double-quick time. We caught up a good chunk of the missing hour.

Lunch and most of the classroom speaking parts and extras went home. The kids (if I can call them that, they were all 16+) were really good, even the completely inexperienced ones that we'd given critical speaking parts to because they were so natural. And the teacher too, who had been suitably menacing and highly unpleasant. Perfect.

The DoP had lovely equipment. Which included a cheap, quick set-up dolly system that allowed the Director some additional shots he hadn't been expecting to get.

After lunch was the classroom interview scene featuring four adults plus the young lead (played by the Daughter). It went well and, as scheduled, took the rest of the afternoon. However, even with additional dolly shots, we still finished only about 15 minutes late.

A good day's shoot.

Well, on Sunday we arrived early again. Even though it was the right time. I'd forgotten my mobile and, as a result, didn't get the message that the Director had been up all night because he'd got a call from his day job and had to work. We'd been re-scheduled to start at 12 noon, then re-re-scheduled to start at 10. The Director appeared around 11 after one hour's sleep.

This was also my next big moment - we had forgotten to cast anyone as a Reporter, with two lines, yours truly got the job. So if you see it you'll see me in Real Color Action.

We were no longer inside but shooting in the loading bay around the back of a leisure centre (all permissions had been acquired by our excellent and professional Producer). Despite the late start it was very relaxed because we were only expecting to be there a few hours.

It all went swimmingly except for the sun which was shining very brightly and forced strange measures when shooting inside the car from various angles. We finally wrapped about 2:30pm.

So now we have to get the damn thing edited. We have four weeks.

Strange but true: the Daughter had appeared as a "featured extra" (no dialogue but extreme close-up) at a shoot for Jimmy McGovern's "The Street" in the very same school we were shooting in.

What's on the turntable? "Incident at Neshabur" by Santana from "Viva Santana" (courtesy of Spotify)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Breaking lose

The launch of the day-job website went off fairly painlessly on Wednesday evening - so much so that they didn't require my presence at work through the evening - though I was on-call. You can look at it at http://www.diploma-support.org/ - I created the "My Support" section and the consortium select system.

We're already off and running on development for the next major release in six weeks.

You'd think with that off my plate the stress levels would be going down - but no.

Obviously we're gearing up for the Monsters shoot tomorrow and Sunday. We lost all our schoolroom extras on Wednesday! And several of the Daughter's production team suddenly found they have things they're doing.

These things are sent to try us.

The Boy got back from Pinewood Studios yesterday and we found out that he and his team had made it through the first two rounds of the new Bamzooki - which means he is in the semi-finals and has to go back for filming on Saturday (tomorrow!).

But the BBC lost one of their chaperones to family problems, and had no one available to bring the kids. So the Teacher has to do it, and they're travelling down again tonight because the day starts too early to travel in the morning. (And what would the Beeb have done if it had been impossible for anyone to bring these semi-finalists?)

On the positive side the Boy was also inteviewed for Blue Peter with his team.

It's all go...

What's on the turntable? "Summit" by Vangelis from "China" (courtesy of Spotify)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

This week...

... I have mostly been devising stories.

Takes about an hour to work through a character and, with the help of the 36 dramatic situations, devise (hopefully) interesting and unusual story plotlines for the Traitor project. Only one more to do for the end of the month deadline.

Shooting for Monsters this weekend. Eeek.

I've booked the accommodation for the Screenwriters festival for self and daughter.

Met with collaborator on the Clones project, mostly happy with the skeletal treatment, just a few modifications required and I'll get that knocked out next week, I think.

Then I can start to think about re-writing Tec.

The Boy went off down south this morning and, as I write, he'll be in the Bamzooki studio, according to the schedule. He's filming this afternoon and tomorrow morning then back in the afternoon. Depending on the outcome he may, or may not, be back there again soon.

What's on the turntable? "Human behaviour" by Bjork from "Debut"

Saturday, September 12, 2009

In the cards

Bill Martell, in a recent blog but also in his Script Secrets, talks about one of his writing techniques when it comes to writing features: having got the story idea, setting and main characters sorted out he writes ideas for scenes on index cards.

He doesn't write the ideas in any particular order, he just writes out lots and lots of scene ideas - things that could happen in the story. Doesn't even matter if they are self-contradictory, the key point is to just write out lots of scenes - more than you need.

Having done that he starts to organise them into the film structure. He uses the cards so he can shift them around easily. There will be cards that he doesn't use at all in the end. (As an additional factor he likes to have something cool in each scene - doesn't have to be a big cool thing, it can be a little cool thing - but always something.)

So I thought, for Clones, I would try it. But I used Celtx instead, which has an Index Card facility.

I wrote scene ideas, one in each card and just kept adding. After about 20 minutes I had everything I could think of for the first Clones episode, in no particular order. Then I spent another 20 minutes putting them into an order that felt right. Threw some away, and added some others to link between the ones I had.

Then I read it through and added detail. Finally compiled it into a single text document (manually, there's no feature for that) and I had the skeleton of the treatment for the first episode. In just one hour.


What's on the turntable? "Souvenir from China" by Jean Michel Jarre from "Aero" (courtesy of Spotify)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Daughter Goes To Cheltenham

The Cheltenham Screenwriters' Festival gets another attendee - sort of.

My daughter is going to be one of the runners at the 2009 event - so now I have to shell out for her accommodation, while she gets the opportunity to get up-close with famous people.

Meanwhile, I got a kick up the posterior on the collaboration Clones: I have to get some form of treatment out by the weekend. The producer chappy has a distributor that's interested in taking a look and we need to hit them before they go cold.

Damn my unprofessionalism of the last few weeks.

Still, there's nothing like a real deadline for motivation.

(I hate writing treatments.)

What's on the turntable? "Shepherd Moons" by Enya from "Shepherd Moons" (courtesy of Spotify)

Dramatic situation

Well, goodness, not even a word of sympathy for my poor thumb?

That's okay, I'm not a fan of sympathy anyway - sympathy is what you do when you can't do anything else for the person, and you can almost always do something more useful.

This is just a quickie really: I did some writing stuff. Yes! Not a lot and it was just getting slightly more solid ideas together for Traitor - the TV-related thing.

The important thing is the use of the 36 Dramatic Situations. I scanned through them and using them as a starting point developed some pretty meaty ideas, and I think quite original too.

I need to do some more of that.

What's on the turntable? "Prelude" by The Decemberists from "Tha Hazards of Love" (courtesy of Spotify)

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Thumbs up

The trouble with stress is that, due to one thing and another, one tends to make mistakes and have accidents. It's the how things are.

And I am in pain.

Last Wednesday I had an argument with our dog. I'm not blaming him, he was confused and upset, and I made the mistake of putting my right hand near a mouthful of a canine's canines.

As a writer I'm always on the look-out for new experiences - for example, exactly how painful is it to have one's hand (and thumb mostly) chewed by a dog?

And now I know the answer. I managed to hold it together while we got the poor puppy sorted out and under control so he didn't disgrace himself again. However I was dripping blood all over the carpet for a while. Then this poor old body of mine went into shock which was quite interesting. The Teacher is a dab hand with the first aid (fully trained and regularly re-certified) so she patched me up.

The thumb came off worst with a 2cm gash crosswise just below the last joint - this has been very inconvenient as I lost the advantage of an opposable digit for a couple of days. It's getting better now but occasional I bend the joint too much and that is quite painful so I end up uttering an "ow" which generally surprises the people around me.

I probably should have had stitches but the prospect of hours in A&E (as a non-urgent case) was not my idea of a good night out. I'll have an interesting scar.

I have finally got around to moving my computer and my nice chair (which I bought when I was working in Reading) to the office so that I can work without interruption. And I need to because I'm falling behind.

Yesterday we auditioned the kids for the Monsters trailer, we needed two girls for important roles, one for a less important role (but a few lines of dialogue), and one boy for three words. The casting call specified 16 or over but we were, of course, deluged with 15 year olds wanting to audition. We couldn't take them, because then we'd have to mess about with licences and that's just horrible.

Did I mention we have a new producer? Unfortunately Kate decided she couldn't do the project justice, but suggested Tiffany who has real TV producer experience, and she's great. We're also having a change of DoP, because the shoot date has been decided (the only weekend all the actors are available) and the current one couldn't do that weekend. We're shooting on the 19th and 20th of this month.

Only two weeks.

And there's so much to do ... and I really don't have to do much, which is hard.

In other news...

The Teacher is now the "Assistant Headteacher" but I'll still call her the Teacher in the blog because it's shorter. The Boy has the dates for going down to shoot Bamzooki for CBBC. No new news for the Daughter as yet, but she's working hard as Production Designer for the Monsters shoot.

What's on the turntable? "Overture" by Bjork from "Vespertine Live" (courtesy of Spotify)