Monday, 31 December 2007


I suppose that writing is much the same as any other industry, inasmuch as it’s about marketing and selling a commodity. The problem as far as I’m concerned is that that commodity is me. And I am very very shit at selling myself. I half suspect that I should be drawing up corporately inspired fluff such as mission statements, career trajectories, six monthly action plans, blah de blah. However, last time I looked I wasn’t a corporation – I’m the equivalent of a small, overstocked second hand bookshop run by an eye-spinning drunk.

With the above in mind, perhaps it’s a good thing to confront whatever it is that frightens the absolute bejaysus out of you – with this in mind, here’s my attempt at an action plan for 2008 (my current one is scribbled on the back of a Poundland receipt for four cans of Kestrel lager).

* Hang in at METLAB until I get hospitalised.

* Consider exchanging my 5 string Warwick bass for something with 4 strings. When you’re playing acoustically, you can’t hear that big ass low end at all, which rather makes that fifth string redundant. I looked at an acoustic bass this year, but it seemed vaguely hippyish, so that idea got knocked on the head very quickly. Perhaps it’s about time I opted for the double bass - a real man's instrument.

* Finally bring myself to watch Shooter, if only for the fact that my nephew can then remove it to a place where it can’t do any lasting harm.

* Go for that elusive 50 press-up mark. Currently on 44 before I have to go to hospital to have my heart re-started.

* Get something into BBC Writersroom along with 10,000,000 other hopefuls.

And on that ambition-free note, Happy New Year! See you on the other side...

Friday, 28 December 2007

Smash Branding

The cross-platforming multi media smorgasbord that is the BBC has just commissioned another load of multi-branded tosh (Basil Brush brings back Swap Shop) – and who better than the BBC itself to report it?

"This show takes Basil into a dynamic new multiplatform environment and he will bring Swap Shop to a whole new generation of children," said Mike Heap, head of Entertainment Rights.

Are you quite sure Basil’s up to the job? ;-)

That said, I’d quite like a job in the BBC’s Marketing department: coming up with new ideas and concepts for shows must be an absolute breeze, especially when you’ve got ‘classic’ shows like Swap Shop lurking up your sleeve. All you need to do is chuck everything ever made by the BBC and every old dodgy codger from yesteryear into a great big sack, give it a shake and gleefully pull things out to see if they match – Keith Chegwin and One Man and His Dog? Nah – try again. Bagpuss and David Icke? Nah – that way true lunacy lies. Minipops and Jimmy Saville? For the love of god, no! That sounds like a criminal offence waiting to happen. Swap Shop and Basil Brush? Now wait just one second there...

It’s a whole new age of ‘smash branding’ – the collision of two overly familiar but seemingly unrelated ‘brands’ in an attempt to create something supposedly new that already has an extant audience base. And if anyone doubts the wisdom of such an approach, they can be firmly pointed in the direction of Strictly Come Dancing. Fabulous.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

The ‘Oh Gawd, It’s Christmas’ Factor

Christmas – the time of year where I get dragged to the cinema to see a whole bunch of films I would usually cross the street to avoid...

The Golden Compass – ‘written’ and directed by Chris Weitz. Wanna know why this is currently bombing in the States? Go see it. Or rather, don’t. You have been warned.

How the flaming heck did Chris Weitz get this gig? It can’t have been on the basis of his adapted screenplay, which is so chock full of clunky exposition it actually made me want to punch myself in the face. Granted, material like this is difficult to adapt, as there is a lot of intricate back story and plenty of unfamiliar concepts for an audience to get its head round (and to be honest, I tend not to be a huge fan of the whole ‘fantasy’ genre, if that’s what you want to call it). But starting out with an explanatory voiceover which only really adds to the ensuing confusion is the ideal way to make me start chucking stuff at the screen.

Major characters appear and disappear for no good reason. At least half of the dialogue is exposition (the other half simply being unintentionally funny: Do you want to ride me? Hello! I thought this film was rated PG). Nicole Kidman is about as menacing as a tin of Quality Street. An hour in, I wanted to gouge out my eyes and throw them at people just so I had something entertaining to do.

Stardust – this is one of those films that has you alternately shouting, ‘Huzzah!’ and ‘Oh Gawd!’ ‘Huzzah!’ for the quite amazing Robert DeNiro, who completely steals the film as a cross dressing whoopsie pirate – ‘Oh Gawd!’ for the appearance of Dexter Fletcher. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good actor, but ever since he played a Yank in Press Gang, there’s something about him that makes me go, ‘Oh Gawd!’ No idea why, but there we are.

A load of marvellous old nonsense and about a hundred times better than The Golden Compost.

Enchanted – like, wow. I loved this, and what made it better is the fact that I wasn’t expecting to even like it (to be honest, the omens were not good: the writer – Bill Kelly – was responsible for that pure flapdoodle Sandra Bullock vehicle Premonition).

That said, there appears to be a much darker, naughtier story lurking just below the surface here, which seems to me to suggest that Disney has managed to plane off a few of the sharper edges from Kelly’s screenplay. No matter, it’s still great fun.

That said, my wife laughed at me callously for crying most of the way through (I’ll cry at anything, which is why I can’t watch The Secret Millionaire or any Cancer Research TV advert). However, Sarah managed to spill the entire contents of a cup of latte over the cinema floor, which meant that a throng of super-efficient cinema employees descended on us, making her feel incredibly daft and not a little embarrassed. Vengeance is mine! Or something.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Merry Christmas Kids!

I am seriously thinking about changing the name of this blog to 'Dogs in Hats'.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Chip's Big Ass Post, part 2

Following my previous post on the subject, the way forward was to get some further notes from Lianne and a couple of overly critical friends and wrote a further two drafts. Zoiks!

* The ‘Coherent draft’ – a draft that keeps the voiceover and the non-linear structure but takes on board a lot of the more ‘minor’ comments – the aim here was to create a more streamlined draft without touching the more contentious elements of voiceover and structure.

* The ‘Hack and Slash draft’ – the equivalent of a Canadian seal cull. Voiceover? Gone. On deleting it, it became readily apparent that no, it wasn’t needed as – guess what – it didn’t add anything. The non-linear structure is curtailed to such an extent that the opening scene now appears as the script’s penultimate act. And you know what? It works a whole lot better. I still feel the (insecure?) need to dangle a little visual teaser at the outset, if only to keep people intrigued (and therefore reading), but the structure is now more logical and coherent (and what's more, the page count is down from 102 to 95 - result!)

My favourite draft out of the two? The latter. Non-linearity and voiceover can have the effect of obscuring what the real narrative thrust of your script really is – I think by taking them outside and giving them a good kicking, things are starting to look a lot clearer.

However, the one thing I haven’t done with the Hack n’ Slash draft is to take Lucy’s advice on board about chopping out the first twenty pages. With the first ‘flash forward’ scene cut back from three pages to one (and with no offending voiceover), I think it (sort of) sits OK. As an experiment, what I might do at some point is to see if I can reconfigure the first thirty pages and see what happens.

Co-incidentally, the two previous scripts I wrote before this one were written with some very strict rules to the fore - no voiceovers, no flashbacks, and strictly linear structures. If in doubt, KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). I know why I abandoned these diktats for this particular script – it’s because it didn’t start out as a script at all. I wrote the thing originally as a novel, and then adapted it. In the novel, the structure was tight as a very tightly wound tight thing – however, in adapting it for a screenplay format, something went strangely awry. To be honest, what I think I did was to rely too much on the structure on the novel to inform that of the screenplay – it simply didn’t work. However, in the newer draft, it works better. And no doubt in subsequent drafts, it will work better still (that’s what I’m telling myself at least).

All in all, I love getting notes on my work, as I am well past that stage where I take any criticism on my writing as a personal insult. And believe me, I’ve been set upon by experts. The secret is to temporarily jettison your house-sized ego, and take from coverage what you need, not what you think people want to see.

On a final note, just to big myself up, this is from the first page of Lucy’s coverage:

(I think) your voice... is one of the most interesting ones I’ve seen in a long time. Not to mention bizarre...

I ain’t gonna argue with that...

Right - enough of this self-indulgence - normal service will be resumed soon with a festive photograph of a dog in a hat...

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Chip's Big Ass Post, part 1...

I got some development notes back from Lucy Vee recently, so I thought it might be handy to outline what I do with them and how they help, if only to get it straight in my own head (the inside of which looks like a landfill of second hand books and discarded coffee cups).

As I’ve written before, my working methods are truly random, so this is an attempt to wrap some coherent thinking around a working process that is freeform in the extreme – which is a lot like telling a jazz quintet to shut the fuck up and only use three notes (‘cos, let’s face it, who needs more than three notes?).

Straight off the bat, it looks like I have a few problems:

* Overall, the script is ‘mental’ (Lucy’s comment? I just have to congratulate you for writing the most mental script I have read since I read one about a secretary who keeps an alien in her bra). Wow – I think.

The issue with ‘mental’ is twofold as far as I see it: a) it gets remembered (a good point), as opposed to b) the story is hard to define, which in Lucy’s parlance means it’s muddled (a bad point). Fair comment.

* The protagonist’s voiceover doesn’t really add anything, and pops up ‘randomly’ (hmmm – might be a problem with my structure here...)

* Narrative logic: it seems that I require some kind of mechanism/thematic plot point to make the reader suspend disbelief, especially as the narrative is a little ‘out of the ordinary’.

* My protagonist is a bit of a tit. Charming! To be honest, I don’t feel the overriding need to correct this very much, which means I must be a bit of a tit myself.

* As if I need to mention it, structure. For this script I used a tricksy non-linear structure, which according to Lucy does not have a discernible pattern. I think it does, but if Lucy can’t spot it, then it probably means that I’ve buried it under a ton of dialogue and/or voiceover, or that it’s simply too complicated to follow properly – which all boils down to the fact that, structurally, I’m in trouble.

If you’ve ever gotten notes from Lucy, you might know that she’s got a ‘bit of thing’ for structure – which is fine by me, as structure is the one thing I struggle with above all else, probably due to the jaw droppingly random way in which I work. It’s fairly obvious I guess, but without a coherent structure whatever you write is going to suffer horribly – logic goes walkies and narrative coherency does a bunk. I usually try and get round this by doing a frantic little dance with my dialogue and hoping that it distracts from the fact that my narrative is sliding all over the place like a drunk duckling on ice. Sometimes it works: with the more perceptive readers out there, it doesn’t. I’ve always prided myself on my dialogue to the detriment of anything else in a script, which is a bit like trying to put wallpaper up before the foundations have been built.

Lucy was meticulous in picking apart the non-linear structure of the script, and stated that it didn’t really have a discernible pattern. From my point of view, it’s not so much the fact that the script is non-linear, it’s just that the vast majority of what takes place occurs as a flashback. It’s a structure you see quite often with films such as The Prestige, which opens with an image that only makes sense later on.

My problem with the script I think, is that I start with what I hope is a strong visual image – problem is, the explanation of this image does not occur until very late on in the narrative (again, similar to The Prestige). To open with one of your strongest visual scenes is always going to be problematic, as you then need to provide (in my case, a very lengthy) back story as to how you got there, which can often necessitate a pointlessly tricksy structure. Lucy’s solution? It appears that I’ve come into the story too early, so all I need to do is to chop off the excess, which amounts to about twenty of the opening pages. Zoiks!

I don’t think I’m unusual in the sense that I overwrite and cut back in subsequent re-writes. First drafts for me often weigh in at 105-110 pages, which I think is WAY too long for a spec script (better to keep it under the magical three figure number I reckon). The draft that Lucy read is no exception – too much dialogue for a start, which is easily fixable (Incidentally, I loved the male banter... But do you need ALL of it?). However, I do tend to over-complicate matters when it comes to structure and plotting and often do not have a fully thought through structure in mind.

As for narrative logic: Lucy states that there are several scenes in the script (if not the whole thing) that require a huge suspension of disbelief (such as the protagonist being blown out of an airliner at 30,000 feet and surviving). The solution? I need a reason as to why weird shit happens. Strangely enough, Lucy identified a part of my script that I had included in an earlier draft but excised on the basis that it was too gross. My solution? Put it in back in, and hang the consequences. I’d got the logic back, but probably at the expense of having people go, ‘Ugh, that's disgusting!' Ah well – an acceptable compromise I guess (and don’t forget: memorable is good).

So, what did I do next?

(Due to the unprecedented big ass nature of this post, I think it’s only fair to break it into two...)

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Off on a Tangent, part 7 – Monarch: The Lost Album of Leslie Feist

Monarch (Lay Down Your Jeweled Head) was Leslie Feist’s first solo recording, released in 1999 when she was just 23. Subsequent releases have had the benefit of major label clout behind them, but Monarch was released on a tiny Canadian label, and was predominantly sold at shows. It’s been out of print for years, and apparently copies go for more than $500 on EBay (when they ever appear that is).

Even getting to hear the songs on the album is difficult enough. There’s a dodgy Russian mp3 website that apparently has the whole thing available as a download, but my credit card doesn’t have a death wish, so that’s out. However, there have recently been a couple of BitTorrent sites with the whole album available for download (one’s here). My technical ability in this area is positively laughable, but over the weekend I managed to grab all eleven tracks in glorious all singing, all dancing MP3 format.

And it’s absolutely fantastic.

There’s obviously a reason as to why this album has been out of print so long, but I’m damned if I know why. If it was a major departure from Let It Die or The Reminder, then I could understand – but it isn’t. Songs such as It’s Cool to Love Your Family or One Year AD wouldn’t sound out of place on Feist’s new long player, and a song such as La Sirena (two fifths Cocteau Twins, two fifths torch song, one fifth ambient guitar wig out) is as gorgeous as anything that Feist has ever recorded (sorry, I haven’t a clue how to post MP3 files on this blog thing – someone write and give me a tutorial).

However, all this leaves me in a bit of a quandary. I used to work with a guy who downloaded all his music for free using a variety of undoubtedly dodgy websites, which to me is a crime on a par with touting concert tickets on EBay. The problem with Monarch is that it’s simply not commercially available in any form, nor is it likely to ever be so. All the 'official' MP3 sites I looked at turn up nothing but dead ends, so what’s a guy to do? I could send Ms Feist a few Canadian dollars, but unfortunately I don’t have her PayPal details ;-)

So for the moment, I’m enjoying the album for free, which just doesn’t seem right somehow.

Perhaps I need to make a donation to some musician’s benevolent fund or something ;-)

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

TAPS - Finding the Writer's Voice

I applied for something similar to this a couple of years ago through TAPS, but didn't get anywhere. Time for another go? Maybe...

TAPS is a charitable organisation committed to seeking out, training and showcasing emerging talented writers by putting their original voices in front of leading producers and script executives. TAPS aims to unearth new writers who may not otherwise be noticed and help them develop better scripts through Workshops plus provide them with access to working Producers, Directors and actors who speed that essential nurturing of their talent.

TAPS actively develops original voices of the future for the industry which seeks raw talent and fresh ideas.

The Course
An intensive weekend workshop will begin your training, followed by three months of personal script coaching from a leading industry professional which will hone your script and unlock your unique potential. Writers will complete the scheme with a range of advanced writing tools, an industry-standard calling card script and a DVD of their script performed by professional directors and cast.

Selection Process

All submitted scripts are read and assessed by a specially assembled reading panel of industry professionals. Selection is based on the talent of the writer. However, at times, when selection is at a tie, other elements will be considered such as the date the application is received. On this basis, we advise you to send your application as soon as possible.

Please Note: Due to the lack of resources no feedback can be given on the individual scripts if rejected.


2007/08 Administration Fee: £25.00 - this cheque must be included with your application for us to begin processing our submission.

2007/08 Course Fee: £500 plus VAT

If you require support with the course fee we suggest you check with your Regional Screen Agency. We know that some writers have received support in the past but cannot guarantee this support is still available. To find your Regional Screen Agency please check the link below:

We advise you to get in touch with your Regional Agency immediately upon application as the process can take time.

Financial Support

With the assistance of the Skillset CPD Fund TAPS keeps the delegate fees for its workshops as low as possible in order that those who want to attend, can attend.

Delegates living over 50 miles from the course venue can reclaim up to 50% of their travelling costs and up to £40 per night towards the cost of accommodation.

TAPS will also provide support to child care costs where required, contributing £4 per hour towards costs incurred during training.

Email or go to for more information.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Guilty Pleasures, Part 4 – Strictly Come Dancing.

Sorry, Strictly Come Dancing isn’t a guilty pleasure at all for me – my wife (bless her) loves it, which means that for the most part, I can’t avoid it. It’s harmless enough I suppose, if your idea of entertainment is a variety show in which ‘celebrity’ amateurs spin about like great twirling sides of ham. Somehow they manage to pick up 11 million viewers doing this, and for the BBC, that’s great – I’m really pleased for them.

Well, I would be if it wasn’t flippin’ everywhere.

Not only do we have to put up with it on Saturday night, it’s on Sunday night as well (‘Welcome to our Sunday show,’ says Brucie, knowing full well that it’s still Saturday). Then there’s Claudia Winkleman (whose mother is Eve Pollard – for the love of god, why wasn’t I told?) with Strictly Come Dancing – It Takes Two, which seems to be on all the time. What’s more, Strictly... seems to be infecting other programmes as well, like some weird inter-textual smart virus. I only caught ten minutes of Sports Personality of the Year last night (my wife was channel hopping to see if Kate Thornton had had a face lift), but five minutes was taken up with Mark Ramprakash and Karen Hardy (winners of 2006’s Strictly...) dancing on a stage the size of a postage stamp. No doubt the marketing goon squad have decreed that Strictly... is to be flogged to the high heavens this year, but when you’re pulling in 11 million viewers a throw, is there any real need to labour the point in more or less every single BBC programme? Enough already!

Co-incidentally, many of the celebrities that staff this year’s show have been plucked from shows such as Eastenders, Blue Peter, and er, whatever the last show that semi-famous baldie Dominic Littlewood was in. It’s an inter-textual cross-promotional riot out there! The whole thing feels like one of those rock family tree things, where all the various inter dependencies can be mapped out like an ever-expanding spider’s web – the intention being I suppose to subliminally batter you into watching Eastenders until hell itself freezes over.

In allegedly unrelated news, one of the last Google searches to lead to this blog was Philistine and proud of it – glad to see I’ve found the level!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Chung Hing Sam Lam

This post contains spoilers for Chungking Express

Chungking Express, written and directed by Wong Kar-Wai, is one of my favourite films, and here are a few reasons why:

* The set up is brilliant – all you need to know about where the film is going is covered in the first two and half minutes. Wong Kar-Wai then goes crazy and follows this with an almost completely inconsequential two minute phone conversation. The general screenwriting rule about phone conversation is – don’t do it! But in Chungking Express, as it forms part of the film’s theme of loneliness and disconnection, it works.

* It has four voiceovers! Four I tell you (guaranteed to get all script readers the world over frothing at the mouth with the imminent onset of madness)! The two cops in the film – #223 and #633 – have a voiceover each. However, not to be outdone, the mysterious drug dealer who #223 sidles up to into in a bar, and Faye – the bonkers waitress who rearranges #633’s flat without his knowledge – both have their own voiceovers. And what’s more, it works.

* The use of music throughout is positively demented. Specific pieces of music are used to announce the arrival and reappearance of key characters, so much so that by the fourth time you’ve heard California Dreamin’ by the Mamas and Papas you’re laughing out loud (although it has to be said that prolonged exposure to this song has been scientifically proven to turn people into head swivelling psychopaths).

* It isn’t afraid of being sentimental. This is from a book called Nonconformity by Nelson Algren:

Q: What is sentimentality?

Algren: Oh, it’s an indulgence in emotion. You want men and women to be good to each other and you’re very stubborn in thinking that they want to be. Sentimentality is a kind of indulgence in this hope. I’m not against sentimentality. I think you need it. I mean, I don’t think you get a true picture of people without it in writing.

I think this passage sums up the whole film.

* The cinematography - by Christopher Doyle - throughout is extraordinary. The chase sequences in the first half are thrillingly impressionistic riots of neon. There’s a scene in the snack bar where Faye has forgotten to pay the electricity bill, which means the whole place is lit by candlelight – it looks extraordinary – more an accident than by way of design I suspect, but who cares when it looks this good?

* It tackles a subject you seldom see in the movies – loneliness – but does it in such a way that is original and funny without losing one iota of charm or poignancy. Both #223 and #633 deal with their loneliness in different ways. #633 talks to the objects in his apartment - this is what he says to a well used bar of soap: You've lost a lot of weight, you know. You used to be so chubby. Have more confidence in yourself. #223 obsesses about the sell by date on tins of pineapple as a way of coming to terms with the break-up of a relationship, which culminates in a cracked discussion with a harrassed shop clerk.

* The whole film teeters on the brink of a weird kind of incoherency, probably as a result of Wong Kar-Wai writing it as he went along (it was written and filmed during a break in production from the epic Ashes of Time). Vast swathes of it appear to be improvised, but it’s directed and edited with such a strong hand, you barely notice. Also, the two halves of the film are connected, but only in the most tenuous and random of fashions - does this matter? Not really. Chungking Express isn't hung up on providing a neat knot of resolved plot lines at its conclusion, and so feels fresh and original as a result.

Too bad that Wong Kar-Wai followed this up with a series of films that seem less and less consequential. Fallen Angels certainly has its moments, but perhaps would have been better off as the third part of Chungking Express (which was apparently the original intention). In The Mood for Love put me into a week-long coma, and as for 2046: I literally cannot bring myself to watch it, as the title reminds me too much of Code 46, Michael Winterbottom’s disastrous excursion into sci-fi. So, hey, I’m shallow: but I knew that anyway.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Opportunity Knocks, part 4

This just received from Shooting People:


Northern Lights Film Festival and Culture

Northern Lights Film Festival and Culture are proud to provide Moxie Makers with a platform to launch the most dynamic feature film production prize in the UK worth up to £250,000 at this year’s Northern Lights Film Festival 7 – 9 December at the Tyneside Cinema’s temporary venue at The Old Town Hall in Gateshead.

Moxie Makers is a new micro studio, created in the North East, with the express purpose of making low budget features with the most exciting new filmmaking talent emerging within the UK.

The selection process for The Big Pitch opens on December 7th and begins with a written application from which a shortlist of 15 projects will be drawn up. Shortlisted applicants will be selected by a professional industry panel and after undergoing an interview process, seven projects will be eliminated and only eight writer/director/producer teams and their respective feature film ideas will be invited onto The Big Pitch training programme.

The Big Pitch programme will kick-off with a four-day intensive induction and development workshop, after which only six teams will secure a place to continue further onto the project and pitch development stage.

During the four-month project and pitch development stage the six remaining teams will work with industry professionals to develop and package their project. At the end of this period only four out of the six teams will be invited to The Big Pitch event where they will sell their feature film ideas before a live audience at NLFF 08 as they compete for the production deal worth up to £250,000!

The Big Pitch Final will take place in Newcastle upon Tyne at Northern Lights Film Festival 2008. A celebrity host, an industry panel and an audience of over three hundred people, will watch as the teams sell the merits of their feature film project to the panel and most importantly inspire an audience with their vision. A question and answer session will put them through their paces before the live audience and online viewers vote to select the winning team.

The winner will be guaranteed production finance from Moxie Makers together with a post-production deal with Molinare, guaranteed UK distribution with Soda Makers and international sales representation with Moxiehouse Entertainment. The film will receive its red-carpet Gala Premiere as part of Northern Lights Film Festival in 2009.

The Big Pitch will open for entries at Northern Lights Film Festival 2007 on Friday 7th December. The closing date for applications is 22nd February 2008.

Stella Hall, Creative Director of culture said;

‘We are really excited about the engagement of Moxie Makers which brings this incredible opportunity for film-makers in the region and beyond. The great potential of the Big Pitch to create a new product – these nine feature films, as well as showcase the up-coming talent already working in the region is something we are really pleased about. It makes sense to incorporate the launch in the region’s most innovative film festival, the Northern Lights Film Festival.’

Christine Alderson, Ipso Facto Founder said today;

‘In the short time since it’s launch, Moxie Makers has already attracted some sensational projects and amazing talent, so the launch of The Big Pitch is a natural progression in enabling us to discover who else is out there.

It’s becoming more and more difficult to finance films in this country so really low budget production - which includes great development, training, mentoring and an experimentation with new technology and ideas - is going to be the future of film making.'

Visit for more information.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Boring Draft Update, part 2

As previously reported, I’ve been cocking about with an iteration of a script that’s been selected for next year’s METLAB. And, wonder of wonders (mostly due to the Chip Smith patented ‘Script Randomiser’), it’s finished. For several days I was horrified to discover that I might end up with a new draft that might tip the hundred page mark, but thankfully I was able to wrestle manfully (like Johnny Weissmuller with a rubber crocodile) with the ending so that it came in at what I think is a very reasonable 95 (do spec screenplays need to be any longer than 90-95 pages? I think not, but answers on a postcard).

Given the choice between writing a first draft from scratch and rewriting, I’ll go for the rewrite any day – mostly because I’m scared of big, white open spaces. That said, I’m always amazed what I discover when I delve into the weeds of a rewrite:

- In first drafts, without exception, I always overwrite. I can always edit scene descriptions down by at least 25%, which I think makes for a smoother, quicker read. Dialogue-wise, the same goes. Less is more. Or something. (Or is it KISS? – Keep It Simple, Stupid – I forget).

- I can’t stress this enough, but the best screenwriting maxim is get in late, get out early. The script I’ve just finished spent the first six/seven pages laboriously setting up the scenario – now, I’m there inside three pages. I also managed to sever four pages from my pointlessly protracted (and potentially expensive) conclusion, which meant I even had room for a fictional gameshow theme tune – every script needs one!

- I can’t stand exposition in a script, even though I tend to write it in absolute bloody swathes. This script is no exception, although I am starting to devise strategies so that it’s not so obvious, like having people do stuff whilst my exposition clanks about like a skeleton jacking off in a biscuit tin.

- Introducing what is an essential element of back story has meant that I’ve had to go through the whole script on an evangelical mission to update and improve its narrative coherency. What a bitch! Some sequences fly by – others squat on the page and challenge you to a slapping match, the little bastards. What I tend to do is get in there, write it quick, and sprint out before anything has the opportunity to slap me round the back of the legs.

- Budget wise, I’ve taken the opportunity to get rid of one expensive location and replace it with something cheaper but that gets the job done in half the time.

- There is ALWAYS room for improvement.

Given that I’ve spent the entire year rewriting and nothing else, I think it’s time for something new. So far I have a title, a logline and a talking dog. Class!

I’m frazzled – I think I need to go for a lie down.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Double Bill of Non-Fun

Spoilers ahead for Vacancy and Isolation

Vacancy , directed by Nimrod Antal, written by Mark L Smith (Christ on a bike, I thought it was written by Mark E Smith for a moment!).

Oh dear. A supposed horror film spoilt by a total surfeit of imagination and a ton-and-a-half of dialogue landfill. Luke Wilson draws from the same acting well as his brother Owen, so it’s inevitable that after about thirty seconds, you want to throttle him. What the devil Kate Beckinsale is doing in this Christ only knows (then again, after having seen Underworld, I think I can guess). It’s unnecessarily wordy, and has a pointlessly long introductory sequence that consists entirely of boring chatter. It’s not even unintentionally funny, so I can’t think why anyone in their own right mind would want to watch it. That said, some of the snuff videos playing in the hotel room looked kinda fun - can I rent some of those, please? There's nothing like a good snuff movie...

Isolation, written and directed by Billy O’Brien.

Double oh dear (changing the subject for a moment, did you know that’s what James Bond’s mum calls him when he gets called home for his tea?). The tagline for this film – It Didn’t Want to be Born. Now, It Doesn’t Want to Die – is terrific. However a more accurate description would be: Alien – On a Farm – in Ireland – Zzzzz.

Nothing happens for an hour until the body of Orla the vet is found – as her death occurs off-screen, we have to rely on the explanation of mad scientist Crispin Letts to fill in the gaps (er, why not just show it? This is supposed to be a horror film, right?). The film then wakes up and goes all silly for ten minutes. Then the rubber hand puppet monster shows up. Sub-plots wave at you feebly and slink off in winsome fashion (who or what are Jamie and Mary running away from?). The ending is telegraphed about an hour before it arrives. Looks nice though.

As a joint production between Film Four, the Irish Film Board and Lionsgate, you would have thought someone somewhere could have sanctioned a few more script rewrites – as it stands currently, the whole thing feels like a second draft. Perhaps they should have given it to Mark E Smith – he’d have known what to have done with it.

Opportunity Knocks, part 3

This just in from

Vacancy: Screenplay Writer
Employer: The Zed Resistor Company
Location: London
Duration: 6-12 months, starts Immediate

The Zed Resistor Company ( is currently inviting submissions for completed feature length screenplays for consideration of next production.

Please send synopsis and plot information to:


Apply to: Paul Allan-Slade

Bad grammar aside, why not give it a go? What have you got to lose apart from your dignity and an internal organ?

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Cough Syrup

Nick Drake’s 1972 album Pink Moon is 28 minutes of the most beautifully desolate music you will ever hear - it was his last release before he died of a drugs overdose two years later at the age of 26. Its last track is From the Morning, which contains the lines, ‘now we rise and we are everywhere’, which now seems remarkably and scarily prescient. These are the lines that are also on Drake’s gravestone.

In a seemingly unrelated development, From the Morning is the incidental music to the new Vicks cough syrup advert.

Run for your lives. It’s the end of civilisation as we know it.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Guilty Pleasures, Part 3 – Watching Nothing

First off, what I’m about to list aren’t really guilty pleasures: they are purely examples of things I can watch without wanting to throw bricks at the TV. For instance, live football. I couldn’t really care less about football (what exactly is the point of watching a bunch of super-rich thickos kick a bit of leather about?), but there’s something wonderfully stultifying about watching it – the same thing happens over and over again for ninety minutes. It’s hypnotic, slightly boring, ultimately unsatisfying – a bit like any TV drama produced with early Sunday evenings in mind (which I can’t watch as they annoy me too much).

Football is often a default position for me: after flicking through thirty eight channels of cack, it’s one of the only things I can sit and watch without getting annoyed. That, and cookery programmes (although I have to draw the line at Jamie Oliver).

I can also quite willingly sit through any programme that features endless clips of real life police chases, but when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all. That, and any programme on Bravo about how much us Brits like to drink thirty pints of Skol before going out and picking fights with the local constabulary.

The one thing I’ve noticed about these programmes is that they all feature a great deal of repetition. Perhaps my attention threshold has gotten so bad I can’t concentrate on anything unless it’s repeated over and over again just to ram the point home, like a senior's version of Teletubbies – which makes it quite strange that I can’t stand things like Big Brother and I’m a (Z-list) Celebrity. The problem with these shows is that they annoy me so much I can’t help shouting at the TV like some mad, wild-eyed drunk (one of the last clips I saw of Big Brother was when one of the slack-jawed contestants described the show as a ‘celebrity factory’, which begs the question: why aren’t these people smothered at birth? My first exhibit, your honour? Michelle Bass. I rest my case).

Even adverts wind me up: that flippin’ Pantene advert with Anna Friel that’s started a re-run for some bizarre reason (hmmm: she’s not going in Big Brother’s Celebrity Christmas Jungle Farm, is she?). Why does the unbearable smugness of it all make me want to swear loudly and pointlessly at inanimate objects? Why does Friel’s voiceover sound as if she’s sucking on a handful of pebbles? Arrrgghh! For the love of god, turn it over before I implode!

That said, I think I’ve just seen my ideal television programme: on the set of Saturday Kitchen (it’s Saturday, we’re in a kitchen: glad to see that imagination isn’t dead in teevee land), behind the genial host AWT there was a flat screen television showing a roaring log fire – nothing else, just one long shot that played for the entirety of the show. Now that I could watch.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Times are Tough

Bearing in mind the current WGA Writer's Strike and the negotiations concerning DVD residuals, here's an interesting article in today's Guardian by David Teather. Here are a couple of extracts::

GMI estimates that DVDs made $8.5bn of profits for the six major studios in 2004. By 2006, those profits had dropped to $6.9bn.

Note that we're talking profit here, not turnover.

It is not immediately apparent where the revenue to replace slipping DVD sales will come from. It seems unlikely that consumers will pay the same amount for a download. Still, Gubbins thinks the current financial state of play will lead the studios to push more quickly into new forms of media. "I think we will see an acceleration into things like video on demand and downloading your own content. They are small at the moment and they have been kept artificially small. No one will risk the existing revenues when they can't yet be sure of new media. But I think that there will be a lot more attention and a lot more of a push to accelerate this new world and to make it happen."

If you ignore the rather dubious timing of the appearance of this article, it seems to me that the door is wide open negotiation-wise for the WGA at the moment. Go guys!

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Blue Cat Early Deadline

Three days until the early Blue Cat deadline...

Now accepting Feature length screenplays.

*Winner receives $10,000
*Four finalists receive $1500
*Every writer who submits to BlueCat receives a written script analysis of their screenplay.

EARLY DEADLINE: December 1st, 2007

Early Bird Script Analysis: Screenplays submitted by December 1st will receive their analysis by January 5th.

Entry Fee: $50

I am exempt from the entry fee this year after an exchange of emails with Gordy Hoffman (for the full unpleasant story, see here), which only went to prove that Gordy is an all round nice guy and I am a complete and utter shit! Suffice to say, I think I'll give this comp a miss this year...

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Opportunity Knocks, Part 2

This just in courtesy of



Kairos Prize for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays Announced!

Primary purpose of the prize is to further the influence of moral and spiritual values within the film and television industries.

Set up to help inspire first-time and beginning screenwriters to produce compelling, entertaining and spiritually uplifting scripts, the winning scripts are read by top execs in addition to the monetary awards.

DEADLINE: December 7th, 2007

Grand Prize: $25,000
1st Runner Up: $15,000
2nd Runner Up: $10,000

For complete information please visit:

My own entry for this competition is a screenplay called Celebrity Shits. I really think I'm in with a chance on this one.

Decency Will Out

I’ve seen so many bad films recently I was in danger of actually self-combusting, so I thought it was about time I watched something decent:

The Vanishing, directed by Georges Sluizer, written by Tim Krabbé (the original Dutch film silly, not the godawful re-make with Kiefer Sutherland) (and thanks to Tom for pointing out that Belgium and Holland are NOT the same country. All I can say in my defence is that it's about time my medication was changed).

What a marvellous film this is. The first thing that strikes you is the fact that visually, it’s uncluttered, which is a perfect fit for the unpretentious way the film unfolds. The non-linear structure is beautifully handled, and in Sluizer’s hands is massively unshowy (imagine what would have happened had Tarantino got his hands on it – the thing would have announced itself with a deafening orchestra of bells and whistles). The two central performances – from Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu and Gene Bervoets – are great, although Bervoets does tend to chew up the scenery when it’s not really needed (Johanna ter Steege is certainly worth a mention as well). The Vanishing is also a superb example of what can be done with two protagonists (The Prestige is another, albeit more complex, example of this), which makes it formally interesting as well. And what an ending - brrr....

Ring, directed by Gore Verbinski, written by Ehren Kruger – avert your eyes purists, as this film is better than the Japanese original -and that's official! Perhaps it’s more culturally specific and therefore easier for my hopelessly westernised mind to tune into, but it’s genuinely frightening and more than a little more disturbing.

Eastern Promises, directed by David Cronenberg, written by Steve Knight – whilst it’s certainly not as good as A History of Violence, this is still a serious, sinuous piece of cinema. However, there was something about the screenplay that seemed a little overwritten, a little convoluted. One of the best things about A History of Violence for me was the elegantly simplistic way the narrative unfolded: coupled with Cronenberg’s unhurried direction, this made for absolutely riveting viewing. With Eastern Promises (what a terrible title, by the way), things are a little different. Without Cronenberg’s direction, the film would indeed resemble a feature length episode of The Bill, as Peter Bradshaw wrote in The Guardian – I think this is entirely due to the screenplay. Not that you’d immediately notice that it was overwritten or contrived, as Cronenberg’s expertise behind the camera keeps the whole thing firmly on the road without any danger of the wheels falling off.

Back to the movie landfill territory soon, as I have to sit through Vacancy. Zoiks!

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Chip vs Poliakoff

Franz Kafka’s Amerika is a remarkable book for many reasons, not least because when he wrote it Kafka had never actually been to America. In this spirit, I’ll set out a few reasons as to why I can’t get my head round the oeuvre of Stephen Poliakoff (not that I’ve consciously gone out of my way to watch a huge amount penned by the great man himself, you understand).

Close My Eyes: hmmm. I saw this at the cinema years ago – god knows why a film about incest and architecture appealed, but something must have made me want to go and see it.

Alan Rickman plays Sinclair Bryant, a wealthy and powerful stock analyst. Since one of its sub-plots involves the development of Docklands in the early nineties (Clive Owen’s character – Richard – has a rather unfeasible job with a magazine called Urban Alert), I would’ve thought that maybe this would have some bearing on the film as a whole – but it doesn’t. Richard and Natalie (Saskia Reeves) flounce about and end up having a shag, which is a little unfortunate as, a) they are brother and sister, and b) Natalie is married to Sinclair. Oops! But, come the end of the film, Sinclair doesn’t really care either way, which is a bit of a non sequitur. If drama is truly about conflict, then Close My Eyes spends an inordinate amount of time promising a firework display, only to conclude with someone half-heartedly waving a sparkler about. Ho hum.

However, the overriding feeling I took away from it was how ambivalent it seemed about the whole question of wealth. Sinclair Bryant is a very typical Poliakoff character: a vague, strangely benign presence who also happens to be extraordinarily rich. Is this fact significant? A great deal of Poliakoff’s work seems to have a seam of over-privileged clots running through it (Friends and Crocodiles, Shooting the Past, Joe’s Palace, Capturing Mary, The Lost Prince), as if the stories he wants to tell can only be sustained by those with the requisite wealth. I have no idea what this means, or why Poliakoff feels the need to return to this theme time and time again.

Bearing this in mind, I watched an hour of Friends and Crocodiles the other day – I was still none the wiser. Damien Lewis plays Paul Reynolds, a ‘maverick entrepreneur’, who seems to spend most of his time attempting to wind up his many employees (as well as the audience). For instance, Reynolds drives a double decker bus around his sprawling country pile (because, you know, that’s what maverick entrepreneurs do). He then drives under some low hanging trees, freaking out his various hippied-up friends on the open top deck. Hmmm – do I sense a rather pained metaphor trying to break free here?

Later there’s a huge party at Reynolds’ country pile (another recurring Poliakoff motif, which suggests he’s getting full use out of that National Trust membership card) – Reynolds takes it upon himself to invite along a bunch of comedy punks, who gatecrash and run riot in predictable fashion. There is obviously an interesting cultural gap between the more ‘respectable’ party goers (black tied politicians, movers and shakers, Robert Lindsay) and the crowd of rent-a-punks, but the only thing Poliakoff wants to do with this milieu is create little visual vignettes without really bothering to explore any wider conflict.

As above, the dramatic conflict in Poliakoff’s work doesn’t necessarily come from what his characters do – it often arises due to where these characters are placed (be it a stately pile or a yuppied up London circa 1987) or by what they possess. The central characters in Friends and Crocodiles – Reynolds and his long suffering personal assistant Lizzy – seem to bear this out. Their paths meet and entwine over the course of twenty years, but their characters seem so rigidly determined by their immediate environments that we get very little sense of who they really are, which is incredibly frustrating. Similarly, the fact that Poliakoff’s rich liberal elite does not adhere to the usual stereotyping of “piles of money = evil capitalist” is all well and good – but in attempting to find something to put in its place, he comes up rather empty handed.

I lasted ten minutes with Joe’s Palace, which seemed so staggeringly silly I couldn’t be bothered hanging around to see what it might do (not a lot, according to The Guardian). Again, it featured yet another benign rich personage (Michael Gambon this time) who lets a bunch of considerably less rich characters run about in his opulent city house. I didn’t even get that far with Capturing Mary – seeing David Walliams mug his way through the trailer was enough to make me flick through the schedules to see if Kate & Peter Unleashed was on (it wasn’t).

Perhaps this makes me a bad person, but I really can’t be bothered to sift through Poliakoff’s entire oeuvre on the quarter chance that I might turn up something that might engage me. Like Charlie Brooker, perhaps I’m just not intelligent enough to grasp the point (if there is one). Oh well – no doubt I’ll get over it.

Opportunity Knocks

This is kinda interesting - courtesy of Shooting People and Jerk Films:

To participate in the "Ed's Dead" writing competition, read the logline below carefully. Write a 5-15 page treatment, and upload it along with your CV, writing sample, signed entry form and cover page. You can submit more than one project, but make sure to sign and upload the entry form for each one.

Competition deadline is January 11, 2008. Winners will be announced February 15, 2008

#1: $3000 in cash and the option for a writing assignment
#2: $1500 in cash
#3: $750 in cash

Here is your logline:

"Ed's Dead"- Only by giving up control over a small life one can gain a great life. A young and highly neurotic man is striving for perfection. In acting out his obsession with details, he fails to enjoy life until the death of his drug dealing elder brother turns his world upside down.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Boring Draft Update

The next draft of my script for METLAB isn’t really a new draft at all – what it is is an iteration.

I tried to follow some initial advice from John Sweeney about the opening scene, but couldn’t make the logistics of it work (you know, who stands where, who’s watching who, who’s looking after the bazooka) – so I’ve spent a lot of time tarting about with a more coherent back story. The general pain in the arse with back story as far as I’m concerned is that very often you don’t get to see it in its entirety on the page – as long as it contributes to the internal logic of the script then I’m happy, but it’s a lot of work for something that essentially remains unseen.

I’ve also had to do some additional research into leylines and standing stones (stop chortling at the back! The appearance of Stonehenge never did Halloween III any harm). And whilst I’m on the subject, here’s Chip’s Top Screenwriting Tip of the Week: DO NOT attempt to do your research as you write (I’m very often flipping between my script and several whacked out sites on leylines). As I gathered a little while back, I have the crappiest working method ever – but at least I’m in good company. No doubt if I relied on an outline a little more, my mental state would be that much calmer, but things would certainly be a lot less entertaining.

I’ve also started to be a little more brutal with some much loved scenes – unless it’s in there for a reason (i.e., to move the story forward), it’s out. Reading through a previous draft, it was quite alarming to see how much exposition I’d somehow managed to shoehorn in, so there’s a job of work there to make this less clunky and/or obvious. And bearing in mind METLAB’s budgetary guidelines, I’m already thinking about how to shave a few quid off here and there – for instance, the Godzilla-esque dinosaur fight scenes have already been dumped (just kidding). I’ve also taken on board some more decent advice from John Sweeney to make two of my central characters a little more larger than life – i.e., a touch more obsessed, mental and vain.

Like I said, it’s an iteration – I dread to think how much more I’d have to do to call it a proper re-draft.

And with that in mind, here’s a Jane Espenson moment: breakfast this morning? Espresso and two Anadin Extra – the only way to start the day!

Monday, 19 November 2007

Guilty Pleasures, Part 2 - Katie & Peter Unleashed

Katie Price is frightening on many different levels. She’s like some idiot savant who’s been given some sort of weird dispensation to ride Boudicca-like over the clapped out old detritus that currently passes for popular British culture. She’s an air-bagged battering ram who says what she likes, when she likes. Whatever you do, don’t get in her way.

I’ve caught this show twice now, and I found myself strangely fixated by it. It’s not car crash television – it’s a whole lot worse than that: it’s like watching juggernauts in a demolition derby. For instance, watching Katie Price ‘interview’ Celebrity Big Brother Racist Danielle Lloyd is an education in itself:

- ‘Are you a racist?’ No, Katie, don’t be daft, of course not! I’m just young and silly! (as well as being the Ku Klux Klan’s latest centrefold)
- ‘Do you have black friends?’ Yes, I have loads of black friends (probably from the same casting agency that Jamie Oliver gets his from), and they’ve all stood by me.

Really, it’s not an interview at all; it’s as if Katie is reading out loud from a multiple choice GSCE paper where the answers are already marked off for you. To make matters worse, during an interview with Gabrielle, Katie launches a hissy tirade aimed at Jamelia (or was it Javine? I can’t remember, I was channel flicking by this point). Gabrielle looked politely horrified – backstage footage showed her looking genuinely relieved she’d escaped the clutches of evil air-bag woman, which is certainly an emotion I can identify with (especially when the end credits started to roll).

Then again, it’s not as Katie actually says or does very much – the arduous task of talking and sitting down at the same time is left to her suspiciously orange-hued Antipodean squeeze, Peter Andre, seemingly the only thing that is able to keep Katie Price’s planet-sized ego in check (then again, by this time next year she will no doubt be promoted to Supreme World Overseer, in which case: Katie, I’m your biggest fan).

On the previous K&P Unleashed, Peter sat on a chair with a swivel seat, which is apparently good for ‘core stability’ – he took the opportunity to lark about like a six year old and pulled some poses which were genuinely funny. Then, he and Katie picked up palette and brush and attempted to paint two nude models, overseen by an ‘art critic’ I’d never heard of (for one delicious moment, I thought Brian Sewell was going to make an appearance, but no such luck). Their paintings were rubbish, but what did you expect? To be honest, I was surprised that Katie didn’t draft in the services of a ‘ghost painter’ – she does the same for her ‘novels’ (god help us all), so why not here?

Whilst I wouldn’t describe Katie & Peter Unleashed as a ‘guilty pleasure’, there is certainly something off-puttingly watchable about the whole thing. They’re like some sort of weird, yin/yang philosophical experiment: Katie, the imbalanced , planet swallowing ego, puncturing pretension and punching heads wherever she goes, versus little orange Peter, his only weapon his almost-effortless charm.

As long as they don’t talk about having sex (whenever they mention it, my stomach flips over on itself, much in the same way it does when Richard Madeley starts talking about his favourite pastime – i.e., it’s not Scrabble), I might even tune in again, who knows? But I doubt it.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Five Dream Adaptations

We are looking at our library to determine which potential franchise properties make the most sense for us to produce, and Death Wish was clearly one that jumped out. MGM chief operating officer Rick Sands

For ‘franchised properties’, read ‘hoary old movies that weren’t any good in the first place’. I guess that recycling branded properties from a bulging portfolio of mostly old toss makes sound economic sense – however, with an absolute plethora of brilliant novels out there, it’s a shame that the height of ambition for a company such as MGM is a remake of Death Wish starring Sylvester Stallone.

On that note, here are five books I’d love to see adapted for the screen:

Foucault’s Pendulum, Umberto Eco: everyone’s seen The Name of The Rose, starring Sean Connery and a pre-smug Christian Slater. Here’s the weighty but playful follow-up. Three book editors employed at a vanity publishers get caught up in a truly wild occult conspiracy (which isn't all it seems). It may well be unfilmable in certain respects, but the sheer breadth of its narrative would make for something far more entertaining and engrossing than flippin’ Death Wish.

The Erasers, Alain Robbe-Grillet – no, not that film featuring old Mr Mahogany Sideboard himself, but the weirdest existentialist detective novel you’ll ever have the pleasure of reading.

Pompey, Jonathan Meades – the prologue ends with the words, After using this book please wash your hands, which just about sums things up. You may know Meades from such TV programmes as Abroad Again, but to my mind his talents as a broadcaster pale into insignificance when compared to what he does as a novelist. This book is written in a syrupy thick type of English parochialism and covers everything from the origin of AIDS to African pygmy hunting. There's also a crazy sojourn in Belgium of all places.

The Observer calls this book a ‘sleaze epic’, and they’re not far wrong.

Cocaine Nights, JG Ballard Empire of the Sun and Crash apart, any JG Ballard novel would seem ripe for a screen adaptation (with the possible exception of The Atrocity Exhibition of course).

Glamorama, Bret Easton Ellis – the trend for adapting Easton Ellis books for the screen is fairly well established (apparently, there’s a screen adaptation of Glamorama in the works but it’s been delayed for a couple of years now). Victor Ward, a vacuous fashionista gets caught up with a psychotic gang of supermodel terrorists, who launch random atrocities across the globe for no discernible reason. Only then do things start to get weird: Victor is followed incessantly by a camera crew, who appear to be filming a partially scripted version of his own life. God only knows what Hollywood is going to do this, but I bet a skipload of money it won’t be any good.

Story, Robert McKee – only kidding!

Plenty more where this little lot came from - what would you like to see adapted for the screen?

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

This Week’s Round of Rejection is Brought to you by the Letter ‘M’.

It’s always good for the soul to get rejections, so I thought I’d run through a few of my most recent failures for your delectation and delight:

Marjacq Scripts: Luke Speed asked for a script a few months back. Well, actually that’s not quite true – one of his assistants did. And from then on, complete silence. I chased Luke recently, and guess what? A deafening silence.

Shall I take that as a ‘no’ then? ;-)

Many Hands Productions: none other than Danny Stack tipped this lot. One beautifully crafted e-mail that adhered to MH's very particular requirements (their 'wants' list read a bit like a kidnap demand), and guess what? More thundering silence.

OK, I’m getting the idea now.

Marchmont Films (aka Bloomsbury Weddings): TonyB kindly supplied this link in which Marchmont want you, yes YOU, to wade through their EU wedding video mountain with a view to editing it down into a 45 minute package that someone’s paid a couple of thousand quid for. However, before you all pile in, bear in mind that you need your own editing equipment and the available funds to pay your own salary (I made that last bit up).

Even so, I’m sorely tempted. Just imagine the fun you could have Fight Club style, editing in screenshots from Marchmont’s website that no-one’s bothered to update since July 2006.

(What is it with companies beginning with the letter ‘M’? I would make a crack here about M standing for monosyllabic, but as these companies can’t muster a three word e-mail between them, I won’t bother).

London Pictures: the only company with the decency to send an e-mail saying, ‘No thanks, not what we’re looking for at the moment.’ And is it any co-incidence that the letter 'L' comes before 'M' in the alphabet? Conspiracy a-hoy (dons tin foil hat) me hearties!

As I’ve written before in previous posts, I seem to have developed some strange script-related abilities:

  1. In general, my query letters always seem to get some sort of positive attention (mostly because, I suspect, I don’t write in crayon).
  2. After I send prodcos and agents a script, they fall silent for months – this makes me worry, as I start to think that they may have been abducted.

Or maybe there’s another explanation: I read The Information by Martin Amis a little while back, where one of the characters – an avant garde novelist – writes books that give readers instant headaches and/or nosebleeds. In turn, perhaps my work sends agents and prodcos into weird deep space Ripley-esque comas.

Pip pip!

Monday, 12 November 2007

WGA Writer's Strike

In today’s Guardian, there’s a fantastic article by Peter Huck on the background to the current writer's strike in the US.

That is all.

Guilty Pleasures, Part 1 - Nigella Express.

Nigella Lawson - phwoar! I mean, er, yes, right, where was I? Oh, I remember – cookery programmes....

I guess I should be spending my hard won ‘leisure time’ watching BBC Event Drama such as Stephen Poliakoff’s Joe’s Palace or Capturing Mary. However, I can’t be bothered (like Charlie Brooker, I really can’t work out if anything I’ve seen written by Stephen Poliakoff is actually any good or not. That said, I haven’t gone out of my way to catch anything by the great man ever since I was subjected to Close My Eyes at the cinema some years ago. Like much of Poliakoff’s oeuvre, it seemed to waft by on a huge cloud made out of National Trust properties, the ambience of Last of the Summer Wine and a big pile of fifty pound notes). What I really want to watch most of the time is something that is going to ease my brain into neutral and bring me to a dead stop.

Enter Nigella Express.

What is it about cookery programmes that I find so relentlessly, pointlessly watchable? Is it the way in which nothing very much ever happens? Is it the weirdly voyeuristic sense that you are somehow intruding upon someone’s (supposed) personal life? Or is there some kind of vicarious pleasure by proxy that is to be gained by watching the famously wealthy entertain their many and varied guests (in Nigella’s case, her bizarrely shrunken father; in Jamie Oliver’s case, blandly good looking actors from Central Casting). At its worst, I suppose it’s aspirational, lifestyle television – at its best, it’s... well, what is it exactly? I’ve never leapt from my lumpy sofa in order to whip up the latest Nigella or Gordon Ramsay recipe and I’m not in the slightest bit interested in how they spend their time or their money, so what’s the draw?

I think in Nigella’s case, it’s simply, well... Nigella herself. I can almost forgive the way she’s shaping her eyebrows these days (memo to all TV celebrities: this practice makes you all look as if you’ve just stepped from the mothership), and the dubious near-pornographic way she has with a foody phrase (hang on, maybe that’s why I like it). She’s just so likeable, which is obviously important in TeeVeeLand for a show like this: to film Nigella in her (fake) kitchen provocatively rubbing a marbled side of ham doesn't cost a huge amount, so the personality fronting it needs to charismatic (or agreeable at the very least).

And I don’t mean to be rude, but isn’t Nigella getting a little, uh, how should I put this? - weighty? It’s probably a lot to do with the little sign-off that most episodes in the new series contain: Nigella sneaks down to the kitchen whilst everyone else is in bed and sticks her face in a great big bowl of leftover tiramisu/ice cream/Monster Munch. She’s certainly looking a lot bonnier these days as a result. Bless.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Full Metal Jacket – Structure-A-Go-Go

This post contains spoilers for Full Metal Jacket and Hidden.

I’ve always loved Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, so when I had to choose a subject for my MA 'effort' a few years back, it was a pretty straightforward choice. My title? The Use of Visual and Narrative Symmetry in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. Catchy, eh? (OK, probably not). Rather than reproduce the whole thing here (and believe me, if you read it you would thank me a million times over), I thought I’d go over a few of its points just for the sheer fun of it...

First off, there is an excellent Kubrick resource here – it doesn’t look as if the site has been updated since 2002, but as far as on-line resources go, you can’t beat it. However, the one thing it doesn’t seem to cover in its discussion regarding FMJ is just how completely obsessed with structure this movie is – not just in the screenwriting sense of the word (where 'structure' usually means three acts, i.e., set up, conflict and resolution), but in its visual and narrative constructs as well.

I don't think it matters whether you regard FMJ as possessing two acts or the more traditional three, it is immediately apparent that the film is split into two very distinct halves – the Parris Island boot camp and the second part which takes place in Vietnam itself (which in fact is an abandoned gasworks in North London). Other than the apparent switch in location, the two halves of the film have very distinct visual identities: the Parris Island segment is ‘clean’, symmetrical, ordered. In the Da Nang segment, this symmetry has all but disappeared. The tension of the first act has almost completely dissipated and the film almost appears to drift, as if it is in search of a suitably involved narrative.

Some critics identified this as a major flaw of FMJ, but I think this is the whole point of the film. The Parris Island segment is structured around the figure of Sergeant Hartman, who stalks the boot camp within a variety of almost perfectly symmetrical shots. When Pyle kills Hartman, this pivotal figure is removed from proceedings altogether, and the ambience of the film drastically changes. To my mind, Hartman is the structural ‘core’ of the first part of the film, inasmuch as his words and actions provide meaning and organisation to what the recruits are experiencing. With Hartman dead, meaning and order evaporate, leaving the recruits to fend for themselves – hence the decidedly marked visual differences between the two halves.

There was a Kubrick interview in Newsweek around the time of FMJ’s release in which Kubrick stated that his intention with FMJ was “to explode the narrative structure of film”. Kubrick did this in FMJ by using structure to literally break up the narrative to the extent that the traditional notion of character is subsumed by structure itself. For example, the parade ground sequences demonstrate the rigid structure that the Marine Corps imposes on new recruits. Watch Pyle as Joker assists him in many aspects of Pyle’s basic training – initially, Pyle doesn’t get the hang of things at all. These sequences are shot from right to left, and show Pyle effectively going backwards. When Pyle starts doing better and responding to Joker's attentions, the sequences shift to left to right. In the first half of the film, character is expressed partially via the way that entire sequences are constructed. It’s probably the reason why FMJ has such a weird, unsettling ambience – the more formal elements of filmmaking have been brought to the fore, whilst the more traditional staples of narrative and character development are stripped back, leaving a film that is almost the diametric opposite of Platoon’s trite ‘war is hell’ message.

One of the most useful things I took from FMJ is that by suppressing or entirely doing away with the more commonly articulated elements of narrative, you can create space for interesting questions to be asked – a potentially far more intriguing state of affairs than the current obsession with McKee’s Story. Look at Michael Haneke’s Hidden – where a character’s ‘arc’ often describes a journey from non-awareness to enlightenment, Hidden does the opposite – a supposedly progressive liberal discovers that at the core of his being lurks an unpleasant, reactionary conservative – Georges’ ultimate reaction to where his ‘journey’ takes him is that he is more than comfortable with the way things are, a state of affairs that threatens to endure with the film’s famously cryptic and interminable closing shot.

All of which is very long winded way of saying that there can often be more to structure than meets the eye. The problem with discarding major narrative building blocks is that you’d better have something pretty compelling to put in their place, otherwise your script will look like an exercise in form for form’s sake – something that Last Year in Marienbad comes dangerously close to becoming. Alain Robbe-Grillet talks about his intention with Marienbad to "construct a purely mental space and time – those of dreams, perhaps, or of memory, those of any affective life – without worrying too much about the traditional relations of cause and effect, or about an absolute time sequence in the narrative." It all depends on the sort of script you want to write, and the types of themes that you want to explore.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Metlab Update, Part 3

OK, so the Red Planet results are in, and I didn’t get through to the second round. Hey ho, no great shakes.

However, as if to balance up this obvious karmic injustice, the man from Metlab has just said yes!

Well, not exactly ‘the man’ himself, but his warped yet strangely loveable sidekick, Lucy Vee.

Things kick off in January, which means one of two things:

i) Based on the notes I took in the meeting with John on 1st November, I crank out a third draft of the script that’s been selected for the patented METLAB hack ‘n’ slash, or

ii) I rely on the robust yet slightly pedestrian second draft.

Bit of a no-brainer isn’t it?

Third draft here we come.

I’ve absolutely no idea how many people applied for METLAB, but apparently I’m one of four, which is nice.

Incidentally, the last time I got selected for something like this was a few years back when Lighthouse ran a little critique course for writers. I was one of twelve in the group, and of course was all hugely excited over it. In an idle moment, I asked one of the Lighthouse bods how many people had applied: was it a lot? She looked at me as if I had just escaped from secure accommodation, and said, ‘Twelve’.

Hey ho!

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Random, Shorter

I've decided to take a leaf out of Scott the Reader's book and attempt at least a page of constructive screenwriting every day (I don't count this as writing at all - like English Dave, relaxation for me is pounding out blogwords). So, I've set myself a target of two months to get a third draft of a script ready (for reasons that will become apparent over the weekend).

Problem is, I'm not the sort of writer who can knock out a draft in a week. I have a tendency to outline as I write, which often means I have to go back and re-write what I wrote the previous day. It wasn't until I did Leanne's twenty questions recently that I fully realised what a nightmare my working method is. In fact, I don't think I have a working method at all.

The following tells its own story I think:

4/11/07 (start of re-draft) - 2 pages written

5/11/07 - 2 pages written

6/11/07 – written notes and back story development/re-jig, which means a re-write of the 4 pages from previous 2 days, plus 2 pages written.

And so on until my brain implodes...

Most of the time I stare sightlessly at the computer screen thinking that what I'm writing is a load of old flap (and cursing my lack of method), but I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in that one.

The other disturbing discovery I made today is that I’m not as tall as I thought I was. For some reason, I’ve been labouring under the misapprehension that I’m six feet tall. My height was measured today, and it turns out that I’m only 5’ 11”! I must’ve have passed through a cloud of radioactive dust or something.

Right – I’m off to find that extra inch...

Sunday, 4 November 2007

In The Meme Time

I got tagged by Lucy with this meme thing that requires “participants to list five things about themselves that others may consider lame, but the writer is secretly proud of.” Wow. As far as I can tell, I am under some kind of legal obligation to respond.

1. I cannot stand the theatre.

Sorry, I just can’t help it. Perhaps it’s to do with the fact that I once went out with a girl who was on the Stage Management course at CSSD and had to sit through countless performances of drama students messily emoting all over the place. It’s not as if I don’t like actors: it’s just that when I get into a theatre and someone starts pretending to be someone else, I always want to be somewhere else (I’ve also got a problem with opera as well).

2. I spent seven years at Art College doing very little.

And loved every minute of it, so hey: sue me. That said, I did a helluva lot of reading (not a lot of it related to my courses) and hung out with some of the most dysfunctional people on the face on the planet: not really something to be proud of, but an achievement nevertheless.

3. I am a complete musical snob.

By which I mean that I look down my nose at everyone else’s musical taste but my own and sneer in a most impolite fashion. But what’s this? One of my favourite records is When The World Knows Your Name by Deacon Blue. To my eternal shame/pride (I’m still wrestling with that all important question) there’s just something about this record that I love but can’t put my finger on.

4. Call That Rejection?

Lucy stated that she has been rejected by all the major literary agents at least once. I can go one better than that, inasmuch as I have been rejected by a wide variety of both major and minor literary agents. At one point, I was being ‘considered’ by three agents at the same time (PFD, Jonathan Clowes and Guy Rose), but they obviously all decided to speak to one another on the subject as their final rejection letters all arrived within a week of each other.

5. Halloween III is one of the best films ever made

A large Halloween mask-making company has plans to kill millions of American children with something sinister hidden in Halloween masks.

There is something so gloriously unhinged/demented about this film that it’s possible to forgive the creaky direction and a narrative that is complete hokum. Oh, and the ending is the best ending for any film (horror or otherwise) anywhere. Why Nigel Kneale ever wanted his name removed from the credits is a complete mystery to me.

By the way, if you dispute the fact that Halloween III is anything other than great, I will challenge you to a fight to prove my point.

I could go on to discuss the fact that I consider Jordan and Peter Unleashed to be hugely entertaining television, but I'm not prepared to reveal the true extent of my lameness just yet...

Right: get going Oli, Jon, Robin and Leanne... oh, Jon’s done one already. Blimey, you gotta be quick round here...

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Metlab Update, Part 2

I met John Sweeney from METLAB on Thursday afternoon at London Metropolitan University. The best way to describe John I think is ‘irrepressible’. His enthusiasm is hugely infectious, and besides – how can you possibly dislike someone who greets you with the line: ‘The only problem with Universities is that they’re full of students!’

If you haven’t heard of METLAB click here – suffice to say, as a ‘scheme’, it sounds massively exciting. John takes on the role of ‘studio head’ (“Like Harvey Weinstein,” he said, “but with ten times the ego!”) and with the assistance of various script editors (of whom Lucy is one), attempts to hone and polish (or in my case hack, slash and decapitate) your script until it resembles something that can be successfully marketed. The whole process takes about nine months, with a meeting once a month – a little like a truncated MA course, but with the emphasis very much placed on having a finished ‘product’.

A couple of days before the meeting I finally managed to get my script over to John in a format he could actually access – and he liked it. Even so, he spent some time riffing on a possible opening scene which was about ten times better than the one I have in there currently (John: “I’ll take a credit for that!”). This to my mind is the essence of METLAB: if you’re precious at all about your writing, this isn’t the place for you. As John said, if you can justify it, fine: if not, out it goes. If I get on, it looks like being an interesting and informative nine months...

Oh, and John signed my book as well...

Anyway, I’m on the shortlist, so more news as it drops into my inbox.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Stolen Memes

Saw this questionnaire on Lianne’s the other day and it’s being co-opted all the place, so I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring as well. Interestingly enough, all it does is prove what I’ve thought about my writing for a while now, insofar as it’s worryingly random. Time to get back on the medication.

1. Do you outline?

Sometimes, sometimes not. I’ve written scripts with no outline whatsoever, and they usually fizzle out after about 70 pages. Then again, I’ve written from very tightly constructed outlines but get bored very easily. My ideal scenario is to operate in a kind of hinterland between the two – a very loose outline which gives me the opportunity to surprise myself, to let things go off on a wild tangent if they need to. This can be a very high risk strategy, but that’s half the fun of writing I think (I think Charlie Kauffman writes without reference to an outline at all, so if it’s good enough for him...)

2. Do you write straight through, or do you sometimes tackle the scenes out of order?

I try and write straight through, but it never quite works out like that. What I tend to find is that the longer the script gets, the more I go back to tinker with previous scenes. This means that a first draft can often take anywhere up to six months to write, which can be an utter pain in the arse.

3. Do you prefer writing with a pen or using a computer?

Both. I scribble notes in a notebook and often transcribe these directly to trusty old Word.

4. Do you listen to music while you write?

The only music I can listen to when I write is ambient (Eno, Biosphere, Sylvian). My attention span is rubbish at the best of times, so the fewer distractions I have the better.

5. How do you come up with the perfect names for your characters?

I often flick through a book that I am reading, or scan bookshelves until something hits the spot. Sometimes character names come from work colleagues or ex-girlfriends.

6. Have you ever had a character insist on doing something you really didn’t want him/her to do?

All the time – my characters suffer from what is commonly known as ‘Screenwriter Tourettes’. They're a rowdy bunch at the best of times.

7. Do you know how a script is going to end when you start it?

More often than not, no. Or I have a very specific ending in mind that, come the end of the script, has been entirely ditched in favour of something else. As I might’ve mentioned above, it all gets a bit random very quickly round here.

8. Where do you write?

At home, on holiday: wherever. I can’t remember where I heard it, but a piece of advice I try and adhere to is to write the final scenes of your script in an unfamiliar environment. Sounds daft, but it works for me.

9. What do you do when you get writer’s block?

Surf the net endlessly and pointlessly, read a lot, update the blog, go to the gym, eat, go the cinema, walk the dog: anything.

10. What size increments do you write in (either in terms of word count, or as a percentage of the script as a whole)?

Sometimes it can be as little as half a page a day – other times I can crack on and get ten pages done, sometimes I’ll ‘polish’ obsessively for hours.

11. How many different drafts did you write for your last project?


12. Have you ever changed a character’s name midway through a draft?

Yes. Good old CTRL+F – solves a lot of problems.

13. Do you let anyone read your script while you’re working on it, or do you wait until you’ve completed a draft before letting someone else see it?

I always try and complete a draft before letting anyone see it.

14. What do you do to celebrate when you finish a draft?

The last ‘draft celebration’ I threw got me into a fight and almost got a friend of mine arrested – so I’m trying to give them up before something truly bad happens.

15. One project at a time, or multiple projects at once?

One project at a time (for god’s sake, I’m a bloke – we don’t multi-task!)

16. Do your scripts grow or shrink in revision?

They shrink to such an extent that I have to improvise wildly. In fact, the more I cut back, the more inventive it forces me to be. Some of my best writing has come from this often desperate hack and slash process.

17. Do you have any writing or critique partners?

I have a couple of trusted confidantes who usually kick me in the teeth when I’m least expecting it, but I love them for it really.

18. Do you prefer drafting or revising?

Revising. Once the basic building blocks are there, I love nothing more than taking a huge machete to the sheer awfulness that often comprises my first draft.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Halloween Hangover

Spoilers Ahead for The Frighteners and The Number 23.

The bad ‘films’ just keep on a-flowing...

The Frighteners: directed by Peter Jackson. Why have I never tracked this film down before now I asked myself, plumping up my lumpy sofa in readiness. After watching it, it all becomes too apparent. What an absolute bloody mess.

The central premise is brilliant – a psychic investigator scratches exorcising haunted houses. However, all is not what it seems: he’s in cahoots with a league of spooks doing the hauntings. But from that point on, it’s a downhill slalom all the way. The narrative lurches from one wild incoherency to the next in the space of three milliseconds. Logic is taken outside and given a good hiding. Everyone involved acts as if they are in the midst of some manic Chuck Jones cartoon, but I guess that’s just Peter Jackson’s ‘style’ (if you can call it that).

I am a firm believer (along with Stewart Home) that some things do not bear much critical attention – The Frighteners is one of them.

The Number 23: directed by Joel Schumacher (run for your lives!).

For some inexplicable reason, I was looking forward to this: don’t ask me why – perhaps someone slipped some hallucinogens into my sambuca (either that or I may be setting my expectations a little too high).

There are enough ideas here to fuel at least half dozen bad-to-middling straight-to-video films – however, combining these into one package does not make for a good movie. Jim Carrey (the comedy antichrist until Adam Sandler beamed down) plays Walter Sparrow, a man who becomes obsessed with the number 23 after his wife picks up a book, imaginatively titled The Number 23). The book’s narrative seems to uncannily mirror Sparrow’s own life. Hmmm – I’m intrigued.

What I should have done at this point was to pour the rest of my sambuca into the DVD player.

Sparrow starts to read from the book and off we’re off on an unintentionally hilarious parallel narrative that threatens to last forever. In order to prove that we’re in ‘adult’ territory, Jim gets to indulge in some massively comical sex scenes (which are about as erotic as a Haynes manual), which have obviously been filmed by a thirteen year old boy who thinks he knows what adult entertainment looks like (here’s a clue, Joel: it doesn’t look anything like The Number 23).

Think of something bad that screenwriters do, and it’s here in droves. Voiceover? A veritable landfill of it. Flashbacks? Saints preserve us. Co-incidence? A great big, fucking lazy one. What we have here ladies and gentlemen, is a Chip Smith patented Planks of Bullshit movie! Given that the script seems to have spent about twelve minutes in development, I’m not surprised.

I won’t insult your intelligence by revealing what the big surprise twist is – suffice to say the whole thing was another two hours of my life that I’m not going to get back (is there someone you can sue for this sort of thing?).


Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Happy Halloween, Kids!

If you head over to Oli’s, the whole site has gone Halloween loopy in a completely professional style. Unfortunately all I can offer is a dog in a hat...

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Metlab Update

Those terribly nice folks at Metlab (well, John Sweeney to be precise) have requested the full script on the back of the synopsis I sent in a little while back – which is nice. Plus a ‘meet and greet’ next Thursday: which will be hopefully be enlightening and entertaining.

I sincerely hope it’s not an interview type situation as I tend to come across as either one of the following:

a) a highly enthusiastic version of my usual pessimistic self (I tend to switch to this default for all job interviews), or

b) a tongue tied inbred with a medication problem.

I suspect it will be a combination of the two!