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.