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?).