Friday, 14 August 2009

525,600 minutes of mantra-filled oompah


Well, inspired by Jez Friedman I just happened to glance earlier today at when I published my first post - and guess what?! It was a year ago to the day. So, I thought I'd better take a few moments off packing for a week's trip to the Edinburgh fringe to mark the occasion.

This time last year I'd just finished my MA at Bournemouth, and I have to admit that I haven't made quite as much progress with my screenwriting career as I would have wished. I took redundancy last August, so I've been establishing myself as a freelance writer and editor since, which has meant occasionally taking on too much work to allow for adequate screenwriting activity.

However, despite not promoting myself a great deal, I have been working on a couple of chunky projects that are quite a way ahead of anything I did before my MA (pilot script for drama series and new feature-length script), so there should be promising fruit from those particular shrubs within the next few months. I'm also waiting to hear back from a couple of agents who requested my main MA script after I sent out a few query letters.

I also (finally) picked up a copy of Adrian Mead's book How to Make it as a Screenwriter * this week, and was pleased to find that I'm already on the right road with some of the strategies he suggests for getting up that slippery ladder.

When we get back from Edinburgh I'm going to start knitting things together into a cohesive approach - including revisiting the stuff I wrote before doing my MA. I'd pretty much written it off, but some of it got quite a good reception, so hopefully I'll be able to attach the jump leads to its pink bits and give it a new lease of life.

So, that's Year One out of the way. I guess that trying to maintain the blog occasionally ate up time that could have been better used on more directly writing-related activity, but it's also encouraged me to try and form critical opinions more quickly about stuff I've seen.

Thanks to anyone who's commented or emailed over the past 12 months. My Year Two resolution - not to sound like such a tedious old stoat in my blog posts.

* If you haven't already bought and downloaded Adrian's book, you really should. It's a detailed and direct guide to what you need to know and what you need to have assembled in order to make a push at establishing yourself as a professional screenwriter. The testimonials on the page speak for themselves, but if you need any further convincing, the proceeds go to ChildLine.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Budd Schulberg RIP


Yikes, now poor old Budd Schulberg has gone too, at the age of 95.
Mr Schulberg, the son of a movie executive born in New York, rose to fame in the 40’s and 50’s with a succession of award-winning books and screenplays, most notably his novels “What Makes Sammy Run” (1941) and “The Harder They Fall” (1947), and the film “A Face in the Crowd” (1957).

But it was “On the Waterfront” that Mr. Schulberg was best known for. The film, starring a young Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint, nearly swept the 1954 Academy Awards, earning eight Oscars, including one for Best Picture and another for Best Actor, which went to Mr. Brando. (NY Times)
Links:
Lengthy LA Times obituary
Creative Screenwriting: On the Waterfront Q&A (mp3)
On the Waterfront (Daily Script)

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Blake Snyder RIP

Screenwriter and writing teacher Blake Snyder died yesterday after a sudden cardiac arrest. He was 57.

Like a lot of screenwriters, I've got a copy of Save the Cat on my shelf. I'm normally wary of structure gurus who say what you should be writing at any particular point of your script, but I gained a lot from his guidance on giving your idea a strong logline and emphasis on being able to explain clearly 'What it is'. His writing also gave off a real air of enthusiasm, encouragement and empowerment.

Condolences to his family and friends.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Single-Handed, ITV1

I haven't posted for a while because I wanted my 100th post to be a reflective State of the Tom Nation address, 12 months after completing my MA.

Anyway, that plan has now gone out the window, and here's a review of Single-Handed that I wrote for Orange.

Focusing more specifically on the writing, Barry Simner's script was an excellent whodunnit. He rolled out a number of credible suspects who all belonged in the story, without any flashing arrows or clumsy giveaways.

Then, having led us down one path, he skillfully and logically guided us into a more complex story altogether (although the segue into the 'back story' was a bit deus ex machina).

And while I thought the final terrible situation in which Driscoll found himself was a bit contrived, the emotional wallop of the drama and the suffocating lack of a way out for him justified it.

Links:
Interview in the Daily Telegraph
ITV press pack (Word doc)

Single-Handed is a Sunday night series about a young copper in a rural area. Think you've seen that one before? OK, but this one's set in Ireland, so surely we can expect charming rogues and a bit of after-hours diddley-diddley-dee by the pub's open fire?

Not so much. When you discover that it's produced by the same team that created the award-winning gritfest The Vice, you begin to get more of an idea of where this series of three self-contained feature-length episodes is really coming from.

'Natural Justice', the grim but gripping first episode, introduces Jack Driscoll (Owen McDonnell), a sergeant with the Irish police – the Gardai – who has returned to the remote area where he grew up after a period in Dublin. Isolated from his colleagues and back-up, he has to rely on his own judgement and resources to get the job done.

After a young Eastern European woman was found dead in an isolated caravan, it didn't take long for Driscoll's investigations to come up against a conspiracy of silence. (By the way, the actress who briefly played the unfortunate corpse shares a famous name, prompting The Guardian's listings to promise "a guest appearance by Martina Navratilova".)

Anyway, from what looked like an accidental death, things soon took on a more sinister atmosphere. Driscoll stumbled into a web of corruption that seemed to enmesh the whole community and had his father – and predecessor as local copper – at its heart. As he dug deeper, Jack uncovered dark deeds from the past and roused the opposition of powerful forces.

The programme was dominated by the stunning scenery of the remote Connemara region of County Galway, but the local tourist board are unlikely to use any of these shots in their next advertising campaign. While magnificent, the landscape is oppressive and unforgiving, matching the tone of the programme and highlighting the isolation of the small local community.

Single-Handed moves slowly and doesn't make for easy viewing, but the first episode rolled out its secrets in a masterly way, leading to a series of terrible discoveries and an impossible position for Driscoll. This is compelling stuff that puts aside the clich├ęs to present a bleak but convincing picture of Irish rural life.