Thursday, 2 December 2010
It's a gallery of the blueprints for the Eiffel Tower, and what it said to me was that even the most daunting and challenging project can be broken down into a finite number of individual components. They don't just appear overnight; they come together through a combination of creativity, engineering, craft and patience.
So if you're feeling daunted by the huge entirety of a screenplay, novel or any other creative endeavour, keep in mind the micro viewpoint as well as the macro 'big picture'. If you plan thoroughly, engineer the pieces precisely and put them together with care, you can end up with something astonishing.
[This blog post was brought to you by the Ministry of Laboured Metaphors]
Thursday, 26 August 2010
Tuesday, 17 August 2010
Sunday, 15 August 2010
Friday, 13 August 2010
Wednesday, 11 August 2010
Ah, you never forget your first Moorcock...
Monday, 9 August 2010
Plus, I guarantee that you'll tell the 'roast beef/pea soup' gag before the end of the day.
Saturday, 7 August 2010
Wednesday, 4 August 2010
Tuesday, 3 August 2010
(At the time of writing, tickets were still available for all of these except The Lodger, which is a members' event - although it might be worth giving them a ring).
Wednesday, 28 July 2010
Monday, 26 July 2010
As I say below, I found it bold and enjoyable but thought the plot didn't offer much to chew on. I don't know A Study in Scarlet, so maybe it was just remaining close to its source.
I really appreciated the way they disguised Phil Davis's appearance, though - instead of waiting for him to make his entrance, it was a very nice surprise when he turned up.
Friday, 16 July 2010
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
Monday, 12 July 2010
Friday, 9 July 2010
Wednesday, 7 July 2010
"They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don't want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail."
Monday, 5 July 2010
Friday, 2 July 2010
The one you make when you're rewriting a feature-length script and in a trivial bit of scene description on page 86, your main character unexpectedly finds himself with something in his hand that changes everything.
It raises the stakes, strengthens his motivation and provides a poignant bit of dramatic irony that fits perfectly. It also means you're going to have to go back to page one and retrofit the whole script.
So you emit a cross between the hoot of an excited chimp and the groan of an England fan who's just seen the Germans sashay leisurely through the John Terry-shaped hole in the team's defence.
Yeah. That noise.
Thursday, 1 July 2010
Tuesday, 29 June 2010
Saturday, 26 June 2010
Friday, 25 June 2010
Something I've been thinking about for a while is how looking at the work of film editors might offer a new perspective on writing.
When an editor sits down to piece together a cut, he or she has dozens – maybe hundreds – of hours of footage to choose from: a mass of material they have to shape into a coherent whole.
When we sit down to start writing, we face an even more intimidating range of possibilities. We've maybe got an idea of who our characters are and roughly where we want them to go, but we've then got an almost infinite range of possibilities for how we're going to organise and present our story.
Thursday, 24 June 2010
Sky Arts 1, Thu 24 June, 11.15pm
Monday, 21 June 2010
Thursday, 17 June 2010
Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Thursday, 10 June 2010
Tuesday, 8 June 2010
(Here's a heartbreaking piece that Frank Deasy wrote for The Guardian a few days before he died.)
Friday, 4 June 2010
here (and that isn't me in the pic), but things turned out reasonably OK in the end; more through luck than judgement, we managed to get on the first JAL flight back to Heathrow.
However, while we were away I had a couple of bruising body-blows (writing-wise). Firstly, Foot Soldiers, my application for the Academy Pictures initiative – on which I'd worked very hard, in collaboration with an award-winning director – didn't even make the shortlist.
Then I got some brutal (but precise and helpful) feedback on another script I'd submitted to a US competition. It wasn't terminal, and it highlighted that the script had "great ideas and terrific potential", but it also indicated that I pretty much need to go back to page one and start again to realise those.
Anyway, all of these factors combined to give me The Fear. Not really writer's block as such, but a paralysing sense of inertia and stagnation – a realisation of how much work I still had to do on my various projects.
Picking up a pen to start the work seemed so daunting that I let it slip, and days soon became weeks. Even the fact that an agent who liked a previous script is waiting to see a draft of Foot Soldiers seemed to add to the pressure rather than giving me the espresso enema I needed.
Fortunately, I've been given a bit of a boost this week; Foot Soldiers has been shortlisted in the Euroscript Screen Story Competition, and a producer to whom I sent another script has asked me to come in for a more general meeting. And the weather's been nice!
So, I took the opportunity last night to get down to Penge's most charming beer
The lesson? I guess you shouldn't underestimate the importance of momentum in your writing regime. Even if you're just doing a little bit every day, it means that your subconscious is constantly turning it over in a cool, dark part of your noddle, waiting for you to come and see what it's done.
Monday, 24 May 2010
Wednesday, 19 May 2010
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Last night we headed to the BFI for the first time this year, for a preview of 44 Inch Chest - a new British film written by Louis Mellis and David Scinto (Sexy Beast) and starring Ray Winstone, alongside a top drawer cast: Tom Wilkinson, John Hurt, Ian McShane, Stephen Dillane and Joanne Whalley.
The plot sounds simple (and geezerish) enough: Colin Diamond (Winstone) is a gruff car salesman whose world falls apart when his wife Liz (Whalley) announces that she's leaving him for a younger man. Urged on by his grizzly gang of mates, he kidnaps 'Loverboy' (Melvin Poupaud) and takes him to a derelict house. With his friends insisting that Loverboy has to die for what he's done, Col has a long dark night of the soul as he decides what to do
Although the trailer would have you think it's a bit of a laddish gangland romp, the film is actually much richer and stranger than that. Mostly confined to a single room, the plot is minimal: Colin has to decide whether or not to kill Loverboy.
However, through a combination of flashback, hallucination and a typically committed performance from Ray Winstone, the film goes into Colin's mind to vividly depict the psychic disintegration that he suffers after Liz drops her bombshell.
The script - and, by extension, the film - are more about texture than plot. The profane banter that flies around between the blokes has a rich musical rhythm, especially when delivered by such a talented cast, even if some of the anecdotes and exchanges seem a bit tangental. When Colin's mates are berating the unlucky Loverboy, it feels a lot like Pinter's The Birthday Party, when the gangsters interrogate Stanley.
The film is billed as a provocative look at masculinity, but I didn't see much in the characters that relates to my life. In the Q&A afterwards, Ray Winstone said that he saw it very much as a love story; like Othello, the broken Col maintains that his biggest fault was that he loved Liz too much (although that doesn't prevent him from giving her a brutal beating when she attempts to leave).
It's an interesting film, full of captivating performances and shot with a real photographer's eye by director Malcolm Venville (making his feature debut) and cinematographer Daniel Landin. However, it might fall between two stools commercially. If an audience turns up expecting a Lock, Stock-style geezercom, they might be alienated by the intimate nature of the film and find its conclusion a bit anti-climactic.
Along with Ray Winstone, the Q&A afterwards was attended also attended by John Hurt and co-writer David Scinto. It'll turn up on BFI Live soon enough, so I won't go through it blow by blow.
The most interesting thing from a screenwriting perspective was David Scinto's statement that they focus on characters when they write, so they can attract top-class actors who really want to get their teeth into the material. Then, once the acting talent has shown an interest, the film becomes a much easier sell to financiers and producers.
Looking at the casts they attracted to Sexy Beast and 44 Inch Chest, you'd have to say it's a strategy that's paid off.
Friday, 26 March 2010
Tuesday, 23 March 2010
On Sunday March 28th we are running a special Script To Screen event at the Odeon, Panton Street, with BAFTA nominated writer/director Eran Creevy and his film ‘Shifty’.
First we send you the shooting script which, if you read, will give you a real insight into how stories evolve on set (under the pressure of production, the interpretation of actors etc.) Then we present the movie on 35mm on March 28th which you can attend, after which we stay in the Odeon for an indepth film makers Q and A with Eran. Finally we retire to the pub across the road for a lovely and relaxing networking end to the day. All for £20!
Friday, 19 March 2010
- Directors Notes: A conversation with Jack Thorne
- BBC Film Network: Tom Harper interview
- The Guardian: Film Weekly podcast
The Scouting Book for Boys is the debut feature from director Tom Harper, from a script by Jack Thorne – a playwright who's also written for Shameless and – more extensively – Skins.
It's set around a caravan park on the Norfolk coast, where teenagers David (Thomas Turgoose) and Emily (Holliday Grainger) are inseparable best friends; they live permanently on the site, where their parents work. However, their carefree lifestyle comes to a halt when Emily disappears, shortly after being told that she'll have to go and live with her absentee dad.
It'd be criminal to give away too much of what happens next, but things get progressively darker, culminating in a devastating conclusion. However, the storytelling is sparse and subtle throughout, meaning that when a fairly nasty moment came along, it provoked a audible response from just about everyone in the cinema.
In screenwriting terms, the characterisation of the hesitant and slightly dim David and the much more precocious Emily is brilliantly laid out, helped by compelling performances from the two leads - especially Thomas Turgoose, whose expressive face and body language articulate what his tongue-tied character can't.
The film is also beautifully shot. The optimistic early part of the film is bathed in glorious golden sunlight, while the later scenes are marked by a much bleaker atmosphere - a great example of using mise-en-scene to reflect characters' psychological states.
I read somewhere that it's going to be released in the UK next spring, but you can probably catch details of further preview screenings via the film's twitter feed - @SB4B.
There was a short Q&A after the screening. Jack Thorne said the idea came about when he read that Robbie Williams' dad used to be an entertainer at a caravan park. He used to go on family holidays to caravan parks and had often wondered about the people who lived there permanently.
The script spent about seven years in gestation, but he really started to develop it under a mentoring scheme by Celador Films. His first draft led to Tom Harper and Film4 becoming involved, but then a second draft went badly wrong and the project went backwards.
However, after Jack was told by the producer to go away and write whatever he wanted, the script popped up in second place on the inaugural Brit List (an industry survey of hot unproduced screenplays) - behind The Men Who Stare at Goats. That generated more interest and led to another draft.
Tom Harper added that he'd previously read a couple of Jack's scripts and was keen to work with him. It was a coincidence that the Scouting Book script ended up in his hands, but he loved it when he read it and the project moved on from there.
There was also a brief discussion of the portrayal of adults in the film. Tom Parker said that the script is mostly from David's point of view, so he wanted to represent that in a heightened reality on screen - something worth thinking about when you're considering the POV you want to present in your own scripts.
The adults seem on a slightly different plane to David and Emily; they're a bit crap and peripheral, so the teens have to occupy themselves and make their own fun. So, the world originally seems idyllic through David's eyes, until things start to go wrong (reflected in the change of tone noted above) .
The cast paid tribute to the precision and timing of Jack's script, but the writer himself admitted that the story changed quite a bit in the edit. His original ending came earlier than the conclusion seen in the film and was more ambiguous, but didn't feel right on screen.
LFF blurb, including pics and trailer
Video interview with Tom Harper (Cineuropa)
Tom Harper's filming diary (Film4)
Old-ish interview with Jack Thorne (BBC writersroom)
Thursday, 18 March 2010
Saturday, 20 February 2010
The effort required to implement a new idea in your script is inversely proportionate to how simple it seemed when you first jotted it down
Wednesday, 17 February 2010
I graduated with an MA Screenwriting (Merit) from Bournemouth in 2008, and I'd like to hook up with a producer and/or director to apply for the Academy Pictures development initiative for Bournemouth students and alumni.
I'm currently tweaking the first draft of a feature-length script that I think would fit the criteria of the initiative. Please get in touch if you're interested in collaborating on an application (and hopefully a rewarding partnership beyond that). The deadline for submissions is March 8th.
NB - As specified by the guidelines, this initiative "is aimed exclusively at Arts University College Bournemouth, Bournemouth University and Bournemouth partner college undergraduate, post-graduate and alumni filmmakers. If you’re at Bournemouth, or you went to Bournemouth, you are eligible."
PLEASE don't contact me at the moment if you don't meet one of those criteria.
Tuesday, 2 February 2010
Vampires! Aren't they great?! They're so sexy, aren't they? And doomed and romantic and passionate! And it's like a really good metaphor for, er, something…
The series was co-created by Kevin Williamson, who was behind the Scream films and Dawson's Creek, so you know what to expect. However, even with blood-thirsty hunks on the loose it still doesn't feel that dangerous: it doesn't have quite as much bite as Gossip Girl, for instance. Still, vampire fans who haven't had their fill of high-school shenanigans will probably lap it up.
Monday, 1 February 2010
From a more writerly point-of-view, I thought that screenwriter Neil McKay did a good job of combining the private and public aspects of Mo Mowlam's later life. The film moved beyond regular biopic material with thought-provoking stuff like the suggestion that she could have had her brain tumour for years before it was diagnosed. As a result, all the things that set Mo apart from other politicians - her lack of inhibition, straight-talking etc - could have been symptoms of the disease rather than her own characteristics.
Although Julie Walters is obviously a brilliant actress, I was a bit worried by the casting in the first few minutes, as it seemed hard to look beyond the actress to the character beneath. The opening ten minutes also had more pat-the-dog moments than last year's Crufts, as it was made clear to us that the lusty, pint-swigging, approachable and committed public servant wasn't like other MPs. That made it look a bit like it was going to be a hagiography, but the tone soon became much more complex.
I'm not an expert on the subject, but McKay seemed to steer an efficient way through the complications of the Northern Ireland peace process in which Mo played such a large part (although there appeared to be quite a bit of info-dumping, followed by Mo sighing in exasperation, "Do you think I don't know that?")
More than anything, though, I think McKay's script showed that research is the key to an drama that goes beyond the obvious and makes us see the subject in a new light. He clearly conducted extensive interviews with those close to Mo, and seeing her life from every angle offered him a greater number of choices and the ability to draw links between the various aspects of Mo's life. Even if you're not writing a biopic, doing thorough research on your arena or the subject you want to examine will give you all the ammunition you need.
Link: Interview with Julie Walters, Neil McKay and director Philip Martin (found by tireless blogger and screenwriter's friend Robin Kelly)
Anyway, here's the Orange review:
Mo Mowlam was that rarest of things: a politician who people trusted – and even liked. This engaging but ultimately harrowing film, starring national treasure Julie Walters, soon painted a vivid picture of the Mo we thought we knew: earthy, unpretentious, committed and with a gift for puncturing pomposity.
The film started in the run-up to the historic 1997 election, when Mo was suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumour. The prognosis: two to three years. However, despite her concerns over her political future, the news of her illness cemented her as a public hero – “the people's politician” – in sharp contrast to the slimy Peter Mandelson (Steven Mackintosh), who kept turning up like a bad smell throughout the film.
After the election victory came the main part of Mo's story, as she was given the seemingly poisoned chalice of the Northern Ireland job. The film combined the personal and political aspects of her life, as her unorthodox political style broke down long-standing barriers. However, as the peace process reached its climax, Tony Blair began to take over, snaffling much of the glory for the historic Good Friday Agreement. Her authority also began to diminish as the new institutions began to take shape.
Before long – after a jaw-dropping pregnancy scare – it became clear that Mo's final decline had started. Her paranoia about the “devious c***” Mandelson proved justified as he was given Northern Ireland and she was shunted aside. With her anger and bitterness towards Tony Blair eating away at her, and without a strong political challenge to drive her forward, her illness began to take over.
The last part of the film was difficult – even heartbreaking – to watch, but it was also admirably candid about the difficulties that faced Mo and those around her as she approached the end of her life. Feeling that her life had meant nothing, she started to lash out at those closest to her, before finally finding peace again. She died in August 2005, at the age of 55.
This film was an honest and worthy tribute to this complicated woman, and Julie Walters' typically committed performance – supported ably by David Haig as her husband, Jon Norton – made it compelling viewing. With public faith in our MPs at rock bottom, it was a reminder of how unique a figure Mo Mowlam really was.
Thursday, 28 January 2010
I'm off to the Isle of Wight in an hour to do a bit of rewriting and celebrate 20 glorious years of the Tom 'n' Jane Laff-In, so I don't have time to do any more writery analysis. Suffice to say that each episode is an absolute masterclass in structure, deeeeeep characterisation and subtext.
(Link: Some PDF scripts from series one, courtesy of the script-compiling legend that is Lee Thompson.)
Be seeing you!
At long last, several spoiler-avoiding months after it went out in the US, Mad Men – the Best Thing on Telly – is back on the BBC for its third series. We'll have none of that "season" nonsense here, thank you very much.
Set in a New York ad agency in the early 1960s, the ice-cool show has been hoovering up awards since it started. The other week it won Best TV Drama at the Golden Globes, while Jon Hamm and January Jones (above) were all smiles after walking off with Best Actor and Best Actress for the second year running.
Series three picks up the story amid uncertain times at Stirling Cooper, following its takeover by a load of pesky Brits. With the accounts team fighting for survival, Don Draper (Hamm) had to take a trip to Baltimore with closeted gay art director Sal (Bryan Batt). And when a late-night fire alarm forced the evacuation of their hotel, Don found that he wasn't the only one hiding a few secrets.
Episode two, shown immediately afterwards, brought things closer to home, as decisions had to be made about the care of Don's increasingly senile father-in-law. Meanwhile, pioneering copywriter Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss) decided to get her mojo back and went out on the pull.
However, Mad Men is one of those shows where a quick summary doesn't do it anything like full credit. Everything about it, from the writing to the set design and costumes, is as immaculately tailored as one of Don Draper's suits: every aspect – every line, look and gesture – is there for a reason, which isn't always obvious.
Granted, the show doesn't make many concessions to new viewers. There are no "As you know, Bob…" conversations to bring the audience up to speed. Instead, you're just dropped into the beautifully realised world and have to start putting together the pieces yourself.
However, if you give it a try you'll find it impossible not to be sucked in. Each episode is a marvellously constructed mini-movie that offers no straightforward answers and leaves you pondering what you've seen long after the credits have finished.
Wednesday, 27 January 2010
There's no way I should like Skins. Whenever I'm stuck on a bus with some patois-spitting little Herbert playing shit music out of his mobile, I often think my quality of life would improve immeasurably if they were all shunted off to secure offshore rearing units until the age of 21.
Anyway, when it kicked its way noisily onto the box in 2007, I thought – as a keen student of TV drama – that I'd give it a fair crack of the whip. And while I rolled my eyes a bit at the idea that yoot behaving badly is a 21st-century invention, some of the show's subtlety intrigued me.
By the end of the first episode, I was sure I'd missed something. "What?" I spluttered through my late-night gorgonzola. "We're supposed to *like* Tony?!" But, of course, we weren't. Well, we were a bit. Weren't we? But how much?
Sure he was gorgeous, funny and clever – just how we would have wanted to view ourselves at that age. But he was also a selfish, manipulative and cruel wanker. And the ambivalence fuelled by that depth of characterisation was what fuelled the first two series much more powerfully than the shock horror sex-and-drugs stuff.
For me, it was the second episode – 'Cassie' – that really drew me in. Bryan Elsley's script, Paul Gay's direction and Hannah Murray's luminous performance combined to immerse the viewer in Cassie's world of anorexia and dissociation. It was suddenly apparent that there was going to be more to the show than destructive house parties.
Anyway, the other night we saw a preview of the first episode of series four, at the BFI. And it was excellent. I won't give much away, but it focuses on Thomas (Merveille Lukeba), who is thrown into a bit of a personal crisis when something nasty happens at the club night he puts on. It's darker in tone than the previous series openers, but script, direction, performances and editing all come together beautifully.
There was a Q&A after the screening, featuring writers Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain, director Neil Biswas, Merv Lukeba and Lily Loveless (who plays Naomi). It was well moderated by Heat magazine's Boyd Hilton, and while most of the questions were directed at the cast members, there were a few bits of interest from a writing perspective.
* When questioned about the apparent darker tone of 4.1, JB and BE said that one of the things that defines Skins is the fact that its tone can shift around at ease, from intense drama to knockabout comedy and back again. They always seek to open the series with a spectacle, which just happens to be darker this time round. However, the events will continue to have reverberations throughout the series.
* Neil Biswas said he didn't have to fit into a fixed Skins style when he joined the show. Everyone was relaxed about him bringing his own interpretation, and the series is characterised by a lot of collaboration and conversation.
* Bryan Elsley said that he devised the show's writing method because he realised before starting that to make a show about teens he needed to involve teens. As things came together, he became increasingly aware of the talents of the young people he was working with, and wanted to create an atmosphere where they could develop and learn by making mistakes in a safe environment.
* He also responded to claims that the series depicted teens in a bad way by saying again that the show uses the full range of tone - both dark and light - and that it reflects not just teenage life but also a wider range of experience, which is why grown-ups watch the show too. He added that characters like JJ and Pandora also show the very best in human nature.
* Finally, he said that he was happy to have a niche audience of 1.5m-2m who are really engaged with the show; he wants the show to have an audience it can have a relationship with. He was also full of praise for the support the show receives from Channel 4.
I'll watch series four with interest. I remember giving a sudden mental gasp in series two when Cassie suddenly turned up in New York and it became apparent that there was no way we'd be able to second-guess how the series was going to end. I hope the same free-wheeling creativity holds sway as the second generation of Skins heads towards its conclusion.
(And here's what I wrote about last year's series opener. It's looking much better this time round - maybe that's going to be a side-effect of the two-year character cycle?)
Thursday, 21 January 2010
I've had a soft spot for the play since I studied it at sixth-form college and it became part of my Teenage Cultural Awakening. Apart from grinding through Henry IV Part One for my O-level, I'd never really come across drama or the theatre until I started my A-levels.
When I discovered something as obviously modern, stylish and profound as The Caretaker, it was like a switch had been flicked in my noddle. My horizons suddenly expanded the same way they had when I first saw the Once in a Lifetime video on Top of the Pops a few years earlier, and I developed an almost insatiable appetite for culture - especially literature - that still defines how I spend most of my spare time.
If you're unfamiliar with the play, it tells the story of Davies, a tramp who is brought home one day by Aston, one of a pair of brothers who run a shabby boarding house. Once he's got his knees under the table, Davies tries to play Aston and his brother, the unpredictable Mick, off against each other to cement his position as caretaker of the house.
Pryce is perfect as Davies, whose pathetic standing at the start attracts our sympathy, but whose snarling opportunism takes over as he fights for survival. Peter McDonald is moving as the inward-looking and damaged Aston, but I didn't really think that Sam Spruell was sufficiently menacing as Mick.
Maybe I was spoiled by the edition I studied from, which featured Alan Bates (as Mick) glowering magnificently from the cover. Even the fact that Spruell's Mick was wearing a brown leather jacket instead of a black one seemed to mitigate his presence.
Watching the play and remembering the significance of Sidcup, Aston's shed and Mick's plans for the house - and even the vacuum cleaner and poor old Buddha - was like meeting up with some old friends and having a few drinks for the first time in years. The dialogue still crackles with life, turning on a sixpence from humour to menace as the relationships in the house shift.
I enjoyed the production, but last night I had my Pinter cobwebs blown away good and proper by a BFI preview of Harold Pinter: A Celebration, which will be broadcast on BBC Four on Sunday (24 Jan, 9pm).
Having not paid a lot of attention when we booked it, I'd assumed it would be a standard biographical documentary. However, it's something altogether much richer than that.
It's a record of an event that took place at the National Theatre in June 2009, when a stellar cast of actors performed extracts from Pinter's work, directed by Ian Rickson, the former artistic director of the Royal Court.
The performances covered the author's full range, from a poem he wrote as a 20-year-old to his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. As well as extracts from his better-known plays, there were also moving renditions of his personal and political poetry and hilarious extracts from his memoirs.
There are too many highlights to pick out, and the event was beautifully structured, enlightening and inspiring. It's a reminder of the range of Pinter's genius and makes you want to go back and immerse yourself in his work deeper than you ever have before.
Review of the National Theatre event (Michael Billington, The Guardian)