Thursday, 31 December 2009

The internet is dead!

Imagine for a moment, if you will, that the internet - that thing one uses to communicate with the world - died. That's right - died!!! Completely caput! No more internet! How would we survive? What would we do? How many conversations all around the world would sound a little like this...............

JIM: Dude......what just happened?
TONY: Dude......I think the internet just......died?
JIM: Impossible! How can the internet just die?! Who do we talk to about this?
TONY: .................google?
JIM: This I will not tolerate! I'm outraged!
TONY: I'm wondering where I'll vent my anger about this.....
JIM: You know what I have to do right this second?
TONY: Tweet about it?
JIM: No! Write a blog post!
TONY: Then link it on facebook?
JIM: How else will everyone know that the internet is down!!??
TONY: All those friends and followers lost. Forever.
JIM: And all those youtube favourites!
TONY: And amazon still owe me Dr. Horrible on DVD!
JIM: Face it, dude - the internet is gone. Life as we know it is......void of meaning. We should probably go out and.....socialise?
TONY: With who? All my friends live in Norway!
JIM: Then maybe......read a book?
TONY: Things with pages? Writing on them? Non-interactive? That them?
JIM: Indeed.
TONY: I have heard of such things. Stephen Fry mentioned one only yesterday! Oh.....Stephen Fry......his Twitter account.......it's....gone....
JIM: I've seen one.
TONY: A Stephen Fry?!
JIM: A book! This old man tried to make me read one for something called "an exam?"
TONY: At that place called school!
JIM: Yes!
TONY: We should go there, perhaps? For learning.
JIM: Possibly. Afterall, with no wikipedia, where will our knowledge come from?
TONY: Wait a minute! We're worrying over nothing! Everything we need is right here in this very room!

[Tony turns on the TV to see the BBC Test Card. He and Jim stare at the screen for a moment]

TONY: ........................
JIM: ...........................
TONY: Wanna break out the N64 and play Mario Kart?
JIM: Hell yeah!


The End

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

A shortage of directors?

I trust everyone had an enjoyable Christmas and is looking forward to the new year! I got some shiny presents from friends and family as well as some cash to spend the next time I get 5 minutes to wander near HMV.

This morning I posted a job advert on mandy.com for a short film I thought of on Boxing Day. It was one of those ideas where everything comes at once - the story, the characters, the theme, the message etc. It's also on a subject I feel very strongly about:

War Stories is a 20-30 minute film following a British Army regiment on an assignment in Afghanistan. As they carry out their mission, their stories are told through flashbacks to their previous lives. Every soldier is a person. Every soldier has someone at home who cares about them. And every soldier has a story to tell.

The first thing you'll notice is that for a short film, it's rather long (up to 30 minutes!). Nevertheless, i think the story justifies this length. Biting the bullet, I posted on mandy.com looking for a director. Now for some reason I thought this would be a fairly longshot. I thought I might get two, maybe three responses in the few weeks it was up. But within an hour I'd received 3 messages and as things stand at the moment, 13 directors have been in touch! UPDATE: make that 14 since posting this blog 2 minutes ago :S

So I think it's fair to say there's definitely not a shortage of directors out there. Problem #1 is choosing the "best" director. First they have to like my script (that is yet to be written) and secondly, we have to agree on what should be done. I'm in no rush to jump in and agree to work with a director before exploring every possible angle, which is why I intend to send the script to each of them and see what notes they make.

Problem #2 is the budget. Money isn't my strong suit - I'm not even sure how much money is sitting in my current account at the moment! But what I do know is that a 20-30 minute film set in 4 locations (one being Afghanistan) and featuring gunfire, military movements and an RPG (that's a rocket launcher for the pacifists out there) isn't going to come cheap! So I'm currently doing things the old fashioned way - emailing production companies and personal producers asking them if they'd be remotely interested.

So far......I have one possible lead. But it's early days yet and I'm not giving up. So if there's anyone out there who has an urge fork up £10,000 to produce a non-profit short film that pays tribute to the soldiers out in Afghanistan*, do let me know.

Over and out!


*See how I play on your feelings
towards people who die so you
can live? No? Not working?
Ok
, you cold-hearted bastard!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

2009 in film

2009 is gone and done with now (unless the apocalypse starts tomorrow). As a lot of bloggers will be doing, I thought I'd run through some my movie highs (and lows) of 2009, based solely on the films I went to see:

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT
'X-Men Origins: Wolverine'
Falling off the back of the horrible mess that was 'X-Men 3: The Last Stand' (which was preceded by two great X-Men movies), the story of Wolverine had the potential to be amazing, with years and years of source material to play with, including a deep origin story in comic form. But what we got was a CGI-filled, car crash with stupidly unrealistic and unjustified action and one of the worst endings in cinema history.

MOST UNEXPECTEDLY AWESOME FILM
'Watchmen'
I knew nothing about the graphic novel before going to the movie. All I'd heard is that it was "the greatest graphic novel of all time." So while I had high expectations, I wasn't holding my breath - movies of great comic books rarely happen.* I assumed it would be a visually stunning action-fest; it was. But what we also got was an incredibly deep story and characters you were really able to get involved with and love (for all the wrong reasons!)

MOST UNEXPECTEDLY AWESOME FILM (runner up)
'District 9'
I couldn't not mention Neill Blomkamp's outstanding sci-fi / political film set in South Africa. I expected it to be quite good (based on the trailers, marketing and my love of sci-fi). What we seemed to get was a sci-fi film written by a non-sci-fi fan. Maybe that's what made it so good - it didn't fall down on the usual elements. It's not a film I'd watch over and over but I'm very glad I've seen it - it's made me think about my own writing very differenlty. I look forward to everything else Blomkamp produces!

FILM EVERYONE SAYS IS GREAT BUT ISN'T!
'Star Trek'
I went in being a semi-fan of the Star Trek world (really down to my love of the Next Generation movies) but the whole thing was never amazing. I expected this to be a lot better than the original series and it was. However, there were some clear problems with the whole thing: our inability to care that Spock's planet gets blown up, the villain Nero's complete absence - resulting in him coming off as very 2D - and bloody Jar Jar Binks Pavel Chekov!

GUILTY PLEASURE
'Underworld: Rise of the Lycans'
A huge improvement on the original films, but not great by anyone's standards. Running at less that an hour and a half, you're left wanting more, which is a good and a bad thing. It doesn't try to be anything it's not - you get a straightforward (slightly unrealistic) story with basic characters, but also some smashing action and brilliant performances from the cast. Great cinematography too!

MOST "UP ITSELF" FILM
'The Imaginirium of Doctor Parnassus'
This wasn't a bad film. But it could have been so much better! Terry Gilliam had a vision and, to be fair to the guy, he stuck to it. The problem is - his vision was half-cocked. The movie has some great ideas and stunning visuals but it's all at the expense of story and characterisation. Nevertheless, a great performance from the late Heath Ledger - not even Johnny Depp is capable of filling his shoes in this one!

MOST IMPROVED FILM (based on previous films in the series)
'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'
I'm no fan of the 'Potter' franchise, mainly because I don't feel JK Rowling has any clue how teenage boys behave. That problem is still evident in 'The Half-Blood Prince' but everything else has improved - comedy, action, story. If you can overlook the anti-climax (the absence of the book's action-filled school-battle finale was a big mistake!), it's an all-round heart-warming film.....apart from that moment!

MOST POINTLESS FILM
'Angels & Demons'
Just like 'The Da Vinci Code' this film has a very basic formula (heads-up anyone wanting to write a film like this!) Threat to the establishment > expert uncovers clues > expert explains clues to audience > expert finds more clues > explains to audience > more clues > explains > clues > explains > shocking revelation > final showdown > catharsis restored. It's painfully obvious who the 'villain' of the piece is as well. Hint: it's the only actor apart from Tom Hanks you've heard of!!!

FILM THAT SEEMED AMAZING AT FIRST.....
'Inglourious Basterds'
As I watched Tarantino's latest romp, I laughed heartily as baseball bats obliterated faces. I expected it to be on the level of 'Pulp Fiction', which blurred my judgement. I left the cinema very happy, praising it like mad. Then I stopped and thought "there's a whole subplot in this film that could easily be removed!" Tarantino is a master of suspense (there's an amazing opening scene) but had this movie come from anyone else, I'd be slating it as much as 'Twilight'! [Note: this was a strong contender for Most "Up-Itself" Film]

WORST FILM
'X-Men Origins: Wolverine'
As I've already said - horrible! For a more detailed insight into my utter hatred of this movie, try this link. In an attempt to please everyone, the film ends up pissing us all off! I hate this movie so much that I recently had a dream where I was actually in the film. From there, I provided a critical commentary to Hugh Jackman as to why Gambit can't fall 50 feet why the action is painfully terrible why Blob belongs in cartoons only why adamantium bullets through skulls are never that convenient why his career is over!

FAVOURITE CHARACTER
The Comedian - 'Watchmen'
Here's a character who rapes people whenever he feels like it and guns down the woman carrying his baby without a second thought. He's an all-round bastard and we hate him. But somehow I love this character! There's a certain "bad-ass" appeal to him, but it's more than that; he's a vital part of the story, seeing the world in a unique way. And for a guy called "The Comedian," he ain't that funny! Maybe the stunning opening action scene is what did it, or the merely the fact that he's played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Either way, he's my top character of 2009!

FAVOURITE ACTION SEQUENCE
"Just a matter of time, I suppose" - 'Watchmen'
As mentioned above, the opening to 'Watchmen' is amazing. Brutal, significant and at the same time loving and realistic (just not...y'know....really realistic!) Enhanced ten-fold by the presence of a Nat King Cole song, this scene is truly unforgettable. Take a look at the scene on youtube [SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST 10 MINUTES OF THE FILM]

FAVOURITE FILM
'Avatar'
I prepared this blog before seeing Cameron's 'Avatar.' My previous top film of 2009 was (unsurprisingly) 'Watchmen.' James Cameron had a lot to live up to, having produced one of the greatest action/sci-fi films of all time and practically rocketing Arnold Schwarzenegger's career. So I went in expecting greatness, though a part of me felt certain I'd already played the story out in my head and it was boring, cliched and corny. But alas - James Cameron didn't disappoint.

The story contains nothing original - it's very formulaic and predictable. Even from the trailers I was able to predict what would happen. But the way that story is executed is what makes it so great to watch. I'm not just talking about the special effects either - which are easily the best I've ever seen; the incredibly real feel to the whole film is done by true emotion from the CGI characters and superb interaction from the environment. Cameron is a master of storytelling and action-driven plots, which means 'Avatar' never leaves you bored during its 2hr 45min run-time. You find yourself uncontrollably smiling at times and seconds from crying at others. 'Avatar' is a roller-coaster ride of emotion, action and visual beauty.


So there we have it - another year of film gone and a very good year with 'Avatar' and 'Watchmen' alone. There are some films I'm really looking forward to next year. Here's a list, with hopeful realease dates:

'Daybreakers' (January)
'Legion' (January)
'The Wolf Man' (February)
'Alice in Wonderland' (March)
'Clash of the Titans' (March)
'Iron Man 2' (May)
'Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time' (May)
'Toy Story 3' (June)
'Predators' (July)
'The Expendables' (August)
'Conan' (unknown)

Everyone have a shiny Christmas and great New Year!!!


*Apart from 'Batman Begins,' 'The Dark Knight,'
'X-Men,' 'V for Vendetta,' 'Daredevil,'
'From Hell,' 'Constantine,' 'Blade,' 'Sin City.'
Ok....so quite a few good comic book translations.

Wednesday's Whedonism

-- Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), 'Firefly'

Monday, 21 December 2009

December Film Blog Round-Up

This week, Kid asked me to do the film blog round-up for this facebook page. So here it is - some classic bloggers and some others:

"This month's blog round-up is brought to you by little old me, just in time for Christmas. So here's a line-up of the blogs, posts etc I think all film peeps should take a look at:

CREATIVE SCREENWRITING MAGAZINE
The Creative Screenwriting blog posts regular Q&A sessions with the hottest writers around, including the scribes for 'The Road,' 'Zombie Land,' 'Watchmen,' 'District 9' et al. Definitely a brilliant source for writing interviews - http://creativescreenwritingmagazine.blogspot.com/

GO INTO THE STORY
Scott Myers' blog has multiple posts every day and this discussion is particularly interesting, discussing detailed scene description - http://www.gointothestory.com/2009/12/visual-grammar-vs.html. Another great post is from last month - what makes a great opening? - http://www.gointothestory.com/2009/11/question-what-are-keys-to-great-opening.html

DAN'S MEDIA DIGEST
Dan is a TV fanatic, writer and reviewer. He reviews all the hottest shows in the UK and the States. It really pays to read the reviews and get a discussion going - just why did a particular episode of TV work so well? - http://danowen.blogspot.com/

KID IN THE FRONT ROW
Kid recently posted an inspiring blog about how to talk to those film industry professionals. We've all been in a situation where we feel we should have watched a certain film (usually 'The Shawshank Redemption') in order to call ourselves writers. Kid explains that's not always the case - http://kidinthefrontrow.blogspot.com/2009/12/polarity-of-pretentiousness-talking.html

NIGH JOURNAL
I was particularly interested in John's post about character introductions. He makes some great point using some unexpected films as examples. There's also a good discussion in the comments section - http://www.theendisnigel.com/john/?p=1357

SOFLUID
Michelle's post about expositional dialogue is definitely one to read. The ability to hide expo is something a lot of writers overlook and sometimes it pays to revisit that skill - http://michellegoode.blogspot.com/2009/12/how-to-avoid-expositional-dialogue.html On a side-note, one of the best ways to learn about hiding exposition is to re-watch James Cameron's 'Terminator.'

MEMOIRS OF A WORD NERD
Manda talks about the role of film characters in everyday life. Can they be role models? Should they be? She pays particular attention to Disney women and their responsibility for children's development - http://memoirsofawordnerd.blogspot.com/2009/12/fictional-characters-as-role-models.html

PROJECTOR FILMS
Tim talks about what it takes to write a great short script (check comments for further ideas) - http://projectorfilms.blogspot.com/2009/11/what-goes-into-great-short-script.html

WRITING IS A SCIENTIFIC ART
I recently commented on Alex Epstein's point about episodic vs serial television which prompted a few comments with conflicting views. Discussion from the UK, to Canada and the States - http://writewithhonour.blogspot.com/2009/12/episodic-vs-serial.html

SCRIPT COLLECTOR
Finally, this awesome dude find and collects screenplays for people like us. They're all on his site and there for PDF download completely free and completely safe. All the latest releases, from comedies to action. Also a collection of old films. Take a look around and get reading - http://scriptcollector.blogspot.com/


Thanks for reading, and if you have any other blogs or posts etc you'd like to share, feel free to let us know on the group.

Merry Christmas to all (don't drink too much!),
Neil
http://writewithhonour.blogspot.com/"

Friday, 18 December 2009

Get off your arse and make it happen!

That's an order! You're in control of your own life and only you can make shit happen! So right now, get off your arse and do what needs to be done!

Actually, read this post, then get off your arse.

Far too many writers sit around, waiting for someone to come up to them and say "Hey! I'd like you to write a script for me. And here's a bundle of cash as incentive!" But if you do that, you'll have a long wait. You need to get out there and write and be active in getting that work seen by the right people. The film industry isn't going to come to you. You have to make the effort.

Every established writer has worked to get where they are. It's not luck, it's not fate, it's not chance, it's not Divine Will - it's hard work and dedication. They got off their arses and made stuff happen. For themselves.

I'm at the starting point of my career and I can already see what needs to be done. I'm at university and have been for the last two and a half years. I also have a part time job selling people chocolate. I make time to hang out with friends and family (maybe not as much as I should, but I do.) After Christmas, semester two at uni demands that I read and study 36 books in 4 months. Is that going to happen? I doubt it! I'm not the busiest person in the world, but neither am I the person with the least to do.

I recently spoke to a writer from Portugal. You think it's hard not having a clue how to get into the industry when you live in the UK? Try living in Portugal!

He messaged me asking - what do I have to do? I thought "I don't know, I haven't done it yet myself!" But we all help each other in any way we can. I gave him the advice I could. That advice I receive from other, more experienced writers in the trade.

You have to have the will to work at what you're doing. You have to put up with hours and hours of dealing with people you'd rather avoid. And to do that you have to love the actual writing - the telling of a great story. Without the love of one aspect, you can't tolerate the other. It's not just writing. A teacher has to love shaping children's learning in order to put up with the less enjoyable aspects of the job. It applies to every profession.

You can't beat the system. You can't just wait for someone to come along and hand you a break. Maybe your screenplay is the best ever written, but why should someone pay you for it if you're not prepared to work?

Ok, now I've successfully pissed off the few readers I had, here's the point of the post. Once you get off your arse, how do you make stuff happen?

I'm not the best to answer this question - I don't really know myself. There are bloggers out there who know a hell of a lot more than me about the evil empire industry. But as I mentioned earlier, we play our part. So here are a few things you can do:
  • Facebook - network your arse off on facebook. Annoy your 'real' friends to impress the directors you're chummy with. Join film groups for writers etc and post all your projects. Say you're available for work. The first 'break' I got was on facebook.*
  • Twitter - do the exact same thing. There are thousands of writers on there and we all tweet about our new blog posts and what we're working on. We're a friendly bunch, always there to offer advice.
  • Websites - there are numerous websites available to help you network with other film industry professionals. This one is my new favourite - iFeatures. But why not look here too?
  • Get a site - a professional site is a great way to drum up trade. If anyone's remotely interested in you, you can point them to you site where you have a list of projects, credits, testimonials, services etc. Note: get your own domain name for under a fiver to make sure people take you seriously.
  • Blogs - get a blog. If you don't want to, read them. Read the musings of all those more experienced writers I mentioned earlier (check the blogroll to the side of this post)
  • Get a friend - no doubt you have one or two of these already (three if you're really popular!) but I'm talking about someone you tell everything to. By everything, I mean everything writing related. I'd never consider sending anything off to anyone before letting my best writing bud Michelle have a look first. Having someone there to rip your writing to shreds is always helpful!
Those are just a few things you can do once you get off your arse. Now what are you doing sitting around reading this?! Go make shit happen!!!

*The first 'break' I received was amazing fun
for a few months, but then became a
nightmare. Do I wish I'd been wiser? Yes.
Do I regret that it happened? No.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Wednesday's Whedonism

Well they tell you: never hit a man with a closed fist. But it is, on occasion, hilarious!

-- Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), 'Firefly'

Monday, 14 December 2009

Rude Reader

Please excuse me while I take a step back from the purpose of this blog to address a fan of mine. The first draft of this post was........graphic at best........but I'm all calm now.

I recently received an extremely rude e-mail from someone regarding this blog post about vampire mythology. I quoted from Alex Epstein and basically agreed with him. Clearly the writer of said e-mail didn't take kindly to what I said about 'Twilight':

I made my feelings known about 'Twilight' in this little rant.
What's scary about a guy who sparkles in the sun? Absolutely nothing! Similarly, take a look at this trailer for 'Twilight: New Moon'. In a rather tense moment, some dude changes into a wolf to save the girl *insert feminism rant here*
Here, I was merely commenting on what Epstein had said about whether a vampire who can go out in sunlight is indeed a vampire.

Anyway, I got this message on the same day Laurence posted about a rude reader of his own blog. I'm not going to give out the e-mail (as much as I'd like to), but it comes from a chap named Dave. Note: I'm not one for censoring posts so be warned - strong language ahead. This is what the e-mail said:
"i just read your web site and your a fuckin knob head!!!!!!!! you dish twilight and i dish you. twilight is the best fuckin things on the planet and yours isnt!!!!! edward is a fuckin fuck awesome!!!!! you like that stupid thign about that fuckin cunt vampireslayer and shes a fuckin hore!!!!!!!!! you cant make films as good as fuckin twilight you fucking cunt twat!!!!!!!! if you fuck wiht twilight again im going to fuckin fight you cock!!!!!! so do it again i fuckin dare you fuckin coward!!!!!!! il fight you now!!!!!!"
Yeah.............well............

As you can see, a very in-depth argument about why I should leave 'Twilight' alone. I particularly love the mention that 'Twilight' is better than any film I have made. I agree - I've never made a film!

I am slightly concerned that someone can become that angry about something; angry enough to find my contacts page and e-mail me about it. But not half as concerned as I am about this line:
"if you fuck wiht twilight again im going to fuckin fight you cock!!!!!!"
Now does that Dave will fight my.....erm.......yeah.......

I accept that I voice my opinions and that people might not agree with them. But that's all they are - my opinions! This is my blog after all. I strongly invite anyone to debate what's said on here, but what I don't encourage is what you've just read from Dave.

So, Dave - if you're out there, reading this argumentative opinionated blog with a small following, thank you for reading, but please don't contact me again. I haven't replied to your previous message and I won't reply to any future ones.

Oh and I can't resist - I do believe Dave threw down the gauntlet, saying he would fight me if I "fuck with twilight" again. So on that note, I-DON'T-LIKE -- wait! Maybe I'll just let this video say it.......



That's all folks!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Joss Mythology

WARNING - MORE EXTREME JOSS LOVE AHEAD. FANS OF TRUE BLOOD, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, TWILIGHT BEWARE!

Here's an interesting article about the mythology of Joss Whedon's 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and its impact on not only on the vampire world but also television storytelling as a whole.
The real peak happened when a girl not only fell in love with a vampire, but also when she began slaying them. That girl's name is Buffy Summers, and her series is perhaps the greatest mythology show of all time.
No surprise here - we Whedonites will fight to the death when defending 'Buffy'. And when fighting for 'Firefly', we'll come back from the dead to argue!!!
Show-runner Joss Whedon developed a structure wherein each season is a self-contained story, and each story ties into each other story creating a seven intertwined story run. As I said before, each season features a Big Bad, many of whom contribute to the show's over-arching mythos. Beyond the structural blueprint, unlike most show-runners of the time, and many still, Whedon had no problems upsetting the status quo. Characters evolve, relationships change, and consequences of a character's action in one season remain relevant for many seasons to come.
Joss is famous for his extensive planning. In season 3 there are references to the exact date Buffy dies in season 5!
Buffy is more like a novel for television. All of the episodes contribute to a big picture, a picture the viewer may not see at first, but will become clear as the story reveals itself. Now this is a lofty goal for television, a commerce-based art form, which, at least at the time, relied on viewers for profitability. Problem is, the complexity of the narrative, the ever-evolving status quo had the potential to alienate casual viewers. As much as the show had a passionate following of fans who would never dare miss an episode, it also left many confused or afraid that they'd never be able to catch up.
There's a trend nowadays to have episodes with a very stong theme. But that theme is often forgotten about at the endof the episode and promptly contradicted in the very next episode. As mentioned above, the problem with serial TV is that it's hard to join mid-point. Would you attempt to start watching 'The Wire' at episode 7? Or '24'? Or 'Dexter'?
As TV continues to splinter, the door will continue to open to the possibilities of television as a medium for quality storytelling.
There was a time when the 'best' writers would be found creating amazing scripts for thought-provoking movies. But I'm adament that the finest writers today are working on television. If I gave a list of my top 10 screenwriters, only two of them would be known as a 'movie writer.' The first is David Goyer, who coincidently heads TV's 'FlashForward' now. And the other would be James Cameron, who created 'Dark Angel' for TV all that time ago.

You can read the whole article here and feel free to get debating. I agree with 99% of the article but there must be someone out there bold enough to suggest Joss Whedon isn't the closest thing to a god we'll ever get!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Wednesday's Whedonism

Willow: Is there anything you don't know everything about?
Giles: Synchronized swimming. Complete mystery to me.

-- Giles (Tony Head), 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

Monday, 7 December 2009

Episodic vs. Serial

This is a great post from Alex Epstein about episodic vs serial TV:

There is currently a pretty big disconnect, as far as I can tell, between the kind of tv shows that writers love to watch, and the kinds of tv shows that networks want to be pitched.

Ask anyone, the networks want episodic shows. They want shows you can tune in for episodes 5 and 8 and 11 and not feel you missed anything.

The kinds of shows I like are, oh, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and DEXTER and MAD MEN. Sure, each episode tells some kind of story that completes by the end of the hour. But you really can't appreciate what you're seeing if you haven't seen a few recent episodes.

For sure, serial shows are harder to write. We painted ourselves into one or two pretty tight corners on CHARLIE JADE. Expectations are higher. No one would have minded the mess at the end of BSG if it hadn't been the culmination of years of story arcs.

But serial shows are more satisfying to write. You get to take the characters places. We got the BUFFY boxed set and we're watching Willow change from Hacker Girl to Cute Teenage Witch to Power in Her Own Right to Big Bad. And that's on a show that strives to give you an hour's complete entertainment.

Network execs will tell you that even viewers who say they watch a show tend to watch only about 1 out of 4 episodes. (That's hard to fathom because when my friends watch a show, they watch every episode or stop watching it. They buy the DVD or TiVo the whole thing. But I've heard this from several people who ought to know these things.) The danger with a serial show is that every time you lose a viewer, they don't come back; while it's very hard to get new viewers in mid-season. Who's going to start watching 24 in the middle?

When I'm pitching, I'm continually trying to thread the needle. So are many of the writers I know. We talk about X-FILES and how there was always an episodic story but it often contributed a clue to the ├╝berplot; or VERONICA MARS. We try to stay away from mentioning LOST; apparently it doesn't count because no one knows why it's working in spite of its ridiculously complex story arcs. (Maybe because of the ridiculously complex story arcs? But you can't say that.) And we try very hard to make sure there is a strong episodic story motor in the template of the show.

It's frustrating, because you can point to any number of successful shows that are blatantly serial. Soaps, even. DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. GRAY'S ANATOMY. GOSSIP GIRL. Anything on HBO or AMC.

I dunno, maybe there's a list of showrunners who are approved to write serials. Obviously, serials get made. Maybe it's like movies and hooks: it's not that movies don't get made without hooks, it's just that you can't get a movie made without a hook.

But the moral of the story is: the TV you love may not be the TV network executives want more of. Serial shows are a pain in the ass. You lose audience when you preempt them. You lose audience when you move them. And then if you cancel then, people mail you boxes of nuts. Safer to license CSI: WASILLA.

Or you can just go ahead and pitch what you love, and hope it comes out all right in the end.

So what do we think? This relates mainly to American television, but what's it like in the UK? 'Coronation Street' vs 'Spooks'? Is there an assumption that serial TV is somehow 'worse' than episodic?

I don't watch a lot of Brit TV (I know, shoot me!). I find American stuff more to my tastes - obviously the work of Joss Whedon and 'Dexter' at the moment. Where does the future of TV lie? In episodic of serial? Or the combination of both as we see most often?

Genuine question!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Poll results: favourite fantasy story

Last month I asked "What is your favourite fantasy book/series?"

There was quite a good response. As I expected, Lord of the Rings took top place with 29% of the votes. Strangely - and I'm to blame for this for a limited knowledge of popular fantasy - it was followed by 'other,' taking 22%. Only one person said what her favourite was and that's Magz - "Unfortunately my favourite (to date) wasn't listed which is 'The Wheel of Time' series by Robert Jordan."

Coming in 3rd was the ever popular Harry Potter series with 18% of the votes, followed closely by Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy* with 14%. Steph had this to say:
That was so hard! I chose "His Dark Materials" in the end but it was like trying to pick a favourite child. Almost impossible & I feel like I've cheated on Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings.

Plus there are also the great fantasy series by David Eddings and Stephen Donaldson. Plus we can't really look over the addictive madness of Meryn Peake ummm. Ok I'm sticking with His Dark Materials but it was hard. A top 10 would have been easier. Thanks for reminding me how much I love fantasy books.
I find what Steph said very interesting - "it was like trying to pick a favourite child". Almost everyone is in love with fantasy to some degree. For some it's the escapism of getting lost in a story. For others it's the thrill of adventure. Some people (myself included) like to highlight all the similarities between fantasy and real life. No-one can deny that in His Dark Materials!

Bringing up the rear were Peter Pan (7%), with The Chronicles of Narnia and Artemis Fowl each getting 3%. Shockingly no-one at all voted for Eragon, The Night Watch, Alice in Wonderland or The Conan Chronicles.

Interesting results nevertheless. But I'm genuinely surprised no-one voted for Alice in Wonderland what with Tim Burton's upcoming feature starring Johnny Depp.

Thanks to all who voted, but I now ask one more thing of you - what makes a great fantasy story?

A much harder question, because now you have to justify your answer. Feel free to leave comments below or send me a wave.

Stay shiny,
Neil.

*His Dark Materials is also my favourite fantasy
series, mainly because of the incredible
characterisation Pullman employs.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Wednesday's Whedonism

The game. It's actually kinda fun when you know the rules. I mean, when you know that there aren't any. You screw with me, and you screw with me, and you screw with me. And now, I get to screw with you! That's gonna be great!

-- Angel (David Boreanaz), 'Angel'

Monday, 30 November 2009

Is it?

The title of my blog is:

WRITING IS A SCIENTIFIC ART

Is it?

The phrase is almost a contradiction. Science and art do not go together.

Obviously in screenwriting, there has to be a balance. You can't write a good film without some combination of writing ability and a knowledge of the film world.

I'd say script writing is the strictest form, but can you write a film having never seen a screenplay? The format would obviously be the biggest hurdle - without getting that right, you might as well give up now! But otherwise, is it possible?

What about forms of writing? Is it possible to write a novel without ever having read one? Or to write an amazing poem never having studied the rhyme or metre?

I'm no poet, but in the past I've written poems (as part of my creative writing modules at uni). Here's the only poem I've ever written that I consider to be remotely decent:

PARADISE

Alone.
Silent.
Still.

The words echo.
Empty lies falling on empty minds.
From their lips, through the garden.
Come crashing down into the world.

Piercing light above.
His that casts shadows on the truth below.
Forever in darkness.
Blissful ignorance of what could be.
Of what is.

Infinite guardians of His name on bended knee.
Choices made with unknown arrogance.
One word to disrupt the chaos
Blinding light further still
Free-falling through
Fear into freedom
Deceitful light
Casts no
Dark.

Alone.
Silent.
Still.

Choices made.
Attending eyes cast shadows from above.
Greeted by ruling light in the depths below:

Paradise.


It's not brilliant; anyone who says it's great is being overly generous. But it's not terrible either. It's average.

I've studied poetry (more than I'd like to) so I know the inner workings and technicalities of the craft. However, the poem above was written with chosen ignorance of all that. I didn't think about rhymes or stanzas etc. The only 'trick' I used was a visual one - the way the words fit on the page. Maybe that's because I'm a very visual person - a screenwriter afterall. Maybe. Maybe not.

So can a good piece of writing be written off talent alone? Scripts are very rigid, formulaic things, probably more so than any other form. Whereas poetry is often viewed as personal and emotive. I know people who write poetry who would never show me their work. They're not writing it for money or for people to see. They're writing it for themselves. Maybe they just like writing?

I attempted to create a hierarchy of writing, with the most formulaic, scientific forms at the top, ending with the more expressive, art-centered:
screenplays
radio plays
stage plays
novels
short stories
poetry
Do you agree? I'm not sure I do - the task is impossible! Too many variables.

On another note, what about short films and their scripts? Short films are to script writers what short stories are to novelists, yes? They are often written based on a single thought or emotion, whereas a 'full' piece requires a more......objective approach?

I really don't know. But I do know this:
Writing can be taught.

Writing is a balance between science and art.

Writing is a scientific art.

Strip your characters

That's right - strip 'em! Right down to their undies! Metaphorically speaking, of course. I'm not suggesting you go out, find your character and take all their clothes off!* I accept no responsibility for anyone cool crazy enough to do that!

I've heard of writers who create a character then follow a basic method to get to the heart of their new creation - interview them. Imagine you're the interrogator and they're sitting right in front of you all smug-like (depending on the character of course). You ask them all sorts of questions a cop might ask a murder suspect.

This forces the character out of their comfort zone and makes them address the issues they'd rather avoid. (NB - I say address here as opposed to answer, because some characters might stay silent)

I've never used this method, but I can see it would be a brilliant way to strip the character bare and see who they really are. I don't recommend you do this in a cafe though - you'll look a wee bit weird! But if anyone's brave enough to record themselves doing this, I'd love to see it!

SPOILERS: 'SUPERNATURAL' SEASON 3

Anyway there's a scene in 'Supernatural' that reminds me of this technique. Dean (Jensen Ackles) essentially argues with himself. Something that makes Dean cool is the clothes he wears, the way he acts, the music he listens to etc. That's who he is. But if you (the writer) decided to tear those aspects apart, what would happen? Probably this......



Notice how Dean (the real Dean) is stripped naked? (Sorry female readers, not literally!) He goes from his usual smart-mouthed self, complete with cocky attitude to a quivering wreck when forced to address the things he'd rather avoid. What was once cool about Dean is revealed to be.......pathetic(?) - the awesome Chevy Impala, the music etc

This scene also gets down to the heart of Dean's character. His sole goal in life (and in the series) is to look out for his little brother Sam. The writers never lost sight of that throughout the show and this played out brilliantly as a result.

And finally, address one of the most important issues when it comes to characters - fear. Your characters have to be afraid of something. That's what gives them something to lose in their journey. Whether it's not winning the football match, not winning the fight, not saving that damsel in distress, or - in Dean's case - becoming a demon.

Strip your characters down and take them to a place they'd do anything to stay away from. Expose their dark side. Make them overflow with emotion. That might result in buckets of tears, a psychological breakdown, a suicide or a blast in the chest from a sawn-off shotgun. Just please remember to take the proper precautions when interrogating your more violent characters - always wear a bulletproof vest (just not this one)!

Expose their fears and see what happens. There's a saying that goes "You don't truly know someone until you fight them." It's true to a degree. But I'd say "You don't truly know someone until you take them to an emotional place." Only then do you really know what a person is capable of.

Try this next time you want to really get to know one of your characters!

*Unless it's Buffy or Faith

Saturday, 28 November 2009

What's your favourite season?

I recently started re-watching 'Buffy' from episode one, trying to squeeze in at least one ep a night. It's my way of keeping sane. I'm now up to the end of season 2. That's one of my earliest memories of exciting serial television - the whole Angelus saga really kept me hooked. When Buffy and Angel had sex and he woke up in pain. He screamed Buffy's name then turned into one hell of a bastard. He was of course, losing his soul.

My very earliest memory of exciting serial TV was 'Power Rangers' - the original, not those horrible sequel shows. It was the Green Ranger saga that was so cool - Tommy was a real badass before he became the poncy White Ranger. Good stuff!

So my question is - what's your earliest memory of exciting serial television? By serial I mean the show's ongoing storyline as opposed to a great episode of something. What show made you come back to find out what happened next?

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Jekyll & Hyde & Metallica

For a long time now I've had a tiny idea for a feature film. It happened approximately 0.23 minutes after finishing Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde for uni last year.Justify Full
The idea is definitely a modern take on the classic tale so there are some clear story ideas floating round. But I've been in no rush to get it down on paper. Is that a bad sign? If it was really good I'd not be able to help myself right? Of course, it's very hard and risky to attempt an original take on such a well-known work.

Anyway, the story's not going anywhere - I'll never forget the horror Stevenson creates in his Gothic novel. Then, earlier this week, I had an epiphany! Well, I say epiphany......what I mean is a writing epiphany, which is just one more idea that there's no time to write!

I was doing a bunch of uni work while listening to Metallica (as always). 'Sad But True' came charging at me from the CD player. I've heard it time and time before and know it off by heart so I sang along instinctively until the end. Then I thought "Huh.....". I played the track again, this time listening to every single word. Then I put the song on repeat and listened to it a further 10 times in succession.

Epiphany!

The similarities between Stevenson's Jekyll & Hyde and Metallica's 'Sad But True' are uncanny. James Hetfield (Metallica's frontman and songwriter) has always incorporated literary references into his work ('Enter Sandman,' 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' et al, but I've never noticed this before.

Have a listen/read to 'Sad But True' and you'll see what I mean:



I'm not going to rush the story, but if I can combine Louis Stevenson's terrifying story and Metallica's mind-penetrating anger, maybe.....just maybe......I can create something quite special.

Wednesday's Whedonism

I laugh in the face of danger, and then I hide until it goes away.

-- Xander (Nicholas Brendon), 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

Monday, 23 November 2009

Story 101

I'm preaching to the choir preaching the horse's mouth* here but sometimes it needs to be said - stories are very simple things.

A character wants something (a goal).

There are obstacles.

These obstacles do their best to thwart the protagonist at every turn. But he carries on no matter what. In the end, he "wins", or achieves his goal.

PROTAGONIST wants GOAL but OBSTACLES

Another point is that stories can or cannot have happy endings. But life doesn't have a happy ending.

If a story ends with a "they all lived happily ever after," fair enough. But really, it should go like this: "they all lived happily ever after......until the next obstacle reared its ugly head."

OBSTACLE > OVERCOME > NEW OBSTACLE > OVERCOME (ad infinitum)

There are no happy endings in life, so if your story has a resounding happy ending, maybe there's something wrong with it?

That's not to say there can't be happy endings (it all depends on your story and theme afterall), but this game makes my point.

Obstacles never stop coming and there are no happy endings. In the end you always turn into a fine mist / hit a wall / fall to your death. Enjoy......

PS: My top score is 6817 - let me know if you top that.

* 'Angel' reference

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Weekly Interview (22)

This week it's not so much an interview as a video from the BBC film network. Follow the link to see a brief overview of the stock characters one might find in a horror film. Watch video.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

'Three' (short film)

I'm happy to announce that my short film 'Three' will be filmed in the next few months.

'Three' is a short comedy about three hitmen who discover they have been sent to kill eachother. Finding themselves in a stalemate, they have no choice but to talk out their issues.
It will be directed by Darren S Cook, who will be working with his loyal film crew.

'Three' is the first script I ever wrote - about 18 months ago - before any knowledge of the screenwriting world. It was part of a university module in the basics of scriptwriting; I remember three of my friends getting up in front of the class to act out the first draft. I owe a lot of the film's success to various friends who read through it and my creative writing tutor at uni - Linda Lee Welch. Without them, it definately wouldn't be as good as it is.

After that semester at uni, the script then found itself sidelined for more ambitious projects as I learnt more and more about writing.

But now it's back!

So without further ado, I present the teaser trailer for 'Three.' Enjoy.....



I've also set up a facebook group for the film, so if you have an account, I'd really appreciate your support.

I'll keep you up to date on all things 'Three' - including cast and filming - as they develop.

Stay shiny,
Neil.

Wednesday's Whedonism

Now it's a simple story -- stop me if you've heard it. I have found and truly believe that there's nothing so bad it cannot be made better with a story. And this one's got a happy ending.

There once was a woman, and she was foul, like all women. For Adam's rib was dirty, just like Adam himself, for what was he but human? But this woman, she was filled... with darkness, despair, and why? Because she did not know. She could not see. She didn't know the good news, the glory that was coming. That'd be you. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours. Now and forever. You show up, they'll get in line. Because they followed her, now all they have to do is take one more step, and I'll kill them all.


See? I told you it had a happy ending.


-- Caleb (Nathan Fillion), 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Wolverine: Origin - the gamble that paid off!

I recently re-read the graphic novel "Wolverine: Origin", which tells the origin story of our favourite mutant Wolverine.......obviously. I haven't read it since 2003 so it was fun to get my claws into it again.

Reading it post-'X-Men origins: Wolverine' made it both better and worse. Better in the sense of how amazing the novel is compared to the H'Wood Blockbuster produced by and starring that money-grabbing sonofabitch talented actor, Hugh Jackman. But mortifyingly worse when you think about how great the movie origin tale could have been.

In the comics, you have a full, well-thought-out story told across several years with clever plot developments, strong emotion and believable characters. This is literally told in less than two minutes in the film. The result - a character you can't really sympathise with at all.

It was a huge risk for Marvel to reveal the history of a character whose main appeal is his painful, mysterious soul. They took a chance. They took it with a great story. And it paid off!

That's what stories (especially films) are all about - taking risks. If you sit back and relax in the knowledge that your script conforms to all the standard rules and takes no risks whatsoever, it'll never be a great film. It might be good, but we don't want good, we want great!!!

Michelle recently posted a blog about breaking the rules of screenwriting - very interesting reading.

Take a chance, take a risk, run away from that safe and secure seat in Easyville and write a great story!

That's all, bub!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Weekly Interview (21)

This weeks interview is from Making Of, with Terry Gilliam ('The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus') where he talks about the new film itself, as well as film budgetting and marketing. Enjoy...

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Post-apocalypse prep work

I just had to post this news report. It's a pressing issue what with the current economic and global climate, not to mention the Swine Flu situation that will almost definitely mutate into some form of zombie-ism. But the pressing question is, how do we prepare?

Are video games correctly preparing children for life
after the imminent apocalypse?



What do you think?

Wednesday's Whedonism

Do you know what I found worked real good with Slayers? Killing them.

-- Spike (James Marsters), 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

Friday, 6 November 2009

Weekly Interview (20)

The interview this week comes from Making Of and features a great talk with the writer and director of 'Donnie Darko', Richard Kelly. He discusses the role of the director, formula, and specifically the importance of a writer's voice. Enjoy...

Monday, 2 November 2009

'I Am Legend' (book review)

This is my all-time favourite book. Simply yet amazingly thought-provoking.

I AM LEGEND (RICHARD MATHESON) - 5/5

"Considered by many as a sci-fi classic, Richard Matheson's 'I Am Legend' seems years ahead of it's time. Written in the 1950s, but set in the 70s, the novel tells the story of Robert Neville; the last man on earth among a world of vampires. A virus has swept across the planet, either killing everything in it's path, or turning them into hominus nocturna. In order to fight the vampires, Neville researches the virus responsible, in an attempt to find a cure.

Matheson shows intensive knowledge of biology and chemical science, that is applied in a very realistic way; this marks the first work of fiction to employ the 'virus causing vampirism/zombie-ism' storyline.

'I Am Legend' is a landmark in the science fiction world, which has influenced many future works, including films such as 'The Omega Man' (Charlton Heston) and 2008's 'I Am Legend' starring Will Smith. Even movies such as '28 Days Later' are strongly influenced by the 'one man against the world' concept, that Matheson perfects so well.

The psychology behind the character of Neville is very detailed. With only a canine companion for company, it is not long before he begins to lose hope. His dreams are rekindled however, when he happens across a woman who has survived the contamination.

'I Am Legend' is not a long novel, making an easy read. However, in such a short time, the reader is able to identify with the character's life and history. This is done effectively through the use of flashbacks, which explain how Neville became the last man alive.

What should be noted, is that this book is not like the 2008 film adaptation. The message behind the novel's title is not revealed until the very last page and it is not the same as the film.

In short, if you are buying this because of the 2008 Will Smith film, expect something completely different.

A thrilling novel, which I read none stop in less than a day. Brilliant!"