Monday, 30 November 2009

Is it?

The title of my blog is:


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:



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


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


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:
radio plays
stage plays
short stories
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!


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.


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.


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."


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,

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.


"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!"