Tuesday, 28 December 2010

My favourite film of 2010 is....

Kick-Ass!



Because I understood it. Not in a "oh, so that's why the bad guy has world domination in his sights" way, but in that I got the characters and I could see things from their POV.

I've never stolen/implanted thoughts and memories from/into businessmen's minds, I've never created a world-wide networking phenomenon, I've never appeared in a burlesque show (that I know of!), and I've certainly never tumbled down a rabbit hole (anyone care to explain that Golden Globe nomination?!).

But I have been a teenage boy at school dreaming of becoming a superhero. I even got close every now and then. I never bought a dorky snazzy costume battlesuit, but I sure as hell designed one.

So it wasn't just about the incredibly fun fight scenes (which were miles better than anything else I've seen this year), or the witty, boundary-pushing dialogue. It was about the characters.

And it was brilliantly written. The most emotional and tense scene I've seen all year is when Hit Girl is trying to save Big Daddy and Kick-Ass after sending the room into darkness and slapping on some night-vision goggles. If you've seen it, you really know what I'm talking about - great stuff!

So, yep - Kick-Ass is my favourite film of 2010.

Worst film - a tossup between The Last Airbender and that Resident Evil film (I can't even remember the name!) They're both full of plot holes, terrible acting, and characters you have a) seen a million times before, and b) couldn't care less about. In the end, it all comes down to this question:

Which is worse:
a) Characters locked in prison (zombies outside). Finally let loose "sinister bloke" who "knows a way out". His way is to simply open a door to a large hanger (no-one has thought of looking in here before?!) to reveal a tank-like vehicle. Which they can't use because the engine has been taken out. So they go out another way.

or

b) A civilisation of people who can control water. Literally, they can lift it up and make it fly about. They live on an island surrounded by water. The Fire Nation arrive to declare war. Yes, FIRE! They come by boat. The Water dudes don't think of sinking the fecking ships!!!!

So, if I can decide which is worse, I have my least favourite movie of 2010. It's a tricky one. The Last Airbender had slightly better action sequences. But Resident Evil had more women in tight tops running around. And a woman in water. Hmm....

Anyway Kick-Ass is my favourite. Yay!!!

Have a shiny new year everyone!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Johnny Got His Gun

Have you heard of that film? Probably not. I came across Johnny Got His Gun when I was about 13 and it scared the hell out of me. It came out in 1971, an adaptation of Dalton Trumbo's novel of the same name. Trumbo also wrote and directed the film.
"I'm just like a piece of meat that keeps on living."
Joe, a young American soldier, is hit by a mortar shell on the last day of World War I. He lies in a hospital bed in a fate worse than death - a quadruple amputee who has lost his arms, legs, eyes, ears, mouth and nose. He remains conscious and able to think, thereby reliving his life through strange dreams and memories, unable to distinguish whether he is awake or dreaming.
The film haunted me for ages. Joe's story is told through flashbacks from his living hell of a hospital bed. At the time, I didn't quite understand everything that was going on. Joe is visited (during his flashbacks/dreams) by Jesus. I got that it was Jesus, but a lot of the film's religious imagery went over my head. I watched it a again about a year ago and got a better grip on the meaning.

The scene below is particularly disturbing - Jesus telling Joe that there is hope. But as the scene progresses, God is forced to admit that there are some people even he can't help. For a religious person, that must be rather terrifying.


It's not the best film in the world. It's not amazing or fantastic. There's quite a bit of over-writing and the acting is sometimes painful. But the idea, the simple premise, is undeniably effective. I haven't told anyone about the film and not seen a disturbed face looking back at me.

So I've only seen the film twice and that's more than enough for me, thanks. Obviously it stuck a chord with James Hetfield, because Metallica bought the rights for the movie and released One back in 1988.


What say you? Anyone else out there seen this movie and were you as disturbed as I was? Any other films had that effect on you?

Friday, 17 December 2010

Songs that tell stories

I've said before that music is a huge influence when I'm writing. The playlist is a powerful weapon for getting you in the mood for what you're writing. But songs also tell stories that can directly influence - and sometimes create - a story. Here are a few:


Pearl Jam - Betterman


Metallica - One
NB: this song was entirely influenced by Johnny Got His Gun (the movie featured in this video)


The Who - Behind Blue Eyes


Metallica - Low Man's Lyric


Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms


Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison Blues


The Rolling Stones - Angie


Bob Dylan - Going Going Gone


Kim Richey - A Place Called Home


Pearl Jam - Deep


Feel free to share your own story-telling songs in the comments.

Monday, 13 December 2010

3 hours and 2 pages later.....

.....I finished the latest rewrite of my hour-long drama.

WARNING: this story will be partially told through feline images.
I met with my uni tutor last week to talk over my script. All in all, good response, but some key issues with character motivation and plausibility - this is always a thing with my early drafts. One problem involved a flashback. It's a little too tricky to explain (and you probably couldn't care less on a Monday morning), but this flashback needed to do several things:

1) establish core conflict between Character A and B, 2) set up the backstory between Characters A and C, and 3) kill off Character D, whilst dumping the blame on Character A. Does that make any kind of sense?

Anyway, I gave myself two pages to do this in, since it comes very early on in the script and there's nothing worse than endless flashbacks to start a story, resulting in a delayed trigger/inciting incident.

I'd have had no problem doing this in 10 pages (60 pages would have been great!), but two pages it was. The biggest problem I had was choosing a situation. I had the final image firmly set in my head, so that wasn't a problem. What I needed was, literally, the location for the scene. I went through roughly 20 different locations and wrote the scene around that. Barely any of them worked and none of them did it in two pages.
It had taken me roughly 3 hours in the morning to rewrite the rest of the script, changing a whole bunch of stuff around. But, by this point in the afternoon, I'd been sitting in front of my laptop for two and a half hours and I hadn't written a single page. All I'd done was write, read, delete.
Then a friend* popped onto MSN messenger and I explained my dilemma as best I could. After about 10 minutes, she mentioned the character's home.

The home.
In all those 20 locations I'd written for, at no point had I used the home. I'd gone with bars, strip clubs, dingy warehouses, dark alleyways, hospitals, police stations, schools, motorway pile-ups, a magician's brothel (don't ask!). But no home. What a stupid idiot I had been!

Anyway, after three hours of sitting there, I'd finally written the scene. It was 2 pages long. And it worked. Huzzah!!! Then I looked at the dialogue. Oh dear. It's a long and arduous road ahead.



* Needless to say, I owe this friend a drink or 10.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

John Lennon.....

.....really knew how to write! Granted, he probably never tried his hands at Hollywood blockbusters, but the guy could write songs. Pretty good ones.







John Lennon
(9th October 1940 - 8th December 1980)

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Dealing with negative feedback

We all get negative feedback. Everyone. If you don't, you're simply not sending your work to the right people. Naturally, we all want constructive criticism, stuff we can learn from. "It's shit" doesn't really help us. But "it's shit, because your hero is entirely inactive" is brilliant criticism that helps you.

It's never fun getting bad comments about your work. We can all be way too protective at times and it affects us all in different ways. Let's say you send off a 60-page script. You've sent it off because you think it's pretty good. But the feedback you get tears it to shreds. Mercilessly! How do you feel?

I like to think I can take criticism well. I accept that it's not Shakespeare (and even he wasn't Homer!) so I'm capable of accepting that it can be made better. However, I go through three thoughts when I get bad feedback, whether it's from a director, a competition, or a fellow writer who's just read a very early draft as a favour:

Annoyance
Anger
Despair

These three things come and go very quickly. 

Annoyance because I was hoping for nothing short of an essay on its brilliance.

Anger because I always ask "what do you know?!" Of course, this is anger at myself, my own annoyance.

Despair because I can see how much work I still have to do.

But despite all this anger etc, I tend to take it quite well. If you're not getting angry when someone says your work is crap, then there's something wrong with you. You get angry because you care.

I have a great situation with the lovely Miss Michelle. We send each other a lot of work, usually in the very early stages. And we're merciless. We don't bother with formal niceties; that it's remotely decent is now taken for granted. What we focus on is the shit stuff, because that's what's useful. We're entirely and absolutely honest about what we think of each other's work. Of course, if I think something is working really well, I'll say so, since I don't want her to go and change it in order to fix something else. 

But if Michelle sends me something that's horrendous, I'll tell her. Likewise, she'll tell me when I'm ripping off Supernatural (seems to be happening more and more these days.....)

The key thing we do, however, is offer solutions. For example, Michelle came to me with a script that she thought lacked a bit of tension and pacing. I sent her a long long email with possible solutions. No good me saying "yes, I agree". Much better to say that, then try and help. 

Likewise, I sent Michelle a treatment of mine, my concern being that it just wasn't long enough for a 60 minute drama. But I didn't know why. Michelle pulled me up on a bunch of stuff - poor exposition, unbelievable character developments, actions, motivations etc. And through those criticisms, I was able to expand the entire thing.

So the key thing is to take something away from the criticism. Get some possible solutions to problems. And that's the other thing - possible solutions. You don't have to agree with everything that's said. I play devil's advocate when I critique stuff, throw as much criticism as I possibly can. I don't expect them to take everything I say and agree with it. Sometimes your gut is the right way to go. If you really think a piece of criticism is wrong, ignore it. Better yet, get 5 other opinions and see if it comes up again.

So don't be afraid of criticism, deal with it - it's a big part of writing (possibly the biggest). On that note, if anyone wants any criticism of their work, do contact me. I assure you - no bullshit. Just anger-inducing criticism.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Why?

No, this isn't some emo-induced, desperate cry to the universe about why I'm here, worry not. I've been spending a lot of time over the last two months reading through people's script proposals, treatments and outlines. I go at it with a nice multi-coloured pen, scribbling all over it. It's fun, since critiquing other people's work is easy as pie (why is pie easy?), whilst redoing your own stuff it a pain in the arse (aren't there worse places to have pains?)

The word I find myself writing more than any other is.....

WHY?

Why is Bob deciding that he should go out on his own? Why is Shelly contemplating suicide? Why is Isac not contemplating suicide?

What is the character's motivation for doing what they do? You have to know the answer to this because, if you don't, the audience comes out with that inevitable criticism - 

"This doesn't make any sense!"

If you can justify actions in the eyes of your protagonist - if you can give him motivation - then you can do just about anything.

How does Sarah Connor keep going at the end of The Terminator when she's lost everything and the fucker just - won't - stop? It's not just survival. Her character motivation is that she needs to save her unborn son. It's that mother's instinct .

Why does Maximus not kill Commodus when he has the chance, in front of all those people? Because it's not the right time. He needs to do it right, it's all he has left.

Why does Willy Loman continually try to kill himself? Because he wants to save his family by getting some money from the insurance claim - they're better off without him anyway. Why does Linda (his wife) not say anything to him? Because she respects the one thing Willy has left - his pride.

Character motivations. That's pretty much what it's all about. After every single action your character takes, ask yourself - why? Can you justify this character's action based on their motivation? If you can, great, go for it. If not, prepare for:

"This doesn't make any sense!"

Monday, 22 November 2010

Good morning!

Anyone fancy a little Viking metal with their morning coffee?


Movie shown here is Beowulf btw.

Have a good day!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Graduation and Dominic West

Just thought I'd do a bit of name dropping. I graduated last week (payoff for 3 years of English) and attended the ceremony thingy in Sheffield. It pissed it down with rain and I was in a fowl mood. But things brightened up (hypothetically speaking) when the ceremony started.


Good old Robert Winston presented the awards, shook my hand, and said "Congratulations, Neil. Very well done."


But also there was Mr Dominic West, receiving an Honorary degree. It was cool, but the one thing that pissed me off was the fact that no-one gave us a heads-up. Had I known Mr West was going to be there, I'd have brought a script along and, as I walked past him on the stage, I would have thrown it in his general direction. Then been attacked by some random bodyguard, I expect. Although they were all cunningly disguised in gowns like the rest of us. But they were there, I tell you. They were there!!!


And on the subject of Dominic West, a friend recently lent me season one of The Wire. I started watching it a few years ago but just couldn't get into it. But said friend suggested I binge-watch it, several episodes at a time. So I did. And it's bloody good! Not my favourite TV show, but definitely top 10. 

After the ceremony, it was off to an over-priced reception thingy, then to the pub. 2 vs. 2 game of pool. We were 3-0 down, mainly due to me being shite. But as more Jack Daniels trickled down my throat, my game got a little better, which translates as "I stopped giving a fuck and just bit the bugger". And the evening ended with us winning 4-3. Huzzah for drunken victories!!!

Anyway, that was my Thursday. How was yours?

PS: speaking of pool games, have I praised Joss Whedon this week? Here there be bar fights:

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A feminist's nightmare

I'm writing this having just rewatched The Mummy (1999) for the first time in years. I like the film, ok, I think it's a good adventure movie. Yes, it may be the poor man's Indiana Jones, but Stephen Sommers really knows how to write and direct fun, exciting action. Which is why the third film was shite - he wasn't involved. Anyway, I digress......

On several occasions throughout that movie, Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) is perved on by Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo). The thing she does more than anything is pull that really annoying face (you know the one) when presented with danger - the classic "hands in front of face, waiting for a man to save her" one:

Eugh! I can accept that some movies are "Man Films" and must play to a man audience - this means a woman in danger and a man doing the rescuing. But, to be honest, I worry about any man who wants a woman who can't do a damn thing for herself. I'm all for the protagonist (in this case, a man) doing most things - they should! But Evie should at least do something. She should at least try to save herself. Run, slap, punch, kick in the fucking balls. Do something!!!

Another film that really pisses me off is Titanic. I love Cameron, despite Avatar. He created Sarah Connor, a brilliantly strong female character who literally drags the man to safety. He made Ellen Ripley bigger and badder with Aliens. But in Titanic, we have Rose De....whatsherface.

She's trapped in a controlling relationship. It's the olden days, so women had very little power over their own lives. But she is saved, constantly, by bloody Jack. I'm not quite sure who the protagonist even is in this film (further analysis needed, methinks). I want to say Jack, but Rose narrates and it's Rose who changes more than anyone else. All Jack does is make Rose change. So why is she so bloody passive?

Time and time again she is saved by men. The only time I'm convinced by Rose as a strong character is at the end of the movie, when she picks up that whistle and blows for help (Steady now, not that kind of blow!) But did you catch that? End of the movie. The end. Too bloody late. I've just sat through 3 hours to see a woman do one little thing?!

Then we have Twilight. I won't go onto an even bigger rant (we all know I'd love to, but you wouldn't. Again), but seriously?! This is Twilight:

Girl likes boy. Nearly hit by car, saved by boy. Nearly raped, saved by boy. Plays baseball, saved by boy. Piggyback by boy. Nearly kidnapped, saved by boy. Actually kidnapped, saved by.............boy.

'Nuff said.

I really don't understand this attitude towards women in films. It's not like I'm setting out to write the next feminist movie, I'd probably fall fat on my arse. Most of the things I write are about men. And most of those men treat women like shit (note: not a form of self-expression). But the very very least you should do is make your women characters. Forget that there are men and there are women. There are people. What do people do in danger? Flight or fight - run or punch.

So please stop treating your female characters like little children unable to do anything for themselves. I don't have a single female friend who would rely on a man for help. In fact, most of the women I know could beat me into pathetic pulp. Most, I tell you. Not all. Most!

What about you? Anyone else get seriously pissed off by all these inactive, 2D (sometimes literally) women in films? What is the biggest feminist's nightmare? Any feminists even out there anymore.......?

PS: anyone now looks at my google images searches will think I'm fairly obsessed with Leo Dicaprio and Robert Pattinson. Oh dear.

Done.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The 10% rule

Everyone's heard of the Ten Minute Rule, yes? This is the one where you absolutely must have your story's trigger in the first 10 minutes or people will get bored. Not always true, but why would you go against it when it's true usually?

I was shocked and stunned (literally, my mouth dropped!) to hear someone I respected as a writer-y person say that you have to have your trigger in the first 20 minutes. This was when talking about a 60 minute drama.

First 20?! 20???!!!

Yep, twenty. To which I say - bollocks! Even as a kid I had a 15 minute rule (still do) - if a film doesn't interest me in the first 15 minutes, I'm gone. Ok, so character development may be interesting and needed, yes. But it doesn't grab me. What grabs me is a character doing something - that's how we learn about who they are, by seeing what they do.

We find how who Captain Miller is in Saving Private Ryan by how he commands his men in battle. We find out who Maximus is in Gladiator by.......how he commands his men in battle. We find out who Jack Sparrow is by how he arrives into port. What they do.

In my opinion, it should be a 10% rule. This means that if you're writing a 100 page screenplay (which most of us are), your trigger should appear by page 10. This also means that if you're writing a 60 minute TV drama, your trigger should be there by page 6.

Think about it - people sit down on a Friday night at about 11pm. "It's too late to start watching a movie," they say. So they're flicking through the channels and they see something just about to start that is an hour long. "Ah, an hour is perfect," they think. "Just what I need."

Because this person is only willing to invest an hour into this story, this also means they're most likely to only invest a small amount into the story's setup. Your audience is there - make sure you keep it! As Kurt Cobain said - "Here we are now, entertain us."

If your trigger comes in at 15 minutes in a two-hour film, that's 1/8 of the way through. Fair enough. But if it's 15 minutes into an hour piece, that's 1/4 of the way through. 1/4, 25%.

So I've wasted 25% of this story just finding out whether it's "my sort of thing". Boring.

So yes, the 10% rule is what I go by, but always falling back on the 15 minute rule as well. If you're writing a 90 minute piece, make it 9 minutes in. An hour = 6 minutes. A 25 minute sitcom = 2.5 minutes.

Not only do you keep the audience interested, but you also force yourself to get into the heart of the story as soon as possible, meaning you are able to fully explore its potential.

That's all. Disagree? Let me know. I'm always up for a good debate.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Animal Drama

This is why I like nature shows - the drama.



There's more tension in these two and a half minutes than you'd find in half the films being let loose from Hollywood these days. This is also a good lesson in writing a scene with no dialogue. Cos animals can't talk, ya see. Right? The Lion King isn't real is it?! *curls into a ball and cries*

Friday, 29 October 2010

Time Travel Taboo

Just a quicky today:

Please be bloody careful when using time travel in a story. If your hero uses it to save the day, stop and think. Let's say I'm the Captain of the Starship Enterprise. The world has been destroyed, it's game over, I've lost, bad guy's won. But I can go back in time and stop it if I want.

"Good good, let's go back to the last possible moment I have to stop the bad guy, dragging William Shatner back with me. A solid plan."

What? WHAT?!!! The last possible moment?! How about you go back to the beginning of the movie and kill the fucker before he even has chance to plan anything?

"Well then there wouldn't be a story, would there!" I hear you cry.

No, there wouldn't. Which is a damnsight better than having a story that completely, absolutely, catagorically falls apart in Act III. As if the deus ex machina itself wasn't bad enough! Jeez!

So if you're going to use time travel, be very very careful. And make sure you watch two things first: a) Back to the Future and b) Terminator.

All done. Feel free to yell at me now.

NB: Star Trek Generations may be shite, but First Contact is a damn good sci-fi movie!

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Man of Steel

Last week, my script tutor said something that I've thought for a long time, and without any prompting from me.

"Superman is the most boring character ever because he's too fucking strong!"

Yep, that about sums it up. Superman never interested me comic book-wise as a kid. He really is too powerful to be a decent character. The clue's in the name - Man of Steel. So anything less than steel is useless. If Superman's going up against a gang of gun-toting maniacs, do we ever worry about him? No, because bullets do jack shit to Mr Clark Kent. And I know what you're saying:

"Ah, but if they have kryptonite, he's in serious trouble!"

Yes, right you are. So the only way to battle Superman is with a piece of green rock? How exciting!

Any bad guy that squares up to Superman has to have a certain amount of power behind him to even stand a chance -

a) He must be fucking strong
b) He must be fucking fast
c) He must fucking fly

This makes every bad guy the same as Superman. So what's the point? I'm never convinced Superman is really in any danger since he can always just fly away at the speed of light. Problem solved.

Yes, I know Supes' biggest foe was Mr Lex Luthor - brains vs brawl and all that. But if he wanted to, Superman could just pop his head like a balloon and it's game over.

So yes, Superman is horrendously boring. Like all little boys, when I saw those movies, I was running round with a home-made cape with one arm out. But I wasn't doing much. Just flying really. Was I fighting bad guys? Nope, cos that got boring since every bad guy I dreamt up was the same. And that wasn't 8-year-old Me's fault. It was Superman's.

Characters are only interesting if they're in real jeopardy. Spiderman isn't that strong. Yes, he can probably lift a car, but if a tank falls on his head, he's in trouble. Whereas Supes just flicks it away. So when Spiderman is in danger, I'm worried. If he gets shot, he dies. The bullet would just bounce off The Man of Fucking Steel. This is a hero in trouble:

Right, rant over. All I'm asking is - please, please, please refrain from making your characters so powerful that nothing can stop them. It makes writing their obstacles so much more straightforward!

Over and out.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Character Introductions (X-Men)

At uni yesterday, I gave a quick presentation on character introductions. So I thought I'd do a quick run-down of what I talked about, and maybe someone will find it useful.

The character intro I looked at is Wolverine/Logan from the first X-Men film, which is, in my opinion, one of the finest character introductions written. We can learn a lot from this short scene. Take a look:



A good character intro should do two things -
1) Define the character - give us a real sense right from the off about who this guy is. What's he about? What does he do?
2) Drop hints/subtleties about his full character which can be developed over the remaining film/show etc. If everything is laid bare early on, there's no reason to keep watching. The audience stay with us to understand and explore those character hints we gave early on.

So in the case of Wolverine in X-Men:

1) Wolverine is half-naked, in a cage, fighting. Perfect! Wolverine is an animal, a weapon, a savage beast. Type "Wolverine" into google images and this is one of the first images you get:

So by introducing Wolverine in such a situation, we know instantly that this guy is a savage animal and that fighting is second nature to him.

2) The hints - this scene is littered with clever subtleties about Logan's character:
  • He has his back to any opponent - he doesn't give a damn about who enters the cage, it makes no difference to him.
  • He takes the beating and bides his time - he doesn't care about any injuries and at no point does he raise his arms in defence. Pain doesn't mean anything to him.
  • When the fight is (very quickly) over, he gets that cheeky little kick in at the end - a very telling aside to his attitude and the way he fights.
  • He has dog tags and wears layers of clothing (four?). Yes, this could be a) to make Hugh Jackman look bigger or b) because it can be bloody freezing in Canada. But it could also symbolise the layers to Wolverine's character. In the cage, he's stripped down, this is who he is. But outside the cage, with all those layers, we are not seeing the real Wolverine.
  • He is, as a rule, against the confrontation in the bar. And, again, he isn't too bothered about who comes up behind him. It takes a brave/stupid man to remain seated when someone that big is behind you.
  • The claws - he's clearly ashamed of or confused by them somewhat, but will fall back on them if he has to.
  • When he completely owns the big guy and the barman, he stops for a moment. At this point, he could waste everyone in sight, just take them apart. But instead, he decides to walk away.
By dropping in all these subtle character traits early on, the audience is completely drawn in to this character. We want to keep watching to find answers to all the above asides.

As a writer, you probably can't do quite that much with your characters. For example, the layers comment was probably something completely disregarded in the script and dealt with in wardrobe.

But what you can do is think long and hard about how you introduce your characters and what impression they're making on the audience.

A few other honourable character intro mentions, check them out:

Blade, Achilles (Troy), Cap'n Jack Sparrow (Pirates), T101 (Terminator), Riggs (Lethal Weapon), The Joker (The Dark Knight), Somerset (Se7en), Henry V (Kenneth Branagh's version).

So what say you? What are your favourite character intros and why? Am I wrong about the importance of introducing a character? Is it not that important? Is it more important? Is the intro of Wolverine the crappest ever? Let me know.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Forcing an idea

My script class at uni has us writing a 60-minute drama/comedy this semester. I grabbed an idea I've had for a while and developed it a little. Task one was to write a 300 word proposal outlining the story. This is so our tutor can see if our idea has any potential - whether it's actually worth a turd.

I had a few problems with mine. I knew it had a lot of potential and could work, but I just wasn't putting that across in the proposal. I should say, though, that there was one fundamental flaw with the entire premise that would have taken quite some time to work out.

Anyway, my tutor (being the blunt, no-bullshit sort of bloke that he is) told me to either make this one good or give him something completely different. Throughout the week, I often had this face:

And contemplated this:

So Saturday night I frantically tried to think of ideas. I went everywhere, from Die Hard rip-offs, to a male-centered version of Juno. But nothing really that great and original.

But in the end, I managed to get something that I actually like a hell of a lot more than my original idea. It's perfect for a 60 minute drama and the story came very easily once I had a grasp on the theme and central character conflicts. Actually, the hardest thing about writing the proposal was thinking of a name. Seriously! I actually called it "United" as a working title. Ouch! That's not at all vague and corny(!)

I'm writing this as a quick break from the two-page outline I'm writing, which is also working well. This is, of course, before my tutor reads the outline, laughs in desperation, and tells me it's a pile of fei-oo.

Anyway, my point is that I was forced to come up with this very quickly. I didn't want to do it (at that point I was dead set on the awesomeness of idea #1), but now I think it could be some of my best stuff.

How about everyone else? Ever had an idea come so quickly and easily when you've been forced to do it? Ever had more trouble finding a title than anything else?

Btw, the title now (which might still change) is "Hellfire and Brimstone". A far more eerie title, don't ya think?

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Updates and whatnot

Since I'm far to busy at the moment to entertain y'all with an in-depth blog post about post-modernist character development (cos I know you love that shit!), here are a few updates and general musings.

For my script class at uni, we were going over proposals (300-word pitch-type documents for a script). Most had major flaws, mainly in the way they were written, but almost everyone had enough to make into a decent story.

Our script tutor is an interesting fellow, a no-nonsense, tell-it-to-you-straight sort of chap. Which I love! It's exactly what you need in this sort of work. There really isn't time for fancy explanations and pussy-footing around. When he tells me something is "bullshit", I know exactly what he means. I'm not sure everyone on the course gets this sort of criticism, but for me, it's invaluable.

I'm giving a presentation in a couple weeks, reading some of my own work and then showing some other work I admire and discussing the connections, influences etc. I'll be nervous, but it should be quite fun. For those interested, I'll be talking about Dexter and reading a short script I wrote (entered into the BSSC).

We have to give another presentation for this module that's a little more serious. As long as it's "contemporary", anything's game. Yep, I know - what's contemporary?! I don't know either - last 10 years, set in the last 10 years? Who knows?

I'm playing to my strengths with this one, no pissing about - Joss Whedon. Simple as that. Providing I can convince my tutors that Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which began in 1997) is contemporary, we're good to go. We all know I love Joss Whedon like a god, so it was only a matter of time he got me a decent mark for something - he really needs to start pulling his weight!

Feminism in the works of Joss Whedon - piece of piss writing 3500 words on that! Providing I can work out how to reference DVD boxsets and youtube........

Got lots of nice prezzies from my friends when I went out last week - books (these people know me very well!) and a notepad for those script ideas (like I said, very well!). Problem is, as the note in the notepad says, anything that goes in it technically belongs to the buyer, so any profits from said ideas go to the lady who bought it for me. I think I've haggled her down to 75% now. Either way, time to get me a lawyer!

That's about all that's going on in my life at the moment. So, what's new with you?

Tuneage:
My goodness, it's Eddie Vedder with a guitar! What are the odds?

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Copyright essay

Most of the things universities get you to read are boring. They are, however, vital to the course. So you end up reading them in the end. Occasionally they are pretty interesting. Like this one from my Writing MA on copyright.

It's hard going, fairly long, so I recommend you sit down with a coffee and some heavy metal before diving in. Here are a few of the highlights if, like me, you're far too lazy busy to read it all:

Appropriation has always played a key role in Dylan's music. The songwriter has grabbed not only from a panoply of vintage Hollywood films but from Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Junichi Saga's Confessions of a Yakuza. He also nabbed the title of Eric Lott's study of minstrelsy for his 2001 album Love and Theft.

One imagines Dylan liked the general resonance of the title, in which emotional misdemeanors stalk the sweetness of love, as they do so often in Dylan's songs. Lott's title is, of course, itself a riff on Leslie Fiedler's Love and Death in the American Novel, which famously identifies the literary motif of the interdependence of a white man and a dark man, like Huck and Jim or Ishmael and Queequeg—a series of nested references to Dylan's own appropriating, minstrel-boy self.

Dylan's art offers a paradox: while it famously urges us not to look back, it also encodes a knowledge of past sources that might otherwise have little home in contemporary culture, like the Civil War poetry of the Confederate bard Henry Timrod, resuscitated in lyrics on Dylan's newest record, Modern Times. Dylan's originality and his appropriations are as one.

[...]

In a courtroom scene from The Simpsons that has since entered into the television canon, an argument over the ownership of the animated characters Itchy and Scratchy rapidly escalates into an existential debate on the very nature of cartoons. “Animation is built on plagiarism!” declares the show's hot-tempered cartoon-producer-within-a-cartoon, Roger Meyers Jr. “You take away our right to steal ideas, where are they going to come from?”

[...]

At the movies, my entertainment is sometimes lately preceded by a dire trailer, produced by the lobbying group called the Motion Picture Association of America, in which the purchasing of a bootleg copy of a Hollywood film is compared to the theft of a car or a handbag—and, as the bullying supertitles remind us, “You wouldn't steal a handbag!”

This conflation forms an incitement to quit thinking. If I were to tell you that pirating DVDs or downloading music is in no way different from loaning a friend a book, my own arguments would be as ethically bankrupt as the MPAA's. The truth lies somewhere in the vast gray area between these two overstated positions. For a car or a handbag, once stolen, no longer is available to its owner, while the appropriation of an article of “intellectual property” leaves the original untouched.

As Jefferson wrote, “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”

Read the full article.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Birthday and Burton

It's my birthday today - yay! Don't worry, I'm not sad enough to do a blog post on my actual birthday - wrote this yesterday. Or today, depending how you look at it.

Hopefully I'll get lots of goodies, but something tells me I won't be getting that Flux Capacitor I need to finish off my DeLorean time machine. Oh well, one day.....

What I'm really counting on is a little cash to go towards the Les Paul I'm going to buy. It's an Epiphone btw, not a Gibson - they're essentially the same instrument. Ok, a Gibson would last longer if you chucked it down the stairs, but I'm not that rock n roll! And with the Gibson being about £1000 more than the Epiphone, it's no contest! This is how most of these conversations go:

October 2010....
Dude in Shop: Greetings!
Me: Howdy. I'm after an Epi Paul.
Dude in Shop: An Epiphone Les Paul eh? You don't want the real thing?
Me: Nah, five hundred quid's my limit. Besides, they're basically the same thing.
Dude in Shop: Ah, very well. (under his breath) Cheap fucker!

October 2030...20 years later...after winning the lottery....
Duder in Shop: Greetings!
Me: Howdy............you still work here, dude?
Duder in Shop: Nah man, I'm Dude in Shop's third son - Duder in Shop - note the "R".
Me: Ah, I see. My mistake. So........I'm after a Les Paul
Duder in Shop: An Epiphone? Cos they've come along leaps and bound since the government stopped putting tracking bugs in them. Of course, I'm not legally allowed to sell you such an instrument since the Rock n Roll outlaw of twenty-three. I can, however, show you a wide variety of triangles?
Me: No no no. What I'm looking for is a Gibson Les Paul.
Duder in Shop: A Gibson?! I'd really recommend an Epiphone - they're half the price and basically the same instrument.
Me: Same instrument?! Nonsense! I'll be taking the real thing, thank you very much! I mean, what am I to do when Prime Minister Cowell comes knocking at my door late one evening because he heard "Won't Get Fooled Again" blasting from my house? Attack with my Gibson, that's what! There's certainly no way an Epiphone would withstand such a beating!
Duder in Shop: Right you are, son, right you are. A Gibson it is. And since you're spending so much money here, we'll throw in a "Government Communications Static Scrambler" free of charge.
Me: That's mightily grand of you, sir! Ta very much. You.....erm.....don't have any Flux Capacitors do you?
Duder in Shop: I don't think so. But I'll check with my future self.
Me: Cheers.


Yes, my views of the future are pretty much standard - the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. And rock n roll has been outlawed by Simon Cowell.

Anyway, today also marks the death of Cliff Burton, who was killed in a coach crash exactly two years before I was born. No-one could make a bass guitar scream quite like Cliff. And if I headbanged like him, I'd have a constant headache!

So here's a little tribute:


Oh, one last thing - last week, a guy on my street (whose last name just happens to be Burton) turned 98. Yep, 98! And he can still do a Sudoku faster than anyone I know. Now that's sticking it to the man!

Later folks!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

A snippet of Three

Why not take a quick look at the showreel of Darren S Cook (director of Three) for a few snippets of my short film (featured at 4 mins 13 seconds):



And while you're at it, check out the trailer for Darren's upcoming feature Sure Fire Hit:
Kam is in her thirties and from the suburbs nearing her well earned if somewhat early retirement. She is asked by her boss to train up a replacement before she leaves. Only trouble is, her replacement seems to have an agenda of her own.


Exciting, no?

Monday, 20 September 2010

Three nominated, BSSC, and three more shorts

So, a few people will know - Three was nominated for Best Comedy in the Portobello Film Festival yesterday (Sunday). I couldn't make it down to the ceremony, but the team were there in force.

Unfortunately, we didn't win. And while it would have been amazing if we had, it's far from the end of the world: the film got a nomination at a major festival - that's fairly shiny in itself! And it'll be entered into many a-more fest in the coming months.

In other news, my script Survival of the Fittest made it through to the first round of the British Short Screenplay Competition. I think this is certainly some of my best writing, which is why I entered into into the comp rather than tried to get it produced. Worse case scenario - I don't win and I have another short to link with a director.

In other news, a short film I had a hand in has recently been filmed. I came up with the concept for Drowning as a way of demonstrating the power of music. It sounds corny as hell, I know, but the idea went through a lot of changes etc with director Juliane Block. In the end, the story and idea are mine and Juliane's, with the script itself penned by co-director Virginia Kennedy.

The film also has a good song in it, lyrics being written by my friend Chloe Louise Patrick and myself (ok, just one verse from me). It was originally written as a poem and, me being shite at poetry, I called on Chloe to give me a hand. And the whole thing came out shiny!

Also, since meeting up with the crew of Three a few weeks ago, I've been working on another short script. It was originally going to be a bit of fun, a military action piece to suit Airsoft (which these guys play all the time!) But the ideas started flowing and I'm now working on a script I think I'll soon be very proud of. It's called Disposable Heroes and it's about....well....disposable heroes.

And finally, I have been working with director Scott Murden, rewriting a script I penned about a year ago, another comedy, since Three went down so well (but not that well - I'm looking at you Portobello!):
Would You Kill For Her?
Patiently waiting for his girlfriend to get ready, Jim finds himself at the interrogative mercy of a protective relative. Dads and brothers move over - little sisters will stop at nothing to get the truth!
Filming is aimed for around November time to enter into festivals next year. And it was this film that made me want to work with him - short, to the point and thought-provoking (everything a good short should be):



So it's all good on the short film front - now I just need to knuckle down with this Masters and get a decent feature penned.

So......what's new with you?

Friday, 17 September 2010

X-Force

I'm a big fan of the X-Force comics at the moment. Not big enough to buy every issue as they come out, but big enough to buy every graphic novel (that's a series of individual issues collected in each volume, for those who don't know) ASAP.

If you like very dark storylines and extreme violence, they're definitely worth checking out. And you don't have to have a Mutant degree to get into them. Essentially, all you need to know is that the X-Men are the public mutant face. But there are some jobs that require.....under the table solutions.

X-Force are the badass mutants who handle the wetwork, "terminating" threats before anyone even finds out about them. The general public and the other X-Men can never know. So naturally, the team is led by good old Wolverine, who is probably at his darkest here.

By far the most compelling element to the story is the grey area each mission inhabits. "For the greater good" often comes to mind.

Anyway, loving the run they're doing at the moment. And the upcoming Uncanny X-Force gets me all giddy with excitement:
After Cyclops disbands Wolverine's black-ops group, Logan assembles a brand new team to face a deadly new threat.
Why so excited? Because Wolverine seems to have recruited Archangel, Psylocke and.....wait for it.....only fucking Deadpool! All in one team, doing very violent-y things! Yes, I am super excited. Check out the trailer:



So, anyone else interested?


Wednesday, 15 September 2010

If you could write anything....

....what would you write?

I got into writing because of Mr Joss Whedon. I'm not going to say I acted out almost every episode of Buffy and Angel back in the day, but after watching an episode I could never stop thinking how awesome it would be to inhabit that world. To be Angel, or Spike, or Riley, hell, even Xander! But since that's impossible, the next best thing is to write it, yeah?

That's my general thinking on writing - would I like to be in this world, to hang out with these characters? If not, then I've failed.

The first bit of fiction I ever wrote was after Angel finished. I heard that the series was going to continue in comic book form, which pissed me off since the show ended on such an amazing note and I felt I knew what was going to happen - Angel, Spike, Illyria and Gunn (mortally wounded) were facing down an army of demons, with a giant and a dragon thrown into the mix. They die. It's that simple - Angel goes out on a battlecry with the message "always keep fighting", but they lose that battle. They all die! But the point is, they fight.

I can't help but quote Angel himself:
This isn't a "keep fighting the good fight" kind of deal. Let's be clear. I'm talking about killing every... single... member... of the Black Thorn. We don't walk away from that.
We do this, the senior partners will rain their full wrath. They'll make an example of us. I'm talking full-on hell, not the basic fire-and-brimstone kind that we're used to.
Ten to one, we're gone when the smoke clears. They will do everything in their power to destroy us. So... I need you to be sure. Power endures. We can't bring down the Senior Partners, but for one bright shiny moment we can show them that they don't own us. You need to decide for yourselves if that's worth dying for. I can't order you to do this. Can't do it without you. So we'll vote... as a team. Think about what I'm asking you to do. Think about what I'm asking you to give.
But I digress. I decided to try my hand at writing a Spike spin-off thingy. It was in prose form and absolutely terrible! And I mean seriously shite! But the one thing that was good was how I wrote Spike - I'd known the character for about 7 years so that meant I was able to write him easily.

This was, of course, before I decided writing was something I wanted to do as a career. Back then it was all a bit of fun - I wrote whatever I wanted to write. And it was crap.

I wrote a TV episode. It was for Firefly. Now Firefly was loooong dead by this point - it was never going to happen. But it was great fun. I believe my episode was about Jayne being left behind on a planet (the crew of Serenity didn't notice until they were miles away, naturally). So the decision was - do we go back and get Jayne? It it was Kaylee or Mal left behind, hell yeah. But Jayne? Really?

Anyway, the episode was, as previously mentioned, poo. But, again, I managed to nail the voices of the characters, because I knew them so well.

So if I could write for any TV shows past, present or future, it would definitely be Buffy, Angel and Firefly (there's a whole Joss Whedon theme here, you may notice). Notably not Dollhouse. Sorry, Joss.

But when push comes to shove, if there's any set of characters I could write for - what would be my absolute dream - it would be the X-Men.

X-Men is still one of the finest pieces of fiction ever conceived. I started reading them at school, grabbing whatever issues were lying around. I didn't understand it all, because if you pick up a random X-Men issue now, you'll need a Masters degree in Mutant Ethics to have the slightest clue what's going on.

But these characters are the core of what makes it great. The constant tension between Wolverine and Cyclops and the love triangle with Jean Grey. Beast's ongoing internal struggle with the creature within. Colossus' connections with his old family. Emma Frost's constant questionable allegiances. This is what makes X-Men. That, combined with the brilliant moral, ethical and political "mutant problem", make it amazing to read.

I could quite comfortably sit for an entire year and write nothing but X-Men. Unlike Hellblazer, where I would probably find myself repeating what's gone before, X-Men still has stories yet to be told.

For example, if I were to create a live-action X-Men TV show (my undying dream), I would remove Wolverine. Don't get me wrong, Logan is amazing and possibly my favourite mutant, but he's been done to death now - everyone knows who he is and what he's all about. At most, he would pop in every now and then, fuck things up, and piss off. In classic Wolvie fashion.

No, my X-Men team would quite simply consist of Cyclops (the classic, core, father-figure of the group - if it ain't broke, don't fix it), Colossus (who would do a lot more than just stand there and hit things - thank you, Mr Brett Ratner!), Shadowcat (for her awesome relationship with Colossus), Beast (as a solitary quiet type, a mere shadow of his former self) and Psylocke (because every team needs a psychic). That's where I stand. And, no, I would not throw Gambit in there just to please fanboys!

Anyway, that would be my dream - to write the X-Men, either on TV (preferably), film or comic book. Now, there's very very little chance this will ever happen, but I can't see X-Men ever dying. So it'll be around for a long long while. Whether it'll get better or worse is anyone's guess - probably both. I'm not holding my breath, but maybe, just maybe, I'll one day have the opportunity to write the X-Men. And then I can die a very happy dude!

So, what about you? If you could write any set of characters, who would it be? Friends, Cheers, Lost, 24, James Bond, The Avengers, Spider-Man, Dr Who, Harry Potter?

Let me know.

Over and out.

PS: if you've never read a comic book before in your life, just watching this video and you might change your mind......


Thursday, 9 September 2010

London & Portobello

I hopped on a train to London yesterday to see Three in the Portobello Film Festival. I don't know if we won; I don't even know what we win if we win. Not the foggiest.

Anyway, I pottered round Oxford Street for an hour and mistook a young bald man for Patrick Stewart - don't worry, I didn't say anything. Though, had I decided to, the exchange would most likely have gone like this:

Me: Greetings, sir. Looking to produce any short films?
Sir Patrick Stewart: I was Professor Charles Xavier. I played every single role in Dicken's A Christmas Carol. I was Captain Ahab. I was Claudius in Hamlet! I was the Captain of the Starship fucking Enterprise for christ's sake! Who the hell are you?!
Me: ........your new best friend.....?
THWAK!
*Mr Stewart walks away, leaving me unconscious in a pile of my own self-hatred*

Anyway, that didn't happen. So on to more interesting matters.

I met up with Mr Ty Jon Knowles (fellow writer and worked as production assistant on Three). One fellow (who will remain nameless) later may or may not have been eyed up by a prostitute in a trenchcoat (if the police ask, I'm a writer, ergo - antisocial, ergo - didn't see a thing).

I then spent the night shaking hands with a bunch of people I'd never met before - and what fine people they were - directors, producers, actors, cinematographers, armourers (they're the dudes with the guns. Note: don't say "Hey, you're the gun guy!" too loud in a bar. Turns heads. Wrong heads!), a few rather hot beautifully talented actresses as well.

I also had a few drinks bought for me, which is always appreciated at London prices. I'm sure the first Jack Daniels I had was half the price of the fourth.....

I was interviewed by a friend of a friend of a friend of a.........hmm.....I was interviewed by a lovely lady called Jo (I certainly hope that is her name - that part of the night is a little fuzzy. I'm almost certain it is. I think). Yes, so I was interviewed for a website - for the life of me I can't remember what website that was, but sure I'll find out.

We then settled down to watch Three on the big screen. I say big, but problem was, the projector wasn't close enough to the screen, so the opening title went from "THREE" to "HRE". But never mind, it just meant we missed off some of Mr Tony C's face in some of the shots. Which isn't the end of anyone's world.

Plenty of people laughed at the right moments (but that was mostly our gang to be fair) and also laughed at the wrong moments (again, us!). But it seemed to go down well and it was amazing to see the final thing on the big (slightly cut-off) screen. We did cheer an awful lot! Which is more than the film before ours got, since no-one turned up to see it. Just as well, since their DVD chocked and died before they could play it.

So after a few more drinks and shaking the hands of a few more people (it's very strange being congratulated on something you wrote over two years ago!), and after declaring that I could easily take Mr Robert Downey Jr in unarmed combat (not everyone shared my confidence), I headed on home. Three and a half hours later, at 2am, I crashed on my bed and now I feel like I've been hit by a truck. So it was a good day!

Thanks everyone, that is all.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Three in Portobello

Those who know me on facebook will probably already know that short film Three (that I wrote) was accepted into the Portobello Film Festival. It's playing in the comedy section (it being a comedy and all), playing on Wednesday 8th (that's this Wednesday) at Inn on the Green, London, from 6pm to 11pm (we're showing around 9-ish). You can see the other films being entered (along with Three) at this link, on page 11.

So if anyone feels like spending a night watching some good old comedy shorts in a decent bar, come along, drinks on me! *

In other news, I'm currently rewriting a short script for a director. After reading it, he had a bunch of ideas to improve it. I was against them to start with, but I soon realised he was right, so a rewrite it is. Directors, eh, always gotta be right!

Still waiting to hear on the BSSC and Red Planet Prize (along with thousands of other people), so nothing to say there.

I've been doing a bit of research into Script Reading this last week, working out if it's something I could be any good at. It's going well so far - I'm certainly not at a stage where I can think about charging yet, but you never know.

Other than that, I'm just running around trying to get everything sorted for my MA starting later this month. The reading lists aren't really going down at all - the bad habits have already started. I'm doing a Writing MA and they expect me to read too?! Jeez!

Anyway, happy writing folks!

Tuneage:


PS: Kick-Ass comes out on Monday - go buy it. Immediately. On Monday. Obviously.

* Drinks are not on me, I just
like to think I'm rich enough
to say such things.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Top 5 fight scenes

I like fight scenes. I know, who knew?! Anyway, I figured I'd share (for no apparent reason) my top 5 fight scenes from film and TV. To bend the rules slightly, I'm going to show what I believe to be the most realistic fights in film. Not so realistic that it's that Bridget ones thingy, but decent and real at the same time. So, without further ado, here it be --

5) Spider-Man - Spidey vs. Green Goblin
A realistic superhero fight? Really?! Yep - taking into account these two dudes' powers, this is nice and brutal. The complete lack of music is what really sells it - no fancy shit, just two blokes slugging it out.
Lesson learned - Willem Dafoe hits like a Mack Truck!


4) Dollhouse - Echo vs. Ballard
Great innovation in this fight, from the two toughest characters. What I really love is that, despite Echo being a rather small woman (the woman Ballard is supposed to be saving), Ballard doesn't hold back one tiny bit.
Lesson learned - hitting women is sometimes very very ok.


3) Taken - pretty much the entire film
Earns a place on the list because these fight scenes (while repetitive) are incredibly realistic. Fighting is simple - put your opponent down as fast as possible. Nothing does that quite like a slap to the larynx.
Lesson learned - don't wish Liam Neeson good luck!


2) Kick-Ass - Hero time!
What makes this scene so good and realistic is that is captures what the entire movie is all about. At this point, we want nothing more than for our boy to succeed, but, well.....things don't quite go as planned - perfect realism.
Lesson learned - cars are dangerous!


1) Casino Royale - Staircase fight
Twice as tense as any other Bond scene, increased tenfold by having a machete involved. Brutally hard at the end as well, since that sleeper hold is textbook - only way to get out of it is to deal out enough pain on your aggressor that he lets go. Love it!
Lesson learned - gambling has dangers we didn't even know about!