Thursday, 25 November 2010


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 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.


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 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*