Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Positive reinforcement

Yesterday, I finally finished the three-page treatment for my latest featue script. For some reason, it was taking gorram ages to get done. That reason is probably what David said:
Writer's block is where confidence fails. The writer doesn't know their story or their characters or their world. Maybe they haven't done enough research. Maybe they haven't dug deep enough into their creations. Maybe they've lost confidence in their idea, their reason for writing the story, for writing in this genre or for this medium.
Although a big helping of my inability to get the treatment done is just darn laziness :(

Yesterday, I did get a surge of confidence in the idea, but what really got me through it (it only took me half an hour to complete) is the pomise of a reward. It's like that Skinner bloke said - if you have something positive to look forward to, the work will get done. It ain't rocket science (just behavioural psychology).

My promise - a book. I decided that once the treatment was done, I'd start reading Mike Carey's The Taming of the Beasts (it's been sitting on my shelf for months and I'm really looking forward to it based on what happened in the previous book!). It's sad, I know, but it works.

Now I must be off to finish redrafting a short film script. Maybe I can give myself a cookie once that's complete.......

Monday, 18 April 2011

Just because it's awesome.....

PS - if they pay me enough, I'll happily write the feature. Just sayin'

Thursday, 14 April 2011

If in doubt - female.

Most of the stories I write are about men. That's because I am one, simple as that. I find it much much easier to think what a man might do than a woman. Just like it's easier for me to imagine what a 22-year-old would say than a 40-year-old. Because I haven't yet been 40 (in this lifetime).

There are some stories where I actively want a male protagonist. The last TV script, for example. And there are some occasions when I actively want a female protagonist - my last feature script.

But when I started planning what I'm working on now (a contained horror script), I saw no reason for either gender. It didn't matter whether the hero was male or female. So, by default, I went for female.

Because, no matter what anyone says, there is still a lack of women in films. Both in them literally, and working in them. One reason is probably similar to what I've said above - I'll wager there are more male screenwriters out there than female (or at least getting their material produced), so they're writing from the comfortable POV of male writer = male hero.

So the female protagonist is now my default. Unless I have an active urge to make her male. In which case, I might call him Jayne or something......

I also planned my characters (for the current script) based on a gender balance. There are more men than women in the main cast, but that still works out at 4 ladies. And many people will die in this film. It's not looking too good for the gents - my current plans have the survival percentage at around 75% for the ladies and only 25% for the blokes.

Anyway, I'm feeling good about this one. I'm sure the film industry will continue to be a male-dominated business for a while yet, but I'm playing my part by writing parts for the ladies. And, for the record, these ladies are not gun-toting "blokes with tits" or scantily-clad sex objects. We have Zack Snyder for that, right?

Over and out!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Everyone is the main character

I came across one of the best nuggets of writing advice ages ago when listening to the Joss Whedon DVD commentary of a Firefly episode. He said that every character is the protagonist of their own story. As far as Jayne is concerned, everything happens to him first, then others.

Think about The Terminator. The main character is Sarah Connor. But from Ginger's POV (Ginger would be Sarah's best friend), this is her story. She's in a happy relationship with a decent bloke. She lives with her introverted friend who likes lizards. She loves her new Walkman and listens to it all day. After a nice night out with her boyfriend, she is suddenly attacked by a huge bloke wielding a Glock. He kills her boyfriend and shoots her in the back.

It's not the best story (which is why she isn't the protagonist) but it's a story. It has a constant state (happy relationship) and a trigger (the T-101 breaks into her house). She just dies very early on.

It's all about looking at the entire story from your sub-characters' POVs. The supporting cast are always tricky to get right. Some characters are there just for expositional reasons (to show that your hero only has one good friend). There's nothing wrong with that, but you run the risk of them being throw-aways.

So a good way to make them relevant is to check out what their story is. How would your script play out if John was the centre, not Jill?

What if Captain Dallas had survived in Alien? What would the story be from his POV?

Ron Weasley is the main dude in Harry Potter - what's it like being best friends with the most famous wizard ever?

What does Alfred do when Bruce Wayne is off saving Gotham City?

You don't need to go overboard with backstory or huge developments, but by thinking about sub-characters' story arcs, they will seem like far deeper personalities.

The last script I wrote has a female protagonist who is going down a particularly rough road in her life. That's where the best story is. I have two main secondary characters:

One is her best friend, who makes it his mission to protect our hero and drag her out of the life she's made for herself.

The other is a Priest who sees the bigger picture. He's not really too concerned with the people involved, but more on what their actions will result in. He has a past that is hinted at throughout and perhaps gets explained if you pay close attention.

But the point is - they both have stories. One goes on a mission to save his best friend, and the other sets out to save the world. All three stories (these two and my protagonist's) come to a head in the final act.

Make sure those minor characters are major in their own heads!

Over and out - shiny writing!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

The film I always go back to - 'Jurassic Park'

This be part of the Kid in the Front Row blogathon, the idea being that you declare which film you always go back to and why. As Kid says: the film that speaks to you when you need to be spoken to. See Kid's here.

Mine is Jurassic Park.

It's not the greatest film ever made. But it's the first film I saw at the cinema. Tiny five-year-old me, sitting in the front row (yes, I think it was the front row, due to the aforementioned tinyness), eyes wide open, staring tabula rasa at the humongous silver screen. 

Then that ominous music started as the team rolled out the huge crate containing the (unseen) velociraptor. And I was bloody hooked. Scared out of my gorram mind. But hooked.

Then there were the dinosaurs themselves - running around, throwing cars through trees, leaping onto T-Rex skeletons - generally destroying things. And the truly terrifying velociraptor kitchen scene. I remember viewing that through shaking fingers.

Those dinosaurs made such an impression on me that, for the next....12 years, I wanted to be an archaeologist. Part of me still does. Assuming all archaeologists get to endorse dinosaur theme parks. No? Ah well, writing it is.

What really strikes me about this film is that I don't recall being remotely bored at all. If you think about it, a fair bit of the film is taken up with scientific explanations. One scene actually sees the main characters sitting round a table discussing the ethics of bringing dinosaurs back to life (now that's something my script tutor would flay me for!*) This is not writing for little people.

But I was never bored. Why not? There's no way I could have understood the line "what you call discovery.....I call the rape of the natural world." It must have been because there were fucking dinosaurs!!! Massive, man-eating monsters roaming around, waiting to break free and wreak havoc! Perfect!

And that's why I always go back to Jurassic Park. If I'm feeling all smart and sophisticated, I can sit back and marvel at the possibility of using frogs to complete DNA sequences and bring dinosaurs back to life, or get thoroughly invested in the ethical ramifications of such a decision.

And if I'm feeling like a scare, I can regress to Five-Year-Old Neil and rewatch those fecking raptors lurk through the kitchen.

But, finally - and most importantly - if I'm feeling in the mood for destructive dinosaurs and general peril (and, let's face it - when am I not?!), Jurassic Park is always going to deliver.

Honourable mentions:
  • Die Hard (I'll always watch it when it's on, no matter what time it is or how long it's got to go)
  • The Lion King (my favourite Disney movie, and some killer action sequences!)
  • The Terminator (greatest sci-fi horror ever? After Alien, anyway)
  • Predator (same as Die Hard. I can never resist posting quotes on facebook as they happen on-film)
So what about you? What's the film that you always go back to? Please - someone tell me theirs is Jurassic Park! Please?

* My script tutor might not flay me
for writing such a scene.
Perhaps I would just be
dismembered or something....