Wednesday, 28 January 2009
Let me be clear so as not to offend. When I wrote my first ever screenplay, a 30 minute short about 7/8 years ago, my formatting was completely wrong. The first person I showed it to, a tutor on a short course, put me straight, and that was that. I bought Final Draft and that did the rest. Young and innocent, I had the 60 odd quid to splash on it! But even if you don't, there is free software out there, like scriptsmart via the Beeb, that is more than capable of doing the job.
So as a reminder, the industry font standard is Courier 12 point. The original reason for this, yonks ago, is I think because it is most reminiscent of the old typewriters that were used back in the day! But whatever the reason, it is the way it is and everyone has to get on board.
Because nothing screams amateur louder than a script in the wrong format. And low and behold, I got one the other day. Now, it was not through my own Script Reading on the Blog service from a complete newbie. If that was the case I would've had a gentle word about what was the correct form and I assume that would've been the end of it. No, this script came via a company I read for.
I couldn't believe it because from what I could work out, the writers were experienced enough and should've known better. It's not easy getting a production company to even look at your work, the competition is so fierce. So if you do, you want to stand out for good reasons, not cos you look like an amateur.
I know this all sounds really pedantic, but there are actually valid reasons things are the way they are. I read the whole script, because that's what I get paid to do, but the more experience you have, the more you get a feel for certain things. So for experiments sake I converted the script from the font it was in, into courier 12 point. And it was a good 10 pages longer! I wasn't surprised because it felt overwritten, but what this meant was that the writers either knew this, and tried to disguise it by using a smaller font (rather than being bothered to actually cut the overwriting in the script!) or they didn't - in which case it throws up concerns about their writing in terms of structure and pacing.
Don't get me wrong, like I said I read the whole script. And if it had been fantastic, I certainly would not have let formatting problems stand in the way of me recommending it. But it's so easy to get the basics right, I was extremely surprised this landed in my inbox. Writing top notch screenplays is very difficult. There are so many things that need to be spot on. Plot, Characters, Theme - all the tough stuff. So lets do everyone, all writers, a favour and not make the easy stuff make us look like we don't know what we're doing.
Sunday, 25 January 2009
From a writing point of view, what Waterloo Road demonstrates once again are the importance of characters. Thinking about it now off the top of my head (albeit a little sleepily) I can't really remember any specific story lines. But I can tell you quite a few of the characters that have been in the show across the series. Waterloo Road is essentially a grown up Grange Hill, a school based soap opera (seriously it's not a derogatory word.) You can see a point where it will match the episode volum of Casualty or Holby. And like those two shows, this is the school where everything happens! I mentioned in my last post my love of Sky One's Dream Team. And you knew if you signed for Harchester United you were going to be in for a torrid time. This was the football club that went through plane crashes, bus explosions, assassinations, bombs, armed police raids and much more. So there was a certain suspension of belief needed but this was all part of the fun and if you couldn't get into it on that level, then why bother watching TV shows at all! So to with Waterloo Road. Fires, knives, shootings, a former prostitute head teacher and so on. Of course it's ridiculous. But that's missing the point. These are precinct dramas. If it's not Holby then it's Albert Square. I personally think soaps can get themselves in trouble when they go for the bigger and bigger stories. It's not really about that. It's about bringing together a group of interesting characters and letting them interact. Do it properly and they'll generate stories for you. Do it well and we'll care about them too. Waterloo Road brings together a nice mix of older characters (played by talented, experienced actors) and (no less talented) youngsters. Maybe it's not as edgy as Skins. But in its prime time weekly slot on a mainstream channel, I think it's a great example of how to go about creating a returning series.
Speaking of which, take a bow over at Hustle. I love Hustle. Generally speaking, for a TV series, I usually prefer a continuing story rather than stories of the day to dominate. If I watch your show, I am a loyal audience member. And so I like being engrossed in a story that runs and runs. But Hustle, with it's different con and therefore story every week, is just such great fun. And again, I don't think it's necessarily about the plots. Sure they are cool and I like trying to work them out (got the first two this season but not episode three.) But it's more that I like spending time with these characters. It's great to have Micky Stone back and whilst Sean and Emma are no Danny and Stacie yet, the two new members have brought a new dimension to the show and freshened it up a little bit. (Although I still think Ash is my favourite.) I love the jokey amorality about the show. Yes the gang have a strict code (you can't con an honest man) and they are like modern day Robin Hoods (well, without the giving to the poor bit) but it's great watching Micky rob this bloke of his wallet and car, inside the first few minutes of the season opener. We fantasize vicariously through them as they take down the rich and corrupt in a society that is on its economic knees.
Characters. Characters. Characters. I'm not saying anything ground breaking here. I know that. But here's a little secret. I've never written a series pilot before. Never looked to create a series and a world where characters have to live beyond the 60 to 120 minutes of one off TV or Film features. And I'm just about to. So it's worth reminding myself, if nobody else, that you better come up with a set of characters that people are going to be interested in and care enough about, to spend hours and hours of TV time with.
Tuesday, 20 January 2009
But anyway, I'm not going to go on and on. Enough has been written on this topic already on those posts. All I will say is that writers have to get feedback on their work. Get it where you can and from people who know what they are talking about. That may not be your mate, your mum, or your nan. But if you have a writers group or the power of three or whatever, then great. To date I have never paid for feedback, because I have about a dozen writers who I regularly swap work with (95% of whom I met on my MA.) But if writers don't have that support network, paying a good reader a non budget busting price is a way around this. And I will back my knowledge, prices and one week turnaround time against any comparative service.
Moving on, the other reason I've been a bit busy is that yesterday I turned thirty! Wohoooo. Well, sort of wohooo. It is a little depressing not being a screenwriter in my twenties any more. I always thought my age, young for this business, was a strong plus (although that lot who write for Skins are probably laughing into their bowls of frosties right about now.) But my birthday also made me think of my five year plan, which ended yesterday. Five years ago I was just starting my MA. I gave myself those two years, plus a further three to 'make it.' (No one told me back then that it traditionally takes ten!) The plan was to graduate, get onto the Sky One footy soap Dream Team, get some screen credits and go on from there. The trouble was, although I got close to becoming involved with the show, by the time I had graduated they were on their final season and it was too late. So I was left floundering a bit and first year after college was a bit of a write off (get it?) I think the two after that have been a marked improvement, with the creation of a decent portfolio, some competition success, and a host of industry contacts that have been very supportive. More importantly in many respects, I now feel I have a good understanding of how this industry works, of who does what and also what I need to do. Maybe this is why it takes ten years. The first five are spent working out what the hell is going on.
My wife assures me that whilst it's good to plan, you always have to be adaptable to adjust to things as they come about. It's also important to remember to actually live a bit too. During the past five years I also nearly died (whole other story) met and married my wife, have dealt with more physical (and by extension mental) challenges than I care to mention, started this blog and have made many friends because of this industry. Would I have done anything differently? Well, probably. But that's irrelevant now.
It's time for the next five year plan...
Wednesday, 14 January 2009
So check out his post as I don't have much to add to that!
The one thing I will say rather smugly, is that David Thompson said pretty much exactly what I wrote about here.
I still believe that there is something in the British psyche that makes us reluctant to create upbeat stories, that for some reason we feel serious stories are a nobler art form. David noted that critics should share the blame for this, often seemingly relishing the opportunity to lambast the latest British comedy, but that writers too can learn to appreciate that comedy is the highest form of art.
Again, I want to stress that there is of course room for serious drama, but in these dark days of recession, what do most audiences want to see and feel when they go to the cinema?
Finally, congrats to all who put on the event last night and good luck for the preparations for what will no doubt be a fantastic festival in October.
Monday, 12 January 2009
I get the feeling not everyone is, but equally, I really feel that if ITV keeps its nerve, and allows this series to bed in, it could be very good. It actually reminds me of Sanctuary, which I liked at first but got a bit bored with and gave up when work and other shows were causing a pile up. I think one of the reasons I lost interest was because of the unconnected nature of the show. Built around story of the day for the dip in whenever audience, there was not much keeping my interest week after week. I think this is fine for cop and doc shows, but fantasy creates a kind of mythology (and an ardent, loyal fanbase) and for me it benefits when there are more continuing elements. Demons has, admittedly, started more as a 'new demon' each week thing, but I am hoping that like Apparitions, this is just to lead people into the series and the next four or so will have a more continuing plot. But the actual show is working well, with a couple of reservations. Much has been made of Philip Glenister's American accent. I've read all sorts, like this will make it easier to sell the show to the Americans (er, right) to everyone not wanting Rupert to be too much like a certain Gene Hunt. Well, my answer to that would be, why the hell not? Glenister himself apparently said the following:
"Rupert was written as a Texan originally and I thought b****cks to that - I'm not playing a Texan. They said I could play him as English, but I wanted to have the challenge of playing an American... It was quite funny because they sent some of the rushes to Sony in New York and this email came back from them saying: 'Philip Glenister's accent is acceptable.'"
Well yes, acceptable is the word I'd use too. But why bother? I'm not one to question an actors job, but trying an American accent seems a superficial challenge. Dare I say he seems a bit self conscious of getting that right in the show above anything else. Better surely to create a memorable character like Gene (Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham acknowledge that it was only after seeing footage from the first couple of episodes that they realised what a great job Glenister was doing and the character became far more central to the overall series.) Like Hunt, Rupert Galvin is the mentor figure for a younger man, has most of the sharp lines and could be the real star of the show. My other question mark at the moment concerns the tone and the young protagonist, Luke Van Helsing. In the fantasy genre, you usually get one of two types of protagonists. Either, they embrace their 'special' status (like Merlin or even the Doctor) or they fight against it and are reluctant heroes (like Luke Skywalker or early Buffy I think.) They just want to be normal. Luke Van Helsing seems neither one nor the other. In the first couple of episodes he's been really passive, doing what he is told most of the time. But not really rebelling against the 'rules' or training or his status, but not really relishing it either. It's made it a bit difficult to get a handle on him as a character. It's been rather nonchalant that all of a sudden there are demons everywhere (where have they been up until now) and he has to kill them. His girlfriend, Ruby, also seems to be taking it very much in her stride. Why is no one freaking out at this rather odd turn of events? It's a problem I had with early Apparition episodes but that faded over the series. So I hope it will here too.
A whole other ball game was BBC's latest adaptation of The Diary Of Anne Frank. If you type in those five words to IMDB, you'll see how many versions of this there have been over the years. As I was critical of the BBC for doing yet another adaptation of The 39 Steps over Christmas, it would be hypocritical of me not to raise a similar point here. However it is true that this subject matter is one that needs constant reinforcement, especially when Holocaust deniers are invited to speak at leading colleges throughout the world and give television Christmas messages. (Although having said that there are of course, sadly, many other narratives from that period and it may still be preferable to do something new and not so familiar. Compare the recently released Defiance that I have yet to see but certainly intend to.) But this adaptation was definitely written well enough, by the supremely talented Deborah Moggach, who had this to say:
"Like many people, I read the diary when I was young. Now, on rereading it, I'm struck by how contemporary Anne is - stroppy, obsessed with boys, with her looks, beady and rebellious, highly critical of her mother. In other words, a thoroughly modern teenager. In past adaptations, she has been somewhat sanctified - a bit cheeky and talkative maybe, but also over-sweet. I want to be true to the real girl. Sure, she got on people's nerves; but she was also full of life, her own sternest critic and, above all, she made people laugh."
In that respect, Moggach certainly achieved her goal. The character of Anne was rawer but truer than any I have seen before. And stupidly, like all good adaptations of true stories, I was still willing that THIS time, this time, it would end differently. This time they would not get caught.
The other thing that was fascinating about this adaptation was the decision to make it as five 30 minute episodes over one week. I wouldn't be as crass as to suggest that it was trying to soap-ify it (say like Bleak House or Little Dorrit) but if it made it more accessible or found a new audience, then I think it was a very smart and innovative decision indeed.
Finally, whilst not in any way wanting to seem flippant, it's worth thinking about how the drama works. Obviously we know the story, and it is true and heartbreaking. But now that it is so familiar, it's easy to forget that one girl writing about a handful of people confined to one little flat for two years, regardless of circumstance and the outside world that we never see, does not immediately suggest good television, i.e. visual, drama. But it is gripping, because of the threat of being caught, yes. But also because of the well drawn characters and the interactions and conflicts even in this confined space. The whole thing is a dozen actors and one set. Not the biggest of budgets I imagine. So without wanting to cheapen it in any way, it's worth thinking about whether we have any other stories, powerful, sad, entertaining or happy, that we can tell under these conditions.
Friday, 9 January 2009
Working Title Films’ Action! Programme invites outstanding individuals seeking a career in film to apply for 3 one-year positions at our London office. We are looking for hard working and resourceful candidates, able to demonstrate the ambition and drive necessary to make the most of this unique opportunity. Successful applicants will have basic office experience, appropriate to entry level opportunities, and be able to express themselves with excellent verbal and written communication skills.
You must be available to work on a full-time basis, Monday to Friday, from June 2009 for a year, and to attend interviews in London in April and May 2009. Bursaries of £14,000 will be awarded to successful candidates, and if you don’t live in London, additional discretionary funds may be available to help with your relocation costs. Reasonable, pre-approved travel expenses to and from London for the selection process will be reimbursed.
Our aim is to improve your opportunities for a career in film by giving you:
- First hand knowledge of how an international production company operates.
- Hands on experience in finding and developing scripts.
- Exposure to the development and production process from the first idea to the big screen.
- Insight into the practicalities of film-making as well as learning how to nurture creative talent.
- A range of industry contacts and help with future opportunities
Closing date is Feb 20th 2009
Wednesday, 7 January 2009
I have to say I personally find the decision by the BBC to adapt John Buchan's novel a bit perplexing. This was the fourth version of this story, with another one being planned by the great Robert Towne (although this is apparently on the back burner.) Remakes of Hitchcock films on the whole always seem a bit odd, as you are pretty much setting yourself up for a fall before you even start. Another thing that stood out was the fact that although the phrase period piece is usually the death nail, both this and Affinity fall under that category. So were there no other exciting, original scripts knocking about at BBC HQ that could've seen our license fee money invested more interestingly? But oh well. To the show. It was OK. Exciting at times, a little ludicrous in others. I know everyone does it, but nothing annoys me more than when people are chasing someone and instead of waiting until they have them in their sights, call out to them to stay where they are! In this case, German assassins were pursuing our protagonist, who was waving down their car thinking it was someone else. He had no idea. They could've driven up as close as they wanted and shot him. But no. Instead one of them leans out the window, tells him to stay where he is, and takes a pot shot from fifty yards, giving him a chance to escape. I mean come on people! This was not the only time this sort of thing happened either. It's so infuriating.
The other major problem was the voice over. A lot of scriptwriting books are anti voice over full stop, but I don't agree. Quality use of voice over can be excellent. I read a script recently that was a masterclass in this, with the voice over by a young girl telling us something completely different to what was actually occurring on screen. It made it funny and all the more poignant. However, in The 39 Steps the voice over by Rupert Penry-Jones told us exactly what we could see and knew. Stuff like "I had to get out of London" whilst we're watching him at the train station, er, trying to get out of London, or "I have to find Captain Kell before they find me." Well, yes. That is indeed what you have to do. It reminded me of The Long Firm, a few years ago, a mini series I enjoyed, but one that did exactly the same thing. It betrays a lack of confidence in either the writing, the story, the actors ability to deliver a performance, or all three. The 39 Steps was adapted by Lizzie Mickery, who wrote The State Within a couple of years ago, a thriller so convoluted that it could've done with a voice over! But it wasn't needed here and annoyed rather than informed.
Far better fare came from Caught in a Trap. It was inspired by the true story of a woman who stole hundreds of thousands of pounds from parking meter fees to fund an obsession with Elvis. Written by 26 year old James Graham, this was his first screenplay after winning awards writing for the stage. So first and foremost, plaudits must go to Greenlit and ITV for believing in this script by a relative newcomer and backing it all the way to screen. Read an interview with James here to find out more. What attracted me to this comedy drama was the fact that it featured a protagonist who committed massive theft and fraud, who gets caught, loses everything, goes to jail, but all the time you never lose sympathy with her, actually want her to succeed, and also managed to pull off a feel good ending of sorts. That's extremely smart writing and follows in the footsteps of Can't Buy Me Love (Tony Jordan), The Secretary Who Stole Four Million (Lucy Floyd) and The Storyteller (Jez Freedman. hehe just kidding)
How did he do this? Firstly, Gemma (played by Connie Fisher) was shy, downtrodden, teased by her co-workers and loved her dad whilst having a strained relationship with her step-mom. There was also something suitably weird, yet at the same time familiar, about her obsession and how she chose to spend her ill gotten gains. If she'd blown it all on bling, clothes and the usual material crap, we might have lost sympathy. But the fact that it all went on this weird sub-culture of Elvis memorabilia was quirky, funny and touching. Can I honestly say that if I had two hundred thousand quid to spend, I wouldn't blow the lot on Star Wars or Arsenal memorabilia? Well I probably wouldn't, cos my wife would kill me, but if I was Gemma, and living in a fantasy, I might well.
The tricky thing with Caught in a Trap was always going to be the ending. Gemma had to get caught, and like her real life counterpart, was sent to jail (albeit two years instead of three.) But unlike in real life, where the council was left hugely out of pocket, in this drama, we were told that Gemma's acquisitions were actually appreciating in value and that their eventual sale would in fact turn the council a profit. You were left with the feeling that oh well, lessons were learnt, she was naughty, but all's well that ends well. And it's clever writing and a smart example of where changing the facts will benefit fiction. By the end, Gemma had also connected to another (living) human being in the shape of Joe Absolom, and the final scene, of him visiting her in jail, gave the impression that he would be there when she got out.
I think this post has gone on long enough so I will finish there. But I was really pleased that like Fiona's Story, written by newcomer Kate Gabriel in September, James Graham developed this script and was given the chance to helm the project all the way to transmission.
Monday, 5 January 2009
As I'm still catching up on my festive TV (told you I rarely watch things live) I thought I'd address the question above. This was apparently posed in the 'fun column' in Broadcast during December. Now, as it's called the fun column, I'm assuming that it is indeed just a bit of fun. And thankfully the result was Yes - 30% and No - 70%. But when I read about it in Twelvepoint.com I thought this was the dumbest thing I'd heard all year.
Surely the answer has to be no, no, no. Just because ITV hasn't quite managed to get a great returning series off and running, doesn't mean it should stop trying! Please don't just leave us with I'm an idiot get me out of here, X-factor, Dancing on something or other, et al.
There have been some successes, most notably Lost in Austen, and others such as Midnight Man, The Fixer and Primeval. As well as foreign imports like Entourage, Dexter and Pushing Daisies.
And is cool stuff coming up in the next few months - just check out their website. It's also a good way of course to see who's making what.
So whilst I will get to my festive TV review this week (hopefully Wednesday!) I'm already looking forward to watching Demons, The Diary of Anne Frank, Waterloo Road, Hustle, Life of Riley, 24.
And that's just in the next week or so! Who says these are dark times for TV drama?
Thursday, 1 January 2009
Things are a little more sedate in this household, (we are quite the party people) where the custom for the last three years has been to see the new year in by eating lots of tasty junk food and watching The Most Annoying People of the Year on BBC3 (Got to be the funniest show of the year too, with the possible exception of Outnumbered!) Before switching over in time to see the midnight countdown and lots and lots and lots of fireworks.
Elton did a fabulous job of putting on a show last night but I couldn't help but feel that it was past his bedtime.
To mark the new year, I have decided to spend the day with a Lord of the Rings marathon. I bid you good day... and a great year.