Wednesday, 16 February 2011


Some DOUGH news, at last. Have been bursting to share this but had to wait until it was official and on the Viva Films website.

Jonathan Pryce is attached to play Jewish baker Nat Dayan.

And Merveille Lukeba is attached to play Muslim cannabis dealer Ayyash Habimana.

And if that wasn't weird enough - Mark Knopfler OBE, former Dire Straits lead guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and all round music legend - is attached for the film score.

It's all getting a bit exciting now. I'm over the moon with the casting. There are not that many actors around that can play Nat and Jonathan Pryce is an excellent choice. I'm delighted he likes the script enough to want to do it. He's a British institution and eerily, even looks a bit like how I thought Nat should.

Once we'd nailed the character of Ayyash, Merv was always our first choice. The script was basically written for him and my rather gushing review of his performance in SKINS is now a bit embarrassing having met him. I'm pretty sure he has better things to do though than read my blog so I think I'm safe.

And the involvement of Knopfler. Well that was just something Producer/Director John Goldschmidt pulled out of the hat and it feels rather odd that someone who is a legend in their field wants to invest his time, experience and talent working on something I wrote.

As William Thacker might say, nice... surreal, but nice.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Suckling at the nipple of Tony Jordan's wisdom

Which, according to the man himself, is exactly what we weren't there for on Friday as around forty Red Planet finalists met at the Century Club in Shaftesbury Avenue.Tony was joined by colleagues from Red Planet and friends from Kudos Productions.

This had a very different feeling to the workshop I went to in 2007. For one thing it was easier getting to Central London than Flitwick in Bedfordshire where Red Planet HQ is located. But the involvement of Kudos in particular signaled the intention that this was going to be bigger. Anyone who was at the London Screenwriters Festival (if you missed it scroll down the blog for my review), or has heard Tony speak elsewhere, will be familiar with his comments about the Red Planet family, the eight old farts, and finding the next generation of writers. Friday's workshop was about putting some of that into practice and the participants will now continue to build their relationship with both companies to ultimately see whether there is anything to work on together.

But although the main reason for Friday was a getting to know each other networking session, Tony can't help himself and deliver some wisdom anyway. A couple of things really stood out that are hopefully worth sharing here.

Firstly, Tony spoke about the two sides of the industry from a writing perspective - the corporate and the creative. Keep in mind we're still talking about writing now. We're not talking about producing, marketing, the money, etc, etc. Only the writing. And yet there is still, as he sees it, a creative side and a corporate side. And he doesn't care too much for the corporate side. What he means by this is that writers working on projects that they think are second guessing the industry are not as interesting to him as - in his words - writers writing something because they've just been told they have three months to live and this is the project they simply have to write before it's too late. Those are the ones he wants to see. Don't worry about what it is. He's turned off by people coming to him and saying this is a 6X60 series for Channel Four at 9pm on Thursday. Sometimes that's the first thing they say and he's like but what is it about?? That's thinking corporate when writers should be thinking creative. He'd rather hear ideas, and likes being involved with things from inception, and it might turn out to be a series, and two parter, three parter, whatever - but think idea, think characters, don't think formats and corporate.

Alongside this is chasing fads. The last one was - naturally - vampires. So vampires are hot, everyone wants vampire stories, the commissioners tell that to every single company, every single company asks their writers have you got any vampire stuff - and then the same commissioners get three hundred vampire scripts. Until they are absolutely sick to the teeth of them. And what happens is that one writer says I don't want to write about vampires, I want to write about fairies. And after reading three hundred vampire scripts and having three hundred more on their desk, and then the next script that comes in is about fairies - which is the one you think they are going to read first? You don't want to join any fad - you want to start something not end it - start a fairy revolution instead of being just another vampire junkie.

The other thing was Tony's tip to save all the rest of us from shelling out cash to see this guru or that guru. Because whatever you use - 22 steps, 3 acts, some sort of triangle thing I don't quite understand - stories all boil down to the same thing. You have a character at Point A - and at the end of the line you have what they want at Point B. And the writers job is to put complications in the way of the character getting from Point A to Point B. But the key to making this brilliant lies in how much you make the audience care about the character in the first place. Tony was pretty clear in that he loved ideas, concepts, stories, etc. But it is character that is the most vital component. Don't scrimp on the character work you do. (A tip I've heard from him before so many of you may have too, is to apply for jobs in character. Application forms ask great questions and he got both Micky Briggs and Gene Hunt job interviews!)

Friday was great fun. I had to leave early but even then it was a worthwhile couple of hours. But I have a feeling that it's what might happen next that will define whether or not my achievement of reaching the final this time will eclipse that of 2007.

Monday, 7 February 2011

From Script to Screen: The Book of Eli

I try and read a script every week. That's in addition to the script reading work I do. This is just for leisure. Jews aren't allowed to work from sundown Friday to nightfall Saturday - so I like to relax and read a script purely for pleasure (although inevitably learn something too.) During Script Club season I'll mostly follow that - and when that's not running I'll just read whatever I feel like from Simply Scripts or My PDF Scripts etc. And it adds up. That's approximately fifty scripts a year (how many have you read, ever, let alone just last year?) which means that my script collection outweighs my DVD one. And there are no prizes for guessing which one is more beneficial for screenwriters. And as Dave Herman points out, I began to actually enjoying reading scripts of movies I haven't seen - and then catching the film. Certainly from an educational point of view, I'd far rather read a script not knowing what happens next and not seeing any other pictures in my mind except the ones that the words on the page are creating for me, than be influenced by anything pre-watched.

I read The Book of Eli script towards the end of last year and then saw the movie over the holiday season. The script was fantastic. I loved it, and couldn't understand why the movie had not made more of a splash. It seemed to just come and go to mixed reviews, even though it did put up a fight against the mighty Avatar to do some decent business. But then I saw the movie and was shocked to discover that a few small, but very crucial details, had been changed. And it just brought home to me how important seemingly minor tweaks can be and what effect they can have on the overall movie.

Spoilers for The Book of Eli coming up.

You can read about the movie for yourself if you want to, on wiki or IMDB. But here's what you won't read about.

In the script, the blind characters have no pupils. They are therefore very clearly blind. If I remember correctly Eli has dark sunglasses on most of the script, except on rare occasions where he is on his own and the script makes it clear he is shrouded in darkness or asleep. However the character does things - fights, shoots, whatever - in the story that a blind person cannot do. So when Eli takes his dark glasses off at the end of the script to reveal that he is blind, it is the best jaw dropping moment I have ever read in a script. However, in the movie, the blind characters do have pupils and we see Eli without his glasses virtually the whole time. (The movie posters by the way always have him with the glasses on.) So when you have the double reveal at the end that the Bible he is carrying is braille, and the villain therefore won't be able to read it - but that Eli has been able to read it and has the book memorised so he can dictate it, the whole twist is potentially lost. For one thing I imagine there are sighted people in the world that can read braille, so that alone proved nothing. And I even stumbled across an internet forum which was discussing whether or not Eli was blind. It made me scream. From the script there is no way it was intended to be an ambiguous ending and the writer must be pulling his hair out that it was left so unclear. I realise there are possibly filmic issues with shooting an entire movie where your protagonist has his eyes shaded. But it's so crucial here that for me you either do it, or don't bother making the film.

Secondly, the antagonist, Carnegie, was altered - slightly - but it made a big difference. In the script he is demonstrated to be a brilliant orator and his power is derived from that. It has a religious fervour to it and men, much stronger than him, are prepared to follow him because of it. We therefore understand that if he was to get his hands on the one remaining Bible in the world, and be able to harness it and use its language for his own ends, it would make him even more powerful and unstoppable. The stakes are clear and very high. On the other hand, he does not go with the gang when they chase Eli - therefore not getting injured in the process, like he does in the movie. At some point, I am going to guess that someone said we can't have the antagonist just sitting there, we need to make him more active. But in doing so, and seemingly in favour of the critical speech he gives, they totally undermine the threat of the character. He just becomes one of the gang and frankly there is no longer any apparent reason why the head henchman doesn't just shoot him in the face and become the boss himself. And having got injured, the movie makes it clear that he is dying from his infected leg wound. This leads to the third change.

Solara is a young girl who was under the control of Carnegie but escapes to travel with Eli. When they reach their destination Eli dictates the Bible and dies. (And by the way the script makes it transparent that she is shocked when Eli removes his glasses and she discovers he is blind - whereas in the movie she barely batters an eyelid.) Solara buries him (with a rather nice epitaph on his grave stone which is in the script and I loved, but is cut from the movie,) and then she dons Eli's 'uniform,' complete with weapons. Despite being offered a safe haven in the world's last library located on Alcatraz, she declines and says she has some business to finish back home. In the script, with Carnegie unharmed, still ruling over this town, with the Bible that albeit he can't read (but could theoretically find someone who can at some point) the ending is fantastic because Solara picks up the mantle and it adds another layer to Eli's journey. However in the movie, with Carnegie dying and his control over the town already starting to unravel, it completely undermines the final shot of Solara tooled up and ready to go home to defeat her nemesis once and for all. It's a small change but in terms of something delivering an emotionally satisfying ending, it had a big effect.

To be fair, the writer, Gary Whitta, seemed pretty chuffed with how it all turned out. And fair enough. It's still a cool movie and I enjoyed it. But for my money Gary, your script was subtly, but so much the better. It reminded me that the little things can add up and do matter. And whilst I'm not suggesting a writer fights tooth and nail over every line of the script (that would be a very, very bad idea,) be aware that when you're writing stuff and making changes, and then when the thing hopefully gets picked up and you have to make more changes, think about the big picture and the impact those seemingly small differences make to the overall story.

ps. I've left a comment on Gary's blog so I'm hoping he'll come back and comment here. For all I know the changes were his idea and I've just made an arse of myself!

pps. I read the first draft of Toy Story 2 this weekend and man, did that script improve a lot by the time it hit our screens!