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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The King Of Spam

The best I've seen yet... And even with the subject line of "Viagra: Be a Big Cummer." Niiice. Happy Halloween, one and all.

Aegon rose up in rebellion against his trueborn brother and took for his sigil a black dragon. These said at last. It would have to be one of them. You'd like that, wouldn't you? Osney Kettleblack resting place. That was a grievous error. Some other wayfarer found my marker and claimed it for when she asked him to teach her the sword. Is that what you want, child? Her old master-at-arms.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

No, Your Script Idea Has Not Been Nicked

In response to Chip's post about three million years ago on what he calls the "ubiquity of ideas" (alright, it was beginning of Oct, but told you I was busy) here is a list of the stories, scenes and elements I see most often as a script reader...

Unlucky in love. Our hero/ine has the worst day at work ever, gets fired and comes home to find their girlfriend or boyfriend in bed with someone else. Sliding Doors was a decade ago people!

Pardon me.
Scenes where someone splutters "You what?" at the start. Slides through easily most of the time, but sometimes writers overdo or - shock, horror - have them drink something and spit it out at the same. Argh! If I had a quid every time I saw this... You can see this on some car advert showing at the moment (don't ask me what car, I wouldn't know even what car my own husband drives).

Mad axemen in the rearview mirror may be closer than they appear. Our protagonist goes to the country/desert/arctic where they *should* be safe from hazards, sharp objects and general psychos but of course the only other person in the middle of nowhere wants to kill them. And why not? Despite seeing this one a lot, I find writers come up with some ingenius ways of pepping it up. Much fun.

Romeo Must Die. Poor rom-coms, they get chopped to bits. Will writers stop killing off people in them for no reason (especially the protag)?? I can only imagine it's another hangover from the 90s: Four Weddings and A Funeral this time.

Drama is...Drinking tea. Apparently. Something terrible has happened. Characters are horribly affected. So they sit in a living room and people offer condolences for pages and pages whilst drinking tea and sometimes offering slices of cake to each other. Is this because we're British?

The Now-Gay Ex-Boyfriend. I have an ex who is now gay, but only if you define "boyfriend and girlfriend" as "we kissed on the lips age 11". Was it WILL AND GRACE that makes this character turn up again and again I wonder?

Women are the weaker sex. Female leads are often self-obsessed and must learn some kind of life lesson in specs, usually that friends and family are more important than moisturiser. In addition, female characters are still being tortured, raped, passed-over, rescued by men or even forgotten about altogether (in that there actually aren't any) in specs.

Working in an office is bad for your health. I've never worked in an office for longer than a couple of weeks at a time, but I am reliably informed by the specs I read that if you do for any length of time your sanity snaps and you do terrible and disgusting things to your colleagues.

Breaking the law impresses girls. Really, it's true guys. If you want to get your girlfriend back, all you have to do is rob a bank, defraud the government, break out of jail, beat someone up or take someone hostage or preferably, all of the above.

Misery loves company. People cry a lot in the specs I read, yet I'm struggling to think of a film I've seen where people cry more than once in response to a specific revelation or event (like a funeral). But characters will spontaneously burst into tears in specs, usually during arguments and often repeatedly, nearly always female characters too.

Meet your destiny...Bee-atch.If a character can see into the future in a spec, they can do nothing to change it usually. Which must mean the majority of writers don't believe in The Chaos Theory or they're unsure of how to actually make it play out in the script. Which is interesting.

Accessories are everything. Small stones, necklaces, old books, diaries, amulets, mirrors and brooches can transport you to magical lands - or at least give clues as to what is going to happen next or where someone is going.

Beauty before age. Very few characters I read are beyond their twenties, most are dark/handsome or dark/beautiful. Sometimes colour is mentioned, creed less often. Very few are described as ugly. Often more attention is given to clothes than attributes.

Mothers' ruin. If you have a baby you'll probably die. Or your husband will have an affair. Or he'll be having an affair whilst you go into labour and die. You have been warned girls.

Scare-Fi.Horror in space might be an oldy but it's still a goody and I've seen some corkers, especially in the last few years, though I'm thinking the "space trucker" motif is getting a little worn now 28 years after Alien.

Work sucks. If you work for the government in any way, even just as tea lady, you will be killed. Same goes for news reporters or anyone who goes to someone in authority and says, "I haven't told anyone else so handily there are no other witnesses apart from me..." Trust me on this. I know.

The one line sex scene. Come on. You gotta give us readers more than that! It's a perk of the job, surely?

Crashing cars mean you go back in time or to another dimension. I think we can probably blame Back To The Future for this one, though I wouldn't know 'cos I haven't seen it remember.

Any others I've missed?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Transactional Characterisation

WARNING: Spoilers present

Eric Berne developed a theory in the 1950's called Transactional Analysis (TA). This theory is based around the notin that when communicating, human beings actively "give something" to one another; in other words, a transaction takes place. It is a thoery widely used in teaching in the UK (possibly too widely and to its detriment in my view, but that's a debate for another time): give your students positivity, they will be positive learners; give them negativity, make them hate you and learning in general. The notion then is very simple at its heart.

But Eric Berne goes on to outline three "ego states": Parent, Adult, Child (PAC). These are not stages a human being passes through (whilst we have all been children and will all be adults, not all of us will be parents): rather, these are "mindsets" that all of us adopt at some time or another in our lives, sometimes concurrently. This does not mean we have multiple personalities, instead it means we deal with certain situations, places, people and events differently. I will explain further.

The Parent Mindset. This is the more over-zealous third, signified by phrases like "You should..." or "Don't do that..." Berne calls it the "taught" state and people who are "Parents" (whether they have actual kids or not) are typically giving advice or opinions and simply telling others what to do most of the time.

The Child Mindset. This is the "feeling" third, emotions typically get in the way of good conduct and/or progress. An adult is quite often reduced to the child mindset when they return to the house where they grew up, which is why Christmas can be so full of fun but also childish and spiteful arguments if the whole family gathers together.

The Adult Mindset. This is about the "here and now" and in direct contrast to both the other states, not unhealthily influenced by things that may have happened in our pasts. People who exist within the adult state are aware of the certain difficulties associated with events, people, places and so on but are careful to remain calm and collected, even in the fact of actual conforntation. The adult will never threaten to not see someone ever again, but work through the problem and accept their own part in it.

You will probably recognise parts of yourself in all three of those states; that's no accident - we are all capable of existing through all three states, if only for the fact the margins are hugely wide. As with all psychological stuff, it touches on the edges of who and what we are, yet leaves the middle out conveniently so we can apply almost anything these guys say to ourselves, kind of like horoscope predictions.

One thing I like a lot however about having studied something like this is how useful it comes in for writing fiction. Whether a script, novel, short story or whatever, you *could* practice what I call "Transactional Characterisation": in other words, using only characters that give something, but crucially not to each other: the narrative instead. As a script reader I see a lot of characters who might have some great lines or be really colourful, yet I'm wondering what their actual part is for.

If your characters don't contribute directly to the central thrust of your narrative, actually give something that impacts on the actions of the other characters and/or your story, then what is their purpose? We all know the protagonist *generally* drives the narrative against the obstacle of the anatagonist, but often secondary characters are making a series of entrances rather than making that all-important transaction themselves. For example: best friends help the protagonist; minions help the antagonist. Sometimes best friends help the antagonist by accident or because the protagonist has wronged them in some way (thus the best friend goes over to the dark side) and doom nearly befalls the antagonist. That's all transaction there. I like to think of it as:

Someone does one thing = someone does another 'cos of that first thing = something happens because of it = and so it goes on

Quite straight forward: cause and effect, basically. But lots of scripts don't keep up the "domino effect" of one action depending on another action (whether it's the one before it or not, it doesn't have to be) and this is the primary cause of your structure meandering. But we've talked enough about structure, so what about those PAC states?

Well, thinking about the states people might pass through as a reaction (or not) to various events, people, situations and so on could also act as a very interesting addition to your characterisation. It means your characters are not the same all the way through, they're more layered, less 2D. If we consider John McClane in the DIE HARD franchise, he courts trouble with the glee of a child let loose on a firing range with a machine gun, yet at the same time makes moral judgements with abundance on those terrorists he faces (one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, John - oh no, that's right, we're good, they're evil, BLOW THEM AWAY!!!!!!!!!!)

So the Parent and Child states probably afflict our protagonist and antagonist the most, but there is still room for that Adult state too: in horrors, it's the sole survivor who remains calm in the crisis (Ripley in Alien, Cooper in Dog Soldiers); secondary characters are usually the calm ones who advise protagonists in crisis in thrillers (Sean Penn in The Game); in dramas, someone who is searching for something may cause more trouble than they envisage (Secrets and Lies) or a bystanding secondary character may have to remain tight-lipped as a main character works through their own demons (Juliet Lewis re: Colin Firth in When Was The Last Time You Saw Your Father?).

There is drama in all of us, not only in terms of our "own" story, but in how we react and behave - and that is subject to change. A good girl might sometimes be bad, but it goes beyond that: we all have feelings, thus we cannot always be predicted. A good character might not go beyond the boundaries of narrative logic - ie. they can't just change personality 'cos it suits you - but they can surprise us.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Worst. Feedback. Ever.

"You're clearly a good writer who can tell a story well..."

(Wait for it!)

"...However, if you're aiming to get an original idea commissioned, you might want to apply your talents to a different story."


OUCH!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Penny Dreadful Pitch Online

Elinor has certainly made her presence felt in The Scribosphere since joining earlier this year and I was delighted to work with her on the Metlab initiative on her fabulous period drama/horror piece Penny Dreadful that some of you may recall from Bang2write's Alternative Pitch Fever back in July.

Well, never one to rest on her laurels Elinor has enlisted the help of My Visual Pitch in getting Penny Dreadful "out there" and what a marvellous pitch it makes! I had no idea what to expect from these people and it really has fired up my interest in using this service myself. Check out the Penny Dreadful Pitch here and click on "Penny Dreadful" in the box if it doesn't come up first.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Buy Dr. Who Magazine

I might get the kind of urge to stamp on David Tenant the way you might want to squish some kind of vile insect, but he was perfect for the role of Dr. Who in that he's every bit as annoying as all the others except that bloke who went on to have a life outside the show in a variety of stuff but whose name I can't ever remember, Peter Someone.

However I am willing to forego this for one week only and instruct you all to buy Dr. Who Magazine. Why? Well, our Jase has loads of articles in it and one features my male spawn Alf. He details why he loves K9 so much, probably just to wind me up no doubt, haven't read the article myself yet... Think it got locked under the stairs with Alf about half an hour ago.

And don't write in to tell me I'm an evil mother. I already know.

The Truth Of Fiction

I'm going to be incommunicado for most of this week: it's half term and the kids are at home, meaning I have to write coverage in-between calls of "Get me a drink!", "Stop the baby from climbing up on the window ledge!" and "What do you mean, "we need to talk"?" as well as a variety of other deadlines that have descended all at the same time. Obviously. A woman's work is never done and all that. But here's something juicy for you tp get your teeth into while I'm gone, I'll check in when I can.
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I get a "run" on scripts from time to time with similar themes, premises, issues and so on. A while back I found myself writing about dialogue a lot in feedback; just recently it has been characterisation. Whilst structure and what goes into it seems ever-present, sometimes I'm addressing the issue of prologues a lot; other times where flashbacks "should" go - or not. Sometimes I'll end up going on about audience suspension of disbelief and narrative logic, or particular conventions in particular genres more. Whatever it is I find myself writing about, it is funny how so many scripts with the same focuses come together.

In the last two weeks for example I have read six "true life" stories (I normally only get two or three in the whole year and had already had four before this present six). Why this year should be different in that I get over three times as many as usual I have no idea; what's more, they have not all been autobiographical (as they are normally), but biographical too (I've only ever had about 4 of those ever). All the latter have been obscure figures, usually in British history, though one was incredibly famous which lead to me to wonder why we had never seen a film about him before. The writer could be on to something there.

But anyway. The drafts of these true-life stories by and large shared various things in common. They all had heart; the writers really cared about their subject matter and that was great to see. Equally, they often had very realistic and sometimes funny dialogue. But they had one other trait in common too, as have many other "true" scripts that I have read in the past...

...Nothing very much happens for a long time, with most of the action reserved for the second half or even the last third, of the script.

This is an interesting problem to have: if nothing really happens in the real life event for a while, why should it in the film version? After all, isn't that an entirely false representation of that real life event, if you stick stuff in towards the beginning just to keep people turning the pages? Where does the writer who writes auto/biography. Where do you draw the line between truth, fiction and actual lying? In effect, how true is a true life story?

Your thoughts please.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Define and Differentiate

My private stalker Jon Peacey (yes I did get the horse's head in the mail, thanks) asks this in the comments section of the previous post:

Would you say that, certainly at early stages of a potential career, it comes down to trying to display absolute genius brilliance while minimizing risk idiocy? Tempering idiosyncrasy/deranged outlandish foibles with reality?

This is a difficult one. Should a writer early on in their career fold to "expectations" and produce a spec that follows the "rules" no matter what? Is it possible to produce a spec that shines with "genius brilliance" if it is constricted by said "expectations"?

My take? This will surprise you but--

No.

As I've posted here and here, I don't hold with "rules", more the fact that we should know what those "rules" are. Why? Because there are some people out there who take them as gospel, like this reader who really got on my nerves back in April when he suggested I read Robert McKee in order to improve my dialogue in a particular script. Niiice. However, even though I wanted at the time to barbeque him (whilst still alive), later when I calmed down I could write off this feedback; after all, many people had read the script in question and not one other person had had the same "problem"; as a script it had even got me a few meetings too, so I knew it had potential and I wasn't completely deluded. But most of all, I *knew* my dialogue did not suck because I had invested in it through major redrafts, had had tons of feedback from different readers and yes, even read Robert bloody McKee anyway. In short, this was one reader who did not like my script, end of. Perhaps it was the premise, perhaps it was my writing style, perhaps something else even outside of my control. It happens. You deal with it, you move on.

But is this an argument for doing WHATEVER you want, regardless of how it might be received?

I always say to my Bang2writers that they should do whatever they think is best for their story and I stand by this; at the end of the day, any notes or reports I write for them are suggestions, nothing is ever set in stone and nor should it be. When it comes to those "idiosyncrasies" that Jon mentions, it really depends in my opinion what those are. Good format for example is about not being busted as I've said before; get your reader so wrapped up they don't care about layout or black, so yes, story is king. However, in a world where the Ten Page Test exists and you are being judged from that first page, sometimes even before it (I'll never forget the agent who told us to flick through scripts first; those that "seemed" to have a lot of black would go back, unread as did scripts that were spiral bound or on different coloured paper), is doing what you want sometimes a barrier to success? I would argue yes, it can be. Whilst there are always those mega scripts that get through despite everything, I know there are scripts - and writers -who are getting overlooked when they shouldn't be. This peeves me greatly.

For me, it's about writing that "great" story first and foremost. But I think it's important to appreciate that writing that great story doesn't always follow through, since sometimes people don't agree that what you've written is actually great. I'll never forget going to one of my first ever meetings to see a director who is a friend of mine now and he opened with, "So I read your script... I absolutely hated it." I nearly had a heart attack. He had me come all the way up to London to tell me THIS? Before I could splutter a reply however he says, "But you're clearly a good writer, so I thought we could talk about some stuff." I asked him how he knew I was a good writer if he hated my script so much and he launched into why he didn't like it... It soon became apparent that he had disagreed with the philosophy behind that particular story, but had actually liked a variety of things about the actual writing: the mechanical stuff if you like - structure. Language use. Layout, even. That sort of thing.

Sometimes producers, directors, readers etc will not like your story, but they will like your style. I think it helps then to really define yourself, differentiate from the crowd, give them something that's "you". It's no good saying loads of black is "you" 'cos guess what - that's probably what most writers do at first, there's no differentiation there. It's no good either saying you're the king or Queen of Parentheticals or weird sluglines that go on for three lines either, since they just take us out the story and you lose your defining essence, there and then. But you can be the king or queen of dialogue. Or structure. Or reversals. Or characterisation. Or scene description. Or sex and/or fight scenes. Or cool hooks and/or surprising endings. Or even getting characters into implausible situations and getting them out plausibly. Whatever you want, it's your script.

F*** the rules but know what they are, so you don't beat yourself up too much if you fall foul of them from time to time. Nazi readers are out there, but more likely are those readers who are just bored of bad format. Afford format what you need so you don't get busted.

There's only one other thing of importance: define who you are as a writer and differentiate from the crowd.

Piece of cake, right? ; )

Friday, October 19, 2007

S/D: Whiter Than White

"Too much black" is something that script readers get used to. You get your scripts, on paper or electronically, and the first thing you do is open it, look at the first page and either a) groan or b) emit some sort of "surprised sound". In other words, the density of black is something readers check for. The groaning is because a script with a lot of black means, right from the first page, this is a script that's going to take longer. Given that readers are not paid on the basis of page count and/or black by anyone other than private clients, the longer it takes, the more a reader might want to jump out of a window.

But I've posted about this before, not only this week but here too. "Too much black" is the standard problem and most likely something we all did when we first started. I know I did. I remember thinking that as long as I didn't break that hallowed four line rule, then everything "must" be okay and anyone who accused me of still having too much black (there are blank elements! What's the problem?!) was clearly some kind of script fascist. Ah. how sweet.

But anyway. This past year however, I've discovered an entirely new problem that scene description has sometimes; perhaps I just hadn't seen it before, but I'm willing to bet that the explosion of blogs and the screenwriting industry in terms of books, seminars, graduate courses etc has added to it, if not created it. The problem for the scene description, then?

It isn't there.

That's right. There are some scripts circulating these days that have hardly any scene description at all. Incredibly they have too much white on the page, in that they are almost exclusively dialogue. Now, it might be thought that you "can't have" too much white, but I would venture you absolutely, 100%, categorically, can have too much white. It's easy to go from end of the scale to the other. You have too much black? Fine, let's cut it all out! But cutting it all out can mean you lose too much, a bit like the fat person who decides to go on a diet but goes too far and ends up bony. The scripts with "too much white" are like this. And it's just as much of a problem in my view as having too much black. Why? Well you:

1) Miss out on arena
2) Miss out on certain elements that reveal character
3) Miss out on action (since you end up "telling it" in particular)

And perhaps most importantly:

4) Miss out on plot.

We've all heard the stories of the readers who only read dialogue and skim or ignore description. I don't believe this is true; dialogue should not be able to tell the entire story from start to finish for starters: if it does, I am of the opinion that's a significant problem, for how can you use subtext or not have characters launch into huge speeches about what they will do or have done?

Well-placed, well-written, LEAN scene description should play its part in conjunction with the dialogue. Getting the most out of your prose in your script is absolutely paramount, yet a lot of writers don't afford it as much attention as it deserves in my view. It is a story-telling device in its own right.

It's like childcare: don't feed up your fat kid, but don't starve the kid either. Balance is key. Like in all things really. Except chocolate. Obviously, eat as much of that as you like, it helps your endorphins and thus your writing. *Ahem*

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

S/D: A Little Less Description, A Little More Action Please

I'm not fond of those "scriptwriting sayings" that gurus, websites, seminars and books bark at writers, since so many need much more clarification ("Show It Don't Tell It" anyone?), especially for the new writer. There is one however that I do make an exception for and that's:

Scene description is scene action.

I love this one. It sums up exactly what it means. It's the Ronseal method of writing here in that it does exactly what it says on the tin, no further clarification required. Even the complete writing novice can look at that and say: "Ah, yes. In all my description there should be action. Case closed." And action is what we watch films for, right? Action does not necessarily mean oodles of sex and violence (though that's always good as far as I'm concerned, wahey); even the most kitchen-sinkiest drama has action in. If you want hours of psychological analysis and contemplation about general stuff over a certain time frame that may or may not be important to the central thrust (oo-er) of the narrative, you'd read a book. Not that I think books are worse or better than films I might add, just what goes into each is different.

Which is why your scene description and how you write it, counts.

Too much scene description does the exact opposite of illuminating your reader as to what is going on in your action. It confuses them. Whilst this might appear bizarre, think of it this way - if there are too many details, which are the important ones? The reader did not write your script, they don't see it in their head as clearly as you will see it in yours. Often, so much attention is paid to detail by way of building up character or arena, the reader is then lead down a blind alley in terms of story. This is frustrating. If your story is a child's toy shoved in the cupboard under the stairs, the script with too much black is akin to opening said cupboard door and everything coming piling out when it's opened. Which toy is the story? Yes there's some nice stuff there, but which is the one we're actually looking for? We could be there all day and still not know, which is why entreating a reader to go over your script again will not neccessarily work.

But what is action? This is the problem for the writers unable to differentiate between "The Black stuff" and "The Good Stuff". After all, there's all that conflicting advice and/or pointers: do be poetic/don't write asides to the reader. Do use your extended vocab/don't write a novel. Do be visual/don't overdo it. Just what is it we're supposed to do?!

I find it useful to think of action as those things that:

a) have a place in the story (ie. you can't understand what's going on otherwise) or b) reveal character or
c) do a bit of both.

I *usually* have the physical stuff for pushing the story forward, whilst I save my "poetic-ness" *generally* for the revealing character. This seems to work for me. That way, I don't have too much flowery stuff whilst people are enacting the story and I don't have characters relying on physical actions and/or traits to reveal their character. I don't tend to have people doing random actions like eating, raising eyebrows, waving, smoking and whatnot unless it relates directly to how the story is playing out; I feel that I would be directing from the page that way. As far as I'm concerned, it's more for me to "sum up" that all-important "feel" of the scene, not nail down every last detail on how it looks when that is largely down to interpretation anyway. To underline this point, here's some coverage I received on one of my scripts, from different readers:

"I really liked the scenery - Cornwall, right?"

"The Scottish Highlands backdrop was great."

"The valley scenes in The Peak District were a nice touch."

Which reader was right? None of them; I had actually envisaged Devon - I've never even been to The Highlands or The Peak District. But who cares? I was going for a rural backdrop and the readers read into it what they knew. And that's the beauty of it. This is why I think you don't need those minute details.

But anyway: like I said, this works for me. Maybe it won't for you. But if you're wondering how in the name of all that is holy you still have too much black (and we've all been there), why not give a, b or c above a try.

PART 2: A new problem for scene description...

Monday, October 15, 2007

Bang2write on Facebook!!

Alright, alright.... I admit it. All those who have bombarded me with Facebook invites, you're right! It is fun. I was so disillusioned with the bore that is Myspace I had given up on social networking sites. But I am reborn... As a vampire, werewolf and zombie all in one day. Interesting. I've also joined several groups, including the marvellous I Secretly Want To Punch Slow Walking People In The Head. 'Cos I do. Except it's probably not so much of a secret anymore, especially since it has 12,000 members.

So be my friend please. Ta.

Oh, and while I'm here, my husband is a billy-no-mates 'cos he only had three people in his email address book, one of which is ME, the other his brother and the other my sister. Not. Good. If you want to talk to someone who knows what it's like to a) really live with me and b) kill people with bits of twig and other garden and household items (it's useful as a writer, I'm tellin' ya), then be his friend too. I thank you.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Q&A: Adrian Mead on directing

Some thoughts on directing, funding and dogs rolling in their own pee from Scribosphere Big Daddy Adrian Mead... Enjoy!
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The tagline for Night People is "A cold October night. Five stories, one city." What was the inspiration behind the film?

Multi character stories have always appealed to me and I know lots of people really enjoy them. Night People is set in Edinburgh and follows five stories told over one night. Each of the characters is faced with making a major decision, ranging from the heartbreaking to the hilarious. By the time morning comes their lives will have changed forever. The stories were inspired by my experiences working as a doorman. I had stood outside an Edinburgh night-club watching the ebb and flow of the people who filled the streets five nights a week for three years. Finally after the drinkers had all departed and the streets had become quiet I would walk home. Despite the fact that it was three thirty in the morning there was always some drama being played out against the stunning backdrop that is Edinburgh. It was these frequently hilarious, often bizarre and sometimes tragic moments I encountered that later inspired me to develop the characters and write the stories. That's what I wanted to capture in Night People, a world filled with people facing very real, emotional challenges, but without making a straight forward, gritty, social realism film. Having a little girl travelling the city at night in a taxi allowed us to really use the magical views of the city at night. Setting it on Halloween night introduced a fairy tale element and added to the atmosphere.

Scottish Screen helped fund Night People - can you talk us through what you had to do to get the funding and how it worked?

It was developed and financed under the Scottish Screen/SMG New Found Film scheme, a new talent initiative. Over the course of eight months I worked with co-writer Jack Dickson to take the stories from treatment to first draft. There were three key stages at which the project was assessed by the Execs and at which it could be knocked out of the running. Night People made it from hundreds of applications to an initial long list of twenty projects down to a final of six. Each team then had to pitch to a panel of nine people (I think) who then selected two scripts for production. We did a lot of prep for this by assembling a pitch board, photos of locations and working out exactly who would talk about each aspect of the proposed film. It was well worth doing a lot of prep as we were the last team to pitch and the panel were looking pretty tired by the time we walked in. Having the pitch board, photos and a very clear, enthusiastic presentation helped to make it easier for them to "see" the film. We found out we had the money by phone on the train home from the pitching session in Glasgow. It was hard not tell the whole train we were that excited, but the only other person we told was Jack.

We worked to agreed union minimums. For cast we used the PACT /Equity Very Low Budget cinema agreement that agrees a minimum daily or weekly rate for films at a million or under. Crew were on BECTU minimums, which meant many of the more experienced crew actually took a cut in what they normally get paid. The low budget necessitated an exceptionally fast turn around. Money was too tight to employ a casting director so myself, and Clare Kerr (Producer) undertook to cast all ten main roles in just six weeks; with the last character confirmed just a few days before shooting began. Time was made so tight by the fact that Christmas and New Year came right in the middle of our prep schedule and the whole industry was on holiday for two weeks. The total number of shooting days was only twenty-four. We had to schedule in sleep days after the night shoots, and the crew worked an eleven day fortnight, which means you work six days one week with only one day off and five days the next with two days off. All of this was in line with industry norms. We wanted to be as professional as possible in spite of the low budget, as it helps morale of cast and crew if they know their goodwill is respected with fair working conditions.

"They" say "never work with children or animals" but Night People has both in abundance: were there any incidents/problems etc because of them?

Yes, children and animals, forty two locations AND night shoots. All presented challenges, though it has to be said that the children and animals were really well behaved. Our youngest cast member was only six years old, and the laws on employing someone so young for film work are that they shouldn’t be at a place of work for more than seven and a half, hours can perform continuously for only forty five minutes without a break, and a break means a proper sit down away from set, not hanging around waiting for kit to be set up, and finally they cannot be on set performing for more than a total of three hours within the seven and a half hour day. The law also restricts night work for someone so young. All of this is to protect kids from exploitation. Most of the scenes with our youngest cast member, Lily, were at night so we added another layer of rules to our own production and agreed to try not to have her at work for any more than three hours total at night and always have her Mum be the chaperone for night shoots. It worked really well, the rules made sense. You could see the child’s energy levels dropping in front of your eyes as we got close to the three hour time limit. Most of the children we worked with had experience of performing through local theatre groups. They were all remarkably professional for their age. The dog we had for the scenes in the flat was Pippa, a Chow. She was chosen because she looked great and the breed is good with kids. Then we found out they like to roll in their own pee. So under hot lights in a small set the dog’s odour was something else. We had to book her in for grooming every time she was scheduled to come back to work. There was also the day one of the kids showed up with nits, the burglar alarm went off and no-one could switch it off and the dog went into season and wouldn't let anyone near it. Due to the restraints of the budget I was working with the knowledge that there was no chance for re shoots or pick ups, so you had to find a solution on the spot. Of course every director should know the script inside out, but it’s an advantage to be the writer/director and have the certain knowledge of what you intended for a scene and how to achieve that a different way. The guide dog for the Blind Man story was Alf, a real guide dog in training. However Alf was so well trained that when it came to the scene on the Forth Road bridge he did everything he could to stop Michael, the actor, from standing at the edge, which makes sense if your job is to take care of a blind person. That was also our worst weather day, we wanted clear blue skies, instead we got fog that obliterated any image of the bridge and had to wait hours for it to clear. The owl and the ferret were true professionals who had done plenty of film and TV stuff before. They showed up did their thing, at 3 am, and then went off home. It pays to get the pros in as we did have another locally based owl handler booked, but the day before the shoot she announced she wasn’t prepared to do night work, stating she’d not realised this was the deal. This was in spite of the fact it had been made crystal clear at the out set. I think there was also a clue in the title of the film.... and the fact we were hiring an owl! I don’t think she had any idea of just how badly she’d let down the production since she’d never done film work before. It’s a credit to our art department that they got this sorted out as fast as they did.

How many drafts did Night People have before you began shooting?


Initially two drafts of the treatment were required for the short listing process and development funding from Scottish Screen. Jack and I had development meetings with Clare the producer where we would talk through the story lines and agree on how to develop things. Once we went to script we took turns in writing sections and e-mailed them back and to after reworking. Once we had the green light to start filming, and knew our locations and cast there were further rewrites. By then Jack’s workload on the Scottish soap, River City had increased so I got on with the final drafts during prep before the shoot began. All in Night People went through at least ten drafts of the script.

The film one ends up making is invariably different to the idea that's first conceived - can you tell us about anything you ended up changing a) because you had to (and why) and b) because it seemed "better"?

The story of the Bind Man’s journey across the city changed during the edit. We shot all the scenes that had been written, but at the edit stage we realised that by introducing him at a later point it gave a much stronger sense of what we had always intended his role to be, as something of a guardian angel for one of the other characters. Of course no matter how much work you do on the script or during the edit the film changes again when you watch it with a paying audience. Each of the stories is very different and people all have a favourite. It's been fascinating doing Q and A's with international audiences and very pleasing that people say how they loved that we weren't afraid to make this a film that explored some tough subjects, but still used humour, beautiful photography and an uplifting ending.

What did you learn from directing Night People that you will do/not do next time?

The things I’d change are mostly down to budget considerations. Next time we’ll try to have a longer schedule – especially if there are children involved. I'd also like a 2nd unit to pick up on various things. Having to walk a tightrope knowing that whatever you get each day is ALL you are going to be able to get is tough. However, it is a fantastic way of making you prioritise the things that you HAVE to have in order to make the story work. It certainly stops you obsessing over "sexy" jib shots. I’m looking forward to working with a casting director. We couldn’t afford one on Night People but this worked in our favour. We were careful about limiting the numbers of actors we saw by doing lots of research on the talent we were interested in before we called them in to try for the part. This gave us the chance to do slightly longer auditions. I got to try out my directing ideas for each of the characters and the actors got a chance to show what they can really do. Multi story films are hard and with such a big cast and numerous locations it is always a challenge to make the schedule work. We eventually scheduled so that we could shoot each of the five stories separately, even though we cut back and to between all the characters throughout the film. It added another challenge when thinking about how the stories would cut against each other. It was a gamble and a major brain juggling task for me but it seemed to work. We've had some fantastic responses to the performances. I'd love to see what the camera team would do with a bigger kit! I was amazed what DOP Scott Ward and Camera Operator Kevin O'Brien were able to do with our very limited lighting kit. Despite having to often work with little more than street lights they were still able to create absolutely stunning images of the city at night. If you are thinking of shooting a very low budget film on HD Night People is well worth checking out just to see what you can achieve with some planning and a talented camera crew.

No matter how many shorts you've done previously your first feature is always a big learning curve. You learn a lot about your own strengths and weaknesses, especially when it's 3am in a freezing cold street and the taxi that is a main prop in your film has broken down...again. I loved making Night People and I would do it all again. Except this time I would buy centrally heated underwear and a north sea survival suit. Edinburgh in March is very, very cold. All in all I wanted us all to be ambitious as possible, despite the very tight budget. It was great fun making Night People and we've been very pleased with the responses it continues to get. I'm very excited about the DVD release and hope you will all rush out and buy it!

Where can we buy Night People?

Indy films on DVD have a tough time compared with mainstream Hollywood fare and sales in the first few weeks of release are really important to ensure the titles get into the charts and stocked by suppliers. So we need people who want to support the film to buy it now. Think of it as some early Christmas shopping … sorry to mention the C word. You can buy Night People at www.amazon.co.uk or www.play.com or in HMV, Fopp or Virgin stores, if they don’t have it in stock ask them to order it.

You can see a trailer at www.meadkerr.com and you can read audience reviews of the film and add your own vote at www.imdb.com.
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Some fascinating insights there Adrian, thanks!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thought For The Day

A cat does not know what glass is or that it cuts your feet if you tread on it. So how come my cats have never once come in with cut paws from treading on glass even though we live next door to a building site?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Killer Screenwriting

For our American bloggers or those willing to take a trip across the pond...
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KILLER SCREENWRITING

40+ Hour Interactive Workshop

Become a better screenwriter in one week!

Jim Mercurio jam-packs a semester of screenwriting into a living and breathing interactive work of art and education. Participants' script pages will be part of class text and will inspire and complement the film clips, excerpts and lecture. The class will adapt to the students and accelerate their growth as screenwriters.

Actors workshop everyone's scenes and one will be shot/edited. Jim's insight will make your jokes funnier, dialogue sharper, conflict more specific, theme more coherent and your script a better read.

October 29 - Nov 2 2007 (Starts day after Expo) with a 20 student limit.

For more information click here.

"Having been world-class in another field, I know it when I see it: Jim's mentoring is world-class."...Wayne Chiang,1999 StarCraft World Champion.

Jim produced Hard Scrambled and was a Creative Screenwriing columnist. YouTube him to see him teach filmmaking. E-mail him: jim@jamespmercurio.com.

ALSO: Jim will also be giving away his two DVDs to everyone who signs up, Killer Endings and Theme. Killer Endings has 6 reviews at Amazon, all 5 stars. Just tell Jim you found this class via Bang2write.
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I would love to go to this class myself, but stuff like kids, cats and an exploding brain will get in my way this year. Let us know if you do and what you think of it!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Please Hold...Again

Many thanks for the emails guys enquiring - in various shades of blue - where the "real posts" are. Got a shedload of scripts, two treatments and a script to write plus a couple of meetings to prepare for this coming week. Normal service will resume shortly, promise. Unfortunately at the moment I am just in need of one of these (no it isn't rude, more's the pity).

Thursday, October 04, 2007

7 On Structure #7: The Point Is There Is No Point

SPOILERS: Lost Highway

I had a boyfriend once who liked arthouse films. He would regale me, sometimes for hours at a time, about the various plotlines he loved so much. Yet whenever I would ask, "What's the point?" of a particular narrative, he'd say, as if I had clearly lost my mind, "This is arthouse, Luce. There isn't one."

Is there no point to arthouse film? I would argue there absolutely, categorically, is a point. All arthouse films have something to say, even if you haven't got the foggiest what it is. If you consider a film like LOST HIGHWAY for instance, I don't know why Bill Pullman turns into Balthazar Getty. I don't know why Bill kills his wife or why he has to phone the devil guy when he's in the same room as him. I don't even know why the devil guy joins forces with Balthazar Getty towards the end of the film. I don't really much care, I didn't like it much - but if I had, I would have made my own narrative up from it in any case. Maybe it would have been the same as David Lynch's vision, maybe not. We all perceive various stuff through our own worldview, the author is dead after all. And to say there is no point to arthouse film is to imagine there is some sort of conspiracy led by the likes of David Lynch, writing and making films with the principal goal of foxing us. This seems unlikely. I'm certain Mr. Lynch et al wake up in the morning just like the rest of us spec monkeys and professionals, bursting with a story they feel *just needs* to be told. But even if the former were true, isn't that goal a point in itself?

I've read for loads of people - predominantly peer review whilst still at uni - who have chastised me for looking for a "point" to their work. This script isn't supposed to be resolved! There is no motivation for this character! It changes halfway through to reflect what happens in real life! I have two words for those script: good luck.

Oh and -

This is not real life.

As well as--

This scriptwriting malarkey is about cause and effect. You're building your story from the bottom up; that's why your structure is important. That's why your character/s needs a goal, that's why your screenplay needs narrative logic, that's why a script is not pages and pages of unconnected ramble. If it's in there, it's important. If it's in there, it has to pay off and/or push the story forward. Or die like the dog it is and go to the shredder or the Norton-protected trash can.

That's the point.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

No News Is Good News

If like me you were wondering why SW Screen have not announced a winner yet for its Screenwriter Development Competition, I'm pleased to tell you that Arilda has told me this morning it has been put back from October 1st til the 16th. So we're all still in the running presumably. Yay.