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Friday, January 30, 2009

WTF? On Film 5: A Franchise Too Far

SPOILERS AHOY Yes, yes, they often made loads of money; yes, *someone* out there must've liked them and yes, I can only hope of writing a film that gets this kind of attention!! But to wrap up my WTF? series, here's some of the movie franchises I think just did NOT quit while they were ahead...
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2 Fast 2 Furious. So we do the same movie - but this time ONLY with the really dull guy from the first? Puh-lease. Oh, but they're still going: Tokyo Drift came after that and apparently there's another in the pipeline, though Vin is back in attempt to save the franchise. Can he???

28 Weeks Later. I *heard* on the grapevine (though I never read 28 Weeks), the boy in a very early draft of this was called NEWTON. Upon watching the movie itself this was unsurprising to me, for the homage to Aliens here was obvious and clankingly dull as far as I was concerned. Which was a shame, because that farmhouse sequence at the beginning when Robert Carlyle spectacularly abandons his family was great.

Alien Resurrection. Space pirates, unwilling hosts, science experiments gone wrong - this could have been so cool and well, simply wasn't. Probably because absolutely everything in it was so deeply flawed... Characters sucked (the weakest is the strongest! Link with the beast! The traitor is the saviour!), dialogue was as wooden as my Ikea coffee table and plotting verged on ridiculous: so you scientists have been working on the alien for 200 years, know full well they have acid for blood and you shove a bunch of them IN THE SAME ROOM TOGETHER and don't think they'll escape?? And to think Joss Whedon wrote this - though apparently he "cried many a tear over" what was done to his script. Me too, Joss. Me too.

Alien Versus Predator. So let's get this straight... Predators presumably have their own planet, but they decide to build their very own pyramid on Earth. Underground. In Antarctica. And they have an Alien Queen down there too that hasn't kicked their asses??? Hmmmm. I can *just* about go along with that, but for the lack of characterisation in here and yes - the fact that Predator didn't blow the whole place up as he was supposed to (didn't he know he'd been face hugged??) AND the elders didn't scan him with their X Ray vision! WTF????

Alien Versus Predator: Requiem. Ah, now they're killing pregnant women and children. Nice - not. 'Nuff sed on this crap.

Austin Powers: Goldmember. What WAS the deal with Austin Powers? I never really got it, but I could just about go along with the insanity - at least Elizabeth Hurley knew how to take the piss out of herself - but then we came to this one and anything that was vaguely amusing about the franchise was sucked out and replaced with unadulterated pants.

Batman & Robin. Right, whose idea was it to cast George Clooney as bloody Batman? What the hell was that about? And don't get me started on Arnie as Mr. Freeze. Didn't they know ALL the good characters of the Batman franchise - Catwoman, The Penguin, The Riddler - were all gone by this point? Didn't the filmmakers get that memo?

Chronicles of Riddick. A wankfest of the highest order - 'scuse my French. And what the hell was Judi Dench doing in it??? A desperate disappointment after Pitch Black.

Die Hard 4. Bruce Willis gets to that age where he says: "You know what? My career isn't what it used to be... Let's revisit one of my best-received characters and for good measure shove some stuff in a lift AGAIN and update it by making one of the baddies a free runner." Let's not.

Honey I Blew Up the Kid. I know... Let's do the OPPOSITE of what made the franchise interesting. WTF?

Ice Age: the Meltdown. The first movie was all heart and genuinely charming, but this one? A mammoth that thinks it's a ferret (or whatever those stripey things are)? the sloth gets worshipped by mini sloths?? And the sabre tooth tiger is there for seemingly no reason at all? And let's round it off with Scrat saving the day in one of the biggest Deus Ex Machina plot moves I've ever seen? SHOW ME THE MONEY.

Jaws: The Revenge. I never knew fish held grudges. Bloody hell.

Look Who's Talking Now. I could just about get on board with the sister talking, but now the dogs as well? I swear whoever dreamt this one up was on drugs.

Police Academy. HOW many??? For the love of God, please don't. Just don't.

Men In Black 2. Everything that was great about the first movie? Let's flush that down the toilet and have Will Smith talking to a giant subway worm. Kids will love that.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse. As controversial a view as it is, I actually enjoyed the first Resident Evil - it was an effective adaptation of an otherwise straightforward game, with enough thrills and spills to be interesting enough on a saturday night with beer and nachos. Plus the set was cool. But Apocalypse was convoluted and ultimately, dull. And can we PLEASE stop putting scientists in wheelchairs please??

Resident Evil: Extinction. We've done underground, we've done above ground - so we'll do above ground again. Couldn't it at least have been in the sea or something?? This franchise is still here despite running out of steam - WTF?

Three Men And A Little Lady. Even as a child I thought this was utter bilge: I walked out of Beverley Cornmarket cinema and went to the pasty shop round the corner. My Dad was mad as hell when he came to pick me and my friend up 'cos like the eleven year olds we were, we imagined he could somehow read our minds and *know* where we were.

Underworld Evolution. The first one was a disappointment, not doubt about that: but this??? Even the sex scene was useless.
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Any more for the list? Here's some inspiration for you: Movie Franchises. Over to you....

UPDATE: And to celebrate WTF?, Zombies attack Austin, US.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

WTF? On Film 4: The Running Man

As regular readers know, I've always had a soft spot for Arnie, probably becuase he's always been in the kind of movies I favour - the ones with monsters, extreme violence and quirky quips. My Dad was a big fan in the middle of Arnie's heyday, so it was kind of inevitable: he had all the Big Man's movies on VHS. We'd watch Arnie's comedies like Twins together - but I was told I was SO grounded if I watched the likes of The Running Man or Predator. Hah. By the time I got to secondary school in 1990, I had a full appreciation of the entire Arnold Schwarzenegger back catalogue, extreme violence and all.

I recall watching The Running Man then as a kid and feeling - underwhelmed. It was the first time I'd seen a movie with Arnie in I had not loved, barring that dodgy sex scene in Conan The Barbarian (I'd even loved Conan The Destroyer - especially the bit where the magician jumps off the cliff, thought it looked amazing... Watched it recently: aaah). I couldn't really put my finger on it at the time, seeing as I was just a child. In a bid to figure out what it was, I read Richard Bachmann's book ( I'll never forget the Librarian's face, trying to palm off Jane Austen on my instead "Are you sure you wouldn't rather read this, dear?") Bachmann's book made me even more confused - the film was NOTHING LIKE the book! Of course, in those days I knew nothing about adaptation and its many approaches.

So I put The Running Man to the back of my mind for many years. In fact, as my peers - especially men - professed to love it. I would find myself agreeing. Yes, the film was great. Yes, Sub Zero was fab. "I'll be back" hahahahahahahaha.

Then I watched it last weekend. WTF?

The film is misogynist. Yes okay, the female characters in Arnie's films are never fabulous, but hell I never expected them to be - but I do expect them not to be subjugated and end up coming back begging for more! The way in which Maria Conchita Alonso's character is treated is nothing short of scandalous. She comes back to her own home? Oh, Arnie's there (it used to be his place: um, not her fault, this is a police state) - and he ties her up in her underwear! But instead of finding it a terrifying experience, she's a little turned on by it - to the point she ends up risking her life for a chance with him. At least The Woman in Predator is a PoW who tried to shoot Arnie in the head, so one can expect her to get tied up, if not the fact they DON'T kill her when they kill absolutely everyone else (though she does provide some handy exposition). Anyway, back to Running Man: on top of all the above, her friend's comment in the corridor in a breathy voice beggared belief: "He could've raped you... A man like that, you couldn't stop him..."??? The subtext there suggests, to me anyway, that being raped, especially by a guy like Arnie, is *not that bad*. JESUS. And don't even get me started on Dynamo's attempted rape TWICE of Alonso either - *but it's okay, she ends up killing him* (whatevs). Add to that all the scantily clad dancers and the COMPLETE LACK of female faces for longer than three seconds other than to provide a laugh (like the swearing Granny) and it appears women do not exist in 2017 at all.

It drowns in set up. Yes, we know Arnie is an innocent man - we don't *really* need to see how he got set up (especially since he's set up further on the news when Alonso says, "But that's not true..." prompting her to attempt to "rescue" him), any more than we need to see his extremely convoluted escape from prison. Why not simply have the Gamespeople go into the prison and pick and some guys for the Running Man, one of which is Arnie? Simple. But of course that means he wouldn't get his hands on Maria Conchita Alonso in order to subjugate her, so we can't have that. But if he's going to have a woman on his side, why couldn't both roles have started "equally" in that they're both from a prison and put in the game together? I saw Death Race a while back - and whilst not the film of the year, it certainly deals with these type of issues very effectively, barring a slightly fatty prologue.

There isn't enough jeopardy. The game starts with Arnie and his mates Yaphet Kotto and ...that other bloke being sped at high speed on to the "grid": yet there's nothing really waiting for them at the other end. In fact, they have plenty of time to explore the game before being attacked by Sub Zero. Excuse me, but if you're walking on an ice rink, you have to expect trouble. What's more, why are the two friends sent in with Arnie anyway? The Games people already know Arnie and these two guys have escaped prison together. What's more, weedy guys only ever team up with strong guys when they're up to something like hacking.... So it's completely obvious the other bloke will find the code to get out of the game and be quick enough to give it to Maria Conchita Alonso before he dies (handy). And why was Yaphet Kotto even there? He seemed to add very little to the story, bar kicking Arnie out of the way of Buzzsaw. Then there were all the moments of dancing girls... Going on... and on... and on... Yes they have great legs and arses, where's the rest of it?

The dialogue sucks. Yes, yes, Arnie's films are never high brow - but they should be a laugh. Like when he kicks the door down in Predator - "Knock, knock!" - before blowing them all away. Or in T2: Judgement Day - "Hasta La Vista... Baby." It's just a laugh. But even the quips in Running Man aren't *good*, they're lame: "HERE'S YOUR SUB ZERO... NOW, JUST PLAIN ZERO!" WTF?

The game is over as soon as it begins. When Arnie kicks enough stalkers' asses (about three), he's offered a job by host Killian actually on the show. As a good bloke, of course Arnie declines. Would he? Wouldn't he say, "Thanks! I'll take it" then come out of the game and kill Killian and the rest of them? I know I would. Then of course the Games people fake the "end" of the game in order to take out Arnie themselves. Really??? Wouldn't this be the ratings phenomenon on the century?? End of the day, no matter how hard Arnie is, he is just one guy. Why not send MULTIPLE stalkers in after him? Or better still, capture him somehow and dissect him live on TV? After all, they apprehended him pretty easily in a) the helicopter in the prologue and b) at the airport with that big net. Why can't the Games lot do something similar?? It just doesn't add up.

It hasn't stood the test of time. What's particularly WTF? about The Running Man is it came out the same year as Predator - 1987. Now, of course I don't know if 1987 is the year it was actually made, perhaps it was in the can a while, but given Arnie was SO famous at the time, I doubt it. And in comparison to Predator, it looks positively old hat. Yes, I know Predator is set in the jungle and not the future, which gives it somewhat of a "get out of jail free" card - but the monster make-up looks pretty much the same as was available nearly twenty years later in the AVP Films. Similarly, whilst the invisible/laser effects, particularly around the time of Jesse Ventura getting blasted are a bit dated, the heat-seeking/Monster POV stuff I think still looks great. But going back to The Running Man, it's as if the Filmmakers have built a few futuristic-style sets - then promptly forgotten it's supposed to be the future. Everything about it screams 1980s, from music to hair to make up. WTF? Alien, made nearly ten years' previously to The Running Man, *feels* more futuristic - even with that computer which isn't vaguely *like* a computer. EVEN MORE WTF: Steven De Souza adapted The Running Man - never heard of him 'cos you don't pay attention to screenwriters' names? Well, he wrote a little movie called DIE HARD which guess what, came out a year later and isn't even remotely as dated... and the jeopardy is fab. So what happened here??

Anyway. Turns out ALL THAT was why I was underwhelmed by The Running Man as a kid.

What do you think of it?

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The Running Man - novel

The Running Man on Wikipedia - Film

The Running Man on IMDB

The Running Man Trailer

The films of Arnold Schwarzenegger

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

WTF? On Film 3: Van Helsing

SPOILERS DELUXE
I can just imagine the Execs who commissioned VAN HELSING: "Get me a screenwriter who can deliver a script based on the Dracula myth... but make it new and make sure there's some like, ninja stars/mini buzz saws in it. Oh: and Frankenstein. And Jekyll & Hyde. And monks. And hell! Let's shove some werewolves in too, why not? But make sure there's a reason FOR ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING IN IT - except maybe the ninja star/buzz saws, we'll let them off that one. And call Hugh Jackman, he looks good with his shirt off, maybe he carry long hair and a really bad wax jacket too. And isn't the director from THE MUMMY free? Nice one, kill two birds with one stone: he can write the script an' all. Oh and what about Kate Beckinsale who only ever appears to play vampires when not in Pearl Harbour? That would be fantastic irony then, casting her as a vampire HUNTER -- do it!"

Everybody, all together now: WTF?????

I think, had I been hired to pen the screenplay of Van Helsing, I might have had a heart attack: Dracula meets Frankenstein meets the Wolfman is bad enough without having to shove all the rest in there too. Somewhat inevitably then, VH is absolutely DROWNING in set up, with not one or two but THREE lengthy introductions to the characters and the situations they've found themselves in. Interestingly, we start the movie not with Van Helsing himself, but Dracula and his dealings with Dr. Frankenstein; then we see how cool and prepared Van Helsing is when he deals with Mr. Hyde (now that really is WTF? Why Mr. Hyde? Why not another vampire?? Why not, I suppose) and then we deal with Princess Anna dealing with a werewolf - only shock! horror! her brother is killed doing so (don't worry, he'll be back).

There's no denying Van Helsing is pure bilge - but I have to admit, it's enjoyable bilge. What's particularly interesting about Van Helsing is that, even though it *has* to be one of the most convoluted and plain mental films I have ever seen, in comparison to something like Doomsday, there is actually a consistency in tone and a (sort of) coherence that I think is totally missing in the previous film. In fact, Van Helsing is so off its rocker, one can't help but go with the flow - or be deemed one of those nasty grannies who should be confined to the attic for having no sense of humour. Think I've gone completely mad? Let me explain.

Two stories = too much: three has purpose? Shoving three stories into one might seem like pure insanity, but there is a twisted genius to it: after all, Van Helsing never takes itself too seriously and end of the day, it's kids who will predominantly be interested in this film. Kids who may never have heard of Frankenstein - and whose only experience of the werewolf myth might have been Halloween masks and *that* Dr. Who episode when Billie Piper was still in it. They're too young to have watched Teenwolf because they weren't born and the Buffy episodes with Seth Green as a werewolf would be too scary. There's child-like logic throughout the whole of Van Helsing (Dracula needs Frankenstein to power the machine to make his babies come alive; a werewolf bite is the only thing to stop Dracula) that appeals, to, well - children. OF COURSE Dracula's babies would be born dead if he's undead! (Er, excuse me - how did Dracula's Brides get pregnant in the first place then??) OF COURSE a werewolf stops Dracula!!! (Er, excuse me - if that;'s the case, then why does Dracula keep werewolves in his castle??) BUT WHO CARES - we can gloss over those bits because the REST makes sense - if only within the context of a mad, totally insane, concept. In its twisted way, it all adds up and Van Helsing starts as it means to go: mad and insane. And consistency goes a long way.

Join us or die. When it comes to the insane and high concept, Hollywood has a long track record of highly implausible, sweep-you-along, kid-orientated tales like Van Helsing. Whether you actually like those tales or not, it cannot be argued that Hollywood doesn't do it *well enough* to bring audiences back, year after year, decade after decade, even if their stories are as schizophrenic as Van Helsing's. So whilst the likes of Doomsday had Brit audiences scratching their heads, Hollywood has the ultimate in "get out of jail free cards": they've done this malarkey before and got away with it - and they will do it again. What's more, they know where their currency is: they don't disenfranchise kids, but make it risque "enough" with a 12A certificate. As a result, kids will drag parents to hours and hours of this stuff. The choice is clear: you can give up and get swept along by this crap and find in it what's enjoyable - or you can be dragged out of the Odeon, screaming, by the men in white coats.

Dracula, revamped?
I obviously read A LOT of vampire films - in fact, I worked out recently I average ONE A WEEK. That's right; that's how popular vampires actually are. And guess what? Nearly all of them adhere to what I call The School of Buffy - in other words, the undead are uber-cool, wise crackers who dress well and are dead sexy. Yawn! The few that don't are still very much on the "low budget" radar - they're men and women who will suck your blood, end of. I have seen two versions of Vampires in the last two years I have deemed truly "original" in specs - TWO. In comparison then, Van Helsing's Vampires were a refreshing change, if only for the fact Dracula himself owes more to the Hammer Horror style Draculas of the 60s. Cheesy as hell, hamming it up big style whilst walking on the ceiling, Richard Roxburgh's Transylvanian accent was on the Russian side of Barking, but by God, thanks for something different!!! His Brides too in their human form seemed quite Hammer Horror - until they TAKE TO THE SKIES. Vampires flying! Yay! Why not? It appears vampires in most films have forgotten their bat roots, but here they are soaring above us - and not only that they have WINGS LIKE FALLEN ANGELS AND FEET LIKE EAGLES. What's more, even the werewolf myth got a workover: unlike your average werewolf which is stuck in AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON writhing around around on the foor, Van Helsing's werewolves get magnified somehow to the wall and PICK OFF THEIR OWN SKIN. As my son shouted in the cinema at the time: "ACE!"As an aside, Van Helsing was responsible for my son's very sudden interest in horror fiction. The same week we saw Van Helsing at the cinema, he had me take him to the library in order to take out not only a junior version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, but a Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I'm sure the filmmakers didn't shove all those previous stories in the mix in a philanthropic bid to get our kids reading, but it is an impressive side bonus; so perhaps the impact of such crazy films which draw on "old" tales is not to be underestimated, if only on that basis.

But for me, whilst Van Helsing is essentially a screenwriting nightmare, I think it's also important to remember it never purports to be anything but what it is - a pantomime. And we all love pantomimes, right.... Or not? Over to you...
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Van Helsing on IMDB

Van Helsing Trailer

Van Helsing on Wikipedia

Van Helsing Reviews

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

WTF? On Film 2: Doomsday

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS I had high hopes for Doomsday: the trailer looked cool I thought and I'd enjoyed both of writer/directior Neil Marshall's previous efforts, The Descent and Dog Soldiers, bar a few minor quibbles over character. But horror is not *usually* noted for sympathetic characters and let's face it, the boys in Dog Soldiers had some killer lines: "So if Red Riding Hood turns up with a bazooka and a bad attitude, I want you to chin the bitch!" Plus The Descent was one of the few horror movies to freak me out so royally I needed to sleep WITH THE LIGHT ON.

I suppose then for me the first red flag to go up was the extended prologue: I'm not big on those anyway, but it starred the redhead I Had A Problem With in Dog Soldiers (yes, the werewolf woman that somehow didn't need to change when the rest of the werewolves outside did and seemed to exist solely in the story for that really bad PMS joke at the end). I decided I could afford to be charitable however: maybe she's Neil Marshall's wife or best friend or something. Besides, it was Saturday and I had beer. I could deal with the redhead. It was pretty clear her role was a cameo; the character would die (or at least be doomed) soon and we could get on with it.

So the prologue about Scotland being infected with the Reaper Virus and being sealed off came and went and we were introduced to Sinclair, the female protagonist and now grown up version of the child the redhead put on the helicopter. She's now a hardcore policewoman with a fake eye that can look round corners. Plus she's hot - and I mean really hot. Even I fancied her. Plus her haircut was nice. We are introduced to her for a really long time... And reminded about how her mother sent her to England when she talks to Bob Hoskins outside after blowing away the Perp inside like the hardcore policewoman she is. Even though it was five minutes ago. But okay, okay. Again I'm being a story Nazi. Chill out. We've got a gorgeous bird in very tight trousers and the promise of extreme violence to come, not to mention bloody, hideous death via the aforementioned Reaper Virus which has somehow come back... Oh and there it is: some bloke spewing and haemorraging all over the shop in the streets of London. Excellent.

But now we need some politics - and that too lasts a while, plus there's some CGI of the wall and more on what happened in Scotland. The Prime Minister and some scary Scottish Politician decide what to do - and of course they need Bob Hoskins who in turn tells them our friend Sinclair is The One To Save Us All. She's going to be part of the crack team they send over the wall into Scotland: some people over there have somehow survived the Reaper Virus, so they *must* be immune - if they can catch one, then they make a vaccine! A couple of problems though: the Scottish have gone feral and it's all post Apocalyptic Mad Max over that side of the wall...

Now, my father was born in Dundee, so I love the idea of a feral Scotland, not least because he's mad as a hatter (hi Dad). I also think it's probably likely that if one of the sections of the UK went tits up like that, the Government would slam a lid on it and seal it off, leaving it to its own devices. As controversial too a view as it is (brace yourselves!), I even enjoyed the first RESIDENT EVIL (if not the latter films). So Doomsday was definitely not without its appeal, even before we have Rhona Mitra in her tight fitting trousers.

However, it rose on my WTF? radar as it went on though, for the following reasons:

It was not differentiated enough from its predecessors. By the time Doomsday came out, we'd had a stack of virus-based apocalypses in films, both American AND British. We'd had all the Resident Evils (or at least two of them), plus 28 Days Later AND 28 Weeks Later as the most obvious - you could even stick in Shaun of the Dead if you wanted to get anal. The spaces in Doomsday then were filled with both Mad Max and Michael Crichton's Timeline (but more of that in a minute). I know execs ask for "the same... but different" but for me at least, it seemed more of the "same" and not enough of "different".

The characters were forgettable. I thought Sinclair lacked charisma - and none of the secondaries were particularly colourful or memorable, though Adrian Lester *almost* wormed his way into my affections. The antagonist, Sol, was just plain mental - though fun, I didn't really get what his problem was (yes I know he and his people had been left to die by HM Government, I mean **besides that**: he seemed to have a pretty good life going on behind the wall, people were worshipping him and stuff - though Sinclair DOES chop his girlfriend's head off... I suppose that is a little antisocial).

But anyway: I always judge a movie by how well I remember the characters' names: the better I think the movie, the more likely I am to remember not only who played the character (which is easy enough if the actor turns up a lot in a particular genre, like Sean Pertwee!), but the character's name FIRST [Quick example: I think "Ripley" BEFORE I think "Sigourney Weaver", or "John McClane" before "Bruce Willis."] One of the most interesting things for me then about the characters in Doomsday is I could not remember a single character's name whilst actually watching it. I had to look on IMDB later - and Sinclair's name again whilst writing this post. As my husband and I were watching, we were actually talking and asking each other about the characters' actions, so Sinclair was referred to as "that bird off Life of David Gale", Adrian Lester was "the guy from Hustle", Bob Hoskins was "Roger Rabbit guy" and Sean Pertwee was... well, Sean Pertwee. (Dog Soldier IS The Hub's fave film).

There were too many homages. I never thought I would write that: how can a film have too many nods for horror Geeks like me in the audience? Yet Doomsday seemed to. When the crack team breaks in through the Scottish wall for example in their uber-tank and scope out the place which looks like the Marie Celeste, I believed for a second I was watching Aliens. Add all the Mad Max and Escape From NY stuff and the fact the Scottish Ferals are listening to "Fine Young Cannibals" which was old even by their standards (I think I'm right in thinking they got entombed in 2007 or 8? FYT was an 80s band), I was scratching my head.

I didn't understand why the Scottish Ferals were cannibals. As the crack team drive their super-duper tank across Scotland, they run over a bunch of cows. There were stacks of them. Wouldn't it be easier - and tastier - to eat them, rather than Sean Pertwee? Surely he is all gristle??

Doomsday couldn't seem to decide what it was. Doomsday did not start as it meant to go on in my view: when it began, it did not appear if this was going to be a horror played for laughs - like in Dog Soliders, for example; its strength was its humour; I thought it was hilarious, particularly when Sean Pertwee's guts are hanging out and Coop shouts: "Then we'll put them back in, sir!"

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think horror *has* to have humour for contrast, plenty don't and work well. Yet Doomsday started serious and by the end had become a horror/comedy, with bad guy Sol racing in his uber-fast car after Sinclair and friends with his dead girlfriend next to him, only for her head to fly off. He's then despatched in a classic "Oh shit!" moment in a big explosion. Amusing, but why the inconsistency in tone? A similar thing appeared to happen with the events of Sinclair's journey: at the start behind the wall it's all very Mad Max in feel, then moments later she's in a medieval gladiatorial arena. Whilst an interesting contrast, the change - considering medieval Dude was Sol's own father - seemed odd, I didn't understand how it happened exactly. Now, I have to admit I DID go and get more beer at one point, so perhaps I missed something. Although the fridge is not exactly eons away from my living room, unless of course there is some sort of time anomaly in my kitchen?

Now, there WERE moments I did enjoy in Doomsday, believe it or not: I loved the idea the medieval girl didn't know what a car or a mobile phone was when they discovered a GIANT STACK OF THEM in a bunker near the big castle and as mentioned earlier, Adrian Lester was pretty good, dying heroically too like he did. Plus the barbeque of Sean Pertwee was always going to be a winner for me: not enough men get scorched in horror in comparison to the likes of poor Cybil (as in Silent Hill, in my post yesterday). Also, I'm always willing to concede the idea that films don't end up the way they're intended - so many people go into the soup of filmmaking, it's always a possibility something will go wrong or a huge dash of ego from the execs might make it taste wrong (I'll stop mixing my metaphors now).

But ultimately, I just didn't enjoy Doomsday like I enjoyed The Descent or Dog Soldiers. What about you?
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LINKS

Doomsday on IMDB

Doomsday trailer

Doomsday on Wikipedia

Doomsday Reviews

Monday, January 26, 2009

WTF? On Film 1: Silent Hill

MEGA SPOILERS PRESENT

When I first watched Silent Hill, I had no idea it was previously a video game. Even if I had, I doubt it would have deterred me; though I have never played on form of games system in my entire life (that's right!) and have zero interest in computer games generally, I am actually of the opinion video games *can* create interesting, fun, movies - just as I believe comic books (sorry! GRAPHIC NOVELS) can too.

And I wasn't disappointed by Silent Hill (for the first three quarters anyway, but I'll come back to that in a minute). On a movie-making level, it looks fantastic: top class. But even script-wise, it opens with an immediate hook: two parents, shouting for their lost kid. What more universal a fear than that to start a horror movie? If your child has ever wandered off (and most kids manage it at least once in eighteen years), then you know the fear that clutches at your heart like a vice.

So it starts well and bar a silly moment where the Mum, Rose, leaves the kid, Sharon, in the car when paying at a petrol station in the middle of the night (yeah right!!!), it continues well. We're introduced to the cop woman, Cybil, at the petrol station who will later *almost* fuck everything up for Rose, but save her as well -- and we're filled with this sense of foreboding, this inevitable sense that whatever lies in the forgotten town of Silent Hill, it is NOT GOOD.

Some critics didn't understand the story of Silent Hill, but for me it was very simple: it was a mother trying to find her child. From the first minute to (almost) the last, that theme was very much in evidence. It was something I felt I could relate to, not only because I am a mother but also because those images of death and damnation within Silent Hill itself really struck a chord. I was reminded of Oscar Wilde's famous quote from his "A Woman Of No Importance":

"Death, being childless, wants our children: we must fight Him for them."

To me, Silent Hill was about the struggle women make from conception, birth and right through their children's lives in actually keeping them alive even when their misadventures threaten their mortality. And kids do try and kill themselves without realising - every five minutes, especially boys. It's not that fathers don't recognise this, but they cannot partake in pregnancy and birth like women can: also, traditionally Men might be the protectors, but perhaps they are spread thin more - for traditionally it is their role not only to protect children, but women too, hence the old adage in disaster or survival situations when evacuating, "Women and children first!" If Men are supposed to be the Protectors then, it seems to me as if Women are the "Preventers": as a result, whether peace time or war, Women never rest a moment in fighting Death for those children (well, that's the hope anyway - sadly there are too many terrible parents out there who never give anything a second's thought and depressingly as many who are in themselves the threat to the Child, the very embodiment of Death in fact).

So I was not worried about the lack of explanation regarding the burning babies, the people in gas marks, the guy in the toilets wrapped up with barbed wire. By the time the Demon Guy with the triangular head turned up with his flesh eating companions, I was well into the story I had invented in my head. Here was Death himself, here to take Rose's daughter from her clutches - and who could help her? Certainly not a man, not even her Husband: he was stuck in the "real" version of Silent Hill because he couldn't understand the truth and importance of parenthood whilst Rose struck it out in that alternate reality where her daughter had disappeared. Only Cybil, the aforementioned female cop, could help her - after all, she too had lost a child in her way: the kidnapped boy she found, dead down the mineshaft. Yes, I decided: this was a film ENTIRELY about motherhood, about how only a mother's steadfast love can stand in the way of true evil. I even thought I knew what the ending would be: Rose would find her daughter in the worst place within the town, where only a true leap of faith/vanquishing of the beast would enable her to reach her - she would probably have to defeat Death in his funky triangular helmet in some way, maybe wrench her from his very arms and defy him - or that old favourite (an oldy but still a goody), sacrifice herself for the child?

So imagine my surprise when I discover the story is in fact more about witch burning and less about a mother's struggles with Death himself. WTF?

Once Rose and Cybil are separated at the hospital, Cybil is taken off by the villagers and burnt at the stake, while Rose discovers the "truth" of what happened in the town. This exposition is seemingly not open to interpretation like the previous three quarters of the film: instead, those necessarily details are told in extended flashback and voiceover, given directly to the audience. It would appear most of the exposition was shoved to the back of the screenplay - perhaps it was a studio, rather than screenwriter decision? The execs decided not enough had been "nailed down", maybe? Anyway: the child, called "Sharon" by Rose is in fact the good version of another child, "Alessa" who previously lived in Silent hill 30 years' previously and was burnt at the stake by the townspeople - by the same fire which lit the disastrous coal fire that destroyed the town.

I was unconvinced by any of this; it came too late for me and seemed at odds with what had gone before. To be fair, there were clues: Rose meets Dahlia, Alessa's mother amongst the ashes of Silent Hill fairly early on and Dahlia insists Alessa and Sharon are one and the same, though it does little in my opinion to set up the resolution in which Dahlia's sister insists Alessa/Sharon must be killed. It also feels kind of inevitable the child Rose has is responsible for the death of the town, but it opens up a whole can of worms, like:

Who was Alessa's father, the devil? If so, why does he choose Dahlia when she seems fundamentally good?

Why did the townspeople kill Alessa when she was *about* eight - why not when she was a baby and presumably couldn't harm them? And why burn her, why exactly was she considered a witch?

Why does Dahlia let her psycho sister take Alessa?

How does Alessa become Sharon - and how does Rose end up with her if it was 30 years ago Alessa died?

Why take Rose back to Silent Hill if she is the mother Alessa deserved?

Perhaps all of these things are explained in the video game; I don't doubt it in fact. But I saw none of these answers in the film version of SILENT HILL - and I think adaptation should cater for those unfamiliar with the source material. Also, because I got so *in* to my own reading of what the film's story was, I suppose a part of me grieved for that unresolved version I had created within my own head: once Cybill was burned at the stake, I could continue with it no longer and had to abandon it as a mistake, rather than a story in its own right. Ironically I personally would have preferred NO explanation than the one Alessa/Sharon gives once Rose makes it past those impressive zombie-style nurses at the hospital. But then I guess we all see stories very differently, as I'm fond of saying on this blog and to my Bang2writers.

What were your experiences of Silent Hill as a movie - and as a game, if you've played it? Over to you...

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LINKS

Silent Hill Official Site

Silent Hill on IMDB

Silent Hill on Wikipedia

Silent Hill Video Games by Konamii - reviews and purchase

Friday, January 23, 2009

Scene Focus 3: Readers Versus Writers

As my final word on this series, I thought I would take a look at the decisions we make in pushing the story forward with our scenes throughout our scripts.

Very often scenes are good in the spec script: the dialogue may be well-drawn, the characters interesting - yet the scene does little to move the story forward. But what does this mean? Well, as a reader, very often I will read a scene and wonder how it "fits" in the bigger picture of the script itself. It's as basic as that.

It appears to me as a reader (rightly or wrongly) there are not many writers who work out how each and every scene gets us from A to B to C to D (and so forth) in the actual script. Perhaps this is because not many spec writers write actual beat sheets - or those that do, usually work in telly and don't have enough a lot of time to write specs? Whatever the case, I think being realising what each scene GIVES to the story as whole can only help our focus as writers.

Of course, this is something a writer can only do BEFORE they start a script - and judge AFTER they've finished the first draft. A lot of writers express dismay they "can't get a draft right" but personally I think they're judging themselves way too harshly. If you decided you were going to take up the piano, clay pigeon shooting or needlepoint, you would not expect to be able to pick it up immediately and do everything right, would you? Scriptwriting is the same. Someone said to me once: it's not about getting it "right". It's about "trying it out" and seeing which scene "fits best" - a bit like trying a dress or suit on, really.

If you use a beat sheet, even if you are allergic to treatments, you will save yourself a world of pain. By writing a blow-by-blow list of every moment in your script, you will be able to see those moments that don't work before you embark on the pages; you will be forcing yourself to address not only the miniscule details of each scene, but the bigger picture as well. It's win-win. That's why, if you work in TV (especially soap), your script editor will often ask you for such a beat sheet, step outline or whatever else they happen to call them.

I won't lie to you. Beat Sheets are dull to write - and very often, difficult too. Forcing yourself to go from one scene to the next without the fun distraction of dialogue, arena or character can be a pain in the arse. But it will mean you can stay on track in the long term. That's surely worth it, isn't it?

Well, I think so - but as with everything scriptwriting-related, there are counter arguments. "There's no spontaneity" is one of the most obvious - according to some writers, their scripts become pedestrian if they know where they're going, one single moment to the next. I disagree. I think spontaneity is for the scene itself, not necessarily for its structure. And knowing where you are going doesn't mean you can't be spontaneous: I've cut out scenes, re-arranged them, changed their focus, whatever. Your beat sheet doesn't have to be set in stone. Why should it? Instead, think of your beat sheet as a map - but you add things to the journey as you go along, because you're *semi-familiar* with the directions already, a bit like me when I'm walking around in London. I've been there a million times, but without a map I'm afraid I will get lost - so I always take one. But it doesn't mean I necessarily follow it. As a result I'm nearly always on time for meetings, gatherings etc.

Readers don't love your story like you do; when they open your script, they don't even know what your story is - you need to communicate it to them. Very often, scenes add so little to the progression of the overarching narrative, a reader will finish and say, "I have no what that was about." Sure, they get the *gist* of what the writer is saying - it's not they're thick or from another planet. However because the scene focus does not fall into place (and often because a script simply has TOO MUCH in it), the story itself will not be clear.

Yet a beat sheet can help you avoid this.

It'll take you maybe three hours, tops - versus multiple redrafts. If only I had started with a beat sheet on GRACE, eight years ago and twenty one drafts ago... C'est la vie! But I'm sure as hell writing one now - and already, I think I can see the light - is the end in sight for this project??? Will this story finally come together, once and for all??

Well, only time can tell. But at least I'll know I've done everything I can to resolve my issues with it. Can you say the same with your spec? Don't get confused or beat yourself up; it's not worth it. Write a list of your scenes and how they work instead.

Phew

My number one fave article of all time, Bill Martell's "16 Steps To Better Scene Description" on The List of Wonder disappeared off the face of the internet this week - not only did I have a heart attack, I got a bunch of emails panicking about it too! Frantic Googling revealed little - just dead links to my list. Noooooooooooooooooo!

But here it is.

Phew.

Thanks to Bill Martell for the link. You really are a prince among screenwriters.

Worship him over at his website now, bitches!

Oh - and have a lovely weekend.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I'm Afraid Of Americans

I've joined the cult that is Mac and got myself a lovely shiny new Macbook. It's AMAZING. It's also incredibly annoying 'cos I haven't got a clue how any of it works yet, I had a severe amount of TECHNORAGE if you caught any of my Twitter updates yesterday. However, I'm getting there - slowly but surely. I have to use MS Word because all my Bang2writers do, so that's on there now. Plus I found the internet - turns out its version is called Safari and I was looking for IE (yes, stop sniggering at the back). Next, once I've figured out how the hell to get the MS Word disc out of that weird hole in the side is Final Draft baby, then I'm done - oh, plus all the files from the old laptop. Christ, that's gonna take me a while. In the meantime then, feast your eyes upon the God who is David Bowie. Oh yes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

SAFE Audition Fotos

Hi peeps, another short one today because snowed under again - but be sure to check out the photos of our auditions for SAFE last week on the Facebook Group. We've managed to cast three of the five adult roles so far: the lead, "Gemma" and the two male roles, "Young Man" and "Older Man". If you haven't joined the group yet, click on the pic of the creepy bloody hand and it'll take you straight there. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Scene Focus # 2: The Literal Versus The Universal

I read a lot of scripts that essentially retell people's personal experiences. This is really interesting to me because I am in actual fact one of the nosiest people in the entire world. I want to know everything about everyone, whether it benefits me or not. Don't get me wrong; I'm not the net-curtain-twitching-type and nor do I spy on my neighbours with the aid of a telescope or binoculars. I'm nosy, not freaky.

However, I figure that if you're actually talking to me, you're fair game. So, if you've ever had a conversation with me in real life, whether with your voice or via email, you'll know I ask all *sorts* of questions: how many children do you have? If none: WHY don't you have any children? If you had any children, would you prefer girls or boys? What would their names be? Where did you go to school? Did you go to university? Where? Were you married before? Why would you never get married? Do you believe in God? Do you like cats or dogs? What about lolcats? Are your parents still alive? How many brothers and sisters do you have? What's more important - money or satisfaction? If you were going to kill your spouse, how would you do it? If you were the last person on Earth, which celebrity would you prefer to be stuck for eternity with? ... And many, many, many more besides.

However it would appear I am unusual in this approach, even as a writer. There's a certain level of propriety in English society it seems and I frequently break it by asking near-strangers details about their lives. Sometimes people are only too happy to give these details - and I notice there does not appear to be any particular gender divide on this: if you are happy to chat, you're happy to chat it seems whether male or female, old or young, rich or poor. Other times people react as if I had whacked them on the arse with a hockey stick: they move away... very fast. Other times, particularly men I find, seem to think I am some kind of mentalist and warn each other: "Don't tell her ANYTHING! She remembers EVERYTHING, especially weird or random stuff."

It's true: whilst I never remember anyone's surname, where they live, their phone number or birthday or anything useful like that, I may well remember if they told me that, aged six they wet their pants in front of 200 other kids at assembly. Or they pushed their brother down a half-filled well aged eleven and blamed it on the naughty kid who lived down the road. Or they mistook their mother's cap for one of those bouncy things that turn inside out, accidentally made a hole in it and nine months later a baby sister arrived.

But anyway: I'm getting way off the point.

Writing from personal experience *can* be good, right? Whilst I'm not a huge fan of the old saying "write what you know", there is a case to be made for the truthfulness of screenplays which draw from the writer's own experience. These scripts are very often the ones with what I call "heart" and heart does stay with you, even if the exact ins and outs of the story don't always.

It seems to me there's two ways of getting your personal experiences down on paper: the literal way and the universal way. The literal way is writing AS it happened. For example, say you were in a rock band in the 70s but crashed and burned and ended up in rehab. That's a good story, an interesting story. The literal way then to write that would be to represent it exactly as it happened: cast yourself as the protagonist, have the action exactly as it happened, include everyone who was there in your cast list. Pretty simple, yeah?

Now, the universal way: you don't cast yourself as the protagonist; instead you create a FICTIONAL protagonist who perhaps has shades of your own self, but includes other elements of other people you may have seen, read about, heard about - whatever fits in with WHAT you're trying to say. Similarly, you cut back on the EXACT people who were there and create an equally fictional bank of secondaries to rival the protagonist. Perhaps you create some from scratch that have nothing to do with "real life", maybe the antagonist too.

What I prefer as a reader? Well, being nosy I obviously *like* the literal accounts. It's like someone has pulled up over the garden fence and said, "Hey Lucy, let me tell you about my life." I NEVER say no to that. I've talked to Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons on the doorstep because I'm a sucker for life stories; I've spoken to old people at bus stops, Mums and Dads down the park, pretenders on trains, even distracted telesales people on the phone into it.

Literal spec scripts *can* have their drawbacks, however. Very often the protagonist is quite passive, they don't have much to do. Why? Because in real life, we're never really sure HOW we drive the narrative of our OWN lives: sometimes because we let other people do it for us, other times because we do it automatically without thinking. Now passive protagonists don't have to be a bad thing, but you need *SOMEONE* to drive the action for them if the lead doesn't. But again, we're so busy running our own lives we don't necessarily notice how others run theirs. As a result, very often literal accounts have characters with unrecognisable role functions, wandering about, doing fun stuff, but essentially leading to nothing in particular. Very often too the antagonist is missing from the literal account - especially in those literal scripts where the writer is remembering a particularly good or fun part of their lives. On the flipside, if the writer is writing about a particularly BAD time in their life, then the antagonist can permeate everything and distract from the protagonist completely.

Structure nearly always lapses in the literal script, particularly in Act 2 - there may be little or no conflict. This usually happens because the writer does not want to put themself through the pain of that story: if the protagonist (really the writer) is having a good time, s/he doesn't want to detract from that. Equally, if the protagonist is repeating something horrible the writer has been through, the writer does everything in his/her power to avoid going through it all again. Perfectly understandable, but it does mean the middle feels as if it's "missing".

So that's why I favour what I call the "universal" scripts: where a writer has taken their experience and sought to find the truth or meaning in that story that will appeal to EVERYONE, bar just themselves or nosy people like me. By creating entirely fictional people, in fictional situations that SYMBOLISE their own journeys, the writers are then freed from the shackles of the literal; they can create and structure a journey that REFLECTS their own experience and takes others with them, instead of creating voyeurs of their audience. In short, they manufacture their own truth, which others can relate to via the own truths about the world they already have. So that's why I always ask myself about my script:

"Is this an interesting story - or is this only interesting TO ME?"

We all love our own stories, but sometimes the answer is "only interesting to me". I've just junked a spec last year because of this. I *know* what I want to achieve, but I can't make the words on the page communicate that yet. I'm too close to the material perhaps - or maybe I need to cogitate for several months before I find the "angle" it needs. But it's not dead in the water yet. You can make a story "interesting" to others as well as yourself - it's just finding the way. And therein lies the challenge....

Monday, January 19, 2009

SAFE Films

Just a short one this morning -I'd like to ask you peeps out in www.land to join my Facebook group, Safe Films. It's a dedicated group for my collaborations with the marvellous Schuman of Studio Schoque. The picture is the one I've posted here - that creepy, bloody hand is actually from a dark, supernatural short we first worked on together way back in 2005, "The Design".

We've got big plans at Safe Films: at the moment we're in the middle of casting for our very first short together, entitled "Safe": it's about a young woman's desperate quest to save her baby, even from beyond the grave. We did our initial casting last saturday - and very well it went, too. There's still two roles going however, so if you're a female living in the Bournemouth/Poole area, do check out the discussion board cos there's a casting call with all the details on there.

We're not the types to let the grass grow under our feet: in-between casting people on Saturday we actually planned ANOTHER short (I just have to write it now!) and we've also been planning for a feature. So watch this space! Also, there will photos coming on the Facebook group of the auditions, rushes, trailers, etc too - so if you like watching "behind the scenes" stuff on filmmaking, then Safe Films is the place to go.

So join here. See you there!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Brain Exploding. BRB.

I think the PDF may just be the saviour of forests worldwide: I swear on all my cats' and children's lives, if the backlog of scripts I have were made of paper instead of megabytes (or whatever computer files are made of), I think I would have to resort to actually creating a NEW house made entirely of scripts, for there would be no way in hell I could get to anything useful or interesting in my real house. I always find January quite busy because of people's new year resolutions to get writing finished and sent off to various people, but bloody hell! I've never had one as busy as this. What's wrong with you people?? (Kidding, honest - keep 'em coming).

Given all the furore about script reading yesterday, it seems quite appropriate I got feedback in the middle of the night last night, on my old spec that's gradually becoming a new spec, such is its transformation: lots about it is good apparently now (in comparison to a draft before Christmas which rather went off the boil), but I still have my story priorities all wrong.

I know exactly what the reader means, which is great. Not so great? At this moment in time I have ZERO idea what to do about it, especially as it would mean a new beginning and new ending (well at least the middle is okay, it is the biggest bit). Or do I swap the end and the beginning I have at present AROUND? The arena needs some re-aligning too, for the third time. Cue much obsessing. Argh.

This particular script, GRACE, means a lot to me: in its first incarnation, it was a thirty minute script as an assignment at college, that's how long ago it was conceived; it also has a lot of really personal stuff in. It is going to my Writers' Academy submission this year - so I can safely say that if I don't get as much as an interview THIS year, I'm going to be seriously gutted 'cos I will have put absolutely everything into my application.

That's not to say I haven't put my all into previous years' applications: I'm a committed continuing drama fan having literally watched all the series on the WA for years, plus I've spent hours poring over those questions on the application form, but I haven't written a script specifically for it before, but sent in what I thought was "my best work", as recommended. Of course, this up to personal response. The year before last I put my supernatural thriller, Thy Will Be Done, in as my sample. It's the spec I've got the most meetings and opportunities from, plus BBC Wales and the Writersroom had loved it too, so I'd even dared hope a little more than usual. But alas, no.

Still, I believe, 100%, in the project and am passionate about the story behind Grace - it's gone through multiple drafts, having returned to page one and seven times! My next one will be its twenty second if I include all my efforts when I was just a girl and knew absolutely nothing about screenwriting (that very first draft reads like an actual play, just acres of conversation with just two scenes! Bless). Anyway, hopefully Grace will swing it, finally and get me through the door at least. Maybe. We'll see, anyway.

Talking of the Writers' Academy, head honcho Ceri Meyrick is blogging about the process all this week - so if you're like me and want a place so desperately you'll give up a kidney or your first born child, check it out.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

In It For The Money?

You've probably seen Piers' post about using paid-for readers. If you haven't read it, here's a quick precis of it - don't use them. Why? Well, you can you get feedback for free with the likes of Po3, peer review, BBC Writersroom, Triggerstreet, joining or forming writers' groups. Also, at the heart of the matter for Piers, because paid-for readers want your custom back, is the thought you're never going to be told you're that bad, but you're never going to be told you're that good, either.

In the interest of balance, I thought I'd offer a few counter points - and not because I'm just a paid-for reader myself. I've been the reader *someone else* pays for, rather than the writer - in fact, for a couple of places I read for, I still am. I've even been the reader NO ONE pays for - writer or employer - because I've been the work experience girl.

Well first off: paid-for readers do want custom: of course they do. It's their job, they have to make a living, pay the rent, feed the kids, put fuel in the car. They're just people - no different to the writers, directors, producers, editors, or whoever else goes into this collaborative medium. Yet the notion does appear to persist that people charging for script reading services are somehow piggy-backing on more "respectable" areas of scriptwriting, trying to make a fast buck. Why are script readers' expertise somehow worth less? Of course, there are charlatans out there. But most readers are simply scraping by, the same as everyone else. They're certainly not getting rich and rubbing their hands with glee.

Secondly, a good reader will always advocate peer review via websites like Triggerstreet or the likes of Po3. In fact, I'd like to echo Piers' point wholeheartedly here: why pay for feedback, when you can get it for free? What's more, it's a great way of making contacts and creating relationships between writers and hopefully eventually directors and producers too - bonus.

However, it's just as important to remember not everyone looks at feedback the same way. For some writers, just getting the time to get the words down on paper is an achievement in itself due to family or work commitments: they hate the thought of peer review, of "owing" feedback to anyone - it's added stress, so instead they prefer to pay for feedback and then it's all done and dusted. What's more, these busy people may just not have time to create their own writers' group or even attend one, especially if there are children in their lives. For others, they may have had a bad experience with peer review, so would rather not bother worrying about offending anyone, or again having to "owe" anyone. For some, it's just a case of good old fashioned personal preference: I know writers who would rather poke their eyes out than attend or form a writers' circle (these aren't wallflower newbies either, but highly successful writers, so it's no good saying they *should* otherwise they won't do well in the industry: they do.)

Targetting writers at the same level as yourself for feedback is a good tactic, but can only take you so far. Whilst a writer who works in the media and/or film industry might already have access to peers who know exactly what's hot and what's not, there's just as many people who write who don't. Sometimes these writers will want to pay for a reader who does nothing but read scripts so they can have access to what those people who already work in the industry might have for free.

What's more, I don't believe non-paid-for readers, those readers someone else pays for, are more objective about your script. In fact, sometimes I think they can be more prone to being judgemental and make more sweeping statements without justification because they don't have to be accountable in the same way as a paid-for reader. With a paid-for reader, you know who they are, they have to "face" you, even if only via email and deliver what might sometimes be unpalatable news. And they do tell you things are "bad" (I prefer the term "need more work" or "development" if I'm honest) about your script.

Yes, script readers have certain biases on content or on technique - on this blog I've never made any secret of that: I hate rape scenes and love structure, anyone? - but guess what: those non-paid-for readers have those same biases, you just don't know what theirs are. You also have no clue who they are, what they are like as a person and whether they've slated your script because it's really "bad" - or because they were in a foul mood. Instead, all you have is a sour taste in your mouth and a feeling of impotence 'cos you can't even query it. With a paid-for reader, if you're really confused about certain notes or need clairfication, you can email them and ask. A good paid-for reader will encourage this, even.

As for readers not telling you're *that* good or *bad* though-- well. I can't speak for anyone else, but here's what happens with me.

As anyone who has used my service knows, the very first thing I do at the start of development notes or reports is say what I like and think is working in a draft. Yes, sometimes I do have to dig deep - but I have never lied. I've told Bang2writers I think they are good (for what it's worth: I am just one reader) -and with many I've followed their efforts on the circuit with real interest, either because they've started blogs or because I've encouraged them to keep in touch. With a small number, I've passed their details on to directors who have asked me to recommend someone, particularly shorts. I've also suggested certain scripts don't need more feedback - but if the writer concerned wants to send me another "newer" work instead, that's fine with me (what?? I do need to earn a crust, remember).

Piers is right about readers not telling clients they're bad though: I would never tell someone they are a bad writer (and never have, not even when I was a non-paid-for/completely free reader).

Why? I've always believed this: who the hell is anyone to tell you your script is bad and you should give up writing, whether they are a paid-for reader or a non-paid-for reader? As I pose in this post, how is that helpful? Okay, we all have our opinions on who and what is "good" and "bad" - but guess what, this changes person to person. What's more, I've seen writers over the years transform their scripts and even their writing styles from veritable ugly ducklings into beautiful swans - I really have! That's one of the cool things about creativity: anything can happen. Why would anyone want to shove the lid on top of someone's ability (or supposed lack of) and declare it's BEYOND HOPE? It makes no sense to me.

End of the day, it boils down to this: if you're cynical about paid-for readers, you're best off not using them. But if you *feel* they can help you? They probably can.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Scene Focus # 1: The Ordinary Versus The Extraordinary

Very often when I'm reading a script it doesn't feel "tight" enough. It's not that it's badly structured, with bits missing or sprawling all over the place like a teenager in tracky bottoms hogging the sofa and the remote; instead it just feels "lumpy". It's more of a sense, something you can see only in your peripheral vision. It's also something that seems able to strike any writer, at any time, new or professional. What's more, script readers themselves are not immune to it - and it can only be diagnosed by someone else, for it's impossible to see on your own.

The cause of this "lumpiness" often comes, I find, from ill-focused scenes: scenes most often where dialogue has been allowed to run on too long, though sometimes the desire for a visual gag or moment causes it too. We've all heard the slogan, "start late and finish early", but it's become a little like your Mum asking you to clean your room as a kid: you tune it out. Instead, you fall in love with your character, with how witty or amazing they are - or with your arena, painting a picture so vividly you forget about story. In fact, you're so lovestruck you let your character harp on saying or doing whatever they like in that scene - not realising that in fact, you could jettison half or even three quarters.

That's right - half of even three quarters of the scene. It seems writers forget very often that one page of screenplay is ONE MINUTE. Look at your watch, right now. Time one minute... Go!

Quite long isn't it.

Okay, you can't fit that much on one page of script. But if you write well, your script should be doing a helluva lot in that one minute and therein lies the paradox. If your page just has characters chattering about backstory, or answering phones and talking about *stuff*, or opening and closing doors, or running up and down stairs, or driving cars from *here* to *there* for no particular reason IN THE ACTUAL PLOT, guess what?

You don't need it.

But then we know that, really. It's just hard sometimes to let go - like I said, you're lovestruck. We can all make allowances for the very first draft. Or the rewrite. Or second rewrite, or third or fourth. Sometimes those lumpy scenes are the result of redrafting lots of times - you think you need them because they've always been there, but in reality they've outstayed their welcome. Don't worry either about the ones you're sending out for feedback to your peers and private readers like me - it'll get picked up and you can give those pesky lumpy scenes the chopping they deserve.

But if you leave them in the one you're going to send out to agents, funding initiatives and producers? Nooooooooooooo!

What we all need to do, to keep the pace going and stop our structure from turning "lumpy" like porridge, is make sure our scenes have FOCUS. Forget "starting late and leaving early" - it's a nice saying but it doesn't really tell us what we need to know.

Instead I would recommend ensuring each scene has a FOCUS that LEADS TOWARDS your resolution. So many scripts have scenes in that are very good, but do nothing to keep the story flowing towards its resolution. Who can forget ALIEN and Ripley's mystery trip to the bridge to see Parker and Brett after the crash on the forbidden planet? Or the eye doctor's mysterious threat to Tom Cruise's character that never comes to bear in MINORITY REPORT? Why are those scenes there? They have no focus. They should have been cut.

But how do we keep focus? Well that's the 64 million dollar question of course. First off, I'd say it'd be good to know your enemy - as someone who reads stacks of scripts, what do I think causes focus in scenes to lapse?

I would argue dialogue is the biggest killer of focus. A lot of scribes want to write dialogue more than anything else it seems and underestimate how important lean description is in envoking mood and keeping the story flowing. As a result, characters have chats that go on for pages and pages and before you know it, as much as ten pages have passed. Ten pages is TEN MINUTES. As amusing, thought provoking or interesting as these exchanges might be, on a practical level when was the last time you saw a film with a scene of ten minutes of straight talking in? When was the last time you saw a film with a scene of five? Yes of course it does happen: I believe HUNGER has a really long scene of seventeen minutes in it, though I haven't seen it.
But is it usual? Will doing something similar help you market yourself as a writer? Only you can decide.

The second killer of focus in scenes I would say is too much attention on arena. This happens mostly in historical films I find: writers do so much research, they want to paint it into their script. And why not? But one picture tells a thousand words. Choose carefully and you can say a lot more with one image than you can with five or six which will have the reader's senses overstimulated.

The third is character. Usually it's linked directly to the dialogue issue, but not always. Sometimes a writer just loves their character so much they put them in every scene - but that's not the problem. The problem is usually the character doesn't have enough to do and ends up standing around, citing witticisms or waiting for something else to happen TO them and move the story forwards that way instead.

But how to avoid this happening?

A writer told me once a screenplay is the "right mix of ordinary and extraordinary". I thought this was a good point, since all "extraordinary" scenes could make a script hysterical in tone; also, what counts as "ordinary" in the world of your script needn't include the really dull stuff of real life, like going to the loo (unless you want to murder your character of course, killing them in the bathroom is always good).

Anyway, I remembered this when I read somewhere (I forget where, I think it might have been a magazine, accounting for why I couldn't find it online) that "ordinary" scenes should be up to one page long and "extraordinary" scenes should be up to three pages long. Now of course this is just a guideline and as with all guidelines should be taken with a pinch of salt, but over the years I've found it a useful perimeter in keeping the pace going and trying to stop it going "lumpy". I like to decide what is "ordinary" and what is "extraordinary" (and what this means in the world of my story) about each scene in my script - and this helps me with focus. Maybe it'll help you - maybe not. But if you're struggling with scene focus, it might be worth a try.

How do you think we can keep our scenes "focused"?

NEXT: The Literal Versus The Universal.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Kickin' It 80s Style

I'm decluttering my house, putting up and takijng down shelves, varnishing cupboards, painting skirting boards and whatnot this weekend - oh yes, I'm handier than you might think, yes sirree (in fact, I'm even *quite* handy with an axe, having CHOPPED FIREWOOD in my youth growing up in the middle of nowhere with only a wood burning stove and once I removed a massive tree from our garden with the help of my Dad and a big mechanical digger thing. I also lived in a treehouse, though I admittedly came in at night due to the massive werewolf problem in our area. Really! It WAS the country).

Well anyway: everyone needs a soundtrack to perform these kinds of tasks, so we are kickin' it 80s style having found the likes of the Labyrinth and Top Gun OSTs in our local Zavvi for just pennies. Yesss! So join me my friends in 80s appreciation* (*accompanying DIY not mandatory).

Friday, January 09, 2009

F------- Format

As you might imagine, I get a lot of questions about format - and scribes love to talk about it, whether it's on message boards, e-bulletins, blogs, even in - shock! horror! - real life. Seems to me like the whole format thing is never going to go away: instead it's going to go up and down the scriptwriting mountain like Sisphus' rock. As soon as one discussion is finished, another will start.

It's a tricky beast too, because it takes many guises, such as:

- Should I use capitals for sounds in my scripts?

- Can I capitalise dialogue? Underline it? Italicise it? Put it in bold? What about little symbols *like these* or # these #?

- Should numbers be numbers in dialogue and description, or should they be spelt out with words?

- What about sluglines - can they be underlined or in bold?

- Should I use scene numbers or not?

- Can I use another font instead of courier 12 pt?

... There are many more variations too. The only one in the above list I would recommend 100% is you DO use courier 12 pt. It's the standard. That's why we have Twelve Point - it's synonymous with screenwriting. (I heard the font hails back to the old time of typewriters and the golden age of movie-making when it first began in the studios, but I don't know if that's true).

The rest? Well, here's a question for you:

How much do extra capitals, underlining, italics and whatnot affect your STORY?

Oh, that's right: they don't. Sorted then: do what you like.

But wait -- here's another:

How confident are you that you WON'T get a reader who puts too much stock in format?

I've said before format is about not getting busted - and there's a hell of a lot of work experience kids reading our scripts. Those kids are harsh. But hell, they're going to be: they're not being paid, actually having to do a hell of a lot of work (believe it or not!) and reading a hell of a lot of rubbish, not to mention make the tea and be a general dogsbody. Not exactly a dream job. There's also the point they're often just transient: on work ex at the prodco or agency for anything between two and six weeks usually. The person who opened your script and deemed it good enough for the "in" tray may not be the person who shoves it in the "out" tray.

There's lots said about less experienced/work experience readers, but (when I'm not pissed off with them myself! No one's immune) I think they're much maligned and misunderstood. Often their zeal is in hope of perfection and when they don't receive it, they may look for a convenient hook on which to hang their disappointment. Or perhaps they are so inexperienced they don't have the words to describe HOW they feel the structure doesn't work, or why the character doesn't "feel real". It's bad luck if yours happens to be the very first script they've ever read, but everyone does have to start somewhere. It's all very well too saying they shouldn't be reading if they can't vocalise their issues - and maybe they shouldn't - but they are. So I think that's why format becomes an easy, concrete thing to roll out, time after time - and why we hear so much about it.

So why give them that opportunity? If your format is good, they won't have any opportunity to bust you on it. They have no choice but to look deeper, work harder. That's why I always recommend to my Bang2writers anything they may want to "clean up". But as I'm always at pains to point out in their notes, it's up to them. It's not obligatory. There are no RULES.

But it is worth remembering that though it may feel like it, not all readers are pure evil who are out to get scribes ( even though it feels like it sometimes). We all have our pet peeves in our jobs and should be allowed them. Does everyone do their jobs with 100% good grace, 100% of the time? I think not.

Whilst I couldn't care less about bold, scene numbers, italics, underlining and caps for sounds - I'd BE lying IF I SAID I TOTALLY love it WHEN every OTHER word IS capitalised. Some scripts really do overdo it and it makes the script more difficult to read, because I find myself wondering why that particular word is supposed to have impact. It's distracting and as Sir Daniel says in his link above at the top of this article, ANNOYING. Having said that, if the story is really, really good - am I even going to notice it has too many caps? Of course not.

But how confident are you your story can do that?

I've been lucky to start the year on some super scripts, a run of really good stuff. I've been trying to think of what their formats were like - and you know what? I can't remember. Bad or good it passed me by. I was engaged in the story and the characters. Let's have more of those to go. And will one of you work experience kids make me a coffee before I expire, please? And will it kill you to fetch me some houmous???

Forgot: only I work here. Damn...

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Men Are Crap, Part 2

Husband goes out to the car to go to work. I follow.

ME: What shall we have for dinner?

Husband is not listening. As usual.

HUSBAND: Blimey, not as chilly as yesterday.

Inspiration strikes.

ME: How about chilli?

HUSBAND: Yeah. It's not as chilly as yesterday.

ME: No. Chilli?

HUSBAND: Do you ever listen, woman?

ME: You halfwit: I'm asking if you want chilli!

HUSBAND: No, I prefer it in the summer.

ME: DO YOU WANT EFFIN CHILLI FOR DINNER?

HUSBAND: Oh. Sure. Love you, 'bye...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Casting Call: SAFE (4 minute film)

Here we have it: yes that's right, the first ever casting call on "Write Here, Write Now" for the first ever short film made by Bang2write and the fabulous Studio Schoque.

This call is now live on Talent Circle if you prefer to go through them - or it will hopefully turn up on Shooting People's Casting List tomorrow if you subscribe.

But if you're an actor and live in the South West of England (preferably the Bournemouth/Poole area), please do respond to this casting call... I promise we'll be gentle! I'm afraid we can't offer any dosh (just the usual - a copy of the film, minimal expenses, updates on the film's progress, etc): it's a strictly no-budget film: we're funding it from bits and bobs we've saved in jars from down the sofa, quite literally!!! However, if you want to be part of SAFE and have a good time doing it, then get in touch. Looking forward to working with you...
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
CASTING CALL: Actors for short film, “SAFE”

Actors needed in the Bournemouth/Poole area of Dorset for a four minute short film, SAFE. SAFE is principally a non-dialogue film. Initial casting will take place the weekend of January 17th, with a provisional shooting date of Feburary 7th.

SAFE tells the story of one young woman’s desperate quest to ensure her child is saved – even from beyond the grave.

ABOUT US: the writer is Lucy Hay, a commissioned writer and professional script editor/reader. You may know her on the blog circuit as Lucy Vee. The Director is Schuman Hoque, a director of many shorts, pop videos and corporate work. View his previous work here.

ROLES NEEDED FOR “SAFE”:

We need an actress to play GEMMA, the lead. Actress must have a playing range of between 18 – 25 years approx, please. In terms of appearance, we’re looking for a “fragile” persona.

An actress to play JULIE, a woman who helps Gemma. We’re looking for an actress with a playing range of 30 – 40 years approx and who seems “maternal” to Gemma.

A YOUNG MAN, approximately 18 – 25 years playing age, please. This is an amiable-looking young fella who hides a violent secret.

An OLDER MAN, approximately 40 – 50 years playing age, please. Like his younger colleague, this guy too is hiding something - but even worse.

A TEENAGE GIRL, approximately 15 – 16 years playing age, please. This girl doesn't give a damn where her life is heading.

PLEASE NOTE: So as to not waste anyone's time, both Gemma and Julie must be white actresses, only because the characters' respective children (already cast) are white. For the other three roles, ethnicity is irrelevant.

We’d love this to be a paying film – but we are funding this entirely out of our own pockets (so are not getting paid ourselves!).

On this basis then, we can offer a copy of the film and minimal expenses for the successful auditionees. Food and drink will be provided on the shoot. The finished film will have plenty of exposure however – it WILL be entered into the major festivals and eventually showcased on Lucy’s blog, “Write Here, Write Now”, which receives in the region of 250 hits a day.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED, please email Bang2write"AT"aol"DOT"com stating which part you are interested in reading and with your info and/or your spotlight, IMDB (or similar) link.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE PART OF THE CREW: please email info"AT"schoque"DOT"com ASAP (same deal applies for crew on the shoot, natch: copy of the film, food and drink, etc).

Thank you!

Traffic Diversion...

...That's right, your daily dose of bloggy goodness is today hosted over at Twelve Point. So get yourself over there my pretties and feast your eyes upon an article where I explore writing for television by speaking to the likes of lovely script editor Sarah Stack, marvellous TV producer Daisy Monahan, luscious storyliner Lib Murray and gorgeous TV writers Marc Pye and David Young. Also, two other blokes I've never heard of (arf).

What are you waiting for?

Oh you haven't joined up? FOR SHAME. Make it your new year's resolution and DO IT! DO IT NOW!

See you there.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Three Words: Go See It

NO SPOILERS

I'm too twisted with disappointment to *ever* believe the hype over ANY movie. After all, my hopes have been dashed too many times. I grew up in the 80s, a time when the Hollywood propaganda machine really kicked off, with merchandise, trailers and ad campaigns assualting my eyes and ears - the 90s provided yet more to the mix: the tie-in novel, CD Rom, website and video game! Argh. Then there was the advent of CGI and story was pushed backwards EVEN MORE. What happened to a simple, good yarn???

But I'm also a sucker for free tickets, so when I was offered two for Slumdog Millionaire on a free showing yesterday, I wasn't going to say no. I was ambivalent in my expectations: as far as Danny Boyle's work goes, I never liked Trainspotting (though it looked good); I liked 28 Days Later; Millions was nice enough; hated Sunshine. In terms of Simon Beaufoy's work, all I knew of it was The Full Monty - okay, but rather cheesy. The poster called Slumdog Millionaire "The feel good movie of the decade". It was going to be one of those rags to riches stories I figured - a bit like Millions, no doubt.

I was wrong. Slumdog Millionaire is the best movie I have seen in years. Why? I'm very hard to please when it comes to movies, but contrary to popular belief, I can be pleased. If a film has interesting characters, has good narrative logic, has satisfying structure and something to say for itself, then fine. I watched The Exorcism of Emily Rose on 5 last week as its "Nightmare Christmas" season and found this courtroom drama to have excellent performances as well as a pleasing examination of faith, without coming down on either side categorically. Nice.

But in contrast to The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Slumdog Millionaire made me forget my screenwriting/script editing roots. I was completely lost in the story. I have enjoyed films, sure, but normally I will be picking things out in my head as being worthy of praise for example, like when I watched Sideways and heard Miles' impressive speech about Pinot: "That's good subtext" I found myself thinking. This is not the case with Slumdog Millionaire. An excellent, lean efficient script, combined with fantastically dramatic direction, a well-chosen soundtrack and some powerhouse performances (particularly by the child actors) makes this my choice film of the decade. That's right: of the decade. I have not liked a film this much in years. I made me forget everything else: I have not been completely, 100% absorbed, in nearly ten years.In fact, the only quibble I had was the "feel good" tag. WTF? It's pretty harrowing.

But don't take my word for it. Go see it.