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Friday, February 27, 2009

Snake! Snake! Pt 2

I wrote a while back there are some things so mental in so-called "real life" you couldn't possibly put it in a script - and plenty of you left similarly bonkers tales in the comments section.

So, here's another one. The lad and I were walking home from school yesterday afternoon on our usual route - and my boy FOUND A LIVE SNAKE IN A HEDGE.

It was quite long - perhaps 25cm - but very skinny; it was bright red and speckly and clearly not even vaguely indigenous to the UK, so natch I was a little concerned it was poisonous (though some Googling later I realise it was an albino corn snake, like the one in the pic). What it was doing in a hedge was unclear: from the angle, it appears as if some *lovely* (not) soul had thrown it from a car, undoubtedly an unwanted pet. I attempted to call the RSPCA but of course I had no credit on my phone. Tried to put credit on the phone and it told me my card was declined - even though I had used it literally five minutes before. Perhaps in the panic I had put the wrong numbers in. Whatever: THERE'S A SNAKE IN THE HEDGE!!!!

Anyway, my boy is a lot calmer than me and says, "Go and get someone from the garage, Mum" as if I'M the kid. I go and do what he says and ask the bloke there if he can call the RSPCA. He doesn't believe there's a snake in the hedge, so wants to come and see it. He swiftly goes to get his gloves: "What are you doing??" I shriek, "It could be poisonous!"

He says, "It's alright, if it bites me I ain't got nothing else on tonight."

So he gets big car mechanic type gloves and picks it up. "What is it, do you think?" I say, meaning the breed of snake.

"Well I'd definitely say it's a snake." He says gravely.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Breakin' The Law, Breakin' The Law

Many thanks to Milli, who's asked me about emotion in screenwriting.

As a writer, I always say: there are no rules. Believe in yourself and your own writing. Only you know what you wanted to achieve with this story. You love your characters more than anyone else - and only you know *truly* why you chose to tell this story. As a reader however, I am always struck by the fact there are certain things writers fall foul of in communicating all the above. It's a conflict, sure - but it needn't be a Catch 22 or deadlock.

The stories that stay with readers are those with what I call "heart": in other words, emotion on the page. I have read stories like these with terrible format, terrible structure, whatever - yet still liked them, even loved them. I read a helluva a lot of scripts - yet I recall scripts with heart from five, six years ago - in a way I don't always with scripts I read just a few months ago. In short, if you can convey "heart" in your script, then a reader *can* forgive you a multitude of other sins.

But how can you get "heart" on the page, how do you convey emotion? Well it's a toughie and one I don't think anyone can answer with absolute certainty... But I'm never one to shy away from difficult questions, so I'm going to have a bash based on the squillions of scripts I've read (where incidentally, only approximately fifty or sixty stand out as having "heart"):

Care about your story. If you truly care about your story, want the best out of it without sacrificing anything for the sake of it being "easier" or more commercial, this should come through in your writing by default. I don't believe it's any accident that many of the scripts I've read which have "heart" have been the writer's OWN story in some way. Don't forget though - it needn't LITERALLY be your story to do this - the universal theme of your story (as opposed to a blow-by-blow account) sometimes works a whole lot better in communicating heart to the masses.

Emotion is not limited to facial expression, body positions or tears. When a writer becomes a little more experienced, they are struck by the need to make actions more "concrete": in other words, they won't want to write novelistic scene description about stuff the audience cannot see all the time. This inevitably leads to said scribe attempting to make every emotive moment the sum of its physical expression - and the script will inevitably read as a series of contorted facial movements, grabbing of arms, standing positions or bucketfuls of tears. This inevitably affects heart, because it all becomes a little wooden and prescriptive. like this:

Justin sighs, sits down. Puts his head in his hands, rocks back and forth in his chair. All his FRIENDS stand around him, wait.

JUSTIN: I don't know what to do.

Like all things screenwriting-related, moderation is key. If characters don't know what to do for example, why not:

Justin agonises: should he admit it? The faces of his FRIENDS stare back at him, hopeful.

JUSTIN: I don't know what to do.

We all know what someone "agonising" LOOKS like - this is a guy who will look really worried; all the sighing, rocking back and forth, etc just feels like overkill. Obviously you won't want to do it for every line of scene description, but it's okay to use shortcuts like this for "colour".

Biopics make great heart movies. Not sure what to write - genre not your thing, but drama isn't either? Why not try a biopic? Over the years, I've discovered a startling amount of my fave specs have been biopics: a whopping six out of my top twenty, in fact - and two have been THIS YEAR and it's only February. They don't have to be of *really* famous people either - obscure characters from literature and history work just as well as the "greats". I think the reason scribes write such good biopics is because often they REALLY CARE about the person they are writing about. The pointer there of course is not to care SO much you end up muddling the characters' journey with too much fact - ironic and weird, but sometimes fiction has more truth than what *really* happened in the *right* order.

Genre has a heart. Two of the best scripts I've read in the last two years had acres of heart - and both involved vampires, two of my least fave supernatural creatures as anyone who reads this blog regularly knows. Like their Buffy predecessors, they were very slick, cool and provided fantastic imagery. But unlike the likes of Underworld, they didn't stop there: they provided their protagonists with very real stakes (pardon the pun - arf) and gave them very difficult decisions and obstacles in the course of their respective narratives. I actually cried like a baby when reading one of them - and to this day have a nightmare about one particular sequence. That's how good it was. A script gave me nightmares!!! But it's true - because I could relate to it, because it had heart.

Keep dialogue realistic.... Ironically, the more emotional or poetic dialogue is, the less a reader will believe in it, so the potential for heart is adversely affected. Of course this is a generalisation and like anything depends on the context, but *generally* speaking, very emotional dialogue will feel on the nose. Whilst real people may make proclamations of love or anger that may make any screenwriters' toes curl, generally speaking we need to be cleverer with our dialogue in our scripts to make readers (and thus audiences) FEEL what the character is saying. I've seen a trend lately in which writers have rejected the more typical Whedonesque dialogue for the style of Shakespeare and other great playwrights like Marlowe or Ben Johnson; whilst this dialogue is often beautifully crafted with fantastic attention to detail, metaphor and/or literary allusion, it does little for realism: those guys are hundreds of years out of date, so the scripts feel like they are in a time warp.

... Or not. On the flipside, scripts set in the past needn't have realistic dialogue of the time at all if you don't want; one of the best scripts I've read this year literally planted a 21st century woman into the Victorian era - her dialogue in particular - and yet I was able to believe in the story 100%, because I could relate to her plight. Her story felt like my story - and every other woman's who's been done over by a husband or partner. (Sorry boys... )

Scripts with heart don't have to be downers. Lots of writers attempt drama - and why not? It's a great training ground for the new scribe in particular, since limiting oneself to certain places, events and things can make you think "outside the box", really forcing the creativity to flow, rather than having lots of theatrical conversations set in boring living rooms. But the thought a drama *has* to be a complete downer in order to have heart simply is not true. I've read lots of drama scripts with happy endings that are not only good, they are entirely logical in a way a downer ending will have felt tacked-on and dissatisfactory as it would not feel "organic".

What films have you seen that you think have bags of heart? How did they affect you and why?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Adrian Mead's Screen Lab

Adrian Mead's Screen Lab ran this weekend just past - and many thanks to the lovely Helen Caldwell who wrote in to say she had applied because of my posting about it here! Helen got a place and has done an in-depth write-up on the three day course on her blog. Thanks Helen!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Preaching To The Converted? 6 Of The Best -- Drama

Your Honour, members of the jury: we are gathered here today to discuss the impact of feature length dramas on an audience... Though drama is indeed my favourite (yes, possibly even above my beloved Horror), it has long been my belief such fare has no impact whatsoever in changing the attitudes of their viewers. Why? Because the very viewers such films attract already possess the beliefs and values explored by the drama in question - hence the audience watching said dramas in the first place: like attracts like.

But don't take my word for it; I will demonstrate. [Box Office Figures thanks to Box Office Mojo]. Please note: we are talking SOLEY about feature-length drama destined for the silver screen and not TV drama; also, the films listed here are not necessarily my favourite films; I have picked them for the sake of the debate, so when considering your verdict, please take this into account and do not base your decision on emotion, as in all good courts of this green & pleasant land. I thank you.

Now ladies and gentlemen, I draw your attention to--


EXHIBIT A: American History X. Arguably Edward Norton's breakthrough film pre-Fight Club, this film tells the story of a Neo-Nazi who undergoes a miraculous transformation in prison when he is incarcerated for the premeditated murder of a black man: Norton's character emerges peace-loving and regretting his heinous crime. It's this certain naivety that appeals about American History X: the more cynical amongst us will no doubt think it somewhat trite, yet the writing is good enough to make us *think* it possible... Until *that* ending where Norton's efforts with his own brother come to nothing, underlining the notion perhaps that whatever this character does, it's "too little, too late"? Whatever the case, whether the ending jars with you or makes perfect sense, it all boils down to this: it's a film about a reformed Neo-Nazi. Who is going to watch that, apart from people who have never been Neo-Nazis and most likely are anti-racist? This is perhaps echoed by its worldwide domestic gross at the box office: a disappointing $23,875,127 - made all the more by the fact its production budget was apparently $20 million. Ouch.

EXHIBIT B: Harsh Times. This is an interesting case dear jurors, for it proves even an A List Hollywood star like Christian Bale and a stellar-structured script appear to do little to attract the crowds, for Harsh Times grossed just $5,964,768 worldwide at the box office. However, box office figures do little to establish a film's quality as we all know; however, like American History X we are invited to see the downfall of an anti-hero in effect and there is a part of us that says "I told you so" -- right? Because most of us actually watching -- if not all -- have never been (nor ever will be) in that anti-hero's position. It is a voyeuristic fantasy to those of us who bother to watch - and thus does little to impact on our existing beliefs and values.

EXHIBIT C: Alpha Dog. Again huge stars of yesteryear like Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone did little to make this baby float at the box office -- and even an appearance (surprisingly good at that) by Justin Trousersnake failed to bring in the teens and tweens... Though to be fair it kicked Harsh Times' arse with a worldwide box office gross of $32,136,209. A dodgy script compounded this drama's misery, though there was *something* about it -- perhaps the heartfelt performances, the inevitability of the resolution and the arty, slick direction. Whatever the case, again the audience are reduced to voyeurs as events get out of hand: there is no way an average person would do what the lead does... And in fact, why does the lead even do it? Whilst making a point about the futility of life, the audience has their existing beliefs and values confirmed once again.

EXHIBIT D: This Is England. Perhaps the jewel in the crown of UK screen agency involvement - both Screen Yorkshire and EM Media funded This Is England. Nevertheless, This Is England only managed to scrape up $8,069,240 at the box office worldwide with only $329,379 of that at home, meaning 95% of box office sales (approx) were ironically outside of England. As I'm always quick to stress, poor box office returns do not reflect a film's quality - but we do have to ask ourselves WHY audiences are quick to reject even such well-drawn fare as This Is England. Was it the fact it was low budget, with no recognisable faces bar Eli off Emmerdale? Were the people watching those who already disagreed with racism, like those who watched American History X? Ladies and gentlemen of the court, we must wonder.

Sweet Sixteen. The poster boy of nihilistic 90s drama, Ken Loach exploded into the noughties with this equally depressing fare -- yet I must admit to having loved every minute of it. Regardless of my feelings however, Liam's sister's last words on the phone, "What a waste" sum up perfectly the theme of the film and takes away any remaining hope for this lost boy -- just as this happens in real life, every day, to children across the UK and the world. There is a part of the viewer which relates absolutely to Liam and his journey, despite his animosity, violence and general hate. Unlike Harsh Times or Alpha Dog, the viewer is not a voyeur - but involved completely. And yet for the same reason as Harsh Times and Alpha Dog, audience members' views are not changed or even challenged, but confirmed once again. Interestingly, there were no foreign sales for Sweet Sixteen: it grossed just $316,319 in domestic sales.

Secrets & Lies. You will often find the word "comedy" listed with "drama" when looking at reviews of this film and I've always wondered how the hell that happened, for there is very little that is actually funny-funny to me in Secrets & Lies. Yet Mike Leigh has drawn together a intricate web of people's lives, motives and beliefs -- bringing them together in a fantastic crescendo at the end with Timothy Spall's moving, somewhat theatrical speech. A little long at 2 hours and 16 minutes, perhaps this accounted for its lack of foreign sales, bringing in $13,417,292 domestic. Whilst this might seem rather good in comparison to Sweet Sixteen, its production budget was apparently much larger -$4.5m. Yet was there enough points there to challenge an audience's beliefs? Or was it another case of drama confirming an audience's existing beliefs and values, otherwise they would have turned on Lara Croft: Tomb Raider??

So: to sum up--

Is feature drama really about challenging views to make a point -- or is it simply about reflecting and confirming what a smaller, niche audience ALREADY think? From what we have seen today, I believe strongly it is the latter, not the former - accounting for drama's poor returns at the box office and prodcos' considerable lack of interest in their marketability, despite the fact these movies I have just discussed have attracted awards, critical acclaim and are good examples of their category for aspiring writers, regardless of whether said aspiring writers actually like them.

In that case then, can we only make points that will challenge audiences by writing genre film? By dressing up philosophical notions, political points and moral messages amongst serial killers, vampires, space ships and governmental conspiracies??

Only you can decide, ladies and gentlemen.

We await your verdict...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Announcement

As of this very moment:

Bang2write is on holiday.

This blog is on holiday.

Lucy is on holiday.

Aaaaah.

One week off with the children - it's half term. Gonna catch up on my trampolining, baking of lumpy cookies with squashed flies* in and seeing of various grandparents. In the midst of this I will be caring for two Giant African Land Snails which have come home from school with The Hub. I will also be doing various bits of DIY and threatening Hub 'til he does some too. Bliss.

If, however you want some scripts read when I get back - week beginning February 23rd - I will be picking up emails from time to time so BOOK ASAP. Got a couple stacked up already and as always it's on a first-come-first-served basis. Email me on Bang2write"at"aol"dot"com or check out the links/ paypal buttons on the right hand side bar.

See you (read you?) a week on Monday my pretties.

Word to your mutha.

* The squashed flies are of course currants, what kind of mother do you think I am?? The protein content of flies is not good enough for a growing child. Though I hear beetles are making a culinary comeback.

More Than Words: Screenplay Dialogue

When it comes to dialogue, I find it helps to think of dialogue as more than mere words: there are so many variations of saying the same thing (especially when it comes to English and its many synonyms and dialects) that WHAT is said by a character is often more important than HOW, since the way in which they express something (or not, even) is often indicative of WHO they are (and thus HOW they would say it anyway… Phew – what a long sentence! I’m sure I could’ve said that a lot more concisely…. See?!). Anyway.

Many writers think accent and dialect automatically gives a character their own "voice". My take? It does and it doesn't - it depends what you do with that accent... Not to mention which one you choose. Some writers do loads of research in recreating an entire dialect, but I don't think that's a good idea because some dialects are really hard to understand. I'm quite used to Scottish, Northern and Devonian dialects for example, but can see why some readers find them incomprehensible. I think a few words of the dialect sprinkled here and there are far more effective. Some scribes can get hung up on parentheticals, especially ones that say stuff like (Northern accent), (German accent), (Scottish accent). Why bother? Of the three, which is this:

Any road, I never said ‘owt.

Or this:

And then I am thinking you lie to me.

Or this:

Ach, youse ned: I’ll kill ya.

It’s obvious, right? You may not know the exact meaning of “any road” (anyway) , “’owt” (anything) or “ned” (Scottish variant of “chav”) as they are very specific, but contextually it’s very obvious: “any road” is as if someone is changing the subject; “’owt” is similar to “nowt” (“nothing”) – but if you don’t know that either, the ‘never’ indicates “’owt’s” meaning; “ned” is clearly some sort of insult. You may also not know, as EFL teachers do, that German speakers often speak in the present continuous tense when speaking English (if not a fluent speaker) – but you still get the point this character is non-native.

Where someone is from counts for a lot when they are speaking. Whilst I have the kind of plummy accent that would make Kate Winslet jealous, if you listen *really* carefully, you can still hear the trace of an accent: I have short /a/ sounds to my speech – instead of “cah-stle” I’ll say “cass – le”. Most of my questions become tag questions: “Going to town, are you?” All typical of Northern speech patterns. I never lived long there (a year or so), but my mother has those very same patterns to her speech and unconsciously I’ve copied them. Weirdly, I’m the only one of the five children in the family to have done so.
But how someone feels about themselves also counts for a lot when they are talking. A strong personality will be more confrontational in its speech, just as a weaker one will seek to avoid conflict:

Strong: What did you go and do that for?

Weak: I was just wondering… If you wouldn’t mind… please can you not?

Two very obviously contrasting ways of speaking there. Similarly, people with delusions of grandeur will have particular ways of talking, as do people crucified by feelings of self-loathing – even when they seek to hide these feelings. What a character says, what they want to talk about (or as always, not talk about), will tell the reader a helluva lot about them (though you should not rely on it totally obviously; action plays a major role too, or should do).

Age too can differ when it comes to speech. Small children often speak very directly and get right to the heart of the matter:

Why are you crying?

Is that a bad man?

Do you want a hug?

And they are more confrontational, especially when it comes to questions, “Why?” being the most obvious. This flips upside its head as soon as said kid becomes a teenager: they will stop being direct, even go out their way to be INDIRECT. That’s why favourite catchphrases will crop up time and time again, “Whatever” being the most obvious there, though teens will often have their own idiomatic ways of expressing things, such as “durr”, “Emo” and my favorite I heard only this week from the teen across the road on her phone: “Kelly thinks David’s “oots”” – “oots” apparently meaning “handsome” or “gorgeous”.

As a character becomes an adult, it becomes a little more complicated; sometimes their role in life can affect how they speak. For instance, in real life parents may unconsciously copy their children; I found myself saying the other day, “it was pips”. “Pips” means “easy” and is used by my ten year old son. Sometimes an adult’s job will alter what they say: when I was concerned about the feng shui of our sitting room for example, my husband said “ the proxemics are all wrong”. As a fellow trained teacher, I know “proxemics” is the (ridiculous) word used by education theorists to describe how a room layout affects what happens in said room (ie. Learning). These two elements can make it into script dialogue relatively easily and obviously: jargon is a real favourite in cops and docs drama – I learnt “MI” (myocardiac infarction aka heart attack) from Holby City and “IC1 male” (white male) from The Bill years ago; this type of thing, used sparingly, can add to the arena really well.

An adult’s perception of themselves and how they believe others see them may also dictate how they speak – and it’s this which is more difficult to replicate in script form, since it sometimes relies on a certain amount of backstory. For example, if a character in your script has acted the class clown all his/her life but secretly yearns to be taken seriously, the last thing you want to do is pay it all off randomly and/or have a completely on-the-nose comment like “I wish you would take me seriously!” You might have to dig a little deeper to represent this and that’s where it gets harder.

As for techniques in identifying dud dialogue, I think it’s surprisingly easy (though fixing it might not be!) – you need to read it aloud or try it out. So few writers do this and it always surprises me. Whilst getting actors for a read through is obviously the ideal, that’s not a practical solution for every draft. If you have a sympathetic spouse, partner or friend to read parts for you – do it. If you don’t or your spouse is rubbish at pretend people ‘cos they go robotic like mine, (love you really, mwah), try working your dialogue into ordinary conversation. It’s a challenge but it works – because if it’s crap, the person you’re speaking to will go, “Eh?!” If it slips by unnoticed then – even if you change personality – then it’s good stuff. Similarly, write anything you like down, whether it’s overheard on the train, on the phone or whatever. Finally, record conversations if you can get away with it. Lots of mobiles have record functions – switch it on now and again for a minute here, five minutes there - see what you catch. Snatches of random conversation tell you so much about how people speak. Also, watch TV and movies with subtitles, even if it’s in English. You will soon see who can write good dialogue and who can’t – and be able to appreciate why you like it or not. I also think stressing about dialogue doesn't help; I always think of it as the last thing to sort out, once stuff like plot and character begin to fall into place. Finally: don’t try and copy anyone. Joss Whedon is great, but there is more than one way to skin the veritable scriptwriting cat. If you develop your own voice, your characters will inevitably find theirs.

What do you do to make your dialogue shine?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What Are You Talking About?

Many thanks to Ben, who's allowed me to indulge my John August fantasy once again:

"When writing the female characters' dialogue in my script, I had this nagging feeling that maybe a woman wouldn't actually phrase it that way. Call me paranoid but I was wondering, have you ever noticed a similar thing yourself, or read it in scripts before? Men writing female characters who aren't feminine enough, and vice versa. And if so, do you have any tips or techniques to detect and combat this situation?"

Ben makes an interesting point here: can men write women characters authentically and vice versa? Well in my experience, the answer is a resounding YES - of course they can. But is it more difficult for a man to write a woman than a woman to write a man? Well that's an intriguing idea, so I thought I would explore it further based on my reading experience.

I read for considerably less women than men; I also read many scripts "blind" in that I have no idea who has written them - but for the sake of the argument, I would hazard I read for one woman for every five men. Now this can only ever be a generalisation, but one thing I have noticed over the years is women are often very strong on dialogue. Perhaps this is because women *generally* talk more than men and*can* have that handy attribute of talking to one person, whilst actually eavesdropping on another. Or maybe it just so happens I've read a lot of scripts by women who can write good dialogue and it's a coincidence? Or maybe men are more receptive to feedback or seek it earlier?? Who knows. This isn't a battle of the sexes post (for a change - arf).

So, whilst I've read a lot of good dialogue by women then, I have noticed one thing in which women and men unite on - and that's in misrepresentation of the genders. It doesn't even have to be the opposite sex either; it can be their own. Here is a list of characters where the dialogue has not rung *true* for me:

The Good Wife. A lot of scripts have women in the "background" and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Lantana for example has a brilliant character in the background, Nick's wife (I can't even remember her name!) who asserts he can't be guilty because "he told me". Her plaintive statement sums up their relationship to a tee, even in the face of almost certain destruction with him looking at a life sentence. Yet similar characters in specs often have women in the background as decoration: they will engage the (male) protagonist in banal conversation and generally cater to his every whim, often I've noticed, calling him "Baby" at every opportunity. It's not just men who write this character either - women do too. Peripheral characters deserve killer lines like those in Lantana too - else why are they orbiting your protagonist? You might as well get rid.

The Emotional Group of Male Friends. Sorry, but nothing is going to change my mind on this - I simply do not believe groups of male friends or siblings talk about their emotions in microscopic detail like females are prone to, especially when it comes to their relationships or break ups. My husband's brother got divorced a few years ago; he'd been married since he was practically a teenager and was obviously gutted. He came to stay with us whilst his Ex sorted her stuff to leave and the conversation between my spouse and his brother went something like this:

HUSBAND: You alright, then?

BROTHER: I'm okay.

HUSBAND: You need anything?

BROTHER : No.

And that was it. They played Playstation for about twelve hours, drank beer, ordered pizza - and I left them alone. Just them being together was enough. Now, they are particularly "old school" and part of a set of triplets to boot, so seem able to "sense" what the other needs (despite saying they can't), but even so - do men really go over every detail with their friends? I'm unconvinced. You might know or be a male who does exactly this - but end of the day, a script is not reality, it's a representation of reality.

The Casanova Female. Women should enjoy sex, of course they should - and I certainly don't hold with the notion that a woman who sleeps around is a slut when a man who does the same is a stud. However, it is worth remembering that *generally speaking* women and men view sex in different ways. A man who gets lucky with a stranger will regard it as just that - a bonus. A woman may hope for something more. So the woman in scripts who simply hops from bed to bed randomly and tells everyone how she is "so free" just doesn't do it for me, for the reason I have never met a woman in real life who does this who has not been compensating for something missing or screwed up in her life. I also hate the Escort girl who insists all women are whores anyway, so she might as well make men pay for it. Grrr.

The Buffy Effect. I can't deny Joss Whedon's genius, but as far as his dialogue goes, it's very slick and cool - too cool: it leaves me cold, in fact. But it's okay, he's created his own niche of uber-cool karate-kicking girlies and vamps in leather, nice - and if it "fits" and you can pull it off, please do. But Buffy-style dialogue in a gritty kitchen sink drama? Please, no.

The Psychologist. I'm particularly guilty of this one, it's easy to stick in a psychologist because it "breaks open" characters but it is an expositional cheat. It's hard sometimes to think of a way to "bring out" the motivations of a difficult character - and sometimes a psychologist IS needed: in my thriller RUN, the lead has serious mental health problems, so if she *didn't* see a shrink that would raise questions in itself. So I had to find a way of incorporating the psychologist without actually making her expositional; I did this by giving her a particular story function that acts as the turning point that takes us into the resolution. It's quite shocking and is often cited as one of the stand out moments by readers, so it *can* work - but you have to really work round the potential desire to cheat. It took four months and five rewrites to come up with that moment (ouch).

The Understanding Parent (male or female - can be either). There are parents in scripts doing the rounds who have the patience of angels, even in the face of extreme catastrophe. What's more they talk down to their kids to such an extreme I'm left in no doubt the writer has not spent much time around kids. End of the day, Parents talk to Kids like they talk to *anyone*; in fact, sometimes they talk to them WORSE - they snap or blame more easily. They may not mean to, but pressures of the situation may mean they say something they shouldn't. So in a war, you can bet your bottom dollar Parents will not be at their best. One of the best representations of a Parent in crisis was in my opinion was WAR OF THE WORLDS:

ROBBIE: Were they terrorists? Al Quaeda?

RAY (agitated) No... No... These guys: they were from someplace else.

ROBBIE: What, like Europe?

RAY: NO ROBBIE! NOT FROM EUROPE!

The Precocious Child (male or female - though usually female). You might know a bright child with an extremely large vocabulary; I know two - mine. That doesn't however mean they are able to converse at the standard of an adult. They still have child thought patterns. They are unable to hold on to information for long; even important stuff. They will forget stuff - even three seconds after you have told them. They will sulk and throw tantrums. They will do stuff they shouldn't. In short, even a precocious child behaves the same as a child: NOT a mini adult. Save the precocious stuff for when they talk back to your other characters.

Any you recognise there in your own scripts or movies you've seen?

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NEXT: Tips & Techniques for Solving Dialogue Issues

Monday, February 09, 2009

SAFE - The Shoot

So, where to start? Well, how about the VERY beginning...

What kind of nutter decided on a 7am call in the middle of February?!? Oh that's right - me as the producer. Yikes! Something tells me I failed to think this through properly... And poor director Schuman had to sleep on my sofa 'cos the camp bed folded up in the middle of the night with him in it. Whoops! Also the baby stair gate tried to kill him in the middle of the night. Sometimes you have to suffer for your art, right?

Anyway, we get up at an ungodly hour on a saturday - and Him Indoors heroically does too, even though he didn't have to AND he made us artistes coffee and toast while we swore about How Damn Cold It Is. I had a fair few props to get ready - Older Man needs a newspaper; "Julie" needs some flowers, plus a coffee in a takeaway cup and "Teenage Girl" needs a mirror and some coke. We have everything except the coke (naturally). Now what? Hub says he'll get on it while we're on the shoot. Schuman and I leave for the graveyard, the first location of the day - with me hoping Hub won't score drugs while we're out, not least because he'll have the children with him! [But question: is it okay to score drugs if it's for art? Discuss.]

So, ten to seven and we're standing in a graveyard in Bournemouth and it suddenly strikes me I did not check out the zombie situation in Bournemouth. Is it as bad as say, London? After all we've seen *that Danny Boyle documentary*. Luckily though neither of us get our brains eaten and Lucy Moses, our "Julie", turns up on time. Plus she has croissants. Unfortunately, our make up artist, confusingly called Julie (who also plays the lead, "Gemma") is not there because of the ice on the road - and the situation is TREACHEROUS. You know that "Dancing on Ice"? It was like that - only without the sequins and in a graveyard. Finally however Julie/Gemma arrives with her makeup box, only she's forgotten some and has to ring her poor Mum to brave the elements again - which she duly does. Kudos. In the mean time, my phone completely dies - even though I charged it up the night before in readiness. Talk about a Diva. Anyway - the graveyard shots go according to plan: "Julie" (Lucy Moses) has to place some flowers on her (pretend) dead son's grave. She also has to walk around sombrely - rather difficult though when you're trying not to skate all over the place. Weirdly, two Korean students are there, though they keep their distance. Perhaps they thought we were zombies?

With the graveyard shots over, it's time to leg it to the park. My phone comes back to life for as long as it takes for "Older Man" Rob Talbot to call me - I attempt to answer, but it dies again and it looks like I've hung up on him. Handily there's a bus stop right outside the graveyard and we catch one round the corner to the park, just for the sake of warming up for five minutes because all of us were FROZEN. We arrive at the park and Rob is waiting, with Toby aka "Young Man" round the corner hiding amidst some trees. Poppy Gosling, aka "Teenage Girl" is nowhere to be seen - uh oh. Toby, Lucy Moses and Rob sit in Rob's car and warm up whilst Schuman does some shots of "Gemma" (Julie) while we wait for Poppy.

I turn my phone on - there's a text. Poppy's here apparently - but nowhere in sight! How odd. I borrow Schuman's phone because mine dies again and call her: she wonders if she's in the wrong park. Cripes. But it's okay - she's also hiding amongst some trees, like Toby. We gather them all together: we have our actors for the park scene. Schuman's keen to do a wide shot to start as it involves all the actors; however the ice situation is total madness and our actors end up doing it slow motion for the first time. Once they get to used to it, they become a little more sure-footed - though the odd slip still gets in here and there. They're all great sports though and no one sues us. Throughout this schenanigans, I end up being The Dog Walker Distracter: a variety of men and women walk past with a variety of dogs and they're all very interested in what's going on. One rather debonaire chap with about three million very fancy-looking pedigree dogs stops next to me:

CHAP: So what's going on here, then?

ME: We're making a film.

CHAP: Oh, marvellous. For school, eh?

ME: No, it's a real film.

CHAP: Fantastic... For that Cannes Film Festival is it? So all the stars will see it?

ME: (trying to keep a straight face) Maybe.

And with that he's gone again... Schuman take shots of everyone from every angle, but we still end up an hour ahead of schedule. Which is just as well, since Schu and I are the only ones who DON'T get to sit in Rob's car to warm up!

Now for the interior shots... We race back to my house for coffees and teas which the Hub gallantly serves up. Our two child actors are there, dressed and ready to go - we decide to go with the girl first 'cos she's younger and more moody. She doesn't take to the idea of being in a film much and pretends to be asleep whilst Schu is filming her... Giving herself away by actually eating cheerios at the same time. Eventually she perks up when offered chocolate bunnies. Lucy Moses has to pick her up for one shot though and she's really not having that. Eventually it's decided that last shot will be got later when she's more used to Lucy, though we discover a pillow in a blanket serves the same function should the girl go ballistic again.

Next are the rest of Lucy's shots, such as finding the body and poor Julie/Gemma spends a lot of time lying on the stairs upside down and ends up feeling a little dizzy. Poppy, our Teenage Girl, stands in for her at one point too so actually it's her arm hanging through the stair bars. Hub stands in as The Lighting Guy at this point and gets rather excited at the top of the stairs when I lean over Julie/Gemma at the bottom in a rather compromising pose to put blood on her (Men). In the mean time Toby entertains everyone in the kitchen with his surprising knowledge of children's TV and impressions of Sportacus from Lazy Town. At one point the actors decide to count fairies from a board book called The Princess In The Castle. As you do.

Next are the boy's shots with Lucy Moses as her son as well as the "unseen child" Rob, The Older Man, menaces in the film. During this, our "Girlfriend" character, Maia Gibbons arrives, so she and Toby go out to the garden to practice him beating her up. Turns out Rob has a lot of experience beating women, only on film (!), and he has much advice on technique. It's now Poppy's turn to shine - or rather, get completely skanked up: Julie/Gemma does a fantastic job of making her look like a junkie with sores all round her nose. Hub reveals he hasn't scored drugs, instead he crushes up some Lucazade sweets and Poppy rather heroically snorts the whole lot right up her nose like a true method actor. She will be BUZZING later.

Anyway, Lucy Moses' shots are over and Hub takes her to the station so she can get back to London - later we discover she's left her phone behind. Argh! Poppy, Maia, Rob and Julie/Gemma take their chance to record the voiceover for the film whilst the Girl is asleep. Poppy goes home soon after, as does Julie/Gemma and Rob. We only have Toby and Maia's scene to record - and then it's a wrap. Or it would be, if poor Toby didn't feel so bad about beating on Maia who seems to take it all in her stride. It's decided eventually he will grab her around the throat, instead of put her arm up behind her back as in the script. That goes more smoothly and a few angles later it's all done. SAFE is shot... Yay! And then I discover the actors have completely raided our stash of Jaffa cakes. Gits! ; )
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INFO: View more photos of the shoot here and join The Safe Films Group here.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Snake!

Hi. Way too busy here preparing for the shoot of SAFE at the weekend, not to mention reading scripts - can't even contemplate a *real* blog post! So here is a link to an interesting article about a giant, ancient snake scientists reckon they've found. Cool.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Manic Script Preachers

A lot id said about "messages" and stories. Some writers believe stories should have a specific message; others don't. Whatever you might think, I don't think any writer can deny stories have power. They can reflect the world we live in; they can confirm our beliefs; they can challenge them; they can even change them altogether.

Personally, I think a story has a message whether the writer believes it has one or not, because of re/presentation. To me, a story is not *just* a story - even the choice of what you want to write about reflects who you are, even on a deep subconscious level. As far as I'm concerned, a story is not just a story, but a deep communication - whether a writer understands what that communication is or not.

As I look at the body of my speculative work, growing over the years in number, certain themes have become apparent. Whether these themes are entirely "accurate" depends on one's definition: someone who has read a lot of my work might make the assumption from certain characters I have written I am deeply suspicious of others' motives, even cynical. Yet other factors must also come into play - story choices like what is the most dramatic thing one can write, what "ups the ante" and so on. So whilst I am not naive, nor prone to rush into relationships with an open heart leaving myself vulnerable, I would say I am not cynical either. But then I would, wouldn't I? We all view ourselves differently to how others perceive us. According to certain people, I am difficult; to others I am easy-going. It's the same with all of us. As annoying as it is to sit on the fence, it simply just depends: it isn't an exact science.

However sometimes a writer will believe something SO MUCH they write it into their script with the intention of disseminating this belief to all who will read it, perhaps watch it. I've read scripts in which messages over homosexuality, racism, sexism, compromise, religion and more have hammered home with as much subtlety as a sledgehammer.

It doesn't work.

When characters have strong beliefs in your script and shout them from the rooftops at every opportunity, it invariably means one thing: they have become mouthpieces for the writer's own personal beliefs. As a result, it's hard to believe in that character - they seem more two dimensional, they're harder to relate to.

Consider this:

You have a good friend. You know him/her really well, perhaps you grew up with him/her or you went to school or university together (or both). Maybe you know their spouse, their kids, their extended family. Perhaps there have been moments in which you have had to "step in" and help them or they you - with money, relationships, other problems. You and s/he have known each other through the best of times... And through the worst of times.

Now, the alternative: a man or woman who stands in a central area of your town and preaches. It doesn't have to be religion; it could be against religion; against sexism; against racism, whatever: there's a chap in Bournemouth for example who stands in the square and shouts about the lack of family values in the world. Perhaps they give out leaflets, stickers or badges - perhaps they have music; perhaps they have a big sandwich board they wear or a big display they use to attract people's attention. And they do attract attention. All of us have seen these people.

Now, if both of these people ask you to re-evaluate your opinion on *something*, which one would you do it for?

I'm not saying street preaching NEVER works, for some people they can prove a revelation. I am willing to bet however for most people it doesn't work - even if they happen to agree with what the street preacher is saying. I happen to think the Bournemouth Guy has a point; it doesn't mean I've ever taken one of his leaflets though.

I do believe however "script preaching" never works. If you want to send out a message via your script, simply having a character recycle your own thoughts is not the way to go - you need to develop the character first, make us believe in THEM before we believe in what they say. It's also important to remember that if your character has a belief, you also need to give them ACTIONS to back this up - if they're just talking about what they believe, that's not dramatic. Instead, these characters will seem like they're ranting. Of course, every now and again a rant can be fun - if it fits the story and/or reveals character, like Donnie Darko's amusing monologue about Smurfs, or Miles' thoughts on Pinot in Sideways.

But not all the time.

Give us a 3D character and we may believe what you believe.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Snow In The South West!

Crampon-Fred might be a mongrel cat (I believe the correct term is "ragdoll", I is bein' cat-racist, man) but he showed this morning he's pure-bred MENTAL by playing outside in the snow for a full hour. His adopted sister and brother cats merely whimpered at the sight of the snow and went upstairs and hid under the bed in my room. Where they still are. None of them are particularly used to snow; bar the tors of Dartmoor and the coombes of Exmoor, Devon is not known for it and neither is Bournemouth, due to the coastal influence -- or something (geography was never my strong point). And of course, the SW can't cope: poor ol' Hub just rang me a moment ago to say he got to work -- at TEN FIFTEEN. He set off at quarter to eight and his school is about four or five miles away. *Sigh*.

Anyway, whilst we're on the subject of photographs: there are new photos up on Safe Films - this time of the actresses we picked for the parts of "Teenage Girl" and "Girlfriend". Go and check them out now. Both actresses were great and I'm looking forward to working with them, just as I am the rest too. Shoot's on Saturday - SQUEE!