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Monday, September 28, 2009

Competition

Many thanks to the luscious Liz at Moviescope for forwarding this great opportunity for Bang2writers - there are so many "how to" courses about in scriptwriting, so I think this one looks great and features the one-and-only Doug Chamberlin!!! He of course wrote Toy Story 2, the only sequel I've seen that I've liked just as much (maybe even a little bit more) than the original - not least the fantastic Star Wars homage in the lift shaft between Biuzz Lightyear and the evil emperor Zurg!!

So what are you waiting for? Enter now!
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MovieScope Magazine is giving you the chance to win tickets to 'Mastering Hollywood for Writers'. To be in with a chance of winning, just send your details to lizhobbs@moviescopemag.com. Winners will be drawn randomly in mid-October.

Date: 28th & 29th November, 2009

Time: 9-18.30

Location: Hilton Olympia

About the event:

Many seminars can teach you how to write a great script, but what do you do once you’ve finished writing?

You need real-world advice from a Hollywood insider with a serious track record. That’s what Mastering Hollywood for Writers is all about.

Mastering Hollywood for Writers gives you the tools you need to succeed before or after you write that brilliant script. In two intensive and information-packed days, veteran Hollywood writer Doug Chamberlin (Toy Story 2) will show you everything you need to “make it” in Hollywood.

You’ll gain insight based on his 17 years of experience working with notable names such as Steven Spielberg, Jeff Katzenberg, Bruce Willis, Barry Levinson and Brian Grazer as well as the heads of Universal, Dreamworks, Pixar and Paramount.

New writers break into Hollywood every day. Why not you?

For more info, please click here.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

WTF? On Film # 8: Crank 2 High Voltage

This is a message to all who have brains in the audience (and presumably hearts in their chests?): please, for the love of all that is holy, (whether that's God, chocolate or Dr Who to you) don't watch Crank 2: High Voltage. I have gone through that pain for you. And I can't tell you it ain't good pain.

For the record, I enjoyed Crank. I'm not Mary Whitehouse, I can dig films that are both ridiculous and non-PC. Plus the sight of Jason Statham with no shirt on is always going to appeal. Whilst Crank sailed close to the wind for pretty much the whole film, it had enough cheeky bravado to get away with it, even *that* sex scene in the middle of the street.

And there are moments to Crank 2 which recall its predecessor's, shall we say joi de vivre,? *Ahem*: Geri Halliwell makes a memorable cameo (yes, Geri Halliwell!), there's a momentary nod to Power Rangers just before the resolution (yes, Power Rangers!) and Statham himself is in fine piss-taking form. You can see in his eyes: SHOW ME THE MONEY. And why the hell not? Only a mentalist and/or saturday night drunkard like me is going to watch a film about a guy with a robotic heart having to "charge" himself up with any available electricity to get a bunch of Triad gangsters who a) stole his heart to stick it in their Don and b) "killed" him in the first movie with a slow-acting poison that lead to him having to do essentially the same thing then too. As the newsreader says at the beginning of THIS film: "One word: IMPLAUSIBLE." Well, yes it is. Crank 2: High Voltage was always going to be WTF? But sadly it was WTF? for all the reasons Crank wasn't.

So what was the problem? Well, the age-old issue of misogyny rears its ugly head (ahem) for pretty much the whole movie as far as I was concerned. If it was the non-stop close-up beaver shots, I could just about live with that - what else is new? - but it was the complete lack of female characters in general that really grated me. In seemingly every scene, there are naked and semi-clad women, some even toting guns like out of a schoolboy's wet dream. Out of the blue, Amy Smart, hardly a diplomat for female equality at the best of times (and present also in another offending WTF? movie in this series, Mirrors), has now become a blow up doll with tape over her nipples. Suddenly I find myself yearning for her character in Crank, for next to this incarnation she seems like Einstein. Surely that's it...

...No it isn't: lots of the women in this movie are lesbians. Who can't control themselves, obv. Oh, and porn stars: they can't control themselves either. In fact, as this dirge continues, the movie starts to speak to me: women in general? They're all a bunch of hos, man, they're asking for it. Let's fuck them all. And when we're done, let's blow holes in them with our big guns and watch their tits explode in a mess of blood and silicone. YEAH. Especially that annoying Chinese bitch: Statham even says "What are you talking, Cuntonese?" Smooth. And because she's so annoying, she needs to be dispatched WITH FIRE. Even though she just played her part in saving his life. How's that for gratitude?

If I really want to break it down (and I'm losing interest now), most of the men don't fare that well either - except Statham and his mate who handily happens to be a heart surgeon. They can be amusing and cool and funny (when they're not abusing women or making racist or homophobic comments, natch). But Latino, Black, Chinese? The stereotypes are drawn with abandon. And it depresses the hell outta me. So much for "comedy".

So that's what I think. What about you?

LINKS

Crank 2 site

Crank 2 on IMDB

Crank 2 trailer

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Guest Post: Hooked, The Musical by Max Kinnings

If someone had told me this time last year that I’d end up writing a musical, I’d have thought they were on drugs. Although I was involved with the marketing of various West End shows a few years ago as part of my thankfully now deceased career in the ad industry, I’m not a big fan of musicals as a genre. All that pointless bursting into song is really not my thing. But last November I bumped into an old face from my advertising days – Matthew James – in a pub in Soho and we got talking about what we had been up to in the six years or so since we’d last seen each other. I banged on about having a couple of novels published, writing some screenplays and becoming a full time writer, but the tale that Matthew told was much more interesting. Having reached a very senior position at the Mail on Sunday, Matthew developed a massive coke and hookers habit which destroyed his marriage and career and sent him on a one way ticket to rehab. But throughout this episode, he started writing songs with a friend of his, Nick Hale, a musician and producer with a successful track record in the music industry.

Matthew told me that they had a bunch of songs that they wanted to turn into a musical. Was I interested in getting involved? I went away and listened to the songs and loved them – not the usual musicals fodder at all – but I was busy with scripts and a novel rewrite so I said no. But as destiny decreed, Matthew and I found that we lived about half a mile from each other and started meeting up in the pub and talking about the story. Suddenly things started to develop a life of their own when Matthew announced that he was giving up his job, had booked a theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe and was going to put on HOOKED – as it was now called – in three months time. I couldn’t help but get swept away on the lunacy of putting on this show – which mirrored Matthew’s personal experiences – and set about writing the libretto, pulling together all the songs and unifying them in a story while Matthew and Nick worked on the music and auditioned actors.

With a super-talented cast and director on board and with three sold out preview shows under our belts, HOOKED transferred to Edinburgh and much critical acclaim. The Stage described the show as a “theatrical phenomenon”. At the end of the Edinburgh run, we were invited back to the prestigious Theatre 503 in London for more shows. It was an amazing experience and now producers are taking our calls – even calling us – and we’re gearing up for an extended London run in the spring with a longer show and a bigger cast. While I have enjoyed writing what is for me a totally new form, as a scriptwriter, I am keeping one eye on the possibility of bringing HOOKED to the screen. There hasn’t been a credible London film musical for a very long time. Hopefully, with HOOKED, we can change that.
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Check out the Hooked Website here

ABOUT MAX: Max Kinnings is the author of three novels, Hitman, The Fixer and the forthcoming, Baptism. He has written a number of screenplays and been commissioned by a variety of film and television producers. Rik Mayall’s best-selling 2005 spoof autobiography, Bigger Than Hitler Better Than Christ, was co-written by Max and he has written the libretto for the musical Hooked which has transferred to the Edinburgh Fringe following sold out previews at Theatre 503 in London. Max lectures in creative writing at Brunel University.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Screenwriting Software: Your Choice

Hello to the lovely Michelle who asks:

I've heard mixed advice from everyone on the screenwriting software issue... Some advise getting it, others say there's no need for expensive software - at least not until you're in the thick of it. Have been looking into FD and found reviews fared Movie Magic better. What's your take ?

Well, obviously: end of the day, it's your choice. Some people like screenwriting software; others see it as an excuse for a company to make shedloads of cash. That disclaimer aside however, I think you're a mentalist if you don't use *some sort* of screenwriting software. For one thing, it looks better on the page than manually formatted MS Word. It also takes a hell of a lot less time to hit "return" than it does to go back and painstakingly move the text about the page into the right place. What's more, a script in MS Word is often that bit longer than your automatically-formatted screenplay, so your page count may go up and give you essentially a false reading of how long it really is.

So I'm a fan of screenwriting software, defo. But which one? Well again, that's totally up to you.

Lots of Bang2writers are big fans of CeltX. Of the free screenwriting software this is definitely my favourite, but it has limitations that get on my nerves, the biggest one being you have to be online to convert to PDF. I'm also not a big fan of the menus at the top: they don't seem as well laid out logically-speaking as they could be. On a purely finnicky level, I don't like the version of Courier CeltX has, it seems a bit weird in comparison to others.

The second fave amongst them is the BBC's Script Smart. I downloaded it once to try it and didn't understand it. Nothing appeared to work - at least in the way I wanted it to and/or expected it to. Perhaps I got a dodgy download, 'cos I appear to be the only person in the universe this has affected. Whatever the case, I didn't like it and haven't been back.

Another one Bang2writers seem to like is Scripped, principally for its online collaboration feature (which CeltX also has). Whilst I applaud the idea, I'm simply not interested in online collaboration in this way. I gave the actual software a try and it seemed fine - but there appeared to be loads of stuff that I didn't need/wasn't interested in and though I still technically have an account, I haven't opened it in yonks.

Of the paid-for software, about three million years ago I tried Movie Magic. I didn't like it. Everything seemed to be in the wrong place. What's more, since I didn't seem to know anyone who used Movie Magic, I couldn't just send people a MM file. This seemed a good enough reason not to buy it and I haven't lived to regret it; in the past 5 years only ONE Bang2writer has sent me an MM file. When I asked him to convert it because I couldn't open those files, the text on the page went absolutely ballistic.

There was a brief interest in Sophocles amongst my Bang2writers and I took a look too: it seemed interesting, but by then I had already bought software.

I've been a Final Draft user now for aeons: it was the first I tried, but I was amazed by how easy it made everything (perhaps making the others seem like it was reinventing the wheel?). Granted, Final Draft 7 had some annoying bugs, but I've been using Final Draft 8 now since it came out and I'm pleased to report that I have had no problems whatsoever, plus it has some great new features too. What's more, everyone I know and work with regularly uses Final Draft: we don't have to worry about converting files, we can just attach and "send", no faffing about. Since I am allergic to faffing and want to do everything RIGHT NOW OR BUST, this floats my boat.

Someone said to me once that Final Draft is the professional's choice. Certainly, I have never sat in a meeting - with anyone - and been asked, "Do you use Final Draft?", it's just a given. All the professional clients I read for use Final Draft; as a reader/editor I would be at a disadvantage if I didn't have it. After PDF, FDR is the file I get most. On a purely finnicky level again, I find Courier Final Draft the neatest and easiest to read out of ALL the courier fonts.

Of course, the downside is Final Draft is bloody expensive. It's also not great for radio plays and as for creating new format templates you might need, forget it - I tried once and nearly had a severe brain explosion. But of all the major formatting tools available, I think it's easiest to use, most convenient, most universal and best looking on the actual page.

What's your choice of software and why?

UPDATES:

Over on Twitter (follow me to join in!), my mighty tweeps are making the following recommendations:

Apparently Scrivener is ace. I've never used this, so can't say one way or another, but it's a paid-for software costing $39.95 and of course you can have a trial first to find out if you like it. Downside: it's only available to Mac users at present.

Others are recommending Writers Cafe as well as Allen here, principally for its "storylines" function. I've heard mixed tales about this software and I took a look a while back and it didn't appeal to me, but that doesn't mean it's not worth a go, especially if you find outlining a real pain.

Apparently Movie Magic give existing Final Draft users a discount!

Meanwhile, over in my Facebook account, there is MUCH love for both Final Draft and CeltX too, with just a couple recommending Movie Magic - I wonder why it hasn't caught on over here? Our American cousins seem to use it more... [FYI: If you want to join in blog discussions over at Facebook instead/as well as here, please do: friend me today!)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

HOW TO BE A SCRIPT READER course went well

Just a short one today as I am still embroiled in The Rewrite From Hell: Saturday went brilliantly, thanks to all who attended and all who've asked/wished me luck in conducting my first ever class! Turns out I was completely OVER PREPARED - six hours just *flash by*, especially when your class participants are as switched on as mine were. There was some great points raised, particularly about structure and working together and everyone was really friendly and talkative - no awkward silences! I had read for some of the people there or come across them online somewhere, though there were just as many I had never come across before. What's more, I was in awe of how far some had travelled: we had peeps from Dunstable, Bristol, Cardiff, Reading - though the gold star had to go to Pete who came all the way from Chester! Thanks to the lovely Rosie who talked to the class about her Sequel to Cannes short script contes and senior lecturer John Foster who popped by to tell the class about the MA Screenwriting distance learning course at Bournemouth University, as well as the new full time MA, Writing For Media. Special mentions need to go to Martin and Dom for being fantastic coffee/lunch bitches - I mean, HELPERS. Arf.

I've had lots of enquiries about a London course, so am hoping to do one in the new year - dependent on venues, etc of course. If you're interested in a course in the Capital, friend me on Facebook and/or Twitter for updates in the near future.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Watch this. NOW.

The Scottish Book Trust and Adrian Mead have joined forces to bring you a series of six videos on How to Make It As A Screenwriter*. Essential watching for ALL writers, no matter where they are on the screenwriting ladder. Make sure you bookmark this series and tell ALL your friends about it. If you don't, you may just be a doughnut. With sprinkles.

*Click on the link to download the fab e-book by Adrian of the same title, recommended by the likes of Tony Jordan, James Moran, Ashley Pharaoh, Danny Stack, me and everyone else in the known writing/blogging universe.

Opportunity: Sex Factor

Sex Factor

Call for a production compan
y

Sex Factor - A project through which people with learning disabilities can increase their knowledge and understanding of personal wellbeing and relationships through film.

Poole Forum, a speaking-up group run for and by people with learning disabilities in Poole, wishes to recruit a production company. The company will work with a group of 6 actors with learning disabilities to create a short interactive DVD. The DVD will form the central part of a resource pack that will address key issues around personal wellbeing and relationships, and in particular the areas of relationships, sex and sexuality. The production company will take as its starting point a research report (available December 2009), and will strictly follow and adhere to its recommendations.

Timescale

Submissions deadline 9am, Monday 5th October 2009
Sex Factor will be delivered between January and April 2010 inclusive.
First edit deadline May 2010 (exact date to be confirmed)
Final edit deadline June 2010 (exact date to be confirmed)

Fees

Fees for Sex Factor: £10,000*
*This fee is fully inclusive of: director, producer, script development, sound, lighting, camera operator, production office costs, online / offline editing, participatory workshops, planning / development, mentoring, documentation, equipment hire, materials and all associated production costs.

For a copy of the full brief please contact:

Anna Shiels, Arts Programme Manager (Adult Social Care and Well Being)
Arts Development Unit, Poole Museum, 4 High Street, Poole BH15 1BW
Tel: (01202) 633971

Email: a.shielsATpooleDOTgov.uk
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Many thanks to Rosie at Creative Thoughts Productions for forwarding these details.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Stuck In The Quagmire of Rewrite Insanity

Whilst rewriting yesterday, it suddenly occurred to me:

I have no clue what the hell I'm doing.

I've now gone round the houses, through the houses, blown the houses up with dynamite, rebuilt them, swapped them with Barratt Homes, lost all my money, moved out of there & ended up in a squat in a Glasgow estate with three screaming weans, a heroin habit and a gambling boyfriend with tattoos and gold teeth.

In short, I'm f*cked if I know what to do next with this project.

Of course it doesn't help the script has turned bad and is now talking to me:

SCRIPT: You're shit.

ME: Shut up, I'm rewriting you.

SCRIPT: No point; you're shit.

ME: Nope, not listening, *lalalalalalalala*

SCRIPT: Hey, why listen to me? The evidence is there ON THE PAGE! You're shit. And you know it.

ME: I'll erase you if you're not careful.

SCRIPT: Go ahead: then you'll just be admitting how shit you are. DO IT.

ME: I'll file you. In my MISC folder!

SCRIPT: Again, the end result is the same.

ME: So I'll keep rewriting. You've gotta get good sometime.

SCRIPT: I might. You won't. You suck.

Anyone else ever feel like this? Of course you have. So what do you do to silence the evil voice of your script at times like this?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Guest Post: A Few Questions By Damian Trasler

Does it drive you slightly batty
If the plot is light and scatty
And the characters are all the writer shows?
Or do you find yourself quite dotty
If the characters are spotty
But they race to find the bomb before it blows?
Do you scan the first ten pages,
Making sure the hook engages
Or relax and just see how the story flows?
Do you write till you’ve got plenty?
Do you aim for that one-twenty?
Or just write the thing and see how far it goes?
Is your timeline front to back?
Do you think Quentin T’s a hack?
Have you got Three Act Structure coming out your nose?
Is your “Story” copy tattered?
Is your “Save the Cat” all battered?
Do you read them til your sunward window glows?*
Where do you get your ideas?
Do you visualise your fears?
Do you take a pair of friends and make them foes?
Do you write in pen or pencil?
Do you use a structure stencil?
Do you have a writing room where no one goes?
Do you write outside your zone?
Do you work your best alone?
Do you exercise to keep you on your toes?
Now you may well find me tasking,
With these questions I keep asking,
But I’ve tried to write myself, oh, Heaven knows...
But I ask ‘em and I question
Ask which secret is the best ‘un?
Because essentially I’m finding any reason to avoid knuckling down and really coming to terms with the story I’m trying to write.

*With the arrival of dawn. Because you’ve read all night.
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Thanks Damian! Awesome effort there (I don't think there's ever been a poem on this blog before!), though you've not sent me a bio, so be quick about it and send me something so the good people reading this blog know who you are ; )

UPDATE: And here's the bio!!!

Damian studied long and hard to get to the top of his chosen profession, but after years of struggle admitted he'd never be a brain surgeon. He fell into play writing and has been unable to find his way out again. People often say "So, what sort of plays do you write?" and he's considering offering a reward for whoever can come up with a snappier answer than "You know, sort of funny ones...".

After receiving various awards for his one act plays, he's enjoyed more success by joining TLC Creative and writing all sorts of stuff for an international customer base. He's determined to continue the TLC campaign to rule the world of theatrical scriptwriting, even though he's accidentally moved to Canada. He is still writing, but has yet to see a moose.

You can mail Damian directly: damian@tlc-creative.co.uk
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Fancy seeing your words up in print here? Be my guest... Email me now on Bang2writeATaolDOTcom. Thanks!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Guest Post: Son of the Pitch, Part 1 By Dave Turner

Hello. You look lovely today. Is that a new blouse/shirt? My name's Dave and I write the Army of Dave website. Have you seen it...? Don't worry, you don't have to be polite.

I will be attending the Screenwriters' Festival next month as a finalist in the subtly titled 'The Son of the Pitch" contest. Nine others and I will stand before a panel of Giants of the Industry and an audience of hundreds of our peers, attempting to impress them with nought but a microphone and our wits to aid us. Or, in my case, a microphone and a slightly befuddled expression.

Now I've typed that out, I'm wondering why I agreed to this voluntarily. Anyway, think of this as a prologue to the story. An amuse bouche to the main course of a post-festival report. A beginning to a strained metaphor. Or is it a simile?

"How did this buffoon land such a plum opportunity?" I hear you say. "It's obvious the man can barely string a sentence together. I mean, he doesn't know whether he's using metaphors or similes."

I'm glad you asked me that, dear reader. Have I mentioned the blouse/shirt...?

Back in November 2008, the Screenwriters Festival website ran a competition in which you would submit a 25 word log line for a film concept and a 150 word synopsis expanding on that log line. The short list, with all names removed, would then be passed to readers at Film Four who would choose the final ten to come to Cheltenham and pitch the idea in public.

I sent in four entries. Three were lovingly crafted over a period of days, each word carefully chosen for it's emotional impact. The fourth I knocked up with a hangover on the morning of the day of the deadline.

I'm sure we can all guess which entry was chosen for the final ten. Would you like to read it? Okay. Here it is:

In The Name of Light Entertainment

"When a ruthless children’s television presenter blackmails and murders his way up the light entertainment hierarchy, only a bitter celebrity obsessed cop can stop him!"

Bored yet? Why not try the synopsis?

"Hugo Jarvis is swimming in the fame backwater that is children’s television. His life is an endless round of sex, drugs and sticky-backed plastic. The only people who recognise him on the street are under ten years old and he hates kids. All he wants – NEEDS – to be is a star.

After accidentally killing his boss in an argument, Hugo finds himself in the limelight. He begins to blackmail, murder and sleep his way to his own Saturday night show.

Nobody suspects that this charismatic, charming man is a modern day Richard III. Nobody, that is, except DCI Clive Stanley. Bitter that the BBC has once again rejected the script for his gritty police drama, he stalks Television Centre and is onto Hugo.
In a darkly comic look at celebrity culture, will Clive stop Hugo before his show airs, or will they join forces for the sake of their careers?"

And - surprisingly - that didn't get me an injunction, but an invitation to the Screenwriters Festival launch party (which I won't bore you with now, but you can read about here.) where, at the bar, people asked insightful and intelligent questions about the plot and character development. All I could do was shrug my shoulders and say "I dunno".

Yes, I really should go and do some more work on this idea.

If you're attending the Screenwriters Festival, please come and say hello. You all know which pitch to vote for, right? If you're unable to come along, I shall return - Lucy willing - with an article detailing my very public humiliation with minute, excruciating detail. [Yes please! And since you admittedly did so little work on your winning pitch when I had an ENTIRE DRAFT done for each of my three pitches, I might pelt you with something smelly at the SWF an' all! - LV]
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ABOUT DAVE: Dave is a comedy writer - no, really - with two optioned feature scripts to his name. His comedy-drama “Is This Music?” was selected for the TAPS ‘Finding the Writer’s Voice’ workshop and was a runner-up in the 2008 Red Planet Screenwriting Contest. He also writes the Army of Dave site, which he finds helps him deal with modern life without resorting to shouting at the oncoming traffic.
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Thanks Dave!

Are you going to The Screenwriters' Festival? Dave and I will see you there... Let us know in the comments section or on Facebook, where most of my comments have decamped to recently! Not my Facebook friend? Then click here.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

[Guest] Thought For The Day: My Lightbulb Moment By Adrian Mead

Last week I was listening to a major international film financier talk about how tough the market is now due to disappearing funding sources and too much content that isn't selling. He gave the best piece of advice I've heard in ages - a real lighbulb, kick-in-the-goolies moment:

"Ask yourself, "If my film didn't get made, would anyone actually miss it?""

For me, it was a simple and powerful litmus paper test for your projects.

Is it...

... Already packaged with stars or a name director?

... Using a new and innovative storytelling method?

... Highly controversial?

... Deeply moving?

... Way funnier/scarier/thrilling than anything else recently out there?

If not, why not? Otherwise why will anyone care?

Really made me look at my own ideas ... "If this didn't get made would anyone actually miss it?"
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Thanks Adrian! (Actually, what I'm really thinking about right this second is "he wrote, "goolies", lol!" - but this EXCELLENT advice will no doubt sink in later when my Inner Child is done with mirth.

Adrian's website - click here to download Adrian's awesome e-book HOW TO MAKE IT AS A SCREENWRITER, recommended by writing greats like Tony Jordan.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Guest Post: Music & Film, Function & Effects by Emma Smith -- includes a short interview with MICHAEL NYMAN!

Music in film serves many purposes. Aside from the soundtrack, the reasons and uses for music in film vary enormously.

A Very Brief History:


It’s been suggested that music, mainly a piano or small orchestra played live, was introduced into cinemas to drown-out the loud noises made by the projector. Filmmakers noticed that music added another dimension to the visuals by creating suspense, drama, and perhaps most notably, a comic element to the slapstick, stunt-filled movies of the 1920s and 1930s. On a more serious note, Russian director Eisenstein used music to reinforce the realistic nature of the scenes in his films, ensuring a documentary-style result. Generally, during this time of rapid cinematic development, filmmakers were quick to recognise how music could influence the intent of a scene.

Film, Music and Meaning:

Music carries and communicates meaning, whether ambiguous and transitional, or blatant and fixed, and therefore has the capacity to add meaning. Music can dramatically influence how a scene or a character is portrayed.
Some scenes rely heavily on the accompanying music to support meaning within the narrative. Ever imagined the shower scene in Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ (1960) without the sharp, cold screech of high-pitched staccato violins? Or ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977) devoid of the mesmerising harmonic five notes employed by the aliens? With these two examples we see the meaning of the music systematically enhancing the meaning of the visual intent.

Background music is often used as ‘a neutral filler’, as it usually has no obvious influence on the scene or characters involved, and lends no specific meaningful purpose. However, background music can subtly enhance the progression of a scene, especially if a particular arrangement has been attributed to a character or place. This in turn strengthens the spectator’s perception and empathetic reaction of the character (or place) as intended.

Montage is more than often accompanied by music, and in some instances, the sequence is almost entirely dependent on the musical score to keep it together; music can create continuity within the scene, and may even carry through a theme. So the music is primarily a unifying element to the montage.

‘A Short Interview with Michael Nyman C.B.E.’

Michael Nyman is best known for his collaboration with the director Peter Greenaway and most notably the score for Jane Campion’s ‘The Piano’ (1993). More recently his music was included in the Oscar-winning ‘Man on Wire’ (2008). I asked him a few questions on his involvement with film, and he spared the time from his busy schedule to give these replies:

Which project have you enjoyed working on the most?

Michael Nyman: I guess ‘The Draughtsman’s Contract’ (1982), my first feature film (apart from ‘Keep it Downstairs’ in 1976, but that doesn’t really count). It gave me the greatest opportunity to develop the principle and practice of recycling pre-composed music - first done in ‘Re Don Giovanni’ in 1977, but this time, it was on a much larger scale, and according to a formulaic principle that Greenaway established in the film.

How did you become involved with ‘Man on Wire’?

Michael Nyman: James Marsh asked me to write a score, told me what the budget was, and I explained to him that there was not enough to compose/record the amount of music he needed. So I said to him he could use any of the music on MN (Michael Nyman) Records that he found suitable, and he did! Much later I discovered that the reason he asked me, was that Philippe was a big fan of mine, and used my music to practice his wire-walking to!

Will you continue writing for films in the future?

Michael Nyman: I haven’t written a feature film score for four years, and now more likely to license (as in ‘Man on Wire’) and to add, not write, soundtracks to my own films and videos.

You can see Michael Nyman at Bestival, Isle of Wight on September 13th 2009: here Michael Nyman Band performs a one-hour set of his most famous film hits. The performance starts at 14.00 Robin Hill Country Park, Newport, Isle of Wight. Also don’t miss the launch of the David McAlmont/Nyman album ‘The Glare’ at The Union Chapel, 24 October 2009. Check out the Michael Nyman websites: here and here.
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ABOUT EMMA: Emma Smith, a qualified Art, Architecture, Design and Film Historian, has dedicated the past year to finishing her first feature length screenplay, and focus on writing as a full-time career. Writing as E. K. J. Smith, her script, a mystery-romance, is in the last stages of completion. She currently lives in Devon. (Her blog is under construction and will be available soon!)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Guest Post: Characters On The Couch: Psychiatry & Screenwriting by Stephen Potts

Few writers make a living from their work: we necessarily have Day Jobs, and even if we don’t we have Other Lives to draw on. For more than 22 years my day job’s been in the NHS, as a psychiatrist, currently working with A&E and the transplant service. Until recently I kept this entirely separate from my writing (kids’ adventure fiction, drama for stage and radio, and now for the screen). I’m not sure why: maybe it just felt wrong to be stealing patient’s stories, however I dressed them up. But the more screenwriting manuals I read, the more psychiatric textbooks I wrote, the more value I saw in directly comparing the two practices. I ended up with the tentative conclusion that screenwriting is psychiatry in reverse. Knowing this might not guide writers in treating themselves or their friends – but it may well help them push through the next rewrite.

Psychiatrists and the patients they treat feature widely in cinema, in roles ranging from the benign (Good Will Hunting) to the demonic (Silence of the Lambs). So screenwriters are familiar with the process of practicing psychiatry, even if its depictions are often distorted: and a never-ending stream of manuals tell us about the process of screenwriting itself. These manuals urge us to be Creator Gods in the worlds of our stories: omniscient, omnipotent, controlling everything that happens there. We must know our main characters intimately: we grant them wants, needs and flaws; we endow their tastes and prejudices - and we must know their backstory as we do our own. This knowledge underpins whatever we make them do and say in the story as it unfolds. In other words we move from the general (plot, theme, structure, character, character arc, genre etc) to the specific of action and dialogue, the key components of the screen play itself.

There are very few screenwriters - or at least few successful ones - who simply launch in to a new screenplay, and immediately type out blocks of action and dialogue, even for a first draft. That stage is more often the end product of a long process of thinking about the story, the characters who play it out, and the kind of film we’re trying to write.

We start with generalities: I want to write a thriller set in modern day London. The central character’s a young art thief struggling to escape his past. The theme is redemption.

We end up with specifics:

INT. EXPENSIVE LONDON HOUSE/LOUNGE - NIGHT

JAMIE prowls silently around a darkened room. Clocks tick richly, but there is no other sound save his breathing, and the faint thump of his heartbeat. His torchlight picks out a series of expensive sculptures and works of art. His gloved hands caress them, one by one….

Psychiatry works in exactly the opposite direction: the psychiatrist starts from the specifics of what an unfamiliar patient says and does, and slowly builds a picture of who this person is, and what has happened in his life to bring him to the clinic - or to A&E - today. Psychiatric training instills an almost ritualized assessment process, which includes a requirement to describe in detail the patient’s appearance and behaviour, apparent mood, and patterns of speech and thought. Example: “Mr. X was restless and agitated, pacing around the A&E assessment room at speed. He was dressed in fashionable and relatively new clothes, but he was unshaven and disheveled as if he had not changed for some days. He appeared anxious and afraid, and seemed to be responding to something outside the room not apparent to others. His speech was loud, rapid, and hard to interrupt. His thought process appeared speeded up, with a rapid progression from one subject to another. His ability to concentrate on questions or requests was much impaired.”

These features lead the psychiatrist to generate hypotheses: has he been overusing stimulant drugs? Is this a relapse of bipolar disorder? Is he actually being pursued by someone? These hypotheses can then be tested, by further questions to the patients or others. The picture is sketched at first, then gradually filled in, with more specifics, a little like painting by numbers, until the general image (ie the diagnosis) is clear enough to act on.

That’s at the acute end of psychiatry: but the same applies in other areas. Let’s jump forward a month or two. Mr X’s relapse of his known bipolar disorder resolved quickly when treatment was re-instituted. He’s now in the out patient clinic, discussing the reasons why he stopped his treatment and thereby risked relapse. The same process applies, of moving from specific answers to specific questions, and towards a general understanding, which can then be shared with the patient in an effort to help him make any necessary changes. Doctor to Mr X: “I get the sense that you stopped your medication not so much because you’re troubled by side effects, but because you resent being told to take it by your doctors and your family. Maybe if you felt you had more control you’d resent it less.”

So what, you’re probably asking? Nice theory, perhaps: but how is it relevant to screenwriting? Well it may just help the writer stuck between drafts, and unsure how to vivify his characters or make his plot cohere. Instead of endlessly reworking structure or tweaking dialogue, why not set your characters on the couch, a diploma on the wall, and the clock running?

Ask your characters, one by one, the questions a psychiatrist might ask them. What’s troubling you? How long have you felt that way? How bad is it? What makes it better/worse? Have you felt that way before?. Start with specific questions: give specific answers, always expressed in the language your character would use. Work towards general statements, such as : After my father beat me throughout childhood, I resent and fear all authority figures: those I fear most, I obey; others, I attack.

Better still, why not team up with a fellow writer, and put her characters on your couch, while she returns the favour? Use a tape recorder, and just talk, so you’re not inhibited by the need to make notes.

If this works at a basic level, it might be worth trying the advanced version of the game, with an extra rule: you, the script doctor, can ask whatever you like: but the characters can tell you nothing beyond what they say, do, observe or learn, in the course of your screenplay. So if you’ve decided to avoid the use of flashbacks, you have to get across the information about your character’s’ paternal beatings in some other way. If you don’t want to risk clunky expositional dialogue “Look at these Father’s Day cards! Let me tell you about my old man…..” you are forced to find some more imaginative way to convey it: or to decide it doesn’t matter. But if you drop it, you must ask whether your character’s actions still make sense to an audience which doesn’t know his backstory.

As screenwriters, most of our journey is from general to specific. Every once in a while, it’s worth turning around the other way, to work as psychiatrists do. You stand to gain a better understanding of the core of your characters, and an audience’s eye for whether that core shows through in what your characters say and do. if, in the process you can get your characters to pay you an hourly rate, so much the better!
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ABOUT STEPHEN: A doctor by training, Stephen's been working part time in order to write for more than ten years, during which time he's published seven children's books, and written drama for the stage and Radio 4 . His first produced screenplay, an adaptation of Philip Pullman's The Butterfly Tattoo, is just about to get a UK cinema and DVD release. He lives in the Borders and works in Edinburgh.

Stephen on Wikipedia

Stephen on IMDB

Stephen's agent

My post on Stephen's adaptation of The Butterfly Tattoo (From Adrian Mead's The Art & Business of Adaptation course, for all the notes (5 posts), click here)
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Thanks Stephen! Awesome stuff there and very important to those of us rewriting, which I am at the moment...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Guest Post: Once Upon A Time... Children's Stories By Katie McCullough

After being commissioned to adapt an open air production of “Alice in Wonderland" it got me thinking about the power of children’s stories. We’re all born natural storytellers. We know when something is a beginning, a middle and an end and we can also tell stories as we reinvent, elaborate and regale to parents, friends and colleagues. But what keeps the appeal especially when we grow up?

The flux of cinematic children’s stories such as the upcoming “Alice in Wonderland”, “Fantastic Mr Fox” and “Where The Wild Things Are” just reiterate the excitement for all ages a child’s tale can bring. By re-envisioning a children’s story we’re allowed to re-live and momentarily forget our ‘adult’ eyes and revel in the playful children’s vision. Films such as this do well because of the visual attachment that’s been fine-tuned and elaborated on via directors, producers and designers. The distant battle cry of many a writer would be, “the book is much better than the film” and one of the possible reasons for this is because we create our own appearance to what we’re reading, we have our own cast and our imagination feeds what we need to see. But after overlooking all of this when an extension of a child’s vision is imprinted on the cinema screen it truly is an emotional experience whether it be for an adult or a child.

Magical realism will always feature within the genre which suits children’s film because of the nature of a child’s imagination. Its sits well and encapsulates the excitement and thrill of a young mind. But it’s not all fairytales and wizards; if you look to any modern Disney or Pixar film you’ll see it’s littered with jokes meant for the adult presence, because someone has to take the child to the cinema in the first place. But saying that children should be given more credit than they are; they’re constantly learning and adapting to their environments and can pick up on the subtlest of themes within film and television. It’s a grand adventure for them that begins before they’ve even shut the front door. When they step into a film we’re asking them to take us by the hand on a journey and distract them for a few hours. For a child it can last a wonderful, colourful and exciting lifetime that goes further than the closing credits.

Children’s literature contains stories that stick with us collectively as we grow up. But the market is constantly changing and new stories are being told so to breathe life into long-standing classics it often takes someone else’s fresh approach to really bring it alive; it can lie already told and dormant in the mind but deserves to be given a new lease of life. A storyteller's work is never done even after the last page and especially when the audience want to hear more.
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Katie McCullough is a screenwriter and playwright whose tools of choice are her hands and anything to write with (as well as her mouth to talk to people). She’s a graduate of Bournemouth Media School and The Royal Court, London, and has had several readings at the ICA and Theatre Royal, Stratford East as well as several stories published on Six Sentences and Metazen. She’d be happy to ramble at you given half the chance as long as you let her look for a Gin and Tonic. Visit Katie's website here.
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NOTE FROM LUCY: Thanks Katie! Be sure to check out those links... Every writer should be making the most of the great opportunities sites like Six Sentences and Metazen provide. The internet has no shortage of sites like this, there is NO EXCUSE not to get published! In short: write it and send it, people! What's the worst that can happen?