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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Free Speech: Where's The Line Drawn?

Some might argue John Stuart Mills' quote, "I detest what you say, I defend to the death your right to say it" could have been written for the likes of Nick Griffin. I'm not one of them. I found Griffin's recent remark about the Haiti relief efforts,"Sending aid to rioting ingrates while our own people die is stinking elite hypocrisy" totally outrageous. Rioting ingrates? The lack of regard for human suffering here is unbelievable. Also, as Griffin is (depressingly) part of public office, I found the remark - not to mention the fact the BNP exists - tantamount to inciting racial hatred, which is why I support the Hope Not Hate campaign.

Supporting their work however inevitably makes me a target for others' accusations that I am "playing into the hands" of people like Griffin. Many will argue that certain viewpoints (like Griffin's) are revolting - but if we don't let those few "loonies" express them, they will argue they're being "silenced", which ultimately makes the situation worse. I always wonder on the latter, because it seems so-called "loonies" are holding all the cards, forcing us to listen to their crap when I thought we lived in a democracy and it was rule of the majority (and I like to think "loonies" are in the minority). There's also the point I was taught by my parents to turn a blind eye is as bad as taking part in what I despise; I believe I should stand up for what I believe in and to oppose those who abuse others; for others to suggest I should keep my mouth shut *in case* I encourage those I oppose seems a violation of my own right to free speech.

Free speech is something that rears its head again and again in the writing community. There appears to be the thought that if we *can't* say EXACTLY what we like, however we like, whenever we like, we can't actually *be* writers. But I don't believe anyone who has ever been abused on the basis of so-called "free speech" automatically wants it repealed; this is as simplistic as saying all those who support free speech (no matter what) support the abuse of women, ethnic minorities, the disabled and so on. As with many a philosophical standpoint, lines in the sand are drawn too wide on this issue, too frequently - we have one side of the scale or the other. There's little point in relating and debating those two extremes with relation to writing; it's the black/white politics of the teenager, when freedom of speech in writing [and what exactly that means] surely has to reside squarely in the grey area of the issue. There is no easy answer and to swing from one end of the pendulum to the other makes little sense.

A few years ago, I wrote about a writer's responsibility on this blog and garnered the most responses I ever had (though these days it would be sure to be "diluted" by Twitter, Facebook and the growing number of people who email me directly). I was surprised by the number of people who thought the ONLY responsibility a writer has is "to tell a good story". The reason for this is simple: no one in the writing community would imagine a film (or TV show) is *just* that - we can all appreciate that media artefacts can confirm or deny certain viewpoints (including our own, in writing them), just as television advertising has its own effect. No writer is surely going to argue films and television are a passive viewing experience with no effect on the audience whatsoever, yet those writers commenting in the post who thought a good story their *only* responsibility seemed to think their own POVs, norms and values did not come through in how they constructed their stories for the reader and thus the potential audience (something else I've written about on this blog in fact).

Responsibility and what it means is equally as difficult to debate as free speech, so said writers weren't *wrong*, but I do think some idea of what is "right" (or not) needs consideration before one embarks on certain elements of plot, character, worldview, etc. Writing *anything*, with no thoughts for potential consequences does not equal a "good story" to me. As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I am always depressed by the plethora of specs that include rape scenes. It's not that I object to stories *about* rape: films like The Accused and The General's Daughter have cracked this taboo subject and, in my eyes, represented its true horror and effects dramatically, yet responsibly. Instead, what I object to is the frequency in which women are casually abused in scripts, as if it's something that can be *expected*: the actual rape or abuse isn't even part of the main story, it's just a beat, as if "this is what we get". This doesn't just disquiet me, it frightens me. By the way, I don't think the men (and it usually is men, sorry guys) writing these scenes are "evil". They might want to be controversial (the irony being too many are trying the same thing!) or they might think it's not a big issue - "it's just a story" - but the end result is the same.

And now we return to free speech (you were waiting, I know - bear with me) because it could be argued these offending scripts *should* be written and some people believe that 100%. I don't. I think there are some stories that actually don't need to be told and what's more, the rest of society think so too: we don't see a stack of rape scenes on television and whilst I think we still see too many in film, in comparison to the number on the spec pile, those on the silver screen pale in significance. Forget censorship by governing bodies like the BFFC; simple empathy for our common (wo)man prevails. 99.9% of the time commissioners and producers aren't looking for scripts involving the casual abuse of women, any more than they're looking for scripts involving casual racism and/or the abuse of the vulnerable or disabled. So the end question then has to be to the writers who want to include these elements in their stories, if nothing else - why bother?? It's a fruitless exercise. We want drama, we want conflict - we DON'T want abuse.

So actually, when it comes to free speech and drawing the line, I would argue most of the time it's drawn long before the media product even gets to us: in our national consciousness. Sure some repugnant stuff will get through, either as part of the DIY film revolution, the internet or because some producer or commissioner is a weirdo. This will never change. But mercifully, the rule of the majority and its belief in what is "acceptable" usually prevails when it comes to fiction.

And why? Because free speech without any sense of responsibility or empathy is just abuse.

All Hail The Sales Agent

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I'm well up for the recent tide turn that has led to many, many screenwriters turning to DIY filmmaking. No longer content to sit on the sidelines or get it stuck to them, screenwriters have risen up to be counted by the bucketload, even me. And good on them... Well, maybe not all of them.

Like all good things in the yin and yang of filmmaking [and indeed life n' stuff], there are inevitably some bad things too. And I'm not even talking about those nutters who can't tell the basics of a story, but have a few hundred, even thousand quid burning a hole in their back pocket: "Hey I wrote a script this weekend, let's make a film!" (Yes, no development, no rewrites, no read-throughs, nothing: bit like the bizarre creature who told me only recently, "the notes you made on character are redundant, as I intend to direct." EXCUSE ME?!). But hey: there will always be crazy people. Filmmaking attracts them by the thousand and there's a good argument to be made that we're ALL a little crazy taking up this madness in the first place, so let's toast the nutters too.

No, the down-side of DIY Filmmaking is far darker: thanks to technological advances, you know those films no one in even the HALF-SANE WORLD OF FILM PRODUCTION would have ever touched with a barge pole because those scripts are so morally REPUGNANT? They now have a voice. We all know the ones. The misogynistic ones that objectify women are the biggest problem of the spec pile, though I've also been unlucky enough to read racist ones and various other intolerances that make my skin crawl.

So needless to say I've been feeling a little depressed about this side of DIY filmmaking. As naive as it might seem, it wasn't something I foresaw back in the heady days of *just* over a year ago when I conceived Safe and heard similar tales of my friends and colleagues taking their own steps into production. Everything seemed pure, for want of a better word; we were doing it for ourselves and providing entertainment for others and everything was, well, let's just say it: FUN.

Then I had a conversation yesterday with a friend of mine, himself an award-winning film director who's seen his films hit the DVD shelf. He sympathised with my viewpoint, but made two very good points (if you excuse the profanity in the first):

1) Thanks to HD, etc, "any old fucker can make a film".

2) The real challenge nowadays is getting it sold AND seen.

So there you have it: the gatekeepers might have changed and filmmakers with dodgy viewpoints might be getting past the readers, agencies and prodcos by making their even dodgier scripts themselves.

But end of the day, there IS still a gatekeeper against the flood of reeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaalllllly bad shit and that's the Sales Agent.

Huh. Who'd have thought we'd end up thanking THOSE guys for anything?!

Previously about film sales on this blog:

Adrian Mead on what it takes to get your project distributed

Sales Agents: An Inconvenient Truth

Monday, January 25, 2010

Misery Loves Company?

MILD SPOILERS: Sweet Sixteen & The Ice Storm Maybe the title of this post should be, "How depressing is your depressing drama?" If the answer is "superlatively", then you may well be on to a loser getting the reader onboard. I'll explain why in a minute.

First though, don't get me wrong: I LOVE a good old-fashioned depressing drama. Watching Sweet Sixteen half killed me, but in a GOOD way [if that even makes sense]: that last shot of Liam on the phone, his sister's voice: "What a waste." JESUS. I felt as if I had been told one of my own loved ones had died: the confusion, the upset, the anger, the denial, all churned within me: THIS COULDN'T BE THE END FOR LIAM? And it is! And it's the end of the movie! OH. MY. GOD. Totally, totally awesome.

And drama does, I think, produce the kind of opportunity for fantastic characterisation like this. The self destruction of Liam is matched by the similar (yet very different) tragedy of Jim in Harsh Times; we have the gritty self belief of Sammy in You Can Count On Me; the interwebbed tragic lives of the characters in Lantana, The Ice Storm and Once Were Warriors; the tortured self doubt of The Father Moore in The Exorcism of Emily Rose or the melancholy of Miles in Sideways.

So, much as I love Horror and a good cheesy action film, it's drama that I love: it's what leaves a lasting impression on me, it's what I would strive to recreate myself as a writer. There is no drama-bashing here on the basis of it being "boring" or "self indulgent" (even though I have to admit these films sometimes preach to the converted, doing little to CHANGE audience beliefs, than rather confirm them).

Yet in the spec pile, drama often equals depressing for one reason and one reason alone:

Life is shit.

I read a lot of depressing dramas where the world and his wife live in tower blocks, their Mum is an alcoholic, their Dad is the local drug dealer, their brothers and sisters are all on crack cocaine and our protagonist probably has to *realise somehow there is a better life out there* [or similar]. What's more, said protagonist is frequently depressed, sometimes in a mental asylum and nearly always contemplating suicide.

Yawn. Let's take a look more in-depth at those elements writers *might* include:

High rise tower blocks. Yes, they're horrible. And who knows someone who lives in one nowadays? It's pretty unusual since they were declared unfit (and so many have been pulled down) especially if you're not from a council estate yourself. I've heard lots of writers describe this idea as being "gritty" and "real" but it pays no resemblance to the life I knew as a teenage, single Mum with no money and no prospects of getting any. If anything, the 00s equivalent of the high rise is the dreaded B&B - get stuck in one of those by your friendly neighbourhood council and you could end up staying forever, waiting for the supposed council house the Daily Mail thinks you get automatically as a teenage single mother (yeah right!).

Crime-ridden estates beset with gangs and graffiti. Yes, always room for a few of these, especially if the focus of the story is on the gang itself. But social deprivation does not automatically equal DRAMA. Tragedy is everywhere, not just where it looks like crap. The phrase "behind closed doors" is pretty sinister, if you think about it. What could happen there??

The lead or someone close to the lead is depressed. It's difficult to invest in the journey of a depressed character, NOT because there's a stigma in mental health issues, but because depressed people are very inward-looking; "what you see is what you get" (more or less) in film, so this doesn't make for good drama. Characters are what they DO; an inconvenient truth. That's not to say it *can't* work - but as writers we have to accept it's very difficult to make it work, especially when so many spec dramas include this idea.

The lead has someone to care for who is bed-ridden/has dementia. Again, no reason it *can't* work, but the protagonist being a good person and not leaving their invalid is difficult to make interesting. Also, if that other character has no hope of getting better, then the reader starts to ask WHY we're investing in their suffering. There should be a really good reason for this, when frequently in the spec pile it's presented as *one of those things*.

Drugs equal drama. Do they? Drug deals, infiltrating gangs, trying to get a loved one OFF drugs (like fighting the terribly underfunded rehab system we have in this country) etc - that is good drama. But the story of a junkie, frequently in the spec pile, is by its very definition usually quite one-sided and frankly, a bit dull.

The lead smokes and cries a lot. A lot of protagonists in spec dramas - most, in fact - smoke and nearly all (especially women) cry FREQUENTLY. These might be physical actions, but that doesn't stop said protagonist being passive. S/he needs to push the story forward and control his/her own destiny (even accidently) every bit as much as the protagonist in other types of film. Smoking and crying DOESN'T do this.

The unhappy ending. Sometimes the story demands the kind of tragic ending Jim meets in Harsh Times; also, there once was a time when unhappy endings, like in Sweet Sixteen and The Ice Storm, were the order of the day: it was *the* thing dramas did. But times change and like all things, audience demand different things of their stories; even Loach went for the more upbeat with his most recent, Looking for Eric. Often spec writers however will stick an unhappy ending in imagining it's "needed", else it's *not really a drama*. More often than not, these unhappy endings will feel forced, as if to ratchet up the agony, rather than an organic part of the plot. If this is the case, do you *really* need that unhappy ending? Plenty of dramas have upbeat or what I call *inconclusive* endings, like Sideways or The Exorcism of Emily Rose - how you interpret the story itself depends how you see those two endings.
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So, in conclusion: if we look at all the *great* [albeit sometimes depressing] dramas, some of the elements above may pop up: Loach in the 90s was fond of social deprivation for example and the likes of drugs [combined with crime, etc] is always going to offer adequate conflict for the drama writer to really sink their teeth into. However, the average spec drama writer does seem to think by including such things, they're ticking certain "convention boxes" for the genre.

But the irony is, drama isn't *really* a genre. Dramas are about HUMAN BEINGS - and since humans are all so different, these stories can therefore focus on anything to do with "life and its problems". The Ice Storm for example proves, without a doubt, that broken families are not confined to kids who live in tower blocks, but is a problem that happens to the middle classes, too. Liam might be on the path to self destruction as a kid with no guidance in the seedy backend of Glasgow, but this doesn't stop Jim in Harsh Times doing the same with a glittering military career in the US. What's more, dramas can ask difficult questions of its audience as in The Exorcism of Emily Rose and have its cake and eat it, coming down on neither "side": religion or science.

So, if you want to write a drama, focus on the HUMAN aspect; life may be difficult in these scripts, but don't imagine life is merely "shit".

Thursday, January 21, 2010

F@$!ing Vampires!!

A great man once said, "I don't believe in vampires... But I believe in my own two eyes and what I saw is fucking vampires." Oh alright, it was *really* George Clooney in Dusk 'Til Dawn, but the operative words there (for me at least) are "fucking vampires". They're bloody EVERYWHERE (pun intended). And to say I'm underwhelmed is an understatement. I've always read A LOT of vampire scripts - and actually, one of my all-time faves was one, proving that anyone can write anything (though it's still yet to made). But familiarity does breed contempt - not only am I seeing loads in the spec pile, they're all over TV and film too. And to be blunt, I'm sick to death of them.

The vampire myth as we know it comes straight out of Victorian storytelling. The Victorian middle class was extraordinarily pious; even just a basic English Literature A Level education taking in the likes of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens will tell us (albeit second hand) they believed absolutely in "faith, hope and charity"; the likes of Wilkie Collins, who dared to imagine Christiantity wasn't all it was cracked up to be - "I am an average good Christian, when you don't push my Christianity too far" (The Moonstone) - were frankly well-dodgy, man.

Vampires have always been part of folklore but it was Bram Stoker who managed to get the idea down on paper in 1897 to extraordinary success, unlike any of the others that had come before. There have been many reasons cited for this sudden success with the Vampire myth: the idea the rich were literally sucking the poor dry and fear of sex (something Victorian brides were ill-equipped by all their governesses and female peers to deal with) are the two favourites.

There is a certain appeal to BOTH of these readings for me. Blood has long enjoyed the status of being "life": long before plastic surgery and Botox, Queens and Conquerors' wives were bathing in the blood of sacrificed virgins in order to "stay young". So for Vampires to take what they need regardless - nearly always from women in the old tales by the way - what is that but a form of rape? Whatever way I look at the vampire myth, I see notions of violation and cruelty - I don't think it was any accident Sylvia Plath called certain people before her death "emotional vampires" (or indeed that she ended up with her head in the oven, but that's another story).

But in those old tales, those "rapist" Vampires had a certain power: they acted as cautionary tales for the women waiting for their wedding day you might argue; how to not to let a man treat like a vessel for his own use, perhaps - a useful reminder in a time when men "owned" their wives by law. Regardless, however you *see* Vampires, the likes of Dracula in the old tales were dangerous, sexy, strong - to be bewitched by them was to be damned; keep your head - or else.

But now, Vampires are part of every supernatural tale, whether TV or film - and inevitably, any "power" fiction-wise they once had is diluted. There's even a vampire to suit everyone, such as the so-called "sparkly" vampire, Edward Cullen. Any threat they once were is destroyed by their ubiquitous nature - and the fact we appear to have forgotten the true horror of what they first represented. Now, they're just guys and gals with fangs. Oh - and they drink blood: sorry about that. But hey! There is such thing as *good* vampires who eat pigeons and stuff instead of people.

Really??

Of course, low budget filmmakers are always going to be attracted by the vampire myth. It's a great way of doing supernatural horror without having to splash out on costumes and make up too much. Yet now, budgets for these vampire films are getting higher and higher with the likes of Twilight; TV is becoming more and more so-called "high concept" by including them as well. But tell me: how is something "high concept" if everyone is doing it? I've said before that originality is overrated, but presenting the same concept over and over is surely just boring?

Of course, other people are thinking the same: "How can I make MINE different?" and I think for this reason, I've seen some very disturbing changes in vampire specs in the past six months. The protagonist (usually a vampire) is more and more often becoming female like in Underworld, but UNLIKE Underworld often invites her victims to have sex with her first, before she kills them. Often the nature of this sex is violent, debases and objectifies her; she also frequently encourages them, usually to do with some "trauma" in her past when she was human. Therefore this a story that was based in violation, becomes DOUBLY SO - which makes little sense to me, when the power (as the superhuman being) is supposed to be hers. It's as if women, superhuman or not, are supposed to be victims. Unfortunately, this hasn't been one script I've seen with a story like this. I've written about the plethora of rape in spec scripts before, but this really is taking it to the nth degree.

So next time you come up with the *perfect* vampire tale, ask yourself: what is about *yours* that is different and new to *everyone else's* vampire script... And do we REALLY need another one?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Adaptation Case Study # 1: War of the Worlds

MEGA SPOILERS War of the Worlds by HG Wells was one of my favourite books as a child. Like many popular novels, there have been many, many adaptations of it - stretching across the mediums, too. With this in mind then, I'm going to take a look at a book which captured the imagination of the public, starting incredibly before space travel was even possible. Enjoy...

War of the Worlds, pt 1 - the beginning of Orson Welles' infamous 1938 radio broadcast which had people literally running for the hills! [More parts available via Youtube]

I first listened to this broadcast as part of a media studies A Level project. I'd heard people really had thought the martians were arriving when they heard it back in 1938, but couldn't really relate; like most teenagers, my POV was the *only one* that did or could exist. However this proved a real eye opener: I suddenly realised that people in what I called "the olden days" were at the mercy of their media, quite literally - there wasn't the same opportunity to cross reference, there was the BBC or bust and if they said the aliens were coming, THE ALIENS WERE COMING. Still a really well put-together broadcast I think, if you haven't been able to listen to it, do.

War of The Worlds - straight story Reading by Orson Welles & Richard Burton from SpokenVerse - quite a thrill to hear Orson Welles actually reading the text, even if he does sound a little bored!

I don't know when this was recorded, presumably after the 1938 broadcast. I'd never heard it before the weekend - perhaps it was before Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds (below), prompting him to hire Richard Burton? Pure speculation on my part, though.

War of the Worlds - 1953 version trailer

I saw this movie when my friend Helen brought it from a car boot sale on video for 20p and we watched it together. I hadn't left primary school, so I suppose I was about ten. It's quite faithful to the book, though the location changes from London to California and the protagonist is a physicist instead of a journalist; what's more his girlfriend, whom in the book he famously sees setting off on the boat without him, is a woman, Sylvia, he actually meets at the crash site instead. Overall I was satisfied by the adaptation as a child and found parts of it quite scary; however, due to the incredible leaps forward in technology in the last twenty years - particulary CGI - the monsters, space ship, etc now look quite dated. Despite this however, the actual storytelling still works for me.

Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds - "Thunderchild" - a fan vid, comprising of Justin Hayward singing "Forever Autumn" as well

Perhaps one of the mnost interesting adaptations, due to the fact one doesn't always see books reimagined as a prog rock offering. I was lucky enough to see Jeff Wayne and his orchestra perform this at the Bournemouth International Centre last year, having listened to the recording numerous times during my childhood and teens. Jeff Wayne takes a very "traditional" look at War of the Worlds, restoring the unnamed journalist and even the priest who attempts to drive back the creatures with the power of God. Whilst not fantastic music by any stretch of the imagination (not to mention horribly repetitive at times), Wayne does I think capture the drama of the novel with a combination of music, F/X and media, the icing on the cake being *that* Richard Burton narration - restored for the noughties by using an actor's moving lips over Burton's own holograph face which seems to "loom" over the proceedings for the audience. The youtube clip is a fan vid of one of my favourite parts of the whole proceedings, "Thunderchild" (from about 5 mins in, after "Forever Autumn"), which has the so-called "Voice of Humanity" describing the boat outrunning the machines, taking the Journalist's girlfriend away from him, but at least to safety; this is one of my favourite parts of the whole book, so I was thrilled to see the original artiste from the recording at the BIC, Chris Thompson, singing this. (Apparently there is a computer game too, though I've never seen/played it).

Spielberg's War of the Worlds Trailer - with French subtitles, this blog IS international you know

I didn't bother going to see Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" at the cinema; I mistakenly believed it would be just *another* retelling of the Journalist's journey. I ended up watching it when I'd just had Wee Girl - and couldn't believe the liberties taken with the source material; Josh Friedman and Spielberg must have had nerves of steel to mess with such a classic. But I for one really thought it paid off. The goal completely changes; instead of the Journalist merely trying to survive whilst documenting the apocalypse, Tom Cruise's absent father must take his children to his Ex in Boston, by hook or by crook. This neatly side steps the whole Deus Ex Machina of the aliens being defeated by the cold virus and introduces a whole set of new problems for the characters involved, most of which really worked - especially when Tom Cruise is forced to choose between his children on the hill. The real jewel in the crown though has to be the adaptation of the priest to the Apocalypto who threatens Cruise and his daughter's survival in the cellar by being completely nuts and trying to take on the creatures, whom Cruise is forced to kill to protect his child.

And finally, just for fun:

War of The Worlds in 30 seconds - with bunnies. SYLVIA!

A surprisingly well done parody of the 1953 version.
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Have you seen/heard any of these versions - what did you think of them? What makes a "successful" adaptation in your eyes? Over to you...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Guest Post: Sarah Kalnay-Watson on Short Filmmaking

I met Sarah and Charles at an Adrian Mead course in Edinburgh about two years ago and have been following "Song for the Dead's" progress via Charles, who's been messaging me on Facebook. It's proved such a journey, I thought they had to share it with all Bang2writers too - it's a real triumph of hope over experience, something I can relate to only too well after the issues we had in making Slash back in October. Enjoy...
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I’ve always been told that being a film producer is a labour of love: there is not much thanks in it, which is why you need to love making movies – not just a little, but a whole lot! And my current project, ‘A Song for the Dead’ has been testing my will to make movies right from the start. ‘A Song for the Dead’ was supposed to be our honeymoon. We had decided that instead of spending the money we had saved over the last year from numerous house sitting jobs on a luxurious honeymoon, we would instead make a movie with it. I still ask myself at times why I chose this over going to the Bahamas.

The first incidence was brushed off as a coincidence. In a very early draft of the script, a drinking and driving accident was written in. The day after the scene was written I was hit by a drunk driver and rushed to hospital. I laughed it off with the writer (my husband) and said this was a good sign for the film, as most horror/thriller films that have these occurrences end up being hits.

If only I had kept my big mouth shut. The film gods were ready to throw everything they had at me, and trust me, I’m surprised that I never gave up.

It was the day after my wedding and less then a month to principal photography and my Director had just finished telling me that she was unable to do the shoot due to personal reasons. Anger surged through all of my body because of the situation I had been thrown into.

My next week was full of searching for a new Director that would agree to the shooting schedule already set up and most importantly, someone who shared the same creative vision that my husband and I had. Thank goodness Will Wallace was an executive producer on the project; he knew a few people that he thought might be interested in the gig. They were all very talented, but many had conflicting schedules and would not be available. Unfortunately, we didn’t find a Director quick enough to appease our Director of Photography, who told us the he would be passing on the project. So now we were down two members of the team and there were only two weeks to go until principal photography.

I literally sat there and cried. I was missing the two most important people on my production crew and all I wanted was to get this movie made. I couldn’t afford to change the date. I had already purchased all the plane tickets for my out of town cast and crew. I had already lined up equipment rental and most of all, my in-town crew was really excited about the project and I didn’t want to let them down. One of the things that we had going for us (but at the same time against us, in finding a Director and DOP) was that we were shooting this film at a remote cabin in the North of Canada, on a lake just outside of the city of Yellowknife. Everyone knew it was a logistical nightmare to shoot there – but if we could pull it off, it would be spectacular – something to truly be proud of.

I was finding it very hard, even with the help of our Executive Producer, to get replacements on such short notice. We were literally minutes away from calling the shoot off because of how much it was now going to cost us - as the only people that we could find that could possibly do the shoot were in the United States - and it is not cheap to fly here. Not to mention the added expense of food and accommodation, as there was no way that I was going to get the same deal I had made with my former Director and DOP.

I was really conflicted between letting down my cast and crew, my sanity and my wallet.

I talked it over with my husband. We both were devastated, but we knew we couldn’t do it. We said we would sleep on our decision to cancel the film and see how we felt in the morning.

When we both woke up the next morning, neither of us wanted to call it off. We would dive into our savings and put everything we had into the project, because we wanted so much to make this movie. Macaroni and cheese and hot dogs would now be our staple foods – we could no longer afford anything else.

Luck shined down on us that day as I opened up my inbox. Stephen Savage, who would be wrapping his feature, Legacy, the week before our shoot date, was happy with the terms we set out and most of all he loved the script. He said yes to being our director! Within the next two days, Scott Carrithers agreed to be our new DOP and we were very pleased with him coming up, especially since he had shot in the North of Canada before and would know what to expect. Things were looking up!

Our film was back on schedule and we were ready to get things started, I could not have been happier. Then we got the message back from our shippers that the equipment was going to cost us 11,000 dollars to ship up to Yellowknife! That was not in the budget, in fact it was almost the entire budget! Fortunately, one of our local shipping companies came to my rescue and gave me a price that I could live with. I figured that was the end of my problems. After all, they always say problems come in threes.

Not for this movie.

The night before the shooting was to start I got the news that my make-up artist was quitting. I checked with my back up artist, but she was out of town, so were all the others that the rest of the crew tried to get us in touch with.

There was only one thing left to do – I became the make-up artist too!

I spent next two nights researching make up techniques on the internet, from the basics to black eyes and busted noses. I would get up extra early, do my producing work then make my way to the local drug store and start shopping. I was beginning to get tired, very tired.

Other than being thrown in to make-up for my ‘dead girl’, the first day of shooting seemed to be going perfect – everyone was on time and the weather was working with us – and for a shoot that needs everyone to be taken to a location only accessible by boat – that was great!

I was half way through that first day when my AD came running into the cabin telling me that the boat was sinking.

My first reaction was that this was just a first day prank, but as it turns out, the speed boat being used for the shoot was sinking into the lake. But my crew being the wonderful and enthusiastic team that it was, jumped into the frigid September waters and began to bail the boat out, even Charles (my husband) and I were down on the dock helping get that boat out of the water.

The funny thing was, all that was going through my head as I held the hose, as my actor, Josh Emerson, who was insisting that he could help, was that the continuity would be ruined. Insurance would cover the sunken boat, but it wouldn’t stop continuity problems if Josh got wet!

Day two, three and four brought rain, which meant a re-write for the ending of the film, but we all pulled through and filming wrapped, I figured I was now in the clear.

But I wasn’t.

When the time came for me to send off one of the hard drives with the film footage on it down to Los Angeles for editing, we discovered that the master copy had crashed and wasn’t working. Not a problem, this is why we have back-ups. Too bad for me, the back-up crashed as well. Why couldn’t the odds work in my favour for the lottery instead? That would have saved me a lot of headaches. So, with the scrimping of a few more dollars from our savings - more macaroni and cheese for us - we were just able to afford the recovery. They told us that it was not 100% certain that we would be able to get our film back as there was electrical and mechanical failure on the drives.

The next few days were some of the longest in my life. Would all the troubles I got through be for nothing? Would I still have a film?

The film gods obviously decided that they had thrown enough at us and the data recovery people told us that they saved our movie – all files were recovered!

I have learned that, regardless of what is thrown at me on future projects, as long as I have faith in the script (as I did with this one), have a great and dedicated cast and crew and an unshakeable love for making films, that I can face any challenge.

‘A Song for the Dead’ is now in Post-Production, with a 2010 release… providing no other obstacles are thrown my way.
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Thanks Sarah! Join the "Song For The Dead" fan page on Facebook.

Do you have a story that would make a great guest post? So far we've had filmmaking mayhem, notes on conferences, courses & seminars, strong-minded opinions on writing and more - even rescuing a duck!! Check out the guest posts and email me on Bang2write"at"aol"dot"com if you would like a moment on here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Free Writers' Course: Screen Lab 2010

The mighty Adrian Mead has been in touch to let Bang2writers know of his latest FREE course, Screen Lab 2010. As most of you know, I've been to most of Adrian's courses and have found them to be incredibly useful, not only because Adrian is a powerhouse full of information, but because he's really inspirational and gets everyone networking like crazy. So what are you waiting for? APPLY NOW.

Screen Lab 2010

You are currently writing short stories, novels or plays. Ever wondered what it takes to write for Film and TV? After the success of last year's course, Scottish Book Trust is pleased to announce the launch of Screen Lab 2010.

Screen Lab will show you exactly what it takes to break into one of the most competitive and lucrative areas of writing and will also include a day on adaptation.

Application Criteria: Screen Lab is open to writers at all stages of their career. Applicants who have not followed the application guidelines will not be considered. Successful applicants must commit to attending the entire Screen Lab. Click here for full details of how to apply for Screen Lab.

Venue: Scottish Book Trust Edinburgh

Dates: Friday 26th, Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th February

Times: 10am to 5pm

Deadline for applications
: Thursday 4th February

Full details on the website

Some comments from last year’s participants...

I learned an amazing amount. They gave a clear route-map into a profession that's notoriously hard to break into.

Having access to professional writers, actors and cinematographers on such a personal level has bolstered my fervour, not only for screenwriting but creative writing more generally.

Thank you very much for organising such a wonderful course.


Thanks Adrian... I know a fair few of you out there in www.land have already done Screen Lab, so it would be great if you can share your thoughts/experiences/links to your own blog in the comments section. And let us know if you go!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Can't Get Read, Won't Get Read

I can't tell you how many times I've heard in seminars or short courses or read on forums and message boards the following lament:

But I can't get read...

Really? You're a scriptwriter, you've got a script - and no one in the whole universe will read it? Come on.

The problem with a lot of writers is they set the bar too high too early in their careers. They write their *brilliant script* which *this BIG production company* simply MUST read... Then go to their website and see "no unsolicited material" and get disappointed. Disappointment is swiftly followed by bitterness and before long they're telling all and sundry how difficult it is to get read - which, if you pardon my bluntness, only serves to make said writer look like an arse.

Whether you see writing as a job or a vocation, either of these have a path. If you were a trainee doctor, you wouldn't just be handed a scalpel and told to get on with it having read a few books about surgery, would you? Whilst scriptwriting is hardly life-or-death (apart from maybe to the writer concerned), it's the same sort of thing: you have to earn your stripes first.

Realism is the scriptwriter's friend. Knowing exactly where you are on that "path" is key to getting satisfaction from your journey as a writer. So if you're right at the beginning, accept you may not be able to run to your writing heroes' front doors and bang on them. Instead, you may find yourself collaborating with producers and directors - most often for no money - that you find off Shooting People, Talent Circle and Mandy. As time goes on, you may be targeting the likes of Digital Shorts or asking for money from various film funds and initiatives. You may find yourself doing corporate work like virals, pop videos, website copy or text message alerts; you may find yourself in writing side avenues like journalism or radio.

And what, pray tell, is wrong with any of those? Absolutely nothing. You may earn a little money here and there, you may earn nothing at all - but you've STARTED your journey, you're moving along the path. You'll be meeting people, making stuff (or at least developing it) - and that is what is key, that is what will get you ahead in the long run. Not getting read by the big production company.

Besides which, you can always get read by anyone you choose to tip your hat at if you try hard enough. Even at the start of my career, I still managed (embarrassingly, now I think of it: my scripts were BAD) to get read by loads of big companies, even those that stated "no unsolicited material" on their websites. How? By asking. It helps to meet people face to face if you can, but even if you can't, sometimes people do say yes when you ask them nicely. Drawing on a personal link between you and the person or company helps; I discovered one lady Dev Exec had gone to the same school as me via a Facebook alumni page for example, I wrote to her with that as the ice breaker. It worked, she read my script - she hated it, but hey ho there you go.

So just get on with it. It's not easy, but it really is as simple as that.

Written a script, but not sure what to do next? Check out my "Now What?" post and/or Script Angel Hayley's posts on the subject and list of screenplay contests.

Friday, January 08, 2010

CeltX 2.7 Out Now

I'm slammed with writing work at the mo, so just dropping in to let you know the newest version of the screenwriting software CeltX is out now. CeltX is completely free and my favourite of all freeware format tools, though personally I'm a Final Draft user and always will be.

Download CeltX 2.7 here.

Not sure what software to go with? Read my round up and others' recommendations here.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

UK Copyright Myths Exploded

Copyright is something that comes round and round again - message boards, forums and postings here, there and everywhere seem to *always* say something *like*:

I'm about to send my script off to a producer. How do I protect it?

Seems to me copyright only appears important to writers not used to sending out their scripts; it can be a daunting prospect and part of the fear of that unknown is how *safe* our work is in the hands of these anonymous producers and agents. I've never once had a conversation with a seasoned writer that goes like this:

ME: So who'd you send it to?

WRITER: Various... Had to copyright it first though, don't want anyone stealing it!

The fact is, no one is out to nick your script. I can't stress this enough. A prodco or agent can work with you on developing your script (if it's good enough) or they can move on to try and find a better script and/or writer. Do they really want to add a third option to that - nick the script and produce it *as is*: what's the likelihood of that, anyway? No script is produced *as is* anyway. Even the best spec script in the world will need development to make it production-ready.

So here are my top 5 copyright myths exploded:

5. America insists on copyright, so the UK must too. America certainly seems more *into* copyright than the UK; often a scribe will be asked to sign a release form AS WELL AS provide evidence of copyright (and I have done both and never had my script nicked). I have also posted scripts on Inktip, so I had to copyright them and for this I used the very comprehensive service Duly Noted. But sites like Inktip don't want to get stuck in the middle of any potential [bogus] copyright ruckus between any two parties, so it's very wise of them I think to have this stipulation. In comparison then, have I ever been asked to sign a release form or been asked to provide evidence of copyright here in the UK? Nope. Not once. Have I ever had my script nicked? Nope. BTW, if someone tells you it HAS to be WGA registered to get read in the USA, in my experience that's not true; though individual companies might insist on it, I've had plenty of reads by various American companies and never used the WGA.

4. Copyrighting my script makes me look professional. Not in the UK it doesn't; it makes you look paranoid: in fact, sometimes that (c) on the front of your script can even act as a BARRIER to you getting read! As Adrian Mead wisely says at most of his seminars, plastering the (c) sign all over the front of your script makes you look like a nutter to readers. Why? Because no one is going to nick your script. End of. So by putting the (c) on, you're actually showing your inexperience as a writer and potentially putting readers at prodcos, agencies, etc OFF.

3. Writing my idea down means I have the copyright. Er... no it doesn't. In the UK, it is not possible to copyright an idea - and thank F for that, else we'd have only one werewolf or vampire movie; one time travel or alien idea; one "fish out of water" comedy; one "coming of age" drama and so it goes on. Because it's not possible to copyright ideas, means writers are FREE to write about whatever they want: THIS IS A GOOD THING. I think what writers mean here, is by actually WRITING THE SCREENPLAY they have the copyright on the SCREENPLAY (not the idea). And you do by virtue of creating it. But the screenplay itself is where the copyright ends, it does not cover the idea behind it.

2. NDAs (non disclosure agreements) are the same as release forms. Sometimes I am asked to sign an NDA by a production company or initiative when I read or script edit for them. This is not because they are afraidI will STEAL the script, but because they want to protect their investment on the basis a single loose-tongued reader could give a rival company the heads-up on what said prodco is doing to a *certain* project which they may be keeping secret for a *specific reason*. When there is such a lot of money involved - even a "low budget" pic could be two or three hundred thousand pounds in the making - this can be a good idea. Note this only happens when there is [very almost] a deal in place - talent attached, budgets drawn up, that sort of thing. NDAs have no place with specs simply doing the rounds; they are not the same as release forms. Besides which, it's the WRITER who signs release forms (a kind of "permission to read" if you will), whereas READERS sign NDAs.

1. Your script is in jeopardy of being stolen every time you send it out. It's really not. I've been a script reader for donkey's years now and have never once heard a CREDIBLE case of it happening. However, as I always say to clients: if copyrighting the script makes YOU feel better, then why not? It has to all intents and purposes done its job - just don't plaster that (c) on the front page!

Still confused? Check out this brilliant fact sheet on UK copyright.

Friday, January 01, 2010

New Year's Resolutions for Screenwriters: A Script Reader's Wish List

It's that time of year again... And we end up with dozens of blog posts from dozens of scribes saying they're gonna write *this or that* script, improve on *this or that* existing script and/or enter *this or that* contest or initiative. This inevitably means a flux in stuff *doing the rounds* (floodgates usually open around April time for me and last most of the summer, especially with so many writers being teachers too).

On this basis then, I've composed a (mostly) tongue-in-cheek look at a list of things I'd rather I DIDN'T see as a script reader in the forthcoming scripts of 2010:

5. Non Linearity. Please, please, please, stop writing your scripts upside down and sideways and back to front: chances are, your story is going to come across as disjointed, confusing and ultimately: nuts. So many specs in the script pile think they're offering a "unique perspective" to the story by not employing the traditional order of beginning, middle and end. Think about STORY, not STYLE. If non-linearity is best for your story: be my guest - do it, as long as you actually know what you're doing with it, of course. But 9/10? It's really not needed. REALLY.

4. Cliches. There are a quite a few of cliches that sneak through again and again in the scripts I read, regardless of genre, story, or whatever. Three pop up with surprising regularity and the first is the kid who has an iPod on, thus doesn't hear someone upstairs/the big monster/some huge ruckus. The second: the man who surprises a woman, who ends up screaming her lungs out and attracts the attention of police/passersby who assume he tried to attack her (when he didn't). The third? The DARK STRANGER ON THE HILLTOP watching the house in a supernatural thriller, horror or spooky style script where a couple go on holiday in some kind of *weird location* because THEIR KID IS DEAD. Less often, but still bringing up the rear is someone who is drinking, hears something surprising then SPURTS IT OUT OF THEIR MOUTH ALL OVER EVERYONE, usually on a par with a character "having an idea" and bringing their hand to their head and hitting their palm against their forehead: "Eureka!" Please, please, please stop. Kthxbye.

3. Dr Who/Torchwood/any other SF big budget TV shows. I love that TV scripts are doing the rounds almost as much as features now, but wish I saw more pilots that are NOT SF-related AND big budget. This is not because I'm not keen on the genre - I've read some excellent pilots in this vein, actually - but because variety is the spice of life. In the last year, for every 5 SF pilots, I've got a period drama; for every three period dramas, I get a cop show; every once in a while I get a medical show. THAT'S MORE OR LESS IT. There is more to TV than these three/four things: show the readers what you can do, writers! Even a low budget, small scale "urban sci fi" would make a nice change. There is more to life than than time travel, monsters, giant vortexes, aliens and genetically modified people/animals/insects.

2. Joss Whedon-style dialogue. Yes, yes: Joss is God, even *I* can't argue with that one. But why not write *your* kind of dialogue, rather than his? Besides anything, American vernacular rarely works in UK scripts; we might all speak English, but we don't speak the same kind of English.

1. Female characters who are really men with their names/measurements changed. We often hear that equality is "women being able to do what men do": this is utter, utter bobbins. Men and women are DIFFERENT: they have differing world views, thus differing responses to the conflict in their lives. Yet time and time again in scripts, female characters - even the ones that don't kick ass - have male responses to the problems that confront them in the narrative they find themselves in, either because the writer is a male or because the female writer has bought into the ideal that women should somehow be the *same* as men. When composing the responses of female characters to certain situations in scripts then, I always think it's worth considering the CONTRAST between men and women and the likelihood of what they *may or may not* might do. For example, if you're writing about the break up of a relationship between two characters in your script, consider how men and women deal with breakups: is it the same... or different? Even when men and women react *the same* - ie. become crazed because they can't deal with the break up - is that really the same? What is the difference between a BUNNY BOILER and STALKER? Which is which? What might they do, dependent on their gender, abilities, strength and world view?

So... Happy New Year and happy writing!