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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Genre And Craft

I hear a lot from writers who say they *can't* write a particular genre - or that two different genres are MILLIONS OF MILES APART from each other and are thus "different skills".

They're not.

Writing is the SKILL, genre is just a part of craft. Whilst we all probably agree talent cannot be taught - some have it, some don't, some develop it themselves over time - craft definitely CAN be taught.

For one thing, none of us suddenly wake up one day with a knowledge of all the elements of HOW to write a script. We may have absorbed a lot of the techniques via osmosis as we're all bombarded with media products every day, but we still have to learn to make the words physically appear on the page, interest our potential audience AND (perhaps more crucially) MAKE SENSE. No mean feat AT ALL. (This is why I get so annoyed with people who say Media and English students are dossers who just mess about for three years, or those working in the Media already don't work their arses off... Perhaps those naysayers think the programmes on their televisions, the movies at the cinemas, the tunes they download or the books and magazines they buy just appear by MAGIC?)

Anyway.

Going back to genre then, it's defined in the dictionary as "a class or category of artistic endeavour having a particular form, content, technique, or the like: the genre of epic poetry; the genre of symphonic music."

Immediately from the above definition it's apparent that all that separates say, Horror from Comedy, are their CONVENTIONS. At its base level, the difference is clear: Horror is supposed to be scary; Comedy is supposed to be funny. Two VERY different things. But then, a Horror-Comedy is supposed to be BOTH - and very many writers have successfully nailed this sub genre type and provided us with films both scary AND funny and no one in the audience says, "Hang on a minute, that's not SUPPOSED TO WORK!"

Why shouldn't it?

Let's expand on convention, beyond Horror being scary and Comedy being funny. Horror and Comedy have very particular conventions. In a Horror, there is usually a *threat* of some kind that needs to be vanquished by a certain time, else they all die: a serial killer, a big monster, the people themselves within a group dynamic perhaps. Thanks to the like of ALIEN over thirty years ago, female characters in Horrors have carved themselves a niche in this genre; though we still see the rather typical "damsel in distress" role functions and those heroines who DESERVE to get carved up/eaten (le sigh), we are *just* as likely to see female characters who are flawed, smart and even those telling the men to pull themselves together. If nothing else, we have the likes of Alice from the RESIDENT EVIL movies to fall back on: she's gorgeous, she kicks ass and she's more capable than any male character who crosses her path, even those she actually likes. But most of all, there's very often a female character who is the leader, not a man; she frequently is the lone survivor or at least the one who ensures *someone* gets out with her.

Comedy, in comparison, is a very male domain. Comedies can be very diverse in terms of content, but boiled down most often deal with scenarios where a character has to do *something* by a *deadline* or *this bad thing happens* and there's *much hilarity* as the character struggles to achieve this in time. The Buddy Movie - very often a Cop Movie, but sometimes taking in Frat Brothers, animals and even toys like in TOY STORY - is a staple of this genre and not only has a male protagonist, but very often places his second in command as a male as well. Frequently in this Bromance age, the problem relies on doing *something* for a woman or more crucially, BEFORE A WOMAN FINDS OUT - ie. in THE HANGOVER, where the guys must find the groom BEFORE the Bride discovers their misdemeanour and goes mental at them. (The Romantic Comedy sometimes offers us a female protagonist - I'm thinking Sandra Bullock here - but in the post-Judd Apatow era of men finding luuuurve and learning to "better people" and ditching the Playstations and beer, I would argue we see female protags in the RomCom less and less nowadays).

But let's look at those boiled down versions of the genres again:

Horror: A threat that needs to be vanquished - by a certain time. A bias towards female characters, especially as the leader of the group and/or lone survivor.

Comedy: *Something* needs to be done by a certain time - or else. A bias towards male characters, particularly as small groups - with two males or "buddies" often dominating.

Looking at the two genres under the microscope like that then, they're not *that* different, are they? Both rely on a deadline of some kind, what differs is what they're actually doing - and who's doing it, plus why. In short, it's all about EXECUTION.

I've worked with many writers who've said they "really want" to write a Comedy, a Horror, a Thriller, a SciFi, a *whatever*... but "can't"... Those writers will not accept my belief that actually, if you REALLY want to, you can write ANYTHING. I don't write SciFi because I DON'T WANT TO. I write Thriller because I love them; but I had to LEARN what makes Thrillers *work* as a genre.

A common rebuttal is "but I'm not funny" when it comes to comedy - but comedy is a matter of taste, not handed down by God/Fate/Richard Dawkins/Dr Who to a Chosen Few. I've read copious amounts of comedy scripts that I've not thought funny in the slightest, yet others have thought absolutely hilarious and vice versa. Comedy is about finding your audience's "funny bone" - what do THEY want and find funny? I really enjoyed JUST FRIENDS - not just for the stupid quips and *ridiculous* songs by Samantha ("ASSHOLES! YOU GUYS ARE ASSHOLES!"), but the huge number of comical scraps, especially between Chris and his younger brother, which were funny to me simply because I remembered having scraps like that with my OWN siblings. Not one bit of that is necessarily funny ON THE ACTUAL PAGE, because so much of comedy relies on the performance.

There's absolutely no reason you can't write in ANY genre if you are prepared to put the work in. Genre is craft. Craft can be learnt. So learn the conventions of the genre you want to write. Watch all the movies in that genre, big and small; read all the scripts. Go to events, learn about it. Read articles, blogs, soak it all up.

You CAN do it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Southern Script Fest, March 27th 2011

I was at The Southern Script Fest this weekend just past. The SSF (follow on Twitter here or join the Facebook group here) is a new event run by Bournemouth University, by students for students and professionals alike. They had a great line up of speakers, including Smack The Pony and Green Wing's Fay Rusling, Coronation Street's Jonathan Harvey - and of course, lil' ol me! I was talking about what can be found lurking in the spec pile, both in terms of genre and those recurring elements such as craft (ie. overwritten scene description) and those more surprising, pet peevey elements, like the weird fact SO MANY SCRIPTS open on alarm clocks going off and characters getting ready for the day! Definitely a writer's event to watch out for in the future, bookmark it now!

My talk went really well and I totally overran by about half an hour - and STILL didn't get through *all* my slides! This was down to the impressive interaction of the delegates: they really knew what they were talking about, asking insightful questions and making great observations. I really enjoyed myself, even if I totally didn't stick to the "start late... and finish early" scriptwriting mantra! I saw Danny Stack and Tim Clague floating around briefly at the FREE LUNCH (genius!) and me ol' mucker Chris Jones of London Comedy Writers Festival was there too and in the afternoon we heard some really good pitches when we found ourselves on a panel (SUBLIMINAL MESSAGE: bought your ticket yet??? Use discount code BANG2WRITE to get £25 off!!! END OF SUBLIMINAL MESSAGE).

For those of you who couldn't make it, here's a quick round up of several things that came up in my session and in the questions afterwards:

The misandry of spec realist drama. You will oft hear me talking about the misogyny of the silver screen, but something I feel JUST as passionate about is the representation of males, particularly working class men, in some of the spec dramas I read. Too often these realist dramas place the blame for society's woes at the feet of apparently lazy, violent addicts on the dole who all live on sinkhole estates and beat up their wives and girlfriends. Go beyond stereotype and break the mould.

Harder Sell # 1: Cliche. I provided extensive tongue-in-cheek lists of cliched scenes and ideas I frequently see in scripts and explained why they drove me MAD, such as the "they were dead all along" idea or the scene where someone spits their drink out in surprise - YARGH! But it's important to remember that a cliche is not a cliche WHEN IT WORKS. Anything *can* work, given the right context.

Harder Sell # 2: Familiar Ideas. There are lots of ideas that seem to go around and around, year after year. Rather than think then, "I *can't* do this, script readers have seen it before", consider this: there may be a GOOD REASON it keeps coming back, even if it hasn't made it to screen YET. Perhaps you're the one who can make this idea finally work? To do this however, you need to recognise you need enough differentiation to *make* it work.

Originality is overrated. Producers AND audiences want "the same... but different." They're not sure *what* to do with something 100% original that's never been seen before. That's not to say it's impossible to get something entirely original on screen, but it is difficult. There's NOTHING WRONG with creating a "new take" on something we've seen before... In fact, it's to be ENCOURAGED.

Genre. Knowing your genre conventions is SO IMPORTANT, whatever you're writing. Whilst "new takes" are good, try and reinvent the wheel and you may end up writing something completely different to what you intend.

Confidence is key. I hear so often at talks from people who talk DOWN their own writing or scripts. DON'T DO THIS. Instead of thinking, "Argh, my script is not working" or "my writing is rubbish", turn it around: think instead, "What IS working in my script?" or "what element am *I* good at?" You WILL find something, however small. Build your confidence from there.

See the rest of the photos from the session, here and join my growing troop of Bang2writers here!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Guest Post: Is Film Criticism another Casualty in the Culture Wars? By Kitty Holman

Many thanks to Kitty Holman, who contributes today's guest post on Film Criticism! If you'd like to write a post for this blog, let me know on Bang2writeATaolDOTcom... Now, over to you Kitty!
For those of us who are in the business of either producing or consuming films, movie reviews and criticism have always played an important role in our evaluation of film as art, for some more than others. Since the astronomic rise of Internet media in the past five or ten years, however, traditional film critics have become veritable dinosaurs they're influence (if ever such an influence existed) has been drowned out in a sea of movie bloggers. Of course, we can argue all day whether the rise of amateur movie reviewing on the Internet is a bad thing or a good thing, but this takes out nuance from the equation. And nuance is a characteristic of argument that is all too often cast aside in the vitriol that comprises so much of cultural criticism in the first place.

So the questions that many of us are asking are quite simple: Is the democratization of film criticism making the art or criticism worse, better, or does it have little impact at all? Are traditional print and televised critics losing their relevance? Can anyone "do criticism"? While looking for answers to some of these questions is important, it would behoove us to perhaps take a slightly different approach. For one, there's no denying that we are in an age in which "everyone is a critic," but some forget that everyone's has been a critic for centuries, much to "professional" cultural critics' dismay. The only difference now is that the Internet provides a platform in which more people can disseminate their views to more people.

That isn't to say, however, that traditional critics matter more or less than they ever have. Before the Internet, bad movies were still blockbuster hits despite bad reviews, and well-made, "artful" fare has always had a more modest following. So in a way, reviews have never "mattered" in terms of changing popular opinion one way or another. If anything, I'd say film review readers read reviews to confirm their tastes, previously through the authority of a print critic, now through the authority of anyone who cares to purvey an opinion. Of course, there's a lot of crap amateur stuff to wade through, but there is a lot of wonderfully incisive film criticism in the blogosphere, too.

For those who write screenplays or are otherwise involved in the production of film, next to watching a ton of films and reading a ton of screenplays, reading film criticism is perhaps the best way to inform your craft. Why is that? Simply because good film criticism, whether in print or on the Web, makes you think. An incisive review isn't one that presents a simplistic thumbs-up-or-down dichotomy, nor one that gives a short summary of the plot followed by a few remarks on its plausibility or the chemistry between its leads. A good review rather gives the whole picture it leverages an understanding of film history and film production in order to help readers grasp what the film does (successfully or unsuccessfully) in the context of wider artistic, social, and even political issues. For screenwriters, good film criticism expands the way we think about our art.

And that, perhaps, is the critic's foremost value, and you don't have to have a degree or any other credentials to present that value. So instead of lamenting or celebrating the supposed death of criticism, we should instead ask what constitutes good film criticism, no matter what the medium is or who the reviewer is. We should ask also what we can learn from it that will enable filmgoers and filmmakers alike to advance the development of film as an artistic whole.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: This guest post is contributed by Kitty Holman, who regularly writes for Nursing Colleges. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: kitty.holman20ATgmailDOTcom.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Stereotypes On Screen

So the Guardian carried this piece yesterday about stereotypical characters on screen: Women, Gay & Black People Still Shown As Stereotypes In Film, Says Study. I of course posted it on my personal Facebook and on Bang2writers. There's been some really interesting chat so far, which I have summed up (in my own words, not the Bang2writers') here as:

1) This is because most screenwriters are white, male and middle-class.

There is a lack of official information in general about writers: who they are, what they're concerned about or how the representations of those concerns end up on screen. If we look to The Film Council's 2007 report, Barriers To Diversity In Film, one thing it can definitely say is there is a lack of information about just about EVERYTHING, including crucially, how the attitudes of decision-makers impact on what audiences end up with on the silver screen in front of them. So, as well-intentioned as ANY writer may be in representing various issues and stories, the collaborative nature of film - not to mention its commercial aspect "getting bums on seats" - may also have a bearing on how a film ends up (positive or negative). Obvious stuff maybe, but perhaps underrated (especially if we consider point number 5, more of that in a bit).

However, it is said officially there IS a lack of female screenwriters, especially in film.

2) Most people just want shallow stuff to entertain them, anyway.

Just last week I made the point that genre films, even poor ones, have an excellent sense of audience and this accounts for their success. And of course there are very poor genre movies, which do very well at the box office. But is this because people WANT shallow stuff? I can't agree. Good genre movies can have excellent characterisation and can be every bit as challenging as any fancy drama. When faced with the choice of a good genre movie or a poor genre movie then, which are people going to choose? (B Movies aside, they're a special case as far as I'm concerned since they are typically for a niche audience).

So yes, there are shallow genre movies - but what "shallow" means depends on interpretation. But it's important to remember too there are shallow dramas with easy answers and stereotypical characters, too. There's absolutely no reason why ANY film can't have good, rounded characterisation... But the answer relies on more money on more script development.

3) No one is doing enough to challenge this.

Got to disagree with this - and not only because part of this very blog's remit is in flagging up strong female roles (or lack of them) in the spec/optioned pile and produced movies. Let's consider the stellar work of Women In Hollywood, the UK's Women in Film and Television or The London Screenwriters' Festival's empathy for women writers, which is NOT just down to me, but the whole team. Consider the work of The Magic Hour, a digital shorts scheme for disabled filmmakers, Queer As Film celebrating gay film and filmmakers, or Skillset's work in addressing the under-representation of people from BAME backgrounds in film. These are just a small proportion of those working very hard to address the issues, too - but don't take my word for it, find them yourself - or even found your own group! Why not?

It's very easy to feel depressed when you're underrepresented or misrepresented. Every time I look at the silver screen I feel burgeoning hope - which too often swiftly falls to disappointment and sometimes, even rage. But instead of getting depressed about it, know we live in a time when finding others with the same concerns as yourself is just a mouse-click away. So don't complain, DO SOMETHING. Join others. Get talking, get doing- whatever that entails. It's the only way forward, be proactive and positive and you will feel better.

4) The really crap/stereotypical scripts don't get made, anyway.

If only this were true! I believe the study makes an excellent point regarding produced movies, particularly regarding how older women are too often "sexless" or "cougars", but also on the representation of gay people being overly sexualised and "camp" or black people too often being portrayed as gang members and/or drug dealers. Though I haven't read the actual study yet, just the article's summary, I'm not sure the stereotypes even go far enough, especially regarding ethnic minorities. Nowadays, black people are too often captains of the POLICE or the other side of the law. It's ridiculous. But also, let's look to young women, who are frequently self-haters and self-harmers, promiscuous and drug taking. The mentally ill who are too frequently killer psychos. Children are prodigies of some sort, or at least have ridiculously extended vocabularies. YAWN. Where is the variation? This is before we even get on to the stereotypical plots on TOP OF THAT - the character who comes home early to find their spouse in bed with someone else; the policeman just days from retirement on one last helluva job; the family who live in a tower block who are rocked by a series of personal revelations... DOUBLE YAWN.

The silver screen is awash with crappy characterisation, quite literally... and I believe this in turn skews people's perception of others MASSIVELY. But even if you think that's a load of codswallop, be my guest, but consider this instead: I don't believe it's ANY ACCIDENT the spec pile is filled with such crappy characterisation because writers with the best intentions, attempt to create something "saleable" believing stereotypes is what sells because THAT'S WHAT THEY SEE. Is that really so hard to believe?

5) No one is *stopped* from being a writer, so stop whining and write.

No one is stopping anyone from writing... that's 100% correct. What's great about the actual writing - of anything - is its democracy. Pick up a pen, fire up your laptop, create your own world. Go for it. But are people being stopped from SELLING? That's the $64,000 question. Have you ever heard from a producer that your movie with a female protagonist will "never sell" - no matter how good it is - because men don't want to watch "women's stories"? Have you ever been asked to change a protagonist's or character's gender or race or sexual orientation to make it "more audience friendly"? Have you ever been asked to do some work for a company and told to come in RIGHT NOW - and when you've replied you'd be glad to come in the next day, but you have to find some childcare first - you've been dropped like a hot stone?

We hear all the time that the MAJOR DEMOGRAPHIC for cinema-goers is 15-25 year old males. Actually, waaay back in the early noughties that Film Council Report, "Lack of Female Screenwriters" discovered this wasn't true at all. In fact, young women out buy young men in terms of cinema ticket sales. But producers steadfastedly hold on to the notion that it's 15-25 year old males who go, **taking** their women friends with them (and assume said males will not return the favour if the females pick the movie). What's more, I read somewhere - I believe it was someone's run-down of the annual Power To The Pixel conference, but I can't remember - that young men are staying in nowadays more and more to play video games which are becoming more and more in-depth, leaving their girlfriends who aren't gamers with more leisure-time of their own to fill, with many opting for the cinema WITH girl friends.

But the more people - producers, writers, directors, whoever - who hold on to the notion that the core cinema-going demographic is STILL 15-25 males, the more films will be made on this basis: it is, in effect, a self-fulfilling prophecy and one that is swiftly becoming OUT OF DATE.

That's why JUST writing these great female characters, black and Asian characters, gay characters, disabled characters et al is not going to cut it: we NEED to talk about this as well and make others realise there ARE barriers in the way, like out-of-date notions on *just who* goes to the cinema. Talking about these things is the first step to ensure these things CHANGE; from the talk, we can take ACTION.

Even if you couldn't care less about fairness or equality, feel that it's over-stated or people are just getting their knickers in a knot, I figure MOST people want to see an end to stereotypical characters, if only to see more variation on-screen... Because everyone wants to see a GOOD MOVIE that doesn't rely on boring stereotypes!

So let's make a start and get rid of stereotypical characterisation in our scripts and get talking about it. Ready... Set... Go!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Monster Munch: KILL/EAT EVERYONE... And The Other Stuff

SPOILERSI've been talking and thinking a lot about creature features recently thanks to my mate and co-writer Jared (yes, the one who was about 47 hours late AND went to the wrong Coach & Horses that time. I will never forgive him and you shouldn't either).

I've read A LOT of creature features via Bang2write over the years (though interestingly, hardly any in the last eighteen months or so). One thing spec creature features (CFs hereafter) usually do well is THE KILLING. And that's unsurprising, since THE KILLING (and ripping, tearing and maiming) is easily the most "identifiable" element of the creature feature (bar the actual monster).

Yet creature feature specs hardly ever "hold up" in the same way as a produced monster movie, even a poor one, so I thought I'd take a look at why - looking at three produced CF movies of the past ten years: The Cave, The Descent and Pitch Black.

I've written before there's loads of movies about with the "same idea" and that originality is overrated. With this in mind then, The Cave and The Descent have essentially the same premise: a load of cavers go into a big hole and there's monsters inside. Run! Both even had prologue sequences: The Cave showed us Romanian guys opening up the mouth of the hole under the big church; in The Descent we see the death of Sarah's family before that ill-fated caving trip.

So let's look at the differences:

The Cave was American and The Descent was British. The Cave had the more of less "classic" cast set up made probably most famous by Alien: a bunch of guys and two gals. The Descent, interestingly, had an all-female cast (of cavers, anyway). The Cave was classic Hollywoodised fare, with good-looking fellas (of various ethnic backgrounds, thangyew) with rippling muscles and at least one girl in practically her bra and pants, even when rock climbing. In comparison The Descent had more of a "nightmarescape" feel to it. Oh yeah, and probably the most important difference: I found The Cave to be crap and non-scary, whereas I thought The Descent was actually quite good and definitely scary.

Now let's look at Pitch Black. Like The Cave and Descent after it and like Aliens before it, Pitch Black includes multiple monsters (rather than the lone creature of Alien, Alien 3, Predator or Predator 2). Again there is a cast of both male and females of various backgrounds, though interestingly there are children and teenagers present too - and children and teens die, unlike Newt in Aliens and just about every other CF with kids in I can think of. Like The Cave it was a Hollywoodised affair, but that didn't stand in its way this time; I didn't find it as scary as The Descent by a long shot, but I did find it quite thrilling and there was enough gore to keep a hardcore Horror nut happy as far as I was concerned. There were some moments of humour too, missing from the other two:

JOHNS: How does it look?

RIDDICK checks out the terrain.

RIDDICK: Looks clear.

Johns attempts to make it out beyond the fallen vehicle just as a HUGE CREATURE bursts out, nearly taking his head off.

JOHNS: You said it was clear!

RIDDICK: I said it "looks clear".

JOHNS: Well, how does it look now?!

Riddick checks out the terrain again, turns back with a smirk.

RIDDICK: Looks clear.

So those are my thoughts on the films themselves, now let's take a look at those elements that make them up that are so often MISSING from spec CFs:

The Monster/s # 1: Simplicity. In The Cave and The Descent, the cavers descend directly into the creatures' lair. In Pitch Black, the survivors of the spaceship crash land on a planet infested with creatures. THAT IS IT. In essence, humans are TRESPASSING into creature territory. This is a great, simple way of investing in the premise: HERE THERE BE MONSTERS and all that... Go near them, get your head bitten off. Simples. Remember we saw similar in the Alien franchise - first Dallas, Lambert and Kane actually pick up the creature and take it into the Nostromo; then the colonists do similar on Burke's recommendation after hearing Ripley's story; then Ripley takes the creature onto the prison planet... forget about ALIEN: RESURRECTION (scientists recreating the creature is not the same and also, not simple in the same way). Sometimes the creatures come to human territory - the Predator is the most obvious here - but again, crucially, the marines blunder directly into The Predator's path WHILE DOING SOMETHING ELSE (ie. rescuing the hostages at that jungle base, drawing the Predator's interest as a foe to be reckoned with). In direct comparison then, in CF specs, often WHY the creatures turn up is FAR TOO COMPLICATED and/or WEIRD. Very often I'm writing, "why do the creatures attack NOW?" especially if the action takes place on Earth or above ground, near human territory.

The Monster/s # 2: Origin. Very often scribes want to let the audience know *exactly where* creatures have come from... This means there's a lot of electricity, radiation, demonic and screwed-up evolution monsters in the spec pile. In The Cave, they tell us a number of things VERY OVERTLY about the creatures, most notably they are demons (making the cave not a cave at all, but a Hell pit), but also they were those original Romanian builders who got trapped in the prologue (hence the tattoos on their hands). What's it to be?? This is a very good example of TOO MUCH exposition being more confusing than too little. In direct comparison, The Descent is much more skillful, suggesting via a single scene the creatures *could* be evolved from cavers trapped down there in Victorian times when they see that very old school bolt in the rock going one way, with none coming out. Similarly, in a single scene Pitch Black fills us in via the moving model which shows us about the eclipse and how another is coming - which they know already spells trouble, since Zeke is already dead by this point (down in the dark hole). If a scribe WANTS to tell us where the monsters have come from, then better to tell us ONCE, not multiple times. (NOTE: this is not the same as characters THEORISING about the creatures throughout, like Hud in Cloverfield, which NEVER answers where the creatures come from. If a scribe wants to go for this idea in their CF, I would recommend a few choice moments of theorising, rather than going overboard and having it as the only thing that character talks about).

The first death. Very frequently, the first death via creature comes FAR TOO LATE in CF specs I see... and when they do come early (ie. end of Act One is optimum, though I've seen people die even in the first ten pages to good effect), it's very frequently a RANDOM CHARACTER PUT THERE SIMPLY TO DIE who is not directly part of *our* group (ie. a random guide). Yet genre convention demands we invest in the GROUP in Horror, meaning we need someone we KNOW (ie. not a faceless dying person) to die first. It's even better if we *think* we know who it will be - and it turns out to be someone else. For example, one thing The Cave does well is it sets up one character, Briggs, AS IF he will die by sending him ahead of the group and them losing contact with him... Only for it to be Strode instead, who we the audience had deemed "safe" as he was at the BACK.

No going back. Too many times in CF specs there is a "way out"... And characters are too stupid to realise and take it. If we look then to all three of the movies, there is quite literally no going back. In The Cave, Strode's death brings the underwater rockfall that means they are all literally trapped underground; something similar happens in The Descent. In Pitch Black, they are literally stranded on the planet thanks to the original spaceship crash and must find their way off, rather like Ripley sends Bishop to get the other plane in Aliens. Again, all very simple... but so often missing in CF specs: TRAP your characters, FORCE them to confront the creatures.

Character # 1: The Group's problem is not *just* the monster. There should always be someone "in league with the beast" if not directly, then indirectly - and this is another element I frequently see missing from CF specs. In The Descent, Sarah doesn't just have to deal with the monsters, but the fact she's down there with Juno, whom she blames for her family's death. In the Cave, Jack is TURNING INTO one of the creatures literally, a twist on the Zombie myth. In Pitch Black, we have not only the duel for supremacy over the group between Johns and Riddick, we also have the weakest link Paris undermining everything including destroying their original plan (which most likely would have worked) through his own cowardice.

Character # 2: Group dynamic. Of the three, surprisingly I felt Pitch Black presented this the best. The survivors are the "fucked up family" Riddick describes them as - and they really do tear themselves apart via a series of revelations, whether it's John's addiction, Riddick's murderous past, Jack's gender or Fry's moment of madness in the cockpit during the prologue. Sarah has her friends with her, including her own sister - but crucially the addition of Juno gives the story the edge as both women size each other up throughout, with a confrontation between them near the mouth of the cave in the Resolution. Of the three, The Cave presented the poorest characterisation, despite its attempts to differentiate: most of the characters are marked out as creature fodder or are mere cardboard cut-outs, essentially become plot devices. Even the fact Jack and Tyler are brothers - and there's sibling rivalry hinted at - is not capitalised on and perhaps most surprising of all, when Jack begins to "turn", no one seems shocked or even that surprised, even saying, "He's not human anymore" - HELLO! DOESN'T THAT FREAK ANYONE OUT, JUST A LITTLE BIT?! The CF specs I see then are often more like The Cave in terms of character, than The Descent or Pitch Black.

CONCLUDING: If writing a CF, consider the notion of taking your human group directly into the path of the monsters *for some reason*, rather than the other way round; whilst the latter CAN work (ie. TREMORS, CLOVERFIELD), it's much more difficult. Consider the needs and dynamic of the GROUP, make us invest in them and surprise us when you kill one of them for the first time, whilst making sure your characters just can't walk away from the problem.

ON THIS BLOG BEFORE ABOUT CREATURE FEATURES

Heroes & Monsters

Know Your Enemy (But Don't Know Too Much)

The Required Reading List - Genre Section

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Kicking Arcs: Action Hero Journeys

SPOILERS PRESENT: TAKEN
Following last week's post about Horror Vs. Thriller, long term Bang2writer and all round top fella Ian Noakes had this question for me:

In the movie TAKEN with Liam Neeson, does Liam have any kind of flaw he needs to overcome by the end of the story or doesn't he change at all? If he does have a flaw, do you see it hindering his mission to find and save his daughter?

It's very tempting to view genre films as *mere* plot, with little room for characterisation - and this is one of the most oft-cited arguments I see against them. However, I don't believe there is a single person who has not felt SOMETHING for a character in a genre film and even identified with them, at least once, for whatever reason.

For the record, I love genre films and feel they can present very complex and interesting themes and messages to the masses in ways dramas can't always. And I make no apologies for enjoying action thrillers, even martials films. I love the fact their sense of audience is often so well defined; they know exactly who they're targeting and more often than not do it well, as even if the film does not meet expectations on actual viewing, the marketing ensures it gets bums on seats. And even in the LEAST character-driven films (of whatever genre), there has to be *some* "interest" (for want of a better word) to the main character, else there's little point in the audience watching, as they cannot engage with the journey of that character - which is arguably one of the main points of plot construction, since it's difficult to have one without the other.

Some action thriller heroes are multi layered, like John McLane of Die Hard or perhaps Jason Bourne (especially taking into account The Bourne Supremacy and his dodgy past). However, more like Poe in Con Air, Bryan is *just* an ordinary guy with extraordinary kickass skills. He's spent his life protecting his country and he's cost him a great deal personally, principally his marriage to Ex Leonore and now his relationship with teenage daughter Kim.

And it's fair to say Bryan has a very dark, negative view of the world - which is unsurprising, given his background. His answer then? To try and control EVERYTHING, including his fledgling relationship with Kim. But of course as anyone with knowledge of a teenager knows, this does not go down well, even though Kim actually wants to have a relationship with her father. There is added conflict when we consider Leonore's various reactions to Bryan; in almost every scene with him in the First Act, she is chastising him as being out of touch with what Kim needs from her father - which of course Bryan is; he barely knows her.

So like John McClane before him, Bryan was a rubbish husband. But this is not his flaw, because he never makes any proclamations of love or regret to Leonore, who is now remarried to a very successful businessman. This new Husband has made a good stepfather to Kim, which Bryan even makes reference to this via subtext when he turns up at the house, searching for reasons for why Kim was taken (Bryan tells the Husband he has had him checked out and would never have let Kim live with him had Bryan had any *real* doubts as to the Husband's integrity).

Bryan's goal is simple and spelt out by one of the posters which accompanies the movie, "I don't know who you are, but if you don't let my daughter go, I will find you and I will kill you." We have no doubt he can do this, even though when the daughter is taken Bryan has very little to go on other than the hysterical screamed observations of Kim over the phone and the heavily accented voice, "Good luck." Besides his own formidable skills, Bryan has a history of service and the various allies and favours he can call in. We know he will find Kim and rescue her and kill every single person involved and who gets in his way, without a second thought. Bryan is completely ruthless.

And Bryan's belief the world is a dark, terrible place is of course justified (otherwise there would be no movie) - so that is not his flaw either. He believes his daughter is far too naive to go out into the world alone, even with an older friend like Amanda - and he's right about that too, for the moment she does, she is quite literally taken. This is also backed up by the fact the singer Bryan is protecting at the beginning of the movie is attacked by the man with the knife at the concert arena. TAKEN tells us women are in danger every single time they go out into the world.

We already know Bryan is more than capable and we know he was a rubbish husband and father: but Leonore asks HIM, not the police, not his friends, to bring Kim back to her. Taken is essentially a story of redemption of a father's love. Bryan has not been *there* for Kim her whole life, no matter the fact he's tried to make it to all her birthday parties. One day a year does not a father make. TAKEN asks us to believe that parenthood is about protection - and Bryan will go to the ends of the Earth (or at least France) to ensure his little girl is returned to her rightful position in her life, instead of sold into slavery. If you wanted to boil it down, it could be argued the premise of TAKEN is thus:

What WOULDN'T you do to ensure your kids are safe?

As far as Bryan is concerned, he'd threaten, maim, torture, murder and even shoot/hold a gun to the head of an INNOCENT woman's head (the wife of his French contact). But we forgive him these horrible transgressions and cheer his kicking arse because we know there is a "good" reason for his behaviour. We WANT him to succeed.

So what is Bryan's flaw?

He wanted to control Kim. If you recall, at the beginning of the film Bryan gives her a karaoke machine and later is given a card for singing lessons by the megastar he saved from the knife-wielding maniac at the arena. When Kim comes to visit Bryan at the cafe with Leonore then to ask about going to France, he tells her she can't go - but he has something far more exciting for her to do. Before he can tell Kim what it is, Kim tells Bryan there is nothing else she wants to do and runs out. Leonore is angry not only because Bryan won't comply, but because she sees him as being rigid for rigid's sake; when he does back down, instead of being gracious, Leonore instead says, "Wouldn't it have been easier to sign the permission papers?" (or words to that effect). Later at the airport Bryan discovers Kim has lied about her real intentions for the trip and Leonore admits she knew and agreed not to tell him, because Kim does not feel she can be honest with her father.

However, once Bryan has rescued Kim, their relationship changes: Kim says wide-eyed, "You came for me", suggesting perhaps she can now have faith in the father she had previously seen as paranoid and a bit of a hindrance. At the end of the movie Brian takes his daughter to the singer for singing lessons, fulfilling his daughter's latent childhood dream, which for me says he now accepts his daughter's right to be her own person and to have her own dreams... Suggesting that perhaps he will believe in her more and maybe even allow her to go out into the world now, despite her previous ordeal.

CONCLUDING: Yes, I do believe Bryan's need to control his daughter is his flaw to be overcome in TAKEN and I think it helps his mission in getting her back, as it motivates him to redeem himself to her and thus be the father he should have been.

ON THIS BLOG BEFORE:

Killer Premises: Taken Vs Spartan

Genre Films: Don't Overthink It (a look at CON AIR)

12 Character Journeys We Can Learn From

Read more about genre on The Required Reading List

Friday, March 11, 2011

Slugline/Scene Headings

Many thanks to Bang2writer Owen Salmon, who asks this question about sluglines, aka scene headers:

"The "time" of a scene sometimes is a problem. Let's take, for example, and interchange between Joe in the bedroom and Jim in the en-suite bathroom. It carries on for a minute. So we have INT. BEDROOM - NIGHT. and INT. BATHROOM - NIGHT (or SAME TIME, MOMENTS LATER, whatever) interminably. I have many pages with "MOMENTS LATER" throughout... Is this necessary? I mean obviously changes in "time" need to be reflected, but if there is no change in time, is that not just read in?"

Owen makes a good point here: sluglines/scene headings in spec scripts are often littered with timings, when none are really needed. If I was to take his example here, a scene between Joe in the bedroom and Jim in the en-suite bedroom, I might instead not bother with the notion of "overt time" and write it like this:

--------------------------------
INT. HOTEL BEDROOM - NIGHT

Joe tests his single bed. It groans under his weight.

JOE
This place is a dump.

In the

EN-SUITE BATHROOM

Jim checks the bathroom cabinet: no complimentary toiletries. Through the open door, Joe's reflection switches the light on and blows the overhead light, plunging both men into darkness.

JIM
You're telling me.
-------------------------------

Instead of setting up a whole new slugline for the en-suite bathroom then, I've just made sure the reader knows we're in another room, but essentially it's the "same time". I've seen it written like this in many, many scripts - both spec and commissioned - and I've certainly NEVER heard anyone complain about it.

It's very easy to get "hung up" on so-called "rules" but for me, the important thing re: format is not getting busted. I don't believe this will "bust" you - as a reader I've never remarked on it in script reports and as a writer, no one has ever once said to me, "You know what I hate about your scripts? The fact you don't ever put MOMENTS LATER or SAME TIME."

While I'm discussing sluglines/scene headings however, there is one thing that WILL "bust" scribes and that's overly detailed/overly long ones. Writers often seem very hung up on letting the reader know EXACTLY where we are, to the point of the script's detriment. For example, this kind of thing:

INT. INSIDE CAR, 1979 BRIGHT RED HONDA - DAY

INT. 119 KILMER ROAD, BOURNEMOUTH, PETER'S ROOM - NIGHT

EXT. CALVIN ROAD, NEAR THE KEBAB SHOP ON THE CORNER - NIGHT

EXT. A HUGE MOUNTAIN RANGE WITH A WINDING RIVER - DAY

The problem with sluglines like these is, they're quite distracting to the reader and "draw the gaze". Sluglines/scene headings are just "anchors", we don't need all the detail here. After all, what's wrong with:

INT. CAR - DAY

INT. PETER'S ROOM - NIGHT

EXT. SUBURBAN STREET - NIGHT

EXT. MOUNTAIN RANGE - DAY

The biggest offender I see are addresses in sluglines/scene headings. Writers seem to get really, really hung up on *which* house we're in and exactly *where*, yet most houses will have bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room. We all know this, 'cos most of us have lived in a house or at least a flat, which is just a smaller version. Yes, if you have more than one house in your script, then it's advisable to give a little more information, ie:

INT. PETER'S HOUSE, BEDROOM - NIGHT

INT. KATIE'S HOUSE, LIVING ROOM - NIGHT

But giving the whole address, colours of cars, location details etc - does it matter, REALLY? And if it doesn't, why bother?

I've actually seen sluglines/scene headings go on for as long as three or four LINES. True story. Keep them as your "anchors" and as short as possible, not a sneaky way to shove information in there as the "way" you see the scene.

For more on format issues like this, check out The Format One Stop Shop.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Script Length # 2: Is My Script Too Short?

Many thanks to Bang2writer Matthew Prince, who asks this question:

I've written three scripts so far. Two have come in at 60 pages, with the third at 102 pages. Is writing well under 90 pages a bad sign, should I have written over 120 pages or does it not matter how many pages your first draft is?

First off, I'd recommend taking a look at this post about what the *right* script length re: page count, though the bias is on writers' more common problem, which is writing uber-long monster scripts of 150 pages or more. Basically though, I never recommend writing more than 120 pages and believe - generally speaking - the closer a feature script is to 90 pages, the better. For more on script convention and how scripts "look" to readers and what this *can* mean, check out my run-down on The Format One Stop Shop.

When it comes to scripts - especially features - that come in "too short", I'd wager your problem is likely to be one of structure. In other words, you 're probably missing a big chunk of your conflict somewhere... Your characters most likely need to *do something* which will contribute to the protagonist's mission in *some way*.

On this basis then, I'd recommend going back to your treatment or beat sheet and plotting out some ideas and seeing where they could go. If you haven't written a treatment or beat sheet before writing the script, that could be your actual problem too. Check out all about structure and treatments etc here.

Of course, like all things scriptwriting-related, there is another way of looking at the same problem: if your script comes in at sixty pages, perhaps the story NEEDS to be sixty pages. The problem there is, how does a writer know for sure this is the case? Well, feedback can help on this, either from your peers or a paid-for reader like me. Alternatively, writing that beat sheet may help convince you that actually, you don't need the "extra" bits to your conflict. Either way, I'd still investigate the structure of your piece in whatever way works for you, just to be sure.

But end of the day, a first draft is what I'd call the "words on paper" draft. Don't panic if it comes in as a monster OR a shrimp and don't pat yourself on the back too early if it's the "right" length. First drafts are never the best we can do, even if we think they are right now. So just be glad you've got it down on paper... and then START AGAIN. Good luck!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Happy International Women's Day: Girls On Film

Happy International Women's Day, everyone. To celebrate, I thought it would be fun to have a go at composing a list of our fave female movie characters of all time - but don't let me tell you who they are, you tell me.

Actually: let's just take it as red Ripley and Sarah Connor will be on there (le sigh).

So, APART FROM THEM, who are the BEST, most BELIEVABLE, INTERESTING, EMPATHETIC (or whatever!) female movie characters to grace our beloved silver screen? Why are they so great?

Leave your nominations here in the comments section or on Bang2writers and later on today or tmw I'll update this post with the list.

Want some inspiration? Here's a list of 100 best female roles dating waaaaaaay back.

UPDATE: Well, I thought I'd rank your faves on the basis of numbers of votes - but you all have different ones!!! Which says it all really, great characters mean different things to different people.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

What's The Difference Between Thriller & Horror?

Lots of Bang2writers *know* there's a difference to the genres of Horror and Thriller, yet confess they're not sure how to pin that difference down. It was something raised at last night's Scriptchat too about "Horror Vs. Thriller: The Monster Vs Suspense", so I thought I'd have a go.

On the surface, Horrors and Thrillers can seem rather similar and it's easy to see why. Both can take advantage of shock value via murder, ghosts & haunted houses and the like. Both often involve characters' lives being in danger in some way, usually at least for extended periods if not the entire narrative. Both very often have large body counts. Both often take into account the idea of "flight" in the first instance, followed by "fight" and both often use the "prepare to fight" montage to take the audience through the change of context in the narrative. Both often exploit the short timeframe, with the action taking place very often between 12 and 24 hours, the most typically being four days - and the notion of a "deadline" of some kind:

"We must solve [whatever issue the antagonist/s presents us with] before [this happens] and /or time runs out".

So realising what is the SAME between the genres is pretty easy - and audience perception appears (to me at least) to go rather like this:

"I choose Horror for the scares. I choose Thriller for the chase."

So let's try and pin down exactly how the two differ:

Lack of vs. Too Much. Horror gets a bad rap because it's often seen as the genre where character does not matter, because audiences just want to see splatter, torture, gore and other imaginative ways of characters dying. This is not helped by the number of Horrors on the market that follow this route to a tee. However, if we look at all the classic Horrors - ALIEN, HALLOWEEN and THE EXORCIST the most obvious - then whatever you think of those films personally, we can see immediately that character is far more important in these than mere body count. In direct comparison then, Thriller gets a bad rap when it's too convoluted: it's either overloaded with plot or character motivations or occasionally, both. The best Thrillers are like the best Horrors - simple.

Survival of The Fittest: One vs. Many. Sometimes it's said Horrors are about survival, whereas Thriller is about the wider implications of that survival. Whilst this is a good start, I don't think this definition goes far enough and is fraught with problems: eg. the "woman in peril" thriller more often than not deals directly with PERSONAL survival against a usually inherently male threat, just like characters may go up against the Serial Killer type in classic Slasher Horror. But that's the key to realising the difference here: in the Thriller, we are more often than not dealing with a LONE protagonist who is "up against it": ie. a woman against a psycho Ex; a man who's been accused of a crime he did not commit against the police; a lone banker/lawyer/whatever against THE BIG CORPORATION. In direct comparison, the Horror usually deals with a GROUP of people in the first instance, who will usually get picked off one by one by The Serial Killer, The Creature/s or The Ghosts, hence the various movie fan tags of "Final Girl" et al.

Plausibility Vs. Implausibility # 1: Serial Killers. One of my fave ways of defining the difference of Thriller and Horror is by saying Thriller premises very often *could happen* (in real life), whereas Horror premises are usually "larger than life". However this too is fraught with problems: many writers will immediately point to the existence of REAL serial killers and some of the sick things that have happened in real life that have never even made the silver screen. In answer to this, my argument is always: how many of us will know someone, even via someone else, who has been killed by a Serial Killer? Of those serial Killers, how many are as flamboyant to enough to perform "The Monstrous Other" function - complete with masks, fish hooks and huge mechanical traps? Unfortunately most people who are murdered are murdered by someone they know or even love - and usually with weapons of opportunity.

Plausibility Vs. Implausibility # 2: Ghosts. Then of course there is the issue of The Supernatural Thriller which on the surface mucks up the idea of "could happen", especially if you're an atheist and/or don't believe in life after death. However, in direct comparison to the Serial Killer question - "How many of us know someone, via someone else, who has had/thought they've had a GHOST in their house?" - I'm willing to bet the number is MUCH higher, for how many people have at least had a CHILD worrying about this? Haunted houses in particular are UNIVERSAL - we all know exactly what one is and usually can relate a story of one in our local area or lives, whether we actually believe it or not. But even if you think ghosts are a load of guff, the Supernatural Thriller involving them is more often than not about the CHARACTERS' REACTIONS to these ghosts WITHIN THE WORLD OF THE STORY, than scaring us *with* the ghosts, like a Horror would. Consider Bruce Willis' character within Supernatural Thriller The Sixth Sense, whom we're asked to take as a mortal man via the child Haley Joel Osment's acceptance of him, for 90% of the movie. Or Kevin Bacon's character in STIR OF ECHOES who would rather drive his wife and child out of the family home as he strives to find the ghost within it. Now think of the Horror TH13TEEN GHOSTS, where we are asked to see twelve of the ghosts as a spectacle, one of violence and threat. Or SILENT HILL, where the imagery of dead burning babies and men tied up with barbed wire are supposed to prevent Radha Mitchell from rescuing her daughter by making her turn back and leave the damned town.

And finally:

Body Count: Thrills vs Spills. Very often body counts are very high in the Thriller and Horror, but how these people are despatched and who they are differ wildly. If we consider the likes of TAKEN and the films of JCVD, Steven Segal, etc, we have an endless stream of character-less baddies that are killed with guns, the occasional knife-wielding and cool martial arts moves. These baddies represent THE FORCE our hero is up against, so we can cheer their deaths guilt-free and enjoy the kicking of arse. Similarly, in conspiracy thrillers there are GOVERNMENT BUREACRATS or MOBSTERS etc performing the same function and sometimes our hero is transformed from "ordinary" to "extraordinary" as he is forced to kill them. Again, we can delight in this because it is self defence and "kill or be killed". In short, the Thriller is often rather like a video game in this regard. In direct contrast then, the Horror has no such JUSTIFICATION for the killing of characters, even if we don't really care who the characters are. Instead, we are introduced to the victims in more detail and asked to believe they are *normal* men and women with *normal* characteristics (honourable or dishonourable). They are then despatched and usually without guns or cool fights, but up close and personal, in horrifying, often bloody ways - whether the person or thing despatching them is a ghost, serial killer or creature.

IN CONCLUSION:

If you're not sure what your story is and what conventions you should be following in doing so, ask yourself what is at the heart of the story and how the world of the story forms part of your chosen genre. If your script is about a SINGLE protagonist against A GROUP of an antagonistic nature (or SINGLE antagonist that represents *that group or force*), then the chances are good you're writing a Thriller. If your script is about a GROUP of people up against a SINGLE force - supernatural or human - the chances are good it's a Horror.

ON THIS BLOG BEFORE:

Genre or Die: Horror

Genre or Die: Thriller

Killer Premises: It's All In The Execution

Creature Features: Know Your Enemy (But Don't Know Too Much)

Deviation - a Brit Thriller. Join The Facebook Campaign here and follow it via Twitter here.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Round Up: Things I've learnt from TV...

If you follow me on Twitter or are a member of Bang2writers on Facebook, you will have seen my "Things I've learnt from TV" posts all this morning - and indeed others' contributions too! Some of these are strictly tongue-in-cheek, but others are quite interesting as they reveal lazy and/or cliched ideas relating to characters, their motivations or even plot devices. Mine are those without the @ signs - if you like others' ideas, why not look them up on Twitter or Facebook?

Check out the round up:

... ABOUT PEOPLE:

Women only find bastards who treat them badly sexually attractive.

If you're a woman & there's supernatural shenanigans going on in your home, your husband won't notice.

If you're a single woman aged between 25 -35, a gay friend is mandatory.

Pregnant women and new mothers are nearly always mentally ill or accused of being so.

If your baby dies unexpectedly, you or another member of the family will be accused of killing it.

Women only ever go to the loo to take pregnancy tests.

Men only ever go to the loo to get attacked/beaten up/murdered.

Teen girls who find themselves pregnant nearly always *almost* have an abortion then back out last min.

Teen girls who DO have abortions ALWAYS regret it &/or are villified by family members.

@Jackatron4000: Evolution of lead gay characters. 70s: sitcom. 80s: social realism. 90s: rom-com. 2000s: sci-fi.

@jackatron4000 if you're pregnant when the show starts, you will have (or lose) the baby by the end. No exceptions.

@Natt Never promise a child that you will be back for their birthday (or Christmas). You will not.

@Helena_Ward if you are a really ugly bloke with the personality of food poisoning you WILL get the best looking women.

@FunJoel If a woman throws up, she must be pregnant.

@lougerring A character who says they have quit smoking will invariably be chain smoking by Act 2.

@lougerring When characters are having a hard time, they always sit in front of a photo of their deceased loved ones.

@jtr1812: No woman is happily single. We all desperately long to be married with children.

@warrenforster: If you suddenly have a cough, you'll be dead within a few days.

Emma Whittle (Via FB): If pregnant, women's hands are ALWAYS either on the small of their backs indicating exhaustion and suffering or blissfully stroking their bellies.


... ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS

NO ONE is happily married or co-habiting.

If you are a middle-aged woman, you will suddenly find teenage boys irresistible & embark on a torrid affair with one.

If you are a middle-aged woman, you will throw away 20 yrs or more marriage for an affair with your first love.

If you break up with someone, they will stalk you and try and kill you & your new partner.

If you're a middle aged woman, your husband is having an affair. Especially with your sister.

If you're a middle aged woman & you suspect your husband of an affair, he's *really* a murderer.

if you're a married man, you will be frustrated & angry & isolated from your wife and children.

@JulieMayhew: An argument is not complete until someone says, "you just don't get it, do you?"

@Mrgringostarr: A hug hasn't resolved any unrest if the 'hugger' keeps his eyes open.

@incursionmedia: If you have a big event, you always go and drink hard the night before.

@Mockwriter: If you're getting married, things WILL go wrong on the big day.

@Michael_R_Grant: If you get engaged at the start of the episode, you will die.

@MockWriter: Happy Ever After is just a myth.

@Hilarymackelden Never fall in love with the hero. You will die.

@Michael_R_Grant: Never be a relative of Jessica Fletcher. You will die.

@Michael_R_Grant Never live in Oxford. You will die. ---> @Hilarymackelden: Or Midsommer! ---> @Michael_R_Grant Add Bergerac to the mix, nowhere near John Nettles!

@Mockwriter: No matter how poor you are, you'll always have enough money for a pint.

@jackatron4000: it is impossible to be asthmatic and not have an attack on screen. You will also lose your inhaler.

@Mockwriter An endless stream of relatives will suddenly turn up.


... ABOUT JOBS

If you are a cop, at least once in your career you will be accused of a crime you did not commit.

If you are a doctor or nurse, you will be admitted to the hospital you work at or even die there.

If you end up murdered, your body will be discovered by police in an intriguing pose that protects your modesty. (What's more, the pathologist doing your autopsy will never be permitted to look at your bits).

GPs, especially in Aussie soaps, do house calls 24/7 at AND will work in hospitals as well.

Hardly any working mothers *want* to work & if they do, husbands frequently blame them for it.

@Mockwriter: Everyone in soapland works within a 2 minute walk of where they live.

@dodgyjammer: Colleagues in crime dramas are inexplicably expected to hookup and/or share witty banter.

@dodgyjammer: If a husband compliments a dead woman when speaking to police,he was CLEARLY having an affair w/her.

@fnafilms: if found dead, you won't be wearing your "period" knickers or have evacuated your bowel (LV: thanks for that *lovely* image Z!)

William Gallagher (Via FB): When police officers ask you if they can use your toilet, it's always upstairs right next to the suspect's bedroom.

Gavin Johnson (Vis FB): If you're in a cop show, your partner is corrupt and taking back handers. No matter how clean they look or act.

Adam Wilby (Via FB): If you're a serial killer, you need only casually stroll after a potential victim who is running away and they will never increase the distance between you...


.. ABOUT MISCELLANY:

If you're hit in the head with a blunt object, you won't die, but you will lose your memory & go missing.

If you knock on the bathroom door & there's no answer, it's because your loved one has slit their wrists in the bath.

If you need to save the world, you must sacrifice someone you love to do it. (or as Lilian A. Wood says Via FB: Or someone you love is responsible.)

Crime *never* pays... except if you're in a US TV drama, in which case it really does.

Despite the handicap of being dead (no blood flow) Vampires are sexy enough to get erections regardless.

Aliens exist and there *is* an Afterlife.

@donmcvey No such thing as morning breath.

@Michael_R_Grant Dying doesn't necessarily mean you're dead.

@antonsays: Whatever you're saying is more dramatic if you're simultaneously looking out of a window.

@Mockwriter: In Eastenders nobody owns a washing machine.

@DarrenGoldsmith People ringing doorbells never wait more than a few seconds before getting impatient.

@Daisychain165 There's a noise, storm raging, darkness, maniac on loose... Investigate armed with a spoon.

@Helena_Ward No one has more possessions than can fit in a small holdall (or stripey washing bag if you live in soapland).

@ScriptPunk Regardless of programme, if something dramatic and cliffhanger happens I expect the Eastenders Drums.

William Gallagher (Via FB): If you visit a new location, you will always go back there before the end of the episode. (New locations are too expensive to be used only once.)

Pete Darby (Via FB): Most alien species are anthropomorphic, sexually dimorphic and, despite being oviparous, will have a "female" gender with boobs.

Peter Darby (Via FB): Despite not breathing, Vampires can talk and smoke.

Steve Fiori (Via FB): If someone says "Never ever in a million years will I do that" or something similar, they will be seen doing it quite soon after.


LAST OF ALL:

@Mockwriter Things I've learned from TV: I obviously watch too much TV.

I think we all do!!! HAHA

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Buy Your CWF Ticket With Discount Code BANG2WRITE... Or This Bunny Gets It!!!

No doubt you've seen plenty of people in the blogosphere offering discounted tickets of £25 off to the fabulous London Comedy Writers' Festival, but they cannot GUARANTEE the safety of this bunny from psycho thespian John Malkovich:

I have Malkovich on speed dial RIGHT NOW - buy your ticket for the fest using discount code BANG2WRITE and I will make the call. The safety of that bunny is your hands, folks.

Have no idea what event I'm talking about? Check out the London Comedy Writers' Festival website here and see a schedule. It's gonna be awesome!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Copyright: A Follow Up

I posted recently about WHY people out there in the big scary world of scriptwriting WON'T nick your script or idea. Whilst many writers reacted favourably in the blogosphere and Twitsville, I was still surprised by how many insisted I *had* to be wrong, sending me links to various cases where scripts have apparently been "stolen".

But let's break it down:

- No personal experience? Interestingly, NOT ONE WRITER who sent me links mentioned they had had their work PERSONALLY stolen. Instead, they were sending me links to cases they had read about on the internet, most often on message boards. I always find it really interesting that writers, whom I often find to be those most LIKELY to challenge conspiracy theories in the news, etc, nevertheless entertain *this* one so readily.

- The myth's the same, but the stories have changed? When I first started script reading donkey's years ago, the most oft-remarked upon case I personally came across was that of the Eddie Murphy film "Coming to America". This time, it was instead the notion that a book by Sophia Stewart, "The Third Eye" had been stolen to create not only The Matrix Trilogy, but also the first part of the Terminator franchise. Needless to say I'm personally completely unconvinced - not least by Stewart's assertions that The Wachowski brothers "couldn't" have made up black characters like those in The Matrix (?) - but make sure you read the various posts for yourself, there's even a documentary on Youtube.

- Different for Big Fish? Several writers contacted me asking my thoughts on the notion of "influenced by..." and plagiarism, citing the Harlan Ellison case against James Cameron regarding the first Terminator film. I was not familiar with this case until recently because I am neither a Cameron nor Ellison fan though, so it would be wrong for me to comment directly on the ins-and-outs of the case. However personally I think there is a HUGE difference between paying homage to those stories and people that influence you and your storytelling and actual plagiarism. The difficulty then is defining the what separates the two. I suppose to cover one's back it's worth getting involved that person behind the story that influences your own. However, even if you don't, I'm still not sure it contributes to the notion of actual "stealing", because otherwise surely on that basis ALL elements of storytelling are stolen from something else because, as writers are quick to lament, "nothing is 100% original". As I've always said on this blog, it's the execution that counts.

- Money Talks? Lots of stories on the internet talk of studios in particular "settling" with aggrieved writers over supposedly stolen scripts. Many writers who contacted me seemed to believe this constitutes an admission of guilt (from the articles it seems Sophia Stewart believes her initial offer does this too), but I think there's another way of looking at it: why would a studio get caught up in a legal wrangle with a writer on a mission, when it can throw a little bit of money at the problem and make it go away? However, this no doubt adds fuel to the fire. But then, why would a big studio care? And the only loser in The Third Eye case appears to Stewart anyway. According to the article I linked to, she refused her settlement to apparently fight for ALL writers who'd had their ideas stolen... And where is she now?

So, despite a few Bang2writers' best efforts, I'm afraid I STILL don't believe scripts or ideas get stolen as a matter of course! And I'm basing this not on various stuff I've read or seen on the internet either, but on my direct, personal experience of reading scripts and being involved in script development for ten years, because basically it boils down to this:

I have never, ever, EVER seen OR heard a credible case of "script stealing" happen.

But anyway, don't just take my word for it, check out these thoughts from other Bang2writers:

The Myth of Ideas Theft by Jared Kelly. Jared spent years and years working for Channel 4 here in the UK, so has read a HUGE stack of scripts.

A Few Words on Copyright By A Working Actor by Rob Talbot. Rob's been in squllions of shorts and films, including my own, SAFE, nearly always playing the "creepy guy"! Many, many scripts have passed through Rob's hands then and he's dealt with a multitude of writers, directors and producers.

Amazon Studios are Evil! By "professional amateur writer" (his words not mine!) Antony Davies. Widening the margins a little here from JUST copyright, but lots of writers have asked me my thoughts on Amazon Studios and whether I think they might get "ripped off" by them too. Since I've not used Amazon Studios (and don't plan to), I don't feel I can comment OR recommend them, but Antony (despite the title of this blog post) is a keen advocate, so well worth a read if you're thinking about taking the plunge there.