Thursday, 17 July 2008

Delete As Applicable

After having been working, then having my son's second birthday party, then being ill, then going to a screenwriting festival, being ill again, sleeping for an entire weekend to recover from said festival, then working again... this weekend just gone was my first chance to get a power unit for my PC. But I didn't.

This means I can't yet load up photos to do Jason's meme (I'm not sure of the verb here, does one 'do' a meme?) but I will in due time.

The reason for not fixing the computer, aside from sheer laziness, is that it's forcing me to fill lots of notebooks with longhand about my Red Planet entry TV series idea - character biogs, back-story, episode ideas, and so on. Despite a strong urge to do so, I can't fire up Final Draft and start typing a script. And because I don't trust my sense of discipline, I am holding off from fixing the computer for a bit to keep it that way.

This, if you don't recognise it, is part of Robert McKee's method. Predictably, McKee took a few verbal beatings in different sessions at the Screenwriters' Festival, but I like his book 'Story' - it has some useful practical advice, and it's clear and well-argued with good examples. I also loved the lampooning of some of his excesses in 'Adaptation' too. As, I'm pretty sure, did McKee himself.

I don't agree with anyone who says 'Don't read any of the screenwriting manuals'. Read them all: Vogler, Field, Parker, etc., etc. All of them. And ignore them all if you want, or ignore bits of them, and use other bits.

None of them holds a secret or formula, but I think a lot of (probably old school and self-taught) writers worry that youngsters are going to be unduly influenced by these texts, and write too predictably. But let me tell you this: if you read anything and take it all at face value and never question it - you will never be a good writer anyway. That's our job, isn't it? To question everything, to pull at the seams of the visible and obvious and discover what's hidden. Why should it be any different just because we're reading a book about screenwriting?

And anyone who thinks McKee offers easy options has not read his book. It proposes research, thorough, thorough research on all aspects of the world of your story, trying out various options and discarding them to insure you are not slipping into cliches. For a feature, I think he advises a minimum of four months amassing material before typing so much as a 'FADE IN'.

Whether this is a good idea or not is entirely up to you. But I always find my work is better the more prep I do, and the more notebooks I fill up beforehand. Of course, I'm planning out an 8 x 60 minute series and I only have two months. But that's deadlines for you.

It is possible to do too much research as well, I suppose: a whole room filled with books about Napoleon - that's just crazy/genius.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Thanks to Tony Jordan

I am currently working on a TV drama series outline for the first time. I've done pretty much every other kind of spec work - sketches, shorts, features, radio plays, sit coms, 2 x 90-minute part TV serials - but I haven't before sat down and planned out characters and story for 6 or more hours of popular drama.

I've been putting it off, I suppose - I've got a folder full of ideas, but it never seemed worth doing before. Until Tony Jordan told me to.

No one, I calculated, was going to commission a series from me until I'd done more sketches, shorts, features, radio plays, sit coms, etc. So, I felt my time was probably better invested elsewhere. But Tony Jordan just might. I saw that gleam in his eye during Cheltenham - he is just about crazy wonderful enough to produce a drama series by a newcomer.

So, it's worth doing now. But it always was, I think. As an exercise, it is very challenging - I am planning enough material for 4 or 5 movies, and I can literally feel myself becoming a better writer as I work to craft it all into a satisfying whole. So: thank you Tony, for the inspiration.

At the launch (read all about it in Lord Arnopp's jolly good write up here), Mister Jordan said something along the lines of 'Not many people will have a spec TV series ready in a drawer'. Whereupon I saw a number of people in the audience, most of whom I knew, visibly suppressing the urge to thrust up their hand and say 'Me sir, me sir! I've got loads'. And as I've said, even I have a stack of ideas. So, the question was: what to pick?

In a quiet moment at the festival (yes - there were a few quiet moments, believe it or not!) I took out pad and pen and wrote down every one of my series ideas. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, the sore throat, or the alcohol poisoning, but they were all shit. I couldn't see the legs in any of 'em. So, I have gone with something completely new that occurred to me, bit by bit, in the days following the festival and that I've been developing since. A gamble? Yeah, but it's all a gamble anyway. And I think Tony would approve.

Besides, the Red Planet prize, as fun and important as it is, is only one target. Realistically, I have to be prepared that only the first ten pages will get read. But I will have a pilot and series breakdown to continue working on and refining. So everyone's a winner. Hooray and - if I might be so bold - marvellous!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Cheltenham Screenwriting Festival: Dont's and Don'ts

Number 1: Don't lose your voice halfway through the proceedings. It makes networking more challenging.

Number 2: Don't neglect the unobvious activities available. Like playing croquet. I met just as many lovely people while playing croquet at the festival than I did at the specific networking events. Some would stop and look at the group of us with our mallets and say "Goodness, you're playing croquet", and friendship and career success would then swiftly ensue for all involved.

Number 3: Don't expect to be able to get a decent Martini within walking distance of the Golden Valley Roundabout in Cheltenham.

But that's enough negatives...

Hello there. It's taken me days to recover, but it was wonderful! Cheltenham 2008 is being covered on many many blogs, but I'll add my two-penneth here in overview, and then some anecdotes and notes over the next few posts. Some of the highlights for me were as follows:

* The Scribomeet Social on the first night. Thanks and kudos to Piers and Jason.

* The psychiatrist who interviewed Ronald Harwood and started one question with the statement (I paraphrase a little): "Screenwriters can be divided into those with mild Aspergers and those with dangerous Aspergers", which became a sort of catchphrase when I reported it back paraphrased (a lot) to various people who weren't at the session as "I'd like to ask the Oscar-winning screenwriter Ronald Harwood: why are you so mental?". Said shrink also told us that his wife had told him off for always watching (and I don't paraphrase at all) "those Nazi films".

* Stephen Woolley and Kevin Loader's informative session on producer/screenwriter working relations.

* Finding out that I fancy Kate Harwood, Head of Drama Series and Serials at the BBC, to a degree that makes me feel just a little bit ashamed. I don't know quite why.

* Witnessing Dan Turner lose his KFC virginity.

* Being sat behind Mike Leigh in one session, and realising he's soooo tiny, you could fit him in your pocket.

* Tony Jordan's wonderful stories - including a lot about playing solitaire when you're supposed to be writing, snot in computer keyboards, and being bored enough in his hotel room to watch "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang". And why not.

* Piers and I stealing the leftover biscuits from the Screen Agencies abandoned room, dispensing some (rather good) advice about screen agencies to someone who popped their head around the door, and finally escaping through the window.

* Jane Tranter bringing a tear to my eye by showing a BBC drama showreel that was so good it was emotional.

* Laura Mackie doing the same with judicious clips from shows like Cracker.

* Meeting TV's James Moran and then witnessing him, The Turner and The Arnopp create Horror sequel "The Exorcist - The Fifth". Coming to a cinema near you... well, one day. Maybe.

* Meeting so many wonderful people, some for the first time, and some for the first time since last year.

* The live pitching event, Croquet, Terry Pratchet, Nigel Planer, Marks and Gran (who were turning up for a day just as screenwriters wandering around, not even to be part of any particular session), The Birth of The Dark Arrow...

...I could go on and on. But I've leave it for another day. See you soon.