Tuesday, 31 March 2009

I'm Sorry. I'm So Sorry...

Actually, I'm not sorry at all to report that, as comes the end of March, so comes the end of the 'For Fun' spec challenge. I have completed an absolutely useless, totally unsaleable, but enormously enjoyable (in the making if not the reading) spec script for Doctor Who. And I rather like it.

I wrote it for David Tennant, with no companion, and 45 minutes long. I didn't go mad with Daleks and Cybermen, I didn't do a reboot, I didn't kill off the Brigadier. I just wrote an episode that I thought could nestle into mid-season next to one of Stephen Greenhorn's ones, with no returning characters or fanboy-ness. Well, alright there are a couple of fannish references if you look hard enough, but this again is not something out of whack with the current house style.

I have, as is the rules, exchanged the screenplay with the other members of the Script Challenge group. The mighty Stevyn Colgan has also written a Doctor Who script which I'm looking forward enormously to reading. Another writer has had a crack at a Primeval, and so I'm going to have to watch at least one episode of Primeval before I read that one, so I know who all the characters are! Well, it had to happen sooner or later. We'll all give feedback on each others work, as is the form, and then on to the next challenge. And after that, somehow, the script will end up being passed to Steven Moffat's inbox. He will read it, realise I'm a genius, get me to write four episodes for Series Six, I will be showered with riches and all the gold I can eat, people will dance in the street as I walk by, and...

...sorry, lost myself there. No, none of that will happen, alas. But I might publish the script online, if the feedback comes back reasonable. I can't usually do that as scripts are either intended to be sold, or under confidentiality agreements, but for this one: it doesn't matter.

Monday, 30 March 2009


The room is semi-decorated, like a half kept promise. STUART - 30s, devilishly handsome, slightly deluded - sits at his desk and taps away at a keyboard: the monitor screen shows Final Draft filling up with script.

Hmm. Scene headings are ugly.

He types some more, growing increasingly, but gorgeously, irritated.

Do I really really need 'em?


Good question, fake courier-12-point me. Like most of the regular readers of this blog, I write a good deal of script. Now, I'm still an emerging writer (love that phrase - I can't control whether that conjures images in your head of emerging from a cocoon, or emerging from some bushes, and I like that danger). And as an emerging writer (it's bushes for you, isn't it?!) most of what I write is designed to be read first, made (hopefully) later. For a script intended primarily to be read as a story rather than as a blueprint, by people wondering 'should this be made' rather than necessarily 'how the hell do we make this', a lot of the conventions of the screenplay format are at best meaningless, and are at worst in the way.

The 12-point courier thing, as a rule of thumb, makes a screenplay work out to be about a page per minute of action. But, as anyone who's ever operated an iPhone in a hurry can tell you: thumbs can be inaccurate things. Particularly with shorter scripts, I find it the page per minute thing can be way off. And of course, anyone can film a script as sloooowly as they like (particularly directors). But, even so, I would keep the 12-point courier and the spacing as they are. But scene headings? I would change them like a shot (pun intended).

How would I change them? I'd get rid of EXT and INT, and probably DAY and NIGHT too. Is this craziness? Possibly. I'm bound to be on to a loser trying to change things: the film screenplay format has been pretty much the same for fifty years or more. William Goldman writes scripts dispensing with the uglier slug line conventions. But he's William Goldman; and even he couldn't persuade anyone else to follow his lead.

So, we are stuck with INT and EXT, but what do they give us? They are ultimately a tool for line producers to budget scripts within a studio system. For anyone outside such a system, and even for a lot of Hollywood films, they are wildly out of date: an interior shot of a house is very likely to be shot on location, where an exterior scene might be filmed against a green screen in a studio. And for a story to be read, INT and EXT convey nothing that can't be covered in the location or scene description. If you're in a living room, you're inside. If you're in a field, you're outside. If there's any doubt, rewrite it until there's no doubt; that's got to make for a better script and a better writer.

What about DAY and NIGHT? Well, they're mainly queues for lighting, but outside of a shooting script they can be useful to show the passage of time. Again though, this can be used as a crutch. When I was a less experienced writer (a few weeks back!) I lengthened and lengthened my scene headings with extraneous detail: not only was it DAY in this scene, it was LATER, no sorry: MOMENTS LATER. THE SAME DAY. CONTINUOUS. I went hog wild, making sure people would get it. I wasn't necessarily wrong either, as plenty of pro film scripts use all of these. Someone somewhere must like them, but more and more I think they're unneeded, except for the first scene or if a major change has occurred. If the script has been written right, it should be obvious how much time has passed from the scene description and character behaviour.

If it isn't clear whether a scene's in or outdoors, or at night or in the day, you're better off not trying to address this in the scene heading, as I'd wager that most of the people reading your script will skip the scene headings anyway. We all do it, don't we? I certainly do, even with my own scripts. Because scene headings aren't very interesting. So, why not drop all these annoying things, and concentrate on what everyone's interested in: the story? As follows:


Stuart sits and types.


Stuart's son walks to the office door.

Get off Twitter and do some work, Daddy.

Why not? Well, it's usual reason: The Fear. The fear that an overworked script reader will think "No EXTs and DAYs - amateur - reject!" and put your script in the green crayon pile. Now, this fear is probably unfounded; or, if not, then you could use the argument that, if they're noticing stuff like that, then your script's lost them anyway. But if there's even the slightest chance that it could make a difference, why rock the boat? So, I'll be leaving all the EXTs and INTs and DAYs and NIGHTs in my scripts, and crossing my fingers. But, every so often, I'm dropping out a DAY or an INT here and there, to see if anyone notices, trying to bring down the system from within.

What about you? Do you hate these things too? Or am I over-reacting? Are they useful in some way I haven't considered? Or have you dropped them from your scripts altogether? Has anyone noticed? I'd love to know.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

The Unimportance of Being Memed

I have been tagged by Lord Piers of Beckleyshire with a meme; these are the rules:
1) Put the link of the person who tagged you on your blog (see above).
2) Write the rules (see, well, here).
3) Mention 6 things or habits of no real importance about you (see below).
4) Tag 6 persons adding their links directly (see even further below).
5) Alert the persons that you tagged them (see the same bit even further below that I referred to above).
6) There is NO rule Six (see Monthy Python's Bruces sketch).

Six unimportant things about my life (if, like me, you believe in a holistic universe where nothing can be said to be unimportant, you'll have to check that philosophy at the door, as I have):

1) Everybody thinks I live in Brighton, but I live a number of miles to the west of it, along the Sussex coast. When I'm at the day job in old London town, I spend 4 hours a day commuting. Ouch.

2) I have only ever been in a fan club twice: once for Doctor Who, once for the Pet Shop Boys. I still stand by those choices. (In fact, the Doctor Who one is called an Appreciation Society, not a fan club: oh, the pretentiousness!)

3) I am allergic to Chinese tea. It's never been properly diagnosed, but after a number of occasions in restaurants when my face has gone red and puffy, I've avoided the stuff.

4) I wear my watch on the wrong hand. It's traditional to wear a watch on one's non-writing hand (so as not to weigh your writing hand down, I suppose). But when I first tried a watch on, I didn't know this, and put it on my right hand. If I try and wear a watch on my left now, it just feels wrong.

5) I came very close to dying on December 31st 1985. I've had asthma since I was seven (had my first attack after being hit in the chest with a loft pole playing light sabres with a friend of the family). A few years after that, I stopped breathing during a bad attack on that New Year's Eve, was rushed off in an ambulance, and spent a week in hospital. At the time it didn't faze me, but looking back? Shit! I would never have got to see Trial of a Time Lord (that's just a little reference for all the old members of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society; hi, guys).

6) I never pass on memes. Nor chain letters. Nor humorous emails. No agenda - it's just laziness on my part, really.

Hmm. There's something Book of Revelation / Omen Trilogy about all these sixes: I'm going to stop now. Ta ta.

Monday, 16 March 2009

How Many Shopping Days Until Christmas?

(Well, every day is a shopping day nowadays, so it's 283 by my count.)

I've posted about it before, but thought I'd do a proper update on the Christmas TV project that I'm currently working on. It's been bubbling under other projects that either I or the director have been working for over a year - check any old posts tagged 'Santa Baby' - but now all systems are go, and it's shaping up to be very exciting.

The piece started work as a writing exercise with a writers' group I used to run long ago: a ten minute comedy short film set at Christmas. It came very close to being selected for development money from Screen South, but then they plumped for my other script (which became my first short film 'Lent'). Then, I pitched it on the weekly Wednesday Shooting People bulletin, where it caught the eye of Colin Stevens. Colin has made a number of short films (some samples of which are on the net - check 'em out) and we started out with a regard to making it as a short.

As we were developing it, and I was doing a few rewrites, Colin and I both came to the conclusion that the premise had potential in it to fill a half-hour TV broadcast slot. Colin has a few key production contacts who were interested in the premise. And the story fits into the family feel-good Christmas tale tradition, so it certainly would feel at home in that medium. So, we put our thinking caps on about to how to change and restructure the tale to fit thirty minutes, without stretching the material too thin, and without putting a dent in the central magic of the idea.

This effort culminated in a meeting last week, where we agreed the final changes and amendments over lunch in Canary Wharf. It was a very good meeting, with both us pretty much in accord about the shape of the thing, and both very enthusiastic about getting started. I'm now ironing out the storyline and turning it into a detailed synopsis document. Soon, we'll be going out selling this to other people, pretty hopeful that we can find some collaborators who are as enthusiastic as ourselves.

All being well, Colin will be launching a web presence for the project soon; I'll report on this when it happens. I'll also be blogging and tweeting about any developments as they happen. Watch this space, and wish us luck!

Monday, 9 March 2009

Wire news and Perry news

I hope I'm not recycling old info, but I haven't seen anyone mention this: The Wire is coming to BBC2, linky. So, if you haven't seen it yet, and you're still interested (and haven't been put off by the huge wave of hype) then you can see it for free. Great news, which comes just at the moment I pressed ' Submit' on an online order for the final (series 5) box set. I regret nothing.

I recommend the series, highly, as ever. Ignore everything about it being complex, and all in hard-to-understand lingo. It's not a forbidding artwork, it's a very entertaining TV show with lots of great characters, and great plotting, which has gone to great effort to achieve realism. And succeeded as far as I'm aware, although I've never been a cop or a drug dealer in Baltimore obviously.

Additional: as a personal rule, I don't like to use the blog for personal info, except where it concerns or affects my screenwriting, but this is a special case. My wife is expecting a baby, due at the end of August. We're very happy, and everything's looking good so far: mum is healthy and beginning to show.

This is the 'production' that is preventing my going to the Screenwriters' Festival later this year. It's a bit too soon when the little 'un will be less than two months old to be going off for a four-day festival, however useful it will undoubtedly be. Have a great time if you're going, but - you know - I wouldn't change it for the world. I'm a happy pappy.

Sunday, 1 March 2009


As you will see from the sidebar to your right, I have bowed to the inevitable and joined twitter.com; if you haven't joined yet, why don't you follow me over there. And if you are already a member, why don't you follow me over there. That's a double meaning on the word 'follow' which means something different over on Twitter, you see. Do you see? Do you?

Also, with the help of Miss Read, I have plumbed things in so that Twitter is updated whenever I post here. So, this is a bit of a test...