Friday, 31 July 2009

Finished writing...

...for now at least!

Got no internet at home at the moment as there are problems with our broadband connection. This is annoying - especially the other night when I needed to get the 3rd draft of this script sent off to the producer & director. I ended up having to put it on a CD to hand it over in person like we used to do in the olden days. Also had another important e-mail to send regarding another project which I then had to send on my lunch break at work. And this is exactly the kind of exciting blog action you'll be missing out on while my internet is down!

I have managed to get reconnected on dial-up. It's painfully slow but functional.

Not that I've been blogging much anyway - this last script has been pretty much all I've been doing the last few weeks. I was pretty happy with how it turned out in the end. I think I've compromised on a couple of things (some possibly for the better) and I've had some interesting debates over what the film is really about, but overall it feels pretty solid and it's great to get a script to this stage. It was tough going straight into the 2nd draft straight from the 1st, and from there going immediately into a 3rd draft (which was more of a polish), but in some ways I prefer that to my usual method of going back to a script months later. It's nice to get some distance on these things sometimes, but it's also good to get things finished. As stated before, the feedback I received from friends was incredibly useful as were the discussions we had about that feedback - I don't think I would've been able to get it to this stage so quickly without that extra help. It will need more work at some point, but for now it's ready for people to read. I'm really hoping this one gets to the stage where I'll actually be able to talk about it but we'll just have to wait and see.

I have managed to fit in a few films over the last few weeks. I wanted to blog about The Strangers which I thought was really good even though everyone I've spoken to hates it, but my blog would've just been that sentence expanded into paragraphs of ranting. I also saw a really interesting film called While She Was Out which I want to call a revisionist slasher film, although I'm wary of using such an over-used phrase when all I really mean is that it has some original bits. It's flawed in many of the same ways The Strangers is flawed (both don't really have enough narrative juice to justify an 80 minute running time and would've been awesome at 50 minutes long - but then they wouldn't be films) but worth checking out for a genre film that tries to do something different.

Last night I finally saw JCVD which I loved and was so much better than I expected. Aside from the subject matter and Van Damme's performance (which is awesome), it's just a really well made film. And it's got so much more going on than the premise would suggest - it's a film about film-making and how stars are taken hostage by the system and their audience and I think it may actually be one of the most interesting films I've seen this year. It reminded me of Irma Vep which did a similar thing with Maggie Cheung, in that it too was a film about film itself.

Then I watched Mirrors which was...well, I just hope Alexandre Aja makes something else soon as his films prior to this one have been among my favourites of the last few years. Had some nice moments and a great visual style, but all it did was remind me how good the
original was.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Still writing...

Still incredibly busy, now rewriting the script I finished last week, so here's a post about that and other random things that have happened along the way.

1) As I was on my way to work this morning I saw Nick Cave sitting outside a cafe in Hove, looking very cool as he does. It's kind of weird spotting someone you're a huge fan of while on your way to work. In a nice reminding me that there are cool things outside the day job kind of way.

2) Some rambling about writing: I think there's a moment with every script (okay, I'm not speaking from a vast reservoir of experience here, but it happened on Ten Dead Men and it's happened on various short films I've worked on too) where you realise the film you want to write isn't the film that's going to be made. And that's fine - film is a collaborative medium and what comes out at the end will always be a result of several peoples' input. But it's still difficult to accept sometimes, because the writing of a film is the only time that film is in the hands of one person. And you invest everything into it and for that moment its yours and no one else's. Then you share it with the people who are actually going to make the film and together you make it into something that everyone is happy with. But that transition from it being yours to everyone's is a tough one, especially when it comes immediately after finishing a script.

I don't often give advice - I don't really know any more than anyone else, plus the further into the industry I get (and I'm not even through the door really) the more I realise that a lot of things I'd been told just don't apply to me - that you have to make your own way. But here's some general advise that I think every writer should think about and most probably already know.

Take a break when you've finished something.

Sometimes that's hard, especially when there are deadlines and talk of getting the script to actors etc. On this script I was getting notes back the day after I finished it, having a meeting about it two days after that and all the time trying to fit this in with the day job (sorry, been doing a lot of complaining about the day job recently!). Wednesday night, after the meeting, I was suddenly exhausted. Then the whole of yesterday I had a tension headache that I couldn't shift, and got worse every time I talked to someone about the script! So I took last night off and am planning on moving onto the second draft this weekend. Which is fine, I just would've been a lot better off had I taken a few nights off after finishing the script rather then doing it this way around.

I feel like I'm actually just giving myself advice here and everyone else is thinking 'well, obviously'.

3) Seeing as that last point was a 'don't', here's something more positive. I have a mini-network of friends I send scripts to when they are finished. I usually rotate who I ask as it's often a lot of work. But they never let me down and always provide invaluable feedback. It's a good way of finding out what's working and what isn't working from an audience point of view and a way to get an impartial opinion from people who aren't so invested in the project. Hopefully, none of them are thinking 'I hope he never sends me any scripts again because it's a pain' as they've kind of been absorbed into my process now. So find people who you trust and who'll read your scripts (without you having to pay them) as it will really help with that next draft.

4) I never blog about TV. Because I never watch TV. This is my problem, not a problem with TV itself. I hate committing myself to a time slot at the same time every week, plus I have so many films I want to watch at any one time TV series box sets tend to sit on the shelves unopened (I'll get around to them eventually). I like the concise nature of film - I like having a story told to me from beginning to end in one sitting. What I don't like about TV, especially contemporary TV where everything is about season-spanning story arcs, is how long everything goes on for. Most of the time you could tell the same story in an hour and a half, and I'd be happy. A very wise friend of mine once said that while films are about redemption TV is about rehabilitation. I don't have time for rehabilitation these days.

The point of this is I watched the final episode of the fourth season of Supernatural last night. I like Supernatural because you can miss a few episodes and catch up fairly easily. They went back to the old monster of the week formula which suits me just fine. But in the end I even couldn't find the time for this. I'd either be busy when it was on, or Brother Pete would tape it and whenever I came to watch it I'd stick a film on instead. So I finally watched it and the season finale was really good. and it actually made sense of things they'd been building up to for a couple of seasons. But to be honest, it was still too long a road to get there. For me the problem with TV is that it's bound to a fixed length. Films go on for as long as it takes to tell the story. TV fits the story into however long they have for a season - with American TV it's too long.

I think Firefly was unintentionally the perfect length. The half-season they had before it was cancelled gave enough background for you to care that little bit more when the film told you the full story. I suspect a lot of people disagree. Anyway, the TV thing really comes down to my personal time management issues so don't tell me I should watch The Wire or Battlestar Gallactica or whatever because they will change my life. I'm sure they will, I just don't have the time for my life to be changed at the moment.

5) I was going to blog about the James Moran incident when it happened, even drafted a huge ranting post about it. Then everyone else blogged about before I'd even written mine up and I decided I'd be repeating the same things. To summarise, James Moran wrote the best scriptwriting blog on the net describing his transition from amateur to professional in extensive detail. He now writes for all the top UK TV genre shows including Doctor Who and Torchwood. And he was telling us all about it, until a group of idiot fanatics barraged his blog with abuse because they didn't agree with an episode of Torchwood that he hadn't even written. So he wrote this in response.

I don't want to repeat what other bloggers have said, but like a lot of them it was Moran's blog that initially inspired me to start this one. It also made me realise why at a certain point in their careers people shield themselves a bit more from the public. We were lucky to have his blog for as long as we did. It made me think about audience reactions, and about the internet - I got angry about a couple of mean-spirited reviews of Ten Dead Men but can't really imagine those opinions being directed at me personally and on such a huge scale.

It's a weird thing to have happened, and proof that there is a large proportion of people out there who are slightly crazy when it comes to these things.

6) My friend Justin is running his genre film festival Phantasma-goria again this year. I keep meaning to blog about it properly but never have time so I want to at least mention it now. I went last year and it was awesome, as described here. It's a chance to see films you don't often get to see on a big screen, meet the directors of those films and chat to like-minded genre film fans. And it's cheaper than a lot of similar festivals so there's no excuse really. I'm planning on being there for the whole weekend and I can't recommend it enough. Check out the website here.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Been writing...

Lack of proper updates is a good thing - I've been doing actual writing. Just finished the first draft of a new script which was pretty hard work. Have basically been coming in from work, writing until 1 or 2 in the morning, then doing it again the next day for two weeks solid (with a couple of nights off to go to the pub!). Last Saturday I wrote twenty pages during the day then decided to get some beers in, pull an all-nighter and finish the thing...I almost made it. Gave up at about 2 in the morning when I started missing the keys. Then said on Twitter that I'd written 98 pages when I'd only written 92, which shows I was also too drunk to read the page count at that point.

Anyway, tidied it up the next day and wrote the last few scenes - spookily it came to exactly 98 pages when it was done so maybe I was tweeting from the future!

Now getting feedback and hoping to do a second draft soon. Been cool to work on something new, but this balancing writing with the day job thing seems to get harder every time!

Friday, 17 July 2009

Werewolf Break...

Every film should have one of these

You'll have to watch The Beast Must Die to find out who the werewolf is. I chose poorly and got it wrong, Brother Pete guessed correctly.

He didn't win anything.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Summary of randoms...

I've got way too much to blog about at the moment and don't have the time! So this is kind of a random stuff summary:

1) Go give Brother Pete a 'YAY! - Go here, watch Brother Pete's entry into the E4 estings competition and click YAY. The votes don't count this year - they've wisely decided not to make it a popularity contest like last year - but you can still show your support with a friendly YAY. Plus it's really good, and he spent ages on it - I saw him! And then you can go on his blog and leave him feedback if you want. If he becomes a finalist we may get to go to a party where there's free beer and tiny puddings - that was one of my highlights of last year!

2) Although I am in danger of turning this into a random film review blog, I watched Tom Shankland's latest film The Children last night and was really impressed:

It's a neat little one location horror film that despite a slow build-up is surprisingly effective and properly scary once it gets going. There are a couple of bold decisions that make it work 1) to spend time developing the characters so we get to know them before anything bad happens to them and 2) refusing to try to explain why things are happening. Along with Eden Lake and Salvage I'm pretty impressed with British horror so far this year.

3) Actual writing news! I've started on a brand new feature script - the first of the year. Which as usual I daren't talk about for fear of jinxing it or talking about stuff I shouldn't, but of the projects I seem to have been orbiting this year it's gone from concept to treatment pretty quickly and it's the first one I've actually started properly writing. Which made me wonder what I'd been doing since January - rewrites and treatments for things that never got anywhere I suppose.

4) Last night I dreamt I was at next year's Cannes festival - I know people's dreams are boring but this one did have an interesting highlight. At one point a group of us found a stage area where acts were performing, at which point Des O'Connor came out and started singing Velvet Underground songs as his arms and legs grew longer with each note until he was freakishly tall, like some kind of insect man. What does that mean, then? The point is, I woke up thinking that one will have to go in the diary, then started stressing about the fact I'd have two years of Cannes diaries to write up instead of one! Which, once I'd readjusted to reality, made me think I should really finish typing those up. Maybe this weekend...

Monday, 6 July 2009

Ten Dead Men blog...

Over the year and a half I've been writing this blog I have occasionally directed readers to the official Ten Dead Men blog, usually when I've written something over there, or when exciting stuff has happened that I can't be bothered repeating. So just when it looks like the blog will no longer be updated (which is fair enough as there won't be that much news anymore) I thought I'd direct people there again. I presume the blog will stay as it is for the time being, and as a record of the process we went through to get the film made it's pretty exhaustive.

If you've bought the DVD then you probably already have more than enough information about the making of the film from the commentaries, making-of documentary and other bits. But if you did want to know more, or if you're not at all interested in the film but would like to know how a no-budget action film gets made it's worth checking out the blog. It covers the whole shooting period, from the announcement of the project and the first shoot in August 2006, right the way up to the DVD release this year. There are contributions from some of the people involved, and what does make it a bit different from the DVD extras is that it's a record of making the film at the time we were actually making it, before we knew how it would turn out or whether it would actually be finished.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The Day They Tore The Dark Room Down - Part 3 of 3

I've posted the final part of my short story, The Day They Tore The Dark Room Down here.

'And as the flayed man stepped through the glass the reflection on the other side became even more distorted with parts of it shrinking and other parts, its head, feet and hands, remaining the same size. The thing that remained on the other side was not a man at all, but a tiny, ugly clown.'

I've put links to all three parts here in case you need to catch up:
As promised, here's a brief explanation for something I've been working on for a decade or so now. I wrote the script for The Dark Room out of frustration from writing other people's ideas and stories rather than my own - not because I thought my ideas were better, but writing had started to feel like a job rather than something I enjoyed doing. It was a project I'd been working on for years in one form or another and incorporates characters and storylines from aborted scripts or novels or short stories that were once really important to me and have since been abandoned. But whenever I revisited those old projects I always came away liking the characters, so I decided they should all get together in this one new project.

I wrote it as a script because I didn't know how to do anything else - I hadn't written any prose for years and even when I did I was never that great at it, which is partly why I started writing films. Also I figured it could make a nice writing sample - I've never really been under any delusions of it actually being made. So I wrote the draft in between other projects - I blogged about it occasionally if you click 'The Dark Room' label you can follow a brief history of the development of the script. You can also read the first ten pages here.

So I finished it and was pretty happy with it and gave it to a few people to read who gave me some really great feedback in return. Thoughts on the script were generally positive and a couple of people really liked it a lot. But I started to realise that I hadn't really got what I wanted out of it.

The difficulty with scriptwriting is that what you produce isn't finished until it's made into a film. That's something I understand and have learned to live with. It's all part of the process, but with The Dark Room I knew I'd written something that would never be made into a film, but I wanted people to take it as a finished artwork rather than the blueprint for something else. Obviously I couldn't afford to film it myself and even if I could, I'm not a director - it would be bad. I thought about getting in touch with an artist and doing it as a comic, but from working on comics before I knew how much time needed to be spent on the artwork and finding a great artist to work on something like this for free would be hard work. So that left writing it as a novel.

Going through my notes I found that I'd tried this a couple times before, but had given up after the first few pages. At least with the script I had a structure and a plot now but it still seemed like a massive project in a medium that I wasn't used to. So I decided I'd go back to short stories instead and see how things worked out from there - do they work, do I enjoy writing them, that kind of thing. The plan was to write three in a year, each one focussing on one of the main three characters. Given that it's taken me 6 months to finish the first one that might be a bit ambitious, but I'll see how it goes.

The whole thing is rather self-indulgent. There are things I should probably change - two of the main characters have very similar looking names, for example, and the title The Dark Room has been used for a billion other peoples' projects. But none of that matters at the moment. Ultimately this was a project that I used to remind myself why I enjoy writing.

Also, most of it was written when I was in no condition to handle the technical nature of scripwriting but wanted to write anyway- i.e. in the early hours of the morning or when I'd had too much to drink. That probably shows.