Posts Tagged ‘the film script’

I’m really happy with my New Year’s resolutions. Really, really happy.  What differentiates this year’s set from all the previous ones is that they’re prescriptive rather than proscriptive, “thou shalts” rather than “thou shalt nots” and, as such, leave one with a feeling of achievement, rather than a fear of failure.

Probably the most successful resolutions are those relating to the timetabling of my day.  For years I’ve been a believer in getting down to work early and carrying on through the day.  That, at least, was the theory.  In fact what I’ve believed in is sitting in front of my computer early, then finding as many ways to distract myself from working as possible (oh Wikipedia!  how you tempt me with your “Random article” link) until it gets to 10.30 and I can slope off to a coffee shop for a shot of caffeine and a bun, before returning to my computer hours later only to realise that (a) calories have left my brain lethargic and (b) actually, my VAT return is probably more important than the next few pages of script.

Having a set beginning and end to the “main project” part of my writing day, with afternoons left aside for all those irritating bits of admin and, er, paying jobs,  has been a massive improvement.  Obviously, kicking the various distractions into the long grass of the afternoon helps productivity during the morning but, more than this, ending the main project at noon and not starting it again until 8.30/9ish the next day gives plenty of time to ponder what those next 3ish hours of writing will involve.  A lot of the time one chooses to distract oneself when writing because one doesn’t really know what’s coming next.  It’s much easier to surf the net/go for a bun/play-17-hours-of-LittleBigPlanet-and-still-get-stuck-on-that-sodding-wheel-of-death than it is to sit down and come up with the answer to “what happens next”.  Under the new regime, I (and my subconscious) get 21 hours to work on that problem, with the result that, when I start in anew on the film script each day, I know pretty much exactly what I want to happen and how I’m going to get there.  It’s hugely liberating.   Now why didn’t I think of it 10 years ago?


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The thing about audiences, whether they be readers or cinemagoers or even just people slumped in front of the box is that they’re clever.  Obviously, as individuals they’ll range across the whole spectrum of intelligence (unless your book/film/TV script is called something like  “The Ineluctable Modality of Fate” or “Janet and John and Pat the Dog” in which case the range of available IQs is likely to be rather more limited) but, taken together, they will have a vast amount of knowledge (this, by the way, is why it’s always best to save “Ask the Audience” for the really tricky question on Who Wants to be a Millionaire).  Audiences really will pick up any small clues you choose to seed your manuscript with, they don’t need to be prepared for any plot twist with a long explanation in words of one syllable.

Irritatingly, I appear to have forgotten this while wrestling with “the great script”.  I’ve been trying to hint at the twist  coming up in my film script with a few well-chosen bits of scene-dressing earlier on.  Re-reading what I’ve put together so far, I now realise I’ve put something in every other scene.  I may have wanted to send out a few little clouds, presaging the coming storm but instead I’ve knocked up something akin to the tornado scene in The Wizard of Oz.

Ah well, looks like I can start tomorrow with more than a few revisions.

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rose1Shakespeare claimed that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” but, as JBS Haldane pointed out in My Friend Mr Leakey no one would think of the rose in the same way if it were called the Lesser Stinkwort. As Mr Leakey himself said, “Names matter more than you think.”

The point came up on Charlie Brooker’s excellent Screenwipe Special on writers a month or so ago. Graham Linehan (writer of Father Ted, The IT Crowd, Black Books &c) was saying one of the things he missed most about working with Father Ted co-writer Arthur Matthews was his ability instantly to come up with the name for a character. As an illustration he gave the randy, larger-than-life postman featured in the episode Speed 3. His name? “Pat Mustard”. As soon as you hear that name you know what the character is going to deliver. It works absolutely perfectly.

I spent more time than I should today trying to name the heroine in my film. I’d got her down in my outline first as “Louise” and then as “Ellie” but when I came to place her into the script for the first time, neither seemed right. Matters were made more complicated by the fact that my default setting is to give my female characters one of those names posh families give their daughters and then shorten to boys’ names – Harriet/Harry, Charlotte/Charlie &c. Why this default? Well, to me those names always conjure up someone frighteningly clever, funny and independent and, as far as I’m concerned, those three words are the definition of a sexy heroine.

Unfortunately for me, the female lead in my current script needs to be (at least when we first meet her) someone badly damaged by life. Somehow I can’t imagine one of my Harrys (Harries?) or Charlies in that role. In the end I plumped for Kate, one of those iceberg names: seemingly plain but concealing something far more impressive. Don’t believe me? Then I pray in aid Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett and Kathryn “Kate” Hepburn. See?

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There are (at least) two schools of thought on how you should get through a first draft of a script.  One school says you should work your way through from beginning to end, never looking back (possibly for fear of being turned into a pillar of salt/having your wife forever trapped in the underworld).  The other suggests that you work through the script from the beginning each day, revising as you go.

In the past I’ve generally stuck to method one, if only because method one is quicker.  With the film script, however, I’m switching to method two.  It does take a lot longer, with the first half of the writing day taken up by what went before but it is a great opportunity to add in those little tweaks/big changes that only leap into your mind in the middle of the night, as well as helping to give some consistency to the tone.  At least, that’s my excuse for only getting 3 pages of new material written today.

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choices-thumbWriting, like acting, is all about choices (it’s all about lots of other things as well, of course, but “choices” can be found pretty near the top).  Do I use this word or that?  Location A or B?  Is this an anti-hero or an all-out villain?  Would I really like fries with that?

The choice being made can be a tiny one but that doesn’t make it any less importance.  Was it Laurence Olivier who said that when acting he always started with the nose and everything else fell into place from there?   Today, for instance, it came down to who owned a car, a problem that took almost an hour to solve.  The hero of the script I’m working on is divorced (separated?)  and back living with his mum, despite being in his mid-30s.  One of today’s scenes saw him driving off to a job interview (no, he’s not going to get the job).  The question was, is he driving his own car or his mum’s?

Well, let’s see.  If it’s his own car then we can use it to say something about him: does he like flash cars?  What sort of music does he have on the MP3?  What radio station does he default to?  Is his motor filled with junk?  Is there a stash of Mars Bars (or should that be some sort of cereal bar?  Get in that “wants to be fit but can’t resist a snack” attitude? See? – choices everywhere!) in the glove compartment?

Then again, driving his own car means that he’s kept something reasonably substantial for himself in the divorce/post-separation.  Given that he’s failed to move on from the relationship, maybe he would have left the car with his ex.  He thinks he’s just kipping in his childhood bedroom as a stopgap, until his ex takes him back.  This is also the reason why he’s failed to get himself a new job and build a new life – he doesn’t realise (/won’t admit) the old one is over yet.

Now I get to make the hero drive his mum’s car.  This supports his “we’ll soon be back together again” attitude to his ex AND I can still say a lot about him with the car: how does he react to all the choices his mum makes for her car?  I’m pretty sure he’s going to hate what’s on the CD player.  I also get to have a bit of fun with him crashing the gears and being appalled by the contents of the glove compartment.

Of course, tomorrow I may decide that this was completely the wrong choice, but then that’s what tomorrows are for.

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