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Friday, September 30, 2005

Back where we started

I wanted to launch into some upbeat proposition about a brave new way forward. But before we do that I couldn't let this article pass. Its by Mark Lawson in the Guardian and its about how writers are tossed about with regard to credits. Read it here.
Photo from "The Adventures of the Tattooed Man, directed by Tim Clague and Adrian Ward for Brittannia Building Society

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Recap of lessons learnt


I think it wise to recap where we are so far for those that have come in late and are having to stand at the back.

So far we have concluded:

  • Writing is a lonely existence
  • As the writer of the script you have little influence on the final film
  • You have no power as you are invisible to the public
  • The public don't know you as what you do is not 'sexy'
  • You need to be sexy
  • One way is to do something else. What we have called a hyphen, eg. writer-director
  • Another way is to be a 'brand'. Someone who delivers fresh thinking. eg. Charlie Kaufman
  • The traditional structure of delivery is about marketing - NOT about making good films.
  • We want to make good films
  • So we need to remove as much of the middle man as possible.

Coming up:

  • How can the audience and film maker connect more easily
  • Can you do away with the middle men
  • How can blogs help?

See you in the future

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The aggressive proposal

Myself and Shaune write our proposals in what we have dubbed an aggressive style. They are very challenging and advocate a change in thinking and how we look at the world. We don't write - its a bit like... - we tackle what we've seen before and what we don't like about it. Check out this proposal for a show called Intermission. It was written in jest (almost) but it shows the point:

Intermission: Why have a documentary about anything. Let’s be honest - most people can’t follow them anyway. Television is just moving wallpaper isn’t it? So this programme sets out to be the best. Shots of cute kittens, sunsets, babies laughing, rolling hills and knitting give our eyes something to look at for half an hour. The end.

Anyway. The point of all this is that Shaune saw a similar writing style in the marketing site of an ISP. Here's the link.

But I like that they call it a manifesto and I think we'll copy that name and use it from now on. Its a bit less scary!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

High concept - low talent

Check out this unusual blog called Query Letters I Love. Its a string of bad pitches recieved by an mystery Hollywood dude. He shares them with the world as a warning to us all. Either that or he makes up a continuous stream of rubbish. Either way - its good fun to read about bad ideas. And it means that I had better stop work on my version of 'Harsky & Stutch: Truant Officers Extraordinaire!' as someone else has beaten me to it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Blog TV - part two

An update on Blog TV. As Paul Draper said in reply it will be hard to replicate the blog experience in TV form - maybe even a futile or pointless task. But I've given it a go anyway. Shaune Fradley, who I worked with on Wimborne Road a few years ago has sent it on to Sky and ITV already.

Here is the proposal

Blog TV

Nobody has all the answers. So why do we pretend they do? Why do we let people in our living rooms so they can talk at us?

This programme is different. This programme seeks out the answer through the exploring the shared experience. Not through vox-pops, not through ‘experts’ but by talking sensibly to everyday people. Give them a chance to shine.

Example show: Topic – Euthanasia
• A doctor, a firm believer in the defence of life at all costs, lays out his opinion.
• But then he meets a man whose mother is terminally ill. Why can’t she have her dignity?
• Which leads him to talk to the consultant in charge of the patient – what is his prognosis?
• But then he talks to someone who came out of a coma after a year. What is there life like now?
• Which leads him to talk to a lawyer – what is the legal point of view?

Through the ongoing ‘conversation’ will our presenter change his view. Only through talking can we shift our perspective.

Taking the best of documentary and the best of discussion programmes we get out and about and create a country-wide conversation with people who know what they are talking about, yet have never been asked. No spin, no ego, no celebrity. Just people like you and me.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Thank you for the music

Just getting back for a moment to the idea of why the writer is lost in the film making process. Lets look at another industry...

Maybe its because I identify with the plight of being 'invisible' but I often feel bad about music producers. Not for too long obviously. But I mean, am I mistaken, but don't they actually create the sound of the album (or the song). They are similar to the director of a film. The singer is just like the actor - important yes, but essentially another instrument. Is that fair to say that?

Who is this?

Why it's William Orbit. No? He produced Madonna's Ray of Light. But you wouldn't know that from its amazon page. Not a mention of him. I quite like the sound. So I might want to check out some of the other productions of his. Like I might want to see other films directed by Spike Jonze after enjoying Adaptation. Well bad luck. You can't.

Why is that? What is it that says we are allowed to follow Madonna's career but not William Orbit. Unless of course he was a hyphen. Like Dr Dre (producer-artist) or Simon Cowell (producer-TV villain).

And let's not even get started on who writes these songs!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Blog TV

I'm just about to put in a TV proposal. The aim of the proposal is to try and capture what we have been talking about here so far. Can you have a programme that talks directly and in a two way direction to the audience? Above is a chart that shows the change in the media.

With a blog you bypass the controlling elements of the editor (the gatekeeper) and the distributors (the means of production). You also bypass those costs.
Obviously with a TV show you can never truly achieve the top route. You always need to go the bottom route - for now anyway. But this idea is a half way house.

What is the show then?
The show would run in a similar way to a blog. I would say in episode one - writers have no control. Someone would email in saying why this was wrong and I'd go and talk to them on camera. They would show me what they mean with examples, clips etc. And then I'd move on to 3 other people with opinions. And slowly over the series I would form a new opinion.
I'm not saying this would be the topic and I'm not saying that I would present it. But it demonstrates how it would work. It tries to be inclusive. And shows how our opinions should change as we learn more. Most of all it tries to go the top route, not the bottom and bypass the one-way lecture.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Hey kids - just say no

Seth Godin's got another interesting challenge on his blog.

Hearing that cock pit doors were turned by penny pinchers at the FAA before 9/11 he made this business proposition:
Appoint a CNO - chief no officer. No longer can someone say no to an idea and leave it at that. If you want to turn something down, you've got to pass it on to your boss. Then either he says yes or gives it to his boss. For a "no" to be official, it'’s got to be approved by the chief no officer and countersigned by every manager along the way.

So, what would have happened if the FAA or FEMA had a CNO? Who would have had the guts to turn down cockpit door locks if saying "no" meant the idea would go upstairs?

And what happens to any organization that creates a culture where maintaining the status quo requires your boss to give you the okay?

Of course, it's not this simple. But the very act of talking about it helps people focus on what's killing their organization. I don't care if you're in radio, packaged goods, organized religion or an online merchant. If you're not saying yes to change, you're slowly losing whatever race you happen to be in.

Now - this sounds great. But this situation is what exists in the film industry. Where no one wants to say NO. They don't want to be the guy (or gal - but it is mainly men) who turned down 'Ghost' or 'Donnie Darko' or any other sleeper hit. But they don't want to say YES either. They don't want to be the guy who spent millions on Pluto Nash. So they say nothing and the project goes into development hell. Tpurgatoryory for ideas. Only maybe a triphyphenpen can help you escape.

The result of CNO is the exact opposite of the aim. No change! Fear keeps us prisoner

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Get closer

Wouldn't it be better if the audience and film maker could get closer? Doesn't that happen with blogs? The world is becoming much more immediate. Instant feedback for text. Viewing figures for TV. QVC constantly monitor the phonecalls as every word is spoken and every graphic appears on screen. They 'talk' - at least in someway - with their audience.

Films seem behind on this. There is still that idea of the silver screen and the people on it are beyond reach. But now we know that all you need to be a celebrity is to go on a TV gameshow this seems a little out of date. We need to break the silver screen. Let's get on the same side as the audience. Work together. How can you make a flop if you've worked WITH your audience?

Monday, September 12, 2005

An aside

Seth Godin wrote on his blog

The first lesson is that free ebooks spread FORTY times faster than ebooks that cost money. That should give you pause if your goal is to spread your ideas. It seems to me that it's really difficult to imagine that the $9 or $12 you can charge for an ebook is more effective than reaching forty times as many as people for free.

What is the film equalivant? Those viral shorts from beer companies? Great, but that's an advert - not a film. Get a good fun film, less a 1 meg in size and it'll fly. DePict is a festival for films under 90 seconds in length so this kind of production is out there. But...

I never get emailed films. Do you?

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Who is in charge around here?

So far we've talked about dynamic inside the industry. Now the bigger picture...

Let's jump straight to the top of the tree. We all know that in standard, entertainment style, film the audience is in charge. If they turn up - its a hit and you get a sequel. If not - then it disappears. So a film needs to be hit from the off. And people like an easy sell.

We used to have high concept pitches such as "a man finds that his whole life has been lived in a computer simulation" but now we have high concept titles where the title IS the sell. But when was the last time you heard someone say that they really loved "Dukes of Hazzard" or "Bewitched". Someone here is massively underestimating the audience I think.

"Memento", "Donnie Darko", "Sixth Sense" - give people a good film and they go. Not only that they will tell ALL their mates. No big nasty marketing required. Maybe what we need is a new form of distribution - and make the link between audience and film maker transparent and one step. Not through seven layers of companies with cross deals and partnerships that each need to take a cut. Even 10 Seconds had 3 companies between me and the money!

So that's the next topic. How can film makers hear directly from the audience? How can we get along side the audience?

Friday, September 09, 2005

The agents view...

Bit of a lazy post this one. By here is what Julian Friedmann said on another message board - yet it seemed highly relevant. He is still starting from a point of view of getting yourself a hyphen.

I applaud the debate about why so few writers direct, although as an agent my experience is that most of those who do so fail to see that if they are any good as writers they should want a better director than themselves, and if they think they are any good as a director they should want to direct better scripts than they can write. Too many writers are forced to try directing because they can't sell their script to anyone and because the industry appears to love writer-directors.

Instead, I think that it makes more sense for writers to become "filmmakers" by producing. Directing is very skilled, ideally requiring both training and considerable practice doing shorts and television before risking a feature film. The September issue of ScriptWriter Magazine has an entire editorial about this, because it will be a more successful way forward in my opinion as the technology becomes simpler and less expensive. There is also an article on how films are sold and distributed, essential knowledge that few writers have.

We are entering an era of UKP 50,000 to UKP 250,000 feature films, some of which will make a great deal of money even if they do not get theatrical release. It will also be an era in which theatrical release becomes less important.

Remember, Julian's idea of a writer-producer dramatically shifts the balance of power. Now the writer-producer can fire the director!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

She's leaving home, bye bye. (C)

Paul Draper replied to the last post and here is a little extract:
If the film eventually becomes a collaboration between yourself and the world why not collaborate from the off and write to pass to another to interpret in their direction or production? ...a good parent knows when to allow school, friends to influence their child, and so I think the writer should welcome artistic additions to his/her vision. Something beautiful may emerge you never even imagined.

Paul obviously has a point. And in fact I talked about the use of the fully collaborative method that created my short film WaterMelon a while ago in a previous post. Here I advocate the use of giving up elements of your film to allow an influx of ideas.

But as the writer of the film, (and just the writer - if you had no hyphen) you are powerless to control what happens next. Does someone take your story and miss the point? Do they cast it against how you see it? Yes, maybe as Paul suggests this will be a fresh new direction. Or will it be a disaster? You won't know. Your sitting at home in front of a keyboard while someone adds a car chase to sex up your coming-of-age deeply felt drama.

Children need to leave home, yes. But do you sell them at the slave market? Wouldn't you worry if they didn't keep in touch?

Paul's film is available to watch on the BBC Film Network site.

Monday, September 05, 2005

What - just a writer

Back onto the main theme of this blog. How to make sure the film that you want to get made - is the one that does get made. The big shame is that you need to a hyphen. A writer-director or a writer-producer. Being a writer-writer just doesn't seem to cut it.

Friday, September 02, 2005

10 Seconds Update

My short film 10 seconds continues to find success. Here is a run down so far.

* Selected for the Short Film category at the Rushes Soho shorts festival
* Selected for the Talent Circle super shorts festival
* Selected for the RollingStock festival
* US distribution through MicroCinema
* Chosen as film of the month, with a full page write up, in Showreel Magazine
* Shown at Reading festival last month

The SuperShorts screenings are coming up. Get along there to check out some great UK short films.