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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Free and online writing tool

Zhura has been around for a couple of years now. But it doesn't seem to have caught the imagination or moved on too far. It is an online scriptwriting tool. So, like Final Draft, it does your layout for you. But your script is kept online so you can access it from any web PC in the world and it also allows you to collaborate on the script with other writers.

All good features! In short - a screenplay specific version of GoogleDocs.

So why hasn't it caught on more then? My take on it is that script writing is a very solitary, unsharing type of writing. Even if you write with a partner you tend to do it behind closed doors. The film / tv making stage, when you get to it, is such a team effort - everyone gets involved. So the writing is THE time to just get your head down and work privately, consider ideas and battle cliches.

Having said all that - consider the benefits of using a tool like this if you had a writer, a co-writer, a producer and a development person having to work to a tight deadline.

But then also consider the chaos.

So the jury is out for me. And I guess for others too. If anyone has used this (or similar) websites to write a script then leave a comment. Personally I have only used such tools for pitch documents and other supplementary materials.

Friday, December 26, 2008

MeRrY ChRisTmAs

Following on from the rip roaring success of last year - here is my Christmas film 2008. Made over Christmas itself in a crazy improv method please forgive any rough edges that may be due to much eating and merriment. However this film is the only place to see the divine combination of Alexandra Burke from the X Factor, myself playing a vicar and the Advertising Standards Authority! Enjoy!!!

Note: Extra good news - this year does not feature myself pulling funny faces.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

New film 2.0 blog

Quick link to James Robinson's blog for the technie / new distriubution readers or anyone who wants to know where their future pay checks may come from

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Free Faintheart - The writer gives his view...

Yesterday I mentioned the news of the film Faintheart being available free. And if you want to make sure you see it free at your local flicks then they have a map to make yourself known on! Vote here!

The writer David Lemon got back to me with his view on this release strategy. Here is what he said...

I'm really glad Faintheart is getting seen.
Obviously I'd have been happier with the original plan of a longer theatrical release (which was still the plan when I spoke at the Screenwriters Festival in June) but there's nothing worse than having made something that just sit on a shelf -or hard drive- gathering dust.

So, 'my take' on all this...difficult to say, Tim. There are aspects of the production process that I think might have worked better- and in that I'm including my script (what writer is ever 100% happy with their work?) but would those changes-in-hindsight have guaranteed a theatrical release?
The short answer is 'no'. As we both know, film production and guarantees rarely go hand in hand.

On the positive side, this sort of online/one day theatrical release is a first of sorts and should help drum up awareness for the DVD release shortly after.
We've also had some pretty good reveiws, not least for the BIFA winning Eddie Marsan (who's in so many films and tv shows of late I suspect he's cloned himself).
I also got to walk on the red carpet up in Edinburgh with the likes of Shane Meadows and Sean Connery, which is pretty cool- and, in the long term, now have a few producers actively interested in developing projects with me.

-And as you pointed out, we did audition online and involve the public in the production process, so the free screenings are a nice way to thank all the myspace and re-enactment folk for their time, passion and weaponry.

Hope that's cool with you.

Oh-and Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Faintheart: a contract with the audience case study

I was pleased to see in Screen International that "Faintheart" will be released simultaneously and free of charge for one day only in 150 cinemas and on MySpace on January the 27th.
The reason I'm pleased is that I feel this fulfills the contract with the audience, at least in my mind. As you may remember this was the film created with the support of MySpace. I believe if you ask your audience to help with the writing, casting and ideas then you owe them. So see you there on the 27th. Haven't heard David Lemons take on it yet.

Nollywood - shooting a feature in a week

This talk is about the Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, the 3rd largest film industry in the world. They are making about 40 features a week!

The best part about this story however is that this is an industry grown up from the grassroots. No Hollywood cash injection, no funding, no film council style lottery stuff. Just people making films, at a price that means locals can see them, which means they earn enough to make another one. Are these films great? Probably not, but they are relevant to the people who want to see them.

So could we do that here? Could we do a feature in say 10 days? Why not? Would you, should you? Should I?

Probably not. As it has taken me a week so far to try and get the insurance done so I can get my new mac. So I'm one feature behind already!!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Broken mac

I may be less bloggy for a while as my Mac has 'bit the dust'. The image above isn't actually my mac (I stole it from here) but is more dramatic to look at. Mine has simply stopped working due to a flood through the roof. I have much more detail around this personal story but I'm sure that that simple synopsis more than enough for now. You don't need the full treatment!

The good news is that I am a back up nerd. So no data loss at all. I hope that you are all the same! The better news is that this random event has afforded me a rare chance. I have lived, partially, the experience that my characters go through in my Red Planet competition TV series called 'Off'. Here is part of my synopsis / pitch for it...

What would happen if everything had to be switched off for 10 minutes?
The mobile phones. The television. The radio. The internet. Everything.
Everything that we use to bind us together. The things that hold our society together even though none of it existed 20 years ago. What would those 10 silent minutes be like? And then what would happen if they didn’t come on again? What would happen if everything stayed “ OFF ”?

So what about me? What happened to me when the computer stayed off? Here are the phases I went through:

1 - Straight away I felt at a loss. What do I do now? Confusion.
2 - Then came an effort to circumvent the system, to cheat the problem. I got my emails on my iPhone and am writing this blog elsewhere.
3 - After that I looked for things to fill the vacuum. Doing other things. Making script notes on paper. Catching up on films to watch etc. As if to say, "hey, I don't care anyway"
4 - Anticipation - I'm getting ready for when things return to normal.

So 4 phases. What will be interesting will be using those 4 phases in the script but at a more exaggerated level. Characters can live these day to day but with a much higher impact on life than just one machine going wrong. For them it is everything. And of course, as you may guess, things do not come back on. So their anticipation is short lived.

As I stuck in phase 2 I'll see you around!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Video pitch

Following on from Monday...

Kenny at the Screenwriters Festival asked those with a webcam to do a little video pitch of their idea, in my case - "Friend Delete?". Well that's not mad enough for me. So I did this instead.

Ticking your own box

With some competitions coming in now and more soon (Digital Shorts, Cinema Extreme etc) it was worth remembering what Lucy says about her script...

Perhaps it's not high concept enough? In that case, that's absolutely nothing to do with my writing. However good it is, if it's high concept they want - I'm just not ticking the right box.

I'd just like to extend that argument a bit further. You don't need to enter any competitions these days. You don't need your script and idea 'validated' by anyone if you don't want. Just get it out there. And get it made outside of the system.

Hope, Mr Vista, WaterMelon were all done this way.

The point is if you love it, if it ticks your box then you go for it!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Pitch in Time

I'm also through to the final ten of pitching competition at next year's Screenwriters Festival.

Which is nice for me as I therefore get in free. But of no use to you. Which is no good. So in the spirit of the blog I thought I could at least share my entry so you can prepare your ridicule in advance.

Delete Friend?
25 word pitch
Children’s TV series. After deliberately spreading a facebook virus Jade must visit everyone of her on-line friends to apologise. But is everyone who they seem?

150 word synopsis
Jade is a menace to her friends, in real life and on-line. But when she goes too far and deliberately spreads a virus across a social networking site she becomes the media hot topic.

The internet companies want to make an example of her. The school want her out. Even the politicians want to show that they are on top of childhood antisocial behaviour.

So a plan is hatched. Jade must visit every single on-line ‘friend’ in person and apologise.

A childhood ‘road movie’. A physical journey each week to find the friend and make them forgive her, that’s if they really are who they said they were! But also an emotional journey for Jade to learn empathy, understanding, tolerance and how we are all inter-connected.

“Byker Grove”, “My Name is Earl” and “Straight Story” come together with massive television / internet crossover opportunities.

Lecture Materials

If you were at today's lecture then here are the materials...

The Powerpoint, The check list (as a word doc), one of the style sheets, the '10 seconds' film.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Red Planet

Just got this good news...

Congratulations Tim Clague!

Your submission “Off” has been chosen as one of the finalists for this year's Red Planet Prize. Can you now email your completed script - as soon as possible - to this address, along with your synopsis and details. The script will then be considered by our panel of judges and the winner will be announced in the New Year.

All the best and well done.

Red Planet Pictures Limited

The next big genre is...

Thanks to Robert at Zen Films for this chart. As you can see, perhaps that old favourite of the low budget film maker, Horror, is in recession too. It is suffering a monster munch credit crunch.

But as you know my philosophy is that people want to see films and people want to make films. So that only leaves the question of 'what genre'. My guess (and it is an emotionally based guess) is "Children's".

Watch out over the next 2 years for a kid overload. You read it here first.

Monday, November 24, 2008

If you are NOT a nerd then don't read this

Not strictly true, but slightly true. Check out this link to see what I'm on about. It is a new technology that allows multi-camera streaming so you can cut between 5 clips yourself. The top big window is for the main image. The bottom 5 mini thumbnails are your camera options.

So that is interesting from an IT angle. But it could also be an interesting dramatic opportunity. What kind of story could be told this way? What options does it open up? What dramatic techniques could be applied? Perhaps an exciting new story telling method? But only if we make it happen. Otherwise this ground breaking technology will be limited to this style of show.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Christmas gifts for film nerds aka "Get shorties"

Don't know what to get the film geek in your life for Christmas? Or maybe that's you and you need a treat. Either way, may I suggest the new Cinema 16 - World Short Films - it's a double disc edition. Here is what the Amazon blurb says...

Proof that the best things really do come in small packages, CINEMA 16 - WORLD SHORT FILMS is a collection of inspired shorts, and a must-have for any self-respecting film fan. It features the works of some of the world's most gifted directors (Guillermo Del Toro, Sylvain Chomet, Guy Maddin, Alfonso Cuaron, and Jane Campion), who demonstrate their adroitness at conveying their artistic visions simply and succinctly. But it's not just established directors who are celebrated here; a new generation of filmmaking talent is represented by the likes of Andrea Arnolds' Oscar winner WASP, 2008 Oscar nominee MADAME TUTLI PUTLI, and 2008 Sundance winner ON THE ICE (SIKUMI).

So in short (geddit) it is people who have become famous for features sharing their low budget shorts. What did they do with the same level of equipment and budget as you may have? The Cinema 16 range are always fascinating and inspiring. I've not seen this one yet but I have got a couple of the other editions and my own film Eight is on the British edition, not because of me but because it was directed by Stephen Daldry. The best thing about seeing these shorts is that some of the films are almost a bit rough around the edges. If you are struggling to make your budget go far enough then at least you'll learn that you are not alone. These people have done it too.

Lastly it is worth mentioning the man behind it all, Luke Morris, a film maker himself who thought that he would want to see a DVD like this - so did it himself!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Weekend viewing

If Facebook were real.

Thanks to Chris Kenton for sharing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I went home

Over at GapingVoid Hugh is talking about his blue monster project. An interesting initiative for Microsoft which says, as you can see, 'Change the world or go home'.

That's what we all try to do. I do at least. Whether through bold schemes like 365films, Circumference - or by changing how we view our work with The Scriptwriters Life - or by working on adventurous and challenging spec scripts like the 'medieval western', the Kiss of Judas.

We all do that as writers and film makers I believe. We all want to say something that matters, that makes a difference.


I also think it is okay if you go home instead. Sometimes you can't change the world. Going home is okay. It is where my long-suffering wife is for a start! In fact not enough people 'go home'. This video I directed a while back is about just that.

Caroline Bannock was the youngest ever associate producer for ABC News. She talks about the ultimate work pressure, working in a war zone to tight broadcast deadlines – and how she now has achieved a better balance in her life. She is now a scriptwriter by the way!

So in fact I would say to Hugh...

"Change yourself like you'd change the world"

Monday, November 10, 2008

Following on from a recent post here is what I'm thinking about right now...

Go with passion, rather than techniques.
If everyone else doesn't want to write about something - then you should do it.
Okay may not be good enough.
But you should be satisfied with your best - if not, then madness lies your way.
Let your characters do things because it makes sense, not because the plot says it must be so.
Apply that to yourself too!


Friday, November 07, 2008

Show not tell

If you are interested in new ways of film making and new ways to reach an audience then the Power to the Pixel event has uploaded some interviews with film makers who have this done this successfully. So learn from those that have braved it before you. Get them here.


Change is drama they say. But what I find interesting is that this photo is from Obama's Flickr account. And is shared under a non-commercial creative commons license. So by checking the detail you can see it was really taken by a guy called David Katz and was taken at 23:23:38 on a Canon EOS and David decided to use a manual iris.

Open government indeed.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The best single bit of advice for new writers - EVER!

Well I thought long and hard about this one - obviously. What would be the one piece of advice on scriptwriting. And by that I am limiting this to the craft of writing rather than the career of being a writer.

It has to be an idea out of the book Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach.

There are lots of ideas even in this one book. And there are many books out there. But there is a single idea that helps me. It is not about structure, or techniques. It is not about dialogue. It is not about layout. It is this...

For each character know what they want. And know what they need.

They may think they want to get through the working day. But we all know they need to change their home life priorities.

They may think they want to survive the shoot out. But we all know they need to discover their partner is a rat.

So many examples. And it is so simple. But without it your drama, whatever the structure, is flat. So that is my number one piece of advice. What is yours?

Photo of Jason Arnopp as taken by me under the direction of Danny Stack.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The small films who could

warwick davis
This post is about celebrating that it can be done.

Yes - the times are changing. Yes it is tough out there. But then film makers are tough - so that's okay.

The above photo is of Warwick Davis signing DVD copies of Small Town Folk
, a funky feature made local to me. It was made for no budget. Just by sweat, ingenuity and down right cheekiness. But there it is. In the shops! And Warwick signed my Willow VHS too!

The following poster is a film made by a great Cannes contact - Rob Pratten of Zen Films. It is called MindFlesh. And here is the email he sent to me...

Of course I hope that you'll buy a copy of the film but if it's not for you, you can still help by forwarding this email to friends and others for whom MindFlesh might be their cup of tea!

Now that is the face of new marketing ideas I feel. No hard sell. You can download direct from him. Just positive messages. And most importantly both these guys did these films with good spirit. They don't have to be hardnuts or screw people over. So cheers to you both.

Last note - both of these films lie somewhere in the horror genre. Word on the street is that this genre may now be saturated so time to seek a new one all you low budgeters. Perhaps perky teen films? Not sure.


Saturday, November 01, 2008

Credit crunch - on films

So, without getting too much in the detail, here is a short synopsis of the film world - from a financial view. I know most blog readers don't relish the prospect of ploughing through trade journals. This is linked to slightly, but not totally, the current economic situation or credit crunch. A picture of the munch bunch was my best effort!

Essentially what used to happen was that the big companies (Universal, Paramount etc) either made films themselves or bought them off of producers for a period of say 20 years to use them as they pleased. The big companies would look after all the deals and the advertising and all that stuff - and keep most of the cash.

What is happening now is more of a service contract. The big companies simply release the film (do the film prints, get them in the cinemas) for a fee of about 8%. The producer does all the rest. And keeps all the rest of the cash.

One way to view this - the producer's job just got harder. They now have to find the all money to make the film AND to advertise it AND they have to look after the myriad of deals. One producer recently stated that they split the budget in half now. Half for making the film, half for marketing.

Another way to look at it - you keep your film and can control what happens to it.

So what does that mean for low budget film makers, indys and writers?

Well it should mean a combination of the two things above. It will mean more control and more influence, financially and creatively. However it could also mean more investment up front - more work for indy types and more back end deals / spec work for writers. In short, there will be more individuality between deals. Each job / deal will be unique.

As a writer I'd be asking questions to producers such as; "can I help you write the marketing material too", "can I co-produce if I bring in finance", "could I swap some payment to hold onto the rights of the characters" etc

As an indie film maker moving into this way of working it becomes very much less about thinking about which big companies will fund my film to who will distribute my film for the best value, how do I fund it creatively, how do I build a team around me to do this? What do I do with the rights now that I'm keeping them?

So both a challenge and an opportunity.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Global Chinwag

Over in California recently was an event called 'The Conversation' - about the future of digital entertainment. It may seem nerdy perhaps - but lots of film makers went, including my old laughing partner Rob from Zen Films. You can read about his experiences here. These 3 highlights however are from the blog of the main man Scott Kirsner.

John Gaeta, the visual effects designer who brought you 'The Matrix' and 'Speed Racer,' suggested that before very long, movies and games will deliver exactly the same level of visual fidelity. Some viewers might prefer the interactive gaming experience, and some might prefer the "sit back and watch" narrative experience. And some, Gaeta suggested, might choose to jump back and forth between the two experiences through portals and trap doors... watching the narrative for a while, then choosing to participate at some crucial juncture.
Great idea - and what a challenge for writers and film makers.

YouTube's George Strompolos proposed that characters from your movie (whether narrative or a doc) ought to be stars of videos on YouTube. Most successful YouTube series, he said, are driven by larger-than-life characters. That extra content, he said, should be part of your marketing campaign.
Does that mean we can expect Mr Vista the movie anytime soon? I'm not sure. But what it does mean is a lot more pilots and small pieces. It also could appear to indicate character over plot.

Ken Eklund, a developer of alternate reality games like "World Without Oil," said, "The culture war between movies and games is over... and movies lost." That provoked some good discussion and debate.
If true then some parts of our craft are gone (montage for example) while others will stay (character arc and dialogue) and we will have to learn new skills (writing for interactive situations). But so what? We are writers we can do anything.

Monday, October 27, 2008

New title: F*** the procrastination tag - here is some advice

I've been busy recently. So blogging has slowed. However that made me think of...

This video that I made recently. It is about how to fit as much into your time as possible.

The good news about time is that no one has an advantage over you. The Coen Brothers don't have more time than us. William Goldman doesn't. Chaplin didn't. So, as struggling writers we can at least take a quantum of solace from that.

So, how do we get the most out of our time then.

Well this video picks up an idea I got from a guy called Tony, who works at a very busy hotel. It talks about splitting your tasks in rocks, pebbles, sand and water - so you can jiggle them around in your 'jar of time'.

All good fun. But the hard part is what are your rocks? Well I always think back to the Scriptwriters Life for that kind of thing. Get rockin'

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What should you write about?

What are you writing (or creating stories in whatever way you choose) about? What are you saying? What should you write about? What should your scripts do? Why should you be a writing?

This post explores these questions that we are all asked and we all ask ourselves. And is a challenge...

Remember the Stella Artois advert above where the old man had a final wish - for a nice pint of Stella? Well do the same for yourself.

It is the end of your days. Everyone is gathered around you. And you have one thing to share, one thing to say. What is it?
Now, why the hell aren't you writing about that right now!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Super super 8

It was great to get a message from Adam Neale...

Hey Tim,

You know I was looking for advice on using Super8... well I gave it a go and it came out rather well. I used it as part of a film that I entered into a channel 4 competition and we're in the finals with it. Check it out here.

My super 8 page is short, perhaps a bit out of date, but very well visited. I'm glad it is used and is helping people make films. But that got me thinking...

How often do say thank you to the people that give us inspiration and advice - like Adam did? Not enough in my case. So thanks to you for reading this.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Small Town Folk on the goggle box

I see that local (to me) film Small Town Folk was featured on the tele today...
In which we learn that Fred Dinenage has a lifelong ambition to be a film extra

And that reminded me of the time myself and Suki went to see the guys on the day the film came out...
And we found out that Chris Musselwhite now has a showbiz signature and Chris R Wright has a gold pen!

No point to this post except to celebrate a local feature getting made and getting out there. Which is reason enough. I reckon. Check it out here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Never the music

Now I don't like music. But...

Here is an idea from the music world, one that Jont has been running. He does gigs. But he does them in people's houses. He provides the gig. They provide the location. They advertise it online. People show up. That's it.

Kind of cool in a rock n roll freewheelin way. But could you do the same thing for film. I think so. Enough people now have big enough screens to have a kind of cinema experience. A film maker turns up, dvd in hand, a pair of red curtains and a bit of showbiz pazzazz and shows some great shorts - comedy style I would suggest. Perhaps skype in some of the other directors and then have a damn good knees up afterwards.

While touring around perhaps make a road movie film too. Or a film featuring everyone at the show as an extra. Loads of ideas.

I might put this forward for funding. So what do people think of that as an alternative distribution idea. Get on the road! Kind of counter intuitive to the benefits of film - but exciting at the same time.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Storydust nonsense

There's nought as queer as folk y'know. Check it out. Enjoy it. Steal the idea for a script!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

New Mr Vista

Just a quick note to say we've enjoyed shooting a new series of Mr Vista today. There was a slight issue with one scene. Mr Vista goes on holiday doesn't go so well when it's the worst storm for ages thrashing the coast. Or does it. It just goes to show yet again that thinking on your feet is always important. The difference with Mr Vista is that the writing is done by everyone; the actor, myself, the crew, Dom carver was there as well as he'd chipped in some ideas. Is that a weakness to not have a single writer? Is it dangerous? Or do more sources of ideas make us lose focus? Do we sometimes appear to have an arrogance as writers? Is it our job to provide a fixed set of answers? Or is it our job to ask questions?

Just some thoughts at the end of the day.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Guess what film this Japanese poster was advertising? (result now in)

This was a real poster for a western film (in the 80s) - but which one???

Just goes to show how much the audience and the marketing make the film what it is - as much as the writing and directing do! The winner gets a signed photo of Mr Vista but please don't let that stop you entering.

Answer: American werewolf in London

Monday, September 29, 2008

The villain's journey

All too often we think of the hero. But what about the villain? Every actor says the villain is more fun to play. A lot of the most memorble characters in movies are the villains - Keyser Soze, The Terminator, Hannibal Lector.

Philip Zimbardo is a name you may not know. But he was the professor who ran the now famous experiment where he took a random group of 24 students and made half of them prisoners and half of them prison guards - and watched the abuses unfold within a matter of days.

In short his career is about studying the evil within us all.

This guy knows what makes a villain so if you're writing a story with a villain in it - and that is probably most of you - then you should watch his 20 minute talk. Be warned however it does contain some disturbing images.

For those that prefer the written word and those of you, like me, who struggled to keep up - here are some notes...

What is evil?
The exercise of power to intentionally:

  • Harm psychologically
  • Hurt physically
  • Destroy or kill
  • Or commit a crime against humanity

Get all 4 behaviours evident and we can clearly see this as a villain rather than a anti-hero or provocateur. The biggest news for me was that Philip's studies have shown that evil can only be linked to power.

What makes a villain?
There are 3 main reasons why someone has become a 'villain':

  • Dispositional villain - they are a bad apple. The simplest and weakest explanation and unfortunately the most typical with scripts. Only The Terminator can get away with this angle really.
  • Situational villain - its a bad barrel. A better and more complex villain. Someone forced into it. Someone that was perhaps once a 'hero' themselves.
  • Systemic villain - blame the barrel makers. The richest villain where we can see that we would perhaps do the same. I would say John Malkovich's character from In the Line of Fire was one of these.

So aim for a systemic villain to offer the richest, most realistic villain to your story and make it a villain that we learn something from rather than just writing someone who is a 'bad egg'. A dispositional villain offers us no way to understand them and their motives.

Lastly, here is Philip's 7 steps to evil. What I would call the villain's journey...
1 - Mindlessly take the first small step. Every evil act begins harmlessly enough but gets out of control.
2 - Dehumanise others
3 - Become anonymous. 90% of cultures who go to war wearing masks also commit villainous acts. A flamboyant villain (eg The Joker) would be unlikely to do so. Certainly a fame-seeking villain would be a villain that was unrecognisble to us as realistic.
4 - Diffusion of personal responsibility - it's not my fault
5 - Blind obedience to authority - they made me do it
6 - Uncritical Conformity to Group Norms - peer pressure
7 - Passive tolerance of evil through inaction

Check out the full talk. I think on reflection that we have neglected our story villains. We like heroes that come from everyday life, a hero we think we could be. Well that should go for villains too. Uncomfortable as that may be.

My favourite quote of the talk - But momma, humanity is my business.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A new way to write

Following on from a recent post here is another new way to do things courtesy of our comic-writing colleagues.

At Marvel they used to do the structure of the story / the issue, then draw it and then add the dialogue last. Fine, makes sense. Well how about doing a film in that way, using that working methodology?

Just write the bare bones structure.
Then film it.
And then write the dialogue, which clearly would have to be a voice over.

Possible? A good idea? It is kind of how we do Mr Vista to be honest. But perhaps we could go further...

Anyone ever worked like this?

Speech bubbles available to download for free from here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Writer Song Meme

Lucy started it. Dom tagged me. Here is the meme.

Find a song that sums up what you think it means to be a writer and post the lyrics on your blog and why you've chosen it. NB: It doesn't have to be your favourite song, it just has to express how you feel about writing and/or being a writer. It can be literal, metaphorical, about a particular form or aspect of writing - whatever you want. Then tag 5 others to do the same (reprint these instructions).

Mine is from a song by prog rockers "Yes" called 'Brother of Mine'...

So giving all the love you have
Never be afraid to show your heart
So giving all the love you have
There is a special reason
A special reason...
In the big dream
We are heroes
We are dreamers
Of the big dream

Indeed. We should be dreamers of the big dream.

I pass this onto...
Steve Keevil - cos his blog is well out of date
Andy Couglan for letting me know I didn't need a brolley.
Clay Lowe because he will know a proper answer
Chris Stack as my most loyal reader

And lastly, YOU dear reader, the one who always wanted an excuse to leave a comment but never did.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

How long does it take to become a good writer

A phrase I heard about writing (possibly from Robbie Morrison) was;

You need to get 100 pages published to clear the crap out of your system.

Now this statement was made about comics writing. But you get the idea. We all have a certain amount of frothy head on top of our home brew that we need to get past to get to the strong stuff.

It could be 5 TV episodes. It could be 6 shorts. It could be 3 feature scripts. I'm not sure how easy it would be to seek a common standard for us as screenwriters. I'm not sure I'm even there yet! Are you?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Watching " Slacker Uprising " by Michael Moore in the UK

Obviously I am very interested to see Michael Moore (in collaboration with Robert Greenwald at Brave New Films) has a new film out and is making it free-to-watch as I proposed for Circumference 3 years ago.

Great to see that happening and I am an ongoing supporter of Robert and his new distribution methods - as well as his documentaries. It's real quality, yet grassroots, stuff fuelled by his own passion and done because he believes in it. And that's what counts!

But a couple of flies in the ointments too.

One: I won't have to tell you why this phrase from Mike's open letter gets my goat - "That's why I'm giving you my blanket permission to not only download it, but also to email it, burn it, and share it with anyone and everyone (in the U.S. and Canada only)." Hmmmm.

Two: This is in effect an advert / propaganda tool. It's a political pamphlet in film form. So it should be free, just as we don't expect to pay for leaflet stuffed through our door. So this business model is not sustainable or typical. In effect we, as film makers rather than activists, can learn little from it to help us.

To me this film is good and welcome - and yet a diversion. But then I also feel we are entering an age where every film will have a unqiue business model just as it has a unique marketing strategy. And why not?

Anyway. If you want to check it out yourself and you are NOT in the US and you know what I mean by a 'torrent' then go here.

Thanks for reading and comments welcome from everyone in the world regardless of where they are! :)

Photo by Erik R. Bishoff.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How do you get great film ideas - a recap

Just a quick recap as I delivered a guest talk on this topic and the content seems a bit spread out on the blog:

Here is the beach combing picture - a simple diagram on the phases of an idea that has come out of my observations of working with creative people...

beachcombing ideas

Here is the animation that goes with it if you want an explanation - the voice by yours truly...

Here is a link to the idea of storydust. This is a way of thinking about keeping small ideas until they become a big one.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What is a good idea?

A good idea is an idea that happens.
Grant Campbell

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Storydust episode 72

What is this doing here at midnight? Let the story begin!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Interactive Emotions

My old friend, interactive writing fan, published novelist and teacher Jim Pope comes in to see me - interested in my recent character randomiser work and knowing I'd been bigging up interactive work like that of Ze Frank and interactive writing like that of Steve Morrison.

He said its always good to come and see me as he never knows what he'll get. It is like my brain is "like that crazy bar out of Star Wars"! I think it is a compliment.

Anyway, the discussion with Jim about interactive writing gave me a revelation style insight.

We think of the interactive element of a story to be plot related only. We the audience interact with the plot. Example: For this to happen click here.or To do this turn to page x And so on.

Is this satisfying? Not always. It means the storyteller can't really lead you on a fully rounded adventure.

What my work on the character randomiser showed me was another way. A 'change the emotion' way. For example a sliding bar on screen all the time that showed how angry you were about the situation. Slide it up to heighten the scene. Lower it to diffuse the scene and move on more quickly. The plot stays almost the same for everyone. Yet the experience is different. Has this been done before? I haven't seen it. So that might be a new project in the offing.

Imagine writing that? Insane!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Not crashed

Mr Vista is still alive and kicking - many people ask. Here he is on Atom Films now. So its all good stuff. Not my favourite episode at all but one thing I've learnt is that I can NEVER predict which episodes will do well. Just raised enough money for series 2. So that's amazing seeing as how its all raised online.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Interactive writing

I've just come off a rather interesting project. It was writing, directing and editing a character randomiser.

Oh yeah? What's that then?

Well it's a short interview with a character, in this case a salesman. He gives his views in answer to various questions. Except that everytime you watch it his views are different. In fact there are 42,000 various combinations.

Now that takes some writing! And some acting. The clip above shows just one version. In the spirit of the blog here some lessons learnt to share about this project in case others want to take this idea forward.

Writing it:The final viewing experience is made up of 3 sets of questions and answers. 5 different versions of each question. 8 different answers. I created a different script for each question and answer.

Technical stuff: Each question and answer was filmed with 2 cameras. The reason for this was so that during each answer I can keep popping up with 'noddies' or follow up questions. If I didn't do this then the audience would spot the randomiser working. It would be clear that any visual cut would be the randomiser picking a clip. This way you don't know what is a 'randomiser cut' and what is a 'normal cut'. So each question or answer is then edited up in final cut so I have 39 short clips. These are then selected and played (jukebox style) by the randomiser program which is build using Flash.

Shooting: The black set is just set up in a dark normal office room but with £300 worth of black material everywhere.

How to write it: The characters opinions are mapped on a grid so as to get a good range of views. From highly skilled to low skilled and high commitment to low commitment. It's then a case of reading it again and again, in lots of combinations. If they don't work then rewrite either the question or answer.

Does it work then?It works okay. I give it 8 out of 10. The writing works perfectly. In fact I think it is the questions that are letting it down. Because they can't really follow on that makes the performance difficult. It seems sometimes like I haven't listened. If I did it again I would probably work on that. One solution being a very definite pause and a clearer statement about moving on or drawing a line in the sand.

Here is a snapshot of the script. Or you can download the whole thing here.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

How to deliver and write a great speech

A few days ago I put up a post and video featuring Brian Jenner. It was just one of his new series of info shorts about speechwriting. I've had a lot of feedback that people liked it. Typical. This is the last time I feature someone else on here, they are always more popular than me. But I have no pride as all you readers know. So here are more top tips from Brian. All in one go! Two clips and then 4 thumbnail links. Enjoy. And obviously I recommend Brian if you do need speechwriting help.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Quote - do you agree?

Steve Morrison was a guy who I met at The Screenwriters Festival this year. I liked the idea of his book which is out soon. It's called the The Regional Accounts Director of Firetop Mountain. It's a spoof on those roleplaying books of the 80s. I liked the idea so much I gave him my hotel room. How's that for being a sudden fan! I think it's because his book reminded me of a quick Mr Vista interactive adventure I knocked out.

Annnnnnnyway. Here is his quote...

"Most people need a lot of money from a job they hate just to make it bearable. If you do what you love, you need less."


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Some great advice on SPEECHwriting!

My good friend and speechwriting guru Brian Jenner asked me do him some viral style clips for him. So I did. They turned out well I reckon. You can a whole load on his youtube page if you are thinking of doing a speech soon. And he'll be trotting them out on his blog over time.

A few pieces of advice - upload them all, trickle them out. The reason being that if someone likes the first video they will want to see more, straight away. Makes sense. I also followed the rule of trying to make the half way point an interesting image, as that is what Youtube uses as a thumbnail. Lastly the simple black backdrop makes these small images stand out and the whole series has a standard look. Jobs a good un.

Personally I like creating material like this. It really is in the spirit of sharing and film 2.0 This is just Brian's advice to use if you wish. No pressure to buy, no big up. Just good sense.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

We are everywhere

I was doing one of my corporate lecturing gigs today. It was about new ideas and how to use these new ideas in interesting ways. So pretty much what this (occasional!) blog covers. But with coffee.

What is clear is that as writers and film makers we love picking up cheeky little snippets of info, finding out more about our craft through books, going to talks and lectures and spending time on line seeking advice. AND we do all this with our own time and money.

Sometimes in larger businesses this is not always the case. One person said that at a previous company of theirs learning was seen as failure - an admission of ignorance. What dispiriting news! So they need to learn some of our love if new ideas.

But what can we learn from business? Well for me it's about tracking return. In business everyone would know the real, tangible, work benefits of (for example) attending the Screenwriters Conference. Was the £300 worth it? How could you not know that? Next year is that better invested in making a short film? They would know.

Lastly though it was good to meet Ivan, (the dude above) who was there on business but is also coincidentally a finalist in the South West Screen feature development competition. Good to see writers are everywhere these days.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Bodily functions and the writer

Here is a great quote by Alec Sokolow - co-writer of Toy Story and others. This appeared in the very last issue of Scriptwriter. I believe this advice extends beyond our immediate work however.

Everybody loves the smell of their own farts. Everyone has to piss on something to make it theirs. Lose the fight before you lose the job. The camel shits and caravan moves on. Every once in a while the camel's going to take a crap and you're either going to have to walk through it or walk around it. Your job is to plough through and move on.

Wise words - possibly. Or maybe Alec has been working with kids for too long. But actually, as with so many of these things, this idea can also apply to our characters as well as to ourselves.

I know that 'everyone has to piss on something to make it theirs' can seem to apply to development execs, agents, producers, actors etc all suggesting lines. But equally it applies to any character in the plot. What are they doing to make the problems, the solutions, the issues theirs? What do they do with it that no other character would.

Or maybe we are just pissing in the wind!

Photo by eNil.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Here's an idea we did about 3 years ago but one that has been lost in the archives since. It involves shooting with 3 cameras specially angled to give a 120 degree view.

This was for a corporate gig. But maybe someone could take this idea and use it in a short film or music video. If so, help yourself.

You simply align the cameras on three close tripods and then realign the images in your favourite editing or compositing software to give a 'aircraft simulator' look. The only problem is that you have to align to specific depths. In this example the back wall is aligned. So when the girl reaches across it goes a bit crazy. But I feel that's all part of this look.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Update on stuff and whatever you know

Just a quick round up of my live projects that continue to get enquires but I never get around to mentioning on here. As ever I hope to be saying it 'as it is' so others may learn from my frontline adventures...

Circumference. The script for Circumference is in the quarterfinals semifinals of the Scriptapalooza competition. The funding idea itself still continues to draw interest but not any bottom line cash. So only a minor success here so far. I believe that 3 years after I raised the idea the rest of the industry has finally caught up. However I was hoping to use this gap, this headstart, as a way of bringing in newer talent. As ever (and understandably) the people who have managed to launch similar projects successfully have done so by teaming up with more established institutions. For instance if C4 had been behind the idea it would have been done by now. Lesson learnt - keep in with the 'old boys' but continue to have 'new boys' ideas.

Eight has been ripped and is available to be pirated here. I've made it at last! This film is nearly 10 years old now. And it still gets attention. It just goes to show that films are a good investment in the long term - but only if you keep them alive.

Mr Vista, the online downbeat comedy series for geeks had a few personal goals. I wanted to get a series that had a least quarter of a million views, would act as a good viral showcase and would break even in terms of funding. A partial success here. Audience wise we are slightly short - coming in somewhere around 150k views. Not too bad. It has opened a few doors for me to get some commissioned virals, but only in the few 100 quid bracket. And it is breaking even just - enough to fund a second series though. Some sources of advertising are drying up however and I wonder if I am seeing a trend (or just a dip) in falling video ad spend. Perhaps the competition has simply caught up at last and there are more film makers and films competing for the same money???

10 Seconds still gets picked up for various screenings and also on-line showcases like here. In fact both 10 Seconds and Mr Vista form part of the Media Guardian Viral Awards. You can watch them again below if you are new / feel bored / feel charitable to let me win. This may be the first ever competition where the winner simply has to get the most views. Never mind the quality feel the width! I should have entered a ten second shot of my ass and seen if I could won with that.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dr Horrible's disastrous adventures in cyberspace!

As a quick follow up to yesterday enjoy while you can Dr Horrible's Sing-Along-Blog. As Dim mentioned in his comment there are connection issues as this seems to stream rather than progressively download.

What is really weird (yes, weird enough to be put in bold) is that this is hard to find online. The makers seem to have done deals with iTunes and MySpace that limits the viewership to various platforms for various parts of the world. Very confusing. And very old school. And crap.

That to one side, its not a bad romp. As writers though there is something extra to enjoy here. And that is the simple fact that if you wanted to write about a musical about crap superheroes where would sell that? Come on, do you think the BBC would commission it. Well now at least you have a chance. So all hail the horrible!

Just to add context this is from Joss Whedon to wrote Buffy - so he has a head start.

Monday, July 28, 2008

film 2.0 and film 1.0 news - 2 flavours same refreshing taste!

Long time blog reader Kulvinder Gill emailed me a link to a Wired article about a 'high budget' web series from the US. You can watch a trailer above. If brevity is your thing then feel free to enjoy two specially selected snippets from the article that lie directly below this writing. They are coming up..... now!

So far, however, this is a gold rush without any gold. Nobody knows how the business is supposed to work — what kind of stories to tell, whether to tell them in 90 seconds or 20 minutes, whether to build a destination site or distribute episodes across the Net, how to generate revenue, how to do it all on a shoestring. The Gemini team is betting they can figure it out. "People ask, 'What's your business model?'" says the director, Stan Rogow, during a lull in the shoot. "And I say, 'This morning's or this afternoon's?' It's only partly a joke."

I recognise that alright. And I love it because it always reminds me of the days of early cinema. I'm 100 years too late for that action. But spot on for this new art form / business. The second section looks at where the money is coming from...

Right now they need a distributor, and they've been talking with everyone from NBC Universal to MySpace about putting Gemini Division on their sites. Whoever they partner with would sell advertising and maybe even help fund the production. MySpace isn't offering money up front, but it does sell ads and split the revenue with producers. Eisner partnered with MySpace on Prom Queen, as did Herskovitz with Quarterlife, but Rogow is hoping for a more lucrative arrangement — which is why he has spent half the afternoon squiring around a pair of suits from NBC. The deal he's discussing would put Electric Farm well on its way to recouping the $1.75 million or so it will cost to make the 50 three-minute episodes Rogow plans to shoot. But the deal's not done yet.

With my own project "Circumference" we're still on the hunt for about £300k. That has been often deemed to expensive (by people with the cash) to recover from advertisers. So surely 1.75 mill is!

Anyway, I still feel perhaps that this project is a bit off the ball. It looks like cheap TV, not something new, fresh and full on film 2.0. I'd still prefer to watch ZeFrank I think. Especially when he talks about product placement.

Kulvinder also reminded me that Cinema Extreme and Microwave have come round again for those that prefer a film 1.0 flavour. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Storydust episode 43 photo

Storydust - episode 43

Today I saw this which may inspire you in some way. This man is asleep in McDonalds. Not only McDonalds but McDonalds in Fleet services. If that means anything to you then you know it adds a certain flavour. Where has he been? Where is he going? Why did no one wake him up? Why did all the staff come and look? What happened that meant he fell asleep half way through his egg mcmuffin? Is he asleep?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Film 2.0 ideas going on right now!

A great guy that I did meet at the Screenwriters Festival was David Lemon, writer of the new film Faintheart. David's a great guy and a very supportive and open writer. So no dirt to dish there. For shame.

Therefore, instead this post is about how Faintheart got made. Hazzah!

Faintheart was the film that came out of the MySpace Movie MashUp competition last year. So a quick turn around as you would expect with a social networking project. Just a recap; the movie mashup was an open competition where directors could upload their showreel with a chance to direct this £1m film. The same for actors looking to be in it. Composers etc.

This system does kind of work. Chris R Wright from Small Town Folk landed a part for instance which is really a great boost and a fantastic opportunity for him.

But in another way it doesn't work. The winning director was Vito Rocco. I'm a fan of his short film Goodbye Cruel World (which you can watch here) and I think he'll be great for Faintheart. The winning director simply had to get the most votes and the most views. However Vito had the backing of Slingshot (a film production company) who put 3 interns on the job of getting people to vote.

At first my thinking was - that's not in the spirit of it. But then my thinking changed to 'Hey, if its a level playing field then lets get in there'. In other words - I should have been equally agressive.

On related news; Alex Jovy has set up his own way of using the film 2.0 vibe. Voting, ITV style. Vote for the people who audition. It's all over at An interesting model, but personally not for me.

If you know of any more mashup / film2.0 then let me know. If your interested in a cheekly little competition then check out Mike Figgis with his 'tell a story in 5 photos' effort over at Sony.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Barbara Machin on what makes a great TV series

What makes a great TV serial? What makes a good TV writer? How do we create the best TV shows? These are questions that Barbara Machin is wrestling with everyday. Here are some quotes from her that I captured on 2 separate occasions at the Screenwriters Festival. While TV long running serials and soaps are not my thing I must admire her passion and dedication and I celebrate that here...

A short bio: Barbara Machin is an Emmy award winning television writer with over fifty hours of prime-time television to her credit. She has had, productions on all the major British TV channels and has many TV films to her name, specialising in long-running series including 'Waking the Dead' and 'Casualty'. With 'Waking the Dead', Barbara secured the award for the Best Drama Series at the 2004 Emmys.

On new ideas...
"Innovation is a must. We should be giving the audience not what they want, but what they never dreamed of. Offering a surprise, delivering characters that are really real - thats what we must do. Surprise and real characters have become the territory of reality TV. But that's our job! That's what we should be doing! We must be the most exciting thing in the room. Are we being bold enough?"

On creating a new series...
"The 'smash and grab' technique of making a series doesn't work. Why are we shooting when we don't have a full plan? Instead let's over plan. Let's map out not just this series but series 2 as well - all BEFORE we shoot a single frame."

On writing for serials...
"The good news is that serials are a great place for writers to learn. The bad news is that the pressure to turn around so many episodes means that new writers don't get the support they once did. But this is the world so we should live with it."

On writing for established series...
"In fact, serials are a great way to get your stories out there. They are like a framework to weave in your ideas. Don't see them as a straightjacket. See them as a method to tell your stories, about your issues, smuggled in under the radar"

I say...
Some of those phrases really work for me. Especially about the challenge to be 'the most exciting thing in the room'. This carries extra resonance for me as today there are more distractions, more competition for people's time, more things in the room.

Also, I like her idea about being bold. But I think I'd go further. We should be bold in our careers as well as bold in our storytelling. As writers, are we bold enough to find other ways to tell stories? TV is no longer the only show in the town, no longer the only thing in the room. We don't need to smuggle in our ideas anymore. We don't need to make our ideas fit their format. We can go elsewhere.

Photo and bio fromGloucester Uni.
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Monday, July 14, 2008

Phone Philms

David Lynch says this...

But that reminds me of a post I've been wanting to write for a while about the benefits of watching a film on the phone. Yes, that's right - the benefits.

Initially I agreed with Lynch. That a small screen was a small experience. That perhaps the only up side was convenience. If you couldn't see a film in another way, due to time, then it was a poor substitute - but never mind, just live with it.

However, there is something else. Something great about using the phone. Something that I didn't imagine would matter. An unexpected upside. It is the fact that you hold it in your hand, that it is close, personal. You are holding the fictional world in your palm and only you can see it and hear it. Other people are around you. But they aren't invited (unlike the cinema) - it is just you and the story. On your own.

That up close and personal interaction with the screen suits some stories and not others. That is obvious. Imagine an Alan Bennett monologue. That would be a very intense experience. 2001 - wouldn't be.

So it is a new way to reach an audience in a new way. And not worth dismissing completely. In the same way TV is not cinema. It's different.

But its still about people and their stories. So we should be writing for it. Phone films - or should it be Phone Philms.

Cheers to Suki for link
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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Storytelling the old fashioned way

Right. If you want to know how to tell a story watch this. And listen. It's 25 minutes long. Sorry. But there you go. Watch it anyway. Trust me.