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Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Christmas story. Just like the Queen's message but more fun.

Okay, so here is what happened to me as I tried to get home for Christmas. It is a story in the style of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles".

My journey was fairly simple on paper; Dundee to Edinburgh Airport on the Megabus, then fly down to Bournemouth. Simple and very direct.

Perhaps my first sign of concern was when I stepped out of front door at 7:30 am straight into a layer of snow. I'd been looking forward to a drop of Scottish snow for weeks. So it was a mixed blessing to see it right then. But being the hardy sorts up there the megabus arrived on time. Good lads.

However once on the motorway the panic set in. Would we make it in time? What would happen if I didn't and the plane left without me? The wheels skidded about and the driver dude pushed through like a hero. Got there in time to see the gate number flash up, legged it through the security bit, bundled up to the gate (furthest away one naturally) to find a lot of people sitting around. The view from the window indicated a snowy scene with no movement - at all. Snow-tastic!

At list of things at do while you wait 5 hours for snow to melt.

1 - play with your iPhone
2 - read your book
3 - recharge your iPhone by sitting next to the only mains socket which is located by the toilet entrance. Classy.
4 - buy 1l of whiskey
5 - laugh at a bunch of fellow travellers queuing to get on plane as they are told it has in fact landed in Glasgow now.
6 - watch a pissed guy walk around asking everyone if they have seen his luggage. They hadn't. Presumably because he had checked it in but had forgotten.
7 - enjoy the interactive drama of the following announcement; "would the passengers waiting for flight bm1234 please go to gate 21 (everyone cheers) where we will give a refreshment voucher due to further delays (boooo)
8 - laugh at the passengers all come back in as their replacement bus to Glasgow has also got stuck in the snow
9 - get on the plane at last.

Journey uneventful. Except for the thunder storm which meant we couldn't land at Bournemouth. So we went to Stanstead! Nice.

It was at this point I declared loudly, "I'm getting my whiskey out. Who wants some?"

And thus we had a great time. Sitting around, waiting for the bus. Like a scene from Home Alone with the mum trying to get home. My fellow travellers were a video editor, software engineer and an archeaologist / primary school teacher. We all had good times and watched Wimborne Road on my phone. We could talk about films and editing and the editor guy knew people I know. We also had a 'longest trip ever' show down won by a guy who was 57 hrs on a train.

My efforts to start a sing song of 3 Coins in a Fountain in the style of Planes, Trains and Automobiles fell on deaf ears - recreating the scene perfectly. Which is just as well as I don't know the rest of the words.

Epilogue - got back to Bournemouth at 1am. 13 hours late. Half of my £25 bottle of whiskey has gone.

Conclusion: Christmas time is a great time for making new friends if your attitude is right. Who knows how is sitting next to you and what cool things they have done? And, my friends, always travel with fine whiskey.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

It's time for Tim's Christmas film! Truly, the festivities can now commence.

Hi Everyone.

For the third year running I have created a special, handmade, Christmas film for you all. These were originally inspired by my Uncle Gary and Aunty Jo. Being talented artists they sent a specially designed Christmas card every year and jolly good it is too. But this is also rather annoying for those of us not knocked on the head with the artistic stick.

"But wait", I proclaimed, probably to my long suffering wife, "I could make a Christmas film instead". And those was born Stocky and God vs ASA.

This year it is Scrooge turned into in a satire (of sorts) concerning the recession. As I am up in Dundee at the moment, writing on a new computer game, I didn't have access to any filming equipment. But small issues, such as not having a camera, can't stop me from making a film! Instead I edited up an old British production that has slipped out of copyright and into the public domain. We've all got to do our bit with recycling!

It didn't quite turn out as I expected - but enjoy it anyway. If only by thinking of me sitting at my desk trying to do a bunch of voices on my own. And definitely no offence meant to anyone - it is just a scattershot jibe and a play on the idea that in storytelling change is seen as a must - the opposite being true for the real world.

Merry Christmas. See you next year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Making films that matter.

A lot of people first get into writing and creative endeavours because they feel they could make a difference.

That could be a difference to people's opinions, a difference to how they think or maybe a difference to the wider conversation. Something like Brave New Films, has that as its raison d'etre and they focus on topics purely to challenge and create debate. They try to make a difference to the World.

But how can we achieve this goal as film makers with limited resources, no infra-structure and perhaps films with a more subtle or non-political voice? How can we help ensure that our films reach out to people in whatever way we want them too?

Try extending your film and creative ideas into a new area - 'tools' and 'help'. I'd like to say 'make it interactive' but that phrase would probably suggest a complex online tool to you. This is not (necessarily) what I mean.

One example would be the fun activities for Mr Vista; the doodle pad and the 80s style text adventure. Whilst these didn't get the same usage figures as the videos themselves feedback would indicate they were very popular with the hardcore fans. So, reflecting upon that, these style of add-ons reach the people who you want to reach and do it in a deeper way. It adds more to their involvement. Mr Vista is now in their real life too.

On a (slightly) more serious basis I recently received a series of photos from Steve Keevil showing his media students using the pdf download for my abstract documentary short Quartz Shorts.

It's great to see. And I guess that sums up my belief in why these add-ons work. They are the film +1. They are better than any DVD extra. They bring the film into the real world and into people's lives.

They embed the thinking of the film and make it stick. Whatever you want people to feel at the end of your film - this ensures you exceed that.

Basically they are 'film magnifiers'.

Have a think about what you could do for your next project...
  • Links to self-help pages or organisations.
  • A free-gift; a piece of origami that people can print, cut out and make.
  • Upload your rough footage so anyone can do a re-edit.
  • If it is location-based then do a virtual tour in google earth.
  • Create an experience that allows people to empathise with the main character - the world as they see it.
  • Have a link allowing a donation to an organisation that can do something about the issues you raised.

And lastly - never think your film isn't worth it. Horror, comedy, documentary, thriller, any genre can benefit.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Focus on dignity in storytelling.

Here are two stories with amazing potential - for a documentary guy. His message though is to find the moments and themes of dignity and courage whereever you are.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Writing / Food analogy - by Dickens

Dickens said that a story should be like streaky bacon - comedy and drama layered next to each other and running all the way through it.

Of course it could be more like a shreddie with all those strands of story elements - but he couldn't have known that.

Monday, December 07, 2009

What goes into a great short script

script competition

I've been reading a lot of scripts recently for a Dorset based competition. This competition uses the standard short film script rules - any genre, no more than 10 pages.

There were some really good scripts and the results are coming soon. So without going into specific details of the scripts here are the top mistakes I saw and the top things I liked.

  • Don't describe things that the audience can't know. For example; John, 30, has been a butcher for 25 years and also wanted to be a dancer. Fine to read, but if we were watching the film then how could we possibly know that?
  • Conflict and drama is a must. Even in a comedy. Everyone getting along and having a nice time and going home again isn't a story.
  • Similar to above is the need to have an ending of some description. A revelation, a surprise, a growing of a character. Something that indicates a journey has taken place.
  • People just saying what they feel = bad for the film as well as being unrealistic. You may have noticed that in real life people very rarely articulate their deepest feelings in succinct sentences. You have to dig around in conversations, read between the lines and piece things together. So doing the same in a film mirrors that real-life behavior AND gives the audience something to do - piecing together the characters themselves.

Nice Surprises
  • The short film is almost a genre in itself sometimes... with a heart warming reveal at the end. Smashing that genre convention wide open and challenging it generated some great ideas and stories.
  • Short sharp dialogue works. Easy to say and hard to do I know. But dialogue that does just the job and no more is a real joy to read.
  • A plot development or character revelation every page and a half seems about right to keep things moving.

One of the hardest things to get right (hard because their is no golden way to do it) is to make the audience care about your characters. But without that nothing else really matters. This probably deserves a future blog post by itself.

Best advice of all remains the same - keep writing, keep getting feedback :)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Differences between games and films

More about the difference between writing for games and writing for linear media such as film and TV. When I say 'games' I am focusing on larger online environments as opposed to 'on the rails' adventure type games which tend to be also linear in nature.

Film and TV says
Build to a conclusion. Throw in obstacles to be overcome by the hero so that the ending feels rewarding. The audience can share in the heros triumph.
Games say
For goodness sake don't have a conclusion - we want people to carry on playing. And they need lots of rewards, they won't wait until the end. They are the hero.

Film and TV says
Your script is there first of all to be read by a reader and then a producer. And then used as "bait to get actors". Then used to create a budget. Then it acts as kind of road map and people improv around it. And then it gets hacked up in the edit anyway.
Games say
You've written it. There it is. People are playing it already. I hope you checked it.

Film and TV says
It's a script - its not meant to be read by the audience.
Games say
Get polishing your prose. There is a lot of text as well as voice over.

Film and TV says
Make the world smaller.
Games say
Make the world bigger.

Film and TV says
Its about the characters.
Games say
Its about the player.

Film and TV remix

Following on from the previous post - the ultimate remake - to music.

Found here. Made by Ricardo Autobahn.

P.S. Goes to show what you can do with the auto-tune function that makes certain 'acts' sing in key!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Are you sure you don't like remakes?

As writers / directors / storytellers we dislike the proliferation of remakes, sequels and 'reimagining' that has occurred in recent years.

The reason they exist, we are told by those from marketing, is because all these type of second hand stories come with pre-awareness. That is, as an audience, we are already aware of the content of a story, of its style and genre.

As an example, we know a new 'Dukes of Hazzard' film won't be about 2 Spanish Dukes from a the regiment of Hazzard trying to influence the court to give back their land.

In other words the marketing is easy. No big plot explanations needed.

You can see how this works. And also why it annoys writers of new stories. Our thoughts go something along the lines of 'stop being so bloody lazy over there in marketing'.

However, be honest, there is a warmth in familiarity. We must understand that too. New things can be scary. Or else you wouldn't like these two examples of familiar things coming together in a new way. And you will like them. Its a Tim Clague guarantee!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Greatest films NEVER made

Another advocate of the 'storydust' way of collecting ideas was F. Scott Fitzgerald. Although well known for novels and short prose (including Benjamin Button) he did also create treatments and scripts for Hollywood - although mostly uncredited - and mostly begrudgingly!

The he used was simple - a 'notebook' - jotting down ideas within it. Not just complete ideas but also observations that could grow into something.

I discovered this due to the 'new writing' quarterly, McSweeneys (issue 22), giving 31 of these ideas to writers and challenging them to ignite the story dust and make it shine. I recommend McSweeneys as a great source of inspiration and is generally your daily dose of 'inspiration from the 'red circle' in one place. Here is their introduction...

During F. Scott Fitzgerald's time at Princeton, he began keeping a notebook of musings, sketches, snippets of conversation, descriptions of girls, and story ideas for future use, all meticulously cataloged. Time ran out before he was able to realize many of those ideas. Over the past year, we presented his list of 31 unwritten stories to a select group of writers—Sam Lipsyte, Judy Budnitz, Salvador Plascencia, Diane Williams, and 13 others. Each writer chose a premise and wrote his or her own realization of it.

And here are some of the ideas from the notebook itself...
  • Wildly seperated family inherit a house and have to love there together.
  • A funeral: His own ashes kept blowing in his eyes.
  • The tyrant who had to let his family have their way for one day.
  • The dancer who found she could fly.
  • Girl whose ear is so sensitive she can hear radio - and the man who gets her out of the insane asylum to use her.
  • A man hate being a prince - goes to Hollywood and plays nothing but princes.

The second one is my favourite!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Filmmaking and Gamemaking - the difference

It seems to me that the difference between creating linear material (Film, TV) and interactive material (Games, large web apps) is to do with collaboration.

Both involve working together closely. Both require collaboration on a high level. But the nature of how this works is vastly different.

With films you have a much more linear process, as well as a linear narrative. You write, shoot and edit in order (normally, but not always I know) and you get through the various tasks together. Everyone shoots one scene and then moves on.

With games it much more like the whole process is happening all at once - and everyone is editing the film at once. I am adding in text elements to a giant database of material - as are the art guys and the music guys and everyone else. We are all working on things in parallel. I just do my bit.

From a creative point of view it is surprising how little this matters. After all, if you write a film script you are working on 'your bit' too. However from an organisational point of view it requires a very different process of tracking and double checking the writing. When you add in your text - then it is in the game. So it better be right. Constant testing is the only way to 'watch the edit' and check it all blends together.

Extra thought: The common ground between these two extremes would be occupied by regular on-going series or soaps - e.g. Neighbors on 5 days a week.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How to write in a foreign language

Eat Drink Man Woman

As promised last time, another scriptwriting top tip from 'out there and doing it' hero James Schamus.

He co-wrote the film "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman" which is, if you don't know, in Mandarin. So how do you write a film for an Eastern audience when you are a Westerner? The dialogue itself can be translated easily enough, but the words themselves are not the issue. Surely it is the cultural subtleties that would be harder to get right?

James' solution was to immerse himself in culture, to read about it, to study it. After that he felt confident to tackle the first draft. So, did this work? Apparently not. It was a complete waste of time.

Draft 2 was written instead with no consideration of the setting. He wrote it with the tone, pace and attitudes of his Jewish family. The result - once translated - was amazingly successful.

Which I think goes to prove that stories, especially films, really do transcend boundaries. And that perhaps we should less research and more writing from the heart.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

One of my heroes - James Schamus

It was great to hear one of my heroes give a talk at the recent Speechwriters Festival - James Schamus.

Why is a hero to me?

Because he has that 'generalist' approach to life - of wanting to explore everything he can do. He is a writer, famous for working with Ang Lee (also pictured above) but much more than that. He also (according to wikipedia) is a published film historian, currently holds a faculty position at Columbia University and is the head of the film company Focus Features. Not bad. Any one of those things would normally be enough to hold someone in high regard.

Here are some choice slices from his talk that resonated with me...
  • Ignore all the rules. Have 27 acts if you want to.
  • The dumber the picture the more you need structure to give it some form of shape. Smart scripts have their own structure.
  • You will hear people say; 'show, not tell' a lot. That's nonsense. A writer's craft is in the telling.
  • Rules come from studying good work. But good work doesn't necessarily come out of studying rules.
  • I know it's a Focus Features kind of script when I think most people won't like it.

More gems next time round.

Friday, November 06, 2009

New writing gig - writing for games

APB beta
Monday I start a new writing assignment - working on a forthcoming game for Realtime Worlds called APB.

Here is some official blurb...

Players choose to be either a criminal or an enforcer and are matched against each other in fast-paced, third person action. The criminals aim to create a city rife with violent crime. The enforcers are pitted against them, protecting the civilian population and fighting the criminals at every turn. Want to commit a robbery with your friends? You can, but watch out because another group of players will be out to stop you! As a top player, your name will be at the top of league tables held online. San Paro will be your world: your character’s name and face as well known as a Hollywood movie star, a standard that other players aim for. But how long can you stay at the top?

So its a big online world, full of real players. And as such people can do their own thing. They go on their own journey and have their own adventures. As I writer I can't impose a 3 act structure or Hero's Journey upon them.

So what does a writer do for this kind of game. The task is about creating the characters and situations within this world that make it function effectively. So taking the example from the blurb it is about creating the mastermind character that orchestrates that robbery for you and your friends - plus giving him or her an intriguing backstory or hidden agenda. Just as in any writing the challenge is to ensure rounded characters through the use of 'wants' and 'needs', complex motivations, flaws and surprising goals.

Personally this mission based style of writing fits neatly into my long standing preference for the sequence approach.

In fact, playing games could be why I like it. So I feel I have gone full circle here.

If this kind of game is your thing and you want to be considered for the beta testing go here. But be aware you need a hefty spec PC.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

What makes a great business card?

(or... The Screenwriter's Festival business card Showdown 2009)

When you go to a networking event such as the recent Screenwriters' Festival everyone's advice is - hand out and your cards and network. Then the "fog of conferences" descends.

You have dozens of cards. Who was who? What did you talk about? Who the hell is "Jane" and why do you have her card?

So a memorable card, linked to you in some way, is a good idea. So here we are. The most coveted award of the awards season. It's the best original business card of the year by a scriptwriter. It is a three way tie.


A nifty image from Jo. Light hearted. Looks a bit like her. No forgotten identity here. She obviously has a sense of humour too. Plus the card is a good talking point when she hands it over.


Tim's a bit geeky. But old skool geeky. So a bit of ASCII art works well for him. Plus it is nice to see a typewriter look used on a writer's card. It all makes sense.


Wait for it...

Nigel has actually added a story element to his card... suspense....

...and a punch line. Awesome. Now obviously if you were Tony Jordan you may not need a gimmicky card. Or even a card at all. But for someone like you, me and Nigel - everything helps.


Great to get a picture on a little box to write notes in and flashy front. But its all too much. Too many ideas for one small card. The winning cards show that one simple idea is best. So my next card will try to be more like those.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Selling a complex structure. By Simon Beaufoy

As you will all know I'm a big fan of using unusual and intriguing structures for more stories. This can cause concern in some readers / producers / agents / experts. And I can understand that concern. The question that is raised is; 'will the audience follow this'.

So I was very interested in what Slumdog Millionaire scriptwriter Simon Beaufoy said, that he had the same concern. Particularly around the flashback structure.

His overall message was; "Don't underestimate the audience. They can follow complex structured better than you think." There was in fact some test screenings that specifically tested whether people could follow the plot. They could, of course.
However he did need to take a step back from his original structure of the questions being a different order that caused us to jump back and forward in time.

So what do we take from that? Be bold. But not stupid maybe.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pitch and Pins. (or how to make a pitch competition work for you)

I just came joint second in a big pitching event at the Screenwriters Festival (UK). Which is good going. 10 fellow pitchers pitching to a big crowd and a panel of experts - selected from about 2000 entries.

But, to me, the big benefit to doing your pitch in this fashion (in this economic climate) is not that it will be instantly snapped up but that is part of the process of raising your visibility.

In the spirit of that I made, wore and handed out these badges leading up to the pitch. They are a big tongue in cheek obviously, a bit silly, a bit bold - perfect for this audience. And well done to Kai who wore his none stop.

Essentially these pitching competitions are marketing exercises. So get on board and plan your marketing also. Next year badges won't work. So bring your helium balloons! Just don't forget to actually work on your pitch too!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Working with Hollywood. By a Hollywood writer.

Two great quotes from Doug Chamberlin
He is was the writer of Toy Story 2.

"Contacts get you in. But talent will keep you in"

"Execs like to think that writing is somehow magic. They don't want to know what's in the sausage"

Friday, October 23, 2009

Screenwriters Festival

Very quick message to say I'll be at the Screenwriter's Festival - see you there I hope. If you want to get in touch, you know the normal ways.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Speechwriting Conference

I hope you are all looking forward to the Screenwriters Festival coming up. However I was asked to make a short film about the first ever UK Speechwriters Conference. You can see the final product above.

Some interesting things came out if - which I will share with you here.

Not because may have to make a speech, but because you may have to write a monologue or powerful words in your scripts. I'm thinking here of anything from The Great Dictator to the cheesy bit from Independence Day - or even the voice over from Red in Shawshank Redemption.

These came from Professor Max Atkinson - speech guru - although he may not like that term! He analysed every applause at a political conference that lasted over 8 seconds (the average amount) to see what really worked and got the audience going.

One: Contrast, starting a negative. Best example - Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country Simple to emulate too. As in - You turn back if you want to, the lady's not for turning.

Two: Puzzle, pause, solution. Starting with something that doesn't make sense to get the audience's attention - then offering a captivating solution. What we, in script terms, would call a kind of reveal. This is the kind of technique that can the slightly annoying polite laughter to a conference crowd.

Three: Rule of three. We all know this one anyway. Putting things in threes to make a point Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The longest point normally goes last. An interesting experiment is to try and break this rule in conversation and see what happens. Say two things and people will wait for a third - until you have to say 'and so on'. Say four things and people will interrupt after three. Good laughs.

Four: Combinations of above. Using one that once at a time increased the duration of applause still further.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Stop thinking about scripts and films!

flower game

Bizarre advice it would seem. But sometimes we need to get our head out of own industry. That way lies post-modernism gone mad, at best. At worst - old ideas - as discussed in the previous blog post.

Part of the red circle in the Scriptwriters Life diagram is about 'Inspiration' - particularly from other art forms. So it is important to step outside of our narrow artistic view and think about the wider world and see what is going on in other art forms. And by art forms I could mean cartoons, comics, novels, games - whatever you like. I like reading the short stories in McSweeneys and was inspired by the passive central characters of Chris Ware. Elements of both went into my latest spec.

So look around. See how others are pushing back the boundaries and then compare that to your work. Integrate it. Use it. Be inspired by it.

In the spirit of that, here is an extract from an interview (in Edge magazine) with Jenova Chen on the design of his totally unique Playstation 3 game "Flower"

I read a lot of psychology and sociology because I think I can learn a lot more things from them than by reading game design books. People who write game design books make traditional games, so it's not really theory. I find things like ... architecture, psychology and sociology help game design more. If you just play other games you are not going to learn anything.

Personal work update - as I always forget to mention what I am actually doing.

  • Writing a series of web ads
  • Been commissioned to create a film about a local children's centre
  • Editing up a series of video interviews I did at the Speechwriters Conference
  • Another secret project - too early to say

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Have you seen this cabin?

Have you seen a log cabin like this in your neighbourhood woods? Do you even have neighbourhood woods? Heck, I've never seen a log cabin like this. Ever! Have you?

I'd love to try and get lost in the woods and look for one but the reality of modern Britain is that you can't walk more than 20 minutes before you hit an A road and / or the middle classes cycling up some disused railway. What fun.

And yet many student film makers still want to feature a log cabin because they have seen it in numerous films. Films, presumably, shot in California - home of the log cabin. Okay - maybe Montana is - but you get the idea. At a recent talk I gave to media and film lecturers they all said that this kind of second-hand film making is still true.

So to all students I say - look around you. Run down social housing where water drips down over crumbling concrete, the old coal mine when the soot chokes your lungs, the victorian collapsing sewers three feet beneath our feet.

These are where we can get lost. This is were our horror lies. And the different setting makes shocks and scares easier to find.

For inspiration (and not just for horrors obviously) look around you - not at other films.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Offline, online, offline, online

Missing the feel of a DVD in your hand? Sick of having to buy ever bigger hard drives to hold every episode of The Wire? Well how about this article from TechRadar...

Thanks to Google's classic literature scanning efforts and those fancy new 'electronic readers' both doing their bit to make books cool again, it is now the height of fashion to be seen sitting there reading a story rather than watching YouTube clips or the latest rapidly-edited US drama serial.

Which has led to a bizarre technical paradox - Google is set to let readers order hard, paper-based, physical copies of the classic books it's previously digitised.

Google will allow on-demand printers to access the two million books in its digital archive, letting wannabe readers order copies of rarities it's yanked out of the archives. The printing process will be carried out by a quick book printer called the "Expresso Book Machine" which is apparently capable of printing and binding a 300-page paperback in five minutes.

Makes you wonder if this is the future for film too? Go into HMV and print out any blu-ray or DVD. Or how about see any film ever made at your local flicks if you can get 20 people together.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Music and score

I'm not one for music. Luckily others out there are great at composing pieces of beauty, passion, anger, remorse - all the same emotions we try to capture in images or on the page. But because I don't always understand it - I may not value the details. In his blog, up and coming composer Moritz Schmittat has a clear comparison between using an real orchestra and using a high end sound library. What can now be achieved on the PC is amazing but even I can hear the difference. Very useful for weighing up your options.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Repost - on beachcombing

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.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Short film, Long tail

There are a lot of people shooting shorts right now - great stuff. But then I would say that - I'm a big fan of shorts. In fact if you put 'short film maker' into Google then Projector Films comes up top. And quite right too.

But one thing not often talked about is the massive shelf life of a short. Everyone talks about the key 6 months after you have finished. And they have a point. This is when you are trying to secure a premiere at a big festival. And for producers and those in the biz - new is better. What's the big new film? etc etc

However, even a modest film can have a successful life and profitable life years after. I am reminded of this as my own film "10 Seconds" is in a new competition over at Film Skillet. Its a funky little short, it doesn't set the world on fire - but looks cool, weird and is tied together by a good gag. Give it a quick vote if you can.

These kind of films can do years of good service. If you follow 3 tips:

One Don't put the year on the end if you can help it. Sometimes you have to contractually. But sometimes it isn't needed. No need to make the film seem out of date if it isn't.

Two Don't be too topical. All those George W. Bush films are of no use now. Clearly topical films have their own plus points. But if your film is a timeless story - so much the better in the long run.

Three Keep a top quality, uncompressed, HD master on your PC / Mac. I have lovely 3 GB uncompressed master for 10 Seconds. By having that I can recompress the film for different standards as they come along. If I just had a DVD only copy then new youtube functions (such as HD playback) couldn't be taken advantage of.

And remember, the most important point is to keep looking for new opportunities out there. There are so many competitions that you film will almost certainly slot into some of them. Even if it doesn't come along for a couple more years.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Free storyboard template to download for word

A lot of people liked my recent idea of a treatment template for use in Word. So here is another template to download and use. This time for storyboarding.

Storyboarding really helps crystallise your thoughts visually for a scene and is therefore usually used by a director. But writers can also find it useful, especially for action and dialogue free portions of a story.

Plus it helps communicate those ideas quickly to anyone who needs to know - art directors, DoP, actors and so on. It removes the ambiguity of the script - which could be interpreted by different people in different ways.

There are some excellent full-on storyboarding tools out there. The best one being Frameforge 3D which allows you to build a scene in 3D and move around it with a virtual camera. Good stuff - and my colleague Suki has started to offer this as a service in itself using his knowledge as a commercials director.

But as small time film makers and writers we may have to keep that on our wish list and aspire to get it. For now we just need a simple way to capture our ideas. That's what this download is for. It loads into Word, (its a simple .doc file) and can be used in one of two ways.

1 - simply print it out and then sketch out your scenes onto the paper.
2 - Import your drawings / sketches / photos into word, stick them in the right order and the print it out so it looks all glossy and cool.

Either is good. Feel free to use as you wish - its a public domain tool. The download has one page. Obviously copy and paste as many pages as you need.

Download here.
If for any reason the above link doesn't work the URL is

Saturday, September 05, 2009

We are Gods in Heaven

We are as God in Heaven - so long as we have a good wi-fi connection on our cloud.

That's the theme of my new spec feature script I've just finished called 'Friend Request' but having started to write this blog post I can already see I should probably change it to 'Does heaven have wi-fi?' or something similar. You heard it hear first.

It has been a real joy to work on it and a real challenge. It is an 'indy' or 'Sundance' kind of a story and it could be described as "Short Cuts via Google Earth" and is an episodic road movie using the 'sequence approach'.

Bizarre things are sometimes spotted in applications like Google Earth. This is a disaster when the company you work for makes its money by adding companies to these maps. If there is a mistake, they don’t pay. Enter Kelly. She has 7124 MySpace friends but hasn’t gone outside in 5 years. Now she must go and solve the top 6 most mysterious images. And she has 2 weeks to do it.

In writing it I had to (and will continue to via my rewrites) balance three things.

One: Engaging and mysterious aerial images. These are so cool in Google Earth when you find them. Strange objects that don't make sense. But these on there own clearly don't make a story. But it does form the visual analogy. That in the virtual world we believe that we can know everything, that we can know 400 friends. But that is just an aerial image of our friends. For the real truth you must get on the ground, get your hands dirty. For Kelly of course that means going there in person to see what the strange images really are. So that device binds the film together, the whole 'we are Gods' angle. We can look down over every inch of the whole world. But can we see into the hearts of others?
Two: The 6 episodes - each about distance So the aerial images create a conduit for the road movie. But what happens when Kelly gets there? Clearly she can't just say "oh right, thats what that was" and go home. So instead she meets 6 characters, each a facet of the overall question. That we like to put distance between ourselves and our fellow human beings, we like to build walls. But why?
Three: Kelly's journeyBeing a super geek girl Kelly starts the film as a very passive, quiet, head down character and she needs to grow a bit more during each encounter.

I collected images and stories using a storydust approach - so I ended up with a bunch of real life stories of people that fitted the mood of the film. Then spent ages matching it all up. Which aerial image represented that real life story combined with which symbolic event combined with what plot point? AND it then had to join up into one solid overall story.

So if that isn't a full on Tim Clague, multiformat, crazy structure idea then I don't know what is. And obviously the, now famous, story chart was out in force in its most detailed form yet.

But film is a visual format so check out these odd images of couples holding hands in Google Earth, seen only by the shadows they cast, and start to feel the vibe...

These are from 3 different continents, months apart, we don't know the race of these people, if they are straight or gay, if they are still together now or not. They are shadows. But yet we can see the evidence of their love from space.

I love google earth

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

New way to drift around in film-land. YouTube Warp.

You may be interested in a new (kind of secret - but not really) interface for YouTube. It is called Warp. It allows you to swim from film to film in some kind of floaty film filled soup.

Hard to describe - but easy to use.

Go here to play.

As a writer and film maker it makes me think about the potential of using that interface to create a truly non-linear film. A story that starts in one place, but can grow into any direction. Cool stuff.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

How to make your treatment look great

You guys already know what goes into a great treatment content wise. But sometimes, if your layout is crowded or confused, your cool idea can get lost.

A good layout means that you give the producer / reader / funder the very best shot at reading your work easily. Help them help you. This post is about giving your documents a layout which makes them easy to read and have some impact - and to do that very easily so you can concentrate on what you do best, the story and content.

There is lots of advice on design and layout on the web. But this is written especially for writers (used to dealing with nothing more sexy than 12pt courier) and assumes you only have Word at your disposal, no fancy layout program or photoshop. In fact, I thought I would write the advice within the layout itself.

If you click the above pics they will scale up. And you can download them as word docs below to allow for your own adaptation of these generic, bland, core versions. My over riding advice is to get to grip with 'styles' within Word. That way you can change the look and feel of the whole document with just a few clicks rather than going through tweaking with each paragraph.

Download example 1 here and example 2 here.

If the links above don't work then the actual URLs are:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Viral 'Rules'

Here is a great article by Rob at Zen films that goes as a fantastic companion post to my recent round up of web video websites.

Where as I looked at the sites Rob looks at the content. Great advice with carefully selected examples. Check it out ASAP.

Here is an extract...

Ask yourself these questions. When I send someone a link to this video:

Will I look cool for sharing this video?
Will it strengthen my friendship with the person I’m sending the video to?
Will they look cool passing it on?

Unless you can answer “yes” to all the above then revisit your video idea until you score 3 out of 3.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bad news day

I have never seen such a 'bad news' day in today's Media Guardian.

Just about every single article is about falling revenue and searching for new sources of money.
  • Murdoch is wanting to charge for access to The Times online (can't see that working in an age of most people reading news by following links from friends)
  • Ad revenues generally falling across all formats.
  • And we all know about deep cuts in commercial tele.

What are we to make of all this as people a bit further down the line of revenue streams? Should we be concerned that companies find it hard to make money by selling their programmes / products - and even harder by using ad revenue? And therefore are making fewer new shows? Hiring less crew? Commissioning fewer writers?

I say - it just means shift perspective.

It means working on ideas that can benefit from some ad revenue, PLUS some funding, PLUS have other spin offs. That is what I have been working on with Delete Friend - getting it ready for Pixel Pitch. This is a story pre-designed for a multiple outlet, multiple revenue source age.

It means only doing projects that you are totally passionate about. Ideas that you don't mind talking about again and again - because you love them. For me, that is Circumference. The kind of projects that you will keeping going with - whatever the economic situation.

Lastly, it means just going it alone and sorting it out yourself. When the status quo is rocked is that it disturbs that market. It creates a vacuum. Good news. People may as well watch Mr Vista as anything else.

Above all - and this has been an ongoing theme on this blog for ages - remember that...

... you want to tell stories and other people want to hear them.

Everything else is just detail.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Best online platforms for film makers - how to get your films seen and making money

crashed PC progress bar

As the second series of Mr Vista stumbles over the finish line (with quivering legs - but egg still in spoon) it seemed a good idea to have a BIG round up and review the online video platforms available to film makers. Particularly around:
  • which bring in viewers - how visible is the platform - how much does it have a community
  • which offer you cash - different revenue models
  • which are 'film maker friendly' with a good image quality - and which have certain niche offerings or approaches - which have neither

YouTube - the big daddy.
Now owned by Google of course. And up until recently this was seriously lagging behind on features such as HD. This has now all been put in place to make it much more friendly for web film makers. You can also add subtitles and little text boxes onto your video. However it still has a major image problem for film pros who see it as a place full of skateboarding cats. The level of stats however is decidedly pro. More detailed than would be available to film makers who distribute on TV or cinema. The 'hot spots' feature, for example, allows you to see a second-by-second graph that shows the exact moments when the audience clicked away to watch other things. There are also viewer demographics etc etc. Beware dear film makers however of stat overload. You can spend all your life chasing the figures rather than doing the work. I even did a Mr Vista satire on this exact concern. I am now signed up to their Partner program which means that I get a very small income through ads. To give you an idea of how much - they measure it by $0.001! Getting on the program would seem to be hit and miss according to what the other partners say. But anyone can set up there own channel and start uploading - so this is one platform you have to be on.

Visible 5/5 Revenue 2/5 Film friendly 3/5

Facebook - the mystery man.
Not the best way to get your film out there at all. Which you will see if you try to click on the link and you aren't logged in. It is all behind the facebook firewall. And the only way people will really see your video is if they are already your friend. Plus you have no stats. So all in all - generally poor for film makers, excellent for the first rate picture quality. But ideal to get your existing contacts to see your work. Good place to set up a group too - if you don't want to sort out a full-on blog or website.

Visible 1/5 Revenue 0/5 Film friendly 1/5

MySpace - old skool.
Now known as - that thing before facebook. Definitely now set up for music and music fans more so than video. It has a film maker section and has tried to get into the film spirit - but it doesn't seem to have caught fire in a big way. Everything works well - it is simply that the audience is on there for bands and singers. Top tip for being visible on MySpace however is to keep updating your 'status'. It shows at the top of your friends homepage and can have links in it to your films etc. Picture quality is okay, but not as good as facebook or youtube.

Visible 2/5 Revenue 0/5 Film friendly 2/5

Dailymotion - Europe fights back.
Dailymotion is a European site rather than US based. And this seems to make it a more friendly and supportive place to be for film makers - whether they are serious or comedy, pro or amateur. It may not be as well known over here - but the stats can be very high because of the untapped Euro audience. So suits international films and dialogue free films. Subtitles can be added online. No revenue opportunities however. But if they like your work you can become a MotionMaker to get your work on the homepage. I once interviewed a couple of the guys in the UK office about how they keep ahead in business for a corporate gig. Nice guys - but they have both since moved on. Perhaps the UK arm is in retreat!

Visible 3/5 Revenue 0/5 Film friendly 4/5

AtomFilms - grandpa
The original - from the ye olde days - aka 1999. But losing its edge. The site has issues for uploading if you don't use IE - and a few similar small irritating quirks. They lost my profile once for instance! It doesn't look as good as some other sites and it seems to have less of a 'social' feel to it. One plus point is the Showdown - where you can win $500. But, as you will see, that doesn't draw in a crowd. When my episode of Mr Vista was on there for a week it jumped about 4000 views. Used to be a money spinner. Not really anymore. Picture quality is average.

Visible 3/5 Revenue 2/5 Film friendly 3/5

Revver - spend, spend, spend
Not sure what is happening at Revver towers. This was launched a few years ago on a 'youtube that gives you revenue' ticket. But perhaps the business model is now under stress. Certainly the income per click would seem to be falling. And sometimes the server goes down. Not really a destination in its own right for film makers or indeed for anyone - so that means you need to embed your revver film into other locations. One other thing to bear in mind is that they manually match up your film to adverts, which takes time. This can be a problem if you want to 'upload and go' and start straight away.

Visible 2/5 Revenue 3/5 Film friendly 2/5

BlipTV - the workhorse
You may not have heard of BlipTV as it isn't really a site you would visit in its own right. But what makes it great for film makers, especially those doing a series, is that it sends it out to other sites for you. You upload here and it repackages it. For instance, for Mr Vista, Blip creates a podcast meaning people can subscribe via iTunes. Easy. But that does mean it is normally used by podcasters and not serious film makers.

Visible 2/5 (5/5 if you syndicate to other sites) Revenue 0/5 Film friendly 2/5

Babelgum - the lexus
A totally smooth looking site. It started off as an application you had to download - and has now made itself available via a normal browser too - which works most of the time! Great image. Good reputation with film makers thanks to a festival judged by Spike Lee. It does offer a revenue share model, but you need to be a company to apply to be on it. I have found the people there to be friendly and fast to respond to ideas and feedback. But generally viewing figures are low.

Visible 2/5 Revenue 1/5 Film friendly 4/5

OpenFilm - new kid on the block
These guys are trying to grow a premier film making portal. And doing well. Definitely one to watch. The image is great and can show really large HD films with no problem. Plus they have a cool feature which dims everything on your browser except the film - for better viewing conditions. They are actively trying to build a community and have got in touch with me several times with suggestions and ways they can help. They also have a revenue model which is generous. The hard part will be getting enough viewers in. In the meantime this a great place full of film makers doing their stuff.

Visible 3/5 Revenue 4/5 Film friendly 5/5


Spike - just for men
They took over the once great iFilm. Now it is a destination for FHM style clips. Which could work for you if you have some cheap laughs as the audience is loyal and repeating. If you have a nice piece about the injustice of the modern age then stay away. No revenue sharing or extra features either.

Visible 4/5 (or 1/5 if no girls in your film) Revenue 0/5 Film friendly 0/5

Funny or Die - just for stoopid
A celebrity led site - comedy only. Big viewing figures for the right kind of production. Picture quality is good and the site is fun to use and easy.

Visible 3/5 (or 1/5 if no knob gags) Revenue 0/5 Film friendly 3/5

CollegeHumor - just for really stoooopid
A site for crazy comedy. Again big viewing figures for the right kind of production.

Visible 3/5 (or 1/5 if no one gets hurt) Revenue 0/5 Film friendly 2/5

Current - serious films for serious people
Although a documentary only site it isn't just for serious issues. But it is factual based. They have various initiatives to help film makers including low budget commissions. I have heard various stories around how well this works, or doesn't.

Visible 2/5 Revenue 2/5 Film friendly 4/5

Yobi - the dark house
You may not have heard of this US based site. That may be because it bills itself as an online reality show - but that would seem to be only because viewers vote for competition winners. They have a film section. Of surprise to me was the fact that this has had a faster growth in viewing figures than any other site on here for Mr Vista. So worth checking out - but image size and quality is nothing special at all.

Visible 2/5 Revenue 2/5 Film friendly 3/5

Also rans

These are worth a look but with nothing that you cant get elsewhere - Break, Metacafe, Veoh and Vimeo. Check them out. They are still good enough for big Mr O.

Si-mi was good - but seemed to go quiet.

Crackle has dropped out of allowing people to upload as has become a platform for TV and films you can see elsewhere.

Google video used to be like YouTube - until they bought YouTube and then it just seemed unnecessary. Now it is a great video searching tool which scours the sites above.

If you know of others - especially ones that would help film makers drop us a link. Cheers.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

FAB Treatments - example

As promised yesterday here is an example from my treatment that made me think about the FAB idea.

I first wrote...
Kelly buys a goldfish so she can say she has to look after her pet and therefore can’t go on the trip.

Common sense said to me that while this was accurate it lacked the meaning of the plot point. And was clunky. So I took it to the next level of why that matters. What is the point of the scene?
Kelly spends the next day furiously trying anything to get out of this horrible task. She even buys a goldfish. Now she can say she has to look after her pet and can’t go away.

But this still didn't quite do it for me - which is why I thought of the FAB idea. What is the benefit to the audience of this scene?
Kelly spends the next day furiously trying anything to get her out of the task. She even buys a goldfish. Now she can say she has to look after her pet and can’t go away. Genius! She could be free of the hideous task. But these ridiculous and desperate schemes infuriate the bosses more. She is out of ideas and out of options - and out of her depth. And so, reluctantly, her journey begins.

I wouldn't take this idea even further and say how the audience would feel. Something, for instance, like "we feel sorry for Kelly" just seems a bit to presumptuous.

Now obviously it is important to note that you can't have just the emotions and audience benefits and none of the plot points. E.g. Kelly fears the task but has to go along with it. That would just leave the reader asking 'Yeah, but how do we see that? How do we know that?" etc.

But a good balance feels right to me.

Treatment purists may disagree. But it helps me when I get stuck and think my treatments are a bit dry and not really capturing the true essence of the story. I guess I am hoping that even if the reader disagrees with the goldfish idea they still pick up on the character point that she is totally desperate not to go.

But, as ever, use at your own risk!

FAB Treatments

I have recently being doing a treatment for a feature script that has gone through to the next round of the rather gung-ho sounding - Ultimate Filmmaker Competition. Perhaps it is like Ultimate Fighting, you know, but for geeks. Anyway, they give you $200k so I'm going for it.

The story could be described as "Short Cuts meets Google Earth" and I last wrote about it on here over a year ago! Current stage: First draft done. Second on the way. Personal view on it: Think it is very exciting, but the episodic structure may causes nervousness in others.

But back to the treatment!

Writers hate treatments. It can seem like scriptwriting with all the fun bits taken out. And can quickly become just a series of plot points. This happened, then that happened etc etc.

This made me think of an old sales technique called F.A.B. Which stands for; Features, Advantages, Benefits. It is to help sell you something by linking it to how it can help you. For example.
  • The new feature of a camera could be image stabilisation.
  • The advantage is - a steady shot in tough conditions.
  • The benefit is - less takes required, less time in post production - all saving money on your film.
So the 'image stabilisation' is just a specification feature. But saving money, shooting quicker - I can feel the benefit to me. And so am more likely to buy.

Same goes for treatments. I was in danger of just making mine a string of plot points. That is just the 'features'. I needed to link that through to how that advances the story and how that benefits the audience's emotional journey - how they would feel.

Or is that too far? Examples to come tomorrow to explore this further.

If you want your own Thunderbirds outfit you can buy one here believe it or not.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The film business in trouble

Spending this afternoon at a local short film screening made me realise again that film makers want to make films. Audiences want to see films.

Despite all issues of piracy, new distribution, lack of funding etc etc - this is fundamentally a system that must work. Supply and demand. The rest is detail.

(Hope was showing there - one of my favourite short works from the past)

Monday, July 06, 2009

3 writing myths challenged

Okay. Here are 3 commonly held beliefs that writers seem to have. All 3 probably need to be blown out of the water. Ready?

One: "You have to change everything when you are adapting for the big screen"
You hear this a lot. That if you are adapting a novel to the big screen you have to change big chunks of it. And probably the ending. I say - not true. You may need to change some intenal thoughts that are on the page and make them dialogue. But the narrative doesn't HAVE to be altered. A story can be moved virtually intact between any dramatic or narrative form. Audiences don't like a radically changed ending. And the excuse of 'different form' is used all to often when it needn't be.
What we actually mean is... I've optioned an arty novel and in fact I wish I'd gone for something more commercial. So I better change it.

Two: "Writers aren't well known."
Again, nonsense. Writers can be famous. Eg. My mum can name Arthur Miller, Tom Stoppard, Dennis Potter, Richard Curtis etc etc. None of these are writers of modern mainstream Hollywood films. And there is the thing. Mainstream film and TV is about the franchise being bigger than anyone. If you want to be 'a name' then you have to stay smaller. THE OPPOSITE IS TRUE FOR ACTORS. So don't copy them. Writers can be famous and respected. But you have to give somethings up to get there.
What we actually mean is... I'm not famous and its not fair.

Three: "The producers / studio / commissioners aren't fair / don't know what they are doing.
They represent the audience. Does the audience know what it is doing or worry about being fair? No. So there you go. This problem will only go away when you can get 300 random people to agree on what they would like to watch together. So I guess that would be... never. But we all know the solution. We all know what we need to do - keep doing things our way, keep telling our own kind of stories and hope they hit home with folks.
Because what we actually meant was... my latest thing didn't get picked up by the people who said they loved it last time. And I'm going nuts.

Image of magma 'being blown out of the water' from here.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

How to win an oscar

From here.

I'd replace the 3 circles for writers looking to win an Oscar with...
  • Underdog wins
  • Hero doesn't die, but others do
  • Makes audience feel okay to duck real issues

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Writing your way out of recession


Earlier in the year I wrote about how the recession had the opportunity to help my script - Circumference.

So I did a rewrite and a script reading which was great. And, yes, it all worked. Semi finalist in Scriptapalooza. Top marks from Lucy in the scriptmarket. Now currently quarterfinalist in BlueCat. The script shows the benefit of the many rewrites. Check it out if you like.

If you are a long time blog reader you will remember this project in its previous draft. It was an experiment to see if it was possible to fund a film through adverts - in a ITV style. A new idea -Google meets film - kind of thing. But the figures just didn't add up once the money men were forced to consider it when the proposal went live. And then the recession came so that definitely killed the idea in that form.

And so I thought the story was dead. You may have similar projects that suffered the same fate. Whole TV shows are suffering it right now - even with the largest of companies.

But moaning about it, I felt, was a poor attitude. That isn't a film makers attitude at all. It isn't a writers attitude. While the rest of the world falls into chaos we were already living there. We know how to make something out of nothing. We do it everyday.

So the new plan is simple once you realise that:

One: Rewrite as a recession era romance that taps into the concerns of our times. (done, tick that off)
Two: Fund it in a recession method that matches the ethos of the story (launching right now)

The basic premise being that this is a film for people who want to do something pro-active in the recession. They want a story about it. And they want to be a part of it.

The proposal is simple. £100 buys you a share in the success of the film - a stake in it if you like. Similar to how Danny Stack funded his short film but on a bigger scale as its a feature. But because its a feature it actually has a market value and a good shot at getting some money back. And hopefully a profit for us all.

What else are you going to invest in? Houses? Stock market? You may as well invest in what you believe in - so you feel better and have some damn fun. Something we all need.

More on this approach to come obviously.

For now - here is the new website. And here is the official shares prospectus as a pdf.