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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Yakking about Mr Vista on the wireless

Here is an extract of the Pods and Blogs show featuring yours truly talking about Mr Vista.

I also talked about the way that it is made collaboratively from ideas sent in from the audience. But they chopped that bit. Thanks to Steve Keevil for landing the gig via a simple twitter exchange.

Despite, in broadcast terms, having a low audience this show provides a very relevant audience for Mr Vista. Essentially it will be a 100% geek based. That is the Mr Vista fan base after all. Sometimes the numbers aren't important if the relevance is high. As in this case.

Stats - a few extra visitors so far, about 25% up on normal visitors. But I see from how they are visiting that they have to search on google etc for 'mr vista'. Perhaps saying 'mr vista dot net' on the radio isn't a good idea? Could I have meant mister vista or or what? A lesson learnt!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A strict script - how close should you stick to the script?

Here is an interesting case study. It has to do with interpreting scripts - specifically with how, as a director and/or producer, we treat the work of a writer. How close can we stick to the words on the page? Should we adhere exactly to that vision? What if we don't?

But let's talk specifics.

Here is the script that Dom Carver sent in, kindly, and for free, to Mr Vista...



Mr. Vista plonks a Tesco’s bag on the counter top, extracts a microwave meal, reads the cover.


Mr. Vista licks his lips, shoves the meal in the microwave, presses buttons.

INSERT: Progress Bar “2 minutes.”


INSERT: Progress Bar “Done.”

Mr. Vista extracts the meal, sticks his fork in, lifts it out. It’s still a block of ice. Back in it goes, followed by more button pressing.

INSERT: Progress Bar “2 minutes.”


INSERT: Progress Bar “Done...I think?”

Mr. Vista extracts the meal, sticks his fork in again, lifts it out. It’s still a block of ice. Mr. Vista perplexed. Back in it goes, followed by frantic button pressing.

INSERT: Progress Bar “Warp Factor Ten Mr. Sulu.”


INSERT: Progress Bar “It should be done now?”

Mr. Vista extracts the meal. It’s a small charred, smoking lump.

INSERT: Progress Bar “Enjoy!”

And here is the episode as it turned out...

Mr Vesta
Uploaded by MrVista

Now I sit on both sides of this fence. How would I feel if my work was changed in this way? Dom himself, being a relaxed kind of guy, has blogged about how he is cool with it.

But let's face it. Let's be honest for a moment - at least with ourselves. We hate people 'mucking about' with our stuff. So why did it happen here? Where's the progress bar bits for a start that Dom mentioned? Let's get it out in the open on this small piece of fun work - so we can understand it better on larger projects where we don't have the insight of both the writer and director.

3 reasons for change

Or rather budget and time in the schedule. Which is kind of the same thing. Dom's script called for the meal itself to be a block of ice. That was too hard to do in the time. We shoot about 8 episodes of Mr Vista in a day. That is the only way to get the economics to work. So ice cubes were used. Probably not as good, Dom's way would be better, but it keeps the comedy and the angle - so is probably okay. And meant we could at least shoot something rather than skip it all together.

Two:On the Set
Whilst shooting it we were still imagining using Dom's progress bars. However thinking about the character and working with the actor it was clear some crazy facial reactions were necessary to capture the boredom of waiting, the shock of the ice, the anticipation of a meal, the disappointment and so on. These were alluded to in Dom's script, but not mentioned outright. And probably nor should they have been. He doesn't need to say 'Mr Vista waits impatiently' - we all kind of got that already. And he does say 'Mr Vista looks perplexed' - so we just took that further.

Three:In the Edit
So that is how we shot it. What that meant however, with those extra comedy faces, was that the progress bar now seemed too much. I mean we see him typing in the numbers into the microwave and we count it down - so we get out timebased information via that. So do we need the progress bar still? In fact, the answer seemed to be no. It was too much going on at once, distracting from the comedy. So they went.

So those were the three big reasons behind the changes. Was the writer wrong for not forseeing those issues - of course not. Were we wrong for going around the script - again no, we saw ways live to make it funnier.

And that, to me, is what it all comes down too. If we all agree on the goal of the story, on the character and the aims for the piece then we can all pull together. The details may change, but the feeling stays.

Disaster strikes when this goal is not shared or where we all believe the film is about different things.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Saxon Bullock: a legend

This man is called Saxon Bullock. That's his real name too.
Normally you wouldn't have to say something like that. But when a man so suits his image you may, dear readers, be tempted to believe that either he, or indeed I, were hoodwinking you. We are not.

So we have established he is Saxon Bullock. What of him? He is an old university chum of mine. In fact he took this very photo of yours truly many a year back. He is a writer and critic and is working on some novels - you can find out more here. But again, so what?

Well I think we can learn something from Saxon. He does it his way. In his case large complex sci-fi novels! Is this always easy? No. Is it commerical? Probably not. Would he change that? Maybe if he really wanted to. But trying to make that complete change in his personality, in his outlook, in this passion, in his heart - well that is energy better spent on his work.

I believe this today more than ever. For all of us. Stick to your guns.

Take me, I like an episodic or sequence approach to writing. No everyone does. If I'm doing a spec script or a personal project then that is how I will work it. Obviously if it is your project then I fit around what you want - but hopefully bringing a piece of this approach to it. Because that's my thing.

Does this always work? Like for Saxon, the answer must be no. It can't. Some people say my stories are too episodic for them. That is feedback I get. But you can't please all the people all the time. And if you know what you like at you stick to it at least you have the passion behind it. Plus when you do finally please some of the people some of the time - they are your kind of people!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Circumference Read Through - reflection

A couple of posts ago I talked about my agenda for the script read through. It worked well. So here is a slightly adjusted and updated version of my advice on how to run a good script read through or script reading. In short - how to make the most out of a performed reading.

1 - Cast people for the read through. Get people with an insight into the characters. So cast for this task, rather than for the final film.

2 - Break the script down into smaller parts of about 10-15 pages.

3 - Before each part outline the character development and plot points within it. Where is it going, why and how.

4 - Read through all the scenes in that part in one go. Record it!

5 - Each actor to outline how their character would feel at that end point. Do they say what you think they should say? Remember that you, as director, can worry about the audience. Each actor to offer feedback from their character's perspective.

6 - Go back through the most awkward scenes and improv together some other dialogue if necessary - trying different lines that help the characters to reach those emotional points in the most efficient and entertaining way.

7 - Repeat for all 8 parts. Then finish.

8 - Reflect overall on the pace. What where the low points where it dragged? Did it go over the same ground too often? Where did it feel exactly right?

My biggest learning experience was actually around point 1. I got it right this time but t was part by design and part by luck - next time I would definitely plan it from the off. It is about getting the right people. Obvious I know. But who are the right people? To me, now upon the reflection, it is people with a real insight into the world and the characters. People who bring more than just acting ability (although they have that) they bring experiences personal to them and relevant to the story. Obviously you need to make sure that you have a good handle on the themes and direction of the script in order to field any feedback rather than get overwhelmed.

So for Chloe (a character who is a young female classical musician lured by the prospect of fame as a classical pin up) I had Sarah reading the part - who is in a girl band. She brings an insight into having to weigh up the choice of being taken seriously against knowing that provocative poses get you publicity.

For Archie and Howard (2 salesmen fading away in the recession) I had Mark Freestone and Nick Meaney. Mark has worked with me on corporate gigs playing similar roles. Nick has done script readings in Hollywood, is an acting tutor and worked in sales for many years. Both guys offered solutions to problems, rather than just taking feedback.

Reading the narration and offering feedback was Nick Williams who is also an acting advisor and someone with a good angle on characters within stories. He put his finger on several issues in a succinct manner - saying that with a some small set up changes character decisions many pages later would make more sense. He was right.

On reflection having these people there made the most difference. I would recommend trying hard to make sure you get as good a fit.

Photographs by Georgina Hurcombe - recommended if you need some glamourous shots

Sunday, April 05, 2009

How to work... slower!

LooP is a script I've been working with my good friend Suki. You can see it on his slate here. It is perhaps best described as a mind warping psychological thriller. But as David Lemon reminded us yet again recently it is crucial to outline the why before the how. Why does your story exist - rather than how does the plot unfold? So here goes...

This is a story about the death of creativity in our post modern era. What happens to a society when all we make are remakes, remixes and reduxs? Where will the new ideas come from?

The story follows a young female video pirate during a single day and night. But the structure is a loop. For the first half she is chased by the mysterious stranger. Slowly she discovers that she is fading away, getting fainter. She realises this is because she has done all this before. And just as a copy is never as clear as an original - she is effects her the same way. She is caught in a loop, each time getting weaker. Now she has to prevent herself from reliving the day again - to stop herself from disappearing completely. The second half therefore she becomes the hunter and realises it was her chasing herself all along.

In this unusual set up she is both the antagonist and the protagonist.

The rationale for this post is my current rewrite process. As you may imagine a complex loop structure like this is where my chart method comes into its own. However over various rewrites the chart has drifted out of date. What started as a process of simply updating the chart to the current draft actually became much more.

It helps with the rewrite - giving a steer for each scene. Each scene has a box on the chart that outlines its purpose. This acts as a check. Does this scene still do what it needs to do? Or has that disappeared or got lost in the process somehow?

Give it a go. It is working for me.