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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Iain Softley tells us what scripts are for...

Iain Softley (director of Backbeat, K-PAX, Inkheart and others) was at the recent Bournemouth FutureShorts event. Always good to hear from top guys like him. However there is only so much you can learn because the one lesson that seems to come through from everyone successful is that they did it their own way.

But one thing he said stood out. An observation...

"Scripts, in the industry, are seen as bait to get actors"

If this is a positive or negative thing isn't worth getting into again. But at least we know what we have to do. Give every character at least one 'hook' for a quality actor.

Photo from the Future Shorts site.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Selling out - right or wrong

Still having fun with Mr Vista as an ongoing project. It started out as an experiment in seeing if shorts can be made to break even. Well the answer is yes - if you shoot 8 in a day. That way it kind of just about makes economic sense and could be a business model that you could repeat and use. If anyone else wants to have a go at creating a web series that works in a similar way and funds itself then I'd be pleased to advise in more detail.

But there are other ongoing experiments with the Mr Vista project too. I'm trying to weigh up how well the idea of product spin offs would work. The progress bar works well outside of the films - like with the piece of satire above.

So will that work on a T-shirt. And will anybody care???

The little thingy above is a small flash app that shows you the kind of crazy stuff I'm peddling. But if it doesn't work then I have a simpler picture below. I will see how it goes and report back!

Zazzle seems like a good site if you want to have a go yourself.

push to pull shirt
"Push to Pull" designed by Mr Vista
Design a Custom Shirt with

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Taking the easy path

Maybe we believe in the hero's journey too much. Yes, we believe it works for stories. And yes, we believe that we must overcome our own obstacles when we are writing our scripts or making our films.

But should we also believe that it applies to our life and career?

Maybe you know someone (maybe it is yourself) that believes that they must take the hard way everytime. I certainly know a few people like that. But, surely, sometimes the easy way is better.

You must have all seen interviews with successful people who are trying new things. "I find comedy boring now and want to be a straight actor. "

The thing is, they became successful by doing the thing that came easy to them - the comedy. Now fair enough, everyone needs the next challenge. But for us who are less successful doesn't it make sense to use the advantage of doing what comes easiest. Like they did.

Let's talk examples.

You are great at funny, witty dialogue but find plotting characters a pain. They don't develop well and are cliche. Well maybe it is time to look at doing sketches.

You spend more time watching films and analysing films then working on them. In fact you only work on them out of respect for the films you love. Maybe it is time to be a reviewer, a critic or work in the production office.

You struggle with setting up stories and thinking of the big canvas on which to write a film. Well maybe you would be better at series and soaps and its time to focus on that - maybe even do a spec episode.

Remember, this isn't your career for life. Just a way to kick things off in a successful manner. Personally I love incredibly detailed films, Kubrick style. Yet experience has shown me that in my own work I am finding it 'easy' to do the short fast film making, which many others struggle with. Films like the Mr Vista series, the sketches for The Politics Show or the recent Keep Britain for British Serial Killers.

They always seem to do well for me as they are fast and capture the moment, like a blog post. But in my mind I used to find them 'less worthy'. This attitude may have been wrong.

Perhaps 'easy' is best? Why make life hard? Are you wasting energy on fighting what you are truly good at?

Photo of Mr Vista living it up in XP land!

Monday, May 18, 2009

My Series Bible

I'm currently working on my project for the pitching event at The Screenwriter's Festival.

If you don't know about this project then check out my pitch for it below.

I am trying to pull the series arc together. And, of course, as you start to work on it, really work on it, you realise you know nothing. Here are some of the questions I am asking myself - and this should work for any project really:

  • Why are the characters doing what they are doing? Does it make sense? Or is it just to push the story for story along because you need them to?
  • How is this not like it's nearest equivalent? For me this would be something like My Name is Earl - in what ways am I approaching it differently?
  • On the other hand in what ways is it similar to successful shows?
  • Does each episode seem different enough to be exciting - yet similar enough to hang together?
  • Does each episode open things up and raise exciting questions - so the audience will stick around?
  • Most importantly - how tied together is this series? What would be best - a series of standalone episodes that can be enjoyed almost in any order (like a sitcom) or a full-on long story (as in Lost or Heroes)? I'm going down the middle at the moment, which perhaps feels weak

So my first step has been to collect together all these thoughts. My next step is to sort out the order of the episodes using the chart technique. Then lastly get that together in a document.

I can also see how perhaps working 100% on the characters first would be the best idea. But I prefer to do characters and plot together even though I believe this is a slower process.

If anyone has additional 'questions' they use then I will add them to the list above.

On another note:

A contact of mine, experienced production manager Annie East (eastenders etc) is running a short summer school for children who want to make a film. It is based on a successful programme that has been running in London for years. And she has brought it down here to the Bournemouth and Poole area. Here is how she bills it...

Filmsteps has arrived in Poole! Launching with a fabulous 5 day workshop, children aged 7-16 will have the opportunity to make a movie in a week, topped off with a wrap party and their very own premiere screening at a big screen cinema. Workshop dates are 27th -31st July.

For enquiries please tel: 0844 579 1721 or email or visit the website or check out our behind the scenes video.

Many thanks

Annie East - Head Teacher

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Quick production

Another quickie - following the same method of doing it straight away that worked for God vs ASA. I think these fast turn around ideas are what the internet is about.

Have fun.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Get a proper job

Both Hugh MacLeod and Seth Godin are always saying - it is important to think of your creative life as one thing. This post is in the spirit of that.

I wrote and directed the majority of this product designed to get people back into work - a Job Kit if you like, hence the title. It's a first class product if I say so myself. Not because of what I did. But because I spent a long time discovering the things that really make a difference when you are looking for work with experts in recruitment, head hunters etc. Then we shot for over 2 weeks, spent 4 weeks in the edit and then a further 2 months building the site with examples, downloadable content (like template CVs), case studies and so on. Everything you'd need really.

Previously this kind of high-end help was only available to upper management - it was too expensive for the people at the sharp end, guys like you and me. But I was keen to make something that took all that great advice and help and made it available to everyone. Less elitist. That was the reason I put the effort in really. Plus it is always great to work with my film making collaboraters (DoP Shaune Fradley and fellow director Andy Marsh) on a project with some cash behind it. This had a budget of £100k.

Well it's out now on Amazon. If you know someone that needs help getting back into work as they have been out of the loop for a while or just need some solid no fuss help then send them towards it. I recommend it. Not really for my work, but because of all the proper, real world advice that I managed to squeeze in there.

It's also available online if you are more of the web based dude - which you may well be. But only through some crazy spam looking website! Which will hurt your eyes.

Here's a short trailer edited up by my good German friend Jurek.

I guess my conclusion to all this is that you can bring your film making skills, your writing skills to the unlikeliest of projects if you believe in it. For me it was about opening out this knowledge to more people, to the people that really need it, rather than keeping it for just the few.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Doin' the hard graft

Something that will be on the new version 2 of The Scriptwriter's Life will be - Doing the work.

It is all too easy to start things, to have new ideas (obviously this blog is mainly about that) and to want to kick things off.

That's good stuff. Of course it is. But it counts for nothing if you don't see it through. When perhaps your enthusiasm for dressing as a big rhino wanes - and yet you have 10 miles still to run. That is what I have been doing - metaphorically naturally.

  • Rewriting two features - done.
  • Continuing Mr Vista - ongoing.
  • Working on my secret recession beating scheme - halfway through.

All of these are projects that have perhaps lost the original shiny sexiness of being new. And are now real slugging away projects. But that is a big part of the job. Persistency.

So here are three very simple (and obvious if I'm honest) tips for completing the marathon of writing and film making.

One: Bite size it. Tasty.
Like the old adage, how do you eat a rhino? One bite at a time. Just break it down into tasks. To do 20 pages, or whatever suits you. Then do it. I've been doing 25 pages a day. With a Mr Vista day in the middle as a bit of light relief.

Two: Block out time in healthy chunks
I find some people spend more time switching between tasks than actually doing them. Time studies have shown that it is better to do one job thoroughly than chop and change about. So I block out days now. Is it a rewrite day, or a networking day? That keeps the day focused. If it was on the Scriptwriter's Life diagram it would be a coloured circle per day. So I have been going for green last few days solid.

Three: Make it delicious and tasty
Have something to aim for as a motivator. Whatever turns you on baby. I've been looking forward to playing Killzone 2 - cos I'm a nerd.

Like I say, nothing ground breaking here, nothing new. Just stuff that works. But then that's what the topic of this post was anyway. Neat. Get back in the rhino outfits guys and see you at the finish line!