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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