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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.