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Friday, December 24, 2010

The Christmas Film


It is the event you have all been dreading, along with getting the roast dinner sweats and having to pick up stray peanuts.

Of course, I mean the Christmas film - my own get-out clause for not sending cards. This year, it is coming to you LIVE on the link below, a world's first.

I hope you have a great break and that 2011 is ACTUALLY news-worthy for you. You'll see what I mean!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Podcast 6: Can you be taught to be a writer?

In this, the sixth podcast myself and script guru Danny Stack look at the subject of writing qualifications. Are formal courses worth doing? What qualifications do you need to be a writer? The full line up is...
You can get a DVD of the Rare Exports short Danny mentioned on this DVD or watch them here.
Thanks to MovieScope.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Scriptwriters Desktop

Here is a nice little tool I knocked up.

Have it as your computer desktop / wallpaper. Put your icons in the relevant boxes and your writing projects will be much better organised.

Just remember to turn off any auto-sorting option that you may have that means your icons stay in alphabetical order.

The space at the left and right should mean it works fine on all the different operating systems too.

It was created at 1920x1200. So it should be able to be shrunk down to fit almost everyone's monitor - or indeed scaled up. Blogger shrinks the image above - even if you click on it. 

The full size version is here - and you can get different sizes here too.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Mr Vista - final series - and lessons learnt.

I've been creating a downbeat comedy webseries for geeks for a few years, called Mr Vista. It is now on series 3, the final series. Style wise, it is in the Jacques Tati / Mr Bean mould - and it is designed to appeal to nerds with it's computer based gags. However, it seems most people get the jokes these days due to the widespread use of blogs, PCs, iPads etc.

The project just about breaks even financially (thank goodness!) and has been watched nearly 2 million times, across the 20 or so episodes. It has also done well in some online competitions and is a youtube partner.  However it's real success has been on Dailymotion, Yobi and others that have supported it and featured it.

Our secret to success has been to have a tight shooting schedule, shooting 6 episodes a day. The current series will be the last as we feel we have pretty much done what we can with this character in the current format and budget range.

Next up (possibly) are the adventures of a girl who can change camera angles at will - it is a visually fun idea that plays with perspectives and angles. But that will take more work than Mr Vista - so it will need more input and support from others.

Coming to the end of a project like this is a good time for reflection. So the key things that I have learned about creating a web series are:

One: you need multiple episodes to really make things work as a business. Only when you reach 10 episodes does it start to work artistically and financially.
Two: chumming up to the gatekeepers at the web portals is a good idea - the people I call the spotlighters. And keeping track of all the web portals is key too.
Three: doing other media and materials (downloads, photos, posters) really helps. Some people prefer these to the episodes.
Four: get a character, get a location and then shoot as much as you can. Using the filming methods of short films will probably make your web series way too expensive PLUS the audience seems to like contained and tight ideas.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Be here now

Large scale ARG (Alternate Reality Games) like the one above would seem to me to be forever capped by the number of people that can effectively take part.

You have to go to certain locations, in the real world, at certain times. This ethos is completely different to every other new form of distribution. The general trend there is much more in the direction of 'watch any story, whenever you want, wherever you are'.

That must be a big part of the appeal of the ARG of course. That it flies in the face of the trend. It is a live gig rather than mp3 download - if you follow the analogy. But it probably goes beyond that, it is more like following a whole tour, rather than going to one gig.

The time isn't so much the issue. I'm 80 hours into playing the PS3 game Final Fantasy XIII. And lots of people happily watch 24 episodes in a box set. However, these fit around other commitments and activities. We chip away at those big stories. The specific time frame that is enforced in an ARG must surely limit the people who can enjoy it.

What would a time-shiftable, real world, ARG look like? Is it feasible?

I found out about this via the Transmedia Storyteller forum - check it out if this kind of thing interests you.

Friday, November 26, 2010

More podcast fun

This podcast uses a slightly different technique. At the recent London Screenwriters Festival I asked fellow delegates what they had learnt so far. Myself and Danny then used these as a jumping off point for the discussion. We cover:
  • How should we feel about attending festivals?
  • Is genre a good thing?
  • Should you plan out your script before you start work?
  • Does the biz really want 'good' scripts?

PLUS we talk about "Alice in Wonderland", "A Town called Panic, Misfits and "Walking Dead".

AND FINALLY there is a chance for you to win Movie Magic software, DVDs and Moviescope subscriptions in our new competition.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What makes a great business card? 2010 edition.

Last year I looked at some of the best business cards from the Screenwriters Festival. People seemed to like it, so it is back this year. And with all new networkers.

What makes a great card. To me it is a card that helped you remember the person and who they were.

A test for your card is: If someone else could take your card, add their name instead and then use it - then the card has failed. It isn't personal enough. Here are my three winners.

Winner One: Andrew James Carter

Andrew is also an astrophysicist. But I didn't need to tell you that, the card has already filled in that information. Great to see a prize mentioned on there too. And one prize is all a card can take.

Winner Two: Simon Lord

Simon has an interesting double-sided card. The hand written look by itself wouldn't be so unique. But having a range of line drawn images on the other side means that as he hands them out we each get a different card.

Winner Three: Julie Gribble
Julie also has a two sided card - and they also have variety. They all featured a word cloud from one of her scripts. A great jumping off point into talking about the work. It almost begs to have a pitch heard!

Special Mention: Andy Walsh

This card from Andrew is on a type of shiny plastic that glints in the light. It is worth a mention as different materials can make an impact.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

5 ideas from the London Screenwriters Festival

Behind the scenes on the opening day of the inaugural London Screenwriters' Festival 2010 at Regents College. Made by Oli Lewington.

It was great to see this video as it gave me a reminder of the excitement of the festival and a chance to blog about the top 5 things I took away. 5 thoughts / ideas that resonated with me.

A stage play may cost about the same to put on as the making of a short film. But it can be more effective in getting your story out into the world.

I liked Tim Bevan's story about being honest. He had some royalties come in for the Tall Guy and knew that most people involved would have forgotten about the film. But he sent a cut to the writer Richard Curtis - who then just happened to mention that he had a script he was working on called Four Weddings And A Funeral. The rest is history.

From Tony Jordan. If you go to Wembley and you have 90,000 people cheering at once the feeling is overwhelming. Now think that you can make 20 million people do something at the same time. That's television.

From Michael Bassett. Always be pleased if someone cared enough to rip you off.

Lastly, from delegate Leonardo Rizzi. A writer is to the story what the sculptor is to the human body. Trying to find it hidden in something else.


Check the new Channel 4 writing scheme out which pays you a small amount to write a 60 minute script.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Podcast 4: A sideways look

This is a special 'pro-active' show looking at what writers can do - that is more than just writing scripts and sending them out.

  • How to be proactive and control your own career. 
  • Is making a short film a good idea? 
  • How much do shorts cost? 
  • Reviewing "The Event" and "Social Network" 
  • See you at the London Screenwriters Festival. 
As you will hear, this podcast really builds on my recent post about how writers can use their skills and talents in other areas.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Where did you steal that idea from?

I was asked to talk to the creative writing group at Chichester University recently. The photo above is a small glimpse into the tutor's office. I was pleased to see it fulfilled every single one of my cliché visions of such a room.

For me, the most interesting part of our 2 hour talk was around using other people's ideas in our work. Another way to phrase it could be; is it okay to borrow elements that you see elsewhere?

We hit upon an interesting analogy. And that is that ideas are like the atoms in our bodies. They do not belong to us. They were all made elsewhere. And afterwards they will become something else. We are only the temporary custodians.

And thus it is with ideas. They are only resting with us. And we must accept that they will be taken on by others afterwards.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Less is more (work)

I was at a talk recently given by TED curator Chris Anderson - and held by Creative Bath.

I'm a big fan of TED, as should everyone who has an open-mind. But I was really interested in the fact that the talks are so short and punchy. I'd already featured this idea in the corporate video early in the year - and repeated above. As a short film maker I live a lot in the 'one reel' world.

So I asked him about it and he said in fact the speakers are asked to do 18 minutes. If you ask for 15, you get 20. But if you ask for 18, you probably get 18 - as it seems so precise!

BUT, the key learning point that we can all relate to is...

It is harder to do a shorter piece of communication than a longer one. As a writer of shorts I recognise that statement to be true. As with all things to do with changing people's minds, their hearts and their outlook the only tip can be: really know what you are trying to say and get everything else out of the way.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The value of a writer; aka - other ways of earning a living

I just finished editing two videos as paid gigs. The one above is for the annual Speechwriters' Guild Conference. It features 16 great pieces of advice from some of the World's best speech writers. Included are the speechwriter for Reagan, for Kofi Annan and the Chairman of BA - all imparting their wisdom. As an aside - I wonder if there is a scriptwriting equivalent video. And if not, surely that's the kind of thing that should come out of festivals and writing workshops.

As you will see, a theme running through all this advice is the power of storytelling, of understanding the audience, of having a structure. All the same great ideas we use.

As scriptwriters (or any form of storyteller) we need to remember that our skills are really useful out there in the 'real world'. They are useful to people who run entire countries and massive corporations. They have a currency IF we choose to spend it.

Nerd stuff:
Edited in Final Cut Pro 7
Graphics done in Motion
The Motion template was adapted from a free download available here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Moving scenes

I've been checking out a demo of Heavy Rain - the special edition that uses the new Move

Non-geeks read this: "Move" is an add-on piece of kit for the Playstation games console. You wave the special device around as you play the game and the Playstation can 'see' it and so can change what happens on screen. You use it instead of a mouse or keyboard. When using it, you look a bit like Tom Cruise in Minority Report, but less cool. The Wii is a bit the same, if you know that.

As you can see from the video, this game tries to put you in the action by, well, making you do actions. Probably like you, when I saw the video I nearly laughed out loud. But that could be because everyone in the video looks like a right chump.

However, I feel there is something there. The problem with this early game is that it is trying to make the device fit - rather awkwardly maybe. In the same way that early 3D films had things wooshing out at you.

But the reason it could work is to do with the kinetic feeling. As a player you have to focus more on the movement and action, so you generally pay more attention. You are NOT slumped on the sofa. Your mind is more alert, so you pick up on narrative details faster.

It would be interesting to see if this is slowly related to gameplay and / or to the writing. I feel it would mean less dialogue and more visual clues as it is the eyes that are working harder.

What I don't feel it does is actually make you feel 'in' the game / story. In fact it is very 'fourth wall' but you are reaching into the fake world.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Super 8, HDR video and other techniques - for a writer!

I was on holiday for a week in Santorini and saw that I had just missed the Super 8 festival in the small village of Oia.

Oia is a great location for a bit of Super 8 filming in itself, being perched as it is on the cliff tops. And I'm sure that an outdoor screening would be a big hit in that location.

View Larger Map

However, the rationale for this post is to focus on the ever increasing interest in different filming methods and formats. Some of these, like Super 8, are from the past. Others, such as shooting using a beam splitter to create a HDR video, are new.

As writers, we may feel that these things don't matter to the story. The story comes first, then the shooting format is picked later. And this is mostly true. HOWEVER, exploring new visual ideas is a great method of inspiration - just as any visual resource is. It is all good storydust.

Even better is to explore playing with these ideas yourself, if you can. Sometimes writers worry too much about making a full-on short. Experimenting with techniques and visual looks can sometimes be even better as way of learning.

Then, when a great writer creates material that matches an exciting look - that is a foundation for a fantastic, fully-realised, project.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Podcast 3 - collaborating and characters

Yes! It is podcast time again. Listen below or catch up with it on PodOmatic or on iTunes.

This month we look at what myself and Danny will be doing at the London Screenwriters Festival, Dom's guide to the fest PLUS we also discuss...

The latest script competitions, including the Big Idea from Shine and the "Inspired by Science" Treatment Award. And don't forget you still have time to enter the Berlinale Talent Campus.
Guest spot with Jack Thorne, co-writer of This Is England '86 which you can see on 4OD if you are in the UK.
This leads to a discussion: writers collaborating with other writers.
Our craft section is on creating great characters.

One photo we nearly used was of Gobbles the rabbit getting in on the act but his contribution was minimal.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Best free advice on scriptwriting

Danny Stack has gone and done it!

Check out his new portal to loads of great advice and insights on all elements of scriptwriting. Free downloads and a wealth of info. But EVERYTHING you need. This, to me, is the equivalent to a 'read me' file on a CD. Read it before you do anything else.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

12 angry writers

I put together some material for a recent workshop / training day for HSBC. My colleague Brian is a big fan of '12 Angry Men' and how you can use it to analyse team behaviour. How does Henry Fonda's character influence the others, changing his techniques appropriately? It is linked in with a leadership model called "The Managerial Grid" - but that isn't key to this post.

What strikes me is that you can work this idea the other way around. When you are putting together a group of characters, an ensemble piece of work, you could use any group dynamic theory or idea to underpin it.

It doesn't almost matter too much what you use - all the theories look at people at the extremes of behaviour. This helps explain and use the model / theory. But it helps us as extremes are more explosive with regards to drama.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


The second episode of the podcast is up and running.

There was a great response to the first episode, nearly a thousand downloads so far. It has been great to get so much feedback too. Thanks for everyone who emailed in. Personally, I've only had a chance to reply to about half of the emails so far, sorry for any delay.

We name check a few people in the podcast - and I decided to pick 'new' people rather than regular blog readers. So please don't feel shunned by that, it was purely to keep the 'gravity web' expanding yet further.

In this episode myself and Danny look at:

  • The London Screenwriters' Festival
  • The never-discussed issue of - can you actually make a living? In essence we look at what has now grown into the dark blue part of the Scriptwriters Life. Do you go for all or nothing? Or get by and make small bits of fun like Mr Vista? I bring up the point of; do you know what your "one slogan" is? This is the process I needed to go through when creating my animated resumé.
  • What makes a great first 10 pages of a script? Danny talks about moving beyond the set up and lessons learnt from reading entries to the Red Planet competition.
  • And in the reviews section I discuss a late 90s film called "The Eighth Day" while Danny goes crazy for two US TV shows "Southland" and "Breaking Bad".

As ever, the podcast will be featured here, on the podcast homepage and on Danny's blog. Or subscribe via iTunes so you don't miss out!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A writer's job in 5 years time

What will your job, as a writer and moving image story teller, be like in a few years time?

One key change we could all see would be the detaching of format and story. By that I mean that you stop being a writer for a single mediumg. There won't be a TV writer, a radio writer and a film writer - not to the same extent there is now at least. Instead, you would have writers of franchises and certain genres and they work across all formats.

Why do I say that? Because the number of outlets and media types is increasing all the time. Having a different writer for comics, TV, web, webisodes, events, film, spin offs etc etc seems to make less and less financial sense PLUS seems worse for continuity AND for artistic vision. You are the writer, you write it all.

Can writers do this? I don't see why not. An actor can move between film, stage and radio plays and we don't feel that is odd. In fact, we celebrate it.

One glimpse into this future is a new site that indie film maker Rob Pratten has pulled together - Transmedia Storyteller. This helps story tellers tell stories across all media outlets. Send text messages from your characters, send emails, organise fictional blogs - all from this one place. A long overdue idea I feel. 

This idea of bringing characters into the real world isn't new of course. But doing it all from one place, so writers can do it, so we can concentrate on the story and not the technology - that is new. 

Check it out if you want a glimpse into one possible future for writers. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

If you are thinking of running a workshop or lecture - watch this.

I've been running and helping to organise a lot of workshops and educational events recently, including one for the MyOneWord competition.

Like me, I expect you have gone to many different workshops, courses, seminars, lectures, festivals - and any other name that I have forgotten.

A lot of them soon descend into a series of dull monologues (even though everyone involved is great) and you wish you could sneak off after lunch. The reason; writing is a 'doing job' and listening to people talking about, thinking about, doing it isn't really all that helpful.

Another reason is that they normally consist of hour long talks. As writers, we should know that this isn't engaging. Ever written a hour long scene - or even a sequence of scenes? Me neither.

With that in mind, I made this. If you are thinking of running a workshop or lecture - watch it.

(note: this looks at using the idea in business meetings - but it applies just the same)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The future after the UK Film Council - a podcast

Everyone is talking about what the future will be like without the UK Film Council - which has been suspended this week.

Whatever happens next, the big thing I want to see is an increase in communication, support and mentoring. To illustrate my point I will simply ask you this; when was the last time anyone phoned you from one the official film bodies to ask how you were getting on?

I know the admin around that is enormous, but also simple. And what an effect it would have. Joining people up and kick starting new projects. Just by talking. It isn't always about a lot of money. But it is about seeing your role as not being an admin department, but a supporter of every film maker.*

These are big thoughts and big questions. So it seemed like a good idea to get together with fellow writer Danny Stack to discuss it all. And if we are doing that; why not podcast it anyway? This was Danny's idea as he felt there was a hole where an intermediate-level scriptwriters podcast should be. And I think he is right.

So check it out below. 

Also in this episode: why I want to move into origami and why Danny wins the name-dropper prize.

We are thinking of doing more of these, but as with all things on-line, it is very much on a 'suck it and see' approach. Or in this case 'speak it and see'. To hear it click on the play button below.

Any future issues will be posted here and on Danny's blog. Or subscribe via iTunes so you don't miss out!

*I realise this wasn't the role of the UKFC, this is instead about starting to think about doing things differently in the future.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Scriptwriters development day

I was helping to run the "My One Word" Development Day over the weekend. 10 finalists, getting together to learn from each other and gain new insights into their 3-minute scripts.

I've been on quite a few of these things myself over the years. They range a lot in terms of quality and output. I feel that many prodcuers / competition organisers see a development day as a prize in itself. But of course, in what other industry would a day's work be seen as a prize?

However, if done right, a workshop day can be really useful. The reason is - writer's generally want to share their work, to get better and to discuss ideas. And yet too many of these days fight that natural good will. Instead, they have a series of one-way talks / lectures that go on all day. This, to me, seems so counter-intuative. This doesn't replicate at all the thinking process that a writer must go through while in development. PLUS, it doesn't reflect the fact that everyone there must be good writers already, due to the fact they are in the final.

Writing is about doing it. A development day should be about doing it too. And we tried to follow the spirit of that idea. Lots of activity, lots of sharing idea, lots of challenges.

Here are just three of the things that I picked up from the day.

  • Talking about / pitching your film must be more than simply; this happens, then this, then this. Practice with another writer, pitching back and forth, to find out what really counts in your story.
  • Film makers and writers watch a lot of films. Thousands in fact. As Gary Young said, "If I'm not writing films, I'm watching films"
  • A technique for learning structure - rewrite your favourite film, with a new angle. A great way to see how they put it together.

And a bonus quote; "Scriptwriting is like going to toilet; you just have to sit down and do it"

Monday, July 12, 2010

An animated CV - showing, not telling.

A while ago I was admiring how designer's can make some awesome CVs / resumés. The reason they can create such interesting documents is that, for them, their CV is presented as piece of design. So it impresses straight away, it shows rather than tells. An example is at the bottom of this blog post.

And, obviously, as film makers and creative people we should be able to do something similar too. What I had in mind was more than simply a showreel, a showreel shows only the final work. What was required was the content of a CV (style, interests, approach, successes, awards, work) in a moving image form.

My first effort is above. I've called it an animated resumé (it is designed for international viewers who don't use the term CV) which seemed to be a good name for what I was trying to achieve.

Check it out. If you do one too, or have one already, let me know.

I've put it on its own webpage - - which I coded myself. It's not as slick as ones that  film website experts like Steve Andrews put together, but it's enough for this pilot.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Making $1000 from my old short films.

I was initially sceptical of mDistribute. They are a distributor for short film content. Others have done this before of course, following a business model similar to how feature film distributors work.

mDistribute is different, in that it is much more of web2.0 business model. The buyers aren't the public. They are people like mobile phone companies who need, for example, 1000 comedy short films for their portal.

It's easy - you upload your films and set your own price. An interesting exercise in itself; how much is your short worth? They take 25% of the sales, which isn't too bad. Nothing to pay upfront obviously. There is a simple verification process that takes a few days, so that the site doesn't fill up with rubbish.

A lot of these kind of sites don't take off. But so far I've earned about $1000, which isn't to be sniffed at. This is mainly from Mr Vista clips - which travel well and are nice and short. A big seller, that I haven't tapped into yet, is to make really short (and loud) clips that can be used as video ringtones.

If you are interested then click on the logo at the top.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Get a stone in your shoe

I heard a great quote today from a satirical poet. He said that he doesn't write anything until he really feels an idea has become like a stone in his shoe.

I love that very visual, yet also tactile, analogy. If you can carry on walking, you should do. But when an idea really gnaws at you and you can ignore it no longer - then, and only then, should you start to write.

Cartoon from here.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

When is a writer not a writer?

Answer: When there is no dialogue!

Obviously this answer isn't true. But it can seem that way.

As I mentioned before, I am thinking about doing a silent film, as in no dialogue. I've done these before at the low budget end - for example the Mr Vista films. With Mr Vista scripting doesn't matter, we improv it anyway. And for higher budgets, in my heart of hearts, I honestly believe that it is better to jump straight to a storyboard, if you can. But you don't always have that option.

We all know that description-based scripts, with no dialogue, are frowned upon. My current writing task is getting 'Teddy and the Moon' expanded and ready for the Red Planet comp - and there are some long no-dialogue sequences in there. This is of concern to me. The only thing I have found to really work is to space out the description and action by beats - with plenty of spaces.

John enters the room.

A crash. What's that?

A mouse runs over his foot.

John shrieks. A hand covers his mouth. His eyes bulge.


It almost becomes like dialogue then.

If you yourself fancy dipping your toe in this arena then you could do much worse than checking out the My One Word competition which closes July 6th. As the name suggests, you can only use the one word of dialogue. It is supported by C4 and 4 films will be made. 3 minutes each - so an easy write - or a great way to use up a stray idea. Free to enter too.

So no excuse not to bung in 3 pages and get your film made and a free bit of mentoring too.

I'm running the workshop day for the final 12. As a writer myself I'm really aiming to put together a great day. NOT the same old crap you get elsewhere where you start to think that the development day is a punishment rather than a prize. I know it's radical, an actually useful development day. Will wonders never cease?

» Have a final running time of 3 minutes
» Be of any genre from comedy to horror
» Have locations based within England
» Must not contain any violence, explicit language or include any explicit sexual content

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Silent with sound

Charlie Chaplin film writing
I've recently been looking at some Chaplin's early films.

My reason for doing so; Chaplin understood that single story elements couldn't progess beyond about a reel of film (10-15 mins depending upon projection speed). So longer films, such as a the two reeler The Immigrant, are in fact two separate sequences, one for each reel. In reel one, The Little Tramp comes to America. In reel two he goes to a restaurant. His romancing of The Girl binds the two together.

The work this is building towards is a manager's conference. I want to stress to managers that having a big meeting, concerning one thing, for a whole hour isn't very useful. And what's more, Chaplin knew this 100 years ago. So stop doing it. Instead have some 'reel changes' in there.

However, for me, it has been a great opportunity to be reminded, YET AGAIN, of how simple the story telling is. And by that I mean how powerfully simple it is.

It has inspired me to think about creating a new silent-style story. Perhaps two people who don't speak each other's language who meet in a foreign city. Add a few laughs and a bit of pathos and jobs a good un.

silent cinema

Monday, May 24, 2010

The perception filter

I've been thinking about a new technique for the moving image. It is based around using a point of view (POV) shot and the idea came out of a discussion with games designer Stephen Hardie.

A POV shot is normally used sparingly in TV and films. A notable exception being Peep Show, which used it exclusively.

Peep Show POV shot
Peep Show

In games, the first person view is much more prevalent. It adds to the excitement if you are placed in the hot seat. Plus, playing a game is much more akin to you 'playing acting' in the role of the central character rather than observing their actions. To successfully play act - you need to see what they see.

Mirrors Edge POV
Mirror's Edge

However, with all these examples, you see what the the character's eyes would see. You don't see what they would see, as a fully realised character.

What do I mean by that? An example of one scene that does show it is when Jimmy Stewart is hanging from the clock tower in Vertigo and looks down - then you see what he sees! His own sense of vertigo adds a filter to the scene, distorting reality.

Although not shot in a POV style, Shutter Island (itself a Hitchcock homage) plays with this idea also. We see the Island as the main character would.

Shutter Island viewpoint
Shutter Island

What I'm proposing as an interesting visual experiment is to combine this ideas and bring the 'perception filter' look to the fore.

Presenting the world as each character sees it, with all their quirks, neuroses and blindspots presented to us.

Whilst this seems like an idea best suited to animation I feel doing it live action is more eye catching and exciting - but does place a strain on the art direction and post-production budget.

I may try to follow this up. But what story would best suit the perception filter style?

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Every child a scriptwriter

I've been asked to create a video on a scheme that is happening right now across England called "Every Child A Talker".

It is about ensuring that children have good communication skills by the time they go to primary schools - so it is aimed at 0-5 year olds. Obviously, it is actually aimed at the parents and the adults involved in working with this age group. The reason for setting up this large project is to cure a large problem. The problem that over 50% of children are behind in their communication skills when they start school - meaning that not much actual teaching can occur.

But what is interesting is the use of story telling and art direction in this scheme.

With storytelling - the nursery staff shouldn't read from books. They should tell the story themselves. Everytime it can be different and the children can change the direction of the story as they want - all very story 2.0!

With art direction - the key is to remove clutter from behind the storyteller (no posters, pictures etc) and to have a neutral wall (off-white, no colours) so that the focus is on the storyteller.

All very advanced stuff and good to see storytelling being put at the heart of everything, from the moment children are born.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Take the high road

Last week I had a wonderful journey back through Scotland. I'd finished my work on APB in Dundee and was heading back to Bournemouth. But why head straight back? I'm keen to always look around and explore. So should anyone involved in the creative arts. Dashing about should be for other people, not us. That's why I've always defended the red circle part of the Scriptwriter's Life diagram so vehemently, the part on growing your character.

All I can say is - art isn't about getting from A to B in the quickest time.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Scriptwriters Life - print it big!

A lot of feedback around the Scriptwriter's Life diagram is about printing it out. People like the idea of having it around, but perhaps their printer doesn't do it justice. Of course there is always the low-ink version I created. But why settle for that?

So I've uploaded the very highest, full on, quality version to Zazzle. There you can print it out as a poster if you like. Right up to supersized poster that's as big as me!

The mouse mat and T-shirt were just for a bit of fun while I was there. But they make a good treat to yourself or your writer chum.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I didn't get it...

My time working on APB (updated website, check it out) is coming to an end as it gets ready for release.

One of the things that I take away is the power of understanding the user experience (sometimes called UX). The main man, Stanley, sits a few seats away and is an advocate of the whole idea, sending around links and so on. UX is where the player's experience of the game is explored.

What didn't they get? What confused them? What did they find exciting?

This feedback can be gathered in a variety of forms that falls into 3 main categories.
  • Letting people play the game and then asking afterwards, via discussion and perhaps a questionnaire.
  • Live conversation, where players talk through their experience as they play - great, but slightly unnatural.
  • High tech solutions that record where the player's eyes are on the screen along side their actions and link this to the gameplay.
As you probably know many film distributors use something similar to the first category when they are releasing a film. This usually takes the form of 'did you enjoy the film?' and 'would you recommend it'. In short, it is more about the marketing of the film than the artistic qualities.

As film makers however we don't apply this same rigour. But we could. It could help us make our film better and ensure that the cool ideas and nuanced emotions we want the audience to take away are really being picked up.

If we do show our film - it is usually in an unfocused manner. 'Did you like it?' Instead, we could really apply a more targeted approach. We could ask people about what parts they didn't get. Phrasing is the most important element to get right. No audience member should 'like' it when the hero dies. But did they find it 'moving'?

Beyond that - why not even use the second category - stopping and starting the film to dip in and out of audience views.

And remember, all this could apply to scriptwriters too.

Why do we think that just sending someone a script and waiting for feedback is enough. Read it with them. Ask them questions. Or have sample audience members at a script read through and use them constructively.

As a bonus, here is my favourite interview about APB. Well worth a watch. It is conducted by HipHopGamer and is culture-clash-tastic. However, both HHG and APB's Exec Producer Joshua have a kind of side-culture of gaming that ensures they have common ground.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

New version of Scriptwriter's Life

The Scriptwriter's Life diagram has been updated. It may take a little while to ripple through various caches etc.

Many writers felt that the three separate circles of the old version didn't actually represent the holistic nature of their working life. So this version seeks to address that.

As you can see, Gravity, has become the heart of the diagram. Everything works towards it and that kind of makes sense. Without a good reputation nothing else matters - and the reverse is true, everything influences your reputation.

Check it out in more detail at

If you have the old version embedded in your blog then the new version will magically appear there instead. If you want to add it to your blog then add this code...

<div align="center"> <a href=""> <img src="" width="150" height="212" border="1"> </a> </div>

Nerdy stuff:
The diagram was created in Photoshop. 3 coloured circles were overlapped to create the secondary colours using the blending options. The hard part was positioning the circle centres to ensure an exactly equal overlap off all three. This had to be done with trigonometry in the end. Each element was then slightly grad shaded and soft bevelled downwards. The metal outlining has a slight glow on the highlights. Font is Century Gothic.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Just out of reach

Do you know the feeling; the feeling that something is just out of your intellectual reach?

You know something in your work is not correct, that it is not as good as it could be, that it is tired and dull. This - you know. But what can you do about it, what is the answer? Well - heck - you kind of know that too. But it is out of reach. You know it is there, but you can't see it - kind of like the door in Doctor Who the other day. Or perhaps like the character in my own Hope.

You say to yourself - if only I was 10% more clever I could join these damn things up. But, somehow, you aren't. You just can't see far enough.

1 - Do you know that feeling?
2 - What is it called?

It feels like a dead neural connection. It was once there linking up two parts of the brain but has since perished.*

* old age is not the answer before any of you cheeky people jump in with that!

Picture: Detour by Darcy Ripley.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A new pitching and brainstorming tool

At a recent lecture I gave at OCR everyone was talking about a new way to present ideas. It is online and called Prezi.

What excited me about this idea was how it combined elements of mind mapping (as used in something like Mindmeister) with a Powerpoint style presentation tool.

It may not suit every project or person but definitely one to be aware of. The flow of the graphics sits better with a flow of a story. The problem with any form of card pitching (which is how I currently work) is that you often descend into "then this happens, then this, then this".

It is free to use - but you can upgrade for extra features. The free version would be more than suitable for most of us.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

New thoughts on 'rules'

A lot of talk in games creation goes on deciding the gameplay rules - what are the rules of the game? Seems obvious, but even I am surprised at how this is gone over again and again. What exactly is needed to earn the big gun etc etc.

But the reason for all this hard work is - it is really hard to change later. You can't say things work one way and then later on say they work another way when you update the game. Players would go crazy!

This 'going crazy' vision made me think about stories and scripts. I think perhaps we don't consider 'the rules' of our worlds enough. They tend to be made up as we go. Get it wrong and your audience will be as pissed off as those angry games players. Some of things you may hear / have heard / have shouted yourself would be...
  • Hang on, I thought superherodude couldn't do that, and now he can!
  • Where the hell did that come from?
  • She would never have said that.
  • I thought an alien was hard to kill and now there are 100s of them and they are being killed easily.

You get the idea. This kind of overlaps with the 'contract with the audience'. But the 'contract' is more about the emotional experience / money for a cinema ticket trade. Complaints around that are more of the...

  • I've watched 26 episodes of this stupid show and it hasn't even tied up the loose ends properly

So 'world rules' are definitely worth thinking about at a conscience level.

I would say that it is worth getting right at the start, but we all know development doesn't work like that. But it is certainly worth doing a script pass on though and considering fully.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Creative Gravity - new version

I finally got around to creating a special version of the Gravity animation just for writers and creative people.

This brings the project full circle. The Gravity idea was created as a part of a set of training materials for people involved in sales, especially financial sales. However, I used the ideas I had seen successful freelance writers use as the basis.

But the media / creative markets are very different from the financial sales market. Financial sales has the pressure of making repeat sales day in, day out - which can lead to a kind of short-termism. Writers on the other hand are always concerned with their good repuatation and throwing their net wide. The Gravity animation was a way of showing the benefits of this longer term approach in a graphical way.

Now I've reworked it back to the creative industries in this new version. Check it out. But also remember that we could learn a lot from the financial guys about actually remembering to ask for the work and being a bit more pushy.

What the video doesn't cover is HOW to raise your gravity because this is unique to each person. Here is an ideas list to kick you off.

  • Put yourself forward to help out anyone with their projects
  • Be a volunteer
  • Be a script judge
  • Be online - blogs / twitter etc
  • Share what works - be open, that's what draws people to you
  • Don't be afraid to network - set a target of meeting 5 new people at every event
  • Give something practical away when you meet people so they keep it and remember you*
  • Be a mentor
  • Be a mentee
  • Give talks / conferences
  • Keep in touch with people actively - use a diary, don't just think about doing it
  • Think about the one thing you do differently - what sets you apart from other writers?
  • Make sure you can explain the one thing easily - in a film poster manner!
  • Do it often.

I know you may not like all this talk about Creative Gravity and reputation, which then strays into marketing and branding. However, it is crucial to realise - you already have a reputation - you already have Gravity - so it makes sense if you try to steer it and guide it.

* I often hand out copies of the Scriptwriter's Life diagram.
Music by Titas Petrikas.

Monday, March 01, 2010


AudioBoo is a online service which is kind of an audio version of twitter; a quick way to upload and share your audio messages.

Steve Keevil has taken it and turned it into a platform for super short-radio plays in a series he calls 'iPhone monologues'.

He asked me to take part - and I did. Here is the result. It has a kind of lo-fi quality due to being recorded via an iPhone but that is part of the experience. In fact, in the future, I think this could go further by doing the recording on location somewhere suitable.

Here is the script, for reference.

This is fun - isn’t it. I know you think so too because I can hear you screaming wildly. Screaming through pure enjoyment. At least I think it is that kind of screaming. It is hard to hear you properly when you are in that car boot.

‘Thou Shalt Not Kidnap’ isn’t one of the Ten Commandments. So does that mean God thinks it is okay then? I think, on balance, that the Almighty would come out against it.

Indeed. It is wrong to kidnap people. That is why I had to escape from you and put you in the boot. You have face justice for what you did to me. I am bringing you in.

But then was it kidnapping seeing as how you are the police? I guess you would call it ‘arresting me’. Damn. This good and evil thing isn’t as clear cut as the bible would have me believe.

Maybe I’ll just crash, kill us and let God sought it out. You okay with that? Takes it out of our hands altogether.

But I changed my mind. And I watch the car burn and I think two things. One, that watching a fire is just as fun as driving fast. And two, I wish I believed in God.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Metro 2033

The Times has an interesting article about a book (now becoming a game) called Metro 2033. Read the article here.

The book has been hugely successful and the game is quite well anticipated. Here are three interesting things about the project - none of which could have been true 5 years ago - and what makes it relevant to us.

1 - The book is by Dimitry Glukhovsky. He started publishing it on his blog with comments and criticisms from blog readers prompting a radical rewrite and a whole new second half. The rewrite was then also published on his blog.

2 - The book then got published in book form and has sold well. However, the free version can still be downloaded.

3 - The book then got picked up for adaptation - not into a film, but a PC game (for now). The game meant Dmitry could be more closely involved.

All 3 of these represent our changing times and prove that the project plans you had in place a few years ago may need looking at again.

A couple of links...

Wikipedia page
Official site

Friday, February 19, 2010

6 reasons why you should look at writing for games

In the last of my 'games specials' I bring you some reasons why you should consider writing for games (if you aren't already).

These came from a lecture given by Professor Lachlan Mackinnon at Abertay University - a centre for excellence in games teaching.

One: Money
The games industry is worth $45billion worldwide - so there is money around. The UK is still a player (just about), so you can get a foot in the door. A big UK Massively Mutliplayer Online game will cost £50m to develop. Compare that to how many UK £50m films there are.

Two: It's not for kids
The average age of players is now 33. So your game writing doesn't have to be childish stuff - unless you want it to be.

Three: Games aren't for gamers
Not a hardcore full-on nerdy gamer? Well, that's cool. Neither are the majority of people who play games. They play on their Wii, or their iPhone and they play socially with friends.

Four: You don't have to sit on your own
The biggest games right now are a/ facebook games and b/ online games. The vision of the lonely gamer in his bedroom is now rare.

Five: You won't feel at home
Not true. You will be invited in too late to contribute ideas - or too early so they change it all later. Hey, just like in films.

Six: It is not a whole new world
When you have actors on a stage the director sets the rules for the game and the script is their guide. In games it is the same thing, but one step further removed. The game sets up the rules and we are all actors on the stage. The script is a guide for us all.

Here are my previous posts on this topic:
Sources of games writing jobs.
How to apply for games writing jobs.
Skills you already have that are useful.
Helpful resources to use when you have work.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mr Vista on Comedy Central

Birthdays are for losers

Go on, give Mr Vista your support (ie vote) over on Atom and lets get him on Comedy Central!