Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The heroes and baddies of Christmas movies

It’s the time of year when Christmas movies are all over the telly. But none in the cinemas! There was a period about 10 years ago when there was always a Christmas movie out in theatres at this stage, usually starring Tim Allen and featuring some variation on the “cynical lawyer becomes Santa” story. But now Christmas has been banished to the Hallmark Channel.

Considering some of the stinkers I’ve seen in the last few years, this isn’t too surprising. There are a lot of truly awful Christmas films visited on the public as they lie on the sofa in a Quality Street-induced coma. But it’s a shame they’ve sunk so low because practically every writer has a Christmas movie in their drawer (I do, for one!)

So in honour of these seasonal shelf puppies, I thought I’d come up with my top five worst holiday films and the top five best:

The crimes against Christmas list

Four Christmases – I read the logline for this film long before it came out and thought it sounded like a fantastic idea for a high-concept Christmas movie. But the finished product was shouty, charmless and very, very low on laughs. A lot of talent - and a great initial idea – all wasted.

Deck The Halls – Kristin Chenoweth’s aggressive blonde trophy-wife aside, this is a really bad movie about two male neighbours fighting over who has the best Christmas lights on their house. Which if I remember correctly, was only a B-plot in Clark Griswold’s Christmas misery. Danny de Vito is given nothing to work with, script-wise, and I started falling asleep every time Matthew Broderick’s character came on screen. Rent Christmas Vacation instead.

Santa Baby – this is a jaw-droppingly bad film starring Jenny McCarthy as Santa’s cynical corporate daughter, who has to step up to the reins when her dad becomes ill. Everyone involved phones in their performance and it all looks like it was shot in a department store.

Mr. St. Nick - Kelsey Grammar was great as Scrooge in a straight adaptation for TV a few years ago. But he misfires in this one, where he’s a cynical newsman (can you sense there’s a theme here?) who becomes Santa. He also marries Ugly Betty’s sister in the end, even though (as my sister pointed out in outrage), they hadn’t even had a snog!

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause – I’m going to put this one in largely because they got rid of Bernard the Elf, the only character who made the previous two films worth watching. And hired Martin Short, who gives an utterly horrible performance in between making calls to his builder about his new house extension (I imagine).

And the goodies…

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – I’ve seen this practically every Christmas I can remember and it’s still funny. Not clever, mature or sophisticated. Just big laughs, and they keep coming. It’s a stone-cold classic that sends a shiver down the spine of anyone who ever agreed to host a family Christmas…

Scrooged – Bill Murray when he was the funniest man on screen. This is a great Christmas film because it’s not afraid to have a really dislikeable main character, and to show some really grim moments along the way. Vince Vaughn can only dream of starring in something this brilliant.

Home Alone – A John Hughes holiday movie with an underrated script, this film skirts a lot of potentially dark issues. A child left alone for Christmas, being terrorised by two creepy burglars? My mom practically cries with laughter at the bit where Joe Pesci tries to make it up a frozen set of steps and I don’t blame her. This is Macauley Culkin’s finest hour.

It’s a Wonderful Life – Again, a film which on the surface is loaded with sadness. A depressed man decides to throw himself off a bridge, only to see the effect his life has really had on others. Yet it’s one of the most heartwarming films ever made. Elf (another great Christmas movie) also had an on-the-bridge moment which I assume was in honour of It’s a Wonderful Life (only played for laughs).

Miracle on 34th Street – I don’t mind which version it is, this is a lovely film with a great story. Can we prove there really is a Santa! This is one film that always makes me choke up. Yes, I am a girl.

Happy Christmas and happy movie-watching!

The heroes and baddies of Christmas movies

It’s the time of year when Christmas movies are all over the telly. But none in the cinemas! There was a period about 10 years ago when there was always a Christmas movie out in theatres at this stage, usually starring Tim Allen and featuring some variation on the “cynical lawyer becomes Santa” story. But now Christmas has been banished to the Hallmark Channel.

Considering some of the stinkers I’ve seen in the last few years, this isn’t too surprising. There are a lot of truly awful Christmas films visited on the public as they lie on the sofa in a Quality Street-induced coma. But it’s a shame they’ve sunk so low because practically every writer has a Christmas movie in their drawer (I do, for one!)

So in honour of these seasonal shelf puppies, I thought I’d come up with my top five worst holiday films and the top five best:

The crimes against Christmas list

Four Christmases – I read the logline for this film long before it came out and thought it sounded like a fantastic idea for a high-concept Christmas movie. But the finished product was shouty, charmless and very, very low on laughs. A lot of talent - and a great initial idea – all wasted.

Deck The Halls – Kristin Chenoweth’s aggressive blonde trophy-wife aside, this is a really bad movie about two male neighbours fighting over who has the best Christmas lights on their house. Which if I remember correctly, was only a B-plot in Clark Griswold’s Christmas misery. Danny de Vito is given nothing to work with, script-wise, and I started falling asleep every time Matthew Broderick’s character came on screen. Rent Christmas Vacation instead.

Santa Baby – this is a jaw-droppingly bad film starring Jenny McCarthy as Santa’s cynical corporate daughter, who has to step up to the reins when her dad becomes ill. Everyone involved phones in their performance and it all looks like it was shot in a department store.

Mr. St. Nick - Kelsey Grammar was great as Scrooge in a straight adaptation for TV a few years ago. But he misfires in this one, where he’s a cynical newsman (can you sense there’s a theme here?) who becomes Santa. He also marries Ugly Betty’s sister in the end, even though (as my sister pointed out in outrage), they hadn’t even had a snog!

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause – I’m going to put this one in largely because they got rid of Bernard the Elf, the only character who made the previous two films worth watching. And hired Martin Short, who gives an utterly horrible performance in between making calls to his builder about his new house extension (I imagine).

And the goodies…

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – I’ve seen this practically every Christmas I can remember and it’s still funny. Not clever, mature or sophisticated. Just big laughs, and they keep coming. It’s a stone-cold classic that sends a shiver down the spine of anyone who ever agreed to host a family Christmas…

Scrooged – Bill Murray when he was the funniest man on screen. This is a great Christmas film because it’s not afraid to have a really dislikeable main character, and to show some really grim moments along the way. Vince Vaughn can only dream of starring in something this brilliant.

Home Alone – A John Hughes holiday movie with an underrated script, this film skirts a lot of potentially dark issues. A child left alone for Christmas, being terrorised by two creepy burglars? My mom practically cries with laughter at the bit where Joe Pesci tries to make it up a frozen set of steps and I don’t blame her. This is Macauley Culkin’s finest hour.

It’s a Wonderful Life – Again, a film which on the surface is loaded with sadness. A depressed man decides to throw himself off a bridge, only to see the effect his life has really had on others. Yet it’s one of the most heartwarming films ever made. Elf (another great Christmas movie) also had an on-the-bridge moment which I assume was in honour of It’s a Wonderful Life (only played for laughs).

Miracle on 34th Street – I don’t mind which version it is, this is a lovely film with a great story. Can we prove there really is a Santa! This is one film that always makes me choke up. Yes, I am a girl.

Happy Christmas and happy movie-watching!

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Now is the winter of our discontent"

And how! There’s an awful lot of moaning going on right now and to be fair, a lot of reason for the moaning. The 2009 spec sales market has been terrible and every second movie to hit cinemas seems to be part of a franchise.

But I got a little spark in my belly today when I read about Fede Alverez’s $300 short movie Panic Attack!, which he produced and put on Youtube. This little giant-robot-invasion-story has been a monster hit, having more bang for its buck than many Hollywood blockbusters . And the next day his inbox was jammed with emails from Hollywood executives wanting to work with him (“if you can do that with $ 300, what about $30 million dollars!”.

Now he’s been offered a production deal by Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures and will come up with a story with a studio-assigned writer to be set in Uruguay. Result for the internet and for innovative thinking!

The old world of movies – like the old world of everything else – is being stripped away and it’s a brand new world. Some people will embrace the big changes and others will opt out and sulk. Or write Hallmark Channel movies. Which way are you going to go?

"Now is the winter of our discontent"

And how! There’s an awful lot of moaning going on right now and to be fair, a lot of reason for the moaning. The 2009 spec sales market has been terrible and every second movie to hit cinemas seems to be part of a franchise.

But I got a little spark in my belly today when I read about Fede Alverez’s $300 short movie Panic Attack!, which he produced and put on Youtube. This little giant-robot-invasion-story has been a monster hit, having more bang for its buck than many Hollywood blockbusters . And the next day his inbox was jammed with emails from Hollywood executives wanting to work with him (“if you can do that with $ 300, what about $30 million dollars!”.

Now he’s been offered a production deal by Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures and will come up with a story with a studio-assigned writer to be set in Uruguay. Result for the internet and for innovative thinking!

The old world of movies – like the old world of everything else – is being stripped away and it’s a brand new world. Some people will embrace the big changes and others will opt out and sulk. Or write Hallmark Channel movies. Which way are you going to go?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The second coming of Hotel Darklight...

I went to a second screening of Hotel Darklight today at the IFI, comprised of ten shorts that includes my script Regards to the Chef. I ended up taking part in a Q&A after on stage with the two directors, a director and another writer. This was kind of alarming because of the blinding lights focussed on us, although at least this meant I couldn't really see the audience and get nervous. Truth be told, I'm a shameless talker and it was fun to get to take part in it. And even more fun to see the movie again. Thanks to everyone at Darklight for arranging the whole thing!

They're now going to try and enter it into some festivals and then it will be available to watch online. The great thing about that whole project was the can-do nature of it. Bear in mind that they started with no budget and yet managed to make ten short films and give a lot of crew members their first screen credit, including me. That's gold, especially for a writer. 

I've read several bad reviews of the recent release Situations Vacant - I'm going to reserve judgement until I've seen it myself this week. But whatever it's like, someone managed to make a film and get it released, which is no easy task at the moment. I think this should be applauded and that the critics should remember that this is a tough period for moviemakers. 

We have to find cleverer and cheaper ways of getting our work on the big screen - these are harsh times but also ones potentially full of opportunity.

The second coming of Hotel Darklight...

I went to a second screening of Hotel Darklight today at the IFI, comprised of ten shorts that includes my script Regards to the Chef. I ended up taking part in a Q&A after on stage with the two directors, a director and another writer. This was kind of alarming because of the blinding lights focussed on us, although at least this meant I couldn't really see the audience and get nervous. Truth be told, I'm a shameless talker and it was fun to get to take part in it. And even more fun to see the movie again. Thanks to everyone at Darklight for arranging the whole thing!

They're now going to try and enter it into some festivals and then it will be available to watch online. The great thing about that whole project was the can-do nature of it. Bear in mind that they started with no budget and yet managed to make ten short films and give a lot of crew members their first screen credit, including me. That's gold, especially for a writer. 

I've read several bad reviews of the recent release Situations Vacant - I'm going to reserve judgement until I've seen it myself this week. But whatever it's like, someone managed to make a film and get it released, which is no easy task at the moment. I think this should be applauded and that the critics should remember that this is a tough period for moviemakers. 

We have to find cleverer and cheaper ways of getting our work on the big screen - these are harsh times but also ones potentially full of opportunity.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Does Hollywood love novelists and hate screenwriters?

Hollywood's love affair with novelists is a well-known, long-time phenomenon. Back in the day, the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker were wooed to Los Angeles and paid vast sums of money to write scripts. Novels are also in constant demand for adaptation into screenplays. Not all novelists view this as good (Ernest Hemingway apparently advised novelists to drive to the California border, ''and let them throw the money over the line, then throw the book back.''). But it has to be said, writing a successful novel is a good step towards getting a movie made of your work. Or embarking on a screenwriting career.

When I was in Austin in 2008, I was at a talk given by Texan writer Shauna Cross, who had written a screenplay called Whip It! based on her teenage roller derby experiences. She was unable to raise interest in it until she adapted it into a novel called Derby Girl, and then "adapted" the published novel into a script! It was released in the States in October starring Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore. 

So why the obsession with novels? Well, there's two theories. One is that Hollywood likes material that comes with a stamp of approval from someone else. If someone has published a novel that sold even moderately well, they have a publishing house and at least some readers behind them. If those readers buy tickets to see the accompanying movie, well then you may have a Da Vinci Code-sized hit on your hands. 

The other theory is that Hollywood execs are somewhat impressed and awed by novelists, whereas they regard screenwriters as being in the same category as bellybutton lint. I hope this isn't true, reflecting badly as it does on everyone involved...

I guess the way forward is obvious. Write a (bestselling) novel like Shauna Cross or Bring it On Writer Jessica Bendinger, whose novel The Seven Rays is the new Twilight. Then wait for the call from Hollywood....

Does Hollywood love novelists and hate screenwriters?

Hollywood's love affair with novelists is a well-known, long-time phenomenon. Back in the day, the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker were wooed to Los Angeles and paid vast sums of money to write scripts. Novels are also in constant demand for adaptation into screenplays. Not all novelists view this as good (Ernest Hemingway apparently advised novelists to drive to the California border, ''and let them throw the money over the line, then throw the book back.''). But it has to be said, writing a successful novel is a good step towards getting a movie made of your work. Or embarking on a screenwriting career.

When I was in Austin in 2008, I was at a talk given by Texan writer Shauna Cross, who had written a screenplay called Whip It! based on her teenage roller derby experiences. She was unable to raise interest in it until she adapted it into a novel called Derby Girl, and then "adapted" the published novel into a script! It was released in the States in October starring Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore. 

So why the obsession with novels? Well, there's two theories. One is that Hollywood likes material that comes with a stamp of approval from someone else. If someone has published a novel that sold even moderately well, they have a publishing house and at least some readers behind them. If those readers buy tickets to see the accompanying movie, well then you may have a Da Vinci Code-sized hit on your hands. 

The other theory is that Hollywood execs are somewhat impressed and awed by novelists, whereas they regard screenwriters as being in the same category as bellybutton lint. I hope this isn't true, reflecting badly as it does on everyone involved...

I guess the way forward is obvious. Write a (bestselling) novel like Shauna Cross or Bring it On Writer Jessica Bendinger, whose novel The Seven Rays is the new Twilight. Then wait for the call from Hollywood....

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Write me a cheque for 10 million dollars!

I was at my screenwriting group last night and Jim Carrey came up because of this really funny scene he did in Fun With Dick and Jane. I once heard this story about him, that before he was famous, when he was broke, he wrote himself a cheque for ten million dollars and marked it, For Services Rendered".  This was to represent the money he would make one day. Then of course, he did go on to make many times that amount - in fact he's earned 20 million dollars for one film.

Sometimes I think it helps to have a little reminder like that, that you can pull out now and again and feel inspired by. I don't know if I'd go so far as to write myself a multi-million euro cheque, but I think you have to have some ultimate goal in mind or else you've got nothing to aim for. 

So here's mine: I want to someday write a summer blockbuster. Something that's going to have people queuing around the blocks in July to see. An event movie that gets everyone excited but has a decent plot and great characters. And so goes on to make millions of dollars and make me (and the studio) happy bunnies! Now I just need to write it. And then write a lot of other movies. And network. And make compromises, and get through them and keep plugging away....

Bring on the summer of 2015!


Write me a cheque for 10 million dollars!

I was at my screenwriting group last night and Jim Carrey came up because of this really funny scene he did in Fun With Dick and Jane. I once heard this story about him, that before he was famous, when he was broke, he wrote himself a cheque for ten million dollars and marked it, For Services Rendered".  This was to represent the money he would make one day. Then of course, he did go on to make many times that amount - in fact he's earned 20 million dollars for one film.

Sometimes I think it helps to have a little reminder like that, that you can pull out now and again and feel inspired by. I don't know if I'd go so far as to write myself a multi-million euro cheque, but I think you have to have some ultimate goal in mind or else you've got nothing to aim for. 

So here's mine: I want to someday write a summer blockbuster. Something that's going to have people queuing around the blocks in July to see. An event movie that gets everyone excited but has a decent plot and great characters. And so goes on to make millions of dollars and make me (and the studio) happy bunnies! Now I just need to write it. And then write a lot of other movies. And network. And make compromises, and get through them and keep plugging away....

Bring on the summer of 2015!


Monday, November 30, 2009

To plan or not to plan....

The end of 2009 is fast approaching (arrggh, how?!) and 2010 is looming. So is next year going to be the year I buy tickets to see someone else's movie or a dress to go to my own (feature) premiere? 

There's lots of ways you can look at a new year. I read Marvin Acuna's blog and he advocates making big goals and then planning the next 12 months to ensure that you meet those goals. 

And it's hard to argue with that. You have to know what you want and plan in order to achieve it, whether it's running a marathon, trying to sell your house or embarking on a scriptwriting career. And if you don't think strategising and planning are important, then it's not a career, it's a hobby.

But planning's not everything. I also think you have to run some risks, take some chances. You never know who you're going to meet or what experience is going to inform your next story. Your characters are always partly you, but so are your stories and your humour. And neither of those are going to be improved by sitting at home with a planning board :)

So here's my plan for 2010: to achieve a balance between plotting my next career move and enjoying everything life throws at me along the way....

To plan or not to plan....

The end of 2009 is fast approaching (arrggh, how?!) and 2010 is looming. So is next year going to be the year I buy tickets to see someone else's movie or a dress to go to my own (feature) premiere? 

There's lots of ways you can look at a new year. I read Marvin Acuna's blog and he advocates making big goals and then planning the next 12 months to ensure that you meet those goals. 

And it's hard to argue with that. You have to know what you want and plan in order to achieve it, whether it's running a marathon, trying to sell your house or embarking on a scriptwriting career. And if you don't think strategising and planning are important, then it's not a career, it's a hobby.

But planning's not everything. I also think you have to run some risks, take some chances. You never know who you're going to meet or what experience is going to inform your next story. Your characters are always partly you, but so are your stories and your humour. And neither of those are going to be improved by sitting at home with a planning board :)

So here's my plan for 2010: to achieve a balance between plotting my next career move and enjoying everything life throws at me along the way....

Friday, November 27, 2009

Things I learned at the Zebbie Awards....

Went to the Zebbies Awards last night and killed off a few thousand more brain cells. When you take into account the number of nights out I had during my twenties, I’m probably about half as smart now as I was in college :)

Anyway, here’s what I learned during the evening (which was a great night out so thanks to the IPSG):

  • It is possibly to limp across Leeson Street in 10 seconds in very high heels when there are cars heading for you.
  • Screenwriters events have free pizza but no free drinks.
  • Just because a film is very old does not mean that it’s very good.
  • James Joyce’s Volta cinema was bankrupted by “Italian electricians”. No, I have no idea either.
  • David Norris once got to ask Brendan Behan a question at the launch of The Hostage.
  • David Norris is very loud.
  • Film people really like to wear black.
  • Cinematographers are big fans of radio plays….
  • Film people are conscientious types who like to go home early and get lots of sleep. By midnight the only people left were me, the rest of the screenwriting group I’m in and a few other pissed writers.
  • 4 Dame Lane bouncers don’t like men who kick bottles.
  • Or groups of men.
  • It’s possible to have a non-disastrous night in RiRa but only if you stay upstairs. Under no circumstances go downstairs.
  • It’s possible to have 8-10 drinks and no hangover (although you will end up with the reaction ability of an 80-year-old).

    Next year I want to see my name or one of my friends' names on the nominations list. Get writing, people!

Things I learned at the Zebbie Awards....

Went to the Zebbies Awards last night and killed off a few thousand more brain cells. When you take into account the number of nights out I had during my twenties, I’m probably about half as smart now as I was in college :)

Anyway, here’s what I learned during the evening (which was a great night out so thanks to the IPSG):

  • It is possibly to limp across Leeson Street in 10 seconds in very high heels when there are cars heading for you.
  • Screenwriters events have free pizza but no free drinks.
  • Just because a film is very old does not mean that it’s very good.
  • James Joyce’s Volta cinema was bankrupted by “Italian electricians”. No, I have no idea either.
  • David Norris once got to ask Brendan Behan a question at the launch of The Hostage.
  • David Norris is very loud.
  • Film people really like to wear black.
  • Cinematographers are big fans of radio plays….
  • Film people are conscientious types who like to go home early and get lots of sleep. By midnight the only people left were me, the rest of the screenwriting group I’m in and a few other pissed writers.
  • 4 Dame Lane bouncers don’t like men who kick bottles.
  • Or groups of men.
  • It’s possible to have a non-disastrous night in RiRa but only if you stay upstairs. Under no circumstances go downstairs.
  • It’s possible to have 8-10 drinks and no hangover (although you will end up with the reaction ability of an 80-year-old).

    Next year I want to see my name or one of my friends' names on the nominations list. Get writing, people!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Getting under the skin of your script...

Friday morning, I was up very early for a flight to Bristol. I was heading to a workshop that the London Film Academy were putting on as part of Bristol’s Encounters Shorts Festival - and Ryanair were determined to stop me getting there. Despite their best efforts (plane arrived 40 minutes late), I managed to screech up to the venue in a taxi only 15 minutes past the appointed time. 

My first impressions of Bristol: it was rainy (like everywhere else right now), it was quite pretty, based as it is on the River Avon, and people there really do talk like Justin Lee Collins. 

The workshop took place, rather bizarrely, in a conference room upstairs in a youth hostel. What sort of YHA has a conference room? Anyway, I arrived in the nick of time and joined a large circle of people comprising of me, 4 other writers, producer Rachel Wardlow from the LFA, two professional actors, a paying audience and BAFTA-winning director Richard Kwietniowski. The morning was spent with the actors reading each 2-minute script several times, with suggestions of alterations coming from the writer themselves, the audience, the actors and Richard Kwietniowski. Then the actors would read the script again with the alterations included. It was really interesting and loads of good ideas got thrown up. What was particularly good was that they asked loads of questions of your work - for example, with my script Older Woman, they asked what Jackie had been doing before Josh showed up, the relationship she had with her husband, whether Josh always dressed neatly or whether he'd dressed up to see her. They also suggested changing the last line from "Yeah..." to "Yeah?" which does in fact work a lot better. 

At lunchtime, everyone voted for one script to be acted out and filmed in the afternoon. In the meantime, we headed off to the cafe in the Watershed centre that is the hub of the festival. Located along the river, it's a large, modern building that holds three cinema screens, a cafe and bar and several big meeting rooms. I scarfed down a pie and mash - while in England, a pie always seems like a good idea...

Back for the results, Mark Shand's excellent script Cherry Cola had been voted in as the one to get the film treatment. I voted for my own, but if I'd voted for anyone else's it would have been Mark's - it's a story about a security guard dealing with a shoplifter who just happens to be his ex-partner and (possibly) the mother of his child. When we read it in the morning, it got a lot of laughs and is indeed a funny script. But as the afternoon session goes on, Richard and the actors Charlie and Emily start discovering layers to the story that weren't apparent at first glance. As the rehearsals go on it becomes, in fact, very poignant.

The actors and Richard give out advice at intervals - less is more, especially with dialogue. If an actor can't remember or doesn't understand a line, many times there is a problem with that line. Get your friends to read scripts aloud for you so you can hear which lines sound clunky.

Then they block out the scene using tables and a chair as props and shoot the whole thing from about a million different angles. It's at this point, as Richard gets Charlie and Emily to do close-up acting and they act out the same funny line for the hundredth take, that I realise for sure that I could never be an actor. How do they produce emotion on demand like that?? Then, after a satisfactory but gruelling day, we all watch the rushes. It's mad how much has been achieved from Mark's two-page script in less than eight hours.

Afterwards everyone hit the pub and I sampled some of the lovely local cider. At nine p.m. it occurred to me that I really should check into my hotel so I went off and did that, before going to a selection of naughty late-night shorts. 

The next day was more rain and more shorts. I think I saw about 21 in total over the two days and they ranged from awful to amazing. There was also a great Q&A session involving some producers, a cinematographer, a sound recordist and two writer/directors, Eran Creevey who wrote/directed Shifty and Andrea Arnold, who penned and directed the fantastic Fishtank.

The last two are completely different: Andrea Arnold started off doing shorts, Eran Creevey began as a runner before eventually graduating to doing music promos. Then he wrote and directed Shifty, the story of a day in the life of a Muslim drug dealer in London. He storyboards everything and preps in advance. She shoots on the fly and doesn't rehearse or prepare much. Her advice was: "Don't think too much about it and don't worry what everyone else thinks". Creevey says he lies in bed during a shoot having anxiety attacks. 

I got to talk to Andrea Arnold a bit afterwards and asked her if she wrote treatments before embarking on a script. I kind of expected her to say she didn't, but no, she does treatments. Her opinion was, you have to have a plan but then you can go off plan and do what you want knowing you have it as back-up. 

All too soon it was five o'clock and I had to head to the airport. I really enjoyed this short trip and would definitely consider going back next year. The pie and cider alone are worth the trip :)

Getting under the skin of your script...

Friday morning, I was up very early for a flight to Bristol. I was heading to a workshop that the London Film Academy were putting on as part of Bristol’s Encounters Shorts Festival - and Ryanair were determined to stop me getting there. Despite their best efforts (plane arrived 40 minutes late), I managed to screech up to the venue in a taxi only 15 minutes past the appointed time. 

My first impressions of Bristol: it was rainy (like everywhere else right now), it was quite pretty, based as it is on the River Avon, and people there really do talk like Justin Lee Collins. 

The workshop took place, rather bizarrely, in a conference room upstairs in a youth hostel. What sort of YHA has a conference room? Anyway, I arrived in the nick of time and joined a large circle of people comprising of me, 4 other writers, producer Rachel Wardlow from the LFA, two professional actors, a paying audience and BAFTA-winning director Richard Kwietniowski. The morning was spent with the actors reading each 2-minute script several times, with suggestions of alterations coming from the writer themselves, the audience, the actors and Richard Kwietniowski. Then the actors would read the script again with the alterations included. It was really interesting and loads of good ideas got thrown up. What was particularly good was that they asked loads of questions of your work - for example, with my script Older Woman, they asked what Jackie had been doing before Josh showed up, the relationship she had with her husband, whether Josh always dressed neatly or whether he'd dressed up to see her. They also suggested changing the last line from "Yeah..." to "Yeah?" which does in fact work a lot better. 

At lunchtime, everyone voted for one script to be acted out and filmed in the afternoon. In the meantime, we headed off to the cafe in the Watershed centre that is the hub of the festival. Located along the river, it's a large, modern building that holds three cinema screens, a cafe and bar and several big meeting rooms. I scarfed down a pie and mash - while in England, a pie always seems like a good idea...

Back for the results, Mark Shand's excellent script Cherry Cola had been voted in as the one to get the film treatment. I voted for my own, but if I'd voted for anyone else's it would have been Mark's - it's a story about a security guard dealing with a shoplifter who just happens to be his ex-partner and (possibly) the mother of his child. When we read it in the morning, it got a lot of laughs and is indeed a funny script. But as the afternoon session goes on, Richard and the actors Charlie and Emily start discovering layers to the story that weren't apparent at first glance. As the rehearsals go on it becomes, in fact, very poignant.

The actors and Richard give out advice at intervals - less is more, especially with dialogue. If an actor can't remember or doesn't understand a line, many times there is a problem with that line. Get your friends to read scripts aloud for you so you can hear which lines sound clunky.

Then they block out the scene using tables and a chair as props and shoot the whole thing from about a million different angles. It's at this point, as Richard gets Charlie and Emily to do close-up acting and they act out the same funny line for the hundredth take, that I realise for sure that I could never be an actor. How do they produce emotion on demand like that?? Then, after a satisfactory but gruelling day, we all watch the rushes. It's mad how much has been achieved from Mark's two-page script in less than eight hours.

Afterwards everyone hit the pub and I sampled some of the lovely local cider. At nine p.m. it occurred to me that I really should check into my hotel so I went off and did that, before going to a selection of naughty late-night shorts. 

The next day was more rain and more shorts. I think I saw about 21 in total over the two days and they ranged from awful to amazing. There was also a great Q&A session involving some producers, a cinematographer, a sound recordist and two writer/directors, Eran Creevey who wrote/directed Shifty and Andrea Arnold, who penned and directed the fantastic Fishtank.

The last two are completely different: Andrea Arnold started off doing shorts, Eran Creevey began as a runner before eventually graduating to doing music promos. Then he wrote and directed Shifty, the story of a day in the life of a Muslim drug dealer in London. He storyboards everything and preps in advance. She shoots on the fly and doesn't rehearse or prepare much. Her advice was: "Don't think too much about it and don't worry what everyone else thinks". Creevey says he lies in bed during a shoot having anxiety attacks. 

I got to talk to Andrea Arnold a bit afterwards and asked her if she wrote treatments before embarking on a script. I kind of expected her to say she didn't, but no, she does treatments. Her opinion was, you have to have a plan but then you can go off plan and do what you want knowing you have it as back-up. 

All too soon it was five o'clock and I had to head to the airport. I really enjoyed this short trip and would definitely consider going back next year. The pie and cider alone are worth the trip :)

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Power of Low Expectations

We're taught to expect the best - but is this really a good idea? It's an idea that's been preying on my mind since I got back from Texas, thanks to a piece of good advice I heard on the opening day of the festival. Go into this expecting nothing. At the time I thought this was a bit negative, having all sorts of selling-scripts-and-getting-an-agent ideas in mind, but I took it on board anyway and banished all these big ideas from my brain.

The result? A totally enjoyable, chilled-out festival with no hard-sells, no major disappointments, but a Rolodex-full of business cards, good advice and excellent memories. And I've stuck to it since I got back. No more dreaming about making quick sales and always thinking of the future, the future, the future. I'm learning to enjoy the present and realise that it's going to be a long road to seeing Writer - Eilis Mernagh on the big screen, so I might as well enjoy the journey. 

P.S. - this works for other areas of life too. Go on a night out thinking you're going to meet an Eric Bana lookalike (I seem to be alone in this but he's my Brad Pitt..) and get married and you are going to go home all fed up. Ditto if you're a guy and you won't settle for less than Jessica Alba with a sense of humour. But go out to have a laugh and trust me, you will. 

Embrace your low expectations and you shalt not be disappointed. There's a self-help book in this....

The Power of Low Expectations

We're taught to expect the best - but is this really a good idea? It's an idea that's been preying on my mind since I got back from Texas, thanks to a piece of good advice I heard on the opening day of the festival. Go into this expecting nothing. At the time I thought this was a bit negative, having all sorts of selling-scripts-and-getting-an-agent ideas in mind, but I took it on board anyway and banished all these big ideas from my brain.

The result? A totally enjoyable, chilled-out festival with no hard-sells, no major disappointments, but a Rolodex-full of business cards, good advice and excellent memories. And I've stuck to it since I got back. No more dreaming about making quick sales and always thinking of the future, the future, the future. I'm learning to enjoy the present and realise that it's going to be a long road to seeing Writer - Eilis Mernagh on the big screen, so I might as well enjoy the journey. 

P.S. - this works for other areas of life too. Go on a night out thinking you're going to meet an Eric Bana lookalike (I seem to be alone in this but he's my Brad Pitt..) and get married and you are going to go home all fed up. Ditto if you're a guy and you won't settle for less than Jessica Alba with a sense of humour. But go out to have a laugh and trust me, you will. 

Embrace your low expectations and you shalt not be disappointed. There's a self-help book in this....

Friday, November 13, 2009

Reading scripts for fun, or how big a nerd are you?!

Scriptwriter might as well be script reader as far as I’m concerned! I know reading other people’s scripts isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – too much of a busman’s holiday. I met a successful writer at the festival in Austin who admitted that he never reads scripts or indeed, screenwriting books.

But I find it really useful in terms of seeing how other writers handle formatting and story structure, not to mention dialogue. I read a script every other week, usually from a website like SimplyScripts but also work by other writers in a screenwriting group. And you do learn a lot! I download both produced and unproduced scripts – alarmingly, the writing quality is usually identical and the unproduced scripts are often of much better quality!

I read one unproduced screenplay recently that set me thinking: it was well-written and had good characters. It had a good basic plot. But the story theme was not exactly one that would set a box office alight, concentrating as it did on theoretical mathematics. The writer obviously knows her stuff and cares about this script, but its chances of selling seem slim. Should she concentrate on more commercial material or carry on writing the stuff she’s interested in? I suppose it’s the eternal screenwriting question, after all, no one really wants to write shelf puppies….

Anyway, I seriously encourage everyone to check out Simply Script’s unproduced section – there are some undiscovered jewels in there!

Reading scripts for fun, or how big a nerd are you?!

Scriptwriter might as well be script reader as far as I’m concerned! I know reading other people’s scripts isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – too much of a busman’s holiday. I met a successful writer at the festival in Austin who admitted that he never reads scripts or indeed, screenwriting books.

But I find it really useful in terms of seeing how other writers handle formatting and story structure, not to mention dialogue. I read a script every other week, usually from a website like SimplyScripts but also work by other writers in a screenwriting group. And you do learn a lot! I download both produced and unproduced scripts – alarmingly, the writing quality is usually identical and the unproduced scripts are often of much better quality!

I read one unproduced screenplay recently that set me thinking: it was well-written and had good characters. It had a good basic plot. But the story theme was not exactly one that would set a box office alight, concentrating as it did on theoretical mathematics. The writer obviously knows her stuff and cares about this script, but its chances of selling seem slim. Should she concentrate on more commercial material or carry on writing the stuff she’s interested in? I suppose it’s the eternal screenwriting question, after all, no one really wants to write shelf puppies….

Anyway, I seriously encourage everyone to check out Simply Script’s unproduced section – there are some undiscovered jewels in there!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Description, description, description....

How do you know that you must be a frustrated novelist? When you're a screenwriter and all your scripts contain loads of description! Paragraphs of it! 

This is my single biggest script-related problem and I'm battling it with every new draft I produce. I go to my screenwriting group every other week, read other people's beautifully sparse pages, full of white space and hang my head in shame. How do they do it?

Does anyone apart from me find themselves going over their scripts with a red pen, crossing out unnecessary hair colours and lines of action, slashing out pieces of scenery? How does anyone write a script where their main character is described simply as JOHN (21)?? 

Someday I will beat the description demon but until then, it's going to be painful....

Description, description, description....

How do you know that you must be a frustrated novelist? When you're a screenwriter and all your scripts contain loads of description! Paragraphs of it! 

This is my single biggest script-related problem and I'm battling it with every new draft I produce. I go to my screenwriting group every other week, read other people's beautifully sparse pages, full of white space and hang my head in shame. How do they do it?

Does anyone apart from me find themselves going over their scripts with a red pen, crossing out unnecessary hair colours and lines of action, slashing out pieces of scenery? How does anyone write a script where their main character is described simply as JOHN (21)?? 

Someday I will beat the description demon but until then, it's going to be painful....

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Motion Capture = Terrifying Movies!

Every few years, people start talking about animation and avatars and how they're eventually going to lead to actual human actors to being phased out. Well, based on what I've seen up to this point, I think the thesps can rest easy for a while longer. 

Doing an animated film is one thing but the thing that drives me mad are these motion capture movies, as beloved by Robert Zemeckis. He seems to be addicted to taking perfectly adequate stories that would work well as animation or live action and instead inflicting MC on them. The result? Dead-eyes ghosts that flit across the screen, barely raising a single emotion or feeling apart from skin-crawling discomfort. 

Remember that scene in Toy Story 2 with Sarah McLachlan's song and Jessie's owner giving her up that made everyone cry? The one I still cry at every time I see it? Never going to do that with anything involving motion capture. 

Someone I said this to brought up the examples of 300 or Sin City - but those movies involved a colouring process rather than MC - it was still recognisably real actors (with real, human eyes!). The eyes are like something out of a horror movie....

Mr. Zemeckis, I'm making an appeal. As a fan, please just drop the motion capture and make Who Framed Roger Rabbit 2 already.  Or better yet, Back to the Future 4.

Motion Capture = Terrifying Movies!

Every few years, people start talking about animation and avatars and how they're eventually going to lead to actual human actors to being phased out. Well, based on what I've seen up to this point, I think the thesps can rest easy for a while longer. 

Doing an animated film is one thing but the thing that drives me mad are these motion capture movies, as beloved by Robert Zemeckis. He seems to be addicted to taking perfectly adequate stories that would work well as animation or live action and instead inflicting MC on them. The result? Dead-eyes ghosts that flit across the screen, barely raising a single emotion or feeling apart from skin-crawling discomfort. 

Remember that scene in Toy Story 2 with Sarah McLachlan's song and Jessie's owner giving her up that made everyone cry? The one I still cry at every time I see it? Never going to do that with anything involving motion capture. 

Someone I said this to brought up the examples of 300 or Sin City - but those movies involved a colouring process rather than MC - it was still recognisably real actors (with real, human eyes!). The eyes are like something out of a horror movie....

Mr. Zemeckis, I'm making an appeal. As a fan, please just drop the motion capture and make Who Framed Roger Rabbit 2 already.  Or better yet, Back to the Future 4.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

You're waiting for ages and...

This has been a good week - just got an email from The Writers Network competition, organised by FadeIn magazine. My Christmas movie "All I Want for Christmas" is a quarter-finalist in the 16th Annual Writer’s Network Screenplay & Fiction Competition. Along with 546 others, but still!

I'd completely forgotten about entering this competition - the deadline was 15th June...

Also, just want to point out Brett Nicholson's fab blog on Austin http://abucketoflove.blogspot.com/2009_10_01_archive.html. Yes, I am the Mad Irish Lass. Well, I am Irish and I guess I'm a Lass...

You're waiting for ages and...

This has been a good week - just got an email from The Writers Network competition, organised by FadeIn magazine. My Christmas movie "All I Want for Christmas" is a quarter-finalist in the 16th Annual Writer’s Network Screenplay & Fiction Competition. Along with 546 others, but still!

I'd completely forgotten about entering this competition - the deadline was 15th June...

Also, just want to point out Brett Nicholson's fab blog on Austin http://abucketoflove.blogspot.com/2009_10_01_archive.html. Yes, I am the Mad Irish Lass. Well, I am Irish and I guess I'm a Lass...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My diary piece on Austin trip is online

The Irish Film Television Network site have kindly published my diary article on the trip to Austin - you can see it here http://www.iftn.ie/news/?act1=record&aid=73&rid=4282667&tpl=archnews&only=1

Talking of festivals, the Cork Film Festival lineup looks amazing. Always keep meaning to go and every year something crops up instead. Next year!

My diary piece on Austin trip is online

The Irish Film Television Network site have kindly published my diary article on the trip to Austin - you can see it here http://www.iftn.ie/news/?act1=record&aid=73&rid=4282667&tpl=archnews&only=1

Talking of festivals, the Cork Film Festival lineup looks amazing. Always keep meaning to go and every year something crops up instead. Next year!

Monday, November 2, 2009

From Austin to Bristol...

I’m going on another film-related trip! This time to the U.K. this time for a script workshop. I’ve won a place at the London Film Academy’s Script 2 Screen workshop as part of Bristol’s Encounters Shorts Festival. This is the competition http://www.londonfilmacademy.com/events/event_article.asp?EventID=180&type= You had to submit a 2 page script with a male and female character – so I wrote one called Older Woman about a nerdy teenage boy and his love for his best friend’s hot mom...

Anyway, the best things will be working with actors, which I have little experience with, as well as having a chance to meet some U.K.-based film folk. Roll on 20 November!

From Austin to Bristol...

I’m going on another film-related trip! This time to the U.K. this time for a script workshop. I’ve won a place at the London Film Academy’s Script 2 Screen workshop as part of Bristol’s Encounters Shorts Festival. This is the competition http://www.londonfilmacademy.com/events/event_article.asp?EventID=180&type= You had to submit a 2 page script with a male and female character – so I wrote one called Older Woman about a nerdy teenage boy and his love for his best friend’s hot mom...

Anyway, the best things will be working with actors, which I have little experience with, as well as having a chance to meet some U.K.-based film folk. Roll on 20 November!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Back from the Lone Star State...

Well, back from Austin after an action-packed and seriously enjoyable five days. I’ve written a diary piece for the Irish Film and Television Network website which will hopefully go live in the near future and gives a description of what went down at the festival.

In the meantime, I’d like to give a shout-out to some of the great people I met: Jules, Daryl, Karen, Julie, Denise, Josh, Randy, Nikki, James, Richard, Yolanda, Aaron, Lauren, Len, Jana, Sebastien, Cynthia, John, Marlon, Michael Murphy (who looks like J.T. Walsh!), Brett, Steven, William, T.S., Emily, Ludek, Hans-Martin, Holly, Frank, Ramesh and Ruthie. Thanks to Sarah Sharp for driving me up to the lake and showing me areas of Austin I thought I wouldn’t see (driving in America phobia).

To Kirsten Smith for showing the rest of the girls how it’s done and to Mssrs. Black, Kasdan, Rossio and Petrie for being legends, full stop.

Also thanks so much to Alex McPhail and Barbara Morgan and everyone else at AFF.

See you next year!

Back from the Lone Star State...

Well, back from Austin after an action-packed and seriously enjoyable five days. I’ve written a diary piece for the Irish Film and Television Network website which will hopefully go live in the near future and gives a description of what went down at the festival.

In the meantime, I’d like to give a shout-out to some of the great people I met: Jules, Daryl, Karen, Julie, Denise, Josh, Randy, Nikki, James, Richard, Yolanda, Aaron, Lauren, Len, Jana, Sebastien, Cynthia, John, Marlon, Michael Murphy (who looks like J.T. Walsh!), Brett, Steven, William, T.S., Emily, Ludek, Hans-Martin, Holly, Frank, Ramesh and Ruthie. Thanks to Sarah Sharp for driving me up to the lake and showing me areas of Austin I thought I wouldn’t see (driving in America phobia).

To Kirsten Smith for showing the rest of the girls how it’s done and to Mssrs. Black, Kasdan, Rossio and Petrie for being legends, full stop.

Also thanks so much to Alex McPhail and Barbara Morgan and everyone else at AFF.

See you next year!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Gearing up for the Austin Film Fest...

Two days to go to my trip to Austin and I’m finalising the Four Horsemen, as I’ve heard them called. Otherwise known as the one-pager, the synopsis, the pitch and the treatment. Especially with a long-haul trip like this, you start to wonder: how many copies do I bring? And do I bring a hard copy of each script (I have four I’d like to raise interest in)? I mean, I’m bringing a big case but I don’t want to look like Ivana Trump going on a trip or break the bell hop’s back when I get there. I’m staying in The Driskill, the hotel where the whole festival is happening, so the bell hops there had better get ready for my enormous suitcase…

Last year I handed out a lot of treatments but no actual scripts – partly because I didn’t have some of my American ones written or even finished. This time I’m thinking two double-sided copies of each. That way if a miracle happens and some producer/manager/agent actually wants to read a whole script, I can run upstairs and get one to hand over. And 20 copies of each treatment, cos you never know…

I’m also practicing the pitch, the thing most (probably all) writers dread. There’s been a lot of pacing up and down, trying to make them sound conversational. And trying to slow down, cos I’m a fast talker. Anyone trying the same thing, this is a great article on the art of the pitch by Craig Mazin. And anyone else going to Austin, the best of luck and see you in the Driskill Bar…

Gearing up for the Austin Film Fest...

Two days to go to my trip to Austin and I’m finalising the Four Horsemen, as I’ve heard them called. Otherwise known as the one-pager, the synopsis, the pitch and the treatment. Especially with a long-haul trip like this, you start to wonder: how many copies do I bring? And do I bring a hard copy of each script (I have four I’d like to raise interest in)? I mean, I’m bringing a big case but I don’t want to look like Ivana Trump going on a trip or break the bell hop’s back when I get there. I’m staying in The Driskill, the hotel where the whole festival is happening, so the bell hops there had better get ready for my enormous suitcase…

Last year I handed out a lot of treatments but no actual scripts – partly because I didn’t have some of my American ones written or even finished. This time I’m thinking two double-sided copies of each. That way if a miracle happens and some producer/manager/agent actually wants to read a whole script, I can run upstairs and get one to hand over. And 20 copies of each treatment, cos you never know…

I’m also practicing the pitch, the thing most (probably all) writers dread. There’s been a lot of pacing up and down, trying to make them sound conversational. And trying to slow down, cos I’m a fast talker. Anyone trying the same thing, this is a great article on the art of the pitch by Craig Mazin. And anyone else going to Austin, the best of luck and see you in the Driskill Bar…

Friday, October 16, 2009

What to do when your character is a Billy No-Mates?

You’ve written a comedy film with two female protagonists. They both have to be at least fairly likeable, but one of them doesn’t quite work. After reading it over and over, you realise what it is. The girl has no friends! She’s a recluse! She’s got no life outside of work, no existence unconnected to the plot. Who IS this person? And why would you want to watch her for 90 minutes?

That’s the problem with my script Star on the Run - but at least I’ve realised this after one draft. Now that I think of it, the amount of films I’ve seen in the cinema where the characters live totally friend-less lives is scary. All these lonely people going through life with nothing to do but cheer on their glamorous female boss in her attempts to snare a handsome but notorious bachelor (virtually every romcom I’ve ever seen). And action movies are even worse! Who does Rambo call when he wants to go for a beer? What does John McClane do at the weekends?

They say you should be able to say what each of your characters would eat for breakfast. Well, I think you should be able to tell what they’d do on Saturday night as well. Otherwise, everyone’s Jason Bourne – and he’s the only one who might be justified in having no friends, being on the run from the FBI, Interpol, MI5, etc etc etc….

This is tricky with films where it’s all about the plot – something like High Fidelity or Superbad work well partly because there isn’t much of a plot outside a bunch of people shooting the shit. But sometimes you can even use the fact that your girl or guy doesn’t have many friends as a plot point in itself – see Miss. Congeniality or Groundhog Day, where obsessive or obnoxious workaholics learn to rub along better with others. You don’t have to go overboard with this. Just a suggestion that this secretary/computer nerd/security man likes to sing karaoke or plays a mean game of football outside work may be enough to make them less cardboard.

Give your characters at least the semblance of a life outside the plot – or they’ll be forgotten as soon as the audience hit the car park…

What to do when your character is a Billy No-Mates?

You’ve written a comedy film with two female protagonists. They both have to be at least fairly likeable, but one of them doesn’t quite work. After reading it over and over, you realise what it is. The girl has no friends! She’s a recluse! She’s got no life outside of work, no existence unconnected to the plot. Who IS this person? And why would you want to watch her for 90 minutes?

That’s the problem with my script Star on the Run - but at least I’ve realised this after one draft. Now that I think of it, the amount of films I’ve seen in the cinema where the characters live totally friend-less lives is scary. All these lonely people going through life with nothing to do but cheer on their glamorous female boss in her attempts to snare a handsome but notorious bachelor (virtually every romcom I’ve ever seen). And action movies are even worse! Who does Rambo call when he wants to go for a beer? What does John McClane do at the weekends?

They say you should be able to say what each of your characters would eat for breakfast. Well, I think you should be able to tell what they’d do on Saturday night as well. Otherwise, everyone’s Jason Bourne – and he’s the only one who might be justified in having no friends, being on the run from the FBI, Interpol, MI5, etc etc etc….

This is tricky with films where it’s all about the plot – something like High Fidelity or Superbad work well partly because there isn’t much of a plot outside a bunch of people shooting the shit. But sometimes you can even use the fact that your girl or guy doesn’t have many friends as a plot point in itself – see Miss. Congeniality or Groundhog Day, where obsessive or obnoxious workaholics learn to rub along better with others. You don’t have to go overboard with this. Just a suggestion that this secretary/computer nerd/security man likes to sing karaoke or plays a mean game of football outside work may be enough to make them less cardboard.

Give your characters at least the semblance of a life outside the plot – or they’ll be forgotten as soon as the audience hit the car park…

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Seeing My Name on the Big Screen

Well, Hotel Darklight arrived last night and it was worth the wait! I was still pretty nervous when I arrived at The Lighthouse last night, despite the fact that my family and friends had promised to say nice things whatever it was like. And the fact that several people who'd seen it had said the whole film looked great. Call me a big worry bug. 

I needn't have worried because the Darklight team shot eleven great shorts - and then did an even better job of putting them all together into a coherent piece. It's a sign of how anticipated it was that they ended up having two simultaneous screenings - one at The Lighthouse and one at The Cobblestone.

My short, My Regards to the Chef, was about three quarters way through and scarily, I am visible eating at one of the tables! Luckily hidden behind a pillar for most of it. The producer Alan Keane, who had to do one of the parts, did a great job and was as good as some of the pro actors. Everyone laughed at the bit with the psycho chef and the kitchen effects looked brilliant. So overall, I'm really happy with it. My family and friends couldn't believe what the production team had managed to do on such a zero budget and to be honest, I couldn't either. 

We decamped to the Dice Bar, but after discovering that getting a drink was going to take ten years, went to the overflow bar (Frank Ryans on Queen Street), and drank far too many vodkas.

There's hope that Hotel Darklight is going to come out on dvd - at any rate, I think Darklight are going to put the whole thing on their website. I had a great time at various Darklight events this year - the Geek Lounge was really interesting and guys, yes, you should do it once a month! The Mark Romanek interview was full of great anecdotes - the man has worked with everyone and has the CV to prove it. 

The whole thing is a real argument for why the government should be doing MORE for the arts in terms of grants etc and not cutting things like the Artists Exemption Tax. People out there want to make films, and they'll do it for nothing simply because they love movies and want to see their work up on the big screen. It's going to happen anyway, but surely the powers that be can have one less jet and give the money up for some decent script development/more cameras/wages for a short shoot?

Regardless, thanks to the whole Darklight team and roll on Darklight 2010!

Seeing My Name on the Big Screen

Well, Hotel Darklight arrived last night and it was worth the wait! I was still pretty nervous when I arrived at The Lighthouse last night, despite the fact that my family and friends had promised to say nice things whatever it was like. And the fact that several people who'd seen it had said the whole film looked great. Call me a big worry bug. 

I needn't have worried because the Darklight team shot eleven great shorts - and then did an even better job of putting them all together into a coherent piece. It's a sign of how anticipated it was that they ended up having two simultaneous screenings - one at The Lighthouse and one at The Cobblestone.

My short, My Regards to the Chef, was about three quarters way through and scarily, I am visible eating at one of the tables! Luckily hidden behind a pillar for most of it. The producer Alan Keane, who had to do one of the parts, did a great job and was as good as some of the pro actors. Everyone laughed at the bit with the psycho chef and the kitchen effects looked brilliant. So overall, I'm really happy with it. My family and friends couldn't believe what the production team had managed to do on such a zero budget and to be honest, I couldn't either. 

We decamped to the Dice Bar, but after discovering that getting a drink was going to take ten years, went to the overflow bar (Frank Ryans on Queen Street), and drank far too many vodkas.

There's hope that Hotel Darklight is going to come out on dvd - at any rate, I think Darklight are going to put the whole thing on their website. I had a great time at various Darklight events this year - the Geek Lounge was really interesting and guys, yes, you should do it once a month! The Mark Romanek interview was full of great anecdotes - the man has worked with everyone and has the CV to prove it. 

The whole thing is a real argument for why the government should be doing MORE for the arts in terms of grants etc and not cutting things like the Artists Exemption Tax. People out there want to make films, and they'll do it for nothing simply because they love movies and want to see their work up on the big screen. It's going to happen anyway, but surely the powers that be can have one less jet and give the money up for some decent script development/more cameras/wages for a short shoot?

Regardless, thanks to the whole Darklight team and roll on Darklight 2010!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Terror... plus some hope!

Terror has set in regarding Hotel Darklight. It’s struck me that a whole cinema of people tomorrow night are going to see it, including my little segment, and I have no clue how it looks! And worse still, I’m an extra and have no idea how visible I’m going to be! As long as there’s no extreme close-up of my mouth chewing or similar….

Tickets are available tomorrow night from 6pm and are free!

Also a story to give hope: as screenwriters, we’re always told not to write spec scripts based on existing works you don’t hold the rights to. Well, screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis enjoyed Dennis Lehane’s novel Shutter Island so much, she decided to ignore that advice and write a spec draft anyway. And Martin Scorsese liked her spec so much, he decided to make it. The film, which has an amazing cast, hits cinemas in February. Those lucky enough to live in the States and get Script magazine should know that there’s an interview with Laeta in the current issue.

Terror... plus some hope!

Terror has set in regarding Hotel Darklight. It’s struck me that a whole cinema of people tomorrow night are going to see it, including my little segment, and I have no clue how it looks! And worse still, I’m an extra and have no idea how visible I’m going to be! As long as there’s no extreme close-up of my mouth chewing or similar….

Tickets are available tomorrow night from 6pm and are free!

Also a story to give hope: as screenwriters, we’re always told not to write spec scripts based on existing works you don’t hold the rights to. Well, screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis enjoyed Dennis Lehane’s novel Shutter Island so much, she decided to ignore that advice and write a spec draft anyway. And Martin Scorsese liked her spec so much, he decided to make it. The film, which has an amazing cast, hits cinemas in February. Those lucky enough to live in the States and get Script magazine should know that there’s an interview with Laeta in the current issue.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Who to bring to my non-remake movie?

I'm starting to get worried about the ticket allocation for Hotel Darklight. The first (and probably only) screening is taking place in the Lighthouse on Saturday night. A large number of people out of my family, friends, work colleagues and acquaintances seem to want to come. Even my dentist wants to come. This would be great if it was only my film and I had the Savoy to fill - as it is, there are 11 shorts, the Lighthouse theatres are pretty small and I think I might only get allocated 2-3 tickets. Why is life never simple??

But as with this whole process, this is good practice for times to come. I've heard that even on most big films, the writer only ends up with 2 or 3 tickets (whatever's in their contract) so I'm always just gonna be bringing my folks/sister/significant other/a gay male walker.

On a totally unrelated note, almost every week there's a remake out and I'm starting to wonder: are they always a bad idea? Rob Zombie's Hallowe'en remakes definitely fall into the bad idea category (anything he makes does!). I've seen the trailer for the new Nightmare on Elm Street movie and one thing is for sure - Jackie Earle Haley is nowhere near as scary as Robert Englund. On the other hand, the first Ocean's 11 movie was a disaster compared to Soderbergh's version

When I was in Austin last year, I saw a talk by two young scriptwriters who'd written a killer script and gotten hired on the back of that to rewrite The Fury. This is a film which might benefit from a remake because the old effects were pretty crummy.  I think where things don't work is where you have an original film with a brilliant twist, like Bunny Lake is Missing. Nothing's ever going to top that twist, so how is the writer going to put their stamp on it? No wonder Reese Witherspoon bailed...

Bottom line - I think you have to tread carefully with remakes, and make sure you're not ruining or diluting all the things that made the source story such a hit....

Who to bring to my non-remake movie?

I'm starting to get worried about the ticket allocation for Hotel Darklight. The first (and probably only) screening is taking place in the Lighthouse on Saturday night. A large number of people out of my family, friends, work colleagues and acquaintances seem to want to come. Even my dentist wants to come. This would be great if it was only my film and I had the Savoy to fill - as it is, there are 11 shorts, the Lighthouse theatres are pretty small and I think I might only get allocated 2-3 tickets. Why is life never simple??

But as with this whole process, this is good practice for times to come. I've heard that even on most big films, the writer only ends up with 2 or 3 tickets (whatever's in their contract) so I'm always just gonna be bringing my folks/sister/significant other/a gay male walker.

On a totally unrelated note, almost every week there's a remake out and I'm starting to wonder: are they always a bad idea? Rob Zombie's Hallowe'en remakes definitely fall into the bad idea category (anything he makes does!). I've seen the trailer for the new Nightmare on Elm Street movie and one thing is for sure - Jackie Earle Haley is nowhere near as scary as Robert Englund. On the other hand, the first Ocean's 11 movie was a disaster compared to Soderbergh's version

When I was in Austin last year, I saw a talk by two young scriptwriters who'd written a killer script and gotten hired on the back of that to rewrite The Fury. This is a film which might benefit from a remake because the old effects were pretty crummy.  I think where things don't work is where you have an original film with a brilliant twist, like Bunny Lake is Missing. Nothing's ever going to top that twist, so how is the writer going to put their stamp on it? No wonder Reese Witherspoon bailed...

Bottom line - I think you have to tread carefully with remakes, and make sure you're not ruining or diluting all the things that made the source story such a hit....

Friday, October 2, 2009

Moving on....

Today is a great day as I have finished Star on the Run, my Hannah Montana meets Notting Hill comedy! The last month has been tortuous as I couldn't seem to find enough time in front of my computer to finish it and yet it kept bursting out of me, usually at 3am. But now it's done. I'm watching TV with no guilt eating away at me and no dialogue running through my head...

The exhilaration will last about a week, after which I'll start thinking of another script. Or even start thinking about a rewrite...

Which leads to the question - when is the right time to put your script in a drawer and move on to the next one? Or should you move on to the next one until you're completely happy with the original script? 

I'm not sure that there's a right answer but my take on it would be: sometimes you do need to print the script, read over it and just put it away for a while. Maybe a month. Then take it out and read over it again. By that time you'll have a bit of perspective and will be able to see what needs to be fixed. 

As for moving onto another project, Marvin Acuna put it well in a blog post recently. This is the business of Next! So it's on to the next screenplay, the next treatment or even just the next idea. This script is finished, long live the next script! 

And check out Marvin's blog for a brilliant post by Terry Rossio. Every screenwriter should read this...

Moving on....

Today is a great day as I have finished Star on the Run, my Hannah Montana meets Notting Hill comedy! The last month has been tortuous as I couldn't seem to find enough time in front of my computer to finish it and yet it kept bursting out of me, usually at 3am. But now it's done. I'm watching TV with no guilt eating away at me and no dialogue running through my head...

The exhilaration will last about a week, after which I'll start thinking of another script. Or even start thinking about a rewrite...

Which leads to the question - when is the right time to put your script in a drawer and move on to the next one? Or should you move on to the next one until you're completely happy with the original script? 

I'm not sure that there's a right answer but my take on it would be: sometimes you do need to print the script, read over it and just put it away for a while. Maybe a month. Then take it out and read over it again. By that time you'll have a bit of perspective and will be able to see what needs to be fixed. 

As for moving onto another project, Marvin Acuna put it well in a blog post recently. This is the business of Next! So it's on to the next screenplay, the next treatment or even just the next idea. This script is finished, long live the next script! 

And check out Marvin's blog for a brilliant post by Terry Rossio. Every screenwriter should read this...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The dreaded Block!!

Writer’s block – the scourge of all writers. Actually I think there’s three types. There’s writer’s block where you sit there with your mind completely blank, unable to think of anything to write. Writer’s block where you’re suffering huge self-doubt about your work and little voices keep saying shrilly and insistently, “This is CRAP! What are you doing? This is never gonna get made! You might as well give it up and go and watch 90210!”. And then there’s type three, where you’ve reached an impasse in a character and a plot and don’t know how to proceed.

I can’t claim to have conquered these three monsters, but I’ve developed ways of coping with them. Type one requires you to roll up your sleeves, take out a pad or open a blank screen and just write. Doesn’t matter what. Spill it out and don’t stop for at least five minutes. Once you’ve stopped, read back over it. Somewhere in there is something you can use – I guarantee it.

Type two is a gremlins-killing exercise. No, you don’t need a food processor or sunlight. You need several DVDs of movies with the most badly-written scripts ever. EVER. I mean the worst type of B-movie or else an A-movie with an awful script. Pearl Harbor would do. Or Catwoman. Or this Christopher Lambert film called Fortress. Sit there and watch it all the way through. You’ll be thinking, “God, this is bad! I can write miles better than this shit!” Let the cardboard characters and on-the-nose dialogue sink in. By the end, you’ll be so angry and fired up that you’ll march upstairs and start writing again, simply out of indignation that this crapola made it to the screen. You have a duty to save cinema!

Type Three is a different animal and requires some thought. First of all, if anyone around you is making noise, tell them to shut up. Or if you live with your parents/small children/crazy elderly people, go outside. Take a walk. While you’re walking, think about the character problem or plot roadblock you’re faced with. By the end of the walk, you will have at least part of the solution.

Remember, you can’t stop writer’s block, but you can drive around it. Good luck!

The dreaded Block!!

Writer’s block – the scourge of all writers. Actually I think there’s three types. There’s writer’s block where you sit there with your mind completely blank, unable to think of anything to write. Writer’s block where you’re suffering huge self-doubt about your work and little voices keep saying shrilly and insistently, “This is CRAP! What are you doing? This is never gonna get made! You might as well give it up and go and watch 90210!”. And then there’s type three, where you’ve reached an impasse in a character and a plot and don’t know how to proceed.

I can’t claim to have conquered these three monsters, but I’ve developed ways of coping with them. Type one requires you to roll up your sleeves, take out a pad or open a blank screen and just write. Doesn’t matter what. Spill it out and don’t stop for at least five minutes. Once you’ve stopped, read back over it. Somewhere in there is something you can use – I guarantee it.

Type two is a gremlins-killing exercise. No, you don’t need a food processor or sunlight. You need several DVDs of movies with the most badly-written scripts ever. EVER. I mean the worst type of B-movie or else an A-movie with an awful script. Pearl Harbor would do. Or Catwoman. Or this Christopher Lambert film called Fortress. Sit there and watch it all the way through. You’ll be thinking, “God, this is bad! I can write miles better than this shit!” Let the cardboard characters and on-the-nose dialogue sink in. By the end, you’ll be so angry and fired up that you’ll march upstairs and start writing again, simply out of indignation that this crapola made it to the screen. You have a duty to save cinema!

Type Three is a different animal and requires some thought. First of all, if anyone around you is making noise, tell them to shut up. Or if you live with your parents/small children/crazy elderly people, go outside. Take a walk. While you’re walking, think about the character problem or plot roadblock you’re faced with. By the end of the walk, you will have at least part of the solution.

Remember, you can’t stop writer’s block, but you can drive around it. Good luck!