Friday, July 23, 2010

Writing someone else’s vision

I’ve spent the last week working on a short script based on someone else’s idea. This wouldn’t normally be my cup of tea but a. I never get ideas for short films, only features and b. I figured it would be good practice for down the road.

After all, they say most pro screenwriters make most of their money through rewrites or spec assignments. No harm getting used to walking to someone else’s drumbeat.

I’m sure most of you have read stories of the good old days. The days when a writer sat down at their typewriter, knocked out a script they thought would be entertaining, and sent it off to their agent with no thought of marketing angles, casting or franchises. I don’t know for sure if those days ever existed, or if they’ve been created in people’s memories like my recollections of glorious Irish summers spent entirely in swimming togs.

Either way, it all seems pretty anachronistic in the face of comic book (and novel) adaptations and things like four quadrants. Writers now seem to write brilliant specs mainly in the hope of using them as samples – with the aim of being chosen for lucrative rewriting work, or even better, heading up a new franchise. Are the days of the spec film gone forever? I really hope not.

In the meantime, it’s been good for me to write something that didn’t come from my own brain. It forces you to put aside your own vanity, to see someone else’s idea as a springboard. Cos some day, that other person could be a 15 year old Hollywood exec, who has an idea for a script about a giant female robot who takes over Wyoming. And I’ll have to nod and smile, and not kill them.

All practice….

Writing someone else’s vision

I’ve spent the last week working on a short script based on someone else’s idea. This wouldn’t normally be my cup of tea but a. I never get ideas for short films, only features and b. I figured it would be good practice for down the road.

After all, they say most pro screenwriters make most of their money through rewrites or spec assignments. No harm getting used to walking to someone else’s drumbeat.

I’m sure most of you have read stories of the good old days. The days when a writer sat down at their typewriter, knocked out a script they thought would be entertaining, and sent it off to their agent with no thought of marketing angles, casting or franchises. I don’t know for sure if those days ever existed, or if they’ve been created in people’s memories like my recollections of glorious Irish summers spent entirely in swimming togs.

Either way, it all seems pretty anachronistic in the face of comic book (and novel) adaptations and things like four quadrants. Writers now seem to write brilliant specs mainly in the hope of using them as samples – with the aim of being chosen for lucrative rewriting work, or even better, heading up a new franchise. Are the days of the spec film gone forever? I really hope not.

In the meantime, it’s been good for me to write something that didn’t come from my own brain. It forces you to put aside your own vanity, to see someone else’s idea as a springboard. Cos some day, that other person could be a 15 year old Hollywood exec, who has an idea for a script about a giant female robot who takes over Wyoming. And I’ll have to nod and smile, and not kill them.

All practice….

Monday, July 19, 2010

"It's useful being top banana in the shock department..."

I spent the first half of last Saturday night in a black dress and pearls. Since I am one of the world's biggest slobs when it comes to dressing up, it takes something special to make me stick on a pair of heels, let alone pearls. Something like Breakfast at Tiffany's on the big screen. With champagne and canapes!

Nearly 50 years on, Blake Edward's sparkling comedy is as fresh as ever. Yes, Holly Golightly's call-girl activities are referred to coyly as "trips to the powder room". George Axelrod excised Truman Capote's dykes, whores and major drug references from his screenplay. But we still have Holly's 50 dollar gentlemen, a male gigolo and an impromptu house party that still looks like the best night ever.

Holly may be broke, existing on tips and the kindness of gangsters, but she has the most mouthwatering screen wardrobe ever created. Every pearl-clad girl in the cinema practically chewed their fists with envy when Holly paraded across the screen in the famous black Givenchy gown. Holly has a line of suitors hanging on her every word, among them devoted, if dumb, handsome neighbor (George Peppard in his only rom-com part).

My favourite character is irascible Hollywood agent O.J. Berman (She's a phony, but she's a real phony...."). But this is a film where even bit parts have great lines - witness the scene in Tiffany's where a salesman finds himself agreeing to engrave a Crackerjack ring. Or Doc Golightly's summing up of Holly, "Real talky, like a jaybird. Better than the radio".

The only sour note is Mickey Rooney's appalling comedy Japanese neighbour. But even this can't ruin a movie where the dialogue zings along, making you laugh one minute, ripping your heart out the next. I challenge anyone to stay dry-eyed during the final scene with the cat, in the rain...

Congratulations to the fabulous Fernanda for organising the whole thing, including the party afterwards. If only every Saturday night out was as chic!

"It's useful being top banana in the shock department..."

I spent the first half of last Saturday night in a black dress and pearls. Since I am one of the world's biggest slobs when it comes to dressing up, it takes something special to make me stick on a pair of heels, let alone pearls. Something like Breakfast at Tiffany's on the big screen. With champagne and canapes!

Nearly 50 years on, Blake Edward's sparkling comedy is as fresh as ever. Yes, Holly Golightly's call-girl activities are referred to coyly as "trips to the powder room". George Axelrod excised Truman Capote's dykes, whores and major drug references from his screenplay. But we still have Holly's 50 dollar gentlemen, a male gigolo and an impromptu house party that still looks like the best night ever.

Holly may be broke, existing on tips and the kindness of gangsters, but she has the most mouthwatering screen wardrobe ever created. Every pearl-clad girl in the cinema practically chewed their fists with envy when Holly paraded across the screen in the famous black Givenchy gown. Holly has a line of suitors hanging on her every word, among them devoted, if dumb, handsome neighbor (George Peppard in his only rom-com part).

My favourite character is irascible Hollywood agent O.J. Berman (She's a phony, but she's a real phony...."). But this is a film where even bit parts have great lines - witness the scene in Tiffany's where a salesman finds himself agreeing to engrave a Crackerjack ring. Or Doc Golightly's summing up of Holly, "Real talky, like a jaybird. Better than the radio".

The only sour note is Mickey Rooney's appalling comedy Japanese neighbour. But even this can't ruin a movie where the dialogue zings along, making you laugh one minute, ripping your heart out the next. I challenge anyone to stay dry-eyed during the final scene with the cat, in the rain...

Congratulations to the fabulous Fernanda for organising the whole thing, including the party afterwards. If only every Saturday night out was as chic!

Friday, July 16, 2010

When is a networking event worth going to?

In Stephanie Palmer’s opinion, never! I’ve been skimming her excellent book on improving business relationships, Good in a Room for ages but have finally gotten down to reading it. Palmer’s a former MGM executive who has a lot to say on getting in front of the right people, and what to do once you’re there in the cigar-chomper’s office.

Her opinion is that going to networking events is well worth doing if you want to be sociable, be seen or do research on an area.

But if you want to meet VIPs who can help your career, forget it. You’re only going to be a face in the crowd, plus you’re going to meet them in a business context, so they’re only going to see you as someone who’s trying to flog them something. There’s no way of building any personal rapport with them – which makes sense, because most people despise “sellers”.

(This is a bit like Chris Rock’s infamous “want some dick?” routine, where he says there are some contexts such as a crowded nightclub/trashy bar etc. where whatever a guy says to a girl, even “do you know where the bathroom is?” comes across to her as “want some dick?”). Yes, I just compared flogging scripts to come-ons – there are a lot of similarities.

So how do you reach the VIPs? Well, the good news is that Palmer’s approach takes the pressure off traditional networking events. If you want to go, fine – drink some free wine and practice your conversational skills. You can relax and enjoy these events, cos you won’t be selling any scripts at them. Use the time you would have spent at some of these shindigs to write more scripts!

The bad news is that she takes the long (and probably more effective) approach. Get referred by people. Take the time to get to know people who know people, and they will eventually pass your stuff to the people they know. If you know anyone who’s sold a script, this is probably how it was done. Either they got a long-time friend or acquaintance who personally knew an exec to refer them, or they won a really big contest which acted itself as a referral.

Remember, friends make movies with friends. Not people they just met at a mixer!

When is a networking event worth going to?

In Stephanie Palmer’s opinion, never! I’ve been skimming her excellent book on improving business relationships, Good in a Room for ages but have finally gotten down to reading it. Palmer’s a former MGM executive who has a lot to say on getting in front of the right people, and what to do once you’re there in the cigar-chomper’s office.

Her opinion is that going to networking events is well worth doing if you want to be sociable, be seen or do research on an area.

But if you want to meet VIPs who can help your career, forget it. You’re only going to be a face in the crowd, plus you’re going to meet them in a business context, so they’re only going to see you as someone who’s trying to flog them something. There’s no way of building any personal rapport with them – which makes sense, because most people despise “sellers”.

(This is a bit like Chris Rock’s infamous “want some dick?” routine, where he says there are some contexts such as a crowded nightclub/trashy bar etc. where whatever a guy says to a girl, even “do you know where the bathroom is?” comes across to her as “want some dick?”). Yes, I just compared flogging scripts to come-ons – there are a lot of similarities.

So how do you reach the VIPs? Well, the good news is that Palmer’s approach takes the pressure off traditional networking events. If you want to go, fine – drink some free wine and practice your conversational skills. You can relax and enjoy these events, cos you won’t be selling any scripts at them. Use the time you would have spent at some of these shindigs to write more scripts!

The bad news is that she takes the long (and probably more effective) approach. Get referred by people. Take the time to get to know people who know people, and they will eventually pass your stuff to the people they know. If you know anyone who’s sold a script, this is probably how it was done. Either they got a long-time friend or acquaintance who personally knew an exec to refer them, or they won a really big contest which acted itself as a referral.

Remember, friends make movies with friends. Not people they just met at a mixer!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Three Days of Fleadh and one movie...

Yep, that's right. I only saw one film during the Galway Film Fleadh, which was Alicia Duffy's All Good Children. Despite a lot of intentions (and indeed, some tickets), I just never got around to seeing anything else.

The one and only film I did see was very well acted by a mostly child cast led by Jack Gleeson and beautifully shot in France in very picturesque locations. It had a great look and an intriguing premise, with two young bereaved Irish brothers being taken to France by their father and falling in with the two British kids living in the neighboring country pile. But it fails to do much with that premise, and by the end I was feeling a bit short-changed. Still, it's worth a look if only for the gorgeous shots and star-making performances.

So what the hell was I doing the rest of the time? Well in a word, talking.  A lot, in a rake of pubs, restaurants and bars. I did attend an excellent interview with festival supremo, producer and all-round legend Lelia Doolan, who discussed terrorising movie execs into giving her funding by turning up at their offices armed with smoked salmon and sausages. And how Bertolt Brecht was a funny little man with a horrible nasally voice. Not to mention cutting a whole act out of an Agatha Christie play so that the cast could run to a local cinema and see a film. I'm not doing justice to even half of the stories she regaled a packed Cinemobile with - she's a one-off and long may she continue.

There was also the Pitching Award competition, which kicked off at a bleary-eyed midday on Sunday. I really enjoyed hearing the five pitches and congratulations to Len Collins, who won with his unique and witty pitch Dumpailte. One thing I think the Fleadh should consider doing, though, are heats. They could take 60-70 writers and do pitching heats over a couple of days, and wear people down to a final 5 that way. It would give way more people a chance to practice pitching and would make it about the pitch performance itself rather than how well you can write one.

Apart from all that, the IPSG, IFTA and the Film Board all did free-drink parties, which apart from being welcome in these recessionary times were a great way to meet people and talk. And talk. I'm now talking like Marge Simpson, let's put it that way.

I had a brilliant time and met loads of great people, and that's really all you can ask from a festival. Can't wait for next summer already.

Three Days of Fleadh and one movie...

Yep, that's right. I only saw one film during the Galway Film Fleadh, which was Alicia Duffy's All Good Children. Despite a lot of intentions (and indeed, some tickets), I just never got around to seeing anything else.

The one and only film I did see was very well acted by a mostly child cast led by Jack Gleeson and beautifully shot in France in very picturesque locations. It had a great look and an intriguing premise, with two young bereaved Irish brothers being taken to France by their father and falling in with the two British kids living in the neighboring country pile. But it fails to do much with that premise, and by the end I was feeling a bit short-changed. Still, it's worth a look if only for the gorgeous shots and star-making performances.

So what the hell was I doing the rest of the time? Well in a word, talking.  A lot, in a rake of pubs, restaurants and bars. I did attend an excellent interview with festival supremo, producer and all-round legend Lelia Doolan, who discussed terrorising movie execs into giving her funding by turning up at their offices armed with smoked salmon and sausages. And how Bertolt Brecht was a funny little man with a horrible nasally voice. Not to mention cutting a whole act out of an Agatha Christie play so that the cast could run to a local cinema and see a film. I'm not doing justice to even half of the stories she regaled a packed Cinemobile with - she's a one-off and long may she continue.

There was also the Pitching Award competition, which kicked off at a bleary-eyed midday on Sunday. I really enjoyed hearing the five pitches and congratulations to Len Collins, who won with his unique and witty pitch Dumpailte. One thing I think the Fleadh should consider doing, though, are heats. They could take 60-70 writers and do pitching heats over a couple of days, and wear people down to a final 5 that way. It would give way more people a chance to practice pitching and would make it about the pitch performance itself rather than how well you can write one.

Apart from all that, the IPSG, IFTA and the Film Board all did free-drink parties, which apart from being welcome in these recessionary times were a great way to meet people and talk. And talk. I'm now talking like Marge Simpson, let's put it that way.

I had a brilliant time and met loads of great people, and that's really all you can ask from a festival. Can't wait for next summer already.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

How to Fleadh (and how not to)

Like virtually every writer/filmhead in Dublin, I'm going down to the Film Fleadh in Galway this weekend. Yes, tomorrow the IFI will be deserted. Its cinemas will have tumbleweed blowing down the aisles... Basically, it's a recession and this is cheaper than going to Telluride.

Now, last year was my first time at the Fleadh and I made some rookie mistakes. I stayed at a holiday house 40 minutes drive away. This was partly to save money but I ended up spending a ton of time on the road driving (it lashed rain non-stop so I saw the windscreen wipers more than I ever expected) and a lot on petrol and parking. Not to mention the fact that I couldn't drink, which really sucked. And I didn't book tickets earlier enough for the movies, which meant that loads of stuff was booked out.

Learning from that, I'm staying at a hotel two minutes from Eyre Square. I'm getting a bus there and back. And I've booked tickets for four movies online.

So leaving my life lessons over with, here are the things I'm looking forward to this year:

Meeting people and talking movies - obviously. The Playwrights and Screenwriters' Guild are having drinks at McSwiggans tomorrow at 5pm so if you're a writer and you're going to Galway, make sure you come along. IFTA are also having a drinks reception on Saturday at The Rowing Club.

Movies! I'm going to see Chris Rock's hair extravaganza Good Hair, Alicia Duffy's dark drama All Good Children, a thriller called Outcast and the escort agency comedy Sensation. I'm also debating about getting tickets for some of the collections of shorts and P.J. Dillon's drama Rewind.

A talk by former Film Board chair, RTE director, Artistic Director of The Abbey and general raconteur Lelia Doolan, which is taking place at 2pm on Saturday. Looking forward to some of the stories...

If you're going to the Fleadh, have a great time! And if not, start planning next year's trip!

How to Fleadh (and how not to)

Like virtually every writer/filmhead in Dublin, I'm going down to the Film Fleadh in Galway this weekend. Yes, tomorrow the IFI will be deserted. Its cinemas will have tumbleweed blowing down the aisles... Basically, it's a recession and this is cheaper than going to Telluride.

Now, last year was my first time at the Fleadh and I made some rookie mistakes. I stayed at a holiday house 40 minutes drive away. This was partly to save money but I ended up spending a ton of time on the road driving (it lashed rain non-stop so I saw the windscreen wipers more than I ever expected) and a lot on petrol and parking. Not to mention the fact that I couldn't drink, which really sucked. And I didn't book tickets earlier enough for the movies, which meant that loads of stuff was booked out.

Learning from that, I'm staying at a hotel two minutes from Eyre Square. I'm getting a bus there and back. And I've booked tickets for four movies online.

So leaving my life lessons over with, here are the things I'm looking forward to this year:

Meeting people and talking movies - obviously. The Playwrights and Screenwriters' Guild are having drinks at McSwiggans tomorrow at 5pm so if you're a writer and you're going to Galway, make sure you come along. IFTA are also having a drinks reception on Saturday at The Rowing Club.

Movies! I'm going to see Chris Rock's hair extravaganza Good Hair, Alicia Duffy's dark drama All Good Children, a thriller called Outcast and the escort agency comedy Sensation. I'm also debating about getting tickets for some of the collections of shorts and P.J. Dillon's drama Rewind.

A talk by former Film Board chair, RTE director, Artistic Director of The Abbey and general raconteur Lelia Doolan, which is taking place at 2pm on Saturday. Looking forward to some of the stories...

If you're going to the Fleadh, have a great time! And if not, start planning next year's trip!

Monday, July 5, 2010

When good horror flicks go bad...

I have this horror script I've been meaning to rewrite for ages. Horror's not my main forte - they say you only know what genre you specialise in once you've written a few scripts. Well, I have seven scripts and so far it's 2 thrillers, 1 horror and 4 family films. Like I said, I'm clearly not a horror writer.

But, I like the idea for this one and I do like watching horror flicks (we're not talking torture porn here, more stuff like The Shining). Plus, I'm low on Irish-based scripts and this one could be shot for hardly anything. So on with the rewrite.

After dwelling on the problem with the script for a few days, I woke up this morning with the solution - it's the bad guys. They are bad, but not bad enough. Plus, they vanish for virtually the whole of the second act. This inspired me to come up with a list of 5 things that can go horribly wrong with horror movies - I can't be the only one to suffer from crap baddies, for a start...

1. My own special hell - bad guys who are absent/less than ideally evil. Ramp it up! Add in some innocent victims for 'em to annihilate and thus prove their extreme evilness.
2. Heroes we couldn't give a shit about. This is probably the single biggest problem across the horror genre, and it seems to be getting worse rather than better. I enjoyed Drag  Me to Hell but didn't really care for Alison Lohman's character Christine. Laurie Strode's fate, on the other hand, had me on the edge of my seat for a whole bunch of Hallowe'en films. And don't get me started on the assorted jock/cheerleader/virgin fodder that clogs up every second slasher flick. Write some decent, non-stereotyped characters!
3. Confused second acts that leave you scratching your head. The plot has to make sense!
4. Either gore-free PG13 horrors where everyone seems to get killed off screen or over the top gore. Both make me switch off.
5. An unrealistic set-up where the horror bits come as a blessed relief from boredom. It should be the opposite. Jaws would still have been a compelling watch even if there had been no shark - the story of the new island police chief and his family and his terrible fear of water could have gone lots of different ways and was a great background for what ultimately unfolds. The viewer should get the feeling of lives interrupted, not lives that have been constructed only so that a bad plot can play out.

With that, I'm off to start my rewrite. Let the screaming begin...

When good horror flicks go bad...

I have this horror script I've been meaning to rewrite for ages. Horror's not my main forte - they say you only know what genre you specialise in once you've written a few scripts. Well, I have seven scripts and so far it's 2 thrillers, 1 horror and 4 family films. Like I said, I'm clearly not a horror writer.

But, I like the idea for this one and I do like watching horror flicks (we're not talking torture porn here, more stuff like The Shining). Plus, I'm low on Irish-based scripts and this one could be shot for hardly anything. So on with the rewrite.

After dwelling on the problem with the script for a few days, I woke up this morning with the solution - it's the bad guys. They are bad, but not bad enough. Plus, they vanish for virtually the whole of the second act. This inspired me to come up with a list of 5 things that can go horribly wrong with horror movies - I can't be the only one to suffer from crap baddies, for a start...

1. My own special hell - bad guys who are absent/less than ideally evil. Ramp it up! Add in some innocent victims for 'em to annihilate and thus prove their extreme evilness.
2. Heroes we couldn't give a shit about. This is probably the single biggest problem across the horror genre, and it seems to be getting worse rather than better. I enjoyed Drag  Me to Hell but didn't really care for Alison Lohman's character Christine. Laurie Strode's fate, on the other hand, had me on the edge of my seat for a whole bunch of Hallowe'en films. And don't get me started on the assorted jock/cheerleader/virgin fodder that clogs up every second slasher flick. Write some decent, non-stereotyped characters!
3. Confused second acts that leave you scratching your head. The plot has to make sense!
4. Either gore-free PG13 horrors where everyone seems to get killed off screen or over the top gore. Both make me switch off.
5. An unrealistic set-up where the horror bits come as a blessed relief from boredom. It should be the opposite. Jaws would still have been a compelling watch even if there had been no shark - the story of the new island police chief and his family and his terrible fear of water could have gone lots of different ways and was a great background for what ultimately unfolds. The viewer should get the feeling of lives interrupted, not lives that have been constructed only so that a bad plot can play out.

With that, I'm off to start my rewrite. Let the screaming begin...

Friday, July 2, 2010

Goonies never die!

At least not judging by the absolutely massive queue to pick up tickets for The Screen’s showing of The Goonies (on two screens!) last night. The audience demographics were funny – everyone there was firmly in the 26-36 age bracket (in other words, prime Goonie-viewing age from the 80s). Plus about three quarters of the crowd were dressed as pirates/wearing eye-patches/rocking pirate hats.

I have to say, it says a lot for the movies of 2010 that I enjoyed this more than any other film I’ve seen this year. It’s a stone-cold classic and the 25-years-older audience lapped it up, booing the bad guys, laughing every time Chunk appeared and generally acting like The Screen was an enormous living room. I’d never seen The Goonies on the big screen and I’m so glad I have now – it’s a film that’s really meant to be watched in a cinema.

Watching it as an adult and as a writer, I couldn’t help noticing what a brilliant intro it has, with all the main characters set up and their quirks and characteristics established in the first ten minutes. Chunk was and still is my favourite character, although little Mikey is the glue that holds the whole thing together. And the rest of them – Josh Brolin’s Brand and his fantastic array of 80’s exercise equipment. Stef, who I always sympathised with as a glasses-wearer. Mouth and his genius use of Spanish.

There were other things – the way Brand and Mikey’s dad is a historian, neatly leading on to Mikey’s interest in the pirate treasure. The front garden with the insane chain-of-events gate opener, that leads nicely on to the booby-trapped caves later on. The way the symbol of the developers, the local Country Club, gets continually wrecked and its members humiliated…

Something else I noticed - the baddies are surprisingly bad. I mean, would a bad guy be allowed to threaten to stick a kid’s arm in a blender these days? Would the kids be allowed to spout such satisfying and realistic profanities? Could there be a joke about a plaster statue’s dick? A scene where a kid is trapped in a walk-in freezer with a corpse? They’re all there, along with still fantastic-looking sets and a gang of kids I’d still love to join. For one night, last night, we could all imagine being Goonies…

If you want to check out the script (which is a great read btw), it’s available here.

Goonies never die!

At least not judging by the absolutely massive queue to pick up tickets for The Screen’s showing of The Goonies (on two screens!) last night. The audience demographics were funny – everyone there was firmly in the 26-36 age bracket (in other words, prime Goonie-viewing age from the 80s). Plus about three quarters of the crowd were dressed as pirates/wearing eye-patches/rocking pirate hats.

I have to say, it says a lot for the movies of 2010 that I enjoyed this more than any other film I’ve seen this year. It’s a stone-cold classic and the 25-years-older audience lapped it up, booing the bad guys, laughing every time Chunk appeared and generally acting like The Screen was an enormous living room. I’d never seen The Goonies on the big screen and I’m so glad I have now – it’s a film that’s really meant to be watched in a cinema.

Watching it as an adult and as a writer, I couldn’t help noticing what a brilliant intro it has, with all the main characters set up and their quirks and characteristics established in the first ten minutes. Chunk was and still is my favourite character, although little Mikey is the glue that holds the whole thing together. And the rest of them – Josh Brolin’s Brand and his fantastic array of 80’s exercise equipment. Stef, who I always sympathised with as a glasses-wearer. Mouth and his genius use of Spanish.

There were other things – the way Brand and Mikey’s dad is a historian, neatly leading on to Mikey’s interest in the pirate treasure. The front garden with the insane chain-of-events gate opener, that leads nicely on to the booby-trapped caves later on. The way the symbol of the developers, the local Country Club, gets continually wrecked and its members humiliated…

Something else I noticed - the baddies are surprisingly bad. I mean, would a bad guy be allowed to threaten to stick a kid’s arm in a blender these days? Would the kids be allowed to spout such satisfying and realistic profanities? Could there be a joke about a plaster statue’s dick? A scene where a kid is trapped in a walk-in freezer with a corpse? They’re all there, along with still fantastic-looking sets and a gang of kids I’d still love to join. For one night, last night, we could all imagine being Goonies…

If you want to check out the script (which is a great read btw), it’s available here.