Friday, August 27, 2010

Father Ted creator Graham Linehan speaks!

IFTA hosted an entertaining public interview last night at the Conrad with Father Ted writer Graham Linehan. Prior to last night, I would have said it was unfair to describe him only in relation to Ted, seeing as he’s also been the creative force behind the excellent I. T. Crowd, Black Books and Big Train.

But far from being fed up with Father Ted, Linehan said he was really proud of it – and would be happy with Graham “Father Ted” Linehan being on his gravestone. A nice attitude, cos a lot of people seem to end up hating the very show/film that gives them their big break.

Linehan was interviewed at length by Darklight’s Derek O’Connor and here were some of the highlights of their convo:

* Linehan lived with his writing partner Arthur Matthews in London for four years – in a flat owned by Griff Rhys Jones who charged them minimal rent – and he maintains that Matthews is a very funny person to watch TV with. They used to watch TV for hours on end, something I’ve heard Mitchell and Webb do too. So TV can be educational!

* In their initial stand-up incarnations of Father Ted, Matthews used to play Ted. They cast the show basically by watching loads of comedy shows and programmes and picking comedians/actors from them.

* Ted really was their big chance – they’d already worked on an Alexei Sayle sitcom called Paris, which had bombed.

* Their producer Geoffrey Perkins was the man who picked the iconic musical intro out of two Divine Comedy songs. Linehan and Matthews wanted to go for a happy, jaunty tune.

* Linehan said he felt really bad about the erudite, classically-trained Frank Kelly (present last night) only having five words to say all the time, which is why they opened things up in series two with stuff like, “That would be an ecumenical matter”.

* He said they were only ever going to make the three series, even before Dermot Morgan’s untimely death forced the show to end. Wise move if you ask me – go before any shark jumping can occur!

* Re. Brass Eye, he said he thought Chris Morris had gone a bit far with the extreme approach he took to satirising the media response to paedophilia, with the result that it had turned people off. Interestingly, he said he hates it when comedy shows have the effect of making people change channel and maintained that even the most extreme topic can be made palatably funny. As an example, he brought up the cannibal episode of The I.T. Crowd. Which, he’s right, is absolutely hilarious even though it deals with Mosse possibly getting eaten by a Armin Meiwes-type.

* While he directs all the time now, he said he only does it out of necessity because he reckons other directors won’t see the scene the same way as him.

* Scriptwriting – Linehan says the first draft is basically just a series of notes for basing subsequent drafts on. He says he loves rewriting and refining scripts and will do so right up to shooting.

* Funnily enough, he’s tried writing films and finds it really hard! I’d have said what he does is pretty flipping hard so this was surprising to hear!

I’m sure I’m missing loads of great points he made, but overall Linehan just came across as a very humble, down to earth guy. He was very honest about stuff he’d done that hadn’t worked. After we’d seen a brilliant 12-minute clip from The I.T. Crowd, he pointed out a great joke he missed out on and said he kicks himself now while watching the episode! He wants people to laugh and is prepared to work very hard for their laughs.

Nice one, IFTA – and nice canapés by the way as well!

Father Ted creator Graham Linehan speaks!

IFTA hosted an entertaining public interview last night at the Conrad with Father Ted writer Graham Linehan. Prior to last night, I would have said it was unfair to describe him only in relation to Ted, seeing as he’s also been the creative force behind the excellent I. T. Crowd, Black Books and Big Train.

But far from being fed up with Father Ted, Linehan said he was really proud of it – and would be happy with Graham “Father Ted” Linehan being on his gravestone. A nice attitude, cos a lot of people seem to end up hating the very show/film that gives them their big break.

Linehan was interviewed at length by Darklight’s Derek O’Connor and here were some of the highlights of their convo:

* Linehan lived with his writing partner Arthur Matthews in London for four years – in a flat owned by Griff Rhys Jones who charged them minimal rent – and he maintains that Matthews is a very funny person to watch TV with. They used to watch TV for hours on end, something I’ve heard Mitchell and Webb do too. So TV can be educational!

* In their initial stand-up incarnations of Father Ted, Matthews used to play Ted. They cast the show basically by watching loads of comedy shows and programmes and picking comedians/actors from them.

* Ted really was their big chance – they’d already worked on an Alexei Sayle sitcom called Paris, which had bombed.

* Their producer Geoffrey Perkins was the man who picked the iconic musical intro out of two Divine Comedy songs. Linehan and Matthews wanted to go for a happy, jaunty tune.

* Linehan said he felt really bad about the erudite, classically-trained Frank Kelly (present last night) only having five words to say all the time, which is why they opened things up in series two with stuff like, “That would be an ecumenical matter”.

* He said they were only ever going to make the three series, even before Dermot Morgan’s untimely death forced the show to end. Wise move if you ask me – go before any shark jumping can occur!

* Re. Brass Eye, he said he thought Chris Morris had gone a bit far with the extreme approach he took to satirising the media response to paedophilia, with the result that it had turned people off. Interestingly, he said he hates it when comedy shows have the effect of making people change channel and maintained that even the most extreme topic can be made palatably funny. As an example, he brought up the cannibal episode of The I.T. Crowd. Which, he’s right, is absolutely hilarious even though it deals with Mosse possibly getting eaten by a Armin Meiwes-type.

* While he directs all the time now, he said he only does it out of necessity because he reckons other directors won’t see the scene the same way as him.

* Scriptwriting – Linehan says the first draft is basically just a series of notes for basing subsequent drafts on. He says he loves rewriting and refining scripts and will do so right up to shooting.

* Funnily enough, he’s tried writing films and finds it really hard! I’d have said what he does is pretty flipping hard so this was surprising to hear!

I’m sure I’m missing loads of great points he made, but overall Linehan just came across as a very humble, down to earth guy. He was very honest about stuff he’d done that hadn’t worked. After we’d seen a brilliant 12-minute clip from The I.T. Crowd, he pointed out a great joke he missed out on and said he kicks himself now while watching the episode! He wants people to laugh and is prepared to work very hard for their laughs.

Nice one, IFTA – and nice canapés by the way as well!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Do you have a niche? And what is it?

I’ve always wanted to be one of those Renaissance people. You know, the ones who can climb Everest, while simultaneously being CEO of a company and being a top photographer. Screenwriting-wise, I was no different. Of course I can write a thriller/family film/comedy/horror. Or maybe an action movie, if I ever had an idea…

Thing is, I’m not so sure about this Renaissance thing anymore. Is it a good idea to try to excel at many things, or even at many things within a field? Or does this dilute your efforts? Should you concentrate on the thing that comes naturally to you?

I’ve been thinking about this recently because it dawned on me why I was having such trouble writing a horror. Actually, rewriting it for the millionth time. And it struck me: I don’t primarily watch horror movies. I’ll watch one if it’s on TV, but I won’t usually buy a ticket for one – unless Sam Raimi’s directing it. I do watch thrillers, though. And action adventures, and comedies – and they’re the scripts I really enjoy watching too. Fact is, my horror film is mainly a comedy with some horrifying bits in it.

So should I accept that I am a writer of thrillers and family films and nothing else? And a screenwriter, not a novelist/journalist/comic book writer or anything else that’s not a screenwriter? Should I have a niche?

Steve Martin wrote about the benefits of concentrating on one thing in his autobiography. His point was that he turned down loads of gigs that didn’t correspond with his ultimate goal – to be a great comedian. With time pressures and loads of things competing for your attention, maybe Steve had it right. Do one thing – and do it well.

Do you have a niche? And what is it?

I’ve always wanted to be one of those Renaissance people. You know, the ones who can climb Everest, while simultaneously being CEO of a company and being a top photographer. Screenwriting-wise, I was no different. Of course I can write a thriller/family film/comedy/horror. Or maybe an action movie, if I ever had an idea…

Thing is, I’m not so sure about this Renaissance thing anymore. Is it a good idea to try to excel at many things, or even at many things within a field? Or does this dilute your efforts? Should you concentrate on the thing that comes naturally to you?

I’ve been thinking about this recently because it dawned on me why I was having such trouble writing a horror. Actually, rewriting it for the millionth time. And it struck me: I don’t primarily watch horror movies. I’ll watch one if it’s on TV, but I won’t usually buy a ticket for one – unless Sam Raimi’s directing it. I do watch thrillers, though. And action adventures, and comedies – and they’re the scripts I really enjoy watching too. Fact is, my horror film is mainly a comedy with some horrifying bits in it.

So should I accept that I am a writer of thrillers and family films and nothing else? And a screenwriter, not a novelist/journalist/comic book writer or anything else that’s not a screenwriter? Should I have a niche?

Steve Martin wrote about the benefits of concentrating on one thing in his autobiography. His point was that he turned down loads of gigs that didn’t correspond with his ultimate goal – to be a great comedian. With time pressures and loads of things competing for your attention, maybe Steve had it right. Do one thing – and do it well.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Riding off into the sunset – the definition of a good ending

We’ve all been there – the trip to the cinema that ends in head-scratching and “what the hells?”. Some movies arrive at a glorious finish with Disney bluebirds and bunny rabbits. Some go out with a bang and some end with a whimper. So what’s a good ending and what’s a bad one?

Well first of all, I don’t think it makes much difference whether it’s a happy ending or a sad one. A pasted-on happy ending can be very grating and an overly-sad one can be giggle-inducing (thanks, Pearl Harbor and any Nicholas Sparks adaptation ever). What’s important is that the ending fits the film it’s providing the postscript to.

The end of the film should be an organic part of the whole, as fitting as the beginning and middle. It should suit the journey of the characters and their arcs. It should be – and here’s the thing, appropriate to the rest of the story.

Here are my top five really bad movie endings ever (in no particular order – they’re all terrible):

Sunshine
I was really enjoying Danny Boyle’s sci-fi horror up until the last 15 minutes. At that point, the movie jumped a (flaming) shark and descended into ridiculousness.

Vanilla Sky
What? Hurgghh? My head hurt after seeing this one – it was much, much worse than a year of college philosophy and made a ton less sense.

The Game
A happy ending plastered onto what had hitherto been a satisfying amoral thriller. Cue a pissed-off audience.

Looking for Mr. Goodbar
Diane Keaton goes looking for love in what seems to be a heart-warming romcom, then gets horribly murdered by one of her dates. Cut a dropped-open mouth from this viewer.

Identity
A thoroughly entertaining potboiler with a batshit crazy ending. Worse than Bobby waking up in the shower in Dallas – by a mile.

Riding off into the sunset – the definition of a good ending

We’ve all been there – the trip to the cinema that ends in head-scratching and “what the hells?”. Some movies arrive at a glorious finish with Disney bluebirds and bunny rabbits. Some go out with a bang and some end with a whimper. So what’s a good ending and what’s a bad one?

Well first of all, I don’t think it makes much difference whether it’s a happy ending or a sad one. A pasted-on happy ending can be very grating and an overly-sad one can be giggle-inducing (thanks, Pearl Harbor and any Nicholas Sparks adaptation ever). What’s important is that the ending fits the film it’s providing the postscript to.

The end of the film should be an organic part of the whole, as fitting as the beginning and middle. It should suit the journey of the characters and their arcs. It should be – and here’s the thing, appropriate to the rest of the story.

Here are my top five really bad movie endings ever (in no particular order – they’re all terrible):

Sunshine
I was really enjoying Danny Boyle’s sci-fi horror up until the last 15 minutes. At that point, the movie jumped a (flaming) shark and descended into ridiculousness.

Vanilla Sky
What? Hurgghh? My head hurt after seeing this one – it was much, much worse than a year of college philosophy and made a ton less sense.

The Game
A happy ending plastered onto what had hitherto been a satisfying amoral thriller. Cue a pissed-off audience.

Looking for Mr. Goodbar
Diane Keaton goes looking for love in what seems to be a heart-warming romcom, then gets horribly murdered by one of her dates. Cut a dropped-open mouth from this viewer.

Identity
A thoroughly entertaining potboiler with a batshit crazy ending. Worse than Bobby waking up in the shower in Dallas – by a mile.

Friday, August 13, 2010

How many writers does it take to write a movie?

If you go to the cinema as much as me and if you’re as big a screenwriting geek as me, you’ll be glued to the opening credits. Specifically, the writing credits. Yes, there they are – flashed up for a nanosecond right at the end just as the movie opens.

How many are there? Do you recognise any of them (“cripes, it’s the guy who wrote Epic Movie – let’s get out of here!”)? Is there any significance to their order on screen?

I always get worried if there are more than three writers. Even three is pushing it, and may not even reflect the true number of writers involved. As Nikki Finke pointed out, the recent A-Team movie had 11 writers working on various drafts of the script, from experienced screenwriter Bruce Feirstein to a spec-script rookie called Jayson Rothwell. In the end, the only credited writers were Skip Woods, Brian Bloom and Joe Carnahan. As in, the movie’s director Joe Carnahan. It’s actually surprising that the finished movie makes any sense at all (it does, barely).

Feel free to disagree, but I think it’s pretty much impossible for a script to be any good if 11 disparate writers have had their paws on it. 4 or 5 writers is still going to result in a very confused tone and the final screenplay is bound to be less than the sum of (all) the parts. Here’s a novel idea these days – why not have one writer work on one script until it’s good?

I keep a database of all the movies released each week and who wrote ‘em (told you I was a geek) and the results tell a story. For the most part, the only films that have one scribe credited as opposed to at least two or three are European films and indies. The only exceptions are people like Christopher Nolan or Woody Allen, who write their own scripts and in any case, wield significant clout. I believe, looking over the list, that the movie with the most credited writers in the last year was The Tooth Fairy, starring Dwayne Johnson – six writers in all and there may have been more.

This is a depressing fact – it is very, very hard to get sole credit on a Hollywood movie these days. There’s nothing else for it – we’re all gonna have to get as big as Mr. Nolan. Only then will we be able to write multi-million dollar mindbenders that the execs don’t understand but audiences love!

How many writers does it take to write a movie?

If you go to the cinema as much as me and if you’re as big a screenwriting geek as me, you’ll be glued to the opening credits. Specifically, the writing credits. Yes, there they are – flashed up for a nanosecond right at the end just as the movie opens.

How many are there? Do you recognise any of them (“cripes, it’s the guy who wrote Epic Movie – let’s get out of here!”)? Is there any significance to their order on screen?

I always get worried if there are more than three writers. Even three is pushing it, and may not even reflect the true number of writers involved. As Nikki Finke pointed out, the recent A-Team movie had 11 writers working on various drafts of the script, from experienced screenwriter Bruce Feirstein to a spec-script rookie called Jayson Rothwell. In the end, the only credited writers were Skip Woods, Brian Bloom and Joe Carnahan. As in, the movie’s director Joe Carnahan. It’s actually surprising that the finished movie makes any sense at all (it does, barely).

Feel free to disagree, but I think it’s pretty much impossible for a script to be any good if 11 disparate writers have had their paws on it. 4 or 5 writers is still going to result in a very confused tone and the final screenplay is bound to be less than the sum of (all) the parts. Here’s a novel idea these days – why not have one writer work on one script until it’s good?

I keep a database of all the movies released each week and who wrote ‘em (told you I was a geek) and the results tell a story. For the most part, the only films that have one scribe credited as opposed to at least two or three are European films and indies. The only exceptions are people like Christopher Nolan or Woody Allen, who write their own scripts and in any case, wield significant clout. I believe, looking over the list, that the movie with the most credited writers in the last year was The Tooth Fairy, starring Dwayne Johnson – six writers in all and there may have been more.

This is a depressing fact – it is very, very hard to get sole credit on a Hollywood movie these days. There’s nothing else for it – we’re all gonna have to get as big as Mr. Nolan. Only then will we be able to write multi-million dollar mindbenders that the execs don’t understand but audiences love!

Monday, August 9, 2010

The chick in the mirror, the characters on the page…

Has someone ever read one of your scripts and remarked, “that character is so like you!”? I’m sure this has happened to all writers at some stage – unless you only write about human skin-wearing psychopaths. And even then, I’m sure they could share some of your character traits :)

But I was thinking recently about how much of me goes into the people I write about. Do any of them share parts of my personality or are they all total figments of my imagination? And if everyone keeps saying the burned-out secretary with the multiple personalities is like your twin, should you be worried?

First of all, I LOVE writing the bad guys in my scripts. They’re the best – you can indulge all your fantasies about being an evil boss/mom/sociopath. I guess you could say the villains have all the best of my worst side, and it’s nice being able to express all that on the page instead of in person. People don’t really like it in real life when you randomly try to fire them, after all.

And the good guys? Well, they’re my best side, on a very good day, with a few shots inside me. They’re braver, more resourceful, better-looking and more patient than I will ever be – and I try to love them for that.

But my favourite characters of all are the characters in between. The people who aren’t perfect, who get sucked to the dark side but not too much. Who get dragged along with the hero and have to face their worst fears, even though they just want to sit on the sofa and watch some telly. The actual humans, in other words. They’re the characters I identify with and enjoy sitting down to write: because we’re never as great as our heroes or as evil as our villains. We’re somewhere in between, trying our best.

The chick in the mirror, the characters on the page…

Has someone ever read one of your scripts and remarked, “that character is so like you!”? I’m sure this has happened to all writers at some stage – unless you only write about human skin-wearing psychopaths. And even then, I’m sure they could share some of your character traits :)

But I was thinking recently about how much of me goes into the people I write about. Do any of them share parts of my personality or are they all total figments of my imagination? And if everyone keeps saying the burned-out secretary with the multiple personalities is like your twin, should you be worried?

First of all, I LOVE writing the bad guys in my scripts. They’re the best – you can indulge all your fantasies about being an evil boss/mom/sociopath. I guess you could say the villains have all the best of my worst side, and it’s nice being able to express all that on the page instead of in person. People don’t really like it in real life when you randomly try to fire them, after all.

And the good guys? Well, they’re my best side, on a very good day, with a few shots inside me. They’re braver, more resourceful, better-looking and more patient than I will ever be – and I try to love them for that.

But my favourite characters of all are the characters in between. The people who aren’t perfect, who get sucked to the dark side but not too much. Who get dragged along with the hero and have to face their worst fears, even though they just want to sit on the sofa and watch some telly. The actual humans, in other words. They’re the characters I identify with and enjoy sitting down to write: because we’re never as great as our heroes or as evil as our villains. We’re somewhere in between, trying our best.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"You can't get hung up on what you think your "real" destination is. The journey is just as important."

That's a quote from Magnum photographer Steve McCurry, who took the famous "Afghan Girl" picture. I was at an exhibition of his incredible photographs recently and those words were printed on the wall. They really struck me because they sum up what life is all about - enjoying the journey and not focussing too much on the ultimate destination. Enjoying the process. 

This is particularly important for people involved in creative pursuits, where there is no guarantee that we will ever get paid for our work. I love writing and I hope to get paid for my scripts one day. But I can't focus on that - and I can't focus on all the negative news about the dismal spec market and the cutthroat studios either. If I can't walk upstairs after a long day's work and enjoy sitting down to write, there'll be no joy in eventually selling a screenplay. And if I can't schedule time to write now, when it's essentially a second job, how will I cope when (if?) I'm writing full-time?

It's a long journey to option fees, agents, rewrites and premieres. So enjoy every day along the day - and learn to love the process....

"You can't get hung up on what you think your "real" destination is. The journey is just as important."

That's a quote from Magnum photographer Steve McCurry, who took the famous "Afghan Girl" picture. I was at an exhibition of his incredible photographs recently and those words were printed on the wall. They really struck me because they sum up what life is all about - enjoying the journey and not focussing too much on the ultimate destination. Enjoying the process. 

This is particularly important for people involved in creative pursuits, where there is no guarantee that we will ever get paid for our work. I love writing and I hope to get paid for my scripts one day. But I can't focus on that - and I can't focus on all the negative news about the dismal spec market and the cutthroat studios either. If I can't walk upstairs after a long day's work and enjoy sitting down to write, there'll be no joy in eventually selling a screenplay. And if I can't schedule time to write now, when it's essentially a second job, how will I cope when (if?) I'm writing full-time?

It's a long journey to option fees, agents, rewrites and premieres. So enjoy every day along the day - and learn to love the process....