Monday, October 18, 2010

Ass Plus Chair Equals....

Wordplayer is one of those black hole sites, like IMDB. You go on it for ten minutes, end up reading articles for two hours. But it's like doing a masters in screenwriting, for free. 

While stuck in the black hole today, I read this piece on talent versus hard work. Which is more important for a writer? Well, I'm no scientist, unlike the guys in the article. BUT, here's my ten cents.

You can be a supremely talented writer who hardly ever writes anything - and you'll be a supremely talented, unproduced writer. And you can be a not-so talented writer who works your ass off, and maybe actually get something made. In that competition, my money would be on the hard worker. Apart from anything else, writing is something you can get better at through lots of practice.

It's like Malcolm Gladwell says in Outliers: people who excel in a field are those who put in 10,000 hours of work. Would Mozart have been Mozart if he hadn't practiced for 8 hours a day, every day? Put the work in. 

As Oliver Stone's sign above his chair reads, Writing Equals Ass Plus Chair....

Ass Plus Chair Equals....

Wordplayer is one of those black hole sites, like IMDB. You go on it for ten minutes, end up reading articles for two hours. But it's like doing a masters in screenwriting, for free. 

While stuck in the black hole today, I read this piece on talent versus hard work. Which is more important for a writer? Well, I'm no scientist, unlike the guys in the article. BUT, here's my ten cents.

You can be a supremely talented writer who hardly ever writes anything - and you'll be a supremely talented, unproduced writer. And you can be a not-so talented writer who works your ass off, and maybe actually get something made. In that competition, my money would be on the hard worker. Apart from anything else, writing is something you can get better at through lots of practice.

It's like Malcolm Gladwell says in Outliers: people who excel in a field are those who put in 10,000 hours of work. Would Mozart have been Mozart if he hadn't practiced for 8 hours a day, every day? Put the work in. 

As Oliver Stone's sign above his chair reads, Writing Equals Ass Plus Chair....

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

When panic strikes… freak out!

Panic, self-doubt, recrimination – any of these sound familiar? About once a week I have a little panic attack, about something I’m working on, something I’m not working on but should be, or just about my writing in general.

I’m in the middle of a major kitchen and tiling job at home, plus my employer decided that this would be an excellent time to move the office across the city. So I know what the problem is. I don’t have the time, or the head-space, to cope with three scripts that need rewriting, and a new one that keeps waking me up at 4am demanding to be written.

Am I the only writer who’s insane, or do you recognise these symptoms?!

Anyway, I used to panic all the time. It was my middle name. Here’s what I’ve learned to do to cope:

  • Recognise that you are having a brain spasm.
  • Look at what’s going on and identify why you’re freaking out. Do you have no time? Is someone breathing down your neck for a draft? Have you just been fired?
  • If something traumatic/all-consuming is happening, consider parking the writing for a day or two, and fight the fires that need putting out.
  • If you’re stuck and have writer’s block, go for a very long walk.
  • If you have no time, devote half an hour to the script/script problem. This will make you feel like you’re doing something.
  • If someone’s hassling you for a draft, either pull an all-nighter and get it to them, or if you don’t understand what they want, organise a meeting.

And remember, if you’re not panicking at least some of the time, you’re not a writer :)

When panic strikes… freak out!

Panic, self-doubt, recrimination – any of these sound familiar? About once a week I have a little panic attack, about something I’m working on, something I’m not working on but should be, or just about my writing in general.

I’m in the middle of a major kitchen and tiling job at home, plus my employer decided that this would be an excellent time to move the office across the city. So I know what the problem is. I don’t have the time, or the head-space, to cope with three scripts that need rewriting, and a new one that keeps waking me up at 4am demanding to be written.

Am I the only writer who’s insane, or do you recognise these symptoms?!

Anyway, I used to panic all the time. It was my middle name. Here’s what I’ve learned to do to cope:

  • Recognise that you are having a brain spasm.
  • Look at what’s going on and identify why you’re freaking out. Do you have no time? Is someone breathing down your neck for a draft? Have you just been fired?
  • If something traumatic/all-consuming is happening, consider parking the writing for a day or two, and fight the fires that need putting out.
  • If you’re stuck and have writer’s block, go for a very long walk.
  • If you have no time, devote half an hour to the script/script problem. This will make you feel like you’re doing something.
  • If someone’s hassling you for a draft, either pull an all-nighter and get it to them, or if you don’t understand what they want, organise a meeting.

And remember, if you’re not panicking at least some of the time, you’re not a writer :)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Straight from the headlines... writing from reality

Coming up with ideas: this seems to be something that plagues some writers. I have the opposite problem - deciding what ideas are good enough to write based on the limited time I have. But I'm not operating from divine inspiration: I just read a lot of news sites.

Whether you get your news from the TV, the web or good old-fashioned newspapers, there are great stories in there. Crazier stuff happens in real life than any writer can come up with.

I read a story last year about a guy who was banned from dancing at his ultra-religious U.S. school, so broke the rules by going to his girlfriend's prom instead. He got suspended. Isn't that the stuff of teenage dance movies?

There was the story of an ordinary woman in Kentucky who solved a local girl's murder and brought a gang of killers to justice. Erin Brockovich 2 - the heroine found love and went on to  become a private detective.

Or this one: the story of two Dublin kids who ran away from home in 1985 and somehow found their way to the U.K., then to Heathrow, then to New York. A feelgood family comedy right there in the Times.

Roger Corman does it, so it can't be bad. Read the news - and make sure your plots really are stranger than fiction.

Straight from the headlines... writing from reality

Coming up with ideas: this seems to be something that plagues some writers. I have the opposite problem - deciding what ideas are good enough to write based on the limited time I have. But I'm not operating from divine inspiration: I just read a lot of news sites.

Whether you get your news from the TV, the web or good old-fashioned newspapers, there are great stories in there. Crazier stuff happens in real life than any writer can come up with.

I read a story last year about a guy who was banned from dancing at his ultra-religious U.S. school, so broke the rules by going to his girlfriend's prom instead. He got suspended. Isn't that the stuff of teenage dance movies?

There was the story of an ordinary woman in Kentucky who solved a local girl's murder and brought a gang of killers to justice. Erin Brockovich 2 - the heroine found love and went on to  become a private detective.

Or this one: the story of two Dublin kids who ran away from home in 1985 and somehow found their way to the U.K., then to Heathrow, then to New York. A feelgood family comedy right there in the Times.

Roger Corman does it, so it can't be bad. Read the news - and make sure your plots really are stranger than fiction.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Can you do horror with little ‘ol cartoons?

I was talking to an animator a few weeks ago who expressed the opinion that you can’t do horror with animation.

This, he said, was because you can’t get as emotionally involved with animated characters as you can with live action ones. So if some animated chick’s getting chased by a knife-wielding maniac, you won’t be as on the edge of your seat as you’d be if he was chasing some blonde actress. (Depends on how annoying the actress is if you ask me!).

I don’t know. Sure, the stepmother from Disney’s Snow White still freaks me out when she changes into the witch. I think this is something fairly primal. Yes, The Black Cauldron with the Horned King and his skeleton army is the most inappropriate children’s cartoon ever (the nightmares!). But these are animated movies with some horrifying bits. Could you do a straight up horror movie in animation?

A few years ago, I’d probably have agreed with the cartoonist. But what about Waltz With Bashir? That’s pretty horrifying. And movies like Up and Wall:E have shown an ability to evoke an emotional response that I never thought I’d see from a cartoon. Not to mention all the bad-ass manga horrors out there.

Are we heading for the first mainstream animated horror? Or is the disconnect from animated characters just too big to bridge? Opinions on a postcard…

Can you do horror with little ‘ol cartoons?

I was talking to an animator a few weeks ago who expressed the opinion that you can’t do horror with animation.

This, he said, was because you can’t get as emotionally involved with animated characters as you can with live action ones. So if some animated chick’s getting chased by a knife-wielding maniac, you won’t be as on the edge of your seat as you’d be if he was chasing some blonde actress. (Depends on how annoying the actress is if you ask me!).

I don’t know. Sure, the stepmother from Disney’s Snow White still freaks me out when she changes into the witch. I think this is something fairly primal. Yes, The Black Cauldron with the Horned King and his skeleton army is the most inappropriate children’s cartoon ever (the nightmares!). But these are animated movies with some horrifying bits. Could you do a straight up horror movie in animation?

A few years ago, I’d probably have agreed with the cartoonist. But what about Waltz With Bashir? That’s pretty horrifying. And movies like Up and Wall:E have shown an ability to evoke an emotional response that I never thought I’d see from a cartoon. Not to mention all the bad-ass manga horrors out there.

Are we heading for the first mainstream animated horror? Or is the disconnect from animated characters just too big to bridge? Opinions on a postcard…

Friday, October 1, 2010

Working with the Frank Daniel Method

I was lucky enough to get to a Screen Training Ireland/Screen Producers Ireland course recently with writer and script consultant Martin Daniel. He’s the son of Frank Daniel, who developed the Daniel method (involves asking questions about a script to uncover the stuff within it).

Milos Forman, among others, uses this methodology for working on scripts and it’s equally useful for producers or writers.

Here’s some of the stuff I learned (a lot of this is common sense but insightful all the same):

  • Involve the audience in a feeling of tension. Make them active participants, involved in creating the story. Have them anticipating, projecting ahead, imagining all the possible outcomes.
  • A common-sense approach to story: do I believe it, understand it and care about it?
  • Whose story is it?
  • Who is driving the story?
  • What does the main character want? This has to be very specific. Not just “love”, but an embodiment of love for that character that the audience can latch onto.
  • Good antagonists are people whose drives we recognise in ourselves.
  • What does the main character need? Often they get what they want, not what they need.
  • Theme: people often try and pin down the writer early on and ask, “What’s the story really about?” And the writer doesn’t know! But you’re exploring what the theme is by writing the script. The process of writing it is what eventually reveals the theme.
  • Audience question: what are we hoping for and what are we afraid of? These feelings inform almost all of our encounters. You can use these questions for a script and for any scene within a script.
  • Sequences: must have a tension of their own within the overall tension of the story. Always think of how the audience is experiencing this in terms of tension. In most films, there are 8 or 9 sequences in total.
  • Key shaping tools: the “whose story is it?” question can help. Also: “who knows what about whom, and when do they know it?” Revelation and recognition: the revelation (to the audience) that Oedipus is sleeping with his mother, for instance.
  • Structure: we should meet a character in their ordinary life. Then their routine is disturbed and they are faced with a journey. Act 2, they embark on the journey after some discussion. Act 3, the reason they went on the journey may have changed. Will they succeed or not?
  • The context (set up by the view of their routine life) is what makes us want to watch a character. The specifics of character, place etc. Specifics versus general: a general human life is boring. It’s the individual human experience that makes it interesting.
  • Rewriting - write a one-page summary of the script. The problems will become evident.
  • What really happens in this script? Unravel the various strands and you will see what isn’t developed enough. Maybe the main story, maybe the B or C stories.
  • Step outlines – look at them on three levels. Does the scene feel like it can engage the audience? Does it reveal the characters, show us something new? Does it move the story forward?
  • Keep asking what the characters want and follow that all the way through. By Act 2, the main character should have only one option left (i.e. there should be no alternatives open to them). Remove the alternatives and start adding in obstacles!


Working with the Frank Daniel Method

I was lucky enough to get to a Screen Training Ireland/Screen Producers Ireland course recently with writer and script consultant Martin Daniel. He’s the son of Frank Daniel, who developed the Daniel method (involves asking questions about a script to uncover the stuff within it).

Milos Forman, among others, uses this methodology for working on scripts and it’s equally useful for producers or writers.

Here’s some of the stuff I learned (a lot of this is common sense but insightful all the same):

  • Involve the audience in a feeling of tension. Make them active participants, involved in creating the story. Have them anticipating, projecting ahead, imagining all the possible outcomes.
  • A common-sense approach to story: do I believe it, understand it and care about it?
  • Whose story is it?
  • Who is driving the story?
  • What does the main character want? This has to be very specific. Not just “love”, but an embodiment of love for that character that the audience can latch onto.
  • Good antagonists are people whose drives we recognise in ourselves.
  • What does the main character need? Often they get what they want, not what they need.
  • Theme: people often try and pin down the writer early on and ask, “What’s the story really about?” And the writer doesn’t know! But you’re exploring what the theme is by writing the script. The process of writing it is what eventually reveals the theme.
  • Audience question: what are we hoping for and what are we afraid of? These feelings inform almost all of our encounters. You can use these questions for a script and for any scene within a script.
  • Sequences: must have a tension of their own within the overall tension of the story. Always think of how the audience is experiencing this in terms of tension. In most films, there are 8 or 9 sequences in total.
  • Key shaping tools: the “whose story is it?” question can help. Also: “who knows what about whom, and when do they know it?” Revelation and recognition: the revelation (to the audience) that Oedipus is sleeping with his mother, for instance.
  • Structure: we should meet a character in their ordinary life. Then their routine is disturbed and they are faced with a journey. Act 2, they embark on the journey after some discussion. Act 3, the reason they went on the journey may have changed. Will they succeed or not?
  • The context (set up by the view of their routine life) is what makes us want to watch a character. The specifics of character, place etc. Specifics versus general: a general human life is boring. It’s the individual human experience that makes it interesting.
  • Rewriting - write a one-page summary of the script. The problems will become evident.
  • What really happens in this script? Unravel the various strands and you will see what isn’t developed enough. Maybe the main story, maybe the B or C stories.
  • Step outlines – look at them on three levels. Does the scene feel like it can engage the audience? Does it reveal the characters, show us something new? Does it move the story forward?
  • Keep asking what the characters want and follow that all the way through. By Act 2, the main character should have only one option left (i.e. there should be no alternatives open to them). Remove the alternatives and start adding in obstacles!