Thursday, December 30, 2010

Are you a paycheck player?

I was watching Jerry Maguire on TV for the millionth time recently. It's a great movie with instantly-quotable dialogue (that sort of stuff is HARD to write, so respect, Mr. Crowe). Not to mention, Tom Cruise gives probably the best performance he's ever going to produce.

Anyway, there's a bit where dissatisfied football player Ron Tidwell is moaning, as is his wont, to his agent Maguire. Why aren't the press interested in talking to him? Where's his ten million dollar deal? And Jerry Maguire finally cracks and lets him have it, like so:

"Here's why you don't have your ten million dollars yet. You are a paycheck player. You play with your head. Not your heart. In your personal life? Heart. But when you get on the field - you're a businessman. It's wide-angle lenses and who fucked you over and who owes you for it. That's not what inspires people. I'm sorry, but that's the truth, can you handle it?"

And my point of all this is, can we all handle it? It's very easy to get up in the morning and go to work and collect a salary at the end of the month and not give a damn along the way. Many, many people do a job they dislike or don't care about, because it pays well.

It's also very easy to carry out a task with no enthusiasm, with your eyes only on some eventual pot of gold. Are you writing because you want to make a million dollars from your script or novel? Here's the thing - you are less likely to write a hit if you're only thinking of the moolah! Your lack of passion will show, and sooner or later, it will start to bite. And even if you do hit the jackpot, will the victory be as sweet?

Here's my New Year's resolution and my advice to anyone out there: whatever you do, do it with passion. Give it your all and the results will surprise even you....

Are you a paycheck player?

I was watching Jerry Maguire on TV for the millionth time recently. It's a great movie with instantly-quotable dialogue (that sort of stuff is HARD to write, so respect, Mr. Crowe). Not to mention, Tom Cruise gives probably the best performance he's ever going to produce.

Anyway, there's a bit where dissatisfied football player Ron Tidwell is moaning, as is his wont, to his agent Maguire. Why aren't the press interested in talking to him? Where's his ten million dollar deal? And Jerry Maguire finally cracks and lets him have it, like so:

"Here's why you don't have your ten million dollars yet. You are a paycheck player. You play with your head. Not your heart. In your personal life? Heart. But when you get on the field - you're a businessman. It's wide-angle lenses and who fucked you over and who owes you for it. That's not what inspires people. I'm sorry, but that's the truth, can you handle it?"

And my point of all this is, can we all handle it? It's very easy to get up in the morning and go to work and collect a salary at the end of the month and not give a damn along the way. Many, many people do a job they dislike or don't care about, because it pays well.

It's also very easy to carry out a task with no enthusiasm, with your eyes only on some eventual pot of gold. Are you writing because you want to make a million dollars from your script or novel? Here's the thing - you are less likely to write a hit if you're only thinking of the moolah! Your lack of passion will show, and sooner or later, it will start to bite. And even if you do hit the jackpot, will the victory be as sweet?

Here's my New Year's resolution and my advice to anyone out there: whatever you do, do it with passion. Give it your all and the results will surprise even you....

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Black List is back! And as ever, so are cliches...

It's been 11 days since the last post, which I can explain in two words that far too many people haven't seen in a long time. New job.

But I'm back, it's Friday night and it feels good! First up, the inspiration/motivation powerhouse that is the Black List. The Times ran an article on the 2010 list today and the script I'm most excited about reading by a long shot is All You Need Is Kill by Dante Harper.

Based on a Japanese novel about a guy who finds himself reliving his own battlefield death in a Groundhog Day-style loop, this sounds like a great concept. It also sold for $3m to Warners Bros, the only spec script I've heard of in a long time to generate that kind of money. Now I just hope the script is as good as it sounds.

On another note, because it's Christmas and because it's fun, I was thinking about genre cliches. I was watching Unstoppable recently and as Denzel Washington climbed up onto the roof of the speeding, out-of-control train, my viewing companion said confidently, "He's going to fall off and hang on the side for a while". We both watched as Denzel proceeded to run down the train with no problem whatever. Spoiler alert - he does not fall. Not even a jolt in that direction.
And you know what? I felt a bit cheated! Train movies always have someone fall off and hang on the side, usually while battling a bad guy, and then they usually manage to heroically heave themselves back up. Damn you, Denzel and your surefootedness!

Here are just some of the cliches I can think of, by genre:

Horror

There are almost too many cliches in this genre to mention, but here are a few:
  • People hanging around in dark places by themselves.
  • Groups pointlessly splitting up in sinister locations.
  • Houseowners refusing to move despite evidence that the house is evil/haunted/possessed.
  • Blondes of both sexes getting butchered. It's blonde genocide in horrors!
  • Towns/communities having deep dark secrets that they never reveal to the hero until it's almost too late. Usually when at least 15 people have died.
  • Authority figures are always bad/useless/a hindrance
  • People engaging in personal grooming at stupid times. I'm talking about a guy taking a shower when a serial killer is picking off his friends one by one or a girl deciding to shave her legs when there's a killer virus making everyone vomit blood (Cabin Fever, I'm looking at you).

Action

Again, an embarrassment of riches:

  • Random stuff blowing up, but in particular oil barrels being placed for no good reason all over the place.
  • Car chases, usually on a busy freeway, at rush hour.
  • A very dumb hero. And a very bright villain.
  • Millions of bullets being fired, most of which fail to hit anything.
  • Bad guys having serious problems attracting good henchmen. Most of the henchmenget dispatched with no problem at all, the only exception being huge Germans/Russians or Asian guys with mad skills.
  • Girls taking their kit off, even if it doesn't fit their character's profession, personality, etc etc.

Thriller

  • Long, winding coastal roads.
  • Huge, modernistic houses, probably in San Francisco.
  • A messed-up hero.
  • Mysterious phone calls involving codes.
  • No sleep for any of the protagonists - thriller characters are nocturnal.
  • Terse dialogue and open-ended conversations.
  • A horrible secret that we - and the protagonist - just HAVE to discover.

Romantic Comedies

  • The heroine has to fall over at least three times. Knocking things/people over as she goes is also mandatory.
  • The hero and heroine will each have a less attractive friend who is nonetheless far more interesting than them. This happens in musicals too - Ado Annie is a way better character to play in Oklahoma for example than the female lead (see, can't even remember her name).
  • Misunderstandings and missed opportunities.
  • Comic set-pieces that result in the heroine getting humiliated, again.
  • A man the female lead should marry, if he wasn't so boring/corporate/such a mensch.
  • A run to the finish, usually involving the hero/heroine's entire family/circleof friends.
  • A girl-power song over the closing credits.

There's loads I've missed - bring 'em on!

The Black List is back! And as ever, so are cliches...

It's been 11 days since the last post, which I can explain in two words that far too many people haven't seen in a long time. New job.

But I'm back, it's Friday night and it feels good! First up, the inspiration/motivation powerhouse that is the Black List. The Times ran an article on the 2010 list today and the script I'm most excited about reading by a long shot is All You Need Is Kill by Dante Harper.

Based on a Japanese novel about a guy who finds himself reliving his own battlefield death in a Groundhog Day-style loop, this sounds like a great concept. It also sold for $3m to Warners Bros, the only spec script I've heard of in a long time to generate that kind of money. Now I just hope the script is as good as it sounds.

On another note, because it's Christmas and because it's fun, I was thinking about genre cliches. I was watching Unstoppable recently and as Denzel Washington climbed up onto the roof of the speeding, out-of-control train, my viewing companion said confidently, "He's going to fall off and hang on the side for a while". We both watched as Denzel proceeded to run down the train with no problem whatever. Spoiler alert - he does not fall. Not even a jolt in that direction.
And you know what? I felt a bit cheated! Train movies always have someone fall off and hang on the side, usually while battling a bad guy, and then they usually manage to heroically heave themselves back up. Damn you, Denzel and your surefootedness!

Here are just some of the cliches I can think of, by genre:

Horror

There are almost too many cliches in this genre to mention, but here are a few:
  • People hanging around in dark places by themselves.
  • Groups pointlessly splitting up in sinister locations.
  • Houseowners refusing to move despite evidence that the house is evil/haunted/possessed.
  • Blondes of both sexes getting butchered. It's blonde genocide in horrors!
  • Towns/communities having deep dark secrets that they never reveal to the hero until it's almost too late. Usually when at least 15 people have died.
  • Authority figures are always bad/useless/a hindrance
  • People engaging in personal grooming at stupid times. I'm talking about a guy taking a shower when a serial killer is picking off his friends one by one or a girl deciding to shave her legs when there's a killer virus making everyone vomit blood (Cabin Fever, I'm looking at you).

Action

Again, an embarrassment of riches:

  • Random stuff blowing up, but in particular oil barrels being placed for no good reason all over the place.
  • Car chases, usually on a busy freeway, at rush hour.
  • A very dumb hero. And a very bright villain.
  • Millions of bullets being fired, most of which fail to hit anything.
  • Bad guys having serious problems attracting good henchmen. Most of the henchmenget dispatched with no problem at all, the only exception being huge Germans/Russians or Asian guys with mad skills.
  • Girls taking their kit off, even if it doesn't fit their character's profession, personality, etc etc.

Thriller

  • Long, winding coastal roads.
  • Huge, modernistic houses, probably in San Francisco.
  • A messed-up hero.
  • Mysterious phone calls involving codes.
  • No sleep for any of the protagonists - thriller characters are nocturnal.
  • Terse dialogue and open-ended conversations.
  • A horrible secret that we - and the protagonist - just HAVE to discover.

Romantic Comedies

  • The heroine has to fall over at least three times. Knocking things/people over as she goes is also mandatory.
  • The hero and heroine will each have a less attractive friend who is nonetheless far more interesting than them. This happens in musicals too - Ado Annie is a way better character to play in Oklahoma for example than the female lead (see, can't even remember her name).
  • Misunderstandings and missed opportunities.
  • Comic set-pieces that result in the heroine getting humiliated, again.
  • A man the female lead should marry, if he wasn't so boring/corporate/such a mensch.
  • A run to the finish, usually involving the hero/heroine's entire family/circleof friends.
  • A girl-power song over the closing credits.

There's loads I've missed - bring 'em on!

Monday, December 6, 2010

You better know yourself, little girl!

I hate to come across all "Aisleyne from Big Brother", but the snarling ghetto girl was right about one thing. Apart from the fact that Nikki was a poisonous munchkin, that is.

If you're going to get ahead, you have to know yourself inside out. If you don't, how will anyone else? And more importantly, how will you improve?

This can be related to anything, but with writing it's absolutely crucial that you know all your own strengths and weaknesses. Where do you excel, and where do the notes you're getting back keep finding fault?

I'm going to bare what I think are my own ones: overwriting description, not having terse enough action. My dialogue can be funny but it's not punchy, laugh-out-loud stuff. And Act 2 can be a very dodgy place.

And the good stuff: my scripts have good structure. I'm good at coming up with ideas and at thinking of ways to fix things in rewrites. Actually, I quite enjoy doing rewrites, in a perverse way.

So how do you fix your writing sins once you identify them? Three ways. Having problems writing comedy dialogue? Watch some very funny films, and then read the scripts for good measure. Overwriting description is harder to fix; you just have to go over your script and keep asking yourself if every line is necessary. For overall troubleshooting, get your script read, either by a pro reader or by a fellow writer. They'll notice things you've missed, and they'll be more objective than you can hope to be.

Remember, a bad writing habit identified is one that's one step closer to being fixed...


You better know yourself, little girl!

I hate to come across all "Aisleyne from Big Brother", but the snarling ghetto girl was right about one thing. Apart from the fact that Nikki was a poisonous munchkin, that is.

If you're going to get ahead, you have to know yourself inside out. If you don't, how will anyone else? And more importantly, how will you improve?

This can be related to anything, but with writing it's absolutely crucial that you know all your own strengths and weaknesses. Where do you excel, and where do the notes you're getting back keep finding fault?

I'm going to bare what I think are my own ones: overwriting description, not having terse enough action. My dialogue can be funny but it's not punchy, laugh-out-loud stuff. And Act 2 can be a very dodgy place.

And the good stuff: my scripts have good structure. I'm good at coming up with ideas and at thinking of ways to fix things in rewrites. Actually, I quite enjoy doing rewrites, in a perverse way.

So how do you fix your writing sins once you identify them? Three ways. Having problems writing comedy dialogue? Watch some very funny films, and then read the scripts for good measure. Overwriting description is harder to fix; you just have to go over your script and keep asking yourself if every line is necessary. For overall troubleshooting, get your script read, either by a pro reader or by a fellow writer. They'll notice things you've missed, and they'll be more objective than you can hope to be.

Remember, a bad writing habit identified is one that's one step closer to being fixed...


Friday, December 3, 2010

Winter Wonderland...

It's white, it's pretty and it just hates all forms of transport. With snow on everyone's brain, and with (to be honest) a lot more time on my hands than usual, I started thinking about movies with snow. There are lots of them, but which are the snowiest of them all?

Here's my top 5 icy marvels:

Number One (this is a tribute to Phil) has to be Empire Strikes Back. The planet Hoth and its snowstorms, Han Solo's attempts to rescue Luke from the Wampa, I feel cold just looking at it. In a good way.

Number Two - Fargo. Probably the greatest crime-comedy ever set in freezing Minnesota, the Coens brought us breathtaking scenery, great villains and the triumph that is Marge Gunderson. She's pregnant and operating as a cop in bonechilling weather. Respect.

Number Three - The Shining is a serious contender for the top spot. Never has snow seemed so much like a character in itself. It permeates the hotel that Jack Torrance and his family find themselves stuck in and adds a real sense of menace to what's already a terrifying movie. The maze scene alone is a masterpiece of horror.

Number Four - Home Alone. Another film where the snow plays a part, this time for laughs. My mom practically rolls on the floor laughing whenever the bit with Joe Pesci trying to make it up a frozen set of steps comes on. And the pesky snow is one of the main obstacles to Kevin's mother making it back to rescue him. Tsk....

Number Five - On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Definitely the snowiest Bond movie by a mile, OHMSS is covered in the stuff, with Blofeld making a lair out of a ski lodge that's REALLY inconvenient to get to. Amazing skiing sequences and the final shootout in the snowbound mountains is really well staged.

Check 'em out - but make sure you're sitting near a fire! Anyone got a great snow film I've missed?

Winter Wonderland...

It's white, it's pretty and it just hates all forms of transport. With snow on everyone's brain, and with (to be honest) a lot more time on my hands than usual, I started thinking about movies with snow. There are lots of them, but which are the snowiest of them all?

Here's my top 5 icy marvels:

Number One (this is a tribute to Phil) has to be Empire Strikes Back. The planet Hoth and its snowstorms, Han Solo's attempts to rescue Luke from the Wampa, I feel cold just looking at it. In a good way.

Number Two - Fargo. Probably the greatest crime-comedy ever set in freezing Minnesota, the Coens brought us breathtaking scenery, great villains and the triumph that is Marge Gunderson. She's pregnant and operating as a cop in bonechilling weather. Respect.

Number Three - The Shining is a serious contender for the top spot. Never has snow seemed so much like a character in itself. It permeates the hotel that Jack Torrance and his family find themselves stuck in and adds a real sense of menace to what's already a terrifying movie. The maze scene alone is a masterpiece of horror.

Number Four - Home Alone. Another film where the snow plays a part, this time for laughs. My mom practically rolls on the floor laughing whenever the bit with Joe Pesci trying to make it up a frozen set of steps comes on. And the pesky snow is one of the main obstacles to Kevin's mother making it back to rescue him. Tsk....

Number Five - On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Definitely the snowiest Bond movie by a mile, OHMSS is covered in the stuff, with Blofeld making a lair out of a ski lodge that's REALLY inconvenient to get to. Amazing skiing sequences and the final shootout in the snowbound mountains is really well staged.

Check 'em out - but make sure you're sitting near a fire! Anyone got a great snow film I've missed?