10 November, 2005

Joss stick

Actor David Boreanaz is in a new forensic drama coming to Sky One called Bones by Hart Hanson. I felt the pilot tried too hard and the title character was a bit superhuman but it's an OK watch. Doesn't compare with the writing on Buffy or Angel from showrunner Joss Whedon of course but Boreanaz is chuffed:

"As Booth, Boreanaz gets to play around with his lines, which is a big change from his "Buffy" and "Angel" days.
"That became very frustrating," he says. "For an actor to be able to create and also have a sense of freedom, you have to be able to revolve around those words and create around those words. Now, you can take the written word and have your subtext tell more than is written on the page, which is always fun and challenging too. But it's always great to revolve around the words and improvise and change things, because that comes from the character's perspective and point of view.
"Ultimately it comes from the writer, but it's the actor who breathes life into the character and makes it real. Having Hart to allow us to do that, it's a blessing."

I really understand where he's coming from but if it ain't broke why try to fix it? If it was broke then I'd hope any writer or director worth their salt would at least listen to the argument for changing it.

I believe that Buffy and Angel became the first shows where the writers became the stars - to non-writers. Sure writer geeks like me could name the writing crew of shows but suddenly the public caught on that the actors didn't improvise the dialogue and the director didn't write the action but it was all in the script.

No offense Dave but I'd rather hear what Joss and Jane and Marti and Tim etc wrote and re-wrote and honed to perfection then what you decided to improv on the day. But that's just me.

Read the full article and Hart's reponse here:

MSN News
http://tv.msn.com/news/article.aspx?news=205863&GT1=7361

Simpsons quote

In the new Simpsons there was this exchange:

BART:
"Those TV writers are geniuses."

MILHOUSE:
"Whatever they're paid, it's not enough."

I wonder if that worked and they got a pay rise.

08 November, 2005

Journo offers advice shock

Reading MediaGuardian I was struck by the following journalistic advice by Oliver Burkeman: "Be prolific rather than perfectionistic - do the very best you can but don't stress about getting every word exactly right".

Unfortunately I remember one particular article where the journalist (who I won't name) libelled the Homicide: Life on the Streets (soon to be shown on ITV4) producers and thought the Aaron Sorkin dramady Sports Night (now showing on ABC1) "was the equivalent to Match of the Day". Although to be fair that's not unusual on the Guardian/ Observer in terms of inaccurate media/ entertainment stories .

However I still think it's good advice. The more we write, the better we get - although obviously developing self-critique techniques can help us learn and improve. Strangely I also agree with not stressing about getting everything exactly right, but the problem with those aforementioned errors was that they were easily fact-checked via Google in mere minutes.

I do think research is important as long as it isn't obsessive or ends up becoming an excuse to actually avoid getting on with the writing. However it's important that any fact a reader is likely to know is accurate. So while they might not know red giants turn into white dwarfs when they die suggesting that the moon is made of cheese might irritate and detract from the good things in your script. That's why I spend the extra couple of minutes googling the facts in my scripts.

29 October, 2005

The Surgeon

Channel 10 in Australia has a new half-hour drama that I suspect will be bought for the UK as its quite classy. The Surgeon features, not suprisingly, a surgeon as she undertakes her duties and deals with the hospital culture (and I don't mean MRSA).

It doesn't look to the US in terms of medical drama but to the UK. It owes something to the excellent Bodies (BBC) but is more concerned with the personal than the political.

Here is some information on the genesis of the show and the writing of it:

The Age:
"Edwards ... says it was an easy show to pitch because it was so clearly about something."
http://www.theage.com.au/news/tv--radio/smart-operator/2005/10/12/1128796533160.html

Courier-Mail:
"Rather than being a show which features bold medical characters, like House, The Surgeon is more about moments and the exchanges between people."
http://www.thecouriermail.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5936,16896355%5E28377,00.html

18 October, 2005

Lord of War

Lord of War is an excellent film, I think because the screenwriter had something to say (in this case about the arms trade) and said it. So many screenplays have no point of view and no attitude and ultimately have no interest. Howevever such is the skill of Niccol's writing, as those of you familiar with his work won't be surprised, that you don't feel preached at, he just presents the reality.

The lead character Yuri has justifications or rationalisations that make sense and makes it difficult for the audience to see him as pure evil. Sociopaths are fascinating and scary and the ultimate anti-hero. While that's interesting for the thinking film-goer,it does scare off studios and financing was difficult.

There is, however, an act of bravery toward the end which I didn't quite believe, considering the likely outcome. But that could just be because of my own cowardice. I've just called in Rentokill because there's a spider in my bath.

The movie's clever and witty and highly recommended. If you haven't seen Niccol's previous screenplays Gattaca, The Truman Show or the under-rated S1m0ne (and even if you have) might I suggest renting them and having an Andrew Niccol weekend.

"I mean, I just write what interests me; I know it's arrogant to say, but you just have to go into it hoping other people are interested as well." Niccol from his IGN interview: http://filmforce.ign.com/articles/651/651252p1.html

"It’s always a challenge to get my movies off the ground because I tend to have expensive ideas, and that’s bad. As a rule, it is better if you have an unconventional idea to make it inexpensive. Don’t try to make an expensive unconventional idea because getting that made is always a trick because you need to attract actors to it that can help you get it made." Niccol from his MovieFreak interview:http://www.moviefreak.com/features/interviews/andrewniccol.htm

"There are only two questions in Hollywood I've realized: Who's in it? And how much does it cost? That's it. Those are the only two questions I'm ever asked." Niccol from his Ugo interview:http://www.ugo.com/channels/filmtv/features/lordofwar/niccol.asp

27 September, 2005

LoveFilm

I hate LoveFilm!

Do not join LoveFilm!

Don’t, I mean it. OK, you can if you really, really want to but as soon as the special offer stops then please leave immediately. No wistful looks back at what might have been just cancel and go. Because believe me if you stay the relationship will end up badly and you’ll be bitter and twisted and end up going on to the Internet to your blog to try and stop other people being hurt by them.

Lovefilm’s big trick is to make sure that in the trial period you get the DVDs you want but as soon as that period is over then you can go for over a week without getting as much of a sniff of a DVD even though you have over 20 in your list. And forget about ever seeing any recent releases unless they are non-English language or arthouse.

When you leave at the shoddy service they later email you to tempt you back by lying about how things are now really great and then they treat you as badly as they did before!

I admit I was drawn by LoveFilm's good looks as it's the prettiest DVD rental by post website but what does looks matter if you end up not getting any?

Check out this Amazon

17 September, 2005

The Business

I thought The Football Factory was excellent and looked forward to The Business from the same writer-director, Nick Love. However The Business showed just how much The Football Factory's success was down to John King's original novel. Love simply can't make up characters and story on his own and, judging by his interviews, he doesn't even think it's important.

According to Love he wrote The Business quickly while doing post-production on The Football Factory and did no research. Unless you're a genius, if you're working that way the script is always going to be crap.

OK, there are films that "write themselves" but that's when you get really good characters and a really good story quite quickly, which is rare. Usually you have to do some work to make them good.

Apparently The Business is aimed at "lad's mags" readers who want to be entertained and not Guardian readers. Speaking as a lad's mag reader, I find it patronising that Love thinks I'll be happy with gunplay and speedboats and not be bothered by the rubbish story and plot-holes. Speaking as a Guardian reader, just because I use my brain it doesn't mean I don't want to be entertained.

Strangely in interviews Nick Love talks about his obession with detail in making sure the right 1980s clothes and shopping bags are used in the film when unless it's obviously anachronistic (wrist watches in 1 Million Years BC, for instance) the audience won't care. What we care about are characters we can believe in and a story that isn't boring but engaging.

Nick Love's Channel 4 interview

Nick Love's Film Focus interview

11 September, 2005

The Forty Year Old Virgin

With the Oscar Moore Screenwriting Prize coming up (deadline early December), I've been thinking about comedy feature writing.

I'm a huge fan of the Farrelly sensibility comedies (for want of a better and less pretentious term). Everyone can do slapstick, crude sexual gags and gross-out humour but what distinguishes the Farrellys and those of their ilk is ensuring a spine of rock solid story and an emotional heart. It's that which makes the comedy richer and funnier.

For instance the zipper and hair gel scenes in Mary are hilarious in the context of story and character but out of context they're just mildly amusing.

Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's Anchorman was the funniest comedy of last year for me and featured Steve Carell who stole the show. Steve Carell is also involved in the funniest comedy of this year, The 40 year old Virgin, as a co-writer with Anchorman producer Judd Apatow. I've watched them for fun, now I'm going to analyse them to see if there's any secrets I can learn to make up for my lack of talent. Also on my list to see again are Dodgeball (runner up to last years funniest comedy) and Wedding Crashers (runner up to this years).

I will restrain my comedy geek tendancies and refuse to point out all the different connections and links from TV favourites Freaks and Geeks and The Daily Show (coming soon to More4) to movies featuring actor-writers like Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell and Owen Wilson and writer-directors like Wes Anderson because that would be sad.

Judd Apatow on the origin of Virgin: "[Steve Carell] mentioned that while doing Anchorman, there’s a character he liked and I liked the idea that he was surrounded by younger people giving terrible advice. So we just started sitting down and outlining together and trying to figure out what the story would be. And we very quickly agreed that we wanted to have it be, hopefully, be really funny, but ultimately be a sweet story about a guy growing up. Like a middle-aged coming of age story.

"So we started outlining before we started writing. And then we had this idea that he dates this woman who is actually a grandmother, so he goes from not having any responsibility with a woman to being in the most committed relationship on Earth with Catherine Keener." Taken from: About.com
http://movies.about.com/od/the40yearoldvirgin/a/40yearja041505.htm

Judd's Suicide Girls interview:
http://suicidegirls.com/words/Judd+Apatow+director+of+The+40+Year-Old+Virgin/

Judd's IGN interview:
http://filmforce.ign.com/articles/642/642759p1.html

Oscar Moore Screenwriting Prize
http://www.screendaily.com/omf.asp

09 September, 2005

Dad's Army

I've never been a part-works fan as they're a bit of a rip-off really but the DVD ones are interesting - at least for the first week.

The latest one is comedy classic Dad's Army and begins from the third series. That's disappointing as, from a writer's point of view, it's good to see how the early episodes establish the setting and the characters and how the series evolves. Part 1 does though include the actual first episode as a bonus track before making a reappearance in a year 23 editions later.

http://www.dadsarmydvd.com

04 September, 2005

Coach Carter

I rented Coach Carter on DVD and it was better than I thought. There's a limit to what you can do when writing a sports film (even one based on a true story) as the audience would quite like the predictable happy ending. What I liked about Coach Carter is that the issue of the team's academic record is just as important as the basketball games so it's more than just an ESPN broadcast but about people and their potential.

There is one cool inspiring quote in the film, which ironically, was the one false moment. No-one says who the quote is by in the film but it's based on a Nelson Mandela one - but with the strange religious stuff edited out. I didn't believe Cruz would say it and the moment was a bit too schmaltzy for me.

Timo Cruz: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our dark that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people don't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. Its not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsiously give other people the right to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Link:

The Pitch: A Series About Wacky Terrorists
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/01/arts/television/01cell.html
(requires registration but it's worth it, I read the NY Times everyday)

I would love to see that show but it's interesting that an unbuyable script can still get you other writing work.