28 February, 2009

"We Found It at the Movies"

"Everyone loves a good movie, but for Design Observer contributors Rick Poynor and Adrian Shaughnessy the passion for film borders on crazy. They started to exchange emails about their favourite visual art — after design, of course — and just couldn’t stop."

Part 1

"
This nails it for me. Film is about numberless small details — a gesture, a single image, a scrap of dialogue, a landscape — that accrue and shape my sense of selfhood and the world. I watch films for their visual style, for acting, editing, music, dialogue, even action, but mostly I go for psychological plausibility. This doesn’t stop me liking fantasy or comedy — although I draw the line at musicals and films where the hero karate chops slo-mo bullets in half — but I want to experience authentic feelings on the screen. I want to watch films by directors, actors, screenwriters and technicians who have the nerve to tell psychological truths."

Part 2

"Genre is only a helpful term if it’s used with precision and I’m certainly not suggesting that every film belongs to a genre. Arthouse and indie are much too broad as categories to be properly described as genres. It’s certainly useful, though, to talk about the western, the gangster film (film noir is an offshoot), the horror film, the science fiction film, the war film, the musical, or the romantic comedy as hugely popular genres, which depend on situations, characters and narrative codes with which the audience of regular viewers is rightly presumed to be highly familiar."

26 February, 2009

Sanjeev Kohli, comedy writer, interview

While the 7 on 7 details were on the Deadlines Calendar opposite within minutes of it being announced ages ago, I've only just got round to reading the interview which is brilliant. Whether you're going for the opportunity or not, I think it's worth a read.

BBC Writersroom:


"I've been writing comedy for ten, eleven years now. And I think I've probably only found a definite voice the latter half of that.

Whether you like or hate the stuff that I do, I'd like to think now that no one else could have written it. Whereas the first two or three years I think I spent just writing all my influences out till I found my own voice. To the extent that I actually wholesale nicked a sketch. I didn't know I'd done it until afterwards. I used to write for a sketch show called Chewing The Fat, and one of the sketches I wrote was called something like "Photocopying my arse with". "And today I'll be photocopying my arse with blah de blah de blah". And it was a full five years afterwards I was watching reruns of Fry and Laurie, and there was the sketch. It lodged in my brain and I somehow fooled myself into thinking oh that's my idea. It wasn't at all. It was Fry and Laurie.

It just shows that the first few years you do, you probably are just expending what's in your head already. I'm assuming everyone here is a comedy fan and probably have a style of comedy they like and you'll subconsciously ape it for ages before you get it out your system.

In a lot of ways your writing is just a reflection of who you are and what you like. I still find in my writing strong elements of Armando Iannucci, and Morecambe and Wise, and The Two Ronnies, and Kenny Everett, and the Young Ones. They'll all be there in small doses. A lot of Victoria Wood. If you can spread the influences so that no one can see them, then that's quite a good trick. And then try and add a bit of your own."

24 February, 2009

Stephen Brown, playwright, interview

The Woman Who Talked Too Much:

"One of the things that I’ve learned from writing it is that you can write about anything if you want to. You can take your imagination into places that are extremely dark. Writing the play took me on a difficult personal journey into a world that was quite disturbing. But then that’s the point of the play. It’s easy to pontificate about justice or mercy or what it would be like to have committed a crime or to want to commit a crime, but the nature of a play is to take the audience on an experience where they’re at ground level with those questions and living them with the characters. The play puts you right in those people’s world. And it shows you them struggling with who they are and what they are and what they’ve done."

Article in full

23 February, 2009

"Harriet Walter joins call for more realistic older female roles"

The Stage

" Olivier Award-winning actress Harriet Walter has become the latest high profile industry figure to criticise the portrayal of women in dramas on stage and screen, and has called on writers to create more realistic roles for older female performers.

Her comments follow the publication of results from a Europe-wide survey carried out by the International Federation of Actors, which found that women have shorter careers than their male counterparts and see ageing as a disadvantage in terms of the variety of roles available to them.

Walter, 58, who is starring in ITV’s forthcoming series Law and Order UK and is about to go to Broadway with the Donmar Warehouse’s production of Mary Stuart, told The Stage she was “discouraged” by the portrayal of women in drama and said that the issue of roles for older female performers in theatre and television is one that is “uppermost” in her mind.

“It’s one of those subjects I talk about nearly every day of my life,” she added. “Obviously I’m very lucky because I do keep working, but I am also a member of an audience and an older woman, and I get very discouraged by the portrayal of women - or the absence of women in dramas at all - and the function that older women play in dramas sometimes.

“It seems to me there is masses of work to be done there. A good dramatist should reflect what is going on in life - we make up a large percentage of the population and we don’t die off when we are 30.”

Walter, who has been in the business for more than three decades, said the problem lies in the fact that drama is often based around themes such as “conflict and responsibility” that have historically been associated with men.

“Historically, men have had responsibility of running things and been at the cutting-edge of conflicts - and somehow we have not shifted from that enough. Now, women are in more or less every arena. It’s a bit of an over-generalisation, but we don’t tend to operate through conflict so much.

“We therefore make very good subjects for novels - where it’s a slower burn and where things are formulated over a longer period of time. But in short, punchy dramas, women have to be wicked or silly,” she said.

The actress said the situation has improved in theatre, but accused film of being the worst offending sector when it came to being too male-focused. "

22 February, 2009

"The Power of 10,000 hours"

Soundtrack

Lisa Hannigan - "I Don't Know"



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The Bird and The Bee - "Love Letter to Japan"

21 February, 2009

Preview: "Law & Order: UK"



"The cream of British acting talent is brought together in an ensemble cast of extraordinary breadth to star in Law & Order: UK.

The new series for ITV1 is based on the enormously successful US format created by two time Emmy award-winning producer Dick Wolf. It will be co-produced by Kudos Film and Television, Wolf Films and NBC Universal.

Bradley Walsh (Torn, Coronation Street) is DS Ronnie Brooks, a real East End, copper’s copper, friend and partner to the charming DS Matt Devlin, Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica, The Last Detective, Ultimate Force) whose approach to policing is part seduction part force. Both report to DI Natalie Chandler (Harriet Walter The Young Victoria, Atonement, Sense and Sensibility) a working mum who would back them to the end.

While the CPS team comprises Ben Daniels (The Passion, The State Within, Cutting It) as dedicated Senior Crown Prosecutor James Steel, a man on a mission for justice; Freema Agyeman (Dr Who, Torchwood, Little Dorrit) as hard working, strong-willed young prosecutor Alesha Phillips; and Bill Paterson (Little Dorrit, Criminal Justice, Sea of Souls) as their respected boss CPS director George Castle, a man trying to balance his ideals with the bigger picture.

The brainchild of creator Dick Wolf, Law & Order is the most successful brand in primetime U.S. television. It was the 1997 Emmy Award winner for Outstanding Drama Series and the record holder for the most consecutive (11) nominations for a drama series. It has also turned into one of TV entertainment’s most pre-eminent brands, with its successful spin-offs Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Criminal Intent."

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"Lead writer Chris Chibnall was charged with the task of finding the right stories to adapt for a British audience. He explains: "I was looking for stories that I connected with emotionally, that had great opportunities for characterisation, and that felt relevant to Britain today. I watched about 150 episodes of the US Law & Order. Dick Wolf sent over a list of his favourite episodes and I watched all of seasons one to six, plus a number of episodes from seasons seven, eight and nine. It’s a very addictive show so it’s great to be getting paid to sit and watch them.”

Talking of the difficulties in adapting a US series for the UK, Chris says: “We are vigilant about being faithful to the Law & Order format, while also making sure that it feels fresh, modern and British as well. The stories have got to stand up strong in their own right, so you’re constantly making sure that the characters are interesting and original and are rooted in this country. There is always a balancing act between making sure the stories are authentic from a legal perspective but also that they are dramatic. We sometimes had the issue of legal procedure which is different between the two countries. You had to be constantly vigilant, while honouring the source material and making sure the drama is as exciting as it can be for a British audience. ”"

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Begins Monday 23 February, 9pm, ITV1 for 13 weeks

20 February, 2009

Robert McKee, story guru, interview

via Creative Screenwriting spam

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They say taking Robert McKee's 3-day Story Seminar is an experience like no other. Over three intense, eleven-hour (!) days, McKee stalks the stage with the energy and enthusiasm of someone on a mission. Famously portrayed in the film Adaptation, McKee has been teaching the seminar for almost 25 years to over 50,000 students around the world.

McKee released his bestselling book "STORY" in 1997, which, he thought at the time, may make taking the seminar unnecessary. If anything, it's had the opposite effect as people pack theatres and auditoriums around the world to hear him speak. Talk to people at the end of the three days and you'll hear such reviews as "life altering," "the most important education I've ever received" and "priceless."

McKee's former students have written or co-written such commercially and critically successful films and TV shows as Wall*E (which received 6 Academy Award nominations, including Best Original Screenplay), Iron Man (two Academy Award nominations), Desperate Housewives, Hancock, Law & Order, CSI, The Lord of the Rings I-III, A Beautiful Mind, Nixon, Scrubs, The Daily Show, Grey's Anatomy and more. His classes also continue to attract A-List writers and celebs who usually go undetected amongst the crowd. (A funny story from the seminar in New York not too long ago has Jimmy Fallon signing in as "Ted Danson.")

At 68, McKee continues to keep a torrid schedule of events. In 2009 alone, McKee will be in LA, NY, London, Paris, Stockholm, Lisbon, Santiago, Vancouver, Acapulco...Like we said, McKee is a man on a mission.

Robert McKee recently took the time to answer several questions about writing, story, advice for writers and inspiration.

Q: What are the critical questions that a writer should be asking prior to crafting a story?

Robert McKee: Beyond imagination and insight, the most important component of talent is perseverance-the will to write and rewrite in pursuit of perfection. Therefore, when inspiration sparks the desire to write, the artist immediately asks: Is this idea so fascinating, so rich in possibility, that I want to spend months, perhaps years, of my life in pursuit of its fulfilment? Is this concept so exciting that I will get up each morning with the hunger to write? Will this inspiration compel me to sacrifice all of life's other pleasures in my quest to perfect its telling? If the answer is no, find another idea. Talent and time are a writer's only assets. Why give your life to an idea that's not worth your life?


Q: Does a story always need to be believable? What makes it believable?

Robert McKee: Yes. The audience/reader must believe in the world of your story. Or, more precisely, in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's famous phrase, the audience/reader must willingly suspend its disbelief. This act allows the audience/reader to temporarily believe in your story world as if it were real. The magic of as if transports the reader/audience from their private world to your fictional world. Indeed, all the beautiful and satisfying effects of story - suspense and empathy, tears and laughter, meaning and emotion - are rooted in the great as if. But when audiences or readers cannot believe as if, when they argue with the authenticity of your tale, they break out of the telling. In one case people sit in a theatre, sullen with anger, soaked in boredom; in the other, they simply toss your novel in the trash. In both cases, audiences and readers bad mouth you and your writing, inflicting the obvious damage on your career.

Bear in mind, however, that believability does not mean actuality. The genres of non-realism, such as Fantasy, Sci-fi, Animation and the Musical, invent story worlds that could never actually exist. Instead, works such as THE PRINCESS BRIDE, THE MATRIX, FINDING NEMO and SOUTH PACIFIC create their own special versions of reality. No matter how bizarre some of these story worlds may be, they are internally true to themselves. Each story establishes its own one-of-a-kind rules for how things happen, its principles of time and space, of physical action and personal behaviour. This is true even for works of avant-garde, postmodern ambition that deliberately call attention to the artificiality of their art. No matter what your story's unique fictional laws may be, once you establish them, the audience/reader will freely follow your telling as if it were real - so long as your laws of action and behaviour are never broken.

Therefore, the key to believability is unified internal consistency. Whatever the genre, no matter your story's specific brand of realism or non-realism, your setting must be self-validating. You must give your story's setting in time, place and society enough detail to satisfy the audience/reader's natural curiosity about how things work in your world, and then your telling of the tale must stay true to its own rules of cause and effect. Once you have seduced the audience/reader into believing in the credibility of your story's setting as if it were actuality, you must not violate your own rules. Never give the audience/reader a reason to question the truth of your events, nor to doubt the motivations of your characters.


Q: How do you design an ending that keeps people talking?

Robert McKee: By "an ending that keeps people talking" do you mean the hook at the end of a series episode that keeps people wondering so that they'll tune in the following week? Or do you mean a Story Climax that sends the reader/audience into the world praising your brilliant story to their friends and family?

If the former, I know two methods to hook and hold the audience's curiosity over a span of time.

A. Create a Cliffhanger. Start a scene of high action, cut in the middle, put the audience into high suspense, then finish the action in the head of the next episode. 24 does this brilliantly week after week.

B. Create a turning point with the power and impact of an Act Climax. A major reversal naturally raises the question "What's going to happen next?" in the audience's mind and will hold interest over the commercials of a single episode (for example, Law and Order), or over the week between episodes (for example, The Sopranos).

If the latter, the most satisfying, and therefore talked about, Story Climaxes tend to be those in which the writer has saved one last rush of insight that sends the audience's mind back through the entire story. In a sudden flash of insight the audience realizes a profound truth that was buried under the surface of character, world and event. The whole reality of the story is instantly reconfigured. This insight not only brings a flood of new understanding, but with that, a deeply satisfying emotion. As a recent example: the superb Climax of GRAN TORINO.

Q: What are the typical weaknesses you find in scripts?

Robert McKee: Three that jump to mind:
Dull scenes. For reasons of weak conflict or perhaps the poor shaping of beats of behavior, the scene falls flat. The value-charged condition of the characters' lives at the tale of the scene is exactly what it was at the head of the scene. Activity never becomes story action. In short, nothing actually happens, nothing changes.
Awkward exposition. To convenience the writer, characters tell each other what they all already know so the eavesdropping reader/audience can gather in the information. This false behavior causes the reader/audience to lose empathy.
Clichés. The writer recycle the same events and characters we have seen countless times before, thinking that if he or she writes like other writers have, they too will find success.
McKee - Lisbon Interview Photo 2008

Q: How important is the process of rewriting?

Robert McKee: Rewriting is to writing what improvisation is to acting. Actors improvise scenes countless ways in search of the perfect choice of behaviour and expression. The same is true for writers. All writers, no matter their talent, are capable of their best work only ten percent of the time. Ninety percent of any writer's creative efforts are not his or her best work. To eliminate mediocrity, therefore, fine writers constantly experiment, play with, toss and turn ideas for scenes tens of different ways, rewriting in search of the perfect choice. The perfect choice, of course, is dependent of the writer's innate sense of taste. The unfortunate truth is that most struggling writers are blind to their banality.


Q: I thoroughly enjoyed your keen analysis of Casablanca, a movie made in 1942. Damn the crass modern movies (and I'm really not that old). My question: Whatever happened to subtlety and innuendo?

Robert McKee: They pulled up stakes and moved to television. Given hundreds of 24/7 channels, crap is unavoidable. God did not give out enough talent to fill those thousands of hours with quality. But setting the inevitable drek aside, we now live in a golden age of television drama and comedy. The finest writing in America is on TV. From HBO and FX to FOX and NBC, cable and commercial networks have become treasure chests of writing excellence. From Law and Order to In Treatment to The Wire to Damages to 30 Rock (to name a few of my favourites) television dramas are complex and subtle; comedies are rich in wit, irony, innuendo and outrageous schtick.

I never worry about the future of story art. Fine writers will always find a medium to express their visions of life. Today and into the foreseeable future, that medium is television.


Q: In the Story Seminar you say the best way to succeed in Hollywood is by writing a script of surpassing quality. If you have a great script, how do you get past the Hollywood system so that your script ends up in the right hands?

Robert McKee: If you write a lousy script, you haven't a prayer. But if you create a work of surpassing quality, Hollywood is still a motherfucker. Because unless you can network a back pathway to an A-list actor or top-shelf director, you must sign with an agent. And the first thing to understand about literary agents is that although they may or may not have taste, they all have careers. Selling scripts is how they put gas in their BMWs. What's more, like everybody else, they want their gas money today. So they have little or no patience for spending months or even years submitting your work, one submission at a time, to dozens of production companies, and then waiting forever to hear back. They want to read work they can sell and sell fast. So the quality of the writing absolutely matters, but what any particular agent feels is fresh vs. clichéd, arty vs. commercial, hot or cold, who can say? Luck is a big part of a writer's life.

[But] to get started, first rent every recent film and television show that is somehow like your script. Write down the names on the writing credits. Call the WGA, ask for the representation office and find out who agents these writers. This creates a list of agents who have actually made money selling scripts very much like the one you've written. Next, go to Amazon.com and buy The Hollywood Creative Directory and find the addresses of these agents. Do not call them. Instead, write an intriguing letter about you and your story and send it to every agent on your list. Wait, God knows how long, to hear back. If your letter captivates curiosity, and if you send out enough of them, the odds are that a few agents will actually want to read what you've written. When that happens, pray that your work is of surpassing quality.


Q: As a beginning fiction writer, the greatest challenge always seems to be the start. What advice would you give?

Robert McKee: By "start" do you mean writing the opening chapter or just getting into your pit and hitting keys? If the latter, you're blocked by fear. I suggest you read Steven Pressfield's The War of Art. He'll help you find the courage to face the blank page. If the former is your problem, first scenes or opening chapters are usually discovered after you have conceived of your Inciting Incident.

If you feel that your Inciting Incident, without any prior knowledge of your characters' biographies or sociologies, will immediately grip the reader, then use the Inciting Incident to launch the story. For example, the Inciting Incidents SHARK EATS SWIMMER/SHERIFF DISCOVERS CORPSE in Peter Benchley's JAWS, or MRS. KRAMER WALKS OUT ON MR. KRAMER AND HER LITTLE BOY in Avery Corman's KRAMER VS. KRAMER, dramatize Chapter One of each of these novels respectively.

If, conversely, you feel that you need to provide your readers with exposition about history, characters and setting in order for them to grasp the importance of your Inciting Incident, then this exposition - well-dramatized, of course, perhaps even building into a set-up subplot - must start the telling.

The principle is: Bring the Inciting Incident into your story as soon as possible, but not until it will hook reader empathy and arouse curiosity. Finding the perfect placement of the Inciting Incident is the key to starting any story.


Q: Do you think the state of the economy will force studios to take more risks with lower budget films, or will they become more cautious and stick with what they know works?

Robert McKee: In fact, Hollywood has never sold more tickets than this past year. 2009 looks even more promising. The worse the economy, the more people go to the movies and watch television. Hollywood is recession proof.


Q: Do you think Slumdog Millionaire would be as commercially and critically successful if we weren't in a recession? Are people looking for happy endings now?

Robert McKee: Life is hard, no matter the economy. Happy endings always make more money than tragic endings because life turns many people into emotional cowards who cannot face tragedy in life or fiction. Besides, why worry about it? By the time what you are now writing is finished, sold, packaged, produced and distributed years will have passed. Who knows? In the next decade down endings may go through the roof. To contrive an audience-pleasing, happy ending before you've created your characters, told their story and discovered a truthful climax is to think like a hack.

McKee - Adaptation Brian Cox as McKee Pic
(Photo: Brian Cox as Robert McKee in Adaptation)

Q: How did you end up as a character in Adaptation? Do you think it was a fair portrayal of you?

Robert McKee: Ask Charlie Kaufman. It was his idea. I just said, "What the hell," and had the great pleasure of casting my dear friend, Brian Cox.


Q: Do you see the art of story via screenwriting evolving over the decades, and if so, how?


Robert McKee: No. Tastes and trends come and go, but the essential art of story has not changed since Cro-Magnon storytellers sat their tribes around the fire and held them slack-jawed with tales of the hunt. Personally, I wish filmmaking would devolve from the nervous cut-cut-cut move-move-move herky-jerky camera of today back to the expressively lit, framed, fluid images of the past. Too many contemporary directors seem inflicted with HADD.


Q: What are one or two pointers you would offer a documentary filmmaker to help guide his crafting of a story as he films his subjects?

Robert McKee: Study the classic cinema verite documentaries of Frederick Wiseman-- Racetrack (1985), The Store (1983), Model (1980), Meat (1976), Welfare (1975), Juvenile Court (1973), Basic Training (1971), Hospital (1970), High School (1968), Titicut Follies (1967). He will show you how life shapes into story.

Q: What's the best advice you can give for emerging screenwriters today? Is there one thing that you could say is most important when trying to break in?

Robert McKee: Go the gym and work out. Writing burns you out, but then you have to get up off your tired ass, put your script under your arm and knock on every door 'til your knuckles bleed. That takes the energy of a five-year old, the concentration of a chess master, the faith of an evangelist and the guts of a mountain climber. Get in shape.
Robert McKee will be giving his famed 3-day Story Seminar in Los Angeles (March 6-8, 2009) and New York (March 20-22, 2009). Please visit his website for full details.

Information on Robert McKee and his seminars
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Official Website: www.McKeeStory.com

Phone: 888-67-McKee (888-676-2533)

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Update:

Read Scott Myers comments on this article

18 February, 2009

Free Theatre Tickets for under-26s

"If you’re aged 25 or under you can get free tickets to shows across England. Just go to the Arts Council website, enter your postcode and choose a participating theatre, then choose from available free tickets. Then call to book at the theatre’s box office or book online; it’s worth bearing in mind that tickets are allocated on a first come, first served basis. Don’t forget to bring proof of age with you when you pick up your tickets from the box office.

This promotion is part of a pilot scheme run by Arts Council England, running from February 2009 to the end of March 2011, and each theatre has a different number of free tickets available. Although it’s aimed at 16-25s, under 16s can also get free tickets, depending on the show’s age rating." (taken from MoneySavingExpert)

"When a man writes a woman"

Richard Warlow, The Guardian:

"Most men I know, even the gay ones, are obsessed with women. I think that gives us a compelling qualification to write about them. I'm sure we indulge our own fantasies, preconceptions and hang-ups. I know I do. But isn't that what writing is about? The fact that we're not women may be what gives male dramatists' writing curiosity and passion. Our perspective might not always be as insightful as that of a female writer, but it's just as valid - and hopefully just as entertaining."

Article in full

17 February, 2009

"How To Write a Great Twist For Your Third Act"

ScriptTips Newsletter:

"One way to improve a screenplay is to find a way to look at it from another viewpoint – whether the story is to be optimistic or pessimistic. If we take the notion of optimism versus pessimism and look to Aristotle, we can come up with a truly original ending for our scripts. Aristotle defined a "reversal" as being a plot change by which the action veers round to its opposite. According to Aristotle, the best reversals are caused by the main character’s recognition of something that causes the reversal, so it doesn’t come out of left field, that is, it must be subject to the boundaries of probability or necessity. The reversal arises out of the recognition of something that could have been seen before, but was not. This is where we reach those edges of boundaries that will help you find that original twist you were looking for.

One of the cornerstones of my method is the use of the main character’s personality to drive the plot. An example of recognition and reversal occurs in The Line Of Fire. This is Frank Horgan’s (Clint Eastwood) recognition that the field office number is an anagram, and that unraveling a different anagram can reveal the secret of the would-be assassin’s identity. We have been directed towards a pessimistic ending – that is, it’s been set up in Act I that Frank won’t catch Leary (John Malkovich) in time, and Act 2 has furthered this expectation, but this recognition of the anagram is what allows for the reversal to create the opposite outcome in the third act. Frank has gone from being pessimistic to being optimistic.

Another example of recognition and reversal occurs in The Usual Suspects, in this case, the reversal is of the audience’s expectations. It is the audience’s optimistic belief that "Verbal" (Kevin Spacey) is innocent that allows us to enjoy the reversal when he’s revealed by his limp to be the perpetrator, and not the victim. We have gone from being optimistic to being pessimistic."

Article in full

"Enacting the F**k the Future manifesto"

David Bishop:

"Here's a belated resolution for 2009: no more excuses, no more waiting around. I don't want to hear myself talking about what I wish I was writing, what I'm planning to write in the future. Fuck the future. If you want to be a TV writer, you make something happen by bloody writing. That's not rocket science, it's common sense - but you need to embrace that reality and act upon it.

Don't be content to sit on the subs' bench, waiting for somebody - a script editor, a publisher, an agent, a producer or a competition - to invite you into the game. You want to play? Get your boots on, get your freak on and get writing."

15 February, 2009

Soundtrack

TV On The Radio - "Dancing Choose"



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Ladytron - "Tomorrow"



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(CD)

(MP3)

13 February, 2009

"A different way to think about creative genius"



"Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses -- and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person "being" a genius, all of us "have" a genius. It's a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk."

Via TED

11 February, 2009

Q & A: Mark Pearson, author-screenwriter


For the last ten years Mark Pearson has worked as a full-time television scriptwriter on a variety of shows for the BBC and ITV, including
Doctors, Holby City and The Bill. He lives in Norfolk. Hard Evidence is his first novel and he is currently writing Blood Work, the second book in the Jack Delaney series, which will be published by Arrow in August 2009.



In an exclusive interview for Writing for Performance, Mark talks about the transition from long-time screenwriter to first-time author.


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You're known as a screenwriter, was being a novelist always an ambition?

Not really. It was probably always lurking in the back of my mind to write a novel sometime perhaps. I had written a couple of novellas in the past but hadn't really thought about doing one in earnest, until I did.

Was it written speculatively?

Absolutely.

Did you do any research on the market and the likelihood of it being sold before starting work?

I wrote the opening few chapters to three novels, showed them to my agent and she picked the one to continue with. :) I had written about half, about 40k, then showed it to a book agent to see if I should continue. He told me he thought he could sell it and so to finish it - so I did. As to research on the market I read a lot of crime novels and they always seem to be popular in the bookshops.

How did you choose the book agent?

At the time, Robert Caskie, my book agent at PFD, was a colleague of Louise Tam my agent at MacFarlane Chard Associates, so she asked him to read the first half of the book. Sometimes it's worth talking to a few agents but Robert and I seemed to be singing from the same hymn sheet on the book and the central characters so it was a fairly easy choice to make.

Why write Hard Evidence as a book and not a feature or TV spec?

Funnily enough Hard Evidence started as a sixty minute script I wrote while doing an MA in film at Bournemouth University. So some of the story came from that and the central character DI Jack Delaney certainly did. So the old adage of never throw anything away is a good one. Although I have lost the first ever piece of drama I was commissioned to write for the BBC called Exposure about an investigative journalist, that was developed and had the lovely Louise Lombard attached but sadly never got made and really wish I could find a copy!! Since writing Hard Evidence I then wrote a two hour film version of it - again on spec - but for a specific initiative rather than as a commercial piece as such, and also to have a new calling card script.

Will there be an adaptation and if so would you want to do it yourself?

It would be nice to see an adaptation, but pretty early days, have to see how this one does first and the sequel, Blood Work, which is out this August (and also available from all good bookstores or on pre-order from Amazon etc. :) ) I am conflicted about whether I would like to adapt it myself should such a thing be mooted, probably more chance to get finance in place etc if someone higher up the food chain than me was attached.

How did you approach writing the book? Did you use the same process as you do for screenwriting,in terms of outlining and structure?

I kind of learned it as I went along. I did have a good sense of the story in my head before writing it, but I am horrified to admit to you that I didn't have a written down outline that I worked to, like I would with a script, and the second book even less so. But I had the time to do it and I quite liked the narrative freedom of sailing on uncharted waters, as it were. I think with thrillers a certain amount of mystery is useful and I figured if I wasn't entirely sure where the story was going the reader might not be either. In TV the norm is to do a detailed scene by scene breakdown before being allowed to go to first draft.

How long did it take you to write and were you able to easily switch from scripts to prose and back again?

Say six months or so. Not continuous mind. I don't find it too tricky switching between the two, they are different disciplines but there are a lot of similarities.

What similarities are there?

Well, the elements of storytelling are the same, and I tried to write it in as visual a style as I could. Plus the elements of creating believable characters, misdirection, reversals, surprises all the things that work well in a script can work the same in a novel. The dialogue in novels can usually be a lot more chunky than in scripts. People in novels sometimes have paragraphs of dialogue. I tried to keep mine more punchy - as I would in a screenplay - so the real difference lies in the prose, which in a lot of novels, again, can be substantial. I tried to keep an even balance and favoured pace over heavily loaded prose, if that makes sense?

What have you learnt from writing the novel that will impact on your screenwriting?

It's probably the other way round if anything. In a script you have no room, or shouldn't have, for padding. Everything has to really earn its place, whereas in a novel there is room for more background or textural stuff. But I approached each scene in the book much like I would in script, trying to keep it punchy, apart from the odd bit of purple prose here and there - which I imagine one Amazon reviewer meant when she referred to some peculiar passages in it. And when I say Amazon she was six foot two with shoulders like an Philadelphia Eagles quarterback so I wasn't going to argue with her.

Was it a chore to have to write internal dialogue, lengthier descriptions and basically a lot more words or was it fun?

It was fun. I got to write lots of similes, which my dad objected to when he read it, but I liked doing as it was a nudge to my Noir influences in the character and narrative.

Did you have a reader before you sent it to the publisher?

No, just the agent who read it.

Any differences between a book editor and a script editor?

A script editor is there to communicate the desires of the producer, the executive producer, their own desires of course in terms of changes to the script that they want to see and work with the writer towards a common goal. A book editor is there to help you tell your story the best you can. I was lucky to have a great editor on the book who reined in some of the madness and kept the story focused. I did a second draft, no major structural changes and then a proof/polish. And the same with the second book. The main difference I guess, is that the process is far more collaborative, as it should be, on a script than on a book.

Detective Inspector Jack Delaney is the latest in a long line of fictional DIs, how aware were you of the others when creating yours? Did you ever worry about being too similar to Wexford, Morse, Barnaby, Lynley, et al?

Not really. These are all traditional English police detectives in the procedural tradition. DI Jack Delaney is more like a Dirty Harry or a Jack Regan. Certainly he owes more to the hard boiled neo noir detective fiction from the states than the kind of books/shows you mention. 'Punk Noir' if you like. When we meet him first Delaney is a venal, shambling, hard drinking, drug taking, train wreck of a man just about mobile on shoe leather - but hopefully with a lot of charm about him. :)

What advice would you give to other scriptwriters thinking of writing fiction?

I'd advise them to do it. It's great to write for television and know that millions of people are watching your work. But it's also great to have an object that can sit on the shelf and even if it is only read by hundreds or thousands - at least you know it's a hundred percent your own work. By its very nature television in the main is a disposable medium, and I guess paperback books are the same really, but there is something satisfying, in a different way, of hefting a physical object in your hand and thinking to yourself - for good or bad - 'I created this.'

What kind of promotional work did you have to do, if any?

None as yet, but the book has only been out a week. I would think you would have to have some time for that to be useful as nobody knows me from a bar of soap.

You're really Marc Peirson, what's with the name change?

The name change came about because Random House also have an imprint that sells Scandinavian crime novels in translation and they thought that my name, as it should be spelled, looked too Scandinavian, so they Anglicised it. They asked me did I mind and I didn't really have a leg to stand on as I originally asked to be called Micheal Kennedy as nom de plume because
A) I thought K was a good letter for a surname because it brings you in at eye level or thereabouts on the shelves in books shops. And...
B) Because I thought the name Kennedy might help to sell it in America. And..
C) Because my aunt might see my name and read the book and there are a lot of rude words and such like in it.

It does still look odd to me on the cover mind, but if it helps to sell some I am not one to complain! :)

Humanity has evolved and we now have film and television, why should we still read books? Isn't it the equivalent to still using horse-drawn carriages?

It is and if you ask me the world would be a far better place if we still only had horses and horse drawn carriages, not to mention the benefits to inner city gardeners.

What's so good about your book that I should get it now and not wait for the adaptation?

The cover mainly. It's moody. It's atmospheric. It's got a chair on it.

In the future if there is a war between novelists and screenwriters (it could happen) which side would you join?

Probably the novelists as they only have to look after themselves. Whereas a battle plan for the scriptwriters would have to go through five drafts and a focus committee before waiting for notes from a whole series of people, before being rejected at 'offers' level in favour of a proposal Tony Jordan submitted five years earlier. :)


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Hard Evidence - Synopsis

Jackie Malone has been murdered. Her body lies in a pool of blood in the north London flat where she worked as a prostitute. Deep knife wounds have been gouged into her corpse and her hands and feet are tied with coat hanger wire.

For Detective Inspector Jack Delaney this is no ordinary case. He was a friend of Jackie’s and she left desperate messages on his answer phone just hours before she was killed. Despite no immediate leads and no obvious suspects, the fear in her voice tells him that this was not a random act of violence.

Just as Delaney begins his investigation, a young girl is reported missing, feared abducted, and he is immediately tasked with finding her. Delaney knows he must act quickly if there is any chance of finding her alive, but he is also determined to track down Jackie’s killer before the trail goes cold. However, his tough and uncompromising attitude has made him some powerful enemies on the force, and Delaney soon finds that this case may provide the perfect opportunity for them to dispose of him, once and for all…




What the critics say

A cracking début, matching gore with suspense. His TV scripting experience shows
- Bookseller

Pearson scores a hit first time out with Jack Delaney, a hard drinking, Country and Western-loving, maverick that fans of John Rebus and Jack Regan will love
- Daily Record

A brand new series from a seasoned scriptwriter, featuring a no-nonsense London DI Jack Delaney **** (4 stars out of 5)
- Daily Mirror




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Hard Evidence - Chapter Two

This is where we first meet the mild mannered Jack Delaney.

The football. The cricket. The state of English sport in general. The bird off Emmerdale getting her tits out for some lads’ magazine. They’d banned smoking, they’ll be banning alcohol in pubs next, something else to thank the Californians for, no doubt, like the Atkins diet and low carb beer, and the bloody Mormons who bang on your door with the sincerity and charm of house-to-house insurance salesmen or cockroaches.

Jack Delaney let the conversation wash over him as he downed a shot of whiskey with a quick, practised flick of his wrist.

He was sat on a cracked leather stool at the battered wooden counter of The Roebuck, a scruffy, north London pub. A big mirror behind the bar, with thirty odd bottles of spirit in front, bouncing different coloured lights off it like a Christmas tree for alcoholics.

Delaney picked up his pint glass and let a sip of creamy Guinness soothe his throat if not his soul; even the door to door Mormons couldn’t sell him that, even if he had been in the market. No new soul for Jack Delaney today, just the old, sin spotted, black thing at the heart of him. Forgive him Father for he has sinned. If women looked at him, which they did often, they’d try to guess his age and reckon it to be around the late thirties. He had dark hair, dark eyes and if they got to know him would get to see that dark soul. Mostly he didn’t let them get to know him.

Delaney held his whiskey glass out and nodded with a wink at the barmaid. ‘Evaporation.’

The barmaid took his glass, smiling but with no real hope behind it. She poured a generous shot of Bushmills and placed it in front of him.

‘Cheers, Tricia.’

‘Any chance of getting a drink here!’ A large man, a few inches over Delaney’s six one, but carrying weight, and drunk. Delaney gave him a glance, dismissed him and returned to the solace of his Guinness.

‘The fuck you looking at?’

‘Minding my own business here.’

‘You seem to be minding my fucking business. And you -’ to the barmaid. ‘ - get me a fucking lager.’

Delaney sighed and flashed her a sympathetic smile.

‘Sorry about this.’

The big man’s eyes widened, he shook his head, disbelieving.

‘You got a problem or something, you fucking Irish fucker?’

Delaney debated discussing the delicate beauty of the English language but instead stood up from his stool, picked up an empty bottle and smashed it against the bar. Then kicked hard, very hard, with the side of his foot into the larger man’s knee. The man grunted with surprise and blinked. He swayed back and Delaney flashed his left hand onto his throat, grabbing his windpipe and holding him rigid. Delaney moved the jagged edge of the broken bottle to the drunken man’s now terrified eye.

‘If you wanted to dance you should have asked nicer.’

‘Please.’

‘Too late for please.’

Delaney’s hand tightened on the bottle, his hard eyes telling the fat man the really horrible nature of his mistake.

A hand tapped on Delaney’s shoulder and he turned round to see a smiling man in his thirties. Dirty blond hair, brown eyes, five ten. He clearly worked out, the muscles tensing in his arm, as he balanced on the balls of his feet like a boxer, ready to move.

‘Let him go.’

The man dipped a hand into his smart leather jacket and fished out his warrant card which he showed round the room like a warning. Nobody paid him much attention, a fight in The Roebuck was as unusual a sight as a G string in a pole dancing club.

‘Police. Detective Sergeant Bonner. Why don’t we all calm it down?’

Those who had been watching turned back to their beers, disinterested.

Delaney stepped back and put the broken bottle on the bar. Bonner leaned in to the shell shocked drunk, who had fallen to his knees and wet himself.

‘I’d fuck off if I were you.’ The man needed no second telling and limped as quickly as he could to the door. Bonner nodded at Delaney.

‘Cowboy.’

‘Sergeant.’

Bonner span the broken bottle on the counter.

‘Irish party games?’

‘Something like that.’

‘You’re going to have to come with me I’m afraid.’

‘Ah, Jesus. Come off it, Eddie.’

‘Out of my hands.’

‘Don’t tell me it’s that prick Hadden again. What are you doing Sergeant Bonner, kissing arse and running errands for that slag now?’

‘It’s not about the missing cocaine.’

What the fuck is it about then?’

‘Jackie Malone.’

Delaney was genuinely puzzled. ‘What are you on about?’

‘She’s been making a nuisance of herself asking for you.’

‘So? Since when does the wants of a brass like her send the Met’s finest out on errands?’

Bonner gave him a flat look. ‘Since the brass got rubbed.’

Delaney sighed and picked up his jacket and walked with Bonner to the door. Tricia giving him a grateful but nervous smile as he passed. Bonner opened the door.

‘Would you have used the bottle?’

‘Who knows? I try to live in the present.’

Bonner shook his head. ‘You know your trouble Delaney?’

‘Yeah.’

And he did.



10 February, 2009

Studios know: ‘Horror sells’

Los Angeles Times:

"Horror films are dominating the release schedule in 2009 -- almost certainly, event movies like "Watchmen" and "Terminator Salvation" will outgross their spookier kin, but not a month will go by without at least one film designed to terrify audiences making its way into theaters. January already has seen the release of "The Unborn" and " My Bloody Valentine 3-D," and this week the psychological thriller "The Uninvited" will attempt to scare up box-office receipts.

Next month, the hockey-mask-sporting Jason Voorhees will return to menace teens in the remake of "Friday the 13th"; in March, newcomer Dennis Iliadis will unveil his version of the horror classic "The Last House on the Left"; in May, " Spider-Man" director Sam Raimi returns to the genre that launched his career with "Drag Me to Hell.""

Article in full

09 February, 2009

Andrew Stanton, screenwriter-director, interview



via David Poland's The Hot Blog

Films of the week

"The best advice I can give is to read great scripts. See how the masters do it. Book learning has its place for sure - but immersing yourself in great writing will pay dividends."
English Dave

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Monday


A Few Good Men

ITV1, 10:35pm
Screenplay
"You can't handle the truth!" Aaron Sorkin adapted his own play

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Tuesday

Hannah and Her Sisters

BBC1, 11:45pm
Screenplay
Woody Allen at the peak of his powers

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Thursday

The American President

ITV3, 11:00pm
Screenplay
Another Aaron Sorkin, this rom-com was a rehearsal for The West Wing

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Thursday

Breakdown

ITV4, 11:50pm
Screenplay
This quality thriller shows what you can do with little money, few locations but a brilliant idea skilfully executed.

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Friday

Groundhog Day

ITV3, 10:00pm
Screenplay
One of the all-time greatest comedies. One of the all-time greatest comedies. One of the all-time greatest comedies. (Did you see what I did there?)

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Saturday

Collateral


Channel 4, 9:00pm
Screenplay
"'Ere, I had that Tom Cruise in the back of my cab once...bastard threatened to kill me." Quality thriller.

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Sunday

Jerry Maguire

Channel 4, 11:20pm
Screenplay
"Show me the money" This masterpiece stands up to repeated viewings.