Friday, December 31, 2010

Who's Supporting Who?

I admit, there are a lot of things I don't understand about the Academy Awards - how Roberto Benigni won a Best Actor gong, for example, is right up there with the greatest mysteries of the twentieth century.

Another is how the acting awards are split into 'lead' and 'supporting' and who is slotted into what category. I mention this because I have just seen The King's Speech which is a well made movie clearly with Oscar in mind. Prestige subject matter - check; Character afflicted with disability - check (if somewhat mildly); Period piece - check; presence of Geoffrey Rush - check.

And there's the rub - Colin Firth is widely being discussed as presumptive favourite for Best Actor while Geoffrey Rush is somehow relegated to the category of supporting actor. How is this possible? Surely the two leads in this film are Rush and Firth with Helena Bonham-Carter and Guy Pearce the most notable of the supporting cast.

The film works best when Rush and Firth are on screen and theirs is the critical relationship in the movie. But alas, our Geoffrey, who is excellent, gets reduced to a 'support player' when awards season comes around.

I suspect it's because there's an old fashioned notion that a movie should have a male lead and a female lead. Or maybe it's because studios try and maximise their chances by spreading the talent around the categories - Rush and Firth, head to head, would take votes off each other?

Perhaps Oscar should get with the programme, expand the number of nominations in Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, and remove the gender distinction. All I know is Colin Firth is good, but it's Rush who makes the movie work.

Speaking of categories, is the screenplay for The Social Network an original one or an adaptation? It's based on the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich which was being written concurrently with the screenplay. Probably doesn't matter as the script will win whatever category it is in.

Finally, my own awards on the last day of 2010...

Best Film - This proved to be very hard to decide - The Social Network left me a little cold, Inception left me underwhelmed, The King's Speech was good but not spectacular, Toy Story 3 was excellent but, at times, I felt the strings being pulled too overtly... which leads me to:

Animal Kingdom. Without meaning to come off as parochial, this was totally absorbing fare and the best Australian film I've seen in a long time. Good to see it found international recognition as well.

Worst Film - This was an easy decision. The Expendables was the biggest load of old tosh I have seen in a long long time.

Most Over-rated Film - It has to be Inception. I wasn't convinced it was the masterpiece many were saying the first time around and on a second viewing it diminished even more.

Best Performance - Again, going the Aussie route here with Ben Mendelsohn from Animal Kingdom who supplies the menace that kicks that film up a notch.

Worst Performance - anybody who was in The Expendables though Mickey Rourke probably gets the nod for his ridiculous monologue that was flat out awful.

So there it is, 2010 done and dusted. Have a great New Year's and here's to a creative and prosperous 2011!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Red Bride Update

Since Feature Navigator back in mid-October where we received expert feedback from a range of consultants, I have been working on a page one rewrite of my feature script The Red Bride. That was delivered to my producers and director on 17 December. Today was time for feedback and notes at a marathon 8 hour script session.

Oh okay, there was a little break for a barbecue luncheon but other than that it was a full on, scene by scene examination of the draft.

I co-opted my parents' place down in Cottesloe with its lovely courtyard for said proceedings and we were royally spoilt for food and drink on a perfect Perth day.

The draft is in pretty good shape but copious notes were taken, certain scenes haggled over, arguments won and lost, characters assassinated and revived as these things often go.

Right now I am mentally exhausted but it was a great day and I'd like to thank my TRB colleagues Chris Richards-Scully, Jocelyn Quioc and David Revill (... with a surprise cameo performance from Wayne Nicholson) for the rigorous discourse. Special thanks to Mum and Dad for the hospitality.

Next stage, filtering through all the feedback and doing another pass. Deadline for final submission, 17 January.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Western Australian Web Series Needs Your Support

Normally I wouldn't shill for other projects on this blog, but there are two talented Perth film-makers who are one of 15 finalists in a competition sponsored by Movie Extra. First prize - $50,000 to produce a web series.

I did many a workshop (PAC1-2) with Henry starting in 2005 and met Aaron probably the following year. They write, direct and act with an impressive track record of short films and awards between them.

So check out their one minute entry here and vote accordingly. Don't delay - the winner is announced on 12 January.

While you're at it, have a look at the freshly uploaded Christmas Special which is funny, audacious and kind of disturbing in equal measure. Surely a Henry and Aaron signature!

Good luck lads and hope to see the full series in 2011...

Climate Change - A Movie Review

Remember the movie Independence Day where Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum saved us from marauding aliens who consume the natural resources of a planet then move onto the next? Well it is my contention we are the aliens - we just haven't figured how to get to the next planet yet.

Yes, one key characteristic of the human race is this - we consume things at a prodigious rate. We are no more capable of adapting than the dinosaurs were, the last dominant species on the planet. Is man made activity a contributor to global warming? - probably; is the globe warming at an unnatural rate? - perhaps. One thing I do know is this - for all the debate, conferences and politics, there is little we can do about it. We don't change. We consume. That's who we are.

ETS, Carbon Tax, CPRS, wind power (et al), direct action, Copenhagen, Cancun... pretty much none of it will make any difference. First World countries are too used to the luxuries of modern life; Third World countries covet those luxuries and argue, not unreasonably, that they too should be able to obtain them.

As for pricing carbon - do we really want economists to be the architects of a system to 'save the planet'? To put our fate in the same hands as those people who caused the Global Financial Crisis by buying and selling things that literally don't exist? A small number of people will make a lot of money with little or no impact on the climate - the human race is also pretty good at ensuring a small 'elite' make money at the expense of others (also known as the vast majority).

While climate change is trumpeted as the greatest moral and ethical challenge of our time, politicians know that if they were to really get serious about implementing measures to limit emissions they would soon be out of power. "By all means, save the planet as long as it doesn't effect me" appears to be the rallying cry.

Therefore an elaborate charade is being played out - people want something done... as long as it doesn't impinge on their lifestyle (higher electricity bills - no thank you; more expensive petrol - I don't think so; stop driving my SUV - hell no; nuclear power plant next to my suburb - are you crazy?); while politicians have to be seen to be doing something while actually doing very little other than use words like 'consensus' and argue about meaningless percentages. This is why we will never actually change our essential nature.

As for 'saving the planet', this is typical of the human ego. What people mean to say is, 'make sure it is still inhabitable by humans'. The best thing that could happen to the planet is that sea levels rise, the world is covered by water and a couple of million years later the next dominant species evolves after the Earth 'heals' itself.

Who knows, it might be giant cockroaches who can shoot plasma out their arse and reason with Doogie Howser like precision. Starship Troopers may yet prove to be a more prophetic piece of film-making than An Inconvenient Truth!

You may think this is a very fatalistic point of view - and you would be right. Watching the world's politicians and our local version spin, obfuscate and stall over this matter at every opportunity is a true indicator of human nature and self-interest. It's who we are...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Character as Prop

I was watching the penultimate episode of the Australian television series Rake last week which apparently is well liked by those who, well, like that sort of thing. Putting aside the absence of an 'A' story (or any story really) and whether it was a comedy or a drama, there were two scenes that reminded me of an observation a local writer made about a scene in the much lauded Underbelly 1. Which was this:

There was a scene set in an old suburban sporting grandstand where 5-6 thugs were meeting to discuss things that underworld figures discuss in grandstands. The writer's observation was this - not one of them was drinking a choc milk or reading the paper or doing anything normal people would be doing sitting in a suburban grandstand (talking about abnormal things). It was if they had been arranged for a photo shoot - which indeed they had been. It was an astute observation.

Onto Rake, which stars Richard Roxburgh as a larrikin lawyer who... I'm not quite sure what the end of that sentence is... but anyway.

The two scenes that reminded me of the 'character as prop' observation were these:

Rake goes into a Chemist with a raging headache and asks for suitable relief. The Chemist, apparently baffled by this complex request, vacates the scene to go out the back. Why? Because two robbers are about to enter, one of whom will clout our hero over the scone then cause the comical demise of his mate. That business resolved, the Chemist returns. He was not a character, merely a prop to be moved about by the writer as required. It totally jarred and was more than faintly ridiculous.

Which leads us to the next scene where Rake is getting stitches by, I presume, a nurse. They have a conversation then another man enters who harangues Rake about something or other. Not once did the 'nurse' even look at the interloper, ask who he was, politely state, "you're not allowed back here, Sir" or "who are you?" or "do you mind?" until he takes offence at something Rake says and we get her reaction shot. He hurriedly explains, "he slept with my wife" or such like. Again, that actor was there to recite her lines on cue and react when required. It was if a vase of flowers was stitching up our hero for all the life that character had.

Maybe they're small grievances - and sure, I'm probably as guilty as the next writer of doing such things - but it can really jar and take you straight out of the scene. Once that suspension of disbelief is destroyed it's so hard to win back.

So make sure your secondary characters have a damn good reason to be in the scene other than being a prop for the main character. Make sure they react to the given circumstances of the scene otherwise they look like they're just waiting to hit a mark or recite a line which is death for compelling drama...

If indeed that's what Rake is supposed to be...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Year in Rear View

2010 - what a year you have been! From being made redundant; to the suicide in the unit next door; to participating in Feature Navigator; to flaming out in screenwriting competitions; to a misdiagnosed heart scare; to having potentially three feature scripts in play for next year; it has been a rollercoaster year.

What have I learnt?

Don't send a script out too early!
I had some positive feedback on one script, and while it was shortlisted in the Bill Warnock Award, it tanked in a couple of US screenwriting competitions and an AWGIE category. That sort of rejection can be a little soul destroying! Simply, it wasn't ready.

Be persistent!
While that script didn't do anything - and I was told by one writer to drop it altogether - I took on board the feedback and did a rewrite that streamlined and simplified the story. That draft was selected for Feature Navigator where it had a very positive reception. Two months on, there has been a page one rewrite and it's only getting better.

Confidence is everything!
The reason I put that script out is I finally found a voice in the local funding body that supports my writing. That has lead me to other allies - a script consultant in the US - who I hopefully will work with again next year - and other experts from overseas. Along with my key collaborators, this sort of positive reinforcement is invaluable when you're slogging through rewrites.

Take the meeting!
An email query from a director new to Perth with an interesting CV and slate of projects came with the seal of approval from a person whose opinion I respect. So I took the meeting. Out of that unexpected encounter we are now working on one of my older scripts (that I used as a writing sample) and likely to work on a brand new idea in 2011.

Never toss anything!
The above is one script from the bottom drawer. Another has found favour with my TRB director when he finally read it - after like two years - and liked it. We will discuss further in the new year but he already has asked to send it to a local producer and an actor maybe on the cusp of big things in the US. Rewrites beckon but nothing should ever go to waste. All it takes is one person who loves it who wants to fight for it to get made.

Rewriting is mandatory!
This is the hardest but most rewarding part. Scripts evolve and mutate, grow and slowly take shape. In Hollywood they spend dollars, time and writers developing scripts. Here, things can tend to be rushed into production before they're ready. It can be a slog, no doubt. But getting the script right is critical.

Do the damn notes!
I've always hated writer's notes for funding submissions - "tell me everything you forgot to do in the last draft that if you had remembered (or known) you would have done". Luckily, I sat on a couple of panels during the year and saw the level of detail some writers provide to support their script. The light bulb finally went on - it's so competitive that the supporting documents are critical. Take the time to do them right.

On the personal front, I never thought I would be made redundant from my 'day job'. It stings the ego and the way it was done really jarred. You realise you're just a number not a valued employee, even after 21 years. I haven't been looking for a 'real job' so the acid is on to make a fist of the writing. Kind of scary and liberating at the same time. It means I have time to work on scripts and meet deadlines. I don't ever want to go back to an office if I can avoid it.

As for the health scare and the suicide, those things showed me there are more important things than petty grievances and whinges, gossip and controversy - of which there has been plenty in the local Perth film-making scene of late. I try and stay away from all that and do my own thing with the people I want to collaborate with who I trust and respect. It's taken a long while but I am happy with the circle of creative people around me.

I look back at 2010 as a year where the foundation for 2011 and beyond was erected - renewed confidence in my ability, new contacts and collaborators, old scripts resurrected with current ones born anew.

So here's to a safe and happy festive season and a creative new year!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Update or It's about time there was a new blog post!

Since my last post:

Prince William is getting married... but Australia is not getting hitched to the pork barrel buffet known as the FIFA World Cup;

Victoria has a new government by bucking the trend of being well hung... while the Federal government hangs the new paradigm out to dry to the tune of $50 billion dollars and counting (surely the most expensive doodle on a coaster in Australian aviation history aka the National Broadband Network);

North Korea is menacing the south... while Sarah Palin continues to menace the English language, commonsense and possibly bears;

Americans are up in arms about arms being up places they shouldn't be at airport check-ins... while Qantas just hopes bits don't fall off the damn plane.

In other words, a fair bit has happened! Except for blogging... (insert: shameful expression).

On the personal front, this being made redundant lark agrees with me! I can now keep hours more suited to a writer, namely never having to get up before 9am. I have, however, become quite the denizen of cafes and pubs, a kind of surreal limbo that I imagine equates to Hell's waiting room. Not that the mindless babble of my fellow patrons isn't interes-- oh, who am I kidding? There are times I have been tempted to drive a fork into my skull... but they tell me you must suffer for your art.

The rewrite for The Red Bride is going well... though a little different to my usual practice. I always write chronologically but this time, to move forward, the Third Act had to work much more coherently. I'm finally clear on the mechanics of the climax and the rewritten version plays far better. Next was a rethink of the set-up in the First Act given where we now end up and that's taking shape nicely. Which leaves the treacherous wastelands of the Second Act to navigate. A place where some screenwriters wander off track only to die a slow painful dea-- okay, enough with the melodrama!

Meanwhile, an older script has been dusted off and found favour with a director I've recently met courtesy of some 'match-making' by the local funding agency. A development round looms and while I don't have time to do a rewrite, detailed notes on the direction of the next draft are being prepared. Options and deals are being discussed so this one's back on the front burner.

Throw in some de facto script editing on a short and a feature I have high hopes for and it's been a pretty busy time.

Hence the reason for my tardiness in blogging. Though I note I am much better than one of my producers (who shall remain nameless), the one who always kills off my female supporting characters! But that's another story...

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Horror, The Horror

Having watched a few horror movie/ghost stories over the last couple of weeks - for research purposes - it appears there are some unusual recurring themes:

1) Every child in America under the age of 12 can see dead people.

I mean, who knew? Has there been research conducted into this phenomenon given its prevalence? Can I get funding for such a study? Do the ghosts have their own think tank happening to counter this?

Damn Harry, if only that bratty six year old couldn't see us, we'd be scaring the bejesus out of the entire neighbourhood.

I'm working on it, Mildred. The kid's got some sort of supernatural x-ray vision thing that's foolproof.

Thank goodness the parents are as thick as two planks and have no idea of our existence.

Don't get complacent, dear. It always wears off in the Third Act.


2) When a child becomes a ghost it MUST have long black, seaweed like hair that covers its ENTIRE face.

Clearly, all hairdressers go to heaven when they die. Let's face it, the dripping wet, seaweed chic hairstyle is getting kind of old. Someone down in the fiery bowels must have at least done a TAFE course, no? It's not like they'd be short of hot air to do a little styling between hauntings.

3) Revenge is a dish best served... with dollops of confusion and lashings of misdirection.

Okay, so I find myself a ghost having been tragically ripped from my mortal life by some heinous act. What to do about the perpetrators of my violent demise? Find some innocent and confuse the shit out of them, of course! By presenting cryptic clues, hostile gestures, physical torment and general mayhem. Why I would do this when I am fully capable of taking care of business myself as demonstrated by said supernatural abilities is beyond me.

Take Gothika for example. The female ghost (disconcertingly BLONDE which was the biggest twist in the whole film) possesses Halle Berry (and who hasn't wanted to do that at some stage?) - who is innocent - so she can butcher her husband - who is decidedly not - and scrawl a cryptic message in blood on the wall that ultimately hints at a co-conspirator. Poor traumatised Halle eventually kills the second baddie after being locked up in her own mental institution, cut 30 something times by said ghost and generally had the shit kicked out of her. Oh, and she found another girl trapped in her husband's downstairs fun house.

My question is this? Why didn't said spook kill said bad guys itself and write Halle a polite note that was a bit more helpful re the trapped girl? If it had to be in blood so be it. But really, don't they have career counselling in Hell for vengeful spirits about how to gain a little closure?

4) The three scariest things in the entire universe are:

i) A telephone ringing - I suspect this is because people fear it could be the ghost of a long dead telemarketer ringing to see if you'd like to change your telephone service provider.

ii) A precocious child - because this clearly is a sign they have been possessed by Satan and are going to paint the rumpus room with your gizzards.

iii) Renee Zellweger in a horror film.

So I'm thinking I need to write a ghost story about a kid around the age of 12 who is bullied and ostracised by all the other kids because he CAN'T see ghosts... and when he eventually does, the ghost turns out to be Renee Zellweger - with a crew cut - who was killed in a freak telemarketing accident and uses a powerpoint presentation and flowcharts to explain that said kid's father, the CEO of the off-shore telemarketing company - who was once a precocious child - is still possessed by Satan and manufactured the whole thing.

That would work, wouldn't it...?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

That hoary old chestnut... A Film By --

Fair bet anybody who knows me (in my creative circles) understands I worship at the altar of one A. Sorkin.

[Let's take a moment to pause here and genuflect as appropriate]

So I 'm quite surprised when the Hollywood dream pairing of Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher produces "A Film by David Fincher", namely 'The Social Network'.

I haven't seen the film yet - it opens in Australia today and I'll be heading to my favourite cinema soon - but I have read the screenplay. While it may not be his typical style of protagonist, the script is pure Sorkin, namely scintillating dialogue and a fractured timeline narrative he often deployed in 'The West Wing' (for example, 'The Shadow of Two Gunmen, Parts 1&2' and the majestic 'Two Cathedrals').

What hope do the rest of us have when such a distinctive screenwriting talent has to put up with A Film By [insert director here] --?

Don't get me wrong, I like Fincher and most of the films he has directed (though I wasn't as high on 'Zodiac' as some people and haven't seen '...Benjamin Button' yet). But even many of the reviews I've read talk about Fincher's storytelling style and neglect to even mention the screenplay or its writer! Which, by the way, is a shoo-in for a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination at the Oscars, Golden Globes, WGA, WASA's, you name it.

Now, I am the first to admit that when I heard of "the Facebook movie" I couldn't see how it would deliver an overly dramatic tale. Then, when I read the script the first time, I couldn't see how a dialogue heavy story criss-crossing between two court depositions and flashbacks would be a commercial hit. But I should have always trusted Mister Sorkin - and I have no doubt Mister Fincher has brought his usual visual flair to the material - given that it is now being described as one of the films of the year and is doing well at the US Box Office.

But let me say this - in an age when the new 120 pages is around 100 - I would NEVER be able to get away with writing a 162 page script... but then I'm no Aaron Sorkin. Few people are.

So endeth the lesson.

Remember to genuflect on your way out...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Feature Navigator, Part 3

A post from fellow screenwriter Ceinwen Langley re Feature Navigator on her blog Feed the Writer. Topics include excitement, structure and things that make (some) writers cry aka rewrites*. Oh, and something about avocados...

Read it here!

*Personally, the willingness to accept feedback, be collaborative and do proper rewrites (not tinker around the edges) is one major thing that distinguishes people who are serious writers from those who think they are.

Ghost in the (DVD) Machine

Okay, once is pretty funny - ha ha ha - twice is beginning to feel like the universe is having some fun at my expense.

YES, I have been renting ghost story DVD's.
NO, I don't expect said ghosts to haunt my DVD player, namely --

Exhibit A - The Others

A lovely little gothic horror that proves what people have been saying for years - Nicole Kidman's face (indeed, the rest of her too in this movie) is dead. The film is notable for its twist... so imagine my annoyance when the DVD freezes two-thirds of the way through and REFUSES to play any further.

I dutifully return it to my rental place and report the defect. Joy, there is another copy!

Lady: You know you have to play something else first?
Me: Huh?
Lady: Before you play this disc...

While I ponder this, she lathers up the replacement with cleaning fluid and inserts it into some machine that whirs away merrily.

I return home, sheepishly play something else for a few minutes then try The Others Mark 2... which promptly freezes at the EXACT SAME SPOT.

Okay, like Tony Abbott I'm not a "tech head" but at this stage I'm struggling to understand how disc number 2 has inherited the flaw of disc number 1.

I try EVERYTHING... short of exploring the aerodynamic properties of my DVD player (though it was a close run thing). The thing will not budge! No twist ending for me.

Exhibit B - The Haunting

Sure, it's a bad remake that I'd forgotten I had watched a while back - Catherine Zeta-Jones' presence during proceedings soothed my vague sense of disappointment. Things were going swimmingly until 1 hour 19 minutes... then pixels attacked in ever increasing swarms until finally the disc FROZE at the 80 minute mark.

[Expletives deleted]

The DVD player is now seriously in danger of experiencing a similar trajectory to an F-16 Fighting Falcon with its fly-by-wire capability disabled ie gliding through the air with all the grace of a house brick.

[More expletive deleteds and nervous glances in the direction of surrounding units]

But I relent and concede defeat.

What puzzles me is that the American remake of The Grudge, a truly awful film, played without a hiccup the previous night. These ghosts surely have a sense of humour!

Now I have Rosemary's Baby teed up for viewing... but I'm scared to hit play lest --

A) This also freezes at some point and I accidentally maim a passerby with an airborne DVD player;

B) This is the beginning of my own personal haunting - you know, it all starts off kind of incidental and harmless then builds in intensity. Personally, I suspect the blender is what will finally do me in; or -

C) This is symptomatic of the death of the neighbourhood 'video store' (the name itself an anachronism) surely to be hastened by the advent of the National Broadband Network...

... but that topic is a whole other kettle of bees wax.

For now, I will bar myself in the bedroom and await a long, black haired child-ghost to spit out of my DVD and do unspeakable things... I'm hoping housework but that may be too much to ask.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Feature Navigator, Part 2

As advertised, the remaining sessions provided more robust discussion and the occasional two-by-four applied to the forehead. This was purely for medicinal purposes whenever my utterances on the script could be mistaken for the delusional ranting of a mad man.

All too soon it was time to wrap things up, head for the pub and unwind. But that will prove to be a brief respite as there is much work to be done. Notes to be typed up, discussed, mulled over and applied. A new draft to be supplied by mid January. Momentum to maintain.

The greatest gift to take away from the week? A sense of genuine excitement over the potential of the project and of the team. This provides us with an energy and belief that is invaluable.

I was also inspired seeing the passion of the other teams and diversity of stories.

In conclusion, I think The Red Bride team acquitted itself well. The project stands up. Our instincts are right. Now it's time to use all this feedback and take it to the next level. That's a great challenge and one I look forward to with renewed confidence and anticipation.

To all those involved, thank you.

For those who offered further counsel and assistance, thank you.

For the final parting words at said pub, thank you. You know who you are.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Feature Navigator

Six teams of film-makers shuffle nervously in their seats. Eyes dart. Throats clear. Fingers drum.

Interspersed throughout the room are representatives from Screen Australia, ScreenWest, the Australian Writers' Guild... and the three consultants who will generously offer their expertise, counsel and good humour over the coming days.

Introductions are made. Expectations set. Projects announced...

So begins Feature Navigator, a week long development workshop for feature film projects. And what a diverse group of films they are - horror, psychological thriller, a Bollywood style comedy, children's adventure, period drama, and our own supernatural mystery.

I know some of the people around the table but there are a lot of new and unknown faces. We are all colleagues but also competitors - only two teams will receive development money based on the next draft delivered in three months time. A draft that will be immeasurably enhanced by the sessions we're about to go through.

We meet the Head of Development at Screen Australia, Martha Coleman, who later that day (Monday) gives an engaging and informative session, described here. The following day The Red Bride team have a thirty minute 'meet and greet' with Martha - the project is discussed, who we are, what we've done, what we hope to do.

Then it's down to business. First up - Sue Murray who was an Executive Producer on Dr. Plonk, Ten Canoes, Tom White and co-produced Alexandra's Project with Rolf de Heer. The script is discussed at length and I am delighted with Sue's insight and rigour. This is exactly how it should be and I feel comfortable with the back and forth. There are some very perceptive observations I had not considered (or heard) before and this is like gold. Chris (director) and David (*co-producer) are also engaged in the creative conversation and Sue's comments about the team and Chris' directing style are very positive. Then it's on to marketing, casting and other matters. A thoroughly positive and valuable consultation done with great grace and precision.

Tomorrow, I am really pleased to be back in the company of Messrs. Rawlinson and van der Borgh whose workshop earlier in the year I was most impressed with. Then Elissa Down (The Black Balloon) - who I know from her Perth days - on Friday. Elissa has spent the last two years in Los Angeles developing a slate of projects and it will be fascinating to hear more of that process.

I am feeling good about the future of the script and embracing the momentum this sort of intense scrutiny delivers. More reports as events unfold...

Special mentions to Alan Payne from the WA Branch of the Australian Writer's Guild and Rikki Lea Bestall from ScreenWest for making Feature Navigator possible and for the quality of consultants engaged.

* My other co-producer, Jocelyn Quioc, would love to be with us but is unfortunately unable to attend due to work commitments.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

That damn pesky copyright thing

So I'm going through my Google Reader subscriptions this morning and come across this. Someone lauding another person for creating their own brilliant Simpsons intro.

Hmmmmmm. The Simpsons. Really? We get to make our own little animated cartoon sequences now do we? And post them on YouTube.

Dubious, I click the play button to be presented with - "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Twentieth Century Fox".

Why am I not surprised?

What does surprise me, however, is that the link to the clip is posted by the Film and Television Institute. The FTI, as described in its website, is "the premier professional development centre for independent screen production & events in Western Australia".

Now call me old fashioned, but I would have thought such a body might actually extol the virtues of copyright protection to its members and readership.

Just like I know it's a complete waste of time for me to write my amazing [insert studio franchise/comic book/graphic novel property here] script as a) the copyright owner will sue me back to the stone age; b) the script will never get produced; and c) my time would be better spent working on my own ideas OR adapting a property I have acquired an option on.

And when option c) comes to pass I damn well expect my intellectual property to have the full protection of copyright laws.

The thing that 'never ceases to amaze me' is how blase some film-makers can be about copyright.

Just saying, they don't need any further encouragement...

Monday, October 11, 2010

The secret to screenwriting is...


Yep, novelists can have their red wine; poets their absinthe; rock stars their vodka, beer, battery fluid, more vodka, bourbon et al...

For the screenwriter is has to be coffee. Why?

I have spent the last three days in cafes drinking more damn coffee whilst discussing scripts than I have in the last 6 months. I don't even like coffee! Even worse when it's with soy milk which surely was the invention of a bullied kid who went on to become a naturopath and sought revenge in the words: "gluten and dairy free diet". The things they must have done to that kid in school brings a tear to my eye. Revenge is a mug best served with cold soy.

Why all the cafe related activity you ask? [Okay, I'm theorising that you would be even slightly interested in the cause of my caffeine intake]...

Well today marked the start of a week long feature development workshop where somewhere in the schedule the word "pitch" was mentioned. For most writers - even the ones who take their coffee with full cream milk - this word has the peculiar effect of causing severe panic, internal bleeding and loss of cognitive function. At least it feels that way!

Of course, it's always worse when you imagine the train wreck in your head that is trying to explain your baby to a room full of (semi-) strangers. But you survive. Especially when the powers that be make the producer do it [yay!]... then said producer throws to your for additional comments [huh? damn, I was just regaining the feeling in my left side]. But we all live to pitch another day (... Friday as it turns out *gulp*).

The real secret to screenwriting is development. Which is exactly what the week is about - putting 6 creative teams in a room to discuss their feature projects with various consultants from Australia and overseas. This is from all angles including script, marketing, the strength of the team etc in order to develop the project to the next stage. That being, hopefully, closer to the holy grail of financing and production.

Today was the introduction session. Tomorrow the real work for The Red Bride team begins. Should be fun and very useful in moving the project forward.

Just, enough with the coffee already, okay?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dear Internet

Please excuse Richard's absence from his blog this past month. He has been busy reading many scripts, some of them even his own; frequenting cafes & pubs throughout the Perth metropolitan area seeking inspiration and/or coffee that doesn't taste like caffeinated dirt; and engaging in intriguing creative discussions generally spoiled by someone, most likely his good self, using the term "turning point" and such like.

I have been assured he will return shortly to document his ongoing misadventures, starting with an upcoming feature film development workshop.

Omnipotent narrator

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Spring cleaning

Spring is upon us! Well, in the southern hemisphere anyway. A time when men think of football finals, pretty women and... cleaning?


Yes, it is true. I'm getting a lot of practice at it - I spent most of Friday throwing out 9-10 years worth of work files. Ah, padlocked blue security bin how I love thee!

Giddy from this bout of corporate cleansing, I have spent the first few days of my post retrenchment freedom ridding my humble abode of:

- old hard copies of script drafts
- notes pertaining to the above
- notepads full of notes pertaining to the above pertaining to the above that
- newspaper clippings that inspired notes pertaining to... [fill in the rest at your leisure]
- old scripts and manuscripts from people, some of whom I don't even know
- programmes for amateur and professional theatre some of which I didn't like
- material from writing seminars, lectures and courses most of which I can't remember
- generic old crap ie everything else

Thank goodness it was bin day Tuesday as this has consumed the equivalent of two green wheelie bins. Not blue, not padlocked, not destined for shredding... but still, um, lovable?

The flip side to this is finding little gems I forgot I had stashed away under three inches of dust - namely other people's scripts, some of which I do want to re-read (I say re-read as I'm sure I read them all the first time... didn't I?).

Perhaps more excitingly, some of my old scripts that might help chart my progress as a writer. You know the feeling - some of it's pretty good, some's goddamn awful, nice idea here, overwritten up the wazoo there... but what it does do is rekindle the passion and enthusiasm for visual storytelling.

It's spring - brave the dust, toss the junk, relive the tentative first steps into a brave new screenwriting world! Once you've done coughing your lungs up (okay, there was a LOT of dust) you can move on to bigger and better things refreshed... and with more elbow room and shelf space!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My own 'Up in the Air'

No, nobody is ever going to mistake me for George Clooney - I am on the opposite side of the desk. Or if Anna Kendrick had her way, the computer terminal. Which is closer to what actually happened.

Tomorrow I come to the last day of my part-time job. Over twenty-one years with the same company over two stints and two cities. Tonight it all feels very surreal. Tomorrow, I clear out my desk, hand over my ID, access cards, all the work toys like mobile and laptop... and walk out the door for the final time. My safe little cocoon gone.

It's certainly a wake-up call.

And a great antidote for procrastination!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Conclusive evidence - polls suck!

My carefully constructed poll of Baldrickian proportions has only ended up ensnaring me with a TIED result! Cobb simultaneously returned to reality AND the whole thing was a dream!

Thank you contributors to my Inception poll - I am NONE the wiser :-)

I'm emailing the creators of Lost for the tiebreaker...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Three Act Structure for Beginners

Everybody else is having a go - laws, rules, theories, paradigms, tips, tweets and blogs relating to the craft of screenwriting - so I've jumped on the bandwagon!

Here now, my model for the aspiring screenwriter on how to understand and handle the three act structure:

Act 1 - Full of inspiration & energy

Congratulations! You've decided to write a feature script. Surely your ideas are better than that old tosh you saw at the megaplex the other night and/or your award winning short is wowing them on the festival circuit. Should be a snap to dash off your masterpiece. Inspiration - check; energy - check; self belief - off the charts.

Important things to remember:

Set-up: Have you got a really good laptop. I mean the sort that will draw envious glances from patrons of the upmarket cafe you intend to frequent? Screenwriting software - optional.

Character: Beret mandatory, scarf desirable, cocky attitude essential.

Theme: Does the screensaver of said laptop scream tortured artistic genius?

About halfway through the first act you should come to the Inciting Incident. This is usually where you tell your mum/partner/secret crush you are writing a feature script and she smothers you with (well deserved) praise.

This kicks you along to another important milestone --

The First Act Turning Point

This is often described as the page number past the length of your longest short film script. It signifies you have crossed the threshold into the special world of the feature script! Yes, it's really happening - you're writing a feature!

Act 2 - Wandering in the wilderness but still certain of success

Now you've crossed into this magical world you will discover vast tracts of barren pages waiting to be filled. This is where you need to be really carefully as a variety of archetypes lie in wait. Some of the common ones - procrastination, self-doubt, apathy, bewilderment and vacillation.

They will set increasingly difficult obstacles for you to traverse. Here you will come to embrace Allies such as caffeine, nicotine, red wine and, as you approach the midpoint of this desert, various illicit substances.

Be mindful though of shadow characters like Research that will appear to occupy you in useful activity but ultimately lead you away from your goal of adding tendrils of blackness to the whiteness of your life. Research has powerful vassals - Internet, Video store and X-Box whose siren calls may become irresistable. Stay alert!

Once you have navigated these treacherous parts the midpoint appears like an oasis. It is common at this time for your want to write a feature screenplay to be replaced by a need to --

- find gainful employment to pay the rent; or
- reintroduce yourself to loved ones; or
- start taking Vitamin D tablets.

It's all downhill from here - the slippery slide to death point and impending Second Act Turning Point. Everything turns to quicksand as you flail around desperately for character arcs, plot developments and heightened stakes. All seems lost - dreams of red carpet premieres. Imagined discussions on the chat show circuit. Yachts at Cannes. Big breasted starlets. Astronomical bank balances. All fading fast.

Never fear, such suffering is an essential part of the process. Wide-eyed and impotent in front of the keyboard at three in the morning, lost. Stakes are high. You really shouldn't have told your boss to [censored] during your First Act bliss. There's no turning back - you have to finish the damn thing!

Like a miracle, a helping hand will arrive to prod you into action and energise you for the final assault. Perhaps your mother/partner/secret crush will remind you of your undoubted potential for genius. Maybe one of your many allies finally kicks in before the paramedics arrive.

Act 3 - Mad Panic and dash to the finish

As the danger of mockery and being ostracised grows, you plunge head first into the final challenge where you ultimately overcome your flaw. Okay, maybe you did underestimate how hard this screenwriting lark was but damn it, you're determined to slay the dragon, sieze the sword and win the day.

Flush with new purpose you rise to the challenge and fingers fly over the keys. None of it makes any sense but that's not going to bother you until you get to peck out Fade to Black as you pass out unconscious on your laptop.

Well done. You have finished!

But WAIT... what's this nagging voice that whispers in your ear - "all writing is rewriting".

Bleary eyed you lift your head, untangle that tattered scarf and let out a feral bellow.

If you dare revisit the mess you have made, struggle to make it better, persist through every setback then you really will have crossed the threshold into a special world...that of being a screenwriter.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Inception Poll - The Aftermath

The blog posting on my Inception experience was met with a passionate rebuttal by local Perth film-maker Aaron McCann who raised several interesting points.

After scouring the net for answers I'll go see the film again with fresh eyes but I thought Aaron had three plausible explanations for what the ending meant.

This can only mean one thing - poll time!

So here are his three options (the rest of his rebuttal censored due to the fragile state of my ego!):

a) Cobb doesn't escape from limbo... we don't see the kick so maybe the ending is all in his head. I mean that would suggest that the top keeps spinning long after the credits roll. I mean we didn't see what happened when he last spun the top...

b) Cobb has completed his mission. Saito kept to his word and Cobb has returned home (the kids at the end are played by actors that are 2 years older than the actors playing the kids at the end) this would suggest that after the cut to black... the top fell over and Cobb's back to reality, he dodges a bullet.

c) The whole thing start to finish is a dream. His wife died in Paris, he's flying to LA to “go home”... his reality does seem like a dream and is refereed to as such. None of the other characters on the plane talk to Cobb at the airport. Almost like they are all strangers who just all shared a 1st class flight with each other.

Which one of these options do you believe best fits your interpretation of the film... or doesn't it matter? Please use the poll on the top left of the blog...

One thing I can't argue with is Aaron's summation:

"Inception is in no way a 'perfect' film. It has flaws. But a classic film, loved or hated, it will become a film that could, and should, revive the spec scripting market in the US as well as sell the idea that big, original, large scale films... can still have an audience".

Amen to that.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Inception - Idea as Virus

After Thursday morning's shock knocked me into my own dream state, I went along to see Inception.

Though I don't remember how I got there. The suspicion I was dreaming confirmed by this exchange immediately after purchasing my ticket:

Kid: Any drinks or popcorn with that?
Me: Medium combo, thanks.
Kid: Want to upgrade that for an extra dollar?
Me: Nah, I can't eat that much popcorn
Kid: I'll upgrade the drink for free then.

Okay, that's a dead giveaway! A partial free upgrade... at a candy bar... at the cinemas? Yeah, right! (ps well done kid, I was impressed). That and the fact the lobby was deserted (other than the two of us). Definitely dreaming.

Into the cinema I go. Now, I'm kind of fussy about where I like to sit - centre/centre - half way up and dead in the middle. The sweet spot...

Available! And the immediate zone free of seat kickers, inane talkers, mobile phone wankers & sundry other distractions that usually bug the hell out of me.

I am clearly in a deeper level of dreaming as the ads and trailers seem to go for like 30 minutes (surely ludicrous). I accept I'm probably still sitting at my desk at work, stunned and time has slowed here.

Then the movie starts. Excitement abounds. The internet chatter and reviews have been excellent. My mind, desperate for some serious diversion, is about to be dazzled...

But instead, something strange happens --

Someone's brought me down to this level of dreaming to insert the idea that this film is a complex mind-fuck of a masterpiece. And I'm not buying it.

On the surface it appears outrageously inventive, gloriously shot, well acted and demanding of my full attention to comprehend its secrets. But then it seems a simple heist story told in a very complicated way. And I simply don't care.

As the corporate induction video plays before my eyes explaining the rules of extraction and the theory of inception - with some practical exercises thrown in to demonstrate the principles - I start to wonder if I am being conned ala The Prestige.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think Christopher Nolan is an immense talent. I loved The Dark Knight (with a few quibbles), was astounded by Memento and think The Prestige is a handsomely crafted puzzle of a film... bar the ending. When I come to understand Nolan has pulled a magic trick on me... except the prestige doesn't have me on my feet applauding.

So now I'm thinking, this guy is smart and audacious, and he's trying to implant an idea in my mind with all these rules and pure exposition. Namely, that this is everything the hype says it is.

Why is my brain rejecting this carefully planned inception?

Well, I think it's because I don't really know who's doing what, why they are and what the actual stakes are. All I really know is that Cobb wants to go home and that Saito wants to fuck with his corporate rival. The latter feels like a pure McGuffin and therefore I am ambivalent about it. The Cobb-Mal thing seems underwhelming... he can't go back to the US because she killed herself but blamed him because... blah blah blah. I start having Shutter Island flashbacks.

As for everyone else - well, um, they are ... because they need to ... um? I dunno.

Then there's the whole mechanics of 'kicks' and sedatives and if you're killed you wake up, oh, except if you're [insert plot device explanation] in which case you go into 'limbo'. Which is a terrible, horrible, brain mulching place... that Cobb has been to before. Huh? So no real stakes then?

I have no idea what Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character was doing in zero-G other than he was doing "stuff". Related to some complicated timing issue re kicks? and gravity? No tension or suspense if it's not clear what his plan is. Just confusion.

The snow scenes - lots of people dressed the same shooting at each other. Okey-dokey. Then Cobb is back in limbo. Where we come to the ending... and the spinning totem... and the cut to black. Which only confirms that Nolan is fucking with me - was he still dreaming? You decide!

Sorry, No.

I can't be bothered because I don't care enough about the characters. Therefore I have no investment to work out the 'true meaning' of all the trickery no matter how apparently spectacular. I don't care about the internal logic and the kicks and the 'this and that' which has the internet groaning with theories and speculation.

I enjoyed the film as diverting entertainment that didn't treat me like a 12 year old. I didn't feel the running time so much which is a good sign. Most films these days being 20+ minutes over long. But the more I think about it, the idea that this is some modern masterpiece dissipates. Instead, a rogue idea - Nolan's 'puzzle films' make that other cinematic manipulator, M. Night Shyamalan's post The Sixth Sense films look amateurish.

So when I entered my own limbo - the queue at the IGA grocery store next door (surely limbo is waiting in a queue for the '12 items or less' checkout behind people who can't count) - I could feel the fingerprints of the master inceptor.

Perhaps I will watch it again when it comes out on DVD. Maybe I'll just sleep on it...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dealing with Deadlines, Disappointments & Crises

I never set out to write a blog that espoused the do's and don'ts of screenwriting theory and good writing. There are far better qualified people - John August, Scott Myers, Karel Segers for example - who do that brilliantly with great authenticity, wit and skill. What I AM qualified to discuss is my personal journey in the wonderful world of film from an Australian perspective...

... and I gotta tell ya, it's been a rough month for various reasons.

My feature script didn't make the quarterfinals of Scriptapalooza which was a disappointment and abrupt reality check. I entered it after a burst of positive feedback that I'm now thinking gave me a level of confidence that was artificially inflated --

Complacency being the death of a screenwriter.

But I have a new draft to deliver so try and put the disappointment to one side and soldier on.

At present I'm deconstructing the entire script as the general consensus appears to be - well written, too complex, not commercial. The problem with that is, pulling out threads tends to unravel the whole piece as most of you would know. The other problem is time - deadlines loom and the brief of 'simplification' is turning into a major rewrite.

I'm actually enjoying the process - I'm throwing around scenes (for example, a scene that was near the end of Act Two is now the midpoint) but I'm running out of hours. The added pressure is that I have a director and producers waiting on pages to finalise a funding submission. If that wasn't bad enough life has been intruding in various ways - namely health and, as of today, work.

The health scare was prompted by a visit to a GP who I think was channeling Peter Lorre. Not my regular doctor mind you. He had the indecency to go on leave.

Me: I have this discomfort in my chest (points to area over the heart)
Peter Lorre: *manic laughter* then - Have you come from the Emergency Ward?
Me: (pondering this rather strange reaction/question) - a hesitant 'No'
Peter Lorre: Rate the pain from one to ten...
Me: Well, I wouldn't call it pain, it's more --
Peter Lorre: [Insert very long lecture about going to emergency whenever you feel chest pain] The only words I hear are: Heart and Attack... in that order
Me: Say what?!
Peter Lorre: nearly falling off his chair in a frenzy when he discovers I have a family history in this regard. More lectures. FINALLY takes out his stethoscope and checks chest.

Suddenly, we're discussing inflamed cartilage and ribs.

Me: Huh?
Peter Lorre: Just to be sure, we need to do an ECG.
Me: Okey dokey... so, not a heart attack then?
Peter Lorre: Probably not... but I'd like to be sure.
Me: thinking, you and me both, buddy!
On return from ECG...
Peter Lorre: Your blood pressure is a little high, but that's probably because you're anxious.

Then a battery of subsequent tests - blood, cholesterol, stress ... a heart ultrasound. To which everyone doesn't seem too concerned (except possibly my bank manager). Appears I strained cartilage somehow in an area inconveniently over my heart. Tell you what though, a bloody big wake-up call to lose weight, eat properly and exercise more.

Through this - still writing.

Then today. Get in a little late to work - to find out my boss in Sydney has scheduled a phone hookup with me. Hmmmm, we spoke only yesterday... but there's a big hookup for later in the day announcing an organisational restructure. Stomach churning, make the call...

To find out I have been made redundant.

Start wondering what Peter Lorre would make of outbreak of new physical symptoms --

Me: stunned
Boss: attempts at calming platitudes
Me: jaw on floor
Boss: ... paperwork... ring me any time... 2 weeks... HR...

Call suddenly over and I'm gasping for air like a goldfish whose fish tank has been teleported to another universe.

Goodbye part-time job, goodbye some 22 years with the same company in two stints (yes, literally half my life... to this point), goodbye financial security and comfort zone.

Didn't feel like writing today.

Went to see Inception instead. Suitably complex enough to distract my brain from a whole lot of nasty - what the fuck do I do now? - type questions.

Deadline perilously close. People waiting on me and the new draft. Must write.

In fact, I suspect disappearing into a world of my own creation - Inception style - might be the best remedy. That and this blog posting.

People say you should write every day. But damn if it ain't hard some times...

Friday, July 9, 2010

Betwixt & Between

Maybe it's the weather. Record cold spell in Perth has frozen my brain.
Maybe it was a little health scare. Thanks, over anxious GP.
Maybe it's a feeling of restlessness. Patience not a virtue of mine.
But decisions need to be made.

New brief is to simplify the feature script. Well written but complex seems to be the common view.
I fear suggested changes remove the magic.
Mulling options. Headache results.
Deadline looms. So time to pick up the scalpel.

But my mind wanders to what's next.
Given that writing a feature script and committing to doing it well ie research, beat sheets, treatment, multiple drafts etc = realistically, a year's worth of work. Given that year will be 'on spec', it's a big decision what to choose next.

The 'knock' on me is my ideas are too complex. Various people nudging me towards high concept. At least they see the writing talent. However -
Producers after commercial product.
Director after a shooting schedule.
As for me - tired of being the bridesmaid - shortlisted but never the chocolates.

So, big ideas have to be shelved.
Trench - the psychological war/horror idea which I love = too big. Plus I haven't cracked the third act yet.
Considering revisiting old scripts and taking another swing. Somehow feels like a backwards step. Even though there are nice elements there.
The possibility of re-imagining an existing property has also been put on hold. Pity, as it was a fun idea.

Discussed options with my director last night before concert of Space Classics. We both love science fiction. Listening to John Williams' music a catalyst. But what are the odds in Australia?
Mulling a heist film idea. Simple and slick. Maybe.

The supernatural might have to be banished. And the fantastical. For a while at least.

I've actually enjoyed escaping the Goldman-esque pit and rejoining the world for a while. Quiz nights, long boozy lunches, plays, the concert and, shortly, a local film festival. But the pit beckons once more. As writers know, that means embracing a certain level of anti-social behaviour. The hours need to be found. To the exclusion of other things. Like people.

I fall into that category of screenwriters who procrastinate until the death knell. Then it's time to knuckle down. Probably not the best way but it's my way. LOVE being in the zone. Wish I could get there more easily. Fear + adrenaline = creativity. It's a strange equation.

Enjoyed today's script meeting. Then again it wasn't my script. A friend is adapting their own short story which I love. A wonderful two-hander - low budget, arthouse, dark and undoubtedly controversial. Will make a great film if we get the script right (think Notes on a Scandal). I also love that she trusts me to be de facto script editor if not, indeed, co-writer. Helping another writer realise their vision is very exciting. Let's call it good karma.

So restless and searching. Perhaps not a bad way for a screenwriter to be. The mind is ticking over. Waiting for the fingers to follow. Don't expect to wait too long.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Confused? Me too ...

In my highly honed state of procrastination I've been reading blogs and tweets about the so-called "do's and don'ts of screenwriting" ... and following the advice to read lots of scripts. But guess what - there's a disconnect here somewhere. I was reading a script last night of a big budget film about to be released - an early draft I suspect as the trailer had scenes that only vaguely resemble what I read - and it's full of don'ts. WE see and WE hear. Slug lines that went from 'Dawn' to 'Morning' to 'Day'. Description of someone's brand and make of car whereas every other single car was just that - CAR. I've read other (produced) scripts with unfilmable character descriptions and emotions or thoughts, of specific music cues, of cut to's up the wazoo. Good scripts too ... for the most part.

You query this and the answer inevitably is - "don't try this at home kids, they're professionals". So what, they did everything textbook perfect until they got their big break THEN decided to be sloppy?

Or maybe they're good storytellers with a great premise and the (sometimes) fanatical commentary on format and 'rules' is missing that one very salient point - it's the execution of the story that is paramount.

Yes, I understand the vagaries of readers and things that may "pull them out of the story" and "you want to put your best foot forward". I just find it amusing is all that the reality of what gets 'through' these threshold guardians is sometimes very different.

Talk to me of structure and character, not so much the formating rules du jour.

Or am I wrong not to pay heed to the rules committee?

ps I'm not really procrastinating, more so thinking which, as many of you will know, is perhaps the hardest part of writing ("look mum, no hands!") ...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Real Australian Drama

Often the knock on Australian films is they shy away from conflict and therefore true drama. You know the ones - a bunch of quirky characters in a desperate search for a story (and third act). What we saw last night and during today is drama at its finest. An incumbent Prime Minister ousted in a bloodless coup so swift, so brutal and so efficient as to put most Aussie movies to shame. Intrigue, machinations, raw emotion, political back-stabbing and history in the making. Some random thoughts:

How wonderful to see the robustness of a great democracy where this sort of leadership change involves only the rhetoric of violence (coup, plotters, back-stabbing etc) instead of actual violence.

The rise of social media in not only breaking but setting the agenda for events. Tweets (and reported text messages) by journalists and politicians seemed way ahead of the more traditional media outlets and fueled the speculation that led to a full blown leadership challenge.

The knock on effect as a diverse range of people started commenting on events during the day. People who have not previously exhibited any interest in domestic politics.

Lastly, unfortunately, the fixation on ephemera such as the colour of the incoming Prime Minister's hair, the fact she is unmarried. That she is an atheist. As if those are the most important qualities for a leader.

It has been a fascinating and exhilarating 24 hours. Now for the Third Act - the looming election. It promises to be a corker!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Important Things

Thoroughly enjoyed the cast and crew screening of Kanowna tonight. The film is great and everyone involved has done a fantastic job. But what struck me most was the family aspect of the night and how important that is. I arrived at the same time as Chris (the director-writer) and his family. While he went off to ensure everything was ready for the screening I accompanied his wife Michelle, mother and delightful 1 year old daughter Mathilda to the nearby fish pub. Mathilda wowed the crowd with impromptu dancing and peek-a-boo. The producer's father was at the cinema but I didn't realise this until later. One of the main actors was there with his wife and young daughter.

All the people who support and put up with the vagaries of those of us who pursue the artistic endeavour known as film-making. Who finally get to see the result of all the meetings and workshops and funding submissions and drafts and shoots and hours of editing and post production. Why it's so important to us. They understand, even if but a little, and forgive us the hours, the inevitable drama, the struggle. And most importantly keep on supporting us for the next time ... and the time after that if we're so lucky.

It's those small moments - the laughter of a 1 year old, the good natured ribbing by childhood friends, the proud smile of a loved one - that make it all worthwhile.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Only in Hollywood?

Tomorrow night sees the cast and crew screening of the short film Kanowna. I'm very much looking forward to the screening but it brings back painful memories of the premiere I was denied.

Yes, I've read Goldman and currently re-reading Hollywood Animal by Joe Eszterhas so I have a fair idea of the torment screenwriters experience in the film-making capital of the world. But surely not in the idyllic little backwater of Perth?

Not so fast.

I wrote a short film script a few years ago. About 9 drafts over the better part of a year.

It was funded by the local state agency. To the tune of $60,000.

The week after that happy news the director turned in his draft.

The only similarity to my script - the one that had been funded ... the one I had spent hours of meetings and rewrites trying to glean the director's vision - was the first name of the protagonist.

The director refused to direct my script - the one that had been funded.

At a meeting in a crowded pub with the two leads, the male actor expressed reservations to me about his character's voiceover in the script ... that I did not write. The voiceover was about masturbation.

At subsequent meetings with the director and script editor (assigned by the funding agency) it was clear this was all going to end in tears. I think I said as much. The producer asked me not to go to any more meetings.

The producer and director had previously worked together on commercials for a television network. The producer had approached me to write the script because she wanted the director to concentrate on directing.

The script grew out of a workshop scene the director had conceived. In hindsight, my first mistake as the short was based on a moment between two characters not an organic story. I tried to capture the spirit of that moment as I couldn't make it fly in a larger narrative no matter what I desperately conjured.

I think I wrote a bloody good script. It was funded. It was never made.

Even the title was changed.

I was paid in full from the budgeted writer's fee ... out of the $60,000 my work had garnered.

I declined a screenwriting credit. I, in all good conscience, whether the final film was good or bad, could not accept a credit for something I did not write. The character's first name wasn't even my idea.

It took the better part of a year and threats by the state agency to pull the funding before the director made his film from a script they finally accepted. That wasn't the one that had been funded.

I was invited to the premiere.

The director gave a nice speech at the start. He didn't even mention me.

The producer did for which I was grateful.

I hated the movie because he tried to make that moment work and it made no sense.

I am probably biased.

I had a "Thanks to" credit at the end of the film. After 9 drafts, one year, and a successful funding application and interview.

I am really happy for Chris and Michael that they will get to see their film on the big screen tomorrow night. The way they conceived and made it.

I wish I'd had that moment.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

This little script went to market

Interesting script meeting on the weekend. The latest draft had been delivered after the 8 week online rewrite course with very good notes from the US instructor. Feedback closer to home raised the issue of marketing. It is a complex story with a female protagonist and a Chinese based mythology that informs the supernatural aspects. A tough sell in the Australian marketplace? Perhaps. Are all the elements there for a commercial film? I would have thought so. Are we targeting the right marketplace? Not so sure.

What I do know is that I've had nowhere near enough detailed feedback yet before even contemplating making changes to the script. So now I wait on notes from the producers, director and selected readers.

What made the meeting interesting was that the discussion was around potential script changes based purely on marketing issues. Perhaps a little late in the process but valid nevertheless. The decision I will have to make, depending on the consensus, is how much to change especially if asked to "dumb down" certainly elements. Marketing versus integrity of the story.

Could be an interesting battle...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Just the script, write?

In the pleasant fog of my creative youth (aka when I didn't know squat about anything), I thought you wrote a script, you sold a script, you kicked back, did the chat show circuit (okay, it was a particularly thick fog) and famous people (aka people you read about in the news) would come flocking for your next creative masterpiece, cheque books in hand.

I kind of have the gist of point 1.

Letterman still hasn't called.

The Gulfstream still hasn't arrived.

Oh, yeah, and that bank balance thing ... ahem.

What I discovered is that there are several sub clauses to point 1 - the writing of the script.

My feature "The Red Bride" which is now is some sort of reasonable shape has the following material associated to the script:

*Three line logline (yeah, I don't what that is either)
*One page synopsis
Beat sheet
Scene Breakdown
40 page treatment
Character breakdowns/back stories
*Writer's notes
and, of course, several drafts of the script.

The ones I have asterisked are usually required in various combinations for funding applications in this country. Sometimes ALL of them. The sneaking suspicion is that one line, three line and one page descriptions are an elaborate ruse to avoid reading the script!

My favourite is the writer's notes. "Tell us, Richard, all the things you forgot to fix in this draft that if you'd actually known were an issue you would have fixed ... in, um, this draft".

You end up inventing problems just to fill out a page which, for mine, is counter-productive. I would much rather have constructive notes from objective readers that I can assess and use. Truth is, after intensive work on the script, when I'm done I can't see it, have to put it down, have to let it go a while. In that state I'm probably the last person who can offer informed opinion!

The recent online course reinforced the usefulness of the beat sheet as a tool in rewriting. First task was to update the original beat sheet with all the changes that had taken place over subsequent drafts. Made identifying potential structural land mines that much easier.

Treatments, as I understand it, are a requirement for any paid gig in the US. I wrote one for The Red Bride (then known as Seventh Moon) as: I was adapting another writer's short feature (about 50 pages) to feature length; and to demonstrate to the in situ producing team and director that I had a clear vision for the project. In fact, there's two entirely separate versions after the director and I went walkabout for a year on a creative tangent that radically changed the story. Funny how things come full circle.

The problem with all this, of course, is unlike our US brethren, Aussie writers are not likely to get paid for writing these "short form" documents. I doubt I would write a treatment again unless I was paid, preferring beat sheets and even a scene breakdown in order to clarify my attack on the story before getting to scripted pages.

But is has opened my eyes to the plethora of 'tools' available and that writing a script comes with several 'optional extras' and the mandatory material for funding agencies. One day I'll have to compare word count from script to supporting documents. I think the ratio might surprise!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost, BSG & TV mythology

Interesting reading the reaction to the Lost series finale today. Don't worry, no spoilers are to be found here! I gave up on Lost during the second episode of season one - the flashback structure had me running for the hills. Since then there have been, as I understand it, not only flashbacks but flash forwards and even something called "flash sideways". My concern, even back then, was that the fractured timeline storytelling was a technique to stall progress in answering the main question that was posed from the get go - what is the island?

For those who stuck with it, answers were slow in coming as the show mythology became even more intricate and obtuse. Expectations appear to have been enormous for season 6 and the finale to answer all mysteries and outstanding issues that have been debated incessantly by fans. Except by this stage that was literally an impossibility.

I went through this with Ronald D. Moore's re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. Another show with a dense mythology that ran amok and seemed to get away from the writers - The Final Five, The Fifth Cylon, the nature of Starbuck etc etc. I for one, to this day, point blank refuse to believe Saul Tigh is a Cylon.

The episode "No Exit" in the final season was wall to wall exposition of the worst kind as it tried to retrofit an explanation for all the unanswered questions around the mythology. Moore pulled off a nice save with the series finale but the similarity to statements made by the Lost producers is very instructive. In essence - 'it's all about the characters, stupid!'

To me that's code for, 'yeah, I don't know the answers either'. And that's the danger of writing intricately plotted stories with elaborate mythologies where you fly by the seat of your pants. Is it really the characters or the plot that keeps the viewers coming back in these sorts of shows? Reading the Lost boards and blogs, people appear to agree the emotional side of the finale was powerful but that this masked shortcomings in the intellectual side ie character over plot. But people seem more preoccupied with wanting to know the answers to riddles and clues they have invested much time and energy trying to decipher. To me, you flirt with danger if you disregard the audience's visceral response to the devices and teasers you knowingly deploy.

So the question is, as a writer, do you deliberately create a dense and overtly mysterious mythology where you know you may never be able to answer all the questions you pose; or do you have some responsibility to your audience to have plausible and consistent explanations for the worlds you invent? Or does service to character trump everything regardless?

I know the Lost finale doesn't air until Wednesday in Australia but I suspect many diehard fans will see it well before then. If so, what did you think - were you satisfied with how the show ended or do major questions linger?

Monday, May 17, 2010


I see that SF series V has disappeared to the 10.30pm Sunday timeslot. I may have been a couple of weeks out but this was totally predictable. Science Fiction and prime time on Australian TV do not mix.

I have dropped Underbelly 3 after giving up in the final half hour of the double episode last week. There's only so much slow motion wankery I can take on a Sunday night (I could have put Chariots of Fire on a loop for a week and it wouldn't have come close!). I was screaming at the television because this could be really good Aussie drama but the amount of pointless scenes and sheer gimmickry make it unwatchable. It's a shame because the ABC documentary during the week, The Inquisition, really whetted my appetite with actual surveillance footage of Trevor Haken and Chook Fowler. Yet the dramatisation makes everyone out to be cartoon characters.

Thank you to everybody behind Beneath Hill 60 for not only making me eager to see an Australian movie again but delivering on the promise of a good yarn in spades. Well done!

Dear Funding Body

Dear [insert name of funding body here]

Re: Your Rejection Letter

I am writing to inform you of the outcome of your rejection letter.

Unfortunately, in this instance, it was deemed to be unacceptable.

I have received a large number of quality rejection letters vying for my personal humiliation, and with limited ego available for shredding I must assess all rejections competitively.

I therefore regret that I am unable to assist you at this time.

Yours sincerely,

A nameless, faceless, unfunded screenwriter

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Collective promotion

This looks to be an interesting venture - 12 actors joining forces to promote themselves locally but with international ambitions. I know one of the actors personally, a few by name only, but you have to admire their gumption. The website looks pretty good and I like the mission ("To create opportunities for Western Australian based-actors to hone their craft and showcase their individual talents within Australia, and abroad") and Aim "to develop and draw upon local talent wherever possible, and to lead by example in all aspects of being an actor in a truthful and honest manner." It will be interesting to see what the result is.

Can you imagine a group of screenwriters doing this? I mean, why not? Apart from our notoriously insular nature, would there be benefits to be gained by joint promotion? I am always looking for like minded writers (storytelling style and genres) and/or people who can stretch me but it's not such an easy task. Some writers still seem scared that people will steal their ideas (puhlease), or aren't confident enough to share their work, or have other agendas I don't really care to understand. Sure, there's the Writers' Guild and the occasional writers support group but we don't seem to really have a sense of community. Leastways not in Perth.

One of the joys of the online course, is that I have a detailed appreciation of two other local writers' scripts. One is a close cousin of mine, the other a completely different genre. As we rewrite and develop our projects there is continuous feedback and insight. Hopefully that will continue after the course finishes. But ultimately, I guess, we go our separate ways to get our scripts financed and made. So good luck to Scene Actors 12 - who knows, maybe some or all of them will end up in a script written by yours truly!

Monday, May 10, 2010

The simple things

A couple of exercises out of the rewrite course made me think about the things you try to improve individual scenes. Sometimes it ain't rocket science. The 'homework' in question was to take a descriptive heavy scene and turn it into a dialogue heavy one; the other, to convert a dialogue scene into a descriptive one.

The former, I chose a single character scene where the protagonist searches through her mother's old belongings and makes a surprise discovery. To add dialogue I had to introduce another character (a soliloquy didn't seem appropriate!) but there is already an 'unseen character' - the long dead mother. So in the reworked scene there's a beat between father and daughter as they vocalise their loss. Somewhat oblique so as not to be 'on the nose', it added a nice element and some foreshadowing for later.

The latter was literally a scene between two people who can't talk to each other. Taking out the confrontational dialogue and letting the actors convey the characters' frustrations and anger worked perhaps even better. The reworked scene felt a little flat energy wise though so I upped the ante with some physicality which I thought might be a touch melodramatic. But to my surprise when I shared the scenes with my director he liked this one best. He then said he finds melodramatic dialogue more problematic. Amen.

Another exercise was to take a description heavy scene and cut it in half and it's amazing the clarity you can obtain when forced to do such 'drastic' editing. In fact, our instructor believes every scene, sequence and script can be trimmed by ten percent. It's all about being ruthless and cutting to the essence of the scene.

Other things I've been known to try include re-assigning lines of dialogue between characters which can change the thrust of the scene in unexpected ways. Then, of course, there's the swapping of gender, perhaps the most notable in film history being Ellen Ripley from the Alien movies who was originally written as a male character. This can add whole new layers to a scene, or in that case, an entire franchise.

The point of the exercises is not being afraid to try different things to make a scene better ... and have some fun with it. A different approach may yield a surprising result. And I for one, love surprises!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

They're only words ... right?

The big "furore" this week is the sacking of Catherine Deveny as a columnist for a major newspaper for offensive tweets regarding the Logies. The most egregious of these being:

Rove and Tasma look so cute! I hope she doesn't die too #logies
I so do hope Bindi Irwin gets laid #logies

This Deveny character (who I hadn't heard of before today) is supposedly a comedian renowned for being vitriolic and "edgy". So why the controversy?

Rove's first wife, Belinda Emmett, died of breast cancer. So tweet #1 is pretty high on the tacky and tasteless meter.

Bindi Irwin, daughter of Steve Irwin, is eleven years old. That's right, ELEVEN. That makes tweet #2 outright sick.

Now, you won't get an argument from me that the Logies are a joke, not only as an Awards show, but as a supposed celebration of television excellence in this country. This year's Gold Logie winner is still being carbon dated.

The response to Deveny's sacking, however, is interesting. It appears said sacking has nothing to do with her lack of commonsense, judgment or simple decency:

The Logies took place on Sunday night but the newspaper in question, The Age, "only" sacked her on the Tuesday after a public outcry. Apparently this points to some terrible conspiracy as obviously the paper was only swayed by popular opinion. How dare they!

People have defended her right to tweet whatever she wants. Ah sorry, no, that's not how it works. Using social media, indeed any form of 'speech' has responsibilities entwined with the freedoms.

Deveny claims Twitter is the equivalent of "passing notes in class". Others have commented that people wouldn't have been able to read her tweets if they weren't following her (and by following her I assume this means you know she's prone to objectionable gaffes). Well, I would buy that except for the fact she was tacking #logies on the end of her tweets which means anyone following that topic would have been able to read her posts, something she would have been well aware of and, dare I say it, courting.

And now, today, on her Twitter feed, this:

Other people chose to reproduce those two tweets outside of twitter. They created the media storm.

Um, HELLO, how about you take responsibility for the fact that you glibly tweeted offensive dreck and have been called on it!

Words are powerful - they can inspire, incite, motivate, enrage, educate and entertain. As writers we should and must take full responsibility for what we write. Wherever we write it. Just because it's 140 characters on Twitter doesn't magically absolve us of our responsibilities, not as writers, not as decent human beings. How anyone could think the Bindi Irwin tweet, in particular, could be construed as funny or 'satire' is beyond me.

Many companies are now introducing Social media policies that govern how and what their employees post on sites like Twitter. Saying it is only personal when your name, certainly in this instance, is tied to a corporate brand is naive at best, disingenuous at worst.

Words are powerful. Take responsibility for them. Use them wisely.