Friday, February 25, 2011

Oscar Predictions

I have a confession to make. I LOVE the Oscars. Sure, it's cheesy, overlong, infuriating, awash with tears and backslapping but that's all part of the allure. Ricky Gervais may take the blow torch to the HFPA and their ludicrous Golden Globes, Big Russ can single-handedly take on the BAFTAs, apathy may overcome the AFIs but the Academy Awards are bullet proof. Even when they make the most egregious of errors (Crash, Roberto Benigni, denying aforementioned Big Russ of back-to-back gongs) I am still an ardent follower.

But what of predictions? It's like the Melbourne Cup where people who have no idea about horse racing authoritatively give their tips. They are clueless about form in the lead-up races and use a complex method of favourite numbers, horses names and jockey's colours to pick their favourites.

And that's the secret - I know what and who I would like to win but that bears no relation to the reality that is the Borg-like hive mind of The Academy. But it's my blog so I'll indulge in one category before my predictions...

Best Picture

I have seen 7 of the Best Picture nominees. The Fighter doesn't interest me in the slightest; I can't bring myself to go see 127 Hours because I am a sooky la la; and I don't even know if Winter's Bone has screened here(?). Of the remaining seven I would rank them in this order:

Black Swan, True Grit, The King's Speech, The Social Network, Inception, Toy Story 3, The Kids Are All Right.

Now, Black Swan has about as much chance of winning Best Picture as Michael Bay does of making a costume drama based on a classic English novel. More's the pity (the former, NOT the latter).

To my predictions then. And let me say, this seems to be a pretty predictable year for the major categories. Except the Oscars always throw up at least one surprise so you have to factor that in:

Best Picture: The King's Speech (safe, period piece, English, "semi-retard")
Best Director: David Fincher (for not screwing up Sorkin's script)
Best Original Screenplay: David Seidler (for damn well persisting all those years)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin (for making a Greek tragedy out of an uber-geek's life)
Best Actor: Colin Firth (has cleaned up every other major award)
Best Actress: Natalie Portman (all is forgiven for the Star Wars prequels)
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale (again, has swept all the lead-up awards)

Pretty predictable so far, right? Which means there has to be an upset and I'm tipping it will be in:
Best Supporting Actress: Hailee Steinfeld (for carrying True Grit in astounding fashion)

I'll add one more to give me nine categories:
Best Cinematography: Asking a colour blind screenwriter to pick this is like my Melbourne Cup analogy... BUT I'm going to predict Black Swan gets thrown a bone here over True Grit.

What are your tips? What categories do you care about? Who will cry first? Who will tank first? Who will have worst scripted joke? What will Ben Stiller do this year? How many minutes will this run over time?

Update - Next Steps

I was at a dinner party during the week with (non-film) friends who know about my writing ambitions and were aware of my good news. I took a script of mine along to show them what in fact a screenplay looks like. You forget sometimes that most people don't really know much about the way a film is written. But they're interested and asking questions so it kind of is a nice 'prop' to explain what it is I do. Throw in the "architect" analogy ie a screenplay is really just a blueprint for a construction known as a film to be 'built' and off you go.

Except that doesn't cover half of the screenwriting experience. The synopses, the beat sheets, the treatments, the [fill in your short form document of choice] nor the concept of notes and draft after draft (after draft... after... oh god!). Or the creative meetings, the brainstorming, the staring into space considering possibilities, the occasional argument, and the odd bout of this mysterious disease they call 'writer's block' (or as I like to call it, laziness... certainly on my part!). I covered this here a while back.

So what's been happening?

I have already done a minor polish of The Red Bride at the producers' behest. There is a meeting of Team TRB on Monday to discuss possible script editors and/or readers; possible executive producer targets, other feedback on the script and probably my timelines and milestones for delivery of rewrites. Oh, and a new synopsis and log line and whatever other short form documents are required to help the producers do their job which is to get the money for production!

While that is going on I'm gearing up for a 5 day intensive workshop with Paul Chitlik who is flying out from the US for a couple of weeks in March. I have submitted an older feature script with a different director so we're in the process of pulling it apart - structure points, beat sheets, and eventually a new 25-30 page treatment will be written. Notice, not one single line of actual script throughout any of this! In fact, a tonne of work will be done before I even contemplate tackling the next draft. That is perhaps the critical part most people don't see - the planning, the thinking, the execution of the idea in various forms to get the structure and story in some sort of decent shape before opening up Final Draft (or software of your choice).

Then you come to write the script and you make new discoveries - often what won't work as a scripted scene and what may play much better. Some writers say their characters 'talk to them', I prefer to think of it as a continual process of honing and improving your idea.

Finally, the meeting with a local producer went well so now we go looking for a director for the short film script I wrote; and I attended the premiere of the new West Aussie feature film Wasted on the Young last night. It is always inspirational to see your peers up on stage before a packed screening and wonder what that might feel like one day... hopefully soon...ish... :-)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Feeding the Creative Soul

In the last week or so I have been down at the Bohemia Outdoor Film Festival watching an assortment of short films nominated for this year's WA Screen Awards as well as a local micro-budget feature.

Normally this is something I would not do but it was refreshing to see some high quality shorts and the young talent coming through. More than that though was the sense of camaraderie and good will as the film-makers invariably had family and friends in the crowd. I spoke about the importance of this here with the screening of Kanowna last year (which also had a screening at the festival being nominated for Best Director and Best Production Design).

What it makes me realise is this: I have been working almost exclusively on feature projects which invariably have a long development time and even longer period to source finance. I don't get to sit in an audience and gauge the reaction of a living, breathing organism known as a 'paying audience'. I get to sit inside my head creating characters, worlds and stories while occasionally being let out to have meetings with key collaborators. I may not get to see the results of that work, in the worst case scenario, ever and at best, months from now.

Also this, I do not have a showpiece short film from a script I have written. I almost did, having written a great short script that received funding but then went horribly wrong as recalled here.

So today I knuckled down and finished the first draft of a short screenplay that's been hanging around for some time. There was even a 4 page detailed synopsis so it was always an idea I was fond of (like many writers I know, writing a synopsis is similar to the dental procedure in The Marathon Man). I have sent it off to a local producer with an upcoming funding round in mind. Damn it, I want to sit in a deck chair on a warm summer's night and watch a short film I've written while drinking a beer!

The other thing that was encouraging to see was a structured form of networking for newcomers to the local film industry (mostly actors) on the screening nights. Sure, some were very young but it meant they were able to meet 'notables' (I'm sure I only barely qualified) in a safe and supportive environment. The thing is, their enthusiasm is a little bit infectious too. So well done to Debbie Thoy from Wizard Corporation Productions for organising that.

Tomorrow I'll be back onto my feature script with a polish due Monday, but for today I was writing to feed the creative soul that craves recognition and applause. After all, isnt that why we do this crazy thing called screenwriting?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


I was delighted to discover today that my script The Red Bride was one of two projects from ScreenWest's Feature Navigator programme to receive funding. The feedback on the screenplay was excellent and I am equally delighted for my director, Chris Richards-Scully and producers, Jocelyn Quioc and David Revill, who have supported and encouraged me at every step throughout the rewrite process.

We have been working on this project for quite some time but Feature Navigator was the catalyst needed to kick it up a notch. Not only from the quality of the feedback (thank you Sue, Elissa, Jonathan and Simon) but for a real sense of momentum with only a three month window to deliver a complete page one rewrite.

There is still much work to be done but this gives us the resources to shape the script into a fully market-ready product. The goal now is nothing less than to get into production by the end of the year.

Congratulations also to the Playthings team. It was interesting to see two genre scripts selected.

This is a great start to the year and I am excited as to what 2011 may bring. I would also add, if you have the opportunity to be involved in workshops like Feature Navigator, grab it with both hands. An expression of mine my collaborators would be familiar with is "getting in the room" - sometimes that is half the battle because once you're there, amazing and talented people will help make you a better writer and improve your project no end.

And yes, Simon, it truly is a ghost story now! :-)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What's next? (or Time to start a new script)

Ah yes, the immortal words of President Bartlet. Another one is "Break's over." And so it is. I have rewrites to do on two scripts over the coming weeks/months but I have a hankering to start something brand new. No notes, no discussions, no new drafts, no changes... just a blank page and an idea, pristine and unsullied by 'other voices'.

Today a thought came to me that I wrote down:

Screenwriters are like sharks - momentum is everything. The moment your writing starts to stagnate it's all over, your creativity dies. The search for new ideas, fresh ways to execute existing material, and the need to constantly hone, polish and rewrite is paramount.

I could revisit much older material but I think it's time to move on (unless there is an incentive like, say, an option agreement involved!).

So what will this new project be? Well, here are some log lines I prepared earlier. People have been prodding me towards high concept ideas and I suspect that's where my writing inclinations truly reside. All of these bar one have some form of existing material - mostly synopses or concept documents. Mostly they are ideas... and yes, a dozen different writers would give 12 completely different interpretations so I'm not going to lose much sleep about "my ideas being stolen."

Which one would you like to see as a movie? Do any intrigue you? Excite you? In other words, help me pick my next project!

Your contenders are:

1) A brilliant yet unstable hacker who deliberately infects himself with a virulent computer virus must fight to regain his humanity before he plunges the world into a new Dark Ages.

2) A dispassionate scientist must stop a secret clique of mutant humans from releasing a synthetic ebola virus designed to wipe out the world’s normal population.

3) A traumatised kidnap victim uses her newly discovered powers of witchcraft to hunt down and destroy the coven that imprisoned her for seven years.

4) A cocksure policeman must stop a brutally inventive serial killer who selects and kills his victims in cyberspace.

5) As the men in his WWI re-enactment group become possessed by the ghosts of battles past, a selfish farmer’s son must cross into no-man’s land to confront an evil that grips the now deadly battlefield.

All feedback welcome!