Monday, July 25, 2011

In Conversation with David Stevens

This afternoon I had the absolute pleasure of listening to Oscar nominated screenwriter David Stevens talk for a couple of hours at the Subiaco Arts Centre. David, who is also a director, playwright and novelist, is in Perth for a reading of his new play The Beast and the Beauty this Wednesday.

If today's prelude, organised under the Association of Screen Professionals banner, is anything to go by then we're in for a corker of a read. David is a consummate storyteller and today's topic, loosely "How to make it in Hollywood", lent itself to a funny, entertaining and eye-opening session.

This is a man who wrote Breaker Morant (nominated for a screenwriting Oscar, 1981); the play and subsequent script for The Sum of Us; the mini-series and novel (with Alex Halley) Queen; and the mini-series Merlin among many others. I think you would agree, a substantial talent.

He was very generous with his time (and brutally honest anecdotes) so it didn't take much prompting to hear more about his experiences with Alex Halley (Roots), the Hollywood studio system, Dustin Hoffman, the Oscars experience, and how his play The Sum Of Us has still never been performed in Melbourne.

One of the key messages from the talk, for me, was David's belief that a story idea will have an optimal form - be it a screenplay, a play, novel etc and it's the writer's job to figure out what that form is. That's not to say an idea can't work in other formats but there will be a perfect way to "cut the diamond".

Interestingly, there is a play and screenplay version of The Beast and the Beauty and part of Wednesday's reading is to gain feedback on what its best format might be. I can fully understand this - feedback from a synopsis I sent out during the week is that the story might play better as a mini-series rather than a feature script.

Thank you to Annie Murtagh-Monks for organising the talk and upcoming reading; Mark DeFriest, the director of TB&TB, who had the easiest moderating job I can remember (after a pithy intro he wisely let the man talk!); and David Stevens for the fabulous stories and resultant discussion.

I strongly recommend you get down to the Subiaco Arts Centre Wednesday evening to hear the reading of David's latest work!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Update aka The Long and the Short of It, Part 2

Part One of the update was the short of it so Part Two is indeed the long. In this instalment I was contemplating discussion of my features via interpretative dance but the blog format seems far too restrictive! You'll just have to use your imagination...

ScreenWest knocked back my conspiracy thriller The Pilbara Imperative for a third time. TPI is a story about illegal uranium mining, radical environmental groups, secret deals between big business and the government, the involvement of foreign powers and a secret hidden in the Pilbara that is worth killing for. Think Edge of Darkness meets Syriana with a dash of State of Play thrown in for good measure.

Far from being defeated, I have written a three pager for the director's manager to shop around with a 27 page treatment also available. If there are any nibbles I'll write the next draft of the script which is a reworking of an older idea (In Total Unity) that was set on the docks involving a militant union. I also put a submission in for the Kit Denton Disfellowship but I'm not holding my breath over that.

I reactivated an older script The Tangled Web which has previously been optioned twice and was close to getting somewhere when Sam Worthington was nominally attached way back when (also known as before he did Avatar and became huge). I've given it a new coat of paint and sent it to a couple of producers to see if there's any current interest. This is my internet addiction tale where cyberspace is represented visually as a parallel hyper-reality. No typing away on keyboards for this baby.

The creative team for my supernatural thriller The Red Bride met on Sunday and one of the producers is going to MIFF 37 South Market in Melbourne this week. A new log line and synopsis were requested and duly delivered. We also discussed the direction of the next draft, interestingly by looking at an older version of the story. I've had three sessions with Michael Hauge which have been very useful but now it's time to knuckle down and churn out a new draft. We're real close but the last 5-10% seems to be the hardest.

I recently lamented the amount of time I've been spending writing synopses and treatments and log lines and beat sheets and supporting notes and so on and so forth [insert silent scream here]. Enough with Word documents! Back to the warm embrace of Final Draft I say. You would have even noticed an infiltration of blog posts in pseudo script format like Part One. A tell-tale sign.

Further to that though, I started writing a low budget horror free-form without outlines and beat sheets and the like. Dangerous? Perhaps. But I wrote 16 scripted pages in two days and it felt really comfortable. Want to knock out a draft quickly and see what I have. This is the cut down version (boy, is that an understatement) of a story the local Development Manager at ScreenWest says is a $100-120 million studio film. I'm learning!

Then there's the idea that came out of the last Simon van der Borgh workshop that I need to flesh out. As well as another idea I've been brainstorming with the TPI director - again, low budget, contained, and a thriller.

So there's plenty of ideas buzzing between the ears - now all I have to do is write them down...

What are you working on? How's it going? How much outlining do you undertake before writing the first draft of a script? How do you tackle rewrites?

The prosecution rests :-)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Update aka The Long and the Short of It, Part 1

Screenwriting is, of course, a very glamorous occupation where you get to party with fabulously talented actors, hang out with visionary directors and be wooed by humble and respectful producers. Then there's the late night chat show circuit, the yacht at Cannes and the huge royalty cheques in the mail. Just as well those high concept scripts write themselves... I mean, when would you find the time? To sit for hours on end... by yourself... writing and rewriting and rewriting some more. Sounds awful.

Ah, it's a pleasant fantasy. So, what the hell, let's continue with it:

CHAT SHOW HOST: So Richard, what's been happening since you were here last?
ME: You want the long or the short of it?
CHS: Do we need the seven second delay again? 
ME: Settle down. 
CHS: I'm saying, this is a family show.
ME: Since when? 
CHS: Okay, it's not but last time you were here you dumped all over the funding bodies.
ME: No, that was Burleigh. 
CHS: Told a film critic to *beep* off.
ME: That was Jimmy.
CHS: Recounted the last time you were *beeped* with your pants on.
ME: Okay, I'll give you that one, that was definitely me. 
CHS: Any good news?
ME: Well, I had to shelve a short film script.
CHS: That's good?
ME: No, that's terrible.
CHS: What happened?
ME: I had a director all lined up. Wasn't eligible for funding. Found another director who may have been. Then a producer came on board who could have been. 
CHS: Should have all been fine then...
ME: Yeah, except director number two pulled out.
CHS: Prematurely?
ME: I thought you said this was a family show?
CHS: I lied.
ME: The script was sent out to a couple more directors who liked it but said they didn't connect with it.
CHS: What does that mean? 
ME: They didn't know how to tell the producer they thought it was *beeeeeeeep*
CHS: Is it?
ME: No, not at all. But there were no takers before the deadline so now it sits gathering dust on my computer.
CHS: You really should dust your computer regularly. I'm serious. Plays havoc with the fan which overheats the hard drive which causes--
ME: It's in a drawer.
CHS: On your computer?
ME: Anyway, there's another short script.
CHS: How's this one going?
ME: Yeah, really good. It's a result of this and some of this.
CHS: You workshopped the idea with actors?
ME: No, the idea came out of improvised scenes performed by the actors.
CHS: That's a bit pedantic, isn't it?
ME: So sue me, I'm a writer. 
CHS: Big royalty cheques?
ME: *Beep* you!
CHS: Okay, you write this script from various improvised scenes... 
ME: Then the actors workshop the draft. 
CHS: And make changes?
ME: Sure.
CHS: That doesn't make your head explode?
ME: They didn't scribble all over it in crayon.
CHS: Still...
ME: I had a couple of quibbles but they didn't change the structure. Not at all. So I was fine with it.
CHS: That's very mature of you.
ME: Thank you. They even added an extra twist. 
CHS: The butler did it?
ME: No, the uncle. But that wasn't the twist.
CHS: What was the twist?
ME: You'll have to sleep on it.
CHS: Was that an in-joke?
ME: You bet! 
CHS: What happens now?
ME: You show clips of my past films and the audience applauds?
CHS: No, I meant with this script.
ME: I sent it to a director I work with.
CHS: Eligible?
ME: Not since the last time I checked.
CHS: It's the same director from the other script? 
ME: The one in the drawer?
CHS: Yes.
ME: He has, in fact, agreed to direct it. 
CHS: What about government funding?
ME: Don't need it. Why? One word... co-production.
CHS: Is that really one word? 
ME: Now who's being pedantic?
CHS: It is my show. 
ME: Granted. But these two parties, here and here, are going to make this little baby come to life.
CHS: It's currently a dead baby?
ME: I was talking metaphorically.
CHS: Sounds like it's literally a done deal. 
ME: Apparently they met today.
CHS: How'd that go?
ME: How would I know? I'm only the writer.
CHS: I'm out of questions. 
ME: Just as well. I was starting to think you were some sort of clunky writer's device.
CHS: Thought it would make a nice change around here.
ME: Okay, now it sounds like you're simply parroting the thoughts of the writer.
CHS: Is that so bad?
ME: Say goodnight Richard.
CHS: Good night, Richard.
JG: And that's how the Q&A went down. Remember to hit the subscribe button on iTunes and--
ME: That's enough inside references, Jeff. Okay?

To be continued...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

More Shout Outs - Perth Film Industry

While I'm handing out kudos to local film-makers, here's a few more:

Director Chris Richards-Scully has set up a Vimeo page with videos of his short films here. Check out the diverse range of genres and subject matter with faces not often seen in Australian cinema prominent.

Kanowna (short film) - Teaser trailer from Chris Richards-Scully on Vimeo.

For bi-monthly readings of local feature scripts join the Perth Actors Collective Facebook page. Next reading is on 27 July featuring a new play by David Stevens, writer of Breaker Morant and The Sum of Us, and directed by Mark DeFriest.

Speaking of Mark, I caught up with him at the second Actors Lounge Dinner which is an initiative under the Perth Film Network banner. I have attended the first two and they are far more intimate affairs than the general networking nights. Gives you a great opportunity to talk at length to other people in the film industry, mainly actors but not exclusively so. The venues, meals and price have also been very good so a fun evening. Check out the Facebook page here for more details.

Finally, for younger actors, check out the Filmbites website for details of their courses for different age groups.

(While you're busy clicking 'like' on Facebook, my page is here.)

Have fun networking and being inspired to be creative!

Western Australian Web Series Needs Your Support, Part 2

Back in December I posted about Perth film-makers Henry Inglis and Aaron McCann being finalists in Movie Extra Webfest. Well, they went on to win the competition and $50,000 to make a 7x7 minute web series. The result is Henry & Aaron's 7 Steps to Superstardom. The boys have really started to hit their stride with episode 3 - Get Your Brand Out There.

So check out their YouTube channel here for the whole series, released weekly every Tuesday.