Thursday, August 30, 2012

Shout outs and Gratuitous Plugs, Part 1

In The West Wing episode A Proportional Response, Josh Lyman facetiously asks:

What's the good of being in power if you're not gonna haul your enemies in for questioning?

Well, what's the point of having a blog if you can't gratuitously plug the work of colleagues and friends? 

So here, now, some links to things that I follow on the interwebs...

Screenwriter Robert Lee

now in the UK, has committed to writing a two page script every week. You can check out the results here. I admire his discipline (and the self imposed restrictions) as I know he is working on several other projects. Besides, I like the raison d'etre: [A friend] challenged me to write a script a week to hopefully improve my writing. The only rule is that the script cannot exceed two pages, not even a little bit (that doesn’t include the title page). 

The team that brought you Soulfish

the trailer is working hard on bringing you Soulfish, the Web Series. They are currently asking for "funny relationship stories and moments" on their facebook page. The series is pitched at the 16-25 year old age group. So if you have a story you would like to share head on over and see if they can turn your mishaps into digital gold! 

The local podcast,

The (Pod) Casting Couch is one of my favourite film review listens as four Perth-based reviewers with quite different tastes dissect the latest movie releases. They also have interesting Top 4 lists (3 Best and 1 Worst) in a variety of categories. If you're bold you might also offer a "Question Without Notice"! You can follow them on Twitter here. **Update 3/9/12 - they now have a new and improved facebook page!** 

While we're talking film reviews,

one of the members of the above podcast, Shannon Harvey, has established a website that aggregates critics' scores kind of like in an Australian version of Rotten Tomatoes. Called ChocBomb you can find the website here and there is also a facebook page

Friend and writer, Anna Bennetts,

has announced that her one act plays, The Same Paige and Janey Does Stand-Up, last seen at the hugely successful Fringe Festival, will be performed as part of the Fremantle Festival in late October, early November. Go to the facebook page here for further details.

Speaking of performances,

followers of this blog would know that not only have I been to quite a few plays recently but also a couple of musicals (reviews here and here). Well, there are a couple coming up that look quite enticing involving people from those previous productions:

Firstly, Avenue Q (which I loved when I saw it at the Regal Theatre a few years ago) is being performed by Roleystone Theatre from 16 November to 1 December, facebook event page here.

The other is Hairspray, which is on at the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre, four shows only (including one matinee) between 16-18 November. Bookings can be made here.

Lastly, a big shout out to,  

local screenwriter, Ethan Marrell, who set up the monthly script group Reading, Writing & Beer. Thankfully, as a well known cider drinker, the beer is not mandatory. The idea is that every month a group of writers and film-makers come together to discuss an unproduced screenplay. To date we have dissected two Black List scripts (from different years) and the Frank Darabont adaptation of Fahrenheit 451. 

It is a fabulous idea and an evening I really enjoy as we talk about likes and dislikes in relation to the script and basically the craft of screenwriting. So kudos to Mister Marrell! 

There you have it. If you have an interesting project, production, website, podcast, hobby, confession, out of body experience or are simply in desperate need of attention AND you are known to me AND I have forgotten to mention you and/or it *deep breath* wrap me over the virtual knuckles and let me know. 

Always happy to highlight the achievements and work of friends, colleagues and film (related) professionals. 


** A late inclusion!

Production starts on the short film,

Teeth tomorrow, written and directed by Filmbites advanced film-maker Brandon Bonasera, produced by Josiah Saxby, with an excellent cast of Jessica Hegarty, Tahlia Norrish & Braye Dial. I had the opportunity to read the script, provide some notes and discuss the project in a brief one on one with Brandon so I have a 'rooting interest' as they say in the classics. A fun, jet black Vampire parody... and we all know how much I love vampires!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

*What Kind Of Day Has It Been

Monday was the second anniversary of my decidedly involuntary redundancy from my old company. I don't know if I want to talk about it much other than to say the day brought with it a certain amount of reflection. A jumble of thoughts really...

Wow, two years! Has it really been that long? Have I managed to survive without a "real job" all that time?

To a certain amount of retro-active anger that is my pride still pricking me. A combined twenty one years and a damn fine record at that, gone (along with 899 others) in the blink of an administrative eye.

To a gnawing unease as the money has run out and things are getting tough. I'm discovering there is no nobility in being poor, a state of affairs I am unused to. Again, that pride thing has a hard time coping with all the hoop jumping and rejections I now have to deal with.

The great irony is that as the job search sputters along, the writing has been going gangbusters.

Racing to finish a low budget thriller where the creative juices are finally flowing. It's a "vomit draft" - just how nauseous my exceedingly patient director will soon tell me - but it will provide a decent enough foundation to work from.

Tomorrow I discuss a big action feature idea with a person in Sydney I was referred to who has a connect to a possible source of financing. Indeed, the story is being tailor made with certain elements in mind specifically for that source. Hopefully, if they like the pitch, I will get paid to write a treatment and then a draft.

Three short film scripts shot so far this year. Picking up some money here and there doing script feedback and I have an upcoming script editor gig as well. I've been mentoring a young writer and that continues to be a very enjoyable experience. It looks like I'm off The Red Bride but that script is what led to the referral on the action project. So it's all swings and roundabouts I guess.

A day of mixed emotions... but not quite a *season finale just yet!

*Aaron Sorkin famously used this as the episode title of the season one finale of all his shows (Sports Night, The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip)... until The Newsroom which aired in the US the same day as my anniversary. That episode is called The Greater Fool. Not an omen, I trust!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Birthday Story

My nephew in Canberra turned 9 yesterday. He's a big superhero fan and had previously sent me a story about Iron Man and Doctor Doom interrupting, of all things, a Canberra Raiders game. For the record Iron Man (and the Raiders) won.

For his birthday I thought I'd try my hand at a little "fan fiction" in response. It was quite the hit... I love positive audience feedback! :-)

So here, immortalised now on the interwebs is...

Iron Man and the Case of the Stolen Birthday Cake

(A Story For Giovanni by his Uncle Richard, 20 August 2012)

It was a crisp Canberra day when all the children came together to celebrate a special boy’s birthday. There was plenty of laughter and smiles with lots of balloons and good cheer as everyone gathered around. This was going to be a day to remember!

They were all excited but none more so than the birthday boy, Giovanni, who wore his favourite superhero t-shirt. He could hardly contain his joy at having all his friends there. Soon it would be time to cut the birthday cake but little known to all of them Doctor Doom had others plans in mind.

There was a scream from the kitchen! Mama came rushing out, an accusing finger pointed up in the air. “He took your birthday cake!” All eyes turned skywards and sure enough there was Doctor Doom hovering above them with his distinctive green cape and metallic mask. In his gloved hand was a beautifully made cake – Giovanni’s birthday cake!

“Give that back, you!” Giovanni demanded but Doctor Doom only laughed and zoomed off higher. “Papa, do something”, the birthday boy insisted but his father had no way to chase after the super villain. “If only Iron Man were here”, Giovanni muttered to himself.

His eyes suddenly lit up. “I know!” He rushed inside the house and soon returned with his Mama’s mobile phone. He quickly dialled a number. “Who are you calling, G?” his Mama asked. “The special Avengers Hotline”, was the immediate reply. All the children fell silent – the special hotline! This was serious indeed!

Giovanni waited patiently then: “Iron Man, please.”

In a whoosh of jet exhaust there was a loud thud followed by, “You rang?” There Iron Man stood, his suit gleaming in the winter sun. His visor popped open and Tony Stark peered out at all the balloons and streamers.

“Someone having a party without me?”
“Iron Man, it’s Doctor Doom, he’s stolen my birthday cake!”
“Don’t worry, G, I’ll get it back for you. On one condition.”      
“You can’t play with the Wii, you broke it last time.”

Iron Man looked very sheepish until Giovanni remembered time was a wasting.

“What about you can have some cake if you get it back in one piece?”

And with that the visor clicked back into place and Iron Man rocketed off in pursuit of Doctor Doom. The villain wasn’t expecting any company as he tasted the delicious cake. BAM! Iron Man thundered right into him, knocking the stolen prize out of his grasp. As the two began to fight the cake tumbled back towards Earth at an alarming rate.

From the ground, Giovanni and his friends watched the titanic struggle as Iron Man and Doctor Doom exchanged awesome blows. Iron Man was gaining the upper hand but the cake continued to fall.

“Iron Man!!” Giovanni shouted, pointing to the birthday cake.

With one final, almighty punch, Iron Man sent Doctor Doom hurtling into space. Neighbours would later say that the clang of metal on metal could be heard for miles around.

With a burst of acceleration he hit the afterburners and swooped down to rescue the cake just before it hit the ground.

“Thanks Iron Man!”
“No problems, G.”

Everyone burst into cheers as Giovanni’s birthday cake was returned to a grateful Mama.

Later, after the cake had been cut, everyone sat in a circle and munched away happily. There, seated next to Giovanni, was Iron Man with his visor up trying to stuff cake into his mouth.

Giovanni laughed and simply said, “Best Birthday ever!” to his proud Mama and Papa who watched on.

The End

Friday, August 17, 2012

Crowdfunding – Anything is Pozible

On Wednesday I went to a briefing by Pozible co-founder Rick Chen and ScreenWest re the 3 to 1 Crowdfunding Initiative which is an Australian first. In brief, if you raise a minimum of $5,000 in pledges up to a maximum of $50,000, ScreenWest will tip in $3 for every $1 (of your target NOT the total pledged). This is for narrative film projects such as short films, web series, documentaries and only available to Western Australian creative teams.

It’s a fabulous idea and very encouraging to see the local funding body take such an entrepreneurial approach to encouraging new content. Basically, you have to show there is an audience for your project with a minimum of 40 contributors (maximum $2000 per pledge per person) to meet the minimum dollar requirement. ScreenWest will vet all the submitted projects to ensure the budgets are realistic and include components for the rewards offered; and Pozible’s percentage take and credit card fees (allow 6-7% of your budget).

Other than that, if the project meets the minimum requirements of narrative, screen-based, West Australian and doesn’t breach SW’s charter, then it’s basically up to the market to decide. It appears SW won’t assess the creative merits of each project.

There is a total pot of $250,000 available from SW to be accessed on a ‘first past the post’ basis. So, as an example, if you have a target of $15,000 and get pledges to the value of $16, 250 then SW will tip in $45,000.

As you might guess, there was a large turnout of local filmmakers with plenty of questions after the presentations which included two creative teams that have successfully used Pozible. Natalie Lewis and Werzel Montague were representing ‘Super Dingo’, a comedy web series whose first episode generated over 1 million hits on YouTube; while Alice Ross and Sam Field talked about 'Hunter: The Documentary' which currently holds the ‘record’ for most dollars ($20,360) pledged for a WA originated project.

It was great to see the two teams openly sharing their experiences and being forthright about both the positives and the negatives. It also demonstrated the diversity of projects that find support through Pozible.

I jotted down plenty of notes but to summarise some key messages about what works when using crowdfunding:

A personal touch is important.
It requires a lot of work… every day!
Be creative with the rewards.
A social media presence is essential – facebook page and twitter account in particular.
Set a realistic budget.
ASK people to share and contribute.
But DON’T spam or beg!
Keep people updated and thank them individually and publicly for their support.
Deliver the project!
Deliver the rewards!
Understand your audience and research similar film projects on Pozible.

The key date at this stage is 12 November when the initial submission to ScreenWest is due. So get your creative team and ideas together and check out the guidelines. It really is a great opportunity to test the viability of your project and source the dollars to make it happen.

If you need a screenwriter to help bring your story to life or to give feedback on your script(s) then send me an email at

Saturday, August 11, 2012

For Better Or Worse – Short Film Shoot

Actor Adam T. Perkins looking suitably menacing 
I had the opportunity during the week to go on location a couple of times for a short film shoot to refine my highly honed skills of staying the hell out of the way. I was asked a few times how it felt to see “my words come to life” but it’s always a little awkward as my job is done and I’m merely a spectator at this stage of proceedings. The answer is, of course, fascinated, impressed, apprehensive, curious, and generally amazed at all the energy, talent and dedication that goes into turning my scribbling into moving images.

I was brought onto the project pretty late in proceedings to write the shooting script based on previous drafts by other writers. I was also asked to talk to the creative team from the Central Institute of Technology, it being their advanced diploma project. This involved me basically asking a heap of questions about the story, characters, tone, theme and what they hoped to achieve to get a sense of what it was I would write.

The general story stayed somewhat the same but there was a character on the fringes in both previous drafts that intrigued me. So I wrote the final version of what is a nice little thriller idea with that character a far more central player. It was my “in” to try and make the material work. After a few minor notes and a polish, the shooting script was delivered - all in the space of two weeks from that initial meeting. I wish all assignments were so quick!

Actors Ian Toyne (Peter), Clara Helms (Joelene) & Justin Burford (Vincent)
The word was that everyone was pleased with the script which was a relief and I moved onto other projects. It was only when I saw an online request for a featured extra a few weeks later that I discovered the script was going into production. I texted my contact at CIT who acts as a ‘supervising producer’ during shooting and was invited along and later added to the call sheet distribution list.

Clara rehearsing a scene. No blanket come time for a take!
Normally I would have worked closely with the director during the scripting stage, possibly know some Heads of Department and maybe even sit in on auditions. This time, apart from the one hour meeting, I didn’t really know anyone other than the supervising producer. But everyone was very friendly and welcoming so I lurked in the shadows and watched cast and crew go about their business.

Justin in full hero mode!
That was Day One of a five day shoot. I impulsively went to Day Four at Sunset Hospital which is now the playground for filmmakers and a really interesting place - sprawling and disused with long, dark corridors and a maze of rooms. Great fodder for the imagination. This time I came armed with pad and pen so I was writing while watching the creation of a pretty intense scene set in a decrepit old bathroom. By the way, those scribblings ended up being a ten page script that I sent off yesterday so I was working too!

Long, dark corridors at Sunset Hospital
The enjoyable part of being on set is meeting new people passionate about film and visual storytelling so I had great conversations with the actors and members of the crew… whilst, of course, trying to stay the hell out of the way. Oh, and just happened to stay around for a lovely lunch in the sun… purely coincidental of course!

The shoot wrapped yesterday and the vibe seems to be very good. Now we wait as post production takes over to see what it is we have wrought. There is a hard deadline determined by a screening of all the diploma films in November. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product. Oh, and also very happy this is on 16mm not digital so from what I could glean from the locations, the stills, some of the action on the monitor, this should look fabulous. Hopefully I’ve done my job properly and the story is equally as fabulous.

... and that's a wrap, everyone! 
Thank you to all the cast and crew.

For Better Or Worse

Producer: Cathryn Langman
Director: Jacob Kemp
DOP: Christian Niddrie
Starring: Justin Burford, Clara Helms, Ian Toyne & Adam T. Perkins

Old News Is Good News? or Rewriting and the Sorkin Psychosis

Remember the moment when you first discovered that Santa Claus wasn’t real; the Easter Bunny was a fake; and the Tooth Fairy was a low rent bribe? The devastation, the confusion, the hurt? Things you knew with all your heart to be real were suddenly taken away from you. The magic GONE.

Well, I don’t… but then I have terrible memory. But I’m starting to experience the sensation I’m sure accompanies such traumatic revelations.

Readers of this blog and those who know me well would be aware my writing hero is Aaron Sorkin *genuflects* and that, to this day, Oscar wins and nominations included, I still consider the first four seasons of The WestWing his masterpiece.

Something, however, happened on the way to the deification. Two things actually.

The first is that a director gave me the complete box set of Sports Night, Sorkin’s inaugural television series. The second is The Newsroom, his latest.

Now, I know Sorkin recycles material and has certain phrases he is quite fond of and uses liberally (pun intended). Indeed, this recent YouTube clip highlights the tendency to great effect. 

Sure, one of the knocks on Sorkin’s writing is that all his characters sound the same with super quick, intellectual patter that mere mortals would never utter. I have absolutely no problem with this – if you can write dialogue as music such as Sorkin does then what do I care?

Where the sheen is starting to wear off is this – the exact same scenarios being played over and over in different shows. It’s interesting watching the genesis of this in Sports Night through to the perfection of it in The West Wing and now the outright cannibalisation in The Newsroom.

I should pause to say here that I thought Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip had a brilliant pilot and a not so brilliant one and only season. But that’s a separate discussion.

Sports Night certainly is the prototype for many of the story strands and character flourishes that appear in The West Wing. The common denominator of all his series, a group of passionate professionals in a behind the scenes look at a workplace, is established as are the romantic entanglements that are a hallmark of his television work. He certainly “brought the funny” and it’s a show I’m really enjoying even though I can clearly see devices he will use later such as Jeremy writing a letter to his sister commenting on events as they wait for an event to play out - in Sports Night, an improbably long tennis match; in The West Wing, the Stackhouse filibuster.

The West Wing overlayed a certain gravitas given the nature of that workplace and had a stellar cast and production budget. So it’s kind of fun to see some of its origins in the earlier show though odd to realise this “perfect thing” had not arrived fully formed as I had imagined.

What troubles me is that The Newsroom seems to totally disregard the fact that many of these scenarios and devices have been used before. The cumulative effect is what makes me have doubts. Does Sorkin think people with more than a passing familiarity with his writing won’t notice? Is he just being lazy? Is that all the story he has to tell, rewriting scenes to fit the current workplace of choice?

Sure, The Newsroom has its critics due to its depiction of the female characters, the preachy tone, and use of real life news, some of which is discussed here by Australian critics. But it’s the recycling of material that frustrates me.

Take Episode 6 where I was stunned as I called out the equivalent scenes from The West Wing: Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) can’t sleep so goes to a therapist (Night Five); he receives a death threat via email and is assigned a bodyguard (Enemies Foreign and Domestic); the therapist asks if Will’s father used to hit him (The Two Bartlets) and on it went. Suddenly Will is a combination of Jed Bartlet and CJ Cregg. I could have written those scenes as the moment they started I recognised them exactly for what they were – a rehash of previous material.

It feels like Sorkin is simply rewriting existing work as the structure of the above scenes and even some of the dialogue is exactly the same. I was almost surprised after Will asked the bodyguard, “So how does this work?” that he didn’t reply, “I don’t have to see you naked or anything.” Where it was cute to see the genesis in Sports Night, it is now troubling to realise how overt the self-referencing is in his latest show. Truly, Santa Claus doesn’t exist anymore.

But why?

In that episode there were also two cracking scenes, both involving extended, passionate rants, firstly by Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston); then in an on air interview where Will is slapped down hard. First rate, Sorkin at his best. Why surround this with rehashed dialogue and storylines? Why make me think Will is now some kind of facsimile of Bartlet with the whole backstory of his childhood?

I remarked before Episode 7 that if anyone calls Will “Uncle Fluffy” I’m out of there. It didn’t happen but there were echoes again (Will high on medicinal marijuana had all the hallmarks of Bartlet high on back medication) though not as overt as the previous week.

I understand Sorkin is the ‘sole writer’ on the show which involves a prodigious work rate especially given this is closer to an hour each week on HBO not a 42 minute commercial outing. But enough with the self-referencing, the rehashing and the recycling ("three things that all mean the same thing") – you’re better than that, Mister Sorkin… much, much better!