Monday, December 30, 2013

Hanging Out With Actors, Part 2 - Boondock Alley

Leon's first read of the Pilot.
At the end of August I wrote about the start of a new project where three actors had commissioned me to create a web series. At that stage I only had a vague idea what I was going to write about and had committed to creating a series Bible to explore this further.

I don't know if that's usually done for a web series but it certainly is a staple in television. The Bible, in effect, is a road map for the entire show. In its current state for what is now known as Boondock Alley it is 13 pages long and about 5100 words. To give you an idea of what it contains, the headings are:

The World
Character Breakdowns
Series Rules
Series One Dramatic Arc
Episode Guides

I had said to the actors that if they wanted to do this properly they had to realise that developing scripts would take time. First step was fleshing out the premise and deciding exactly what this was. I knew the basics: the tagline quickly became Boondock Alley - A doctor's surgery for the Undead. But I had no idea what the series would be about and it was important for me to find the dramatic arc so I could structure it properly. I knew I wanted to satirise both the healthcare system and the prevalence of such creatures as vampires, zombies and werewolves in modern culture. But it was important to me to do this in a coherent storyline with interesting human characters as well as the more exotic ones.

The request was for 10 x 5-7 minute episodes. The actors gave me a minor scare when they toyed with the idea of cutting it to 6 episodes after I had plotted it out. Yes, this could have been done but it would have meant some serious truncating of both story and character arcs.

Let's back up a bit. The three actors in question are Leon Grey, Anita Barnes and Catriona Coe. They have been involved at all stages in story discussions and giving input on their characters as I began to put this together. Indeed it was Leon who came up with the title after it was initially called Dead Serious.

Given the premise it was important for me to give context to the world and the two teasers here and here are more or less direct lifts from The Bible.

Once I determined the dramatic arc (discovered whilst absently listening to a rendition of Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven before a play reading in Fremantle) I began to plot the episodes. Given it was an order of 10 I used the Game of Thrones model of plotting towards a climactic ninth episode with the tenth being the ramifications of that event and setting up a possible second series (hell, if I'm going to do it might as well accept it is an ongoing universe). In loose terms then, the episodes are:

The Pilot: where the premise is established and the characters introduced.
Episode 2: a satire of the medical procedural show, notably House.
Episodes 3-5: a point of view episode for each of the three leads.
Episodes 6-8: the dramatic arc kicks into gear properly (set ups earlier)
Episode 9: Hell fire and fury reign down on our heroes (or some such thing)
Episode 10: Consequences and cliffhanger for Season 2

IF I had to shorten it to 6, episodes 3-5 would go and I would have truncated 6-8.

Now, all this was done BEFORE a single word of script was written. The Bible had one revision after feedback from the actors then came time to write the Pilot. I had the opening scene in my head and quickly captured that. When I sat down to finish the pilot it was done in one sitting and "came out" quite easily. The second episode was trickier because I had to start introducing a little more exposition into how the world of the series works but poking fun at House was fun. The third episode was harder but again was done in one sitting. At present they're all decent first drafts and the feedback has been excellent from the actors but I know I'll have to rework them.

I'll stop writing episodes now because a) it's time to see how doable this is in terms of production; b) I know that I can write episodes easily enough because the "hard work" was done putting the Bible together; and c) given the detail in the Bible the actors, who are also de facto producers, can use other writers if they wish. Though I'd certainly want to write episodes 9 & 10.

Thankfully the actors have been smart enough to acknowledge it takes time to produce quality material. I appreciate their patience and enthusiasm equally. The current scripts will need rewrites as the director gets involved and production decisions are made but I'm certainly happy with where this currently sits from a writing perspective.

The next step is turning words into moving images and I look forward to seeing what 2014 will bring in that regard!

Over to you Leon, Neets and Cat! :-)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Top Ten Theatre Productions in 2013

At the start of the year I posted my top ten theatre productions for 2012. It was the first time I had done such a thing despite my love of lists, mainly because my attendance at live theatre had grown beyond supporting an acting acquaintance here and there. 

This year saw another leap forward in that regard, attending 25 productions, 3 play readings and 6 PAC Script Lab readings (okay, I had to go to one of them as it was my script being read!). This may not seem a lot, certainly compared to others who appear to see everything, but for me it was. What also surprised me was the number of musical theatre productions which has grown exponentially and feature heavily in this year’s top ten list. I wrote about that arc earlier this year.

So down to business – these were the ten productions I enjoyed the most throughout the year plus a new addition, my favourite male and female performance of the year.

Links to my reviews that were originally published on the now defunct Theatre Australia website as indicated; my original comments (in quotations marks) from threads on that website.

1. Animal - Upstart Theatre Company

I truly was blown away by this. The writing was outstanding and provocative; the acting excellent, led by a superb performance from Kingsley Judd.

"This is a brilliantly written play - layered, brutal, provocative, sly, heartbreaking - with every setup paid off to telling effect. Nothing is wasted or misplaced here. It is beautifully acted by Kingsley, Sally (Bruce) and Patrick (Downes) who clearly relish working with such quality material."

2. Madame Piaf - KNUTS Theatre

Talking to Stephen Lee after the show, he reinforced what was apparent for all to see – sometimes an actor is simply perfect for a role. Rhoda Lopez gives a bravura performance as Edith Piaf.

"During the course of the year you get to see some really good shows in Perth, produced and performed by very talented people. Sometimes you get to see something truly exceptional."

A two hander that packed an emotional wallop with an authentic sense of time and place as it deftly explores the aftermath of 911 in New York City.

"Memorable, funny, and moving. Above all, utterly authentic."

I had such a good time with this. Raucous and bombastic it was simply great entertainment.

"Sometimes you go to the theatre for thought provoking drama, maybe to see something experimental or the work of a new playwright. Sometimes you get a rollicking, entertaining ride that is flat out enjoyable from start to finish."

5. Playhouse Creatures - Her Infinite Variety Ensemble

A strong ensemble piece that mixed absurdist elements with the all too real circumstances of women having to navigate the “bear pit” of 17th century theatre.

This musical was genuinely laugh out loud funny and had the added bonus of me seeing a large chunk of it from the stage before bombing out on misspelling “zomathary”.

"This celebrates the absurdity and competitiveness of that most unique of American "sporting events", the spelling contest. Each of the contestants battle not only each other but the expectations of parents; their own high hopes; raging hormones; and the pressure of being a winner."

7. The Producers – Playlovers

A cumbersome beast. The first forty minutes were stretching my patience but then something magical happened after the story finally kicked into gear and the production flies especially in the second act. 

8. Cats - Regal Theatre

I’ve never seen the ‘traditional’ interpretation so was not troubled by the choice of 40-50s style costuming. I have no idea what was going on as the story is surreal to say the least but the highlight came when the cast got their raunch on to McAvity the Mystery Cat.

9. Le Gateau Chocolat – Fringe

Fabulously talented, gloriously outrageous and deeply personal, this was a highlight of the festival.

10. Holly & Ivy - Marloo Theatre

This one act play was the middle offering in a “Trilogy” of productions. It snuck up on me with its understated acting and beautifully drawn characters and navigates what could have been a very problematic twist.

Male Performer of the Year – Kingsley Judd for Animal

Female Performer of the Year – Rhoda Lopez for Madame Piaf 

Special Mention – Adam T. Perkins for The Guys

Thank you to ALL the actors, directors, playwrights, musicians and crew of ALL the productions I saw in 2013. It truly is a pleasure to see your work come to life. Perth has a vibrant theatre scene with amazing talent to be found. Long may it continue.

For more reviews go to Perth Theatre Reviews.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Web Series, Teaser #2

The Undead have always existed but now they’re out in the open… and have national health care.

Within this maelstrom of distorted reality and heightened bureaucratic insanity let’s throw in three human characters through whose eyes we’ll experience the chaos and wonder of this odd little surgery with its more than odd little patients.

Each will have their own secret reason for working there. This isn’t the most glamorous of gigs - the Undead present a physical threat as well as moral and ethical dilemmas despite their legal status. What sort of person would want to spend the majority of their day amongst those who are no longer human if indeed they ever were? 

Perhaps the humans are as damaged as their patients, maybe even more so...

Boondock Alley

A doctor’s surgery for the Undead.

Coming soon in... 

...well, it's always difficult to tell with these things. I mean, the pilot is written and the next two episodes. The three leads are cast as the actors basically commissioned me to write the thing. A director is attached. There's a title and possibly a catchy jingle and theme music. For all I know there's even a POSTER! Okay, maybe a little early for the poster but things are getting serious! Now for key crew and Heads of Department and catering and extras and auditions and, did I mention, catering? But it's all looking good so far. No, really it is! So I can definitely say with much confidence, coming soon! In the future... ish. In 2014!!! Keep an eye out. The Undead are EVERYWHERE!!! 

Oh, and Merry Christmas! Remember, Vampires, Werewolves and Zombies et al are people too. Or used to be. So you should get them something. Nothing flash or fancy. Just a small gift. It would be nice. It's Christmas. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Web Series, Teaser #1

Imagine a world where the myths were all true – the fairy tales, the legends, the whispered tales handed down from generation to generation, all of it. That creatures of the night, both foul and misunderstood, have always walked, crawled, flown, and stalked amongst us, and always will.

Then imagine that these creatures were, over time, integrated into society, and begrudgingly accepted if not embraced; that they had rights under the law. Outsiders to be sure; distinctive, vibrant, different… and still dangerous.

Boondock Alley

A doctor’s surgery for the Undead.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Let’s Write A Screenplay, Part 1 – The Idea

Apologies, Alas Smith & Jones
Greg: Mate, you see that flick on the weekend?
Tony: Which one?
Greg: The one I told you about.
Tony: The searing warts and all examination of the human condition?
Greg: No, the one with the sharks coming out of the tornado.
Tony: Yeah, that one.
Greg: Well?
Tony: I thought the cinematography was pretty good.
Greg: You didn’t see it, did you?
Tony: I have, in fact, not seen it.
Greg: We could do something like that.
Tony: Do we even have tornadoes in Australia?
Greg: I meant… you know what I mean.
Tony: Hardly ever.
Greg: We could write something along the same lines!
Tony: A film script?
Greg: Sure, how hard can it be?
Tony: You spelt your name wrong on your final year English exam.
Greg: It was the original European spelling.
Tony: I don’t even know what that means.
Greg: Fine. I’ll be the ideas man, you can write it down.
Tony: And this big idea would be?
Greg: Divanami!
Tony: Excuse me?
Greg: Get this, a thousand washed up actresses wash up in New York and start terrorising the locals by aggressively auditioning for Broadway roles that don’t exist.
Tony: I’m still on, “excuse me?”
Greg: It’ll be huge!
Tony: Well, sure, what with a thousand actresses and all.
Greg: Washed up actresses. Think Lindsay Lohan, think Tara Reid --
Tony: Who?
Greg: Exactly!
Tony: It doesn’t sound very Australian.
Greg: We can throw in a few Home and Away stars.
Tony: Last time I checked New York isn’t an outer suburb of Sydney.
Greg: The home of Broadway, my friend. Remember that girl from school?
Tony: The one who took out a restraining order on you?
Greg: No, the other one.
Tony: I think she ended up taking out one too.
Greg: No, the one who wanted to be a big star, singing and dancing on Broadway.
Tony: Did she ever move to New York?
Greg: No, she couldn’t sing or dance to save herself but that doesn’t matter.
Tony: Probably matters to the people who put on shows in New York.
Greg: The point is that was her dream, to be on stage in the Big Apple.
Tony: Okay.
Greg: Think how many other aspiring actresses have exactly the same fantasy?
Tony: I thought they were washed up?
Greg: You know what I… look, what do they call it when you play around with words?
Tony: Wordplay?
Greg: That’s it. Divanami, actresses, tsunami, washed up, get it?
Tony: Don’t you think that might be a little insensitive in light of recent events?
Greg: The Miley Cyrus thing?
Tony: I was thinking more the people drowning thing.
Greg: No, they’re all dumped in New York alive by some big wave.
Tony: Seems a little implausible, don’t you think?
Greg: They made a movie about sharks in a tornado. 
Tony: Point taken.
Greg: So what do you think?
Tony: Well, what’s the story?
Greg: What do you mean?
Tony: What happens next?
Greg: They start auditioning on the streets of New York.
Tony: Not really the same as sharks on the loose though, is it?
Greg: Have you ever been the victim of a really bad audition?
Tony: I’ve heard stories.
Greg: Terrifying.
Tony: Do you know anything about writing a screenplay?
Greg: Adaptation is one of my favourite movies.
Tony: We’re all set then.
Greg: What do you say?
Tony: New York here we come?

To be continued...