Thursday, December 28, 2017

A New Project, Part 1

Exactly one year ago to the day – 28 December 2016 - I started writing the first draft of a feature film screenplay. Eight drafts later and I am ready to embark on the next draft and hopefully be another step closer to getting the film made in 2018.

But let’s go back a few steps first.

The middle of 2016 I was becoming increasingly restless. I was halfway through what, for me, would be a record breaking year of going to and writing about theatre. Not to say I didn’t love this but that my screenwriting had withered away to an afterthought. And that was bugging me. A lot.

Salvation came in the form of a director who I was slowly, glacially, frustratingly writing another draft of a fictional thriller for. It’s a project I’ll go back to but at the time I was not writing well when indeed I did sit down to work on it.

That director pitched me an idea for a film based on a real-life person and the book he had written about a controversial period of Australian history – our involvement in the Iraq War. I had known the director had the rights to the book ever since he cold emailed me many years ago and our collaboration began. Now, however, he was motivated to pursue it further after a discussion with a well-known and respected figure in the Australian film industry.

The brief – just make the film; be bold, be creative; get noticed. The figure of $20,000 was quoted which I never took literally other than this was to be a micro-budget project. The selling point for me was the director’s absolute conviction that “this film will get made.”

I said I was interested and the deal was sealed, in all places, at the MCG during one of the worst games of AFL football I had seen in a while, in the presence of US Vice-President Joe Biden no less. The director, Tim Dean, had moved back to Melbourne and I was over there on one of my annual musical theatre jaunts. (For the record, my team beat his team unconvincingly in a woeful effort). That decided I immediately reduced my theatregoing activities though I still had to honour my adjudicating commitments for the Independent Theatre Association until the end of the year.

First task was to get a copy of the book which I ordered once I was back in Perth. Then it was a case of not only reading the book but all the notes and previous work that Tim had done with other writers as well as his own research.

Once that was all in the blender it was a case of how the hell do I do this? Ultra-low budget, be bold, be creative.

From discussions with Tim and from all the material he’d shared, the premise was that the film would take place over one night in a hotel room. The original idea was that the protagonist would make a series of phone calls that would assist with the agonising decision whether to challenge the government of the day on the question of the Iraq invasion. At one point I understand it had been proposed a different writer would pen each conversation. This struck me as very dry and, to be frank, uncinematic. How to make this dramatic and cinematic whilst keeping with the smell of an oily rag mandate?

I started thinking about who the phone calls might be to. From the book there was a clear choice based on the animus that was evident in the text. However, a conversation between those two never took place, could never have taken place, at that time. Which led me to the great screenwriting question – WHAT IF? What if these two did have a conversation, in private, before the Iraq War started? How might that play out? It was a tantalising idea and full of dramatic promise.

I am a big fan of screenwriter Peter Morgan of Frost/Nixon, The Queen, and now The Crown fame. His use of imagined scenes – the stag in The Queen; the drunken phone call in Frost/Nixon – that may never have happened but are thematically on point and truthful to the characters in question was a guiding principle. But how to manufacture such a conceit?

From there everything fell into place. This was a tale about a man who locks himself away in a hotel room to make the most difficult decision of his life. He goes through the pros and cons, the worst-case scenarios, in his head. In other words, I could have real life interactions and imagined ones. I knew exactly what happened after his decision in real life but instead of recreating those moments I could have the protagonist visualise and game play the consequences. This gave me a starting point and a way into the story.

The meeting at the MCG happened mid-July. Commencement on the screenplay, end of December. What happened in those five and a half months other than reading the book, notes, and having discussions with the director to come up with the approach?

Well, the short answer is nine drafts of a Beat Sheet to get the major storytelling points down and work on structure. Then, once we were both happy with that, nine drafts on what turned out to be a ten page Treatment, designed basically for one person only – the true life protagonist of our tale. The final version of that was sent to him via his publisher just before Christmas last year. He responded within two days that he really liked it which is what gave me the confidence and enthusiasm to launch into the first draft…

This is the first of what I hope to be a series of posts about this project. If the above is somewhat vague at the moment the reason might become apparent in later updates. For now, it’s back to the script.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Mea Culpa or What The Fuck Happened?

This is my first post to this blog in a long time. Too long.


I haven’t been writing.

I’ve been finding ways to avoid writing.

Too tired.
Too busy at work.
Too much theatre.

One of these may be an exaggeration.

Oh, I’ve been ‘writing’. Writing reviews. Writing critiques. Writing status updates. Writing tweets. Writing lists. Writing about not writi—ahem.

It’s a terrible thing to call yourself a writer and not write.

Even worse when you’re half decent at it. I mean, anyone who’s crap at writing can not write with a guilt free conscience.  

But mine has finally gotten the better of me.

(Using ‘gotten’ in a sentence for a start stings).

A quick recap.

The feature script based on a true life story set just after the Great War fell through. Couldn’t agree to terms with the businessman/producer. Great story. Hope it sees the light of day.

The first two episodes of the web series Boondock Alley have been shot. I don’t know how the shoot went or how it will turn out. I haven’t had anything to do with the project after blowing a gasket when I wasn’t invited to the table read with the full cast during pre-production. I also haven’t written any of the supporting material used on the website or on various social media platforms. Nevermind. Hope it goes well. I thought it was a pretty good idea for a series.

The feature script Turbulence. Ah, yes, Turbulence. I sat and re-read the partially rewritten seventh draft at work today during lunch.

Then I wanted to stick an ice-pick in my brain.


It’s pretty good. Leastways it’s getting there. I am mad at myself for not getting on with it. I don’t know why. It pisses me off.

So things have to change.

I’m getting frustrated and angry at myself. I have been sucked back into corporate servitude. Yes, the money is good. Who am I kidding? It’s fucking glorious! I’ll end up going to Sydney twice this year as well as my annual Melbourne musical theatre jaunt because I can afford such extravagances. And I’m good at it. Work that is. Hell, I might even occasionally admit to liking it from time to time though I have become prone to stress lately which is unlike me.

Yes, I love the theatre. If I didn’t I would be monumentally screwed. I saw 138 shows last year. 71 so far this year and checking my diary I’m currently on pace for 131 by year’s end. Total, absolute, marvellous craziness of a magnitude I couldn’t even begin to fathom a few years ago.

I will honour my commitments as an adjudicator and reviewer but my pre-eminent thought and task has to be writing again. I want to finish Turbulence. It will make a great little thriller. I want to start something new. I have no idea what that might be. I don’t care. I just need to write.

My unit has been renovated and now I have a nice space I can write in. I don’t need the excuse of cafes or distraction free zones somewhere, anywhere else. I just need some goddamn fucking discipline.

I’m getting ranty.

I’m sorry.

For not knuckling down and getting on with it. 
For procrastinating. 
For letting setbacks and disappointments cripple me.

That all changes now.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Long Overdue Update or What the Hell Have you Been Up To, Richard?

Wow. I know. It's been a while. Work has been crazy busy. Adjudicating community theatre shows as well as reviewing other theatre productions has been full on. Life, as they say, has been getting in the way. Yet writing activity has been happening behind the scenes. Perhaps spasmodically, in fits and starts, and not as frequently as I would like (yes, Sam Seaborn, three things that all mean the same thing) but happening nonetheless.

The sixth draft of the feature script Turbulence, after an inordinate amount of time, was finally completed in mid July and sent to the director who has moved back over east. I suspect the impetus for finishing the damn script was mainly because I was flying to Melbourne to do my annual musical theatre mini-junket and feared being waterboarded if I turned up in his home state without it. We had a good catch up over dinner and the early feedback was generally very positive but with work still to be done. Notably on our third major character who has never quite gelled. More of that in a later post.

The first two episodes of the web series Boondock Alley have been completely rewritten after some interesting developments along the way and are scheduled to be shot at the end of this year. Again, I'll talk about how we arrived at this happy state after a somewhat tortuous process in a later update.

Then there's the feature project based on a true life event in 1919. There is now a third draft of a detailed beat sheet and the businessman/producer and I even had a very good meeting with a development manager at Screenwest. But progress appears to have stalled over the business side of things with the terms of an agreement to write a full treatment leading into a first draft script.

But one door slowly closes and another is possibly ajar... as they generally don't say. I have been approached by a previous collaborator about discussing ideas for a potential low budget science fiction feature. The screenwriting brain is already whirring about what this might be.

And then there was the recent epiphany. I have a spreadsheet detailing every project and its status from short film scripts to features to treatments to television ideas and incomplete episodes to, you name it. They're all my babies, even the stunted, deformed ones that were possibly hit by a brick at conception. But it's time to let the vast majority of them go and start working on new projects and ideas.

Other than Turbulence and Boondock Alley everything else now disappears into that metaphorical drawer maybe one day to be unlocked, most likely not.

Time to make room for new characters and worlds and stories...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Back from the Wilderness or Belated Update

I am here to announce that the Great Theatre Rebellion of 2014 has finally been put down… kind of. Yes, it’s true. I have seen a hell of a lot of theatre this year - over one hundred productions. I have also reviewed, well, ahem, over one hundred productions. While I enjoy this theatrical diversion I’ve hit the ‘rookie wall’ and can’t sustain the cracking pace. 

Plus I have to, you know, write.

So what’s been happening on that front, Richard?

Thank you for asking fictional & anonymous blog reader.

The sixth draft of the feature script Turbulence has been coming along… slowly. Too slowly but now the stage production obsession is in remission it’s something I’ll be returning to with a vengeance. In related news my director is moving back to Melbourne. I half suspect it’s in protest of my glacial writing ways but apparently it has more to do with the Carlton Football Club and the kind of Victorian lifestyle one doesn’t find in WA. Thank goodness for Skype.

The web series Boondock Alley now has a facebook page and even a website. Not bad for something ‘still in development’ which I believe is the euphemistic term for ‘ain’t nuthin’ been shot yet’. The search for a producer has been ongoing with lots of people “loving the concept”, asking for scripts then never being heard from again. This leads me to a few possible conclusions – the scripts are so fucking awful as to induce the sort of demise one might find in The Ring. You know, after reading the script, your mobile rings and a dodgy ADR track whispers, “seven days”. The prospective producer then loses all possible means of communication in some catastrophic meltdown thus rendering them helpless. Except to post pictures of cats and selfies on various social media platforms. It’s a curious phenomenon! Other conclusions have been self-censored for fear of causing offence.

However, there was a meeting Saturday past at some ungodly hour in the morning as insisted by a complete moron (namely me) where we tried something a little different. A face to face pitch then the physical handing of the Bible and Pilot script to two gentlemen who seemed switched on with strong credentials. One of my actor/producer colleagues received a call 7am Monday morning to say they loved it and were “in”. The way to avoid The Ring style curse is clearly not to email the script – there’s always a loophole in those horror stories! This could be a promising development with talk of a January shoot… let’s see how things progress.

On the very same day, a businessman I met at a producing course who subsequently pitched me a feature film idea on the rooftop of a boutique bar in the city as we celebrated the ending of said course… man, this is a loooooong sentence… *deep breath*… sent me a whole lot of material to read with a view to see if it could be turned into a script. This is after a weird conversation about ISIS, ebola and filmmaking. Only two of those things threaten to destroy the fabric of civilisation as we know it… though there are times it could be all three if someone makes me sit through movies like Godzilla again. 

Oh, hey! Did I mention? I did a producing course!!!! So frustrated with the inability to get short film scripts and the web series made I decided to pretty much splash out on an FTI course in sheer desperation. Six times three hour sessions conducted by Tenille Kennedy who I have known for a while and now have an even greater appreciation for her producing skills. I’m not sure it’s what I really want to do and Tenille has a wealth of experience and knowledge that would take me a long time to acquire. I want someone like her to produce my scripts not try and be her. But it certainly gave me some great insights from a different perspective and oh, hey, did I mention the networking/pitching over drinks thing?

That’s pretty much it other than to say it’s been a strangely film orientated few days with the other director I have developed projects with contacting me out of the blue today and we had a coffee and chat. Maybe it’s all a sign for me to pull my proverbial out and get on with the Turbulence draft… 

PS Australia Post - when someone sends you a certificate in the mail and the envelope says "Please don't bend" it actually means Please don't fucking turn it into an origami swan to get it into the letterbox!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Short Film Update or I Think I Wrote That or A Writer’s Lament

It’s been a shitty week at work. Scrap that, it’s been a shitty month. I’m not usually prone to work related stress but I’ve been feeling it of late – overwhelmed by the sheer volume of activity and the kind of long hours I promised myself I’d never return to when I went back to the corporate world. A state of affairs that I will be redressing as of next week I can assure you, good reader.

It’s fair to say then that I wasn’t my usual witty self when I wandered over to the latest PAC Script Lab reading straight from work. Not helped by the fact that, for some reason (perhaps because it was much warmer in the State Library than the morgue-like temperature my office building is set at?), I suddenly couldn’t hear very well as if my ears were stuffed with cotton wool. I was tired and cranky, a state not immediately solved by free wine. A combination of my general absence from the ‘film scene’ and an unruly winter beard also meant that I was largely incognito. I suspect my general demeanour may have been a contributing factor, another issue to address.

I did, however, have a conversation with the director of Filmbites who is easily one of the nicest people in the local film business. Amongst the general chitchat she gave me an update on the short film Darkness that I wrote in the second half of 2011 after attending two sessions with Filmbites’ advanced acting students in the middle of that year.


Apparently the footage is looking great, the special effects are now being done, and the producer and director are really happy with some local act that will be doing the music.

My reaction was interesting. I nodded politely and smiled but I had no personal or emotional response as such at all.

Three years ago I created the story from basically two disparate improvisations by those young actors. Initially I wrote, I think, three drafts. Then a director needed to be attached. I had a meeting with the person who would become the director one evening in a cafĂ© to do the pitch. He came on board but requested changes to the script. This was fine as the basic idea was unaltered – it was mainly tweaking the ending which changed the tone somewhat but that wasn’t a deal breaker. As this was part of an inaugural programme for the film school the goal was to have as strong a script as possible. The director subsequently brought on board an up and coming producer and things were all set. I attended auditions, an entire afternoon of rehearsals in about April 2012, and was on location a few times when the film was finally in production. In other words I was an integral part of the process… up to that point.

Since then I haven’t seen one second of footage or had any input into or even been advised of any creative decisions. I briefly met the editor earlier this year who is an expatriate Western Australian now working in LA (with many impressive assistant editor credits on some big Hollywood films) and she was lovely but talk of possibly seeing an edit ended up being just that, talk.

I understand that as everyone is volunteering their time this was going to be a long process but from being one of the early driving forces I’m not even a bit player anymore. I haven’t had any conversations with the director or producer for ages so I really have no idea what the final film is going to be like. I’ve also lost touch with the actors who’ve gone on to varied things, one now attempting to forge a career in LA. This may be a screenwriter’s fate in the greater scheme of things though a little disappointing given the nature of the programme that was the impetus in the first place. I probably also cast an envious eye at tightknit creative teams like Seventh Continent Productions and others doing well with their short films.

So when I was hearing the update Thursday night I felt very remote from it all. Unfortunate but I guess I did my job a long time ago and once that’s complete my involvement to all intents and purposes is over.

I hope it turns out well.

I suppose I’ll find out the same time everyone else does.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Shout outs and Gratuitous Plugs, Part 3 - The Two of Us

Some time ago now I participated in the Professional Partnership Program with the Filmbites Youth Film School. My involvement was in developing what turned out to be two short film scripts based on the improvisations of the school's advanced acting students.

When the first of those scripts was being shot I visited the location one Sunday. As usual, a writer on a film set is a challenge at the best of times. However, there was a young actress there who was playing a background extra. Two things I remember from that day - she would read a book in a quiet corner when not called upon for scenes; and most respectfully asked if she could send me something to read after declaring that she liked my script.

That actress is Shannon Berry and what she sent me was a short story called The Two of Us. What struck me is what a wonderful piece of writing this was from, I think at that stage, a 13 year old. Mature and imaginative it was about a young boy and his shadow and how the two of them deal with the unexpected death of the young boy's father. Told from the shadow's point of view!

Shannon went on to adapt her own short story into a short film script that was subsequently shot for Junior Tropfest for which it was shortlisted.

That film is now up for an audience choice award as part of the ATOM Awards.

Unfortunately, the privacy settings won't let me embed the film but you can view it on Vimeo HERE.

To vote for The Two of Us it is in the "Best Middle School (7–10) Film Production" category on the Atom Awards website HERE.

I have subsequently read more of Shannon's work and she is a talented writer and passionate young actress. So if you like the film PLEASE VOTE!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Little Re-Branding

Ah, branding. Seems to be the buzz word these days.

Given the amount of theatre reviews I've been writing this year, it appears commentary on my screenwriting exploits has been choked to death like the victim of a gloved serial killer.

So I've created a separate blog for my reviews:


This blog will therefore revert to being:

Screenwriting 101 or Misadventures in WA Film.

No more theatre.


Except if I update the wrong blog.

Which is probably highly likely.


Okay. I'm going to work on my screenplay now...