Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dexter - Season 4 Finale

Reflections on the Season 4 finale and it's "game-changing" denouement ...

Okay, so the first 48 minutes of the season finale were lethargic, out of character and almost perfunctory. Dexter finally(!) dispatches Arthur "Trinity" Mitchell (congratulations on your upcoming Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor - Drama, John Lithgow ... who knew?) which was to be expected. Debra Morgan was actually doing all the heavy lifting and Jennifer Carpenter has been superb the last two episodes (congrats in advance on your first Emmy nomination). It was flat and uninspiring.


Then the show pulls an astounding last three minutes out of the bag - Dexter returns home to find Rita murdered (yes, by Trinity) and his baby son sitting in a pool of her blood (echoing Dexter's own "birth in blood"). A truly shocking and visceral moment ... that almost makes me think they deliberately made the preceding 48 minutes so banal to rachet up the "oh my ****ing god!" factor because it was a genuine jaw dropping moment.

The internet forums subsequently melted down. It was interesting reading the reaction as Rita was not a much loved character. But there is a "gut punch" factor at work here regardless of how you felt about her.

And there was the usual nonsense:

NO, it wasn't a dream! That would be one of the biggest "F*** you!" (to the audience) decisions in television history and the writers aren't that stupid. If they played that card I would switch off quicker than an Entourage Season 6 episode.

YES, of course Trinity killed her in a John Doe "Seven" 'beyond the grave' triumph kind of way (without the box). One theory espoused that the new FBI agent did it? Hello, are you INSANE?

NO, Rita will not appear as a Harry Morgan style ghost dressed in Number 6's red dress from Battlestar Galactica.

Okay, I made that last one up.

What now for Season 5 which will be the last 12 episodes ever?

There won't be a guest star like Jimmy Smits in S3 and Lithgow in S4. There won't be a new serial killer.

Debra Morgan is the key and they have been moving the pieces slowly into place. She now knows Dexter is Brian "The Ice Truck Killer" Moser's brother. The police know someone set up Stan Beaudry as Trinity with DNA evidence (forensics background anyone?). Dexter has to explain Rita's death, Arthur Mitchell's presence at Homicide (Angel clearly saw him) and various other inconsistencies. Every season harks back in one way or another to previous events in S1 (notably Dexter's "birth" as a "monster") and he has now lost whatever moral compass he might have had with Rita gone.

Season 5 will be Dexter Morgan v Debra Morgan. How far is he prepared to go to keep his secret? How far is she prepared to go to reveal it? The stakes - Dexter either kills Debra or Debra reveals Dexter (leading to his execution). How much does he want to remain in the shadows, a monster? How much does she want to learn the truth in all its horror? Where will Harry Morgan's allegiance lie?

Usually each season starts with a time lapse from the previous season. I'd start S5 immediately from the drop-off point of S4 and watch Dexter dangle in the wind as he tries to cover tracks that tenacious and talented detective, Debra won't be able to help herself but uncover. Brother v sister, serial killer v cop, Dexter Morgan versus Debra Morgan.

Now THAT could be a sight to see, I tell you ... a sight to see ...

Avatar - I See (Through) You

I braved megaplex cinema hell on Tuesday to watch the most hyped film of the year ... and came away underwhelmed. Then I was overwhelmed (and perplexed) by the adulation for this movie by my learned film-making colleagues. Simply stated, I was bored for most of the running time of Avatar. No dramatic tension, no characters I had emotional buy-in for, no thrills or surprises. No matter how dazzling the technology, it can never replace the joy of a story well told.

My (tongue-in-cheek) review:

"Welcome to Pandora! Where exposition and bad dialogue thrive. Okay, yes, the technology was impressive though some of the creature designs were improbable at best (a beastie that evolved bullet proof armour in the shape of a hammer-head solely for the purpose of defeating: Iron Man, Imperial Walkers and souped up, 'Aliens' style power loaders = evolutionary genius!) and it was curious to see that helicopters now require two main rotors in the future while the humble wheelchair remains the pinnacle of paraplegic transportation.

The story makes no sense. The Company (obviously tired of trying to weaponise Aliens) goes to great expense to infiltrate the natives due to its fear of arrows. Giovanni Ribisi playing Paul Reiser playing Burke playing Parker wants to impregnate Sigourney Weaver with an Ali- ... oh, hang on ... no, he wants to obtain the unobtainium which is, um, unobtainable due to the dudes with arrows and big ears living in Rivendell ... I mean Treehome.

The cunning plan is to create Avatars that are identical to the natives in all respects ... except they wear pants and Marine tunics. Ken Watanabe (or was it Zoe Saldana?) then teaches Sam Worthington's avatar to be a samurai. This goes on for what seems like three hours with no stakes, no conflict and therefore little interest. Yawn.

Finally, the evil military dude sees the drawback of diplomacy (after a brief stint at Copenhagen no doubt) and decides some man-made global warming is in order.

The Ewoks are then rallied by Sam to defeat The Empire and bring peace to the Galaxy in a preposterous battle sequence that feels interminable.

I had no emotional buy-in with any character and for most of its length I was just bored. Technology cannot replace a story well told no matter how dazzling it may be."

Monday, December 28, 2009

HAF-less (but undeterred)

Not the phone call I was hoping for. Chris rang today - The Red Bride didn't make the cut for HAF. Disappointing news to be sure but not the end of the world (just the decade).

The submission was largely based on a synopsis, director's statement and various creative bios ... not the script. So maybe I suck at writing synopses (yes, negative writer self-talk ... it will pass in a day or so).

I am still very high on the script so now we work on the next draft and the strategy to get it produced. One door closes another ... yada yada yada.

Roll on 2010!

Colour Me Crazy (Priorities - 2010, Part 2)

Amidst the haze of festive celebration and work-free exuberance, I have been considering next year's writing assignments. Those few who have seen it, snicker at my excel spreadsheet that lists every single project - short, feature, tv series, play - I have tackled. Fifty-two (yes, 52) in total at last count (including 15 features and 3 short features). Some never survived past synopsis or concept stage, others have multiple drafts, a few were still born during the first draft. I keep tabs on these things as even the defunct scripts may have snippets of ideas or characters that could prove useful at some future date.

Some observations on going through the list - I am a screenwriter not a playwright. I want to write features not shorts. My natural inclination is high concept genre. I should stop running away from that. Practice makes, if not perfect, then more competent in the craft of screenwriting and visual storytelling. I think I'm ready now to write the sort of scripts that truly showcase my storytelling ability.

What does this mean for 2010? Less projects to actively work on for starters! Follow my story-telling instinct and not be boxed into thinking I have to write "Australian" films (whatever that means). Relinquish those scripts whose time has passed. Move onto new material.

This means The Tangled Web which has been optioned twice, received money from the AFC under their new screenwriters grant, at one stage had Tom Jeffrey (The Odd Angry Shot) attached as a "mentor producer", interest from Sam Worthington in the lead role, and has had 13 "official" drafts (who knows how many 'revisions'), goes in a drawer.

It means another favourite - In Total Unity - may only find renewed life as a co-production with the story reset to Hong Kong. That may depend entirely on whether I go to HAF in March.

The Red Bride remains very much active and I would expect to be doing new drafts throughout 2010.

But the new feature project will be a high concept hybrid genre piece (war meets supernatural thriller) called Trench. The concept excites me and I'm itching to begin ... but this one will be outlined and planned well in advance of script stage. In many ways, it is a logical successor to Iron Bird which also utilised both these genres.

On the television series front, I presented 6 concepts to my Forgeworks colleagues for T-Vis but tonight I decided which one I want to work on. Yes, the high concept science fiction drama that actually started life as the first script I ever wrote (just awful in terms of execution but has lots of nice ideas and is instructional as to what kind of writer I should be). Chances of being made by an Australian network? Zero. My interest level and passion? Off the charts. So stuff it, I'm going to write the daylights out of it.

Anything else - In and Under, Don't Come Monday, The Tangled Web et al - will require a producer pushing me to work on due to interest in the form of serious money to progress to production.

Finally, NO MORE FAVOURS. By this I mean writing assignments for friends or colleagues for no or minimal payment. I am starting to appreciate the value of time as a screenwriter and anything that takes me away from my main focus is detrimental.

As an aside, I sit here writing this at 4am when it is a lovely 22.4 degrees celcius. It is going to hit 40 today - hot in anyone's language. While I'm on holidays I can stay up crazy hours to write in cooler conditions and sleep during the day. What I'd give to be able to do that all the time!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


One of the skills I have yet to master in regard to screenwriting is waiting. Waiting for notes, waiting for feedback, waiting on funding panels and news of submissions. But wait we must as the HAF projects aren't announced until mid-January.

I've put the script aside and don't intend to look at it for a couple of more weeks yet. Needs fresh eyes and other readers at the moment.

In the meantime, I am finding great value in a couple of US blogs and a newly discovered podcast:

Script Shadow which reviews Hollywood spec scripts.

The Bitter Script Reader which gives an interesting insight from a US reader's perspective including do's and don't's.

The On The Page podcast which has a wide cross section of guests on a range of screenwriting subjects.

And, of course, the Creative Screenwriting Magazine podcasts.

But the waiting for Christmas is almost over, so have a good festive season and a creative 2010. I'm taking a break from the online world for a while so see you in a few weeks time for more misadventures!


Friday, December 18, 2009

Case Study - "Freeze-Frame"

Another question I usually get asked as a writer is, "what sort of things do you write about?" Well, a strong recurring theme in all my work is a blurring of fantasy and reality in many and varied ways - parallel worlds, fantasy constructs, the supernatural, the masks and disguises we wear to hide our true reality, the self-delusions we create. Not sure why or what that says about me but that's probably another discussion!

The short film Freeze-Frame, produced by Serena Ryan and directed by Iain Dawson, is a prime example of this duality. In this case, though, it was a script I never quite nailed. Too many ideas, too complicated and not clear what is real and what is imagined by the main character.

The original idea was that a jogger discovers a camera on the foreshore and accidentally takes a picture of himself which implicates him in a heinous crime. A friend read an early breakdown and offered, "what if he really did it?" That lead to the whole idea of the victim being the jogger's wife. In the story, the wife has left him for another man and he has photos from a private investigator of their illicit liaisons. The discovery of the camera leads him to fantasise about killing her (while he continues to jog) as he is unable to deal with his anger and bitterness at her betrayal. The laundry sequences, the second visit to the chemist, the detective interview, for example, are therefore all totally imagined.

The notion was that the act of unleashing his dark side is what eventually allows him to heal and achieve some form of closure. An unconventional thought but one I liked very much.

So this no-budget short is an insight into a developing story style that I continue to deploy - The Tangled Web has a heightened parallel world (cyberspace), The Red Bride plays with hallucination versus supernatural manifestation, Hotel Blue explores a fantasy construct created by self-delusion and the upcoming Trench could combine several of these facets, wrapped up in a pseudo-war genre.

Looking back at Freeze-Frame, the short is not the ideal format for this sort of layering. Immortal is also a complicated short script with a character in the grip of self-delusion. Neither script received funding support though Freeze-Frame was short-listed for FTI's Link programme a couple of years ago. THAT was an interesting panel interview!

So the lesson learnt is that features are the way to go to explore "the fantasies we create to deal with the realities of our lives".

Monday, December 14, 2009

Kanowna - from vision to page to screen

Today I had an opportunity to have a look at a fine cut of Chris Richards-Scully's short film, Kanowna. This takes me full circle from the days when we were breaking the story for The Red Bride when Chris would ask, "have I told you about Kanowna?" For a long time that's all I knew - a title!

Eventually, he pitched the story to me in typical director style - shot by shot. He could clearly see the film in his head so my response simply was, "write it down!". And to his credit he did.

I can't remember when he sent me a script but it must be well over a year ago. Very lyrical and very Chris with a focus on characters you don't normally see in Australian shorts, in this case, Japanese in the Kalgoorlie Goldfields circa 1902. I suggested stripping out some dialogue (and it was pretty sparse to begin with), tinkering with some lines and from memory, slightly re-arranging some sequences. We had a couple of meetings after which there was a pretty good draft.

Producers came and went, including a strange meeting I went to with one producer who had a different take on the story (that I didn't understand and certainly wasn't part of Chris' vision). A new draft was written. However, the lead actor - Dustin Clare - quite perceptively remarked to Chris that it seemed like the new draft was "explaining things". He was right - that draft was scrapped along with the producer.

So I had a pretty good idea of the story when I sat down to watch the fine cut. But it's always a treat to see words on a page turned into images on screen and while this hasn't been colour graded yet it looks terrific.

I knew from Chris' blog he was looking more for comments on structure and my main feedback was regarding the opening sequence. At the moment the film opens on the protagonist with some off screen dialogue that I remember from Chris' very first draft but here it jarred. It also didn't maximise the introduction of the antagonist - the beats just didn't feel right.

There is, however, a great cinematic introduction to that character in the next scene and I suggested dropping the O.S. and building to the essential conflict in the story. That's as much an intuitive story-telling thing than anything else but Chris and the editor Sarah Clarke were appreciative of the different perspective. It will be interesting to see how it plays when they take another swing at that sequence.

Ultimately, it's all about making the film as good as it can possibly be. There was probably a gap of over a year between when I was assisting with the script to the screening of the fine cut where I had no involvement at all. But being able to contribute in any way is always a privilege.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Vault - "Hotel Blue", Part 1

A glorious experiment ahead of its time in 2002 that may find new life in the next decade in more traditional form. The original idea from producer Tony Eades: an interactive television drama where the audience could choose how the story progressed.

My involvement - a writing friend had recommended me as someone who "could write fast". To this day I don't know what that meant but meet Tony I did. His pitch - an interactive story about a security guard in a five star hotel ... adventures ensue.

I suggested other writers and Michael Bond was already on board as director. The first task - to demonstrate that an interactive drama could work. Remember, this is 7 years ago and right before shows like Fat Cow Motel (ABC) and TwentyfourSeven (SBS) also dabbled with interactive elements.

But Tony envisaged something far more complicated than audience voting at the end of each episode for next week's storyline. He wanted voting within the episode!

The other writers who came on board were Anna Bennetts, Hellie Turner and Gerry Lyng taking the creative team to six. It was decided to shoot a "pilot" with a simple premise that could generate multiple story strands. Sounds easy but was incredibly complicated when voting choices happened at two separate points. Given this, the brief was for each writer to develop scenes where: it's the security guard's first day, money has been stolen from the hotel safe, he kisses "the girl".

I still remember the afternoon we read out our scenes. I went last and totally bamboozled everyone with a scene where our hero appears at one stage in pyjamas, finds syringes and other strange goings-on as is my want.

Then I uttered the fateful explanation - "because he's not really a security guard in a five star hotel, he's a drug addict in a rehab centre who thinks he's a security guard in a five star hotel". Michael did his best Marty Feldman impersonation and immediately tapped into the Lynchian possibilities. Not everyone else was as enthused though Anna liked the notion and I can't recall Tony's immediate reaction.

But to me it added depth and layers to what could have been merely an interactive version of Las Vegas. It posed a few problems - the writing of the pilot ended up being quite contentious as eventually Tony decided that only Michael and I would complete the shooting draft after some resistance to the direction the project was evolving. The second was around copyright issues given that it was the execution of two distinct ideas that contributed to a greater whole. Both those matters could have been better handled but at the time production deadlines loomed and some of the niceties were lost.

Ultimately a 50 minute pilot was shot using professional actors and Central TAFE students as crew. There is much to like about the results though it's not a true pilot, more a hybrid of what the show could be.

Hotel Blue was accepted into the inaugural X-Media Lab in Sydney, 2003 though, from memory, only Tony attended as ScreenWest did not offer funding support for this initiative ... until the next year!

But this is only the beginning of the Hotel Blue journey and befitting its identity, unexpected twists and turns lie ahead ...

To be continued

Sunday, December 6, 2009

AFI Awards - Screenwriting

It's pretty much a lay down misere that Warwick Thornton will win Best Original Screenplay at the Australian Film Institute awards next Saturday. Not my cup of tea story-telling wise but Samson and Delilah is universally acclaimed and lauded. The complete absence of dialogue between the two leads struck me as a huge contrivance but apparently that's just me.

The Adapted Screenplay category should prove far more interesting with two films of the "bleak" school (Beautiful Kate and Blessed) up against Mao's Last Dancer and Balibo. With Australian box office earnings now over $14 million dollars I am hoping Jan Sardi (MLD) wins in a cakewalk.

What do you think? Who wrote the best adapted screenplay of 2009? (vote in the poll ----->).

Do you agree S&D will romp in best original screenplay or will there be a surprise result?

If Rachel Ward wins for BK will she tell us all to take our dark, bleak, depressing medicine and learn to love it?

Will anyone mention Jim Schembri in their acceptance speech?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Script Mathematics

I have a tendency when rewriting feature scripts to start from page one at every sitting. I recall Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, The Insider, Munich) on one of the Creative Screenwriting Magazine podcasts saying he does something similar but how the math(s) is all screwed up. Obviously you spend more time on the first half of the script than the end.

I finished a new draft of The Red Bride last night (well, technically 6am this morning) and the first half feels really polished - of course - whereas most of the changes are happening in the 3rd act which feels a little wild and woolly.

To counteract my natural tendency (read obsession?) I am only going to print out the last forty pages to work on revisions before getting notes from my Forgeworks colleagues.

The climax has a very tricky sequence that I suspect I'll be rewriting many more times (and there have been numerous stabs at the 3rd act over several drafts) but I am happy with how far the script has progressed.

But for now page one is quarantined!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Interesting ...

... that of the five projects chosen for Screen Australia's Springboard initiative, two were sci-fi thrillers, one a sci-fi drama, the other two a supernatural thriller and a conspiracy thriller. THREE science fiction, FOUR thrillers ... perhaps the Australian film industry has begun to turn the corner and embrace genre after all. No more bleakness!

ps congratulations to WA team Zak Hilditch (writer-director) and Liz Kearney (producer) who were selected

... three hour conversation today with a gentlemen who is literally trying to change the world. He is a member of the Saturday afternoon luncheon gang that frequents the University Club and sought me out to write a pitch for a documentary based on his activities. An interesting networking connection. Alas, it means I'm a day behind delivering the next draft of The Red Bride.

... to see the turnout for last night's Script Lab where another local thriller script was read by professional actors including Tammy Clarkson (The Circuit). A work in progress, it clearly shows there's an interest in genre, this one in the vein of East West 101 meets 24 ... on the big screen!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Priorities - 2010

At the Forgeworks business meeting on Sunday, once we had dispensed with some housekeeping and other related company issues, we began to outline the plan for 2010.

I have a tendency to work on too many projects so this will prove invaluable in narrowing my writing focus for the next 12-18 months. I need to become ruthless about what I work on (no distractions, no favours, no tangents!).

The time line also includes target dates for funding rounds and markets so I know exactly when drafts and/or supporting material is required. No more mad panic all nighters to meet insanely short deadlines!

I have been listening to US-centric screenwriting podcasts and reading more Hollywood oriented blogs which is giving me a better appreciation of the standards and habits required. I don't consider myself a disciplined writer - when I'm "in the zone" I fly, when I'm not I procrastinate like crazy - but somehow I manage to have a lot of material in "various stages of disrepair" as I usually describe it. I'd even go so far as to say some of it is pretty good ... some of it needs more work ( ... some needs to be locked in a small wooden chest in a basement and never heard of again).

So the plan is one new feature script per year - as in a polished script which may mean [x] numbers of drafts. 2010 will be the year of Trench, a big budget, high concept idea that I am very excited about and follows my usual pattern of adding an idea to, in this case Chris' original premise, to create something more layered and powerful. More on that later. This one may be written purely as a potential spec sale and requires a lot of research and a full treatment before I go anywhere near script stage.

Two of my other feature scripts - The Red Bride and The Tangled Web will get rewrites dependent on market interest; and for a third project In Total Unity I will write a pitch/synopsis adapting the existing script to a Hong Kong setting for when we go to HAF in March.

Other than that, I have sent six TV series concepts to my Forgeworks colleagues to choose what may be suitable for ScreenWest's T-Vis initiative. I will also write one final short film for FTI's Link initiative that will dazzle with its simplicity and elegance.

And finally, I embrace these words - To thine own self be true. I have a certain story telling style that may not be considered "Australian" but now is the time to be true to who I am as a writer and not churn out what I think local funding bodies want to read/fund.

2010 is the year to bring the A game ...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Update - Quick Hits

The feature film project The Red Bride was submitted last week by Forgeworks to the Hong Kong - Asia Film Financing Forum. This is "Asia's premier project market to connect Asian film makers with upcoming film projects with internationally prominent film financiers for co-production ventures."

A lot of time and effort was spent getting the submission material - synopsis, various statements and bios - in the best possible shape as this will be a fantastic opportunity for us. The forum is in March so now comes the hard part - waiting! I'd expect to hear if we've been accepted early next year.

In the meantime, I am taking another pass at the script, especially the third act which is evolving very nicely.

Jocelyn Quioc, David Revill and myself also had an informal meeting yesterday with the newly appointed Development Manager, Rikki Lea Bestall, from local funding body, ScreenWest. I found it quite inspiring as Rikki Lea was very open, genuinely interested in us as film-makers and in our projects and direction. She also has a background in feature films, recently returning from a 5 year stint in LA, having produced films such as the Robert Downey Jr./Jamie Foxx film The Soloist.

This could presage exciting times as feature films are Forgework's main focus which hasn't always been in synch with ScreenWest's priorities. It also raises the bar as Rikki Lea has been reading 15-20 scripts a week in Hollywood, so now it's time to seriously bring the A game which is perhaps what inspired me most.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Vault - "Circus! Circus!"

Around the time of my first produced short script - Slice - circa 2000-2001, the director of that film, Glen Eaves, showed me a short script he had written called Circus! Circus! It told the story of a midget in a freak show, Little Boy, who dreams of being a ringmaster and is in love with Beth, a bearded lady who yearns to sing opera. Pretty much your standard Australian short film really! He intended it to be an experimental piece and from memory the short was about 9 pages - around 9-10 minutes screen time.

The then Australian Film Commission (now Screen Australia) had a director driven initiative in place for short features ie movies 45-55 minutes in length. The theory was that the jump from a short film (10-20 minutes) to a full blown feature was too great and that directors should hone their narrative storytelling skills with this 'intermediary' beastie.

[Another script of mine, The Tangled Web, started life as a 50 minute script as well. It was soon discovered there was no market for them - far too long for film festivals, too hard to programme for television, too short for a theatrical release without being coupled with another short film].

So Glen asked me if I could take his 9 page script and turn it into a short feature. Which I did. There is a perfectly serviceable first draft that tells the story of a failing freak show under the rule of a ruthless ringmaster named Morbus, where a midget leads the freaks in revolt so that his beloved, a bearded lady, can save the circus from receivership (and the freaks from being sold off for medical experiments) by singing opera.

Sure, it has the inherent problems of all first drafts - the biggest being whose story is it? In Glen's short, Little Boy is the presumptive hero but it is Beth who undergoes the biggest transformation from shy, repressed, dreamer to performer and ultimate saviour [my money is on Beth].

Then there were the thematic concerns. Glen saw it as an allegory for the decline of capitalism with Little Boy literally representing the working class, Morbus the corrupt 'landowner' and the circus itself the rotting hulk of capitalism.

For me it was all about daring to chase your dreams, about an unlikely love free of physical prejudice, of finding beauty in the most unlikely places. Sound familiar? Yes, while Glen and my thematic concerns could actually sit side by side, the release of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! (which I loved ... once we got past the Sound of Music opening) pretty much ended what would have been an expensive, experimental 50 minute film no one could schedule. This was confirmed by the later premier of HBO's Carnivale (also a favourite) in 2003 which depicted a freak show with stunning visual detail.

But you know what - damned if it's still not one of the favourite pieces of writing of mine. I tried to get it off Glen a little while back (he owns the copyright), to do what with it I know not, but there's just something that still tickles my fancy about this most unlikely of love stories ... with a little socio-political revolution thrown in for good measure, of course!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Story So Far ...

Selected films from my credits to date as a little pictorial journey ...

In and Under, 2008 - Director Chris Richards-Scully, Producer Michael Facey
3 minute 'pilot' for an original TV series idea (discussed here)
In the above picture, Jeremy Levi (L) as Bennie Mitchell and Matt Levett (R) as Rhys 'The Jackhammer' Jackman)

Freeze-Frame, 2008 - Director Iain Dawson, Producer Serena Ryan
Independently produced short thriller
In the above picture, Nick Britton as "The Jogger"

Talk Back, 2006 - Director Luke Hadley, Producer Rob Paparde
Pictured above, Steve Havercroft and Saskia Hampele

PAC scene, circa 2006 - Directed by Courtney Waller
Natalie Ravlich and Alfredo Malabello pictured above

PAC scene circa 2005 - Directed by Courtney Waller

Hotel Blue, 2002 - Director Michael Bond, Producer Tony Eades
Interactive Short Feature (approx 50 minutes)
Nova Tranter-Rooke pictured

Slice, 2001 - Director/Producer Glen Eaves
Short thriller and my first produced script
Steve Turner and Christine Bray pictured

When critics can't count

In today's local Sunday magazine there is a list of the "Best 50 Films of the Noughties". Only problem is, there are FIFTY EIGHT films on the list! The Lord of the Rings trilogy is counted as one entry (#2), the entire Harry Potter series (6 films!) is at #8 and Kill Bill: Volumes 1 & 2 is at #22.

Make a decision! It's just plain lazy and disrespectful. They are all separate movies in their own right, released in separate years with varying quality and appeal. Lumping them altogether just makes a list like this a nonsense.

Rant ends!

The 58 Top 50 films of the noughties are listed here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Case Study - "Immortal"

I was recently asked a fairly common question (once people discover you are a writer) - So where do you get your ideas from? Simple question, not so easy to answer. It's kind of like Kevin Costner in Tin Cup - the more you try to analyse your 'swing' the quicker it may desert you!

Yes, I keep clippings of newspaper stories that pique my interest and jot down random ideas but mainly I "see" scenes in my head which then trigger a larger narrative. Case in point is my short film script Immortal. This is a scene I wrote at 30,000 feet on a flight back to Perth from Sydney a few years ago now. I had NO IDEA what it meant but it seemed an atmospheric opening for ... something.



PULL BACK to a CANDLE ... wax running down its side. The
flame sputters, nearly dies.

PULL BACK FURTHER ... Crazy SHADOWS make it almost
impossible to define the space we're in.

An indistinct FIGURE clad entirely in black does pushups
within a circle of candles. Breath disturbs the flames, the
price of punishing, machine-like exertion.

A face is visible in the gutting candlelight - a face like
alabaster. Sweat drips from the figure's forehead, lands in
a pool tinged with RED.

(softly chants)
Forever ... forever ... forever.

One by one the candles die until only the chant remains.

I had worked with a director who always liked to start a story in ECU so we're not sure what we're seeing at first then slowly pull back to reveal what is going on. I've noticed I tend to do this in quite a few scripts (including The Red Bride) and "Pull Back" is one of the few overt screen directions I use.

The second piece of information that helped shape the story was a newspaper article about a German teenager who had killed an elderly woman and drunk her blood believing himself to be a vampire.

Imagine that? Thinking you're a vampire! Matching the thought: 'how could you come to believe you're undead?' with the 'candle scene', Immortal emerged. The first draft was about a teenage boy whose mother dies of a rare blood disease and in his grief comes to believe he is a vampire and ends up killing the nurse he blames for not saving her. An exploration of an extreme form of loss and mourning with the material lending itself to tragedy.

Only problem was, that when I wrote the scene breakdown, it seemed so ... linear. So I reversed the narrative and it took on a Memento style structure - main story told backwards intercut with forward moving sequences of the "vampire" being interrogated by a detective. At the start, we think the teenager is a vampire and slowly the tragedy and reasons for it are revealed with the climax being an emotional one as the horror of the self-deception is exposed.

The script lay dormant for a while, until recently when producer Michael Facey read it, liked it, wanted to submit it for FTI's Link program. Jeremy Passmore came on board as director and immediately impressed me with a detailed visual breakdown of the script and a stylistic approach incorporating green screen. Not what I saw in my head but sounded exciting.
A little tinkering was done to the script but hardly any changes that impacted the spine. All looked good until the short list came out ... and we weren't on it. Apparently the panel was confused by the structure and didn't get the way Jeremy wanted to shoot it. Michael was angry, Jeremy angrier while I was surprisingly ambivalent. It's a script I really like (would make a kick-arse short film) but it's not a cookie-cutter one that tends to do well in funding rounds.

The producer wants to re-submit but I literally don't know what I would change that wouldn't make me gag as I dumbed it down. I cheekily suggested we submit the chronological version, shoot it, then edit it with the fractured time-line in post!

The lesson I've learnt is that next time I write a short destined for a funding round is to keep it as simple as possible - nearly set-up/pay-off - and spell it out in the supporting documentation so the panel "get it".

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Putting business back into the Australian film industry

Interesting article on the ninemsn site by Alyssa Braithwaite quoting the President of the Screen Producers Association of Australia, Anthony Ginnane. In his opening address to the SPAA conference in Sydney, Ginnane put the debate about the state of the industry front and centre:

"Industry and government need to accept this is a business, not a culture fest.

"In the film industry government intervention has been consistently used to assist in the creation of product the market does not want, and the market tells us that, year in, year out, by rejecting it en masse.

"We don't listen and we don't want the government to notice."

He goes on to cite Mao's Last Dancer, which has grossed over $13 million dollars at the Australian box office, as an example of the sort of films we should be making instead of social realism dramas.

There's no doubt that the debate about "art versus commerce" is due to come to a head in this country. The raft of depressing, bleak, miserable social realist dramas that no-one goes to see yet are heavily subsidised by taxpayers money through screen funding agencies is choking the industry. Films like Australia, however, resonated with the local audience ($30+ million) but are derided by the film intelligentsia as crass commercialism.

The good news is that genre films should be able to re-assert themselves instead of the oblique art-house fare traditionally favoured by the screen agencies. A critical mass appears to be slowly building to reintroduce a key element in the film-making process - yes, the audience!

Friday, November 13, 2009

There's Something About Frank

Another scene from the original set of seven I wrote for Wizard Corporation. Somewhere along the line the "There's" got dropped from the title.

Part of the brief for all these scenes was that they had to be two-handers set in locations readily available to shoot at, preferably interiors. Indeed, the producer's house was used for all the scenes except this one.

I set this as an exterior scene for a) some variety and b) because I envisaged the street where the producer lived could easily be utilised. However, that proved not to be the case though I don't know the exact reason why as I wasn't on set.

So the start of the script is a little different to what was shot. Originally "The Driver" is staking out "Frank's" home and places the gun in his letterbox ... then pretends to change a tyre ... all in the close proximity and familiarity of a quiet suburban street.

What was shot still works because it doesn't change the essential premise and the actions of each character. More a problem solving exercise for the director on the day when the location was changed. Something that happens pretty much on every shoot and a reality screenwriters have to accept.

NB the scene includes some profanity.

Next PAC Script Lab - The Infidels

The Perth Actors Collective* organise rehearsed readings of locally written feature scripts every second month. Actors donate their time and proceedings take place at the Subiaco Arts Centre in an informal atmosphere where members of the local industry mingle with interested on-lookers.

It is a fantastic initiative that's been going since, I think I'm correct in saying, 2005 and is supported by ScreenWest and, of course, Paddy Maguires who supply the free wine and nibbles (along with bad karaoke after the reading!).

I always try and attend to support my fellow writers and it's a great way to hone craft skills by analysing what does and doesn't work in someone else's script. I have had two features read to date: E equals MC squared in 2005 and The Tangled Web in 2007.

So for writers out there, take the opportunity to hear your work and get constructive feedback that can be invaluable in rewrites - pacing, tone, dialogue, where the audience laughed, where they were bored, what characters worked, where the plot falls flat etc. It's also a productive way to network with not only other writers but actors, directors, producers and maybe, just maybe someone who'd like to invest!

Notable guest actor appearances include the late Bud Tingwell and Gary Sweet (famous for his karaoke rendition of Mustang "Gary").

*PAC also run a variety of screen workshops for actors.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Case Study - "In and Under"

"In and Under" is a television series idea created by myself and Chris Richards-Scully after we discovered we both shared a love of Australian Rules Football though, unfortunately, he follows the Dockers and I'm an Eagles man [think Liverpool v Everton or Lakers v Clippers].
We kicked around a few ideas but anyone who knows me understands I am a HUGE West Wing fan and I always saw the show as a workplace drama that just happened to be set in a football club (the wonderful Australian series by Geoffrey Atherden, Grass Roots, is another reference point).

The other element was that, at the time, there was a lot of press around the entry of the 17th franchise into the AFL - the Gold Coast team. So the show would be about a fledgling club entering the big time.
Chris and I decided we would take a satirical approach to matters as the AFL has a tendency to be quite the authoritarian regime and very Victorian-centric. So the upstarts from the West would give them what for.

But where would our fictional 18th franchise be based? We settled on Kalgoorlie and, discarding the obvious nicknames, I came up with the Rush "In honour of all the brave men and women who came to the goldfields in the 1890s". The fictional consortium "KBC18" [Kalgoorlie-Boulder Consortium for the 18th franchise] ended up being the production company name we used.

The initial description of the project was this:

Welcome to the AFL’s newest team – the Kalgoorlie Rush. Setting up an Australian Rules football team from scratch is never easy – there’s the recruitment of the players, hiring of the coaching staff , the fight for members and sponsors in a cut-throat market, the need for a suitable venue and the search for the obligatory white haired, old trainer. Not to mention the massive egos of all those involved. When the first ball of the new season is bounced will Kalgoorlie be ready to “feel the Rush”?

Next came a three minute "pilot" we shot in a day - with Chris directing, Michael Facey producing and me re-writing so I didn't have to replace an ill actor - for the Optus One80 competition seen here:
Suffice to say we didn't win though I thought it was a pretty good effort given that no-one was being paid and it was all done within a very tight deadline.

Next step was to work on a bible detailing the premise, characters, story lines, arcs etc and then came the news ScreenWest, the local government funding agency was asking for entries for a hothouse TV workshop.

A lot of work later, we handed in our submission to find out we just missed out on a coveted place. They liked the writing, liked the characters ... didn't like the football, didn't like Kalgoorlie.

Resisting the temptation to set the series in a zero-G strip club on the Moon, we persevered and the producer and I duly marched off to ScreenWest to get feedback on why our baby had failed.

Which I must say, confused the hell out of me! "What's the twist?" "The dramatic premise?" I vaguely recall making a joke while sitting through this that, no, our show didn't have a character who was secretly a lesbian vampire. Which seemed to be what they were asking.

Sanity was restored when we had a brilliant 90 minutes with Mike Bullen (Cold Feet) as a free consultation arranged by ScreenWest for the bridesmaids. We hit it off straight away as, while he didn't know much about AFL, he had pitched an NRL series to the networks ... and, I later discovered in the wonder that is Google, had pitched an English version of The West Wing!

We discussed the characters in depth, the premise, the inherent problems of the show and the extract of the full pilot script I had written. I had tried a time fractured narrative ala In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Parts 1 & 2 from The West Wing but Mike thought I was "pulling my punches" and a more chronological approach and introduction to the characters was called for.

But here's the main problem - which is exactly what he found with his NRL show idea - it's almost impossible to get a sports-themed show up in this country. If it's AFL, Queensland and NSW won't watch it; NRL you lose Victoria - so you're carving up your audience. If only someone had said it that simply earlier instead of all the mumbo-jumbo we were hearing - sigh.

Yes, we vehemently agreed they weren't sports shows (just like Field of Dreams isn't a "baseball movie") but that is the perception issue that has so far proven insurmountable.

Now, I know I can write these characters and this show and I know it could be a fun little series but it's on the back burner until we work out a way to overcome the "sports" concern.

So what's the lesson in all this? Well, ScreenWest will no doubt be calling for submissions early next year for the next hothouse. This time I need to be more pragmatic about what I am going to spend hours and hours working on as a show concept.

I LOVE science fiction (think the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica not Prosthetics City, 2029) but there's not a snowflake's chance in hell a commercial network would consider science fiction in Australia. I mean, even the best stuff from overseas gets shown at half-past tomorrow, 2.5 light years after being screened in the US.

I'm thinking maybe a medical show ... no-one's done one of those, right?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another Show Reel scene ...

... and this one is probably my favourite in the writing of it. The brief was to keep it simple as the actress was inexperienced and quite young. So a no frills father-daughter scene that is still a little different in terms of subject matter. Directed by Mark DeFriest and Produced by Debbie Thoy.

What is this Forgeworks of which you type?

It's a name you'll shortly see a lot more of so who or what exactly is Forgeworks?

Well, it originally was the company that did the special effects work on Iron Bird, an ambitious 30 minute short film that blended the supernatural and war genres to tell the story of an Australian Lancaster bomber crew over Dresden on the night of the 1945 fire bombing. (The Battle of Britain meets The X-Files as one commentator described it at its premiere)

The three original principles of the company, Chris Richards-Scully (director), Jocelyn Quioc (producer) and David Revill (producer) were joined by myself in October 2008 as Forgeworks evolved into an entity dedicated to developing and producing feature film projects.

Our main focus at the moment is the supernatural thriller script The Red Bride which will be submitted to the Hong Kong Film-mart in the next fortnight.

We are also developing a business plan in parallel with work on a slate of other projects. A website will follow as will our Mission statement and details of upcoming activities.

So it's exciting times and 2010 promises to be a big year. I'll talk more later about the type of films we want to make and how that creative process has developed. But for now, look out for the name and our fabulous logo (designed in-house by Chris).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Red Bride

In the seventh lunar month, it is said that the gates of Hell are opened and spirits and demons walk the earth, some to seek peace, others to pursue vengeance. For the living it is a time of doubt and fear where past wrongs are revisited and retribution is exacted on the guilty ...

The Red Bride: You can’t run from the Demons of your past

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Wisdom of Christopher McQuarrie

Christopher McQuarrie is, of course, the Oscar winning writer of The Usual Suspects. If you haven't heard the podcast of his interview with Creative Screenwriting Magazine's Jeff Goldsmith I would highly recommend it. Not only is it enormously entertaining, there is a vast wealth of knowledge about how the film industry works and the screenwriter's place within it.

One of the insights that is starting to increasingly resonate with me, even in the tiny fish bowl of the Perth film industry (if there even is such a thing), is that the director is paramount in getting a film made. McQuarrie cites his personal experiences which are clearly on a much larger scale but the lesson, I believe, holds true outside of Hollywood.

For example, the short film Kanowna - the director (and in this case, writer) wanted to realise his vision so he basically made the film (okay, I'm simplifying an enormously challenging task given there was no budget and it is a period piece, set on location in quite difficult terrain, with, amongst other things, horses and a baby!).

In contrast, my short script, Immortal, which I am very fond of, wasn't even short-listed for a recent local funding round and will now basically fade into obscurity. Why? Because, as a writer, I can't make the film.

Which leads me to feature scripts. If your director loves the material and has a passion to shoot the film, then you'll both find a way to make it happen. If your director loses that passion for the script you are dead in the water and the project will be on life-support, shortly to die. You may not even know it until the project is terminal. All you can then do is decide whether to find another director who embraces the script and brings a new wave of energy and passion ... or you call Dr. Kevorkian and administer the last rites.

Enough with the medical analogies!

You will find a link to download the McQuarrie podcast here:

or do a search in ITunes for 'Creative Screenwriting Magazine' and look for the Valkyrie Q&A. Trust me, the Benicio Del Toro anecdote is worth it alone!

Compare & Contrast

A while back, I wrote a few short scenes for Wizard Corporation's elite show reels for actors. Here is the one scene - Evaluation - interpreted in two different ways, the second of which I've only recently seen. Interesting the difference a change in the gender of a character makes ...

Forgeworks logo

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Kanowna (short film)

The director I work with as part of Forgeworks, Chris Richards-Scully, has been shooting a short film set in 1902 called Kanowna. I had some early involvement with script editing and attending a few creative meetings and it's good to see this one get off the ground.

The pitch:

In a dusty, dry cemetery in a little known corner of Western Australia there is a plaque that tells a tragic tale from our gold mining past, but this tale isn’t one you’d expect. It is a story of the loss of a newly born baby, a double murder and a gunfight. It is 1902, the major participants are Japanese and the place is called Kanowna.

The film stars Dustin Clare (Underbelly 2) and Peta Sergeant (Satisfaction).

Chris has set up a blog at

Where have all the real vampires gone?


A redneck bar in a redneck town in the deep south. We know this due to the proliferation of Confederate flags, checked shirts, thick necks and thicker PATRONS who eat fried chicken wings, mention ‘Noo Awlins' and ‘Katrina' every second sentence and listen to a juke box that has yet to discover the 60s let alone anything modern.

Welcome to Mauvais Choix, Louisiana, population 1,023 ... of the living variety. Yep, this is Vampire territory ... and where the Undead congregate you will always find ...

... dewy-eyed, female teenagers, specifically JOSIE-MAY WHEELER, all of 17 who sits with her two friends whose names are of no consequence. One wears a tight top that says "Bite Me", the other sports healed puncture marks on her neck. They titter and blush as teenagers do in the presence of ...

... CEDRIC MAYWEATHER, age 184, and simply the most exquisite looking Vampire the good lord put on this earth. Even a casual glance towards their booth sends the teenagers all a twitter.

Girl of no consequence #1: Go on Josie-May, go talk to him.
Josie-May: I don't know, he looks kind of ... pasty. How old you reckon he is?
Girl of no consequence #2: Girlfriend, who cares, you need a date for the prom.
Josie-May: You go ask him then.
Girl of no consequence #2: I already got me a bloodsucker, a right nasty one too.
Josie-May: I thought you were going out with Billy-Bob Boyd?
Girl of no consequence #1: Josie-May, if you ain't doing it with a vamp, you ain't doing it at all.

Fearful of being socially ostracised Josie-May gathers up her courage and approaches Cedric.

Josie-May: I don't mean to disturb you or nothing but -
Cedric: Have a seat.
Josie-May: You mind if I ask you something?
Cedric: You want to see my fangs, that it?
Josie-May: No, god no ... I was wondering if, like, do you, I mean, this is so embarrassing ... but can you ... with a woman?
Cedric: Yes I can.
Josie-May: Really? I've heard stories and all but -

SNAP. Josie-May's head dangles from her neck. Cedric twists it further until blood GUSHES from the carotid artery. He leans forward to feed ravenously, blood-drenched FANGS prominent.

Josie-May's friends look on in horror.

Cedric: Want to double-date?

CLICK as a shotgun round goes into the chamber. Cedric turns to see the bar owner, THADDEUS, who points the weapon at the vampire's chest.

Thaddeus: Goddamn it Cedric, not while I'm serving ma fried wings.
Cedric: Give me a break Thaddeus, it's prom week.
Thaddeus: I'm gonna to have to axe you to leave.
Cedric: Perhaps you young ladies would care to accompany me?

The girls of no consequence SCREAM and hightail it out of there.

Cedric: Guess not. Mind if I take a doggy bag?

Thaddeus nods. Cedric grabs the lifeless Josie-May by the arm and drags her towards the exit ...

* yes, I know the dialogue isn't in the correct script format ...


This is a continuation of my blog under the same moniker that was hosted on Bigpond. It is about my experiences as a screenwriter in the world's most isolated city, Perth. It is NOT an educational tool about screenwriting as there are many and varied blogs that deal with the craft and business of writing. Hopefully it is an interesting perspective and update on my misadventures in film.

Oh, and my hatred of zombies, love of Vampires*, dismay at Michael Bay, worship at the altar of Aaron Sorkin and a desire to move away from the largely depressing dirges that pass for Australian film.

Yes, my colleagues and I at Forgeworks (more on that later), are unashamedly in the business of developing entertaining feature film projects, the first of which is 'The Red Bride' (formally known as 'Seventh Moon' until some of the people from Blair Witch decided to use that title for a - *grits teeth* - zombie film shot in Hong Kong).

TRB is a supernatural thriller based on the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival. I am currently doing revisions to the latest draft [for the purposes of funding bodies and investors - the first draft; for me - the 4th revision of the 3rd draft discounting another 2 drafts that went waaaaaaaaaay off on a tangent].

Anyway, hope you enjoy the blog and the occasional rant.

Richard Hyde

* by Vampire I mean an undead creature that kills humans for their blood, NOT fashion accessories for teenage girls! Yes, I am a traditionalist ...