Monday, April 19, 2010

It's a trap!

Interesting article from The Artful Writer blog here about writing versus, well, what I would call procrastination. Excerpt below:

So here’s the deal. Are you a real, consistent, steadily-employed professional screenwriter? You are? Good. Enjoy. Use the internet as you wish.

Are you an aspiring screenwriter who is completing drafts, getting your work out there, hustling for gigs and trying to perfect your craft? Good. Enjoy. Use the internet as you wish.

Are you a wannabe who is spending more time arguing, posing and socializing on the internet than you are actually writing?

It’s a trap. Retreat.

It's a valid point!

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Second session of the rewrite course and it is proving to be a revelation. We agreed at the first session not to discuss each other's projects outside of the course so all I'll say is it's a good group and a diverse set of stories. The instructor, Paul Chitlik, is excellent and there is a clarity that, from my experience, is rare and much appreciated.

He's right - there are lots of books, gurus, theories, 'rules' and other paraphernalia about screenwriting, yet the old adage is, writing is all about rewriting. So what do you do when you've finished that first draft? Well, you read Paul's book!

Now, I normally have an aversion to screenwriting "manuals", preferring hands on workshops and courses. But Rewrite is so clearly set out with plenty of examples and exercises that I found it easy to read and, more importantly, understand from a practical perspective.

The course follows the guidelines in the book - Paul doesn't claim to espouse rules and laws - with the opportunity for almost forensic examination of each week's "homework". It's this attention to detail by breaking the script up into its component parts and analysing what's working or not that is absolutely invaluable. For example, from me doing a new beat sheet of the existing draft, Paul was able to pinpoint that the First Act is a little out of balance. Next lot of homework is to rewrite the first 15-25 pages based on today's notes.

I suspect we will be rewriting our entire scripts over the remaining 6 weeks paying attention to Paul's 7 story points and guidelines. What a great way to do a rewrite - clear, concise & supportive feedback. That's not to say there isn't a lot of heavy lifting to be done - I need to think about how to rectify the imbalance and rewrite the opening sequence. But that's the joy of doing a course like this - being challenged to make the script better by utilising such expertise.

What it makes me wonder though is this ... I know Perth may be but a small village in the global film-making community but why has it taken so long to find such shining nuggets of wisdom? I feel like I have been wandering through the wilderness all this time ... thankfully no more!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Flabby Underbelly

I caught up with the two hour season premier of Underbelly 3 with Tuesday’s “encore screening”. I’ve never really been a fan of the show and the season 3 opener reinforces all the things I dislike. Somewhere there’s an enthralling drama but so many lazy devices and contrivances are deployed that they simply drown out the story. I find this instructive as a writer as there are clear, recurring choices that, for me, seriously detract from the potential drama. Underbelly 3 literally threw the kitchen sink at the audience in this regard. Let’s have a look at them:

1) The expository voice-over narrative is so totally over-the-top and redundant as a device that it immediately takes me out of the story. The old adage “show don’t tell” seems lost on the Underbelly writers. A barrage of information and on-the-nose observations that have always made me question how confident the writers are with the material. Even worse, the voiceover is from a character who, as far as I understand it, was only relevant to Series One. Even then it was a strange choice for a secondary character to be commenting on events, even more bizarre in the later series.

2) The use of music has always been problematic. It literally leaches away moments of legitimate drama by pumping out tracks that make this seem more like a music video than a supposedly, true crime story. It also takes away my emotional response to what’s going on. I remember in Series One, the vicious attack in the sports bar with pool cues that should have been shocking but instead, due to ham-fisted use of music, seemed more like it was a game. If the makers don’t care, why should I? It was also coupled with the other device that drives me nuts, being …

3) The over-use of slow motion. I don’t know why they keep dipping into this well, except again as a sign of a lack of confidence with the inherent drama. It’s a clunky device that takes me straight out of story as style appears more important than substance. This is linked to another favourite device …

4) The montage. The opening of Underbelly 3 had so many montages (with all the other tricks being deployed) that I was kept at a distance from the characters and story. Surely we can get a flavour of Kings Cross and its denizens without the frenetic and haphazard introduction of so many characters in as condensed a time frame as possible. Even worse was that this device was accompanied with …

5) The use of “Lock, Stock …” style name cards for not only main characters but extraneous ones as well. Another clear stylistic choice that was intended to be hip and trendy but felt tired and just a case of overkill.

As mentioned, there were sequences where ALL of these devices were being deployed at the same time. What hope does the drama have? It was literally floundering in the heavy seas of exposition and directorial/editing wankery that the team from Bondi Rescue would struggle to save this brave soul.

By comparison, I have recently revisited Season One of The Wire where the multi-layered, complex storylines and characters are allowed to breathe and astonish with none of the above devices. As a result the mastery of the world by the writers is crystal clear.

Underbelly 3, as a commercial entity, will never rival The Wire for storytelling chops and nor should it, but I could expect and hope for more substance and less flash. Currently it takes what could be a good premise and smothers it to death with gimmicks and devices that are anathema to good drama. It’s an important lesson for any writer.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Australia's great war-time Prime Minister, John Curtin, controversially uttered the following words in 1941 that set the course for this nation to the present day:

Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.

What reminded me of this rare example of Australian oratory is my impending participation in a screenwriting course with an American instructor. And damn it, I'm excited!

What John Curtin would make of a course conducted over two continents using Skype is anyone's guess but let me reiterate my position by mangling the former PM's words:

Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it clear that I look to America, free of any pangs as to traditional notions of Australian storytelling paradigms or so-called cultural imperatives.

I've never understood what "telling Australian stories" actually means other than I am an Australian writer and this might influence how I see the world. It certainly has never meant, to me, what I suspect that phrase is code for ... "Hollywood bad". Sure, America makes some dreadful movies ... they also, when they get it right, make superlative films, the best in the world.

So I look forward to having my humble efforts pulled apart and examined and challenged and reconstructed by what I consider world's best practice.

Like in Curtin's time that might be a controversial position to take - though there are signs that the inward looking cinema of urban suffering and outback cliche is waning - but it's one that will set my future course as well, critics be damned!