Wednesday, October 27, 2010

That hoary old chestnut... A Film By --

Fair bet anybody who knows me (in my creative circles) understands I worship at the altar of one A. Sorkin.

[Let's take a moment to pause here and genuflect as appropriate]

So I 'm quite surprised when the Hollywood dream pairing of Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher produces "A Film by David Fincher", namely 'The Social Network'.

I haven't seen the film yet - it opens in Australia today and I'll be heading to my favourite cinema soon - but I have read the screenplay. While it may not be his typical style of protagonist, the script is pure Sorkin, namely scintillating dialogue and a fractured timeline narrative he often deployed in 'The West Wing' (for example, 'The Shadow of Two Gunmen, Parts 1&2' and the majestic 'Two Cathedrals').

What hope do the rest of us have when such a distinctive screenwriting talent has to put up with A Film By [insert director here] --?

Don't get me wrong, I like Fincher and most of the films he has directed (though I wasn't as high on 'Zodiac' as some people and haven't seen '...Benjamin Button' yet). But even many of the reviews I've read talk about Fincher's storytelling style and neglect to even mention the screenplay or its writer! Which, by the way, is a shoo-in for a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination at the Oscars, Golden Globes, WGA, WASA's, you name it.

Now, I am the first to admit that when I heard of "the Facebook movie" I couldn't see how it would deliver an overly dramatic tale. Then, when I read the script the first time, I couldn't see how a dialogue heavy story criss-crossing between two court depositions and flashbacks would be a commercial hit. But I should have always trusted Mister Sorkin - and I have no doubt Mister Fincher has brought his usual visual flair to the material - given that it is now being described as one of the films of the year and is doing well at the US Box Office.

But let me say this - in an age when the new 120 pages is around 100 - I would NEVER be able to get away with writing a 162 page script... but then I'm no Aaron Sorkin. Few people are.

So endeth the lesson.

Remember to genuflect on your way out...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Feature Navigator, Part 3

A post from fellow screenwriter Ceinwen Langley re Feature Navigator on her blog Feed the Writer. Topics include excitement, structure and things that make (some) writers cry aka rewrites*. Oh, and something about avocados...

Read it here!

*Personally, the willingness to accept feedback, be collaborative and do proper rewrites (not tinker around the edges) is one major thing that distinguishes people who are serious writers from those who think they are.

Ghost in the (DVD) Machine

Okay, once is pretty funny - ha ha ha - twice is beginning to feel like the universe is having some fun at my expense.

YES, I have been renting ghost story DVD's.
NO, I don't expect said ghosts to haunt my DVD player, namely --

Exhibit A - The Others

A lovely little gothic horror that proves what people have been saying for years - Nicole Kidman's face (indeed, the rest of her too in this movie) is dead. The film is notable for its twist... so imagine my annoyance when the DVD freezes two-thirds of the way through and REFUSES to play any further.

I dutifully return it to my rental place and report the defect. Joy, there is another copy!

Lady: You know you have to play something else first?
Me: Huh?
Lady: Before you play this disc...

While I ponder this, she lathers up the replacement with cleaning fluid and inserts it into some machine that whirs away merrily.

I return home, sheepishly play something else for a few minutes then try The Others Mark 2... which promptly freezes at the EXACT SAME SPOT.

Okay, like Tony Abbott I'm not a "tech head" but at this stage I'm struggling to understand how disc number 2 has inherited the flaw of disc number 1.

I try EVERYTHING... short of exploring the aerodynamic properties of my DVD player (though it was a close run thing). The thing will not budge! No twist ending for me.

Exhibit B - The Haunting

Sure, it's a bad remake that I'd forgotten I had watched a while back - Catherine Zeta-Jones' presence during proceedings soothed my vague sense of disappointment. Things were going swimmingly until 1 hour 19 minutes... then pixels attacked in ever increasing swarms until finally the disc FROZE at the 80 minute mark.

[Expletives deleted]

The DVD player is now seriously in danger of experiencing a similar trajectory to an F-16 Fighting Falcon with its fly-by-wire capability disabled ie gliding through the air with all the grace of a house brick.

[More expletive deleteds and nervous glances in the direction of surrounding units]

But I relent and concede defeat.

What puzzles me is that the American remake of The Grudge, a truly awful film, played without a hiccup the previous night. These ghosts surely have a sense of humour!

Now I have Rosemary's Baby teed up for viewing... but I'm scared to hit play lest --

A) This also freezes at some point and I accidentally maim a passerby with an airborne DVD player;

B) This is the beginning of my own personal haunting - you know, it all starts off kind of incidental and harmless then builds in intensity. Personally, I suspect the blender is what will finally do me in; or -

C) This is symptomatic of the death of the neighbourhood 'video store' (the name itself an anachronism) surely to be hastened by the advent of the National Broadband Network...

... but that topic is a whole other kettle of bees wax.

For now, I will bar myself in the bedroom and await a long, black haired child-ghost to spit out of my DVD and do unspeakable things... I'm hoping housework but that may be too much to ask.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Feature Navigator, Part 2

As advertised, the remaining sessions provided more robust discussion and the occasional two-by-four applied to the forehead. This was purely for medicinal purposes whenever my utterances on the script could be mistaken for the delusional ranting of a mad man.

All too soon it was time to wrap things up, head for the pub and unwind. But that will prove to be a brief respite as there is much work to be done. Notes to be typed up, discussed, mulled over and applied. A new draft to be supplied by mid January. Momentum to maintain.

The greatest gift to take away from the week? A sense of genuine excitement over the potential of the project and of the team. This provides us with an energy and belief that is invaluable.

I was also inspired seeing the passion of the other teams and diversity of stories.

In conclusion, I think The Red Bride team acquitted itself well. The project stands up. Our instincts are right. Now it's time to use all this feedback and take it to the next level. That's a great challenge and one I look forward to with renewed confidence and anticipation.

To all those involved, thank you.

For those who offered further counsel and assistance, thank you.

For the final parting words at said pub, thank you. You know who you are.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Feature Navigator

Six teams of film-makers shuffle nervously in their seats. Eyes dart. Throats clear. Fingers drum.

Interspersed throughout the room are representatives from Screen Australia, ScreenWest, the Australian Writers' Guild... and the three consultants who will generously offer their expertise, counsel and good humour over the coming days.

Introductions are made. Expectations set. Projects announced...

So begins Feature Navigator, a week long development workshop for feature film projects. And what a diverse group of films they are - horror, psychological thriller, a Bollywood style comedy, children's adventure, period drama, and our own supernatural mystery.

I know some of the people around the table but there are a lot of new and unknown faces. We are all colleagues but also competitors - only two teams will receive development money based on the next draft delivered in three months time. A draft that will be immeasurably enhanced by the sessions we're about to go through.

We meet the Head of Development at Screen Australia, Martha Coleman, who later that day (Monday) gives an engaging and informative session, described here. The following day The Red Bride team have a thirty minute 'meet and greet' with Martha - the project is discussed, who we are, what we've done, what we hope to do.

Then it's down to business. First up - Sue Murray who was an Executive Producer on Dr. Plonk, Ten Canoes, Tom White and co-produced Alexandra's Project with Rolf de Heer. The script is discussed at length and I am delighted with Sue's insight and rigour. This is exactly how it should be and I feel comfortable with the back and forth. There are some very perceptive observations I had not considered (or heard) before and this is like gold. Chris (director) and David (*co-producer) are also engaged in the creative conversation and Sue's comments about the team and Chris' directing style are very positive. Then it's on to marketing, casting and other matters. A thoroughly positive and valuable consultation done with great grace and precision.

Tomorrow, I am really pleased to be back in the company of Messrs. Rawlinson and van der Borgh whose workshop earlier in the year I was most impressed with. Then Elissa Down (The Black Balloon) - who I know from her Perth days - on Friday. Elissa has spent the last two years in Los Angeles developing a slate of projects and it will be fascinating to hear more of that process.

I am feeling good about the future of the script and embracing the momentum this sort of intense scrutiny delivers. More reports as events unfold...

Special mentions to Alan Payne from the WA Branch of the Australian Writer's Guild and Rikki Lea Bestall from ScreenWest for making Feature Navigator possible and for the quality of consultants engaged.

* My other co-producer, Jocelyn Quioc, would love to be with us but is unfortunately unable to attend due to work commitments.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

That damn pesky copyright thing

So I'm going through my Google Reader subscriptions this morning and come across this. Someone lauding another person for creating their own brilliant Simpsons intro.

Hmmmmmm. The Simpsons. Really? We get to make our own little animated cartoon sequences now do we? And post them on YouTube.

Dubious, I click the play button to be presented with - "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Twentieth Century Fox".

Why am I not surprised?

What does surprise me, however, is that the link to the clip is posted by the Film and Television Institute. The FTI, as described in its website, is "the premier professional development centre for independent screen production & events in Western Australia".

Now call me old fashioned, but I would have thought such a body might actually extol the virtues of copyright protection to its members and readership.

Just like I know it's a complete waste of time for me to write my amazing [insert studio franchise/comic book/graphic novel property here] script as a) the copyright owner will sue me back to the stone age; b) the script will never get produced; and c) my time would be better spent working on my own ideas OR adapting a property I have acquired an option on.

And when option c) comes to pass I damn well expect my intellectual property to have the full protection of copyright laws.

The thing that 'never ceases to amaze me' is how blase some film-makers can be about copyright.

Just saying, they don't need any further encouragement...

Monday, October 11, 2010

The secret to screenwriting is...


Yep, novelists can have their red wine; poets their absinthe; rock stars their vodka, beer, battery fluid, more vodka, bourbon et al...

For the screenwriter is has to be coffee. Why?

I have spent the last three days in cafes drinking more damn coffee whilst discussing scripts than I have in the last 6 months. I don't even like coffee! Even worse when it's with soy milk which surely was the invention of a bullied kid who went on to become a naturopath and sought revenge in the words: "gluten and dairy free diet". The things they must have done to that kid in school brings a tear to my eye. Revenge is a mug best served with cold soy.

Why all the cafe related activity you ask? [Okay, I'm theorising that you would be even slightly interested in the cause of my caffeine intake]...

Well today marked the start of a week long feature development workshop where somewhere in the schedule the word "pitch" was mentioned. For most writers - even the ones who take their coffee with full cream milk - this word has the peculiar effect of causing severe panic, internal bleeding and loss of cognitive function. At least it feels that way!

Of course, it's always worse when you imagine the train wreck in your head that is trying to explain your baby to a room full of (semi-) strangers. But you survive. Especially when the powers that be make the producer do it [yay!]... then said producer throws to your for additional comments [huh? damn, I was just regaining the feeling in my left side]. But we all live to pitch another day (... Friday as it turns out *gulp*).

The real secret to screenwriting is development. Which is exactly what the week is about - putting 6 creative teams in a room to discuss their feature projects with various consultants from Australia and overseas. This is from all angles including script, marketing, the strength of the team etc in order to develop the project to the next stage. That being, hopefully, closer to the holy grail of financing and production.

Today was the introduction session. Tomorrow the real work for The Red Bride team begins. Should be fun and very useful in moving the project forward.

Just, enough with the coffee already, okay?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dear Internet

Please excuse Richard's absence from his blog this past month. He has been busy reading many scripts, some of them even his own; frequenting cafes & pubs throughout the Perth metropolitan area seeking inspiration and/or coffee that doesn't taste like caffeinated dirt; and engaging in intriguing creative discussions generally spoiled by someone, most likely his good self, using the term "turning point" and such like.

I have been assured he will return shortly to document his ongoing misadventures, starting with an upcoming feature film development workshop.

Omnipotent narrator