Friday, January 28, 2011

The West Wing - My Loves (and a few hates)

It's no secret my favourite writer is Aaron Sorkin with The West Wing being the greatest expression of his talent, notwithstanding that he is expected to win an Oscar for The Social Network. 'Sorkinese' has entered the lexicon as a description of the rapid-fire, exquisite dialogue of the kind that only Sorkin can write. It is indeed music to the ears.

Perhaps I am in a melancholic mood, or the heat is annoying me today but here is a rambling (and incomplete) list of my Loves (and some hates) from seven seasons of Sorkin's masterpiece:


Any scene written by Sorkin that features Martin Sheen and Stockard Channing. A master class in writing and acting every single damn time.

Mary-Louise Parker as Amy Gardner - a smart, sharp, sexy actor who laps up Sorkin's dialogue like no other.

All the characters that stand up to Bartlet - Toby (especially Toby), Leo, Abbey, John Hoynes.

That Emily Procter will always be Ainsley Hayes no matter that she moved to Miami.

That Oliver Babish was the best work I have ever seen Oliver Platt do.

Ditto with Matthew Perry and Joe Quincy.

Bartlet's rant at God in Two Cathedrals gave me goosebumps when I first saw it... and still does.

Sam Seaborn for being a 'freak' writing "the streets of Heaven are too crowded with angels tonight" in the car.

Toby wailing on the President in the Oval Office during 17 People.

Charlie being all class when he says he'll walk out with Toby after Leo's funeral.

Dr. Stanley Keyworth for not caring that Bartlet is the President.

Writing Sam out with a multi-episode story strand that was both entertaining and respectful. They didn't do a 'Mandy' on him.

Sam returning at the end of Season 7 to be Deputy Chief of Staff.

Bartlet telling Sam he'd run for President one day and that he could do it.

Bartlet firing Toby 'for cause' that was as gutwrenching as it was devastating.

Allison Janey for being so damn good she could go from 'The Jackal' to Chief of Staff without skipping a beat. and CJ's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest analogy.

Josh telling a Senator to "take your legislative agenda and shove it up your ass".

Toby and Sam being the 'Batman and Robin of speech writing'.

Bartlet for being an oratorical snob.

Bartlet's entrance in the Pilot capped off with his dismissal of Mary Marsh ("Find it now.")

Bartlet eviscerating Dr. Jenna Jacobs over her opposition to homosexuality by quoting the Bible 'chapter and verse'.

Ainsley's fascination with muffins and cupcakes.

For casting Alan Alda as Arnie Vinnick and sending him off with class in The Last Hurrah.

My favourite epsiodes - The Shadow of Two Gunmen Part 1, Two Cathedrals, 17 People.

The greatest 6 episode stretch in television history from The Stackhouse Filibuster to Two Cathedrals.

For "Toby, come quick, Sam's getting his ass kicked by a girl." "Ginger, get the popcorn."

For Andy delivering the most devastating putdown ever to Toby - "you're just too sad."

Leo's "ain't nothing but a family thing."

"You're still mad, right?" and every other time Sam kicked ass when riled.

Bruno Gianelli for "I will stick a pitchfork so far up your asses you will quite simply be dead."

For John Wells finding his feet in Season 7 and delivering a brilliant final season.

For Bartlet simply saying "What's next?"

Hates (there had to be a few)

John Hoynes sacrificed for a plot point (even though it was a doozy - 25)

Trying to resurrect Hoynes including the notion he had a one night stand with CJ.

That French kid Zoey was seeing after Charlie.

That Fruit Fly guy Ellie married.


The episodes The Long Goodbye and Access.

Killing Percy Fitzwallace.

The way Here Today was directed even though I know it was done to unsettle and shock.

The fight between Toby and Josh in Toby's office - the worst moment in West Wing history.

Toby talking about the twins' hats.

Not knowing what to do with the Will Bailey character once Sorkin left.

Bruno going to work for Vinnick's campaign.

Kristin Chenoweth singing 'For Once in My Life'.

Sorkin leaving after Season 4.

Rob Lowe leaving after Season 4.

Most of the humour leaving after Season 4.

The Loves substantially drown the hates and there are simply far too many to mention. It will always be my favourite show (though The Wire comes close) and is a constant source of inspiration and depression for exactly the same reason - that someone could write that brilliantly.

What are your most memorable West Wing moments?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Big Mo

There I was, resting on my laurels, latest draft of the script delivered, thinking I would have some down time. It would take a while for the local funding body to set up a panel, read the Feature Navigator scripts, make a decision on who to award the two grants to.

Until I read my email late last night. Gasp! My producers have presented a timeline for the next few months which calls for a new draft... in less than a month! Holy RSI, Batman! Well that certainly got my attention.

What I love about it is this - the producers are getting excited because the script is close, hopefully real close. They want to push ahead regardless of the result of the funding round to get a market ready script. Momentum, I love it!

The submission of the script was accompanied with development notes including my thoughts on changes to be made in the next draft. I'm comfortable we have finally cracked the story and now it's a question of execution, particularly given the genre and the twists within. The latest draft was a page one rewrite. Future drafts will require a scalpel and no longer a cudgel.

So shortly I will have to saddle up and get my brain back into gear to tackle the script again. I had put it away, literally and mentally, because I was too close to it after working furiously to meet the deadline. You need time to get perspective after such an intensive rewrite period.

I look forward to reading the script with the benefit of that time (albeit shorter than I thought!) and re-entering our ghostly world of The Red Bride.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Proof is the Puding (or how to eliminate typos)

I mean proof is in the pudding! It's amazing how the human brain works. I have just finished writing a draft of a feature script that I would have re-read literally hundreds of times. So it was much to my surprise and consternation that one of my producers emailed me a PAGE of typos. Surely she jests, I thought to myself. I couldn't have missed that many errors... could I?

Indeed I had! Whole words missing in lines of dialogue. Punctuation gone on safari. Experimental spelling and inventive grammar. How is this possible?

I believe the reason is this: I know exactly what every line in the script should be. My brain magically fills in the blanks and compensates for any errors thereby bypassing the evidence before my very eyes.

You may have seen deliberate demonstrations of this where complete sentences are misspelled but as lnog as the first and lsat letter of erevy word is correct the brain will automatically recognise each wrod and comprehend the meaning. In my case, a word missing in a dialogue is easily overlooked. (Yes, I know... line).

One of the reasons script readers cite for looking unfavourably on a script is typos. Always struck me as one of the easiest things to get right and I would agree, makes your work look amateurish. But I would say to you this - it is absolutely VITAL you have fresh eyes look at your screenplay because of the above calibration your brain may be doing without your conscious assent!

Also, after spending hours upon hours on a rewrite, I don't know about you, but I can't see the wood for the trees sometimes. The other factor at work is this: I get caught up in the story. I race along with the drama, the emotion, the action... and forget to slow down and check each damn word. A good sign, granted... but not if meticulous examination is required.

So make sure someone else proof reads your script! You'll be surprised what they might find.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Great news for WA screenwriters

Local funding body ScreenWest and the Australian Writers' Guild have teamed up to bring Paul Chitlik, author of 'Rewrite', to Perth in March.

He will be conducting workshops on " to create dynamic characters and put them into action, write seven point outlines followed by beat sheets, focusing on the key elements that drive the story, and will complete a 25-35 page treatment in the format favoured by major studios around the world. Most importantly, participants will learn the overall process of writing a treatment so that they will be able to apply that process to any future project."

I had the pleasure of working with Paul through an online Skype course after my feature script was shortlisted for the Warnock Award last year. I blogged about this here.

I am familiar with his seven story points and emphasis on redoing beat sheets... but we didn't have time to do a full treatment. Through Skype and emails I have found Paul to be nothing less than a complete gentleman, vastly knowledgeable about crafting a compelling screenplay and very generous with his feedback. So it will be fantastic to finally meet him in person.

I would strongly recommend any local screenwriter to apply for these workshops - further details here.

Friday, January 7, 2011

PAC Script Lab (Reprise)

In today's West Australian Writers' Guild e-bulletin:

SCRIPT READINGS: Seeking Screenplays.
PAC Script Lab is seeking advanced draft scripts to be read by professional actors at our bi-monthly script readings. Sponsored by ScreenWest & the City of Subiaco, PAC Script Lab is designed to encourage the development and visibility of West Australian screenplays and writers. Submissions due 31 January. Information: .

Highly recommended!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

PAC Script Lab

The Perth Actors Collective run bi-monthly script readings with the support of ScreenWest and the City of Subiaco (plus other food/drink sponsors).

Actors volunteer their talents, local writers their feature scripts and the audience their feedback. It's an excellent initiative and one I enthusiastically support. Here's the testimonial I wrote last year...

I am writing in support of the excellent PAC Script Lab initiative where local screenwriters have the opportunity to ‘road test’ their screenplay with professional actors in front of a supportive and informed audience.

I have been both a writer in these circumstances and a longstanding attendee. These are the things I see at Script Lab which I believe are unique and worth fostering in the local film industry:
  • Screenwriters and their work being put front and centre which is a rarity!
  • Scripts given life by wonderful volunteer actors so that the writer can hear his/her words and assess the strength of the storytelling.
  • The support of family and friends – sometimes overlooked but critical for the emotional wellbeing of writers who have to lock themselves away for hours on end to create a compelling screenplay.
  • The critical and supportive eyes and ears of the industry. Much robust and constructive discussion/feedback happens at these readings which can only help the writer.
  • The associated networking possibilities where actors, writers, directors and producers can come together in an informal atmosphere. This helps strengthen the local industry.
  • Genuine possibility for producers and/or private investment to come on board which allows for the ultimate goal – getting the script turned into a film.
All these things are a true blessing for a writer and, for this reason, I encourage other writers to participate as well as recommending actors to volunteer.

If you're a West Australian screenwriter with a feature script in half decent shape then I recommend you enquire about having a reading. If you've never been to a reading check it out. Perth ultimately is a small film-making community and any form of support is greatly received.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Film By (Reprise)

In his interview with Jeff Goldsmith on the Creative Screenwriting Magazine podcast of The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin stated what he wants for all screenwriters, which is this:

"... I want screenwriters to have the same relationship to the movies that they write as playwrights have to the plays that they write. It's that simple. I want us to end the festival of self-loathing that we're in... and I want us to take our rightful place as the authors of what we write. I hear all the time that film is a directors' medium. I don't know who first said it but I promise you it was a director, okay, and they pulled it out of their ass. It is no more a directors' medium than television or plays."

Sorkin then goes on to say how "incredibly lucky" he's been with the film directors he has worked with calling them "fantastic collaborators". None more so than with David Fincher on The Social Network saying that they were "partners". He then concludes:

"I love that [being partners] and I want that for everybody because it's no less than what you deserve when you write a screenplay that becomes a movie..."