Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Support Western Australian Film Projects!

The day has finally arrived. Local funding agency ScreenWest's audacious 3 to 1 initiative kicked off today on crowdfunding site Pozible. In simple terms, ScreenWest will tip in $3 for every $1 pledged for projects that achieve their target.

By my count there are 29 original West Australian projects all vying for your love and donations. With a nice introductory blurb from Hugh Jackman no less.

Hugh Jackman talks about ScreenWest's 3to 1 Crowdfunding initative with Pozible from ScreenWest on Vimeo.

You can find background about the initiative here. It will prove a most interesting experiment and ScreenWest should be commended for taking such an entrepreneurial approach to assisting local filmmaking talent.

As I will no doubt know many of the people involved in a lot of these projects I have said I will choose only FIVE to support. Otherwise it might get a tad expensive. I am going to be as objective as possible and pick the five based on the ones I would most like to see made. I suspect this will be a difficult task.

But that's the point - support projects that resonate with YOU. Show that there is an audience out there for original content that will hopefully continue in one form or another long after this initiative is over.

Please go to the 3 to 1 page on Pozible, check out the project details/pitch videos, then help out those creative teams whose concepts you are excited about with a donation. It really will make a difference.

Be an important part of making a visual story come to life!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

When Words Become A Film - Screening Night!

I had the great pleasure of going to the graduation night screenings for the Central Institute of Technology on Thursday. Amongst the five films was For Better Or Worse, the one I wrote (based on previous drafts by Nathan Abrahams and Jacob Kemp). So I was excited and nervous as I had not seen anything up to this point.

The night was held at the Cinema Paradiso and there were "VIP" drinks upstairs beforehand with the soon to be no longer students, staff from CIT, actors and, yes, they even invited the writer!

I was greeted with the poster which looked quite slick and eager members of the creative team and crew who were far more nervous and amped than I was. It was interesting as many of them stated that they really wanted me to like the film.

I must have been pretty relaxed as normally the paranoid, angst driven writer within would have screamed, "what the hell have you done to my script?!!!" Just kidding... I wouldn't have screamed. Instead, I took this as a great compliment and headed for the bar to cash in my free drink token.

These nights are wonderful as everyone is keen to show off the fruits of their hard labour and talent over the previous year. There are also the proud parents and, from what I recall, quite a lot of kids running around. So it's a really different type of atmosphere. I should also mention this. There were far too many tall people in the room including our divine leading lady Clara Helms and sundry other actors. Special mention then to Emilia - we shared the crick inducing neck pain with good humour and fortitude!

Okay, enough of the preamble, onto the heart of the matter, the screening!

Each producer and director introduced their film and I would like to thank Cathryn Langman and Jacob Kemp for their gracious and kind words in regard to my involvement and the script.

Then came the film itself. Now this is where it gets really interesting. I know the film that's in my head. I was now seeing another film. Let me make it clear, the following is for the purposes of exploring that difference only. The short film was a collaborative effort of which I was only a small part. I have no idea of any of the issues in post-production other than someone said there was a 17 minute rough cut and it appears all the graduating films could be no longer than 12 minutes (it is a 12 page script).

People were asking me afterwards if I liked the film, and I did, but I was still processing what those two versions were - what I'd just seen and what was in my head. I was probably the least qualified person in the room to ask that question at that point. The people I spoke to seemed to all like it and understood the story which is my primary concern.

Here's the thing, I know what was missing. I haven't looked at the script but there were at least three scenes that never made the cut; the ending was played out differently to what was written (largely, as I understand it, to logistical issues on that shooting day) and there were other choices that weren't what I expected. Now, that could be entirely my doing if I wasn't clear enough on the page. But from the feedback it still worked and I'm not in a position to second guess the decision making process in the edit. Five minutes is a lot to lose!

There's only one scene I lament being lost. That was an early set-up scene between Vincent (Justin Burford) and Joelene (Clara Helms) which would have given the world and relationships more context. However, people clapped, the advanced diploma students were rightfully proud and I saw my words come to life off the page. My head even didn't explode when different dialogue had been looped in at certain parts! That's a pretty good result I reckon - proud filmmakers that is, not the exploding head bit.

The other four films were great; speeches were made; graduation - I think they were engraved tablets of some kind - were handed out. More applause and a collective sigh of relief and excitement as the now fully fledged filmmaking class disappeared to eat cake and party into the night.

Of our cast I think I am right in saying only Clara was able to attend but it was fabulous to talk to her parents who were lovely and so supportive of their talented daughter. As was watching the reaction of other parents in the audience during the ceremonies. Those things really are important - the support of family and friends but also being able to share your creative passion so they get to see what all the hard work (and tears) amounts to. It was left then to chat with colleagues and make plans for the next project!

A really good night and thank you and congratulations to all the people who worked on For Better Or Worse; the Central Institute of Technology; and special mention to David Revill who brought me on board, albeit late in the piece, but we got there in the end!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hairspray: The Broadway Musical - A Review

What better than a pleasant drive on a Saturday afternoon to spend time with the nicest kids in town? Yes, The Corny Collins Show was broadcasting live from downtown Mandurah and my, what a turnout of talent it attracted! This was an exceptionally strong singing cast accompanied by a live band in fine form. But more of that - much more - later…

First, let’s set the scene. It’s 1962 in Baltimore and Omar Little is several decades away from picking up a shotgun in anger. Okay, my knowledge of Baltimore is a little sketchy, The Wire references aside. What we do know is that the presumptive villainess of the piece, Corny Collins Show producer, Velma Von Tussle (Natalie Burbage), isn’t down with the whole idea of racial integration. Her daughter Amber (Victoria Luxton) expects to follow the family tradition of entitlement and beauty queen status and is the featured talent along with resident heartthrob Link Larkin (Sam Chadwick). What to do then when overweight teenager Tracy Turnblad (Sam Ferguson) not only joins the show but has ideas of integrating dancers from ‘the other side of town’ including her friend Seaweed (Jason Arrow); stealing Link away from Amber; and usurping her Miss Teenage Hairspray status as well?!

Okay, the plot is as thin as a pancake left out on Kwinana Freeway during peak hour but it doesn’t matter one jot. The songs are terrific and it moves at a cracking pace. In fact it only slowed down whenever minor plot mechanics intruded especially towards the end of the first act as plans are formulated and early second act as they are (re)committed to. Other than these moments there are few dialogue heavy scenes which serve this well. This is a far more thematic piece which, at its heart, deals with the issue of racism in America at that time. It can be a little too overt and borderline preachy but I chose to see it as an outsider with a dream (Tracy) who, in striving to make that dream come true, creates a better reality for herself and those around her. An allegory for the Civil Rights movement, sure, but perhaps just as valuable for those who don’t “fit in” whatever the situation.

The vocal talent was outstanding across the board and even performers in smaller roles had an opportunity to shine. For example, in one number three performers reminiscent of The Supremes were singing backing vocals but let loose with individual bursts at the end that was jaw dropping. Natalie Burbage also gave us some vocal fireworks towards the end of Act One. So many other ‘big voices’ in the cast but special mention to Sam Ferguson who, at only 17, was very impressive in the lead role; Jason Arrow, who added a real soulful flourish to proceedings; and Ebonyelle Smith who had, in my view, the standout song, “I Know Where I’ve Been” which she hit out of the ballpark. Georgia McGivern as Penny also snuck up on me and her character perhaps went through the most significant arc.

Craig Griffen threatened to steal the show as Edna Turnblad and his set piece with Jack McKenzie (Wilbur Turnblad), “Timeless to Me”, was funny, sweet and endearing. I should mention there is a lot of humour in this, including some sly period references and innuendo that may have sailed over younger audience members but had me chuckling away happily. Natalie Burbage and Victoria Luxton were perfectly matched as mother and daughter and while Velma Von Tussle was perhaps more of an over-the-top villain, Luxton played Amber, the bitchy rival to Tracy, with the right mix of sassiness and disbelief (as events turn against her). Tate Bennett played the man himself, Corny Collins, with great charm and cockiness.

This was a big, colourful production and a live band added so much to proceedings. The costumes and choreography were fantastic and it has a cast of some 28 strong so my apologies for not mentioning them all! The only technical hiccup was a minor problem with one of the performer’s microphones towards the end but other than that it was a thoroughly entertaining afternoon. I was also delighted to see a large turnout for a Saturday matinee. Such a big production comfortably inhabited the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre venue.

Lastly, two quick observations that I found quite charming – there was a young lad in front of me, maybe ten years old, who kept looking over his shoulder to try and see the “big board” the actors were “staring at” as the results of Miss Teenage Hairspray came in at the end. Loved that! And as I left a girl of maybe six was skipping through the lobby singing “you can’t stop the beat”. I’d say that is a job well done!

Congratulations to director Karen Francis and all the performers, crew and behind the scenes staff involved. A great show!

For more reviews go to Perth Theatre Reviews.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

State of Play and Ongoing Misadventures

On Monday I return to the corporate world full-time. Unavoidable. Desperately needed. In the nick of time. As of yesterday* I had something like $24 credit left on my credit card and $74 in my bank account. If my life was a movie I’d be debating whether to cut the blue wire… no, the green wire… NO, the RED wire… with three seconds left before the big explosion. As long as the bomb doesn’t go off, right?

Deep breath.

Snip.

Blessed calm.

Some facts: I last worked full-time in an office job back in July 1998 in Sydney. Last time I worked part-time in an office job – 27 August 2010.

808 days later I am returning to a world (telecommunications) that I am really comfortable with but thought I had put behind me. But harsh economic realities cannot be ignored and here’s another scary figure: after taking out rent and my private health insurance, Centrelink payments left me approximately $10 a fortnight to live on. Simply impossible. So the last couple of months have been pretty hard. I posted about that here which, for those of you who know me well, is totally out of character. The one big irony – I will be working out of the very same building from back in 2010!

Yesterday felt a little like “Back to School” as I took the battered remains of my credit card and bought work clothes and the like. I joked to a friend that I should laminate some old high school text books to continue the analogy. I am actually excited about this next phase of my misadventures even though I know it is a massive change to my formerly carefree writer lifestyle.

In that context, a big shout out to my writing home over many years – the Millpoint Caffe Bookshop to use its formal name or simply the bookshop café as it is known by all who know it. Adam and his staff have been very good to me as the usual level of banter can attest to. Thank you to those staff past and present who have provided the coffees, the laughs, and the level of comfort to let me do my thing. I will miss my lazy week days wandering along the foreshore and finding a spot in the courtyard.

But that isn’t to say I’ll be deserting writing, far from it.

My latest feature script, a low budget thriller formerly known as “Untitled Briefcase Thriller” and now “The Script Formerly Known As Turbulence”, did not get chosen for a couple of funding initiatives but it is a first draft and, while a good start, needs work. To that end I have had excellent notes from the ScreenWest Development Manager and my director which will allow me to focus on the rewrite, my primary writing focus moving forward. The briefcase reference comes from the setup – our guy opens a briefcase in which is a gun and a hit list with only one name not crossed out… what do you do?

There are three short films that should see the light of day shortly – “Coffee To Go” and “Darkness” with Filmbites and “For Better Or Worse” for the Central Institute of Technology. I have the usual mix of excitement and apprehension re the finished product but very much looking forward to see how they turned out.

I have recently attached directors to two other short film scripts, “Lucky Bamboo” and my out-of-character zombie effort “UZS-2017”. Waiting on notes before doing new drafts in preparation for next year’s funding rounds.

Then there are the longer shots. Two feature projects waiting on private investors. One a big conspiracy thriller called “The Pilbara Imperative”; the other an action-adventure for an international client tailor made around a specific product they want to promote. Sounds unusual but I was really pleased with how the one pager turned out and the Sydney based director and venture capitalist really like it and the client has made positive noises so far… but these things always take time.

Other than that, I discussed my slate of feature projects with ScreenWest but, as always for a writer, it will be a matter of time and prioritising what to work on. This means I’m less likely to take on even paid reading assignments or writing monologues/scenes for actors… though that can still be by negotiation once I’ve settled into my new routine.

So things are about to change dramatically. But isn’t that what we crave as screenwriters – drama? Maybe it was the green wire…

Yep, I'd call that decadent!
*Addendum: I wrote the above Friday afternoon while sitting in the café courtyard and spoiling myself with lunch, a decadent dessert and farewell banter with the staff. That evening I went to industry drinks in town which seemed fitting, surrounded by peers and agency staff. It was a room full of screenwriting and filmmaking talent. It was good to discuss projects, catch up with people, and generally schmooze. Word of my impending return to the corporate world was common knowledge (thanks to social media) so congratulations and commiserations were the order of the day. I enjoyed it a lot and served as a nice transition point from one phase to the next…

Friday, November 2, 2012

Star Wars: Episode VII - Reawakening of the Fanboy

Okay, I admit it. I'm excited! This week's announcement that Disney has paid $4.05 Billion for Lucasfilm and will be making a new Star Wars trilogy was like waking up as a kid on Christmas morning and finding the best present ever under the tree!

I've blogged before about my two most vivid movie memories when I was kid (Movie Moments Through The Generations) - the image of that Star Destroyer gliding across the screen in Star Wars is indelibly printed on my brain... as it is for many, many people. Back in the days when it was simply Star Wars, not Episode IV: A New Hope even though that was on the opening title scrawl. But we'll come to that later.

Another story from the original trilogy. It's 1983. I'm in Year 12 at Scotch. A friend has a copy of the eagerly anticipated third movie that hasn't opened in Australia yet. On VHS tape. From memory his parents had come back from overseas, maybe Singapore, I can't remember. What I do remember is this, a bunch of us went over to his house to watch Return of the Jedi... over and over and over again. We were poring through that thing like forensic scientists, particularly the speeder chase sequence on Endor trying to find gaps in the special effects. Stop, pause, slow speed, rewind, trying to go frame by frame. Laughable today but the bee's knees back then. I never saw ROTJ at the cinema because I must have seen it what felt like a dozen times that night.

There were so many good things in that film - I recall I was particularly taken by the crimson clad Stormtroopers guarding the Emperor and the epic lightsabre fight between Luke and Darth Vader before Vader redeems himself and kills said Emperor. Quite possibly Carrie Fisher's costume in the opening sequence as well. Okay, I was 17 and she was like the pinup girl for sci fi geeks everywhere. (Mine was actually Erin Gray who played Colonel Wilma Deering in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century). But there were also warning signs. Enough has already been written about the Ewoks but, really? Plus a second Death Star? I guess the first one was still under warranty.

Back then it was always understood that there would be 9 films. So the ending of Jedi kind of confused me and seemed to bring a premature conclusion to the story arc. Then crickets... for years. I never did get into the Expanded Universe though I'm sure I have a couple of novelisations somewhere and did have a Star Wars computer game at one stage that I quite liked.

Then came word there would be a new Star Wars movie. Boy, was I excited! Boy, was I disappointed when it turned out to be Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Boy, did I HATE the retrospective naming of the first three films to include the episode number. Then came Attack of the Clones which makes The Phantom Menace look like Citizen Kane. The dialogue in that film, including my favourite worst line of all time - "Hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo" - and the whole "sand is coarse" tepid romance nonsense that felt like it was written by a 14 year old boy who'd just seen Erin Gray in a body-hugging silver jumpsuit for the first time... sorry, I might have gone off track there a little. What was I sayi-- ah, yes. It SUCKED! As in blood is gushing from my ears, please stop talking now. Plus Yoda doing things no formerly-charming-puppet-but-now-CGI-concoction should ever be asked to do. His fight sequence with the ridiculously named Count Dooku (sounded like a Sesame Street character) is equally ridiculous. The third of the prequels, despite being touted as the "good one", I barely remember. Except for the absurd "Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!" as Darth Vader is born from the remnants of Hayden Chistensen's acting career.

Then came the tinkering. Of the original three movies! I watched the special edition of Star Wars last night and was struck by how annoying the alterations are, most infamously Greedo shooting first in the catina scene. And, of course, inserting the ghost of Hayden Christensen's acting career into the end of Return of the Jedi. It is with much annoyance and sadness that I realise that I'll never be able to watch the Star Wars I saw as an 11 year old back in 1977, ever. There was a certain charm to its sparseness in places, its flaws, its defects. Stop taking that away, George! It also struck me how much Harrison Ford as Han Solo makes that movie and the original trilogy. Lucas totally forgot that when he made the prequels - the humour and charm was replaced by a dour earnestness that is crippling.

We come to the Disney announcement and the reawakening of the fanboy in me yet again. Why? The movie I have not mentioned yet and the one generally regarded as the best of the franchise - The Empire Strikes Back (stick your Star Wars, Episode V nonsense where the sun don't shine). NOT written by George Lucas. NOT directed by George Lucas. (Okay, neither was Jedi but damn, those ewoks were undoubtedly his creation!).

Lucas gets slagged off a lot these days but let me offer some praise before the brickbats. His genius was in creating a remarkable universe in a galaxy far, far away. Also for tying up the sequel and merchandising rights. More power to him. It is such a rich world with almost infinite story possibilities. So credit George with the vision.

What he's not so good at? Well, unfortunately, writing and directing. This despite being Oscar nominated in both categories for Star Wars (and American Graffiti). There is enough hokey dialogue in Star Wars to "stop a team of oxen its tracks" (misappropriated by my favourite writer) and the first act shouldn't really work as it sets up a droid - yes, R2D2 - as the protagonist for much of its length. Harrison Ford famously said, "George, you can write this shit, but you sure as hell can't say it."

The prequels reinforced everything bad about his deficiencies in these areas. The advent of the technology that supposedly allowed him to create his true vision also led to soulless, charmless, green-screened, woodenly acted, CGI cartoons. The scripts feel like first drafts and are simply awful. They include what I consider to be the worst screenwriting mistake IN HISTORY. Yes, way to destroy one of the great modern myths by introducing the concept of midi-chlorians. You too can work out if you're a Jedi by going to your local GP, asking for a blood test and, if you're lucky, most medical centres in the galaxy bulk bill these days so you won't even have to pay. I still shake my head at this. Inexplicable.

So, having George removed from writing and directing duties for the next trilogy is a HUGE plus. Lawrence Kasdan, who was on one of the great hot streaks at the time, co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back (with Leigh Brackett). He also wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark, Body Heat, Return of the Jedi and The Big Chill from 1980-83. Experienced directors Irvin Kershner and Richard Marquand were brought in to director TESB and ROTJ respectively. Certainly not big names but competent.

Imagine what a new Star Wars trilogy might look like with the pairing of an A-list writer with an A-list director. Make no mistake, if Disney hasn't already tied up deals, those roles will be the hottest ticket items possibly in Hollywood history. Look at what J.J. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman did in rebooting the tired Star Trek franchise (while ironically using heaps of iconic Star Wars allusions!). Though Orci & Kurtzman have recused themselves in my mind with the awfully misguided genre mashup that was Cowboys and Aliens. Hell, Sorkin's agent is probably on the phone pitching a courtroom-style drama about the Trade Federation negotiations as a Greek style tragedy of greed and betrayal. Okay, no-one wants to see that. No, really, not even if Sorkin did write it.

What will the story be? Will it be faithful to Star Wars canon as established in the Expanded Universe? Will it pick up immediately from the end of Return of the Jedi? What source material will it use? Which characters?

I. DON'T. CARE.

There's going to be a new Star Wars movie in 2015 and I'm as excited as all get out about that and, sorry George, I'm glad you're not directly involved.

May the Force be with us all!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Working with Directors – A Screenwriter’s Perspective

(This article originally appeared on http://soyouwanttobeadirector.blogspot.com.au/)

Unlike short film scripts, every single feature screenplay I am currently working on has a director attached. Why? From my perspective it is the single most important collaborative relationship I have. Feature scripts are notoriously hard to get right at the best of times; done in isolation, almost impossible. A healthy creative relationship between a writer and a director can elevate the material, eliminate lazy choices, enhance the visual style of the writing and, most importantly, put the story and characters through the blowtorch.

Yes, often there should be creative friction between writer and director as the ultimate and only goal is to develop the best possible screenplay to make the best possible movie. That’s why it’s critical to choose wisely when working with a director (and vice versa). Ego cannot be a factor. It should be a relationship based on equality and mutual respect. I would also add words like integrity and a shared storytelling sensibility. It also helps if you genuinely like the person as you’re going to spend a lot of time over the course of many drafts working together.

I am fortunate enough now to have a circle of directors who fit this description. But this has been through, in many ways, a process of elimination and finding my own voice. Yes, I’ve been burnt before. Perhaps that’s part of the learning process.

Understanding storytelling styles is critical – I have one director I will go to with thrillers and politically coloured fare whereas there is another who would be my first choice for science fiction or fantasy/supernatural. That’s not to say each wouldn’t be able to do the other style, just that I know what they normally gravitate to. You’re looking for a shared vision and passion for the project as that will get you through the (inevitable) doldrums of development hell.

Directors also have very different styles when developing a script. Some will be very meticulous in their notes and feedback; others more into broad brushstrokes and issues of tone. While I have to stay true to my task of writing the best possible script, I also have to accommodate those different styles. So being flexible is important even though I will always fight for what is important to the narrative spine and/or the integrity/credibility of the characters. If requested changes don’t compromise those elements then I’ll always try and accommodate the director.

For example, in a scene that introduced the female lead of a feature I had her playing netball. The scene was about how she played and how she interacted with her teammates – establishing character traits. The director’s reaction was words to the effect of, “I’m not shooting that. It would be in a big hall under fluoros and look crap.” It was changed to an outdoor hockey arena at night under light towers. From my perspective it didn’t change the intent of the scene one bit and the director was happy. He was also right - it would look more visually interesting.

Once you ‘click’ with a director you can pretty much determine how they like scenes laid out and what is likely to work or not. They also perform a vital function – the bullshit detector. I know when I’m “cheating” in a scene or a sequence but sometimes I have to be called on it; same with those scenes you fall in love with but might not actually fit - due to pacing, tone, thematically, or just a dud beat. Sometimes you try things that simply don’t work. When your head is buried in all the complexity of a script it’s vital to have a critical, objective voice.

So what do I hate when working with a director? “I don’t know what I want but I’ll know it when I see it.” As a writer this drives me off the charts crazy. I don’t know how to write to that. Nor directors who give you a shopping list of things they don’t want or have only the vaguest of ideas. I’m looking for an “in” to a story and the more concrete the triggers the better. If you leave me to my own devices the danger is I’ll go off on tangents and explore what I’m currently in need of therapy for. (Okay, not true… but close!) I also dislike directors who are into “hierarchy” and/or exhibit diva behaviour. I simply don’t have the time or energy. Also, don’t be vague with notes or bullshit me. I need honest, objective feedback to make the writing and the script better. Take the time to do this. It helps the writer and ultimately reduces problem solving on set. Don’t take creative arguments personally – this isn’t about personalities it’s only about the work.

Many of you will no doubt be writer-directors so you’re trying to fulfil both roles which I would argue is well-nigh impossible to do to the same extent. In this case please make sure, with your writer hat on, you find someone who can perform the role of the objective voice that pushes you to make your script better. The director in you will be thankful, I promise!

Richard Hyde
Screenwriter

Friday, October 26, 2012

What an Actor Looks for in a Screenplay - Guest Article by Molly Kerr

Having recently been asked to contribute to a couple of sites/blogs I started thinking. This blog has always been written exclusively from my point of view, perhaps I should open it up to guest contributions. So I posted on my facebook page asking for articles from colleagues along the following lines:

Actors - what do you look for in a script when choosing roles?
Directors - how do you like to work with writers?
Producers - what attracts you to a project?
Writers - how do you pick which projects to work on?

The first of which is from an actress I met only recently at a Perth Film Network function, Molly Kerr. She certainly left an impression and has an excellent blog and a website where you can see examples of her work. Molly has "...completed shooting for three music videos and performed in numerous live theatre productions. Her most recent on screen role was as an anarchist for Dylan Tilbury's feature length independent HOTEL."

Over to you, Molly!

This isn’t as representative as I would like it to be. So I have below a series of points that are of personal importance to me but other actors may disagree. Hey, that rhymed!       

Don’t put too much action or description in.

Actors may be here purely to make your vision come true. Maybe. In reality, however, every project with an actor is collaborative because we are going to interpret the role in a thousand unexpected little ways. From speaking in a way you hadn’t thought of to dancing on certain words to fighting with the other actors for screen time. Everything we do will make your dream a little less dream like and a little more “what the hell…” It’s what we do. Every line of action or description is prescribing our performance to us. When we have less room to interpret the script we feel less creative and eventually this leads to resentment. So keep the “shining tears trickled down her golden cheeks” for your Twilight parodies. Of course, there is the exception of screenplays written for direct audience consumption. They should be as easy to read and be as descriptive as any prose. But that’s because no actor is needed to interpret the screenwriter’s vision.

Use subtext in dialogue.

I get excited when I read a script and the plot isn’t spelled out for me. I like this kind of problem solving. “How am I going to show the audience that while I’m talking about eating chicken tonight I’m actually thinking about the bomb that’s about to go off under my feet?” This is the ultimate opportunity for actors to get creative and collaborative with the blocking to make the screenwriter’s intentions come through. It takes more skill to reveal important details in subtext and draw the audience into the intrigue than to give away the plot and take the audience for a bunch of lazy idiots. As an audience member I enjoy those moments when something important in the character dynamic has been revealed through a performance and circumstance and the dialogue has only indirectly illustrated the point. As an actor I love the feeling that I’m putting together pieces of a puzzle, not presenting the already formed picture. That’s boring.

Unless it’s important, don’t tell me what the character looks like.

I really would like to make my own decisions about how to realize the nuances of this character and appearance is one of these. If I read the script without character descriptions and I don’t figure out that the character is Emo then you probably haven’t written an Emo character. You’ve relied on your character description to portray that character type without allowing it to inform your writing. If you use it ironically, you have a hulking big hippy with dreads portraying a businessman then I can appreciate that you’re challenging audience assumptions about aesthetics and character. However, you might lock yourself into a dilemma. You pictured a sweet petite blonde actor for that role when the person that captures her character most effectively is a black haired giantess! When I’m writing I like describing the characters because I like creating people and appearance is an important part of creating. When I’m acting, I feel the same way and want as much to do with creating the characters as possible. If I don’t think I have a salient feature for a particular character I won’t change the character to suit me, I’ll change myself or suggest a different actor. There is a particular character that I would love to portray, she’s little and dark haired like me but I picture her voice as so much more sultry and husky than mine can ever be (unless I have swine flu). I wouldn’t audition for her because I think that particular feature is so clear in the characterization that it would be wrong to portray her for my own selfish reasons.

Make my character want something.

I can only do so much. If you make it clear from the plot that my character is after something then I will do everything to make sure my character gets it. I may fail. I may die in the attempt (or my character anyway) but I will do all that I can to get it. Of course, you don’t need to spell it out for me. But do make it interesting. And do make it high stakes. If I don’t think it’s worth wanting, why would any audience engage with my performance? I can suspend my own disbelief so the audience find my particular part of the screenplay engaging but they won’t be able to suspend theirs so what’s the point. We are here to serve our creativity and the audience. If my character wants something, make it worthwhile. Why have you bothered to write a whole screenplay if it’s just about wanting a sandwich? Is that worthy? Of course it isn’t! Unless you’re a girl sandwich and it’s a boy sandwich and you have to run away from the evil human mouths to be whole again and not be eaten. It’s about wanting a sandwich, still, but the stakes are higher. (Yay, a sort-of-pun.) Probably don’t go for something so bizarre, though. There isn’t much audience over 5 years old for that kind of thing.

Please for the love of God let the plot make sense!

Probably should have been number one on the list but I was doing the bullet points for clarity rather than importance. Oh my goodness! Please, why did the children leave their dead mother on the back lawn and walk into the wilderness to visit their cannibalistic aunty? I DON’T KNOW! I don’t understand and I got to read the script over and over. The audience watch it with our brilliant performances, the DOPs great cinematography and the director’s best attempt to make it make sense but still… what is going on? Why? Why? Why? If the audience can’t work out a character’s motivation, that isn’t always the actor’s fault. The actors probably tried to come up with an explanation that makes sense but it was never written down, never shown in the film and therefore doesn’t affect the understanding of the audience. Please let the script make sense. Don’t give us important looking cutaways that don’t pay off or flashbacks that leave more questions than answers. Making the audience wonder what has happened is not the same as making them wonder whether you were on drugs when you wrote it! Just answer this question: Why?

Thank you for allowing me to rant. I have a screenplay to read, now!

Out.


There you have it - goals, stakes, subtext, clarity and don't be too prescriptive with description. All things we should be doing as writers and refreshing to hear it reinforced from a different perspective. Thank you Molly.

Do you agree? Do you have other elements you look for? Do you rhyme? 

If you would like to contribute an article please email me at rwhyde3.0@gmail.com

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Reflections

Warning: It is entirely possible this post will be a load of old twaddle. Then again it's also likely to be highly personal and revelatory. Let's call it therapy of sorts.

First, the good news. I have been offered a full-time job off the back of an interview last Friday. My initial reaction is one of massive relief. We'll come to why a little later but it is amazingly good news. It also means major changes - I have not worked in a corporate job since 2010; have not worked full-time in a corporate job since 1998. The company is in the telecommunications industry where I have over twenty years experience. It will be a nice fit and I am actually excited about delving back into that world.

There is a nagging at the back of my brain though that due to the nature of the position my creative ambitions will have to be curtailed. Certainly they won't be extinguished but my current writer lifestyle will soon disappear. I have no choice. Right now, at this very moment, I am the poorest I think I have been. Ever.

It is a realisation that I have come to in recent weeks. Hence my utter relief at being offered the position. Being poor and living off unemployment benefits is humiliating, gut wrenchingly embarrassing, and debilitating in many ways. The reality is those benefits pay my rent and my private health insurance and leave me less than ten dollars a fortnight to live on. It's impossible.

I don't know how anyone does it. Just as well I paid off my credit card after my redundancy as it has been taking a hammering of late - buying groceries on credit, petrol, paying bills where I can. But then the monthly credit card payment has to be made. It's a cycle that spirals out of control and, in my case, was a few short weeks from seeing me with nothing.

It had me contemplating options I could not fathom - having to sell my car, whatever possessions of any value and, as an absolute last resort, moving back home. I know I would have been welcome even though it would have been difficult for all involved but at my age, simply humiliating.

Yes, I am cursed with pride. That's what makes it hard to stomach - I've never really had to worry about money before. I like to write in cafes - but that's expensive. I like to go to plays and shows to support actor friends and colleagues - often even more expensive. Recently buying petrol to get to these things has been a worry. I'm tired of eating rice and two minute noodles. I haven't bought new clothes in forever. Everything is a struggle. I'm also too polite. I buy people, especially women, drinks and lunches when I can't afford it. It's the way I was brought up.

Then there's been the job search. I have extensive experience over those twenty plus years including, at one stage, managing a call centre of some 220 people with a nominal operating budget of $14 million. Since March when I started with Centrelink I have had FOUR interviews. That's it. Get me in the room and I am fine - more than fine. The first interview the owner of the recruitment agency was sending the client a "highly recommended"... except the client withdrew the position. The next two interviews I was told it was between me and one other person and obviously I dipped out both times but was tantalisingly close. Until this latest one. Success! But the process over several months had left me despondent... or worse.

Depression is a word I have difficulty with. But if I was being honest with myself I would say there are times that's what I was going through. Unable to get out of bed. Unable to write. Not wanting to talk to anyone. Lost in a fog. The RU OK? initiative is a good one - but simply asking isn't enough. If anyone had have asked me I would have lied and said, "sure, I'm okay." That pride thing again.

It is a delayed reaction to having been made redundant back in 2010. Yes, I was shocked at the time but I think I was insulated from the worst of the ramifications because I had a reasonable payout shortly followed by a grant for a feature script. Money wasn't a problem - I paid off a car loan, all my credit card debts, happily went about my business. I didn't think - deliberately I suspect - about what had been taken away - security (or the illusion of this), routine, the camaraderie of the workplace, a certain sense of worth an achievement.

It's a hell of a thing to happen to you. Anyone going through it now - you have my deepest empathy. It sucks. The way mine was handled. The effect - immediate or otherwise - on your self-esteem. All of it.

The great irony is, as I sunk deeper into a funk about my financial prospects, the creative side started to take unexpected turns. I began to charge for script reads and notes; for monologues and scenes. This has started to provide a growing stream of money (albeit sporadic) without which I would have been in desperate straits. More than that, it has allowed me to exercise skills I believe I'm very good at, namely writing, script analysis and script editing. But on top of that I damn well enjoy being around creative people and talking story and script. To those people and teams, thank you. In many ways. the mental stimulation was as important as the monetary side.

I also recently finished a new feature script. It took way longer than it should have mainly because, I suspect - no, I know - of that D word. But when I finally pulled my finger out and completed it I was very happy with the results. Soon it will be time to work on the next draft. With the advent of me rejoining the workforce it will likely be the only project I'll be working on. Unless something hits that is sitting with potential investors. It's a worthy project with an excellent director so if it is to be the only one I have no trouble with that. No trouble at all.

Finally, people may think I was being a smartarse writing a short in two days and posting it online. But until this morning's news I kind of needed some sort of positive affirmation as things were potentially looking bleak. I have really been buoyed by the response. Thank you to those people who took the time to read it and offer such encouraging words.

I apologise for the length and content of this post. It has been written for me more than anything else. That's one of the reasons we write. To process and deal with things in our lives we may not be able to handle any other way.

My misadventures may take on a different flavour now but rest assured I'll always try and keep that creative spark alive any way I can...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

UZS-2017 (A Zombie Short Screenplay)

For someone with a self-professed "hatred" of zombies I seem to be talking about them a fair bit. A lot of this, of course, is free masterpiece theatre.

But after a comment on facebook re my two page vampire scene that went along the lines of "loved [it] though perhaps it needed a sprinkle of zombies" I decided to up the ante and write a zombie short. Yes, Tara, you are responsible!

That decision was impulsively made at 8.27pm on Monday. In a feeble attempt at due diligence I posted the following on my timeline:

Okay, you all win. After repeated and extreme aggravation I am going to write a zombie short tomorrow. Just to shut everybody the hell up.

Now, someone give me a quick brief of the top five things I need to bear in mind apart from sticking an ice pick in my brain before I start writing...

Zombies for Dummies... go!


The responses made for interesting and entertaining reading. Pretty much none of which I took on board (skydiving, zombie romance, something to do with priests I didn't quite understand etc) as I already had an inkling of what I was going to attempt. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't going to break any inviolate rules not being that familiar with the genre or zombie lore. 

The following Tuesday was thrown a little out of whack when my landlady rang to say they were coming down to fix my blocked bathroom sink. While that happened I pulled out the netbook and started to write. I already had what I thought would be the opening scene in my head but another series of images intruded which became the prologue of sorts. I was told it was important to explain the cause of the zombie "infection" or whatever the appropriate term might be. This seemed an elegant visual shorthand. 

Five solid pages were written on Tuesday as I followed my nose. Normally I would be far more organised and have planned out the whole story beforehand but I was enjoying the freedom of "writing on the fly". 

You know you're onto something when you have to get up in the wee hours of the morning to jot down notes for scenes and this was duly done early Wednesday morning. Then it was off to my favourite writing haunt to finish the script the link to which is ***no longer online***. [A director is now attached so I have taken the link down as we will be seeking funding in 2013 to make this short film - RWH 4/11/12)

The title is a placeholder only - Untitled Zombie Short (set in) 2017 - so any suggestions for a better title greatly accepted. Feedback, comments, derision, scorn, donations, academic thesis papers, reinterpretations, reimaginings, reboots, reflux and offers to direct also gladly accepted.

Some people may think I am being disrespectful in writing this script. Yes, my rhetoric has been colourful, my push back theatrical but I would say this in reply...

I am in the downtime period between drafts of a new feature project waiting for more detailed notes from my director and ScreenWest. So I have that most precious of screenwriting resources - time. With that time I have been doing small paid gigs such as scenes/monologues for actors and script notes for varying projects/teams. That money has been allowing me to scrape by as my financial situation is now parlous at best. Writing this short took my mind off other things, namely writing job applications and cover letters which I will have to return to as a matter of priority but simply didn't have the stomach for at this particular moment. 

Then there's this - it's actually quite refreshing to write something outside your normal Goldman-esque wheelhouse. You can decide whether I have pulled it off or not but I appreciated both the distraction and the challenge. 

So there you have it. A script about a zombie... from me of all people. Done in a little under two days. It is, of course, only a first draft but perhaps there is potential for something here. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it! 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Working with Directors - Upcoming Guest Article

A quick plug for a blog run by one of my colleagues, director Chris Richards-Scully who also lectures at the Central Institute of Technology. It is called So You Want To Be A Director? and is designed to be "... a resource for student drama directors..." 

It has links to a variety of blogs including from students doing their diploma course as well as guest articles from local filmmakers such as Aaron McCann (It's a Snap!), Ethan Marrell (Super Dingo) and Jeff Asselin (The Billabong).

I have been asked to contribute an article and at some stage you will be able to read my musings on Working with Directors – A Screenwriter’s Perspective.

An excerpt:

Yes, often there should be creative friction between writer and director as the ultimate and only goal is to develop the best possible screenplay to make the best possible movie. That’s why it’s critical to choose wisely when working with a director (and vice versa). Ego cannot be a factor. It should be a relationship based on equality and mutual respect. I would also add words like integrity and a shared storytelling sensibility. It also helps if you genuinely like the person as you’re going to spend a lot of time over the course of many drafts working together.

If you're an aspiring director, a filmmaker looking for a consolidated online resource or simply someone interested in film, check out the blog here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Darkness Descends - Zombies versus Vampires!

Look Ma, they turned me into a zombie!
It’s become somewhat of a running gag with colleagues in the local film industry. Yes, my hatred of Zombies. Don’t understand ‘em, don’t like ‘em, don’t want to write ‘em.

My mistake was to boldly announce this at a short film screening some time back and then repeat this assertion on social media. Well, did that ever cause a backlash!

Here I was bemused by the seeming trend that every filmmaker under the age of 25 has some pathological need to make a film where the antagonists have a top speed approximating that of a stunned, three legged wombat on Valium. Little did I know it’s the ones over 25 you have to watch out for!

I’ve put up with my fair share of zombie related gags since that fateful evening including being turned into a zombie as the above picture attests. The joy of having talented colleagues in the film business (though, truth be told, it makes me laugh every single time).

For the record:

I AM NOT WRITING A DAMN ZOMBIE FLICK.

Nup, not even co-writing.

Seriously, I don’t care if you say they’re fast zombies, swimming zombies, extra-terrestrial zombies, romantic zombies, damn well singing and dancing zombies.

Not even a Dom-Rom-Zom-Com-Nom-Nom which would be a romantic BDSM zombie comedy set in a fancy restaurant.

It ain’t ever, ever going to happen.

*Unless you’re going to throw lots of money my way!

What I do love, however, is the Vampire myth…

… with one major qualification.

I’m talking the traditional representation of vampires NOT the current trend of having them as fashion accessories for dewy-eyed teenage girls.

The issue, of course, whether zombie or vampire is how do you tackle such well- trodden material from a fresh angle?

This brings us to Two Pages A Week where my scene Darkness Descends adorns this week’s Guest Writer Monday slot. In a move sure to drive my zombie loving colleagues crazy it is indeed a vampire themed script.

I recently pitched two ideas to an actress over east, one of which might become a web series of some description; the other more suited to a feature film. The latter is the inspiration for the short scene – what if the Vampire myth is exactly that and the true origin of the Undead is one born of dark magic during a time when witchcraft was persecuted throughout Europe (and beyond) during the Dark Ages? This allows me to keep the trappings of traditional representations of vampires while pivoting to a world of magic and dark arts. I have a vague idea what a feature treatment of this idea might be – think Warlock meets Bram Stoker’s Dracula – but that is all yet to be worked out.

Two pages is precious little time to do justice to such a notion but it’s the first scripted scene along these lines. I hope you enjoy it and I’ll keep you up to date on the zombies versus vampires war that wages unabated in the Perth film industry!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Movies, Lists and Old Friends

A question I often get asked is, "you must find it so hard to watch movies?" The implication being that I would be too busy analysing them from a writer's perspective to enjoy (I guess). Well, if a movie is working, if the magic of the storytelling has me in its grip then I can assure you, I'm not thinking turning points and the like. It's when a movie isn't working that the analytical side comes into play to try and figure out why.

Here are some movies I really, really like. 

TOP TEN MOVIES

1. The Godfather, Part 2
2. Requiem for a Dream
3. The Godfather
4. L.A. Confidential
5. Amadeus
6. Unforgiven
7. American Beauty
8. The Insider
9. Chicago
10. Field of Dreams

Some rules: none of this nonsense some lists use where they roll all three Lord of the Rings films into one entry or The Godfather trilogy etc. I’ve seen Top Ten lists with 15 films on them! Decide! It’s supposed to be difficult! Okay, one rule! :-)

TOP TEN FAVOURITE MOVIES

This is a little different to my Top Ten Films. These are the ones I watch over and over. Not necessarily the best but the ones I slip into the DVD player when I want to spend time with an old friend.

1. Crimson Tide
2. The Negotiator
3. Chicago
4. The Departed
5. Gladiator
6. The Contender
7. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
8. The Insider
9. Ocean’s 11
10. The Dark Knight

I am tempted to list my Guilty Pleasures (hello Starship Troopers and Top Gun amongst others) and Lesser Known Gems (The Sweet Hereafter and Searching for Bobby Fischer would be examples) but I might save that for another time.


What movies would make your list? 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Things You Learn When You Network

I rather impulsively decided to attend a film networking night yesterday. It proved to be very instructive. These are just a few of the things I discovered:

People who aren’t writers are fascinated by Writer’s Block.

When the first question someone asks on introducing yourself as a screenwriter is, “how do you deal with writer’s block?” and when this happens on more than one occasion, your normal state of writer paranoia takes hold. Do I have something tattooed on my forehead? Can you tell I wrote 5 pages of absolute dreck before coming here? Did I leave my talent at the registration desk? Curiously, no one believed me when I said that writer’s block is simply code for being lazy. In most cases it really, really is... honest!

Actors must have their picture on their business card.

It was explained to me that this is because they are selling themselves as a product. [Insert straight face]. Whereas, you know, writers only have words and stuff. I’m pretty sure there’s a Writers’ Guild bylaw that prohibits writers using their photo, police sketch, stylised drawing or any other image, implicit or otherwise that could identify them. This is based on the premise that writers should not be seen, heard, or allowed in public places for more than an hour at a time (especially where sunshine is present). Actors one, writer nil.

When pitching your latest screenplay you’re actually inviting an actor to cast themselves.

Once we dispense with the writer’s block question next comes the inevitable, “what are you working on?” (presumably nothing due to that nasty block thing but let’s jump to the next scene shall we with a dubious transition). What a writer fails to realise is that when talking to an actor they are also using code. In this instance what they’re actually asking is, “is it within the realms of possibility you might have a good script with a role where surely I’m the only actress on the planet who could play it?” Writers are notoriously susceptible to such simple charms. (Yes, okay, it usually works much better when a vivacious actress is involved). Even when said actress bears no resemblance to the character as written. My Find and Replace gag worked a treat… before scurrying to the exit with fear in my heart. Actors two, writer nil.

Never, ever, under any circumstance leave your overpriced drink unattended.

Seriously, this is a biggie for a writer! Expensive, half empty stubby of cider left on a table behind you as you chat and sip from your ice-filled glass. Turn around for a refill – GONE! This is when you suffer TRUE writer’s block as your mind struggles to process the evident non-existence of your drink! Fracture in the space-time continuum? Wormhole? Time travel? Elaborate Ocean’s-style heist? Thankfully the ensuing negotiation did not require me to leap across the bar and demand justice as a full replacement was issued forthwith. The poor trainee wait-person, however, was jittery around me the rest of the night. Yes, a writer deprived of alcohol is a scary proposition.

Everybody in the local film industry is quote "lovely" close quote.

Even when they have the propensity to use the C word – as a noun, adjective, adverb, verb, punctuation mark, pet name. Everybody except for me apparently. However, I’m assured that with more appearances, etiquette lessons, and the purchase of a small puppy dog I could indeed be lovely as well. Actors three, writer nil.

Guardians for minors are only there to ensure their children make enough money from acting to buy them a palatial retirement home.

I was encouraged that anyone under the age of 18 was required to have a guardian with them on the night. This sounded eminently sensible - allowing minors unsupervised around screenwriters clearly could scar them for life. I learnt a new industry term – Mumager. I assumed this was a mother with only the best interests of their child’s career at heart. Little did I know it’s all a protection racket that would make various fictional criminal organisations blush! I was almost moved to hatch an escape plan Great Escape-style but I was too distracted by the missing cider, the writer’s block and various vivacious actresses to work out where to dig the tunnel. Actors three, writer one (by dint of an own goal).

Finally, I learnt that people actually read this blog.

People who I had never met before knew who I was because they read my humble misadventures. One person compared my posts to some of the finest writing they had read in recent memory… though that might have been me. Seriously though, I was quite heartened by this revelation with people saying they found the blog entertaining, funny and insightful. Entirely what it is designed to be as well as give you an idea of what sort of writer I am.

It is in that spirit that this post has been written (okay, well, except maybe for the insightful) with tongue firmly in cheek and certain events exaggerated for dramatic and satirical intent. Well, all of the events really.

I enjoyed the evening, made some new contacts, caught up with people who I have worked with before and talked projects, tall tales and something to do with Irish strippers that probably doesn’t bear repeating.

If you’re an aspiring filmmaker in Perth looking to make new contacts then check out the Perth Film Network website and facebook group.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Another Form of Rewriting - The Edit

It’s an interesting process being involved in the making of a film. As a screenwriter you’re usually the first person on board – the one with an idea that eventually becomes a screenplay. All that work, the hours upon hours of writing and rewriting. If you’re lucky enough a whole bunch of people will turn your script into moving images. Your involvement then is largely reduced to standing around on set (if you’re invited) and staying out of the way.

Then there’s this mysterious thing called post-production where the film takes shape in darkened editing suites somewhere. Why mysterious? I suspect screenwriters are contractually forbidden to set foot in such places but this is where the final “rewrite” occurs totally out of your hands. So you wait to see what it is that your words have wrought. And wait… and wait.

It’s not unusual then that this has been the case with the two short films I have written for Filmbites. A flurry of activity in the early-to-mid stages of the process (which started back in May 2011) – improvisations, drafts, workshopping, rewrites, eventually auditions, read throughs, rehearsals then more rewrites; until the shoots this year where I was an interested bystander; to the inevitable waiting as the film is assembled.

The first of the two, Coffee To Go, was shot back in February. I visited the set on both shooting days for a few hours and had some very minor input. Afterwards, when I asked how the editing was going, I was told it looked great! To which my standard reply was, “Yes, but does the story work?” You see, as a writer I’d rather have an average looking film with a story that works rather than a fantastic looking film where the story doesn’t play. So I was a little nervous.

The months went by. No word other than it looks really good. Hmmmm, okay. I decide not to worry about it as I have no idea what the location of the secret, underground editing bunker is nor have the military skills to neutralise all the anti-screenwriter security measures.

Then the director who knows how much I loathe, detest, hate, despise (I don’t want to undersell this point) Voiceovers where the words tell us exactly what we can see onscreen (yes, I’m looking at you Underbelly franchise), decides to play a little prank on me. Posts on my facebook timeline that he has a cut of the film but could I write a 30 second voiceover to tell us what the main character is feeling or some such nonsense. Let’s just say he knew his target well as I bit and bit hard, my head exploding as I declined to do any such hackery. Well played, Sir!

Fast forward to a few days ago and I have now seen a couple of cuts courtesy of the producer. Firstly, what a marvellous device iPads are. Secondly, cafes that play loud music suck. Couldn’t hear a lick of dialogue but then, I didn’t need to, I wrote it!

The thing is it does look good. The performances are good. The producer was happy with how the themes played out, particularly with the ending. All good stuff. But here’s where we get to editing as a form of rewriting. In the preferred cut scenes were out of sequence compared to the script. It took me a couple of views to get my head around this – mainly due to the fact that I had a bad head cold but also because it was a pretty tightly constructed script.

I was asked what I thought (for which I was grateful) and suddenly I’m into problem solving mode on something that looks like my script… but isn’t quite. It was an odd sensation but I made my suggestions including dropping lines (ye gads!) and adding a small scene I knew had been shot but wasn’t in the script. I’m deliberately not going into specifics other than to say it was like doing a polish but off the cut rather than tweaking the script. Usual things though – establishment of the main character, whose story is it and making sure the narrative is thematically consistent. The adjustment of scene order had, for me, muddled some of these things a little.

Whether my suggested changes are incorporated is not up to me but notes were taken so I’m hopeful. At least I was asked which may be unusual for the screenwriter to be involved at this late stage. Ultimately it’s about making the best possible film. I discussed with the producer what the strategy would be once the film is completed and was heartened to hear of a possible crowdfunding initiative to support festival submissions (for all three of the Professional Partnership Programme shorts) and the sort of festivals that would be targeted for this specific short.

Now we wait some more until the edit is finalised, all the other components like music, grading etc are done and the film is locked. Speed on the premiere screening!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My Favourite Pieces of Writing

This is an ill-advised adventure! I wanted to list my favourite pieces of writing across ALL media. What an impossible task! There will be a million things I have forgotten but maybe that is the point - capturing the writing that first comes to mind. Childhood favourites; things that move me; influence me as a writer; inspire me to be a better writer. Not necessarily the best but writing I have some connection to. I don't even know where to start... but here goes.

1. The West Wing, Seasons 1-4 (Teleplays) - Aaron Sorkin

It's no secret Aaron Sorkin is my favourite writer and even with his Oscar I still consider TWW his masterpiece. It is massively influential on me as a writer and you will see excerpts and a list of my favourite parts throughout this blog. Sorkin turns dialogue into music and his behind-the-scenes approach to writing television is one I have embraced whenever I venture, if ever so briefly, into that world.

2. Dulce Et Decorum Est (Poem) - Wilfred Owen

The great World War One poet who tragically died in the last days of the war. I studied him at Scotch College and topped my English Literature class. Safe to say, my favourite poet and this is a blistering account of the horrors of that most horrific of wars.

3. Who's on First? (Comedy skit) - Abbott and Costello

The great comedy skit that is beautifully written (and performed). There is a joy of word play here that really resonates with me - it is smart and clever and very, very funny.

4. Pulp Fiction (Screenplay) - Quentin Tarantino

I like the movie but I LOVE the screenplay. Brilliantly written and such a fresh, exciting voice at the time. If you reassemble the story into chronological order it is quite a simple one, but the fractured time narrative and the startling dialogue and yes, use of violence mark this as a fantastic read.

5. Hamlet (Play) - William Shakespeare

Another piece that was studied at high school. So dense, so complex, so ambiguous and written by perhaps the greatest dramatist we will ever know. A massive achievement in a career of them.

6. Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy (Novel) - Douglas Adams

I adored this as a kid. The irreverence, the imagination, the off kilter sense of humour. Sadly, it has never really been done justice on the small or big screen but it is a brilliant piece of comedy writing.

7. The Sixth Sense (Screenplay) - M. Knight Shyamalan

There are plenty of screenplays I could list as my favourites. This one, however, stands out for the sheer restraint in the writing. It could have been so easy to drive this tale of a boy who sees dead people off a cliff but it is handled so beautifully and the twist is so elegantly crafted.

8. The Last Resort (Lyrics) - Glenn Frey & Don Henley

A surprise entry and again, even more songs I could list, but this one that ends The Eagles' monster Hotel California album strikes a chord because of its theme - "how man inevitably destroys the places he finds beautiful." Epitomised by the lyrics - "You call some place paradise/kiss it goodbye." Haunting and pointed in its commentary.

9. The Thomas Covenant Chronicles (Novels) - Stephen Donaldson

It was a toss up between this and E.E. 'Doc' Smith's Lensman series - both massive influences when I was growing up. I've never read Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. THIS was my fantasy world - a leper who confronts Lord Foul in The Land brandishing the ultimate power - his white gold wedding band - that he cannot wield. Inspired, frustrating, breathtaking.

10. The Argument Sketch (Comedy sketch) - John Cleese & Graham Chapman

My favourite Monty Python sketch which beats out Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound for last spot on this list. What I always liked about Python, even at their silliest, is there is always an intelligence at work and this is razor sharp.

So there you have it. I'll probably revisit this list over and over but for now it's not a bad summation.   

What do you think of the list? What would be on yours?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

ACTORS WANTED!

I am seeking actors for this weekend.

Male and female; lead roles and featured extras. 

Location: Cottesloe.

Commencing: Early afternoon.

Looking for new faces so extensive acting experience is not required.

All age groups welcome.

What is necessary is enthusiasm, confidence, charm and a big appetite.

This is an unpaid gig.

I don't have a script or anything.

But Mum makes a mean chicken and salad roll.

She asked me if I knew anyone who might like to try them out.

I said to her, actors are always up for a free feed!

She nodded sagely and smiled.

Please supply head shots and dietary requirements to rwhyde3.0@gmail.com

Don't apply if you don't like chicken.

Or salad.

Stills will be taken of said rolls being consumed.

These will look great on your:

Website

Facebook page

Business cards

T-shirt

If we remember to send the pictures to you that is.

I anticipate that if this goes well there'll be a sequel.

For screenwriters.

Admission strictly by application only.

Yes, we know how hungry you all are.

Probably a short screenplay featuring a chicken and salad roll.

Plus:

Logline

One Paragraph Synopsis

One Page Synopsis

Outline

Treatment

Supporting notes

Supporting notes to support the supporting notes.

How you would approach eating the chicken and salad roll differently the next time you ate one.

Please don't send a head shot.

You're a screenwriter.

Yes, I am taking the piss.

I'm sorry, I couldn't resist.

Thank you for your attention.


Monday, September 24, 2012

What are you all so worried about – it’s easy!

I really should stop reading most things on the internet about screenwriting. A lot of it is not so much fiction as science fiction. Sure, there are useful resources online but [expletive deleted] me you have to trawl through some [censored]ing crap.

Take for example this gem I found on a film networking page:

“Writing a treatment is very-very-very easy!”

Really?

Not your garden variety ‘very easy’ where you knock out a “3-5 pager” before a cup of tea and a scone.

Not the slightly rarer ‘very, very easy’ where you’re doodling in a notebook and, hey presto, you’ve accidentally written a treatment (framed by a lovely floral doodle).

No, this is the ‘very, very, very easy’ phenomenon where you fall out of bed and, oh my god, there’s a treatment just sitting there on the floor… or you open the fridge door and look, a treatment at the back next to the six pack of tinnies!

Intrigued beyond words at this exciting new discovery I eagerly read on. A quick scan of the ensuing pitch told me how to set a treatment out on the page – double spacing you say? - and what went where like an Ikea instruction manual. So if it’s a three page treatment (I’d call that a synopsis but hey, whatever) the first page is the first act, the second the second and there’s a prize if you can correctly guess what the third page is. Genius!

Okay. Let’s do this then!!!

*Fingers poised above the keyboard*

Ummmm.

I suppose I might need a few other things.

Like a great, original idea for a film. A premise? A theme maybe? Oh, I know, some compelling characters. Yep, need those. Plot? Something to say? Rising action and stakes? Wants, needs, flaws. Character arcs.  A kick-arse climax and satisfying conclusion.

Hmmmmm.

Not seeing any of this in my very-very-very easy treatment writing discourse. If I start typing in double spaced Courier 12 font it will no doubt come to me…

It’s like telling me anyone can make a car. All you need is an engine, four wheels, a steering wheel… maybe some doors… oh, oh, oh, those drink holder thingies… and a sunroof… and what’s that gadget that does the thing with the thing? One of those!

Someone commented on the original post in response to my scepticism (who’d have thought?) that “physically” it’s easy to write a treatment. I guess so – you depress the keys in a downwards motion using your fingertips and words magically appear on a white space commonly known as a screen.

Come on!!! Writing a treatment is very, very, very easy? [Expletive deleted][Censored][Under review at the Classification Review Board] you!

Coming up with an original, compelling, entertaining idea for a feature film is HARD! There are courses now being run over east about how to write a proper LOGLINE – one sentence! Because, going by most funding body screeds of projects in development, we pretty much suck at it.

But what troubles me most is this – the dismissive nature of what it is screenwriters do.  Of course it’s easy! Anyone can do it! They’re only words! Knock out one of those out no probs! Which leads us here.

There are several types of writing that not all writers are good at – scripted scenes are different to a one page synopsis which is different to writing a full blown treatment. Don’t only give me a mechanical, dry recitation of the ‘geometry’ – inspire people to come up with good ideas; to recognise and discard bad ones; to work at their craft; to show respect for that craft. Celebrate good writing. Don’t trivialise it. And don’t ever, ever disrespect what it is screenwriters struggle to do – bring worlds and characters to life using only words, imagination, and bloody-minded commitment. None of that is easy. Not even for the most celebrated of writers.

Otherwise, it’s very-very-very easy for me to dismiss you as just another [censored].

"I love writing but hate starting. The page is awfully white and it says, “You may have fooled some of the people some of the time but those days are over, giftless. I’m not your agent and I’m not your mommy. I’m a white piece of paper, you wanna dance with me?” And I really, really don’t." 

- Aaron Sorkin

Live Below The Line - The Result

Back in May I posted about Live Below The Line, a great initiative to raise money for extreme poverty. Well, the good folk at LBL want me to tell you how things went. An excerpt from their email:

Richard --

In May this year, you supported something a little left of centre.

“Jessica is living on $2 a day? That’s crazy...” – you might have thought. And yes, you were kind of right, Live Below the line is tough challenge!

But here’s the thing -- your support, in the end, made a real difference.

Along with 52,324 other Australians, you helped spread the word that while poverty can seem overwhelming, it can be ended.

And your support helped spark a movement. Together, 7812 Live Below the Lin-ers across Australia raised over $1.9 million to help provide an education to those who need it most. You made this impact happen.

A video of the impact:



Well done to all those who participated and to the donors.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Shout outs and Gratuitous Plugs, Part 2

There is a word I love that I admittedly totally misuse. But I just like the sound of it. The word is ecumenical. Usually it has a specific religious connotation though I see dictionary.com also lists 'general' and 'universal' as meanings. So maybe I'm not too far off the mark. When I'm in an "ecumenical mood", in my terms, it means I'm in a warm and fuzzy, sharing, caring state of mind. Man, was that a long winded preface to say, here now are two projects that I am touting... with a twist!

That twist being a little crowdfunding love. Yes, these two creative teams are looking for support to bring their projects the life.

A little disclaimer - I am not creatively involved in either of these endeavours.

"So why are you promoting them, Richard?" Well, in the case of the Upstart Theatre Company I saw their production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot in June which was excellent. My comments at the time:

What a play!!! Absurdist, darkly funny, bursting with ideas, pointed, subversive, dense and intricate dialogue, playful... challenging. Three highlights (amongst many) - a powerhouse penultimate scene between Braye Dial as Judas Iscariot and Simon Thompson as Jesus; Kingsley Judd takes a beautiful written monologue at least 10 minutes long and hits it out of the ballpark; Desiree Crossing's character breaking down as she damns Satan as a liar. Get along and catch it - highly recommended! 

I therefore have total confidence that their production of not one but TWO of Shakespeare's most famous tragedies - Macbeth and Julius Caesar - will be excellent. So check out their Pozible page and help make wonderful theatre come to life with a group of talented actors. One of them will even make a cake for you as a reward!

Pozible Pitch from Bill Crow on Vimeo.

The second project is a short film by Gordon Waddell in Sydney. I was referred to Gordon recently by a mutual contact as he was looking for a writer to develop a feature film idea. As a result I've written a synopsis, the pitch has been made to a potential investor and now we wait to see if I get paid to write what will be a fun action/adventure story with a strong international flavour.

His short film is called The Offer and the Pozible page is here. Again, if you can spare some heard earned dosh why not help turn words in a script into moving images?

Lastly, talking of crowdfunding, a reminder about ScreenWest's 3to1 Initiative with submissions due on 12 November.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Feature Films and the Digital Divide

There appears to have been a sudden explosion of activity in my hometown. Everyone is running around making feature films. “Yay!” you might exclaim given that until recently Perth was better known for children’s television series and documentaries. The local funding agency’s West CoastVisions initiative has gone some way to changing that with films such as Last Train To Freo, Wasted on the Young, Blame and the upcoming These Final Hours. There has also been an influx of bigger productions such as Drift, the Cloudstreet mini-series (based on local writer Tim Winton’s novel) and, currently in production, The Deserter.

However, I am talking about the micro/no budget variety which has been made more attainable by digital technology. This has given filmmakers the ability to shoot longer form narratives cheaply and quickly. The problem though appears to be this:

The quality of the screenplay

I read one such script recently that to me was a rough first draft. I was bemused to discover it was the shooting script. Knowing some of the people involved I hope they salvage something from it. But it has train wreck written all over it.

Why?

It may be technically “easier” to make a film but is sure as hell ain’t easier to write one.

I know anything I write will generally be pulled apart by key collaborators, especially the director, before it goes through the funding process grindstone. If you’re fortunate enough to receive development funding then it’s onto drafts with script editors and more notes and feedback as the script evolves and gets better. In other words it is submitted to expert scrutiny. Sure, we can have a discussion about over-development or bad notes but the point is, the script is prodded and tested.

Who scrutinises these no budget feature scripts especially when a lot are by first time writer-directors? It feels to me like people are in such a rush to “make something” that the script is almost an afterthought. For these types of projects I would have thought it should be everything. What’s the point of spending your own money and that of family and friends on something that no-one will see or, if they do, could cruel your career right from the get go?

Then again, most of these seem to be on deferred payments and/or rely on the goodwill of actors and crew to work for free. Yet I see the same people going to that well time after time, requesting talent and crew on social media with only the promise of catering and “something for your show reel” as reward. Never mind the amount of actors I hear complaining that they never receive a copy of the film. 

When does someone transition from this approach to being a professional filmmaker?

When it's done right - Zak Hilditch's The Actress.
The only no budget films of note I have seen from Perth are The Actress and The Toll with an honourable mention to A Day at the Oasis. The first two are from Zak Hilditch who I am delighted to say has received government funding and financing for the aforementioned These Final Hours. The Actress, famously made for only $700, was well written and acted showing that Zak could tell a long form narrative. I’m looking forward to see what he can do with a proper budget. That script has also been through the Screen Australia’s Springboard initiative so I expect it will be in excellent shape. He is the exception to the rule. 

Part of me is jealous of all these people with their no/micro budget films who can tout the fact they have a feature film credit… but then I remember that’s not what motivates me. It’s to tell good stories. To me that means working hard to get scripts into shape to attract the type of financing and professional expertise that will do them justice. 

None of my key collaborators are interested in making no budget features. They are all developing projects through more 'traditional' routes. As a result there seems to be a clear divide here - those who compete for funding and private investment and those who prefer the "do it yourself" approach. 

I admire the latter's enthusiasm but can I suggest they spend as much energy on the script as they do on the "beg, borrow, stealing" to get their film made. After all, no budget, low budget, mega budget, if the script is broken you're going to have an uphill battle making a good film...