Saturday, April 21, 2012

Movie Moments Through the Generations

I recently put up a poll on my Facebook screenwriting page asking people to nominate their favourite movie franchise of all time. This prompted some discussion as did conversations with actors substantially younger than me. They, of course, knew all the iconic films that such a poll will inevitably throw up… but I recounted how I was THERE at the original cinema release of some of these classics.

The two that stick most vividly in my mind are Star Wars and Alien. The former I was taken to by my Dad as I would have been about 11 years old at the time. I know it’s a cliché now because a lot of people from my generation mention it, but that shot of the Star Destroyer gliding across the screen changed movies forever. I had never seen anything even remotely like it – it kept going… and going… and going until finally you get to the engines. I can tell you, my eyes were as big as saucers. Then you get the Stormtroopers in their cool white uniforms THEN you get Darth Vader. All within a few minutes! Hooked. Besotted. Serious Swoonage. Dad, to this day, will tell you he hated it, but I know and he knows he loved it… just don’t tell Mum who has never seen a Star Wars film.

A couple of years later was Alien – the first film I was allowed to go see unaccompanied by an adult. On the proviso I first took my sister, who was two years younger than me, to see The Muppet Movie. Talk about a contrast! I had read the Alan Dean Foster novelisation so I knew exactly what was going to happen but that film scared the living bejesus out of me. What made it memorable was this - when the Alien bursts out of John Hurt’s chest a whole group of kids at the back ran screaming out of the cinema. AND someone threw up. The smell of vomit wafting through a darkened cinema added another layer to the claustrophobic nature of that film.

My parents talk just as fondly of the days when going to the movies was a huge social event – before the days of television. The Grove Plaza in Cottesloe used to house a cinema complex and Saturday matinees were all the rage. But they made a real effort having a theme in the foyer for the movies that played there. You hear how people, notably women, say they were afraid to take a shower after seeing Psycho. Well, when Mum and Dad saw the original theatrical release they said the ushers had green filters over their torches as they showed you to your seats which gave an eerie glow to set the mood. When the movie finished they kept the house lights off… and off… and off… until people started to scream! How cool would that have been?

So it started to make me wonder. What are the iconic movie moments for subsequent generations? Those scenes or images that sear themselves into an entire collective mindset?

What moments stick in your mind and are the source of discussion and wonderment for your generation as they are for mine with Star Wars and my parents for Psycho. What are those movies? Is it to be found in the Harry Potter franchise? Was Die Hard a film that sticks out? Did the prequels have as big an impact on a new generation as the original Star Wars trilogy did on mine?

I’d love to know…

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Short Film Shoot - Darkness

Some stills from the first two days of shooting for my short script "Darkness" written as part of Filmbites' Professional Partnership Program.


A teenager wakes in complete darkness and is horrified to discover that she is locked in a basement… and is not alone. Her mysterious companion is strangely resigned to their fate and tells the teenager they can never leave.

Upstairs, two housemates watch old movies until one hears a noise coming from the basement. Scared, she begs the other to check it out.

As the traumatised teenager desperately tries to escape, the housemate descends a rickety staircase that leads to a locked door. What she finds inside will change both their lives forever…

Director: Paul Komadina; Producers: Emilia Jolakoska & Hallie Mckeig; DOP: David Le May; Written by Richard Hyde.

Starring: Caitlin Ashley-Thompson, Hannah Hugessen, Jessica Hegarty & Jessica O'Connor.

More pictures on the Filmbites facebook page. "Like" the page while you're there to support a fabulous Youth Film School.

Two housemates watch old movies... 
The writer slouching about trying to stay out of the way.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Chapter 1

Kyle Z Davis

I heard the yelping before my eyes had even adjusted from their sleep induced fuzziness. It sounded like a dog, like a little dog, maybe even a puppy.  I tried to figure out if I was dreaming. Did my parents finally relent and give in the ‘I want a dog” pleas that I had been performing for over a year? I pinched my own scrawny arm. I definitely wasn’t sleeping. It was time to explore.

It was warm outside already, I remember the ground almost burning my feet. As I rounded the corner I saw the source of the yelping. It was tiny and white, with a big black splodge across its eye. It was sitting on top of Mum’s famous petunias looking very scared and a little embarrassed.

I bent down and put my hand out. The scared little face pulled away, back pedaling further into the petunias. It was scared of me. Me, at 6 years old! I raced inside and found some steak that Mum was defrosting on the kitchen counter. The puppy liked it. It ate the steak and licked my fingers afterwards, and slowly it came out of the petunia bush and let me pat its warm, fuzzy little head.

I named the puppy Charlie not sure if it was a girl or a boy. I fed it more steak, I imagined how it would be my dog and follow me everywhere - growling at the big boys across the street that had BMX bikes. In the space of 5 minutes I had Charlie and my whole future planned out. Then Mum came.

Mum stood at the edge of the garden with her hands on her hips “Where did you get that dog from Kyle?”
“Nowhere. I just found it.”
“You just found it here in the garden bed, eating my petunias?”
“He also ate a steak.”

Mum’s face went purple, I probably shouldn’t have mentioned the steak. “You have 3 seconds to tell me where this dog came from.”
“I don’t know I just came out and here he was. Can we keep him? Please Mum.”
My Mum looked at me and at Charlie, his tiny nervous shivery body, his big scared eyes, the wiggly tail – “No.”

My Mum looked at me and I could see her start to feel bad, “That poor puppy probably belongs to someone Kyle, and I bet they miss him very much.”
“But how did he get into our backyard?” my question hung in the air as my Dad strode in.

My Dad was wonderful, he was my hero. He was strong  and smart and he always knew what to do.

“Dad I found a puppy and it’s name is Charlie and I want to keep him and he is really scared and I just found him in the garden and I don’t think he belongs to anyone because why would he be here and I promise I’ll look after him and” The words all rolled into one big sentence.

My dad smiled at me “Slow down son. We have to first make sure that this dog doesn’t belong to someone. Does he have a collar?” I shook my head. My Dad strode around the garden then through the big grey gates that separated our little home from the big world outside. “There is foot prints outside – they must have thrown the poor blighter over the fence.”

Dad came back in and I looked at him hopefully as well but he glanced in Mum’s direction.  She frowned, he frowned – No!!! He was siding with her, I could feel his look change.

“Sorry son, we already have 2 pets.”
“The cats aren’t pets and what is going to happen to Charlie we can’t just abandon him!” I held Charlie so tight he whimpered.
“I hope Grumble and Mrs Mopps don’t hear you say that. We’ll take Charlie to the vet and the vet will find someone who can give him a good home,” said my Dad.
“But we have a good home, he can stay with us, and I promise I will walk him everyday and pick up all his poo, and train him to do really cool stuff, and …”
But I could tell that my words were falling on deaf ears.

 Just at that moment the best thing that could possibly happen, happened a very loud “Coooooeeeeee” was heard from the front gate. It was my Grandma, who was the bestest Grandma ever. She told the best stories, let me watch cartoons on tv, and always brought me a milky way (which she secretly gave to me when my parents weren’t looking). I was pretty certain that if anyone could figure out how I could keep Charlie it would be Grandma.

She rounded the corner into the garden smelling like fruit and sounding like a circus with all her bracelets jangling. She took one look at Charlie and got down on her hands and knees and woofed at him. I smiled and Charlie delightedly ran over to Grandma. “Who is this cutie pie?”
“That’s Charlie Grandma,” I said proudly.
“We’re not keeping him Mum, he was thrown over the fence this morning,” said my Dad. My Grandma looked at me and looked at Charlie.
“We’re going to take him to the vet and see if anyone is missing him” added my mother.
“Why would they be missing him if they threw him over the fence?’ I pointed out.
“We can’t have another pet Kyle. We already have 2 cats”
“I hate the cats”

“Shhhh.” Suddenly everyone was quiet, we looked at Grandma. “Leave this to me. Kyle and I will sort this out.” My Mum and Dad looked at Grandma in shock. My Mum then shrugged and my Dad smiled at Grandma and said “thanks Mum” and they headed into the house.

My Grandma sat next to me with Charlie and we threw a very small twig for him to chase. It was funny as he wasn’t very co-ordinated yet and he kept tripping over his front legs. We didn’t talk for a long time. Then Grandma started.
“You know Kyle sometimes we can’t be with the things we love, like people or puppies.” I wondered if she was talking about Grandpa. She never talked about Grandpa but whenever anyone mentioned him she got this sad look. ‘But you know what we can do? We can write a story about them so we can read that story and be with them any time we want.”
It didn’t seem much consolation to me, but Grandma persuaded me. She got out this big beautiful notebook with a book and a sword on the cover and she made me write about how I found Charlie. She made me describe every little detail, and what I would do if he could be my dog. She then helped me draw little pictures. One of Charlie scared in the petunias, one of Charlie scaring the big boys with the BMX’s away and one where Charlie found a wonderful home with another little boy who really needed him.

That afternoon Grandma and I took Charlie to the vet, who told us that Charlie would be snapped up in no time by a new family because he was so cute. I cried a little, and Grandma let me blow my nose on her shawl. That night I took out the big notebook Grandma had given me and I read about my adventures with Charlie the wonder-dog. That night my dreams were filled with Charlie and me going on amazing adventures. The dreams were so real I swear I could feel his leathery tongue licking my face.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

It’s All About The Collaboration, Stupid!


A FIGURE sits cross legged on the grimy floor, hunched over a keyboard. Hands peck at the keys with two-fingered urgency. A constant stream of indecipherable babble accompanies the keystrokes
Around the figure are strewn the remnants of screenwriting manuals – McKee, Field, Snyder, Goldman – they’re all there. Along with pile upon pile of dog-eared screenplays.

Thousands upon thousand of words that will never see the light of day…

The door shatters and in burst Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, guns drawn. They survey the mess and take stock of this John Doe, this pitiful screenwriter who hasn’t even moved as he cackles at his own literary genius…

Okay, so not all screenwriters are crazy people who hide in darkened rooms creating their masterpieces. Some of us occasionally write outdoors.

My point is this, until that door bursts open and someone else enters the scene, notably a producer and a director, your words are going nowhere real fast.

And the moment that happens there is one essential truth you must understand and embrace – THOSE WORDS WILL CHANGE.

They have to. Otherwise they will end up like the hundreds of notebooks in John Doe’s apartment in Se7en – morbid curiosities and keepsakes. 

Yes, I’m talking about collaboration, the essential component of being a screenwriter. There really is no room for ego – okay, that’s not true, we all have egos and we fight for our stories tooth and nail when someone wants to hurt one of our babies. I’m talking about the “this is the best thing since [insert best thing ever of choice] and you cannot change a single word or I’ll [insert description of imagined physical acts of violence]” kind of ego that only limits your script.

Thing is, if you’re lucky, you get to work with really smart people who will help make your words better.


Sure, you’ll have battles, the odd argument, and knock down drag down slanging matches occasionally but the goal MUST ALWAYS BE to make the project the best it can be. If that’s not your end point; if your ego can’t handle that, than what the hell are you doing being a screenwriter?

Which brings me to the short script I’ve written which is now listed as “Sixth Draft, Fourth Revision” and commences shooting this Friday some 11 months after its inception.
Inception is actually a pretty apt word because this entire project has been an exercise in collaboration from the get go:

The story evolved from two, unrelated improvised scenes from actors at a youth film school.

Once I worked out the link between those two scenes, one of which clearly suggested a back story and a possible climax/resolution, the structure quickly fell into place. Three drafts were written then I stopped because I knew there was no point continuing to make changes until a director was attached.

When a director came on board the inevitable happened – he had a different idea for the ending and wanted to take out two characters.

The first I was a little leery of because it changed the tone of the story but we talked it through and I incorporated the idea into subsequent drafts. Removing the two male characters? I had tried to service as many roles as I thought the story could hold given the rationale for the entire process was to provide opportunities for the youth film school actors. But being a well known ‘serial killer’ those two characters swiftly felt the sting of my backspace bar.

Most of all, none of these changes affected the STRUCTURE. That would have been something I’d have dug my heels in to protect so we were fine. By the sixth draft the story was all there and working well. Now came the fine detail. Or, as the writer might put it, the pedantic whims of the director; or as the director might put it, tidying up of the writer’s excesses! Yes, there was plenty of banter back and forth as we argued over individual beats, lines of dialogue and occasionally even specific words! 

Hence the revision numbers. If there are major changes to a script I will use a new draft number. If it is minor alterations or a polish I call it a revision of the current draft number.

It’s a continuing evolution though:

I sat in on the auditions for the four female roles. Watched as the director played around with scenes and slight changes came out of that process.

Then a read through/workshop with the selected cast just before Christmas where again revelations were made as the material was worked by the actors and director.

Finally, two rehearsal sessions in the last week where the entire script was put through its paces with some rudimentary blocking and tweaks to dialogue.

It’s amazing what you discover when you are reading your own big print and you can hear the repetitive use of certain words; an overuse of adverbs and stumble over inelegant phrasing.

The actors also help point out dialogue that isn’t sitting well or clunky parts that may have been lost in the early revisions as we stripped lines out only to go back and tinker with additions later.

While I can clearly see the entire film in my head (hurry the day when they can plug a digital projector into a screenwriter's brain stem!), observing the physicality of the performances helps with the 'geography' within a scene and refining the order of beats. Especially in this script where the climax is quite long and has many moving parts that all have to hit home in the right order to work effectively.  

This is all very useful to me as the writer. Again, the only goal is to make the project as good as it can be. For example, you swallow your ego when an actor voices a concern about whether a line you have written may come across as “corny” and let them explore other ways of saying it. No skin off my nose if it helps make the scene play better.

Now I wait to hear if I can change the Title Page to those magic two words: Shooting Script.

Even then, with a 5 day shoot scheduled commencing this Friday, I know there will still be changes to be made dictated by a variety of factors from locations to things that nobody can possibly foresee at the moment. The unpredictably of filmmaking!

Thank you to all the people over the last 11 months who have made this such a pleasurable experience. My work is largely done so now I let the actors and crew do their thing and make the words we have toiled so hard over come to life. I very much look forward to seeing the result. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Transition and Challenges, Part 2

First up, I must apologise to those of you taken in by my April Fool’s Day prank. A dash of truth goes a long way to embellishing a little deception – yes, I was in Canberra earlier in the year; yes, Toby Ziegler is my favourite character in The West Wing; yes, I would love to earn a living as a speech writer; but no, I have not been offered a job as such.

Sorry about that Chief!

However, it IS true that I am in a time of transition. I was made involuntarily redundant back at the end of August 2010 from a company I had worked at over two stints for 21 years. This was unexpected and, at the time, traumatic.

Then came the silver lining. A payout which, while not huge by any stretch of the imagination, was enough to see me pay off my car loan, all my debts and allow me to write, augmented by a grant and some other bits and pieces, for 19 months without having to worry about things like responsibility and working to someone else’s schedule.

The downside to this is that I put off thinking about the long term future. Didn’t want to; couldn’t; haven’t… until the last few weeks as the money started running out and the inevitable conclusion, that I knew but had banished, dawned. I needed to get a “real job”.

So now I’m updating my corporate resume; contacting referees from over east; and I’ve finally overcome a huge mental block and contacted Centrelink. I really didn’t want to go to the local branch for a follow-up interview (pride, ego, fear of humiliation etc) but it went well as I can be quite gregarious when I want to be. Same with the job placement firm.

I know I can survive and thrive in the corporate world – I have a pretty damn good resume – but my fear is I get sucked back into that mindset and the creative side of me dies a little… or all together.

Will certainly make for interesting times. Hopefully I find something palatable (that is preferably writing related) so that my misadventures can continue!

Ziggy & Herdsman 1_edited
With then Telstra CEO, Ziggy Switkowski back in my office-bound heyday.