Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Working with Directors – A Screenwriter’s Perspective

(This article originally appeared on

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

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!


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

Thursday, October 25, 2012


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:


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. 


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! :-)


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?