Monday, December 30, 2013

Hanging Out With Actors, Part 2 - Boondock Alley

Leon's first read of the Pilot.
At the end of August I wrote about the start of a new project where three actors had commissioned me to create a web series. At that stage I only had a vague idea what I was going to write about and had committed to creating a series Bible to explore this further.

I don't know if that's usually done for a web series but it certainly is a staple in television. The Bible, in effect, is a road map for the entire show. In its current state for what is now known as Boondock Alley it is 13 pages long and about 5100 words. To give you an idea of what it contains, the headings are:

Premise
The World
Character Breakdowns
Themes
Series Rules
Series One Dramatic Arc
Episode Guides

I had said to the actors that if they wanted to do this properly they had to realise that developing scripts would take time. First step was fleshing out the premise and deciding exactly what this was. I knew the basics: the tagline quickly became Boondock Alley - A doctor's surgery for the Undead. But I had no idea what the series would be about and it was important for me to find the dramatic arc so I could structure it properly. I knew I wanted to satirise both the healthcare system and the prevalence of such creatures as vampires, zombies and werewolves in modern culture. But it was important to me to do this in a coherent storyline with interesting human characters as well as the more exotic ones.

The request was for 10 x 5-7 minute episodes. The actors gave me a minor scare when they toyed with the idea of cutting it to 6 episodes after I had plotted it out. Yes, this could have been done but it would have meant some serious truncating of both story and character arcs.

Let's back up a bit. The three actors in question are Leon Grey, Anita Barnes and Catriona Coe. They have been involved at all stages in story discussions and giving input on their characters as I began to put this together. Indeed it was Leon who came up with the title after it was initially called Dead Serious.

Given the premise it was important for me to give context to the world and the two teasers here and here are more or less direct lifts from The Bible.

Once I determined the dramatic arc (discovered whilst absently listening to a rendition of Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven before a play reading in Fremantle) I began to plot the episodes. Given it was an order of 10 I used the Game of Thrones model of plotting towards a climactic ninth episode with the tenth being the ramifications of that event and setting up a possible second series (hell, if I'm going to do it might as well accept it is an ongoing universe). In loose terms then, the episodes are:

The Pilot: where the premise is established and the characters introduced.
Episode 2: a satire of the medical procedural show, notably House.
Episodes 3-5: a point of view episode for each of the three leads.
Episodes 6-8: the dramatic arc kicks into gear properly (set ups earlier)
Episode 9: Hell fire and fury reign down on our heroes (or some such thing)
Episode 10: Consequences and cliffhanger for Season 2

IF I had to shorten it to 6, episodes 3-5 would go and I would have truncated 6-8.

Now, all this was done BEFORE a single word of script was written. The Bible had one revision after feedback from the actors then came time to write the Pilot. I had the opening scene in my head and quickly captured that. When I sat down to finish the pilot it was done in one sitting and "came out" quite easily. The second episode was trickier because I had to start introducing a little more exposition into how the world of the series works but poking fun at House was fun. The third episode was harder but again was done in one sitting. At present they're all decent first drafts and the feedback has been excellent from the actors but I know I'll have to rework them.

I'll stop writing episodes now because a) it's time to see how doable this is in terms of production; b) I know that I can write episodes easily enough because the "hard work" was done putting the Bible together; and c) given the detail in the Bible the actors, who are also de facto producers, can use other writers if they wish. Though I'd certainly want to write episodes 9 & 10.

Thankfully the actors have been smart enough to acknowledge it takes time to produce quality material. I appreciate their patience and enthusiasm equally. The current scripts will need rewrites as the director gets involved and production decisions are made but I'm certainly happy with where this currently sits from a writing perspective.

The next step is turning words into moving images and I look forward to seeing what 2014 will bring in that regard!

Over to you Leon, Neets and Cat! :-)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Top Ten Theatre Productions in 2013


At the start of the year I posted my top ten theatre productions for 2012. It was the first time I had done such a thing despite my love of lists, mainly because my attendance at live theatre had grown beyond supporting an acting acquaintance here and there. 

This year saw another leap forward in that regard, attending 25 productions, 3 play readings and 6 PAC Script Lab readings (okay, I had to go to one of them as it was my script being read!). This may not seem a lot, certainly compared to others who appear to see everything, but for me it was. What also surprised me was the number of musical theatre productions which has grown exponentially and feature heavily in this year’s top ten list. I wrote about that arc earlier this year.

So down to business – these were the ten productions I enjoyed the most throughout the year plus a new addition, my favourite male and female performance of the year.

Links to my reviews that were originally published on the now defunct Theatre Australia website as indicated; my original comments (in quotations marks) from threads on that website.

1. Animal - Upstart Theatre Company

I truly was blown away by this. The writing was outstanding and provocative; the acting excellent, led by a superb performance from Kingsley Judd.

"This is a brilliantly written play - layered, brutal, provocative, sly, heartbreaking - with every setup paid off to telling effect. Nothing is wasted or misplaced here. It is beautifully acted by Kingsley, Sally (Bruce) and Patrick (Downes) who clearly relish working with such quality material."

2. Madame Piaf - KNUTS Theatre

Talking to Stephen Lee after the show, he reinforced what was apparent for all to see – sometimes an actor is simply perfect for a role. Rhoda Lopez gives a bravura performance as Edith Piaf.

"During the course of the year you get to see some really good shows in Perth, produced and performed by very talented people. Sometimes you get to see something truly exceptional."


A two hander that packed an emotional wallop with an authentic sense of time and place as it deftly explores the aftermath of 911 in New York City.

"Memorable, funny, and moving. Above all, utterly authentic."


I had such a good time with this. Raucous and bombastic it was simply great entertainment.

"Sometimes you go to the theatre for thought provoking drama, maybe to see something experimental or the work of a new playwright. Sometimes you get a rollicking, entertaining ride that is flat out enjoyable from start to finish."

5. Playhouse Creatures - Her Infinite Variety Ensemble

A strong ensemble piece that mixed absurdist elements with the all too real circumstances of women having to navigate the “bear pit” of 17th century theatre.


This musical was genuinely laugh out loud funny and had the added bonus of me seeing a large chunk of it from the stage before bombing out on misspelling “zomathary”.

"This celebrates the absurdity and competitiveness of that most unique of American "sporting events", the spelling contest. Each of the contestants battle not only each other but the expectations of parents; their own high hopes; raging hormones; and the pressure of being a winner."

7. The Producers – Playlovers

A cumbersome beast. The first forty minutes were stretching my patience but then something magical happened after the story finally kicked into gear and the production flies especially in the second act. 

8. Cats - Regal Theatre

I’ve never seen the ‘traditional’ interpretation so was not troubled by the choice of 40-50s style costuming. I have no idea what was going on as the story is surreal to say the least but the highlight came when the cast got their raunch on to McAvity the Mystery Cat.

9. Le Gateau Chocolat – Fringe

Fabulously talented, gloriously outrageous and deeply personal, this was a highlight of the festival.

10. Holly & Ivy - Marloo Theatre

This one act play was the middle offering in a “Trilogy” of productions. It snuck up on me with its understated acting and beautifully drawn characters and navigates what could have been a very problematic twist.

Male Performer of the Year – Kingsley Judd for Animal

Female Performer of the Year – Rhoda Lopez for Madame Piaf 

Special Mention – Adam T. Perkins for The Guys

Thank you to ALL the actors, directors, playwrights, musicians and crew of ALL the productions I saw in 2013. It truly is a pleasure to see your work come to life. Perth has a vibrant theatre scene with amazing talent to be found. Long may it continue.

For more reviews go to Perth Theatre Reviews.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Web Series, Teaser #2

The Undead have always existed but now they’re out in the open… and have national health care.

Within this maelstrom of distorted reality and heightened bureaucratic insanity let’s throw in three human characters through whose eyes we’ll experience the chaos and wonder of this odd little surgery with its more than odd little patients.

Each will have their own secret reason for working there. This isn’t the most glamorous of gigs - the Undead present a physical threat as well as moral and ethical dilemmas despite their legal status. What sort of person would want to spend the majority of their day amongst those who are no longer human if indeed they ever were? 

Perhaps the humans are as damaged as their patients, maybe even more so...

Boondock Alley

A doctor’s surgery for the Undead.

Coming soon in... 

...well, it's always difficult to tell with these things. I mean, the pilot is written and the next two episodes. The three leads are cast as the actors basically commissioned me to write the thing. A director is attached. There's a title and possibly a catchy jingle and theme music. For all I know there's even a POSTER! Okay, maybe a little early for the poster but things are getting serious! Now for key crew and Heads of Department and catering and extras and auditions and, did I mention, catering? But it's all looking good so far. No, really it is! So I can definitely say with much confidence, coming soon! In the future... ish. In 2014!!! Keep an eye out. The Undead are EVERYWHERE!!! 

Oh, and Merry Christmas! Remember, Vampires, Werewolves and Zombies et al are people too. Or used to be. So you should get them something. Nothing flash or fancy. Just a small gift. It would be nice. It's Christmas. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Web Series, Teaser #1

Imagine a world where the myths were all true – the fairy tales, the legends, the whispered tales handed down from generation to generation, all of it. That creatures of the night, both foul and misunderstood, have always walked, crawled, flown, and stalked amongst us, and always will.

Then imagine that these creatures were, over time, integrated into society, and begrudgingly accepted if not embraced; that they had rights under the law. Outsiders to be sure; distinctive, vibrant, different… and still dangerous.

Boondock Alley

A doctor’s surgery for the Undead.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Let’s Write A Screenplay, Part 1 – The Idea

Apologies, Alas Smith & Jones
Greg: Mate, you see that flick on the weekend?
Tony: Which one?
Greg: The one I told you about.
Tony: The searing warts and all examination of the human condition?
Greg: No, the one with the sharks coming out of the tornado.
Tony: Yeah, that one.
Greg: Well?
Tony: I thought the cinematography was pretty good.
Greg: You didn’t see it, did you?
Tony: I have, in fact, not seen it.
Greg: We could do something like that.
Tony: Do we even have tornadoes in Australia?
Greg: I meant… you know what I mean.
Tony: Hardly ever.
Greg: We could write something along the same lines!
Tony: A film script?
Greg: Sure, how hard can it be?
Tony: You spelt your name wrong on your final year English exam.
Greg: It was the original European spelling.
Tony: I don’t even know what that means.
Greg: Fine. I’ll be the ideas man, you can write it down.
Tony: And this big idea would be?
Greg: Divanami!
Tony: Excuse me?
Greg: Get this, a thousand washed up actresses wash up in New York and start terrorising the locals by aggressively auditioning for Broadway roles that don’t exist.
Tony: I’m still on, “excuse me?”
Greg: It’ll be huge!
Tony: Well, sure, what with a thousand actresses and all.
Greg: Washed up actresses. Think Lindsay Lohan, think Tara Reid --
Tony: Who?
Greg: Exactly!
Tony: It doesn’t sound very Australian.
Greg: We can throw in a few Home and Away stars.
Tony: Last time I checked New York isn’t an outer suburb of Sydney.
Greg: The home of Broadway, my friend. Remember that girl from school?
Tony: The one who took out a restraining order on you?
Greg: No, the other one.
Tony: I think she ended up taking out one too.
Greg: No, the one who wanted to be a big star, singing and dancing on Broadway.
Tony: Did she ever move to New York?
Greg: No, she couldn’t sing or dance to save herself but that doesn’t matter.
Tony: Probably matters to the people who put on shows in New York.
Greg: The point is that was her dream, to be on stage in the Big Apple.
Tony: Okay.
Greg: Think how many other aspiring actresses have exactly the same fantasy?
Tony: I thought they were washed up?
Greg: You know what I… look, what do they call it when you play around with words?
Tony: Wordplay?
Greg: That’s it. Divanami, actresses, tsunami, washed up, get it?
Tony: Don’t you think that might be a little insensitive in light of recent events?
Greg: The Miley Cyrus thing?
Tony: I was thinking more the people drowning thing.
Greg: No, they’re all dumped in New York alive by some big wave.
Tony: Seems a little implausible, don’t you think?
Greg: They made a movie about sharks in a tornado. 
Tony: Point taken.
Greg: So what do you think?
Tony: Well, what’s the story?
Greg: What do you mean?
Tony: What happens next?
Greg: They start auditioning on the streets of New York.
Tony: Not really the same as sharks on the loose though, is it?
Greg: Have you ever been the victim of a really bad audition?
Tony: I’ve heard stories.
Greg: Terrifying.
Tony: Do you know anything about writing a screenplay?
Greg: Adaptation is one of my favourite movies.
Tony: We’re all set then.
Greg: What do you say?
Tony: New York here we come?

To be continued...

Monday, November 25, 2013

Dine with Edith Piaf!

One of the highlights of my theatre going year was the production Madame Piaf, written and directed by Stephen Lee with a powerhouse performance by Rhoda Lopez in the lead role, with excellent support from Zalia Joi, David Bowyer & Emma Shaw; and musicians Nikki Dagostino, Beth Sheldon & Jeffrey Harrold.

It told the turbulent story of Piaf; the humble beginnings, the highs, the lows, the loves, the losses and above all, the songs that were superbly realised.

My comments from the night:

During the course of the year you get to see some really good shows in Perth, produced and performed by very talented people. Sometimes you get to see something truly exceptional.

Rhoda Lopez gives a brilliant, powerhouse performance as the eponymous lead in "Madame Piaf" at The Guild Studio in East Perth.

Congratulations to Stephen Lee for writing and directing this beautifully crafted tale and to the rest of the cast, Zalia Joi, David Bowyer and Emma Shaw as well as musicians Nikki Dagostino, Beth Sheldon and Jeffrey Harrold for bringing this to life.

Well deserving of the standing ovation it received!


If you missed its original run you now have the opportunity to see it at Friends Restaurant with a great deal that includes the show and a three course meal for two for only $149. The total package is valued at $270 so what are you waiting for? You have until midnight tomorrow (Tuesday 26 November) to BOOK HERE for the show on Wednesday, 4 December.

Entree
Chicken and game terrine, raspberry vinaigrette and pickled vegetables

Main
120 day grain-fed Black Angus, slow cooked beef cheek, braised cabbage, creamed potato, seasonal vegetables and red wine jus reduction

Dessert
Vanilla baked cheesecake, salted caramel macadamia nuts and vanilla ice cream

Coffee and petits fours to finish

I only had a cup of cold mulled wine and a few hors d’oeuvres when I saw it in East Perth. Imagine my reaction if I’d had a “120 day grain-fed Black Angus, slow cooked beef cheek” to go along with this wonderful show?!!!

The restaurant is described as award winning. This show will also win awards. Of that I have absolutely no doubt.

Personally recommended.

ps doggy bags for this occasionally hard working scribe gladly accepted ;)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

UZS-2017 (A Zombie Short Screenplay), Part 2

Back in October last year I wrote about the creation of a zombie short film script in response to the flak I was copping for voicing my ambivalenc-- okay, I hate the damn things.

Subsequently a director came on board and we had two or three meetings and a second draft was written based on his notes. To be honest though we were working at cross purposes with different intentions for the story. He wanted a more traditional "fan pleasing" zombie film whereas I, well, did I mention? I hate the damn things.

The last meeting we had I was in the middle of intensive rewrites for Turbulence with Script Lab looming. So in fairness to the director my head was in a different place and I was struggling to understand his comments on the second draft. I left that meeting suggesting he take a pass at the script. In hindsight a mistake and something I normally never do but I simply didn't have enough RAM in my head to process (or understand) what he wanted at that time. I suspect, however, all the extra brain cells in the world wouldn't have mattered as he was nudging it down a path I wasn't really interested in.

A new draft never materialised from the director (nor myself) so it sat in the back of my brain and in a folder on my computer.

Until, impulsively, I submitted it for a one day workshop via the Film and Television Institute. What the hell, right? It's sitting there and I actually like it a lot. It also attracted interest from that award winning director and another had enquired about it so I figured it must have had some sort of legs.

I wrote the application in about 45 minutes flat. I'd finished the pilot script for the web series and was in a writing mood. I let it come tumbling out. Didn't self-censor or edit. Kind of a devil-may-care attitude because what did I have to lose?

I started it this way...

Let me say this up front. I hate zombie films. I don’t understand why everyone under a certain age wants to make ‘em. I expressed this at a screening at the FTI last year to discover people over a certain age want to make them as well. One, a talented cinematographer, turned a picture of me into a zombie! I was mocked mercilessly. So I thought, damn it, I’ll write a damn zombie film.

Except, shhhhhhh, don’t tell anyone, it isn’t really. What interests me is exploring a character undergoing a transformation that they can’t control. I’ve also inverted the usual genre tropes – the zombie locks himself away from the humans; it is told from the zombie’s POV (even though Warm Bodies was subsequently released but that takes a more satirical/comedy approach); and it eschews fan expectations of overt blood and gore.

It is also a commentary about the alienating effect of technology and it is no coincidence that smart phone technology is chosen as the carrier of the infection.

... and continued in that style. Conversational, self-deprecating and free of any earnest submission style trimmings.

And it worked. The project was accepted so I have a full day workshop in Fremantle next month with Claire Dobbin. From the FTI website:

"Claire has run script workshops all over the world and has consulted/edited on Australian films including Candy, (Berlin 2006), Mallboy (Cannes 2000) Road to Nhill, (Best Film Thessaloniki Film Festival) Small Treasures (Baby Lion Venice) Rabbit Proof Fence (AFI Award winner) Japanese Story(Cannes 2003 and AFI Award winner), Blame (Toronto 2010) and Hermano (Venezuela’s entrant in the Academy awards 2010).

Oh, I should mention - I submitted the FIRST draft. The one written in two days after the initial premise struck. So going back to the basic idea and see what comes of being immersed in a creative environment with Claire and 11 other short filmmakers/writers for a day. It should be fun. 

ps did I mention? Zombies... hate the damn things! ;-)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Enter Stage Left, Singing - A Personal Musical Theatre Journey

Yesterday I travelled down to Mandurah for a production of The Phantom of the Opera. This is the fourth time I have seen Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best known work, the previous three being in Sydney where my slow journey to musical theatre appreciation began. Indeed, it is the first musical I ever recall going to, circa 1995-6.

"I had moved to… 

Dissolve to flashback, probably in black and white with period costume and a lamentably scratchy soundtrack to denote a simpler, more analogue time.  

… Sydney in 1994 for work and my parents had proudly announced they were taking me to Phantom of the Opera when they were next coming to visit." 

Parents (proudly): We’re taking you to see Phantom of the Opera!

Me: Am I being punished for something?

Parents (enthusiastically) (yes, they always talked in wrylies back then): You’ll love it. It’s GREAT!

Me (thinking to myself): I wonder if I can fake my own disappearance before they arrive…?  

It’s true, they didn’t literally drag me to the Royal Theatre; they actually physically deposited me in the third row because I thought going to a musical was tantamount to sticking my head in a vat of boiling fat. 

Then something strange happened. 

Cue something-strange-happening music and the introduction of fake smoke for effect. 

I kind of liked it!

Dad still tells the story - yes, even last night when I followed the coast back up to the family home for dinner - that in the early going when the chandelier plummets to the stage I jumped three feet in the air.  

I had no idea what to expect so the spectacle and showmanship of it all had this tyro enthralled. I enjoyed the songs even though I’m not a fan of Act 2 with its reworked melodies and lyrics from the first half.    

I ended up taking my sister along when she visited from Canberra; then later my partner at the time which started a tradition. For her birthday we would go out to dinner, see a show, then have supper on my balcony, my apartment being in the heart of the city. I think, maybe, possibly, one of the other shows was Crazy For You and I can’t recall the third. I also saw Les Miserables on a return visit by my parents. 

I returned to Perth in 1998 and musical theatre largely became an afterthought.  

There were sporadic outings: 

We Will Rock You when I was in Melbourne for work in 2003.

Bare - A Pop Opera by Playlovers around 2008.

Spamalot, again in Melbourne for work maybe 2008/9.

Porgy and Bess at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth.

Cabaret on a return visit to Sydney.

Avenue Q at the Regal Theatre, Subiaco.

Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds at Burswood Dome.

Christmas with the Andrews Sisters in 2011.

Checkout the Musical as part of 2012’s Fringe Festival. 

We Will Rock You was horribly written by Ben Elton but had all those classic Queen numbers so nobody seemed to mind the abysmal storyline as we sung along raucously. 

Bare featured a ‘wow moment’ when one of my favourite local performers, Rhoda Lopez, launched into “911! Emergency!” and blew the walls off the joint. It also featured Gemma Sharpe who would later read for me at Script Lab, and, unbeknownst to me until recently, Cassandra Kotchie, who made my coffee at a local writing haunt for ages before confessing she was a WAAPA musical theatre grad (Cass!).  

I adored Spamalot and have never laughed so hard especially at the audacity of "You Won’t Succeed on Broadway".  

Avenue Q gained greater significance when someone texted me the first two lines of "There’s A Fine, Fine Line" and I rediscovered how good the songs really are, especially that gem of a number. 

These were still largely one off events. You’re in a different city for work so you blow off time by going to a show. Or you get free tickets as was the case with War of the Worlds and Avenue Q 

Things began to change while I was doing the PAC Screen Workshops from 2005-2007 and my circle of friends and acquaintances expanded to include far more actors. I’ve written before about my joy of supporting talented friends in their acting endeavours in stage (and film). However, I was attending significantly more plays than musical theatre but that ratio has slowly shifted in the last couple of years. 

2012, however, was the major turning point when I saw three shows that featured a then friend and really enjoyed each one. She is a talented performer and it opened my eyes to a vibrant independent musical theatre scene. For as little as $20 you could see a fabulous show with real talent and commitment. While we’re no longer friends that revelation she was the catalyst for has propelled me into 2013 where yesterday’s show was the ninth musical I’ve seen this year. The other eight are:

The Wizard of Oz, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Curtains, The Producers, Nevermore, Madame Piaf, Cats, and A Pirate’s Life For Me.  
  
I guess I should pause to talk a little about the local incarnation of Phantom. Paul Spencer was fantastic as the eponymous villain and was well supported by Kristie Gray, Cassie Skinner and Jake Garner as Carlotta, Christine Daae and Raoul respectively. The sets were good and apart from a few technical hiccups with microphones (thankfully, minor characters in minor moments) it was well presented. The problem, however, to my ears, was the orchestra which was all over the place. So while the singing was good with Spencer the standout, they were constantly battling the music which was muddled and didn’t do the piece justice.   

Having said that the theatre was full and there was an enthusiastic standing ovation so it has no doubt done well. Though again, only a 4 show run, the same as Hairspray by the same company last year which I enjoyed far more.   

Jack the Ripper: The Musical; Koorliny Arts Centre, 2012
I had rather impulsively booked a ticket and it has brought me full circle from being horrified to see a musical back in the mid-90s to now savouring these local productions with such talented people on stage and all the crew and technicians who make them a reality.  

To my musical theatre friends I say this - I finally have joined the party as an enthusiastic and consistent audience member! Just promise me you’ll never, ever ask me to sing!  

What other shows should I see? What are your recommendations? Chicago is one of my all-time favourite movies and I’d love to see Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart onstage but hit me up with some other productions I should look out for!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The FUNdamentals of Screenwriting – Setting

I have a confession to make. I’m a fussy and ill-disciplined writer. Those people who write every day between x and y hours; nup, can’t do that. When I’m on, I’m on. When I’m off, I’m about as useful as Tony Abbott in a musical. One of the great joys of listening to Jeff Goldsmith’s podcasts is to discover I am not alone in having procrastination as a constant friend. 

But there’s also this. Where I write is just as important as when.  

And boy, am I fussy!  

Let’s rule out a few places. Namely, HOME. I have an awfully comfortable couch and a new bed and internet and a DVD collection and a television and the internet and iTunes and did I mention the internet and damn that couch is comfortable. The only time I write at home is up against a deadline and it’s 2am. Otherwise there are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many distractions. 

So generally I look for external locations to write. But there are places to avoid: 

The wrong vibe. Hard to explain this one but some places just don’t feel right. You know what I mean? Too clean, too antiseptic, too corporate, too… something. If I’m not comfortable then it ain’t going to happen. 

The State Library is a classic example. I am old enough to remember a time when “Shooooooooooooooosh” ruled the airwaves at libraries. Now, if you’re not in a study group of twenty people discussing, I dunno, Twilight or something at the top of your lungs, you’re just not trying hard enough. This is guaranteed to make me mad as hell and stomping out with muttered-under-breath disgust. Paradoxically, the café downstairs used to be a regular place to write on weekends as I expect people to talk there so it doesn’t bother me. Told you I was fussy. 

If you’re a writer and spend a lot of time in cafes and occasionally pubs, I gotta tell you, you overhear some great conversations but most of the time you hear the most banal, coma-inducing, dispiriting pap. When I’m in the zone I don’t hear anything. When I’m struggling to find that magical place, inane conversation bugs the hell out of me.  

Especially avoid middle-aged, lycra clad, latte drinking bicycling associations. 

They are Satan’s spawn.  

Same goes with music. Generally I don’t like music playing when I write. I especially don’t like it when bored staff members have it cranked up and you can’t hear yourself think. Those places I avoid like musicals with Tony Abbott in the lead role. 

What’s with all the negativity, Richard? 

Okay, okay… here are the places you will currently finding me writing at regularly: 


The courtyard at the Bookshop Caffe
This used to be my spiritual writing home when I wasn’t working fulltime. Within walking distance of home with a lovely courtyard… and books! The staff have always been good to me there even though I hadn’t been for a looooong time since returning to corporate enslavement.

Then I discovered that early afternoon after the lunch crowd leaves on a Sunday is the sweet spot. Otherwise you battle to find a seat on the weekends. 
Secret greenery everywhere.

The Secret Garden is my Sunday morning brunch and writing spot. It is within walking distance if I’m feeling suitably motivated and has a lovely, yep, you guessed it, garden setting out the back. Tends to get busy from mid-morning but is quite peaceful if you get there early enough.  

Dome-alicious.
The main workhorse though is the big Dome in East Victoria Park next to the Balmoral (which I still have never set foot in). It’s spacious, has comfortable booths, decent free parking and also doubles as the prime meeting place for creative sessions. I will go there for a few hours after work and battle the mental tiredness on weekdays. Generally go there Saturday mornings using the above two for Sundays. 

Other places that get a run – Rifo’s in Maylands for meetings with people north and east of the river; occasionally The Windsor Hotel in South Perth; and very infrequently now, Clancy’s in Fremantle if I’m down there for other purposes.  

I write this on a Saturday morning at the Dome after a three hour writing session and it’s warm, the doors are all open, there’s a nice breeze, and jazz/classics are softly playing. It’s comfortable. Above all else that’s what I crave when I write.

Do you have a favourite spot? A favourite time of day to write? A lucky charm? Magic potions? Favourite song? Words of encouragement? Tips to avoid procrastina-- oh please, dear [insert deity of choice] let the words flow...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Value of the Written Word

You may have noticed commentary on the corporate world creeping into my posts of late. This one will be no different but relates specifically to the craft of writing. I can’t give too many details other than to say this; a national manager was in the office for the week. It was not a laid back week. That last sentence is known as understatement.

Amongst the manic energy caused by a specific event there were two instances where my writing talent was called upon. I found the circumstances around this quite interesting. I have always taken for granted the fact that I can write. It’s what I do. I’m pretty good at it. Sometimes I forget it’s a skill that a lot of people do not have… even very smart people.

One was a mass email to our contract workforce. I thought what I wrote was functional but I was complimented by said national manager for how it was structured. To me it did what it had to do. I wasn’t sure how else I could have written it so I found this reaction a little strange. He later asked me to assist with an email he had to write to, let’s just say, a person of significance. It was a daunting task given who that person was and the context.

We had the opportunity to talk in general terms about what it is I do at the local pub after work that night. I said to him the key to writing, especially corporate writing, is to write to your audience. A lot of businesses are terrible at this – I’ve seen updates from executives to their staff so crammed full of jargon and detail I’d need a supercomputer, the staff at the NSA, and possibly John Nash to decipher it. It’s what’s known as bad writing.

I drop him off at his hotel and tell him to ring me when he has a draft and I’ll look over it. I get a call about 9.30pm. He sends me what he has written. I have no idea of the specific circumstances he has to respond to which is good because I have the benefit of pure objectivity. I also have the benefit of 20+ years’ corporate experience in this industry, the majority from a sales and customer service background. I know the person the email is for comes from a sales background. The company I work for is predominantly a technical one. They are different mindsets.

I ring him back, ask a few questions, then do a quick edit taking out extraneous detail, changing the emphasis and tying together his argument. All up, from the first call to when I send it off, maybe 30 minutes have elapsed. He’d been working on it for three hours. Not because he’s not smart but because he isn’t a natural writer.

Again, he is very happy with the result and remarks about how I’ve set everything out. I actually dropped a little Aristotle’s Poetics on him – beginning, middle and end. He was writing paragraphs that incorporated the first two but not the ‘third act’ if you like. Perhaps he has a future as a writer of Australian films…

Editor’s note: Ouch, low blow!
Me: I’m sorry, you are…?
Ed: The voice of your better angels?
Me: Is that you, Toby?
Ed: Bit obscure, don’t you think?
Me: How do you mean?
Ed: You were talking about writing to your audience…
Me: They all know I adore The West Wing.
Ed: You want to make your point?
Me: Fine.

My point is that while corporate writing is a specific beast all of its own, some basic principles still apply:

Know your audience.
Structure.
Beginning, Middle and End.
Setup and Payoff.
Keep it simple.

And this: words when used correctly are powerful. They can move, persuade, entertain, enlighten and enhance.

Epilogue: I never thought I’d end up back in the corporate world. There are aspects of it though that I’m very good at. As a result of the week it was suggested I apply for the new operations manager role in Perth; or a secondment to the communications team in Melbourne. Neither of those things is going to happen as while the money would no doubt be attractive, the hours and stress would decidedly not be.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Radio Interview for Turbulence Script Reading

I'm surprised I never thought to post this before. A radio interview I did for my script reading earlier this year. The interviewer is Dita Jevons, the station Radio Fremantle, a community network.

Radio Fremantle Interview 14 March 2013

I remember being nervous before the interview as I'd never been on radio. I was at work so there was the logistical problem of finding a quiet place to ring in... and sneaking off unnoticed. I had secured a small meeting room with a phone down the other end of the building only to discover the guy in the office next door was having quite the loud phone conversation. That didn't help the nerves.

I dialled in at the prescribed time and put on hold after a brief conversation with the, I presume, producer. I was listening to the station on my iPod - a discussion about WAAPA - then it was my turn!

*GULP*

Dita broke the ice by starting off with, on the surface, a ridiculous question. I laughed because it struck me as so absurd and from then on I was absolutely (ha!) fine.

I really enjoyed the interview and was surprised it went for nearly twenty minutes. The only thing I kicked myself about on hearing the recording was the overuse of the word "absolutely" throughout the discussion. Ah, well!

Dita was subsequently at the reading and we had a brief chat. It was a busy night for me so most of my interactions were unfortunately truncated as there were so many people coming up to talk. I discovered afterwards that she had a longer discussion with my parents and was very enthusiastic about the script.

A good experience? Absolutely!

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Two Greatest Words In The English Language...

... when you are working fulltime and trying to meet writing commitments are:

Loooooooooooooooooooooooooong weekend.

We have one person to thank for this particular long weekend:

Her Royal Majesty, The Queen.

I spoke to her earlier today during a friendly game of croquet on the palace grounds...

FADE IN:

A friendly game of croquet on the -- oh, I've done that bit already.

An elderly lady, HRH, batters a ball with a mallet. It scoots through a metal hoop.

Your humble scribe, ME, watches, bemused.


ME: Well played, ma'am.
HRH: Yes, yes, enough with the toadying, what did you get me?
ME: I'm sorry?
HRH: For my birthday?
ME: It's not really your birthday, is it?
HRH: Do you intend to take Monday off from work?
ME: Sure.
HRH: Then I want my damn present!
ME: Are you even allowed to say that?
HRH: I'm the Queen of England and I'll say what I damn well please. Where is it?
ME: You're the richest woman in the world.
HRH: I'm waiting.
ME: You don't pay taxes.
HRH: Only poor people deserve birthday presents, is that it?
ME: Well, no...
HRH: Do you apply some form of means test? Have your friends fill out a survey of some sort?

Insert spurious line of big print to break up the page.

ME: I don't know what to get you!
HRH: I've granted you a whole day off work. A little effort on your part wouldn't be out of line.
ME: You speak far more colloquially than I expected.
HRH: It's all in your head.
ME: Possibly so, but what does one get someone who has everything?
HRH: Simple. Something they've never had before.
ME: Poverty?
HRH: Little snippy, aren't we?
ME: I know, what about a Dockers Premiership?
HRH: Can I keep it in the cellar along with Philip and the other artefacts?
ME: Rather cutting, don't you think, ma'am.
HRH: Just get me two of them then.
ME: It doesn't quite work that way.
HRH: Can I at least choose a colour?
ME: I don't see why not, as long as it's purple.
HRH: This is the sort of gratitude I get. Typical.
ME: I could walk the corgis after I've finished writing?
HRH: No, no, that's no good. It's the only time Philip gets some air.
ME: You really keep him in the cellar?
HRH: Most of the time. There's the occasional state function they tell me he has to attend.
ME: So it's settled. In exchange for the day off Monday so I can write, you get something you've never had before, a Dockers Premiership.
HRH: Sounds positively awful.
ME: I could get you a card and a Lotto ticket instead?

Your humble scribe ducks as the Queen's mallet sails serenely over his head. She storms off full of mutter and scorn.

ME: Thank you, ma'am. I appreciate it ma'am.

She flips him the bird.

Parts of this exchange may have been exaggerated for dramatic effect. As most people know, Philip is actually locked in a small room with an ensuite. Disappointing I know.

Have a good long weekend Perth people. I have no idea why we choose to celebrate the Queen's not-birthday on a different date to everyone else but I shall enjoy the extra day nonetheless. The phone and the internet shall be resolutely OFF. The brain and netbook switched ON.

Your Humble Scribe

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Looking For Top Notch Drama? That Would Be Theatre Australia's Domain

Forget about Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Forget about The Black List starring James Spader playing James Spader chewing scenery the way only James Spader can (if Christopher Walken is unavailable). Even forget about the Fremantle Dockers' march towards a possible inaugural flag.

The hottest new drama to hit the screen - albeit those affixed to computers, tablets and smartphones - is the apparent stoush between Theatre Australia and the Independent Theatre Association over ownership of www.theatre.asn.au, an online portal used by the theatre community nationwide.

Now, I have no idea who the players are. I'm a film guy. The politics and machinations of the theatre are way beyond my ken. My only qualifications in this regard are: I know lots of people who act, often on a stage; I am an eager audience member; and, when the mood strikes, I occasionally write reviews of the productions I attend.

I went to see a production last night in fact. Went to post my review on the Theatre Australia website... to be redirected to some other website called the Independent Theatre Association.

Curious.

Then I discover a tsunami of comments on the Theatre WA facebook group. Claims, counter-claims, controversy, committee actions, people's revolt, chatter about domain names and legal action and all sorts of fun and games. I don't pretend to understand any of it other than someone (or some body) made a decision, people weren't consulted, an unexpected action was taken, a backlash resulted.

Why should I care?

I started writing the occasional review last year largely in support of a performer whose work I liked. Let me stress, I don't write anonymous reviews so I don't talk up shows if they don't deserve it. My name is my reputation and I'm not prepared to tamper with that by writing puff pieces.

That initial catalyst created or perhaps rekindled a love of live theatre. I also quickly came to realise how much talent there is in Perth... and how many of those people I know. As a screenwriter, the many actors I encounter in my film misadventures also tread the boards. I like to get along to shows to support them but increasingly because there's some damn fine theatre being produced here.

Now, I'm no "Gordon the Optom" who appears to be a revered figure in the local theatre scene not only because he goes to a LOT of shows but also reviews them. Those reviews are found on, you guessed it, the Theatre Australia website.

Not wanting to step on any toes being an outsider (read "film person"), I tend to only write reviews for shows Gordon hasn't seen. While he reviews a helluva lot he can't see everything. If I'm impressed by a show I'll comment on his review if he's already covered it. If he's nailed it and there's nothing else for me to add then so be it. Otherwise, if I have enjoyed a show and there's no review on the site I will write my own. If I don't like a show well, I'm not a professional reviewer and I'm not inclined to stray down the harsh critic path. However, there are also occasions I simply don't feel qualified to say anything useful - Shakespeare plays would be a prime example.

I hope these reviews, in some small way, throw a spotlight on the hard work and talent of all involved in a production. I hope maybe they might prompt someone to book a ticket and go see for themselves. I hope it is some form of recognition for the performers and crew as well.

Which brings us back to the issue of the Theatre Australia website currently being "unavailable" (insert whatever the correct technical terminology is here). All those reviews are, in effect, GONE. Vanished. Sucked up into the Mothership. Dispersed into the ether. "They is no more." Nor does there appear to be a way to easily add reviews to this other website. Or find the handful that have been transferred across to an archives section (?).

How then can I tell a wider audience how marvellous I thought last night's production was? (Go see it, it's really good!)

I was a little miffed that everyone was only concerned about Gordon's reviews. Sure, by sheer volume, he is the big enchilada (that is the first and perhaps last time you will ever see me use that phrase!) but he's not the only one who takes the time to knock a few words together.

It also means all the links on my facebook page to reviews I've written are now broken until - if - the website is re-established. That's a little annoying. I wanted that to be an easily accessible portal of my own.

So here's hoping cooler heads prevail and the whole schmozzle is quickly resolved. Though I have to say, the undertone of discussions on Theatre WA doesn't make me hopeful.

Drama, hey? It's all about conflict and this one has all the hallmarks of being a doozy!

Richard Hyde; username "rwhyde" on www.theatre.asn.au

Curtains - Theatre Review

When the supremely untalented star of Robbin’ Hood of the Old West is murdered during her opening night curtain call, Lt. Frank Cioffi must save the show and solve the case – without getting killed!

This sleuthing business seems to be an exhausting task. What with all those suspects and a show that still has to be staged. Sleuthing whilst singing and dancing? Truly remarkable!

Let me say right off the bat that I loved this. Sometimes you go to the theatre for thought provoking drama, maybe to see something experimental or the work of a new playwright. Sometimes you get a rollicking, entertaining ride that is flat out enjoyable from start to finish. The latter was certainly the case tonight at Playlovers production of Curtains.

Billed as a "musical comedy whodunnit", the show has an immediate pedigree with the presence of Kander and Ebb in the credits. There were, indeed, moments of dialogue and music, even story beats that reminded me very much of Chicago. Then there was an odd [I named a play here that might give the game away so I have redacted it] vibe in the latter stages but we'll get to that later.

This is a big, bold, sassy musical with great songs, big set pieces and is genuinely funny. For an independent theatre company to tackle such a huge production (26 cast and a 10 piece orchestra) is wildly ambitious. To pull it off in such style is to be absolutely applauded. Great also to see a full house on the night a local football team was dominating the conversation around town.

The story revolves around the murder of the presumptive yet untalented star that no-one likes (an amusing cameo by the director!) of a new show opening in Boston that all involved hope will make it to Broadway. The cast are "sequestered" within the theatre as a police detective struggles to solve the crime whilst falling for one of the show's lesser stars; advising on how to make the production threatened by poor reviews better; oh, and dealing with the murder of other cast and crew members along the way. 

It plays with the isolated murder-mystery trope but also amusingly comments on the myriad of issues faced when mounting a large musical production. The show within a show device plays out nicely with numbers reworked and reprised as part of the race against time to garner a more favourable review from a nasty Bostonian critic.

I apologise in advance for not mentioning the whole cast but they were uniformly excellent. Of the main performers:

Tyler Jones plays Lieutenant Frank Cioffi and he was fantastic in a role that had a LOT of very precise, rapid paced dialogue. He handled it with aplomb and was the standout from the moment Cioffi makes his introduction. 

Claire Taylor plays Nikki Harris who "has her fingerprints over everything" and is the attention of Cioffi's romantic affections. They have a lovely dance number in the second act and Taylor plays Nikki with an endearing mix of ditziness and innocence.

Therese Cruise is the lyricist who assumes leading lady status after the murder of unpopular star Jessica Cranshaw. Sporting the strongest singing voice, Cruise has several great numbers, the highlight being the "Wide Open Spaces" finale. Her character is involved in the second love story here, playing off Tom Hutton whose character is her songwriting partner and estranged husband. They have a touching moment in "Thinking of Him/I Miss the Music (Reprise)" in the second act.

Other standouts are Helen Carey as the producer Carmen Bernstein who has a hard-headed approach to the theatre business ("It's A Business") and daughter Bambi played by Tamara Woolrych. Why does she call herself Bambi? The answer says a lot about the mother-daughter relationship and Woolrych threads the needle between bitchiness and disappointment as her character tries to prove her worth in the large shadow cast by her mother. Speaking of bitchiness, David Nelson as the director has a grand old time slinging insults the way of all and sundry to hilarious effect.  

The set is simple but effective. The costumes are great with the added razzle-dazzle of typical showgirl flourishes. The orchestra was at times a little too loud for the singing but otherwise was in good form. The choreography took total advantage of the large space and the show was full of movement, never slowing down for an instance.

The story gets a little convoluted and silly deep in the second act as twists are revealed and revelations made but by that stage I was well and truly sold and having a great time with this. So I forgave the few quibbles I had with such plot machinations which reminded me of the aforementioned play that I didn't aforemention. The cast had insisted in the closing number bad things could happen to anybody who revealed the murderer! So I'm not even risking an obtuse reference!

Directed by Kristen Twynam Perkins with Musical Direction by Belinda Flindell and Choreography by Tammie Anne Rafferty this is definitely one to recommend. Remaining shows are on 22, 26, 27 and 28 September at Playlovers in Floreat. Details here.

For more reviews go to Perth Theatre Reviews.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Facebook Portal

"Oooooooooooooh, a portal! Like one of 'em things in Stargate that takes you to a whole new world, Richard?"

Yes, yes, exactly like that! Except maybe minus the aliens... and Richard Dean Anderson.

As news of my demise from social media spreads like solidified concrete, it occurs to me there should still be an easy way for those left in that teeming virtual world to find new posts in the remote outcrop on the edge of the cyber galaxy that is my blog. Okay, that was a long sentence. Let's not do that. Again.

Anywho, as the kids these days say, I have created a facebook page so my ramblings, rants and general musings will appear on your Ticker if you so choose to like it. Okay, not quite as long but still pretty wordy.

Let's cut to the chase:

www.facebook.com/rwhyde 

Like it. Love it. Follow it. Send donations. Testimonials. Small, cuddly animals. Swag. Oh, and I need a new pen.

What are you waiting for? Click on the link, click like and say hel-- no, no, don't do that! I am procrastination free and all the better for it.

Seriously though, if you want an indicator of how I'm going writing wise, the frequency of posts on this blog is a pretty damn good one. When I'm in a writing mood I write.

Now, back to that portal... step inside and be amazed by a whole new world...

Friday, September 20, 2013

Screenwriting and the Sounds of Silence

There I was sitting in a café having a late night meeting about two months ago - option agreement, lawyer’s advice, a little haggling, a lot of momentum, a sense of excitement. In principle agreement is reached between me, my director and the two producers we’re meeting with. Plans made, actions assigned, market to attend.

Word finally filters back that there’s interest in the project – potential sales agents on two continents. Fantastic! Further details to follow. “Full steam ahead”, I think to myself.

Since then the following has happened:

Well…

Um…

There was that… oh, no, that was for something else…

We had a great meeti—hmmmm, nup, that was for the other thing…

*thinking*

Oh, I know!!!

No, no, don’t tell me…

It’ll come to me…

That’s right!

There was a change of government in Australia!

Think of something really quiet then attach a silencer to it then put it in a padded chest in a soundproof room with extra sound dampeners and maybe some hi-tech gear not yet invented that enhances noiselessness and that would be the extent of what I’ve heard from my producers. Well, I think they are. I’m not sure anymore.

Yep, not even crickets. I’m talking NOTHING. Not a call, “how’s it going?” Not an email to finalise the option paperwork. Not a meeting to discuss the next draft.

Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zip. Stuff all.

DEAD. FUCKING. SILENCE.

My director assures me this is standard practice.

This strikes me as beyond odd.

Momentum. Interest. Excitement… Silence.

An odd sequence.

So what’s a writer to do?

Well, it’s my fucking baby so in the absence of any direction or guidance I’ll raise the damn thing how I see fit.

I have been working spasmodically on the draft, more regularly recently. And you know what? I like it. It’s got promise. It makes me excited. I’m changing things. I’m omitting a ton of scenes and really making it tighter. I’m adding stuff that addresses character issues and story points from the reading and my subsequent discussions with the director. I like delving back into the script. I’m in a writing mood.

I have absolutely no idea what the situation is with the option, the supposed market interest or what the producers are doing. Right now, I couldn’t care less. I’m simply going to write. This version of the script only exists in my head and on my netbook. You want it you have to chase me. I’m done chasing people who can afford to invent hi-tech, anti-noise technology from the future.

Silence.

As a writer I hate fucking silence.

No, not the serene, peaceful, productive kind; the “why the fuck aren’t you talking to me, I thought we were a creative team on this together” kind.

I feel better now.

I’ll go work on the script some more... in silence…

The good kind.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Balance - Epilogue

The other great challenge, as people who note my increasingly erratic behaviour in social media will attest, is the balance between writing and pfaffing around on the internet.

Okay, that makes light of the situation and I've spoken about it more seriously before. The tragedy for me on re-reading that post is that nothing much has changed in over two and a half years.

Like any addiction it needs to be managed and I haven't been doing that of late. If ever. Well, I'm tired of it now. Really, really tired of it.

So there's nothing for it but to cut all virtual ties as stark and as incomprehensible to some people as that might sound.

Tonight I have deactivated by Facebook profile (for those counting at home that's maybe for the fifth time - have a good chortle) and it is scheduled for permanent deletion 14 days from now.

More difficult for me is the fact that my Facebook screenwriting page will get lost in that process. I took that seriously and hope it gave people some insight into me as a writer whilst also being entertaining. But it's a necessary casualty.

You see, some people in the past have said, "just log on for an hour a day. You'll be fine." That's like telling an alcoholic to have only one glass of Scotch. Simply doesn't work that way.

So Facebook will be gone.

I deleted my Twitter account tonight as that was something that did change from 2010 - I got hooked. Over 8,000 tweets later it has to go. Goodbye #QandA, goodbye a range of interests from sports to politics to writing and films with an unnervingly large contingent of film critics on my feed. Will it be missed? I guess but it was always fairly whimsical and ephemeral to me.

Instagram, as someone noted tonight, has been on again off again the last couple of weeks. There is a reason but it's an entirely stupid one which only fuels the anger I feel at myself. It's gone.

My inexplicable flirtation with Tumblr is also over. Wish I'd never seen it. Won't ever use or visit it again.

Stage 32 survives only because there seemed no way to delete the damn thing and I'm too tired and cranky to bother.

LinkedIn also survives as I never figured out what the hell it was really for anyway.

What's left?

Email and this blog.

Email is still the preferred method of communication for most of my key collaborators. This blog is also part therapy, part entertainment and, I continually hope, of some benefit to other writers. That's it.

I guess I might still write the occasional amateur review on theatre.asn.au though the original impulse for that has long since disappeared and I'm probably not very good at it.

Otherwise, I need to write - real writing. Not pointless, witty banter on the internet.

Most people probably won't understand; many will roll their eyes; and maybe only a few might grasp what I'm talking about. Isn't that the way with any addiction though?

If you see me in any of the above places from now on - meaning my intent has wavered and I have relapsed - you have my permission, in fact I beg you, to hurl such vitriol as would make me scurry back to reality with my virtual tail between my legs. You'd be doing me a favour... but let's hope it doesn't come to that.

To those people I may never "speak to" again as a result of my self-imposed exile, I apologise. Though if our 'friendship' or interaction was based solely on words on a screen then what was it really about?

I'll still be kicking around in the real world. I manage to see quite a few shows and you're pretty much guaranteed to see me at the PAC Script Labs. But for now, from cyberspace, it's goodbye. I'm sure I won't be missed.
 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Balance

Alas, I'm not talking about disturbances in The Force. I went to my GP last week and the pathology tests had come back with a disappointingly low midi-chlorian count. He's referred me to a naturopath who tells me to cut out dairy and start taking extract of Bantha tusk and maybe, just maybe, I can grow up to be a Jedi one day...

No, I'm talking about the balance between full-time work and a creative life.

Last Thursday was my ten month anniversary at my full-time office job.

TEN MONTHS!

Ten months of 7.30am starts (okay, maybe closer to 8am now) and 8 hour days that are pretty full on. Ten months of being bone-tired weary by the end of the week (Saturdays I pretty much sleep). Ten months of trying to find the energy to write after 26 months where I could write whenever I wanted.

It's fucking hard! I know that if I go home after work it's game over. I'll flake out and that's that. I have to force myself to go somewhere to write and switch from left brain to right brain and sometimes just gut it out. Writing when you're tired is agonising. Except that's not strictly true...

Beginning to write when you're tired  is excruciating. IF you can get into your script often times magic things happen and you get lost in the world and characters you have created. Then you are revitalised. Then you churn out pages. Getting there is the problem. It feels like you're at the base of an insurmountable mountain pass. The first step is the hardest.

I've never considered myself a particularly disciplined writer but somehow I generate a reasonable amount of content. There was a day about a fortnight ago I was writing after work simply to get the fingers tapping and the brain somewhat thinking. It was mostly garbage but I NEEDED to write even if it was horrible. I NEEDED to punch through the tiredness because I didn't want my life to become work-sleep-repeat.

But the weariness isn't the only problem, perhaps not even the main one.

There is this: the corporate world has its own seductive charms.

SIII Galaxy sitting atop the Galaxy Tab 2
The day after my ten month anniversary I was informed by my boss that I was getting a pay rise and a hefty bonus after the annual performance review. He later even took me out to lunch. Throw in all the gadgets - an SIII Galaxy with a 20GB/month data pack, the Samsung Tablet, the laptop, the work conference on the Gold Coast, the occasional free luncheons and dinners, and it's an easy world to get lost in. I am also very good in it and can function quite happily at a high level.

THAT is the real danger. I could easily get used to the money and the perks while tolerating the hours even though my writer's soul despises the early starts. But that's not what I want.

I NEVER thought I would be a full-time corporate zombie again. But circumstances dictated that I had no choice. At the beginning of November 2012 I was in dire straits financially. Now I am at the point where I can put away a couple of grand a month in savings. Another enticement.

The other thing I miss is the meetings. When I wasn't working I could meet anyone, anywhere at a drop of a hat to talk scripts, and projects, and ideas. Working full-time puts a horrible crimp in that. Sure, there are plenty of interesting people at work but predominantly they come from a technical background. Simply put they are analytical, left brain people who think entirely differently to creative people. There are times I feel isolated from the creative Zeitgeist.

It's a balancing act. Remembering what my priorities are while maintaining financial security to attain those goals. I need to spend more time writing which means better sleep patterns, healthier eating, and not getting stressed at work. The latter hasn't happened in a long time and I am largely immune to it but lately the workload has seemed overwhelming. I'm pretty good at compartmentalising after my managerial experiences in Sydney so time to shore up those boundaries.

Also remembering perhaps the most important thing like this morning when I was working on my feature script - that feeling when you're writing well. That feeling is priceless. Battling the weariness, the distractions and all the inducements to get to that feeling is what makes the struggle all worthwhile.

How do you cope if you are juggling a full-time job and writing? What tips do you have? How do you cope?

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Hanging out with Actors? I'm Dead Serious!

There I was having lunch with a fellow corporate zombie when he suddenly asks, “you are going to write about us in your blog, aren’t you?”  As we gazed into each other’s eyes over a laminated table and a plate of bad chicken chow mein we slowly dissolved into flashback…

Okay, melodramatic nonsense aside, I was approached some time ago by said corporate zombie, who also happens to be an actor, with a proposal. He and two actresses were looking to take greater control of their careers by generating their own content, specifically by making a web series.

All of them were “older” actors (as in not 18-21 and straight out of film school) with full-time jobs and they were willing to pay for good scripts. It seems they were tired of auditioning for the unpaid student film grind and being overlooked for younger actors or, egregiously, models that had a “certain look”. They intended to approach three writers in what amounted to a tender system. They would then pick the successful candidate.

My initial response was, “hmmmm, no, not so much”. Without sounding vain (okay, maybe a little vain), I wasn’t going to “bid” for a web series. Besides, now that I’m working again, time is of the utmost premium and I have a feature script to work on.

However, as I’ve known this actor a while and he’s a good guy (don’t let this go to your head, Leon!), I said I would meet with them, listen to their ideas, and if they wanted, I could write a one to two page proposal (for a fee). If they agreed to explore it further we would talk.

The meeting is set and it’s in the lobby of the Hyatt Hotel in the early evening after everyone has finished their work commitments. “Pretty upmarket”, I think, more used to cafes and pubs as the standard meeting environment.

I don’t know one of the actresses and the other one only by work she has done on another web series. I make an early faux pas by ordering alcohol only to watch everyone else order tea. Okay, not that sort of meeting then. But, damn it, I’m a writer!

Introductions are made, small talk conducted then it’s time to get down to business. What is it they want? Now, for actors, I found the initial discussion fascinating. They were talking about where the series would be set. Related to questions of budget and how they would finance the series and all these types of things. Then it hits me, they will also be the producers if it’s their money they’re putting up. Little warning bells go off as it means I would be writing for them while also, technically, working under them.

Anyway, I finally get around to asking, “yes, but what would the web series be about? What do you want to say?” This launches us into a discussion about things I’m on much more solid ground about – theme and story and character and tone.

Now, I can be pretty charming and engaging when I want to be and we’re all hitting it off in fine style. So much so that by the end of the meeting it appears I have been “hired” and the tender process scrapped. I have no real idea what this thing is yet but everybody seems positive.

The next meeting is on home turf – the big Dome in East Vic Park. I’m still not sure what the series is about as the ideas so far (based on the actors’ suggested locations) seem very dry. But then that magic all writers crave happens – someone says something in passing and my screenwriting brain jumps about 23 steps and suddenly I know what I want to write. I pitch this new idea – a subversion of what they originally proposed – and it is enthusiastically embraced. Now I get excited which is absolutely vital if I’m going to write this thing as possibilities open up all over the place. I have a sense of tone and place and possible storylines and characters.

The next meeting and a director is in attendance. Likes the idea, speaks very well, has interesting stories to tell. Another little warning bell goes off in my head as the actors are talking crew and equipment and marketing and all sorts of other things and I am yet to write a single scripted word. But passion and enthusiasm isn’t necessarily guaranteed by all parties working on a project so there’s that at least. What is far more relevant to me is how many episodes and of what length. The initial response is 10 episodes of 5-7 minutes each.

Later I am asked for an idea of my fee and we agree on a figure to write a “bible” for the series and then a per episode amount. I am mindful that this is their own money and I am appreciative that they want to conduct this as a professional transaction.

Plans are being made for a website and marketing tools and ancillary content, all manner of things. But that’s not my concern. My first task is to produce the bible by 1 October – character breakdowns, story arcs, episode guides, themes, the world of the series; basically everything I need to write the episodes.

I haven’t gone into specific details of the project as that is the actors’ province to announce when they are ready. There is a working title, a tag line, a whole lot of early notes, and a slowly coalescing idea in my head of what this is…

I’ll know a whole lot more in a month’s time!