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!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Tangled Web - The True Life Cautionary Tale

Some time ago I wrote a feature script called The Tangled Web. It was optioned twice, nearly a third time, never made it into production. Its time has come and gone. Though its relevance hasn't. It was a cautionary tale of internet addiction and obsession and how one person lost everything in the real world without even noticing, so enamoured was he of the virtual one. It was about discovering, too late, that external beauty does not guarantee inner beauty, the woman of his obsession turning out to be ugly and empty on the inside. About how you can be anything you want on the internet and the consequences of that fatal illusion.

If it had been made back in the early noughties it might have been something. But now it's well trodden ground with films, both fictional and documentary, like Catfish, talhotblond, and Trust covering very similar themes in equally devastating fashion.

Strange then that a script I started writing over ten years ago should resonate so strongly with me in the present. But more of that shortly.

Tied to this is Mark Zuckerberg's supposedly controversial announcement in 2010 that privacy on the internet was dead. He was indeed absolutely right. The proliferation and penetration of social media in our lives has put true privacy at a premium. If you think otherwise you're kidding yourself.

Before I go any further let me plainly state:

This is not an apology. It is not a mea culpa. It is not a public service announcement. This is purely a selfish exercise. 

There was a time I liked someone very much. I thought they liked me. They turned out to be someone other than I thought. I became someone I am not as a result.

I can't do anything about the former - that is for that person to address, or not, in their own way, or not. I can, however, change the latter. I need to remember who I am. Not when I'm around people who love and respect and value me - that is a given. But even around people who lie and disrespect and devalue me. That's their problem, not mine. Never mine.

So where's this heading? Internet addiction, obsession, illusion, loss of privacy and angst?

Things you should bear in mind when using social media...

Facebook

The blocking mechanism is actually very good. Except for this one flaw - it only works on a per profile basis. It is easy for people to create multiple profiles - for example, a personal one; a stage name if you're a performer; a character name if you're involved in some creative endeavour; I've even seen profiles for pets! All against the terms and conditions but with a billion users who's going to effectively monitor this?

Therefore don't rely solely on the blocking function. Make your status updates and photos at a bare minimum "friends only" and only accept friend requests from people you know. If you leave all your settings "public" then that is exactly what they are!!! You may think you have blocked someone but they could still be accessing the public sections of your profile without you even knowing.

Twitter

The block function here is pretty ineffective insofar as you can still read tweets even though you can't like or retweet or do @username mentions. As always though, YOU control what you post and Twitter should always be treated as a public forum.

Tumblr

This social media platform is a very weird place. It is almost like a confessional where people post highly intimate thoughts about everything from suicidal tendencies to lack of self-worth to attempts at self-inspiration or what I usually call bullshit fortune cookie wisdom.

The block function is minimal. It only stops your posts appearing on that person's dash and they are unable to message you using their Tumblr handle. But they can still see your Tumblr feed, still reblog your posts, still like them, and if you have the Anonymous Ask function turned on, still message you. Even if they don't have a Tumblr blog themselves!

Changing your URL does nothing - if they have liked or reblogged but one post previously they can see the changed name. Even creating a completely new Tumblr is problematic if you regularly reblog other users in a clearly identifiable pattern.

What to do? Turn off Anonymous Asks or at the very least ignore ones that are negative (people seem unable to resist responding which causes the question and answer to be published for all to see) and only post things you are comfortable for a complete stranger to read/see.

Also, when replying to people - and this extends to all social media platforms - YOU control the amount of information you share. DO NOT give out intimate and graphic details about your personal and sex life, for example, to what at best could be a complete stranger. If it's information you wouldn't want in the public realm then don't be swayed by the supposedly anonymous nature of the internet even if you're using a pseudonym or handle.

On the flipside, there are applications like Site Block that will completely deny access to URL addresses. I am now using that on Chrome so that I am unable to see certain profiles and blogs.

Instagram

The block function here is very good... in Instagram itself. But here's the problem - there is a proliferation of other applications that feed off Instagram such as Webstagram and iphoneogram. Even on the Instagram website by using instagram.com/username. All will allow you to still view photos even when you've been blocked.

Hashtags also allow photos to be viewed even if a block is in place. For example, if you use the hashtag of a location or event, everyone's photos appear, aggregated into a different feed.

The only way around this is to make your Instagram setting "private". This cuts off the feed to these other applications and doesn't show on the hashtag search. Otherwise, everything is still readily accessible even though likes and comments can't be used.

Remember, it is the combination of your presence in all these platforms that builds a composite picture. So you have to protect yourself in ALL of them.

There are other platforms that I haven't covered here but the same rules apply. Never post anything you wouldn't want a complete stranger to see; use privacy settings where available; and YOU control what you put out there.

I hope this has been useful. You decide whether to heed the advice or not.

The Tangled Web was a pretty good script.

I'm a pretty good person.

I'm glad I finally remember those last two points.

Richard Hyde

Sunday, August 25, 2013

What's in a name?

Yes, you read it here first... unless you noticed the title and read it there first. But a first it is... a name change!

Not since November 2009 (actually well before that when this blog was originally hosted on Telstra's bigblog platform... but I don't like to talk about that. Just kidding - it appears all traces have disappeared of that incarnation... where was I? Oh, yes... meet you on the other side of the parenthesis...) has the title of this obscure corner of cyberspace been altered.

But in a concession to my wayward, theatre attending ways, "... & Theatre" has now been added.

Sure, I don't expect news broadcasts to stop normal programming to air this piece of breaking information but there you have it. Enjoy, lovers of film AND stage!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Independent Theatre Upstarts Prove Anything Is Pozible.

Okay, yes, I know what you're thinking... "What a terrible title! I mean, how many bad puns can Hyde fit into the one sentence?"

*raises hand* Guilty as charged.

But we'll come to the courtroom drama later.

First, as is my occasional want, it's time to shine a light on a local creative endeavour that is asking for a little love and attention. Sure, they're really after your hard earned $$$ but a hug and some enthusiastic applause would be met with equal gratitude.

They are the Upstart Theatre Company based in Fremantle in the funky Pakenham Street Art Space (PSAS), comprising Garreth Edward Bradshaw, Patrick Downes, Desiree Crossing and a troupe of talented actors.

In their own words:

Upstart Theatre Company believes in giving its audiences memorable and visceral experiences.

We believe in our audience's ability to think, criticise and make decisions. We believe this should never be disregarded.

We believe in new spaces, old spaces and that any space filled with an actor and an audience is a theatre.

We believe that Western Australia produces great theatre artists who deserve national and international recognition.

We believe these artists deserve a company that will grow to support their careers.

We believe mistakes are gifts.

We believe in taking forward steps in our craft every day.

We believe in ourselves.


However, as a fiercely independent company Upstart rely on the support of the theatre going public to help sustain their creative ambitions. I was recently at the lavish production of Cats at the Regal Theatre and there was almost a wistful remark by one of their member about what they could do with even a fraction of that money. Alas, such things are not to be. There is, however, Pozible! (I'll explain it to you later, Andrew Lloyd Webber)

Yes, Upstart are mining the rich vein that is crowdfunding for a remounting of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, a "courtroom drama" where Judas is put on trial for his betrayal of Christ. You can see their Pozible pitch here but I thought I'd do a testimonial of sorts.

To date I have seen four Upstart productions - The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Julius Caesar, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Animal.

I always struggle a little with Shakespeare but that's because my ears are tuned to FM in what is an AM world with ye olde English. What I will say is that they are tackled with great verve and there was a particularly novel approach with A Midsummer Night's Dream where the audience followed the action from "set" to "set". These crowd pleasers allow Upstart to tackle other material and this is where I think they really shine.

My thoughts on The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, a play I saw in the dead of winter last year:

What a play!!! Absurdist, darkly funny, bursting with ideas, pointed, subversive, dense and intricate dialogue, playful... challenging.

Three highlights (amongst many) - a powerhouse penultimate scene between Braye Dial as Judas Iscariot and Simon Thompson as Jesus; Kingsley Judd takes a beautifully written monologue at least 10 minutes long and hits it out of the ballpark; Desiree Crossing's character breaking down as she damns Satan as a liar.


Full house at The Last Days of Judas Iscariot
I was very impressed with this piece and it is deliciously dark and very funny. Yes, it is long but it deserves your full attention and the last two scenes are flat out brilliant. I was really happy to see that by the end of its run it was playing to packed houses as word of mouth spread. I would definitely recommend its "encore season".

Then there was this year's Animal which blew me away:

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 and Patrick who clearly relish working with such quality material.

The tale of human drug experimentation in a time of civil unrest is indeed harrowing but there is plenty of dark humour here as well. The chilling conclusion, however, has ramifications far beyond the intimate portrayal of patient, doctor, nurse.

It really is exceptional theatre and highly recommended.


Pakenham Street Art Space
In short, Upstart tackle challenging pieces with great skill and inventiveness in a cool performance space. They deserve an audience and the generosity of people like you, the reader, to continue to survive and thrive.

If you can, please support their Pozible campaign when it opens on the 24th. If not, I sincerely recommend you check out one of their shows some time - experience tells me you won't be disappointed.

Richard Hyde

Final thoughts:

There are other independent theatre companies in WA doing excellent work equally deserving of love, affection and $$$ (anyone who saw the magnificent Madame Piaf would be nodding their head vigorously). The amount of talent in WA is inspiring. www.theatre.asn.au is an excellent resource for reviews and to find out what gems are on and where.

For ostensibly a screenwriting blog I seem to spend a lot of time talking about theatre lately. One of the joys of supporting actor friends I guess. Perhaps I need to amend the title of this blog...?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Theatre - It's A Two Way Street

Let's set the scene:

A fabulous cast of performers doing fabulous things on stage - acting, singing, dancing, emoting, all that good stuff.

Cut to:

Audience... stony faced, arms crossed, staring straight ahead.

Cut back to the stage:

Collective inner pout.

OR

Cast doing fabulous things on stage, singing, dancing, being in the moment, inhabiting, listening, projecting, all that good stuff.

Cut to:

Audience... laughing, smiling, clapping, stomping their feet, throwing underw-- ahem, that was only that one time... and I must admit it was, um, well deserved. Kudos, er, Sir!

Anywho, as the kids say, where was I?

Ah, yes! Being in an audience when it comes to live performance, I believe, has its own obligations. You are, in many ways, a participant, not merely an impassive observer. If you feed off the cast's energy and return it, they in turn will feed off your response and it becomes a symbiotic relationship that enhances the experience for ALL involved.

I raise this because an interesting thing happened during the week. A week where I went to not one but three musical theatre shows. The second of which was in a very intimate space which seated maybe three dozen to watch what turned out to be a fabulous show about Edith Piaf.

I was sitting next to the musicians - double bass player, guitarist and keyboardist (who also played accordion... it was Piaf after all). When the show finished - to a standing ovation I might add - I turned and congratulated them. To which they thanked me for being a great audience member. Okay, that was kind of nice.

Afterwards, when people are waiting around for the cast to come out I get big hugs from "Edith" herself and my other friend who was in the show and again, I am thanked for laughing in all the right spots. Another actress, who I have never met before, gets all excited and I think referred to me as the "perfect audience member". Okay, that was all really kind of nice. Never forgetting though that it's their talent and hard work that's at the forefront here.

But for me this isn't anything I don't do at every show. If something is funny I will laugh. If something is cleverly written I laugh or clap or cluck approvingly. If something is poignant or insightful I'll also generally 'hmmmmm' audibly.

Now, to be sure, I have a distinctive laugh and many an actor friend has told me they know I am in the audience because of it. What they seemed to be saying that night is that because I was into it early the rest of the audience also came along for the ride and participated.

I don't know about that but here's the thing - you don't need permission to laugh and to show you're enjoying proceedings. The cast really do notice and they love it. When they talk about flat audiences or difficult shows it's because they're not getting anything back. Don't be afraid to respond - it may be the theatre but it's not a mausoleum in there! Give a little and you might just get something extraordinary back...


This person is doing it right! (picture from The Guardian via http://xsentertainme.wordpress.com/2012/04/07/on-audiences/)