Friday, 30 May 2008

Being as nobody asked...

... this is how I realised I wanted to be a screenwriter. It did not start well. It started, all things considered, disastrously.

Firstly, the caveat: Yes, writing about how I decided I wanted to become a screenwriter whilst still having next to no success at it is monstrously egotistical. I know this, and yet I type on...

Back around, ohhhhhh, 2005 or so I was harbouring some ill-born notion of being a novelist. My dazzlingly brilliant début novel was to be titled A Billion Atoms, a tragic love story about murder and reincarnation which would leap straight from my pen to the top of best-seller chart to Richard and Judy’s collective lap. I started penning (with an actual pen! I know!) this load of pretentious twaddle in notebooks for a little while before it became apparent that whatever I might be, I was not a novelist.

Round about the time that I was not writing my novel, my girlfriend mentioned a pop-science article about how serial killers may be the result of a faulty gene, and the ethical ramifications of scanning expectant mothers to find Li’ll Ted Bundies. I read the article and said “Oooh, there’s a movie in that”*. Out loud.

I’d written scripts on and off since I was about eight, when me and my friends came up with a television script called ‘Mean Streets’ (being eight, we were unaware that Martin Scorsese already had his mits on this title), which was a bit like Monster House. We even got as far as sending a proposal to the now defunct TSW, who wrote back very positively, as I remember it**.

Scripting continued here and there, a few unfinished horror scripts and shorts whilst I was at college, a few aborted comedies at University. I entered the odd competition, including that one that James Moran won and I did not.

I hadn’t written anything in script form for a couple of years when this idea came to me, but when it did, it gripped me. I was sure it was going to be a super-duper smash, that the cream of directors and stars would be falling over themselves to make it. I direct you to my comments above regarding my ego and its monsterism.

I bought ‘Teach Yourself Screenwriting’ (actually not as terrible as it should be, and certainly more fun to read than ‘Story’), read it from cover to cover, then began in earnest. I didn’t own a computer at the time, so I wrote a step outline and treatment longhand in a spiral bound notebook. This still baffles me.

After finishing the treatment, I transcribed my Tipex encrusted masterwork onto a very very old laptop that was donated by my girlfriend’s brother. You know the laptop that Julia Roberts uses in My Best Friend’s Wedding? Exact same one. It had a floppy disk drive, which seems as archaic as cave-paintings now, and it would frequently corrupt my files. I loved it to little pieces.

I worked feverishly on the script for about six months, all told. I’d write in bed and during my lunch break, on my custom Word template, transferring files between two or three floppy disks because at least one would need formatting by the end of the day.

Then, one day, I was done. I printed it up, bound it, looked at it proudly.

And I knew that day that it was a steaming pile of shit.

Truly, it’s a terrible, terrible script. All of the stuff from the article was jettisoned, and I was left with an action horror movie about a world full of serial killers. Not a good one. A really, really bad one. This wasn’t just writerly post-partum depression, which hits me every time I finish a script whether I think it's good or not. I still check in on the script occasionally, like a deformed incestuous son I’ve locked in the attic. It’s still just as evil and ugly, munching from its bucket of fish heads in a darkened corner.

Despite all this, I loved the process tremendously. I knew I was going to be a screenwriter, even if I wasn’t good at it yet. Hubris gets me through a lot.

The next screenwriting book I bought remains my favourite non fiction book of all time: Which Lie Did I Tell by William Goldman. Reading it directly led to my next, much better script, not in terms of story, but in being inspired to write. And, yes, trying to write a bit like William Goldman.

Incidentally, at the end of Which Lie Did I Tell, Goldman lists a number of ideas for movies that he likes but couldn’t be bothered to write because he’s too old and too rich. One of them’s about identifying a gene which is responsible for creating serial killers, and the action-horror that could unfold from this.

Huh, I thought.

* Reading this back, it appears that my attempts at a screenwriting career started as an elaborate form of procrastination, doesn't it? For the avoidance of doubt, I really really love screenwriting.

** Come to think of it, I think it might have been the nicest reply I've got to date. Hmmmmm...

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

A quick cry for help...

Not a serious one. Well, nobody's in mortal danger, anyway. Go about your business.

Does anyone in the know know what the writersroom attitude to short scripts is? I've been invited to send in another script, and the one I'm happiest with at the minute is The Fixer Upper.

Whilst they say they take short scripts, I'm not sure if the medium might count against me, as it's not the sort of thing the beeb would actually make*.


* And yes, I'll be honest, I do have semi-regular fantasies about them picking both of my pilots. Though I'd be happy with just one, really.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Oh, so this is a writing blog...

Hmmm, yeah, haven't done much talking about writing, recently. It's been all holiday this and concert that. So, by way of amends, here's what I've been up to recently:

Wrote a two minute sketch which I've entered for consideration into the next Dumbfunded show - they do an open call for sketches and then put on the ones they like. It concerns an overly specific Sat Nav, and it's kind of polarising people - of the people I've shown it to, two loved it, two didn't get it at all, and with the last one it raised a smirk. We shall see.

I've been translating Nightshift into American, partially because someone Stateside has expressed an interest (don't worry, I know it'll come to nothing) and partially because it's a displacement activity that feels like work. One thing I've come up against: there is no American word for 'mate'. Sure, there's plenty of things that feel like equivalents - buddy, pal, etc - but none of them carry quite the same weight of implied masculinity and slight social awkwardness that 'mate' does. Cheating slightly, I've kept the lead Irish so I don't have to find alternatives for his inventive cursing.

I powered up my laptop with the intention of making a few last changes to my short script The Fixer Upper before sending it off to the BSSC, only to find I'd somehow wiped all my previous amendments and was back at the very first draft. Luckily I had a PDF of the current version to hand, so spent a frustrating evening getting back to a state I wasn't quite happy with anyway. Gah.

I've spectacularly failed to do anything on my Sharps entry since last announcing proudly how well it was going. Concious that I very much need to be getting on with that. It might be a little too far over into the comedy side of comedy drama, but it fits the competition guidelines so well otherwise it'd be a shame not to enter it. I can always hope the jokes aren't funny.

Finally, I came across an outline for a kid's TV series last night that I'd written only a couple of weeks ago but somehow forgotten all about. Happily, I still like it a lot, though it may be a smidge too dark in places. Whatever it ends up being, I have a good feeling it'll take up a fair bit of my time once the comedy and short script are off the desk.

See? It is about writing.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Slightly longer, but still not entirely proper post...

Okay, a few things. My holiday, in rough order of experience, in the form of a list:
  • Stonehenge: Big pile of rocks, very impressive for the first five minutes, after which it remains a big pile of rocks;
  • Motorcyclists on A roads: Suicidal;
  • Brighton: Still lovely as long as you avoid Queen's Road;
  • The "Home Hotel" in Brighton: Delightful;
  • Stephen Grant: Very funny;
  • Gamarjobat: Very very funny;
  • The food and service at the Punch and Judy: rubbish;
  • Ladytron: Aces for the 40 minutes they played before the power went; and
  • London: Baffling and terrifying.
So, Russel T. Davies is scarpering and Steven Moffat has assumed the crown then? Interesting stuff. Most of the focus has been on Who, but I'm equally interested to see what the big man with the glasses does next. As long as there aren't any farting aliens in it, I'll be happy*. Oh, what if he does Dark Season 2? And gets Kate Winslet back? I'd fucking watch**.

There's a new bit to the website, which if you cast your eyes over to the right (or have some basic peripheral vision) you will see is named The Memery. I'm not sure if it's a pun on memory, or a virtual hatchery where chirping little links sit, hungry for worms. Anyway, it's a constantly updating set of links to stuff from the web that I like but that isn't worthy of a full post***. Enjoy it, or I'll be crushed.

* Yes, it's been four years, but the Slitheen are still rubbish. Yes, worse than the Candyman.

** Entirely sincere. Sounded sarky though, didn't it? I have Dark Season on DVD. Really.

*** Like Raiders of the Lost Ark re-edited as a serial. See, good stuff.

Monday, 19 May 2008


It's Monday and I'm just back from holiday, so I have no fucking imagination right now. Instead then, imagined notes from 2008 on the Fawlty Towers pilot, link-whored from James Henry.

I recently received this snippet from the above joke-notes in a reader's report, more or less verbatim:
"We appreciate the fact that your show is a studio-bound laugh-out-loud audience show, as we have said many times we are looking for more studio-bound laugh-out-loud audience shows. However, I have to tell you we are not looking for more studio-bound laugh-out-loud audience shows at this time, and we suggest in future you try submitting a studio-bound laugh-out-loud audience show."
I am not alone.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Fibreglass dinosaurs = youth...

There must have been something in the water around August of 2006, because it seems like a lot of the Blog Mummies and Blog Daddies got together and did a special hug, giving birth to a lot of little Blog Babies around April and May of last year. Helen, Stuart, Jason and then moi.

Yes, it was the blog's first birthday on Saturday, and my birthday but a few days previously. I'm now 28, meaning my claims that "I'm still really in my mid twenties" are left far behind as I tumble closer and closer to something resembling adulthood. Combating this, I went and looked at fibreglass dinosaurs, which were, of course, awesome.

As something of a late birthday present, my short script "The Fixer Upper" was announced as one of Zoetrope's top rated scripts for March, which is all sorts of tasty and shiny. Feeling quite optimistic for the BSSC, now.

Shall be away from Blog land for a few days as I'm visiting my brother in fair Brighton, and viewing a musical display by Ladytron. Which brings me to my last point... You all want to celebrate my (and Spec Monkey's) birthday, right? Okay.

Ladytron have a new single out today. It's called Ghosts, and it's reallyreally good. They've never been in the Top 40, which is alarming. So, as a present to me, yourselves, and the good people of Ladytron, go out and buy Ghosts today*.

That will be all.

* Please note I'm not endorsing HMV as such, it's just the only place online I could find selling the single in physical form. Please buy Ghosts at your local independent record store. That will be all.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Two for two...

... or more adventures in being damned with faint praise.

Back at the very start of this blog, I announced that Seven Spires had gone off to the BBC writersroom. All terribly exciting. Then, about four months later, I received some very nice feedback and a request for my next script. Tremendously exciting. Sent off Nightshift at the beginning of February. Stupendously... you can see where I'm going with that.

Anyway, writersroom report came back on Nightshift yesterday, which had again got a full read, which again they liked, and with again a request to read my next script. Which is, and I don't want to seem ungrateful or blasé here, kind of where I was anyway. So, nice, but just less exciting, kind of no steps forward, no steps back.

As my mighty Exalted campaign came to a thrilling conclusion last night (Sword fights! Betrayal! Dispersions cast on the validity of key characters' claims of parentage to other key characters!) I can happily crack on with the sitcom, which ties veryvery nicely into the Sharps competition*, being concerned with the health of the nation and being half and hour long without me having to tweak a thing. Slight dilemma... is it in poor form to send it in to Sharps and the regular writersroom as my second invited script?

The other option for something to send to the writersroom is my short, The Fixer Upper, which has been probably my best received script to date; but I'm not sure how the BBC feels about shorts. Do they, we could very well ask, like short shorts? Many thanks and massive props are owed to Chip, Jason and the other, blogless, Jason who reviewed the script and came back with some very handy suggestions to make it tighter and funnier, and to the boys and girls at Zoetrope who said less useful things, but gave it a score of Very Good across the board, bless 'em.

Wow. There really wasn't much of a through line to this post, was there?

* Robin Kelly has some interesting thoughts on Sharps here. Check it out, serious footnotes are a possibility.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Back in the drawer, Miss Sharps...

Oh, this looks quite good, doesn't it? And by 'quite', I mean 'very'. And by 'good', I mean 'ace'. Or I would, if 'very ace' was grammatically correct*.

I shall, of course, be entering. Normally, these "write about this issue... go!" things throw me, as nobody ever says "enter a thirty minute script about cyborgs fighting demons or some shit", but I think my sitcom comedy drama fits very nicely into "health of the nation", thank you very much.

Also... I moan about Cornwall a fair bit, and don't want to give the impression that I don't like it here. So, for balance, yesterday I went for a drive during my lunch hour and ended up here:

So, I'll leave Cornwall alone for a bit, at least until the next time I see what my job would be worth in any other part of the country.

* I am aware of the irony of making a joke about grammar in a paragraph where three of the four sentences begin with a conjunction. Also, yes, I know that the title of this post is a bit rubbish. This footnote has now become a catalogue of failures.