Thursday, 26 February 2009

So, the BBC have comissioned me to write a script...

Admittedly, that's not the most witty, subtle or modest of head-lines, but God dammit, I wanted it up there in big motherfucking letters. Let's have that again...

I'm getting paid to write. By the BBC.

Yeah, still feels good.

Oh, you probably want to know the story behind this, right? No? Screw you. You're hearing it.

So, on the 30th of October of last year, a very kindly fellow writer e-mailed me to ask if I minded if he passed That's How I Roll, my funnier than it sounds sitcom, to a producer that he knew at the BBC, Jack Cheshire. Should said writer want to identify himself, he is very welcome, as I am very grateful but don't want him to get bombarded with scripts by the millions of readers of this blog. Sorry, back on track. No, no I did not mind. This seemed like a really damn good idea.

One week - one week, I say, and this story doesn't get much more likely from this point on - I got a phonecall from Jack at the BBC saying he liked the script and wanted to option it. Which was a bit of a lovely/stunning suprise. Yes. Yes, I wanted him to option it. A few more e-mails, voice mails and very excited phone calls followed.

Eventually a meeting date was set. 2nd of December, on the same day as I got picked up by Berlin Associates and met a load of bloggers (which is why I look so happy). That was a very busy, and very good day.

An option agreement ensued, as did rewrites on the script following comments from some very cool people. There were ten pages chucked from the end, ten new pages invented in the middle, a bad guy added and one of the characters who came in at page twenty now comes in page 4, because he was well liked. Hurrah.

Side bar - I feel extrodinarily lucky that any of this has happended, and that extends to the rewrite period. All tales of rewrites I hear seem to be nightmares of buffoonish execs and The Wrestler being tailored for Nick Cage (seriously), but mine was very very nice. All of the ideas and comments I got in were excellent and true, and the script's waaaaaaay better because of it.

Once the script was in its waaaaay better state, it was pitched to the comedy commisioner, Lucy Lumsden, who was alarmingly nice about it and agreed it should go to BBC3 to be pitched to Danny Cohen. It was pitched to Danny Cohen, which apparently went well.

Then, yesterday, I got the magic call. BBC3 are comissioning me to write a second episode. Presumably to ensure I'm not a charlatan. I may be in trouble, as I actually came across the script in the aftermath of a pitch meeting gone wrong. There were bullets and dead Mexicans everywhere. I clawed the still bloody manuscript from a dying screenwriter's hands, and fled back to my wife Kelly McDonald. Another Mexican with terrible hair is coming for me now. So I'd better go.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Horrifying Remakes...

Whilst in the grubby, straight to DVD end of horror original stories are bumbling along quite happily (well, not happily, but you know what I mean), mainstream horror seems to be entirely remade. I know this isn't news, by the way, but it's kind of leading to something.

Remakes, like sequels, are fundamentally whore movies. They don't love you, they're just in it for the money. But there's $5 crack whore remakes, and then there's Johanna Lumley in Shirley Valentine remakes. And here's the difference: don't bother remaking something that's already good. No need. There's The Thing, and the Fly*. Both great remakes, from interesting but imperfect originals. Then there's The Omen 666, Rob Zombie's Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw remake, and it's .... urgh... sequel. All pretty much perfect orginals that had no need of a crass remake**.

With this in mind, I bring forth for your consideration 5 horror movies that should be remade, and 5 horror movies that should be left the hell alone. Feel free to disagree, shout, scream and/or add your own suggestions.

Films to be remade:

  1. Hellraiser. Apparently this is already in development, so I'm off to a good start. The original has a simple but efficient story (the novella's even leaner), some awesome imagery, and great mythology. The direction's alright. But the dialogue's poor, the acting's terrible, it ends with a tramp turning into a dragon, and most of all - it's set in London, it's filmed in London, and yet all the brits are played by Americans. Who don't try to hide their accents. Remake please.

  2. Nightbreed. Don't worry, this isn't just a list of Clive Barker movies, promise. Same problems as Hellraiser: great idea, great imagery, decent story, shodding acting, direction and script. Would do well as a TV series, as the guy-with-strange-dreams-gets-framed-by-his-psychiatirst-for-a-series-of-murders-and-goes-looking-for-a-mythical-city-of-monsters-before-being-murdered-and-coming-back-from-the-dead-and-then-the-serial-killer-shrink-a-drunk-priest-and-a-hick-sheriff-try-to-destroy-the-monster-town story has enough trouble fitting into this paragraph, let alone into a movie.

  3. Paperhouse. Very creepy Coraline-esque British horror (girl draws picture, picture becomes real) directed by grumpy fellow Bernard Rose, hamstrung by low budget and bad kid acting.

  4. The Howling. Retreat for woman attacked by werewolf turns out to be filled with werewolves. The irony of it all. I caught this one when I was doing my trawl through the horror section in my local video library in 1995. (I pretended to be a very slight 18 year old. They must think I'm... ooh, approaching 32 by now. Proper subterfuge, that.) Anyway, my mates had all sold this to me as a classic, and... not so much. It's kind of funny, and kind of scary, but for most of the film it kind of ambles along not really knowing what it is. Could probably benefit from being a little less quirky. I'm a soulless studio suit, really.

  5. Dead and Buried. Small town cop investigates brutal murders in his town, someone gets a hypodermic in the eye and it's all to do with really good taxidermy. Essentially a great and very creepy idea, but... I won't spoil it for you, but the end's rubbish. Someone needs to make a version that makes a bit of sense, please.
Films to stay the hell away from:
  1. Candyman. One by both Bernard Rose and Clive Barker, so they can forgive me for dissing them earlier. A film that scares you with Tony Todd's voice alone. Takes in race, myth, infidelity, the American class system and has a cracking central performance for Virginia Madsen.

  2. A Nightmare on Elm Street. I know you're doing this, and you must stop now. Kane Hodder may have been the best Jason, but Robert Englund is the only Freddy.

  3. The Shining. The minute it makes sense***, it stops being scary. Which is why the mini-series was rubbish, and... oh, wait, does the mini series count as a remake? Rubbish.

  4. Bride of Frankensteing. Oh... hang on, Sting did one, didn't he?

  5. Psycho. Shit.
Hmmm. I was a bit late, wasn't I?

* That these movies managed to pack themselves full of subtext also helped: The Thing is about the Cold War, and the Fly is about AIDS. But that's indicative of good film making, by good film makers, the sort that would choose to remake films that need remaking. See how I twist the world to fit my point?
** I avoided The Wicker Man, because I love the original so. I haven't seen the Friday the 13th remake yet. On the plus side, Friday the 13th is fun but silly, and not a sacred cow by any means. It's got Kevin Bacon in hot pants, which damages a lot of it's credibility. On the minus side, it's been done by the same diretor who ruined Texas Chainsaw, and who seems to think that horror movies are exclusivley about screaming. I will withold judgement. For the record, mt favourite Friday the 13th movie is 10, Jason X. Not a popular choice, but I'm sticking with it.
*** I know I said Dead and Buried should be remade to make sense. I have no defense, I just wanted to stop you pointing it out.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Justifying geekiness...

... or how Role Playing can help you become a better writer.

It's no big secret that I'm a bit of a geek; that I walk around in a T-Shirt with "Geek" written across it a goodly portion of the time does little to help matters. My peculiar geek poison of choice is roleplaying games. If you're not sure what they are, here's a quick primer.

Now, you may just think that RPGs are just nerdy nonsense, and to a degree you'd be right. But not if you take them as seriously as I do. In a roleplaying game, most of the group play characters within a (usually) fantasy world of some kind, and one member of the group is the Games Master - in my group, usually me.

The GM is responisble for all the rules arbitration, playing all the supporting characters and antagonists, and - most importantly - coming up with the story. Every week. Story, story, story. I must have learnt something, right?

RPGs will identify your strengths and weaknesses.
We all say we love feedback. "Read my script and give me feedback" we cry, like a hungry, angry baby. Sometimes, we even listen. But mostly only if we were thinking the same thing anyway. Can't do that with RPGs. Because if your story's not going well, your friends will slump in their seats. They'll start looking longingly at your X-Box. They'll chat and flip through magazines. And at that point, you can't help but acknoledge this isn't your finest hour. If things are going well, your group will be having a great time. They'll be lively. They'll play in character more. They'll laugh at the funny bits, get into complex moral debates that you've set out before them, and - in one particularly proud Cthulhu moment - jump and scream a little bit. Instant feedback. Measurable feedback. Honest feedback.

RPGs can help you with treatments and outlines.

The story notes that I use for planning roleplaying games are almost identical to the ones I use when planning a script - the plot in beat form, snippets of description and dialogue, character descriptions. And very week you have to come up with a new one. So you're learning to outline, fast, and you're getting better at it every week. And not only are you plotting each week, you're running a campaign, a series of linked adventures. So that's a series outline then.

RPGs teach you to improvise
When you're GMing, you control all the world - expect for the bloody players. And those sons of bitches will always do something you don't expect them to. So you're spitballing story about 50% of the time - basically, you're live pitching. How often to we get to practise that?

RPGs teach you about suprising inevitability.
Players will do things you don't expect them to. I've done this one, but it teaches you two distinct things a) spitballing, as seen above, and b) suprsing inevitability. I forget who said it now, but stories should be both suprising and inevitable. RPGs teach you this very literally.

Characters in stories are forever trapped in their fate, and no matter what they try and do, they're going to end up there, because we've already decided it. Same with RPGs a lot of the time. I know what I want my characters to do. But my characters are living breathing people who aren't party to this. So you set them up. You put them in untennable situations, where they choose to act in the way you know they will. It's evil, but it's fun. But, but, but. The players must never ever realise that this is what you're doing. They need to make the choises you want them to of their own free will. And when they try something you know they must fail at, they must feel like they have a chance. When you know they're going to succeed, they must constantly feel the threat of a failure. Just like when an audience watches your show then.

RPGs teach you about motivation.
The worst games I've particiapted in as a player-character are the ones where I'm swept along by a railroad plot. If your players don't want to go on whatever mission you've planned for them, don't moan and whine. You've plotted badly. Because if you've plotted well, the players will be biting off your ear for your quest. Because it's not your quest, it's theirs.

To flip it around for a sec, in writing the equivalent of a rail road RPG plot are plot-robot characters. In a TV drama recently, the whole plot revolved around one character not telling the other an important piece of information. Which he had no reason to withhold. At all. Hence the plot began. More plot happened. Character two asked character one something. He withheld information. Again. Again for no reason, other than without it, said episode would have been about a minute long. Tragedy ensued, but it was unnecessary tragedy, because the characters were plot robots. I failed to care.

RPGs teach you to roll with the punches.
Not literally, sadly, or secondary school would have been less painful and more Jackie Chan. People join the group. People leave, permanently for a new job, or semi-permanently to go travelling, or for a holiday, or because they're ill for a week or whatever. I've had to write long running characters out, and I've had to give them suitable exits. I've had to write characters out so that they can come back. I've had to introduce new characters in a way that doesn't feel silly or stilted. I've had to write 'Doctor-Lite' episodes to explain people's absense.

Getting a bit ahead of myself here, but I'm glad I've had the practice.