Saturday, December 13, 2008
ERIC finishes a letter at the table. There’s an untouched plate of toast beside him. His mood is morose, gloomy. He wears a dressing gown and tiger slippers.
His wife GWEN runs in, adjusting her police uniform.
Gwen kisses him quickly, dons her police cap.
Read it later, honest.
Gwen points at the toast next to Eric. Eric shrugs, passes her the toast. Gwen stuffs it in her mouth and bolts for the door.
I love you.
Gwen turns, gives him a smile, goes.
Eric signs the letter. He places it in an envelope, leaves the envelope propped up on the table. The envelope is titled “For Gwen”.
EXT. ERIC’S HOUSE - DAY
Eric wanders outside, still in his dressing gown and slippers. He stops by the letterbox, breathes in the fresh air and sunlight. A flicker of enjoyment.
Eric notices the front door is still wide open. He glares at it. He reaches for it listlessly, he’s nowhere near.
Eric shrugs, giving up. He strolls past the letterbox.
EXT. MAIN STREET - DAY
The shopping district of Stafford. Eric wanders along, attracting surprised looks from fellow pedestrians.
A young mother JULIE drags her four year old son MAX across the street, away from Eric. Max stares at Eric in amazement. Eric waves at both of them.
LANCE pulls up beside Eric in a beaten-up truck, which takes up most of the street. Lance hops out. Eric walks on, Lance beside him. There’s a honking noise.
How are you?
Lance doubts this. There’s another honk.
Haven’t seen you in a while -
Okay then. Later!
Lance waves, rushes back to his truck. Eric smiles, shakes his head, walks on.
EXT. BRIDGE - DAY
Eric stands on the narrow railing of the town bridge.
The river rushes below.
Eric closes his eyes, prepares to jump.
Mind if I watch?
Eric opens his eyes. An elderly man, PETE, leans against the railing beside him.
I’ve never seen anyone commit suicide before. (beat) That is what you’re doing, right?
Why is that good?
I’m sure you’ve got your reasons.
Pete waits. Eric hovers on the edge.
Eric prepares to jump, but he’s too conscious of Pete.
(gesturing at Pete)
Do you mind?
No, of course not.
Pete takes a few steps back, continues staring intently.
Eric tries again, gives up.
Eric steps back off the railing. Pete’s disappointed.
I can’t.(beat) Not yet.
Take your time.
Pete passes Eric a bottle of bourbon.
Help you get your courage up.
Eric tries it, screws up his face.
Now, leaping off a bridge has got to be better than that.
So what is it? Cancer?
I’m holding my wife back.
You hate her.
I love her. But I’m a loser. I haven’t had a job for a year. I do nothing all day. I used to dream about writing, but I can’t. I’m useless.
I can’t even kill myself.
Eric is in despair. Pete puts his arm around him.
Nonsense. You’re putting yourself down. You don’t believe in yourself.
I don’t. You’re right.
And there’s your problem. The man I saw standing on top of that bridge knew the meaning of action. He was willing to look life in the eye and say stuff it.
Every decision you make is in your hands. You make the difference. Don’t worry about me or anyone else. Just do it.
Eric picks himself up.
What was I thinking? Thank you.
Eric walks off. Pete watches him go, disappointed.
EXT. ERIC’S HOUSE - DAY
Eric whistles as he passes the letterbox.
He pauses to enjoy the sunlight on his face.
Eric strolls through the still-open front door.
INT. ERIC’S DINING ROOM - DAY
Eric ruefully observes the letter he left for Gwen. He reaches out to pick it up.
There’s a SQUEAKING sound. Eric looks up.
A heavy-set man, GRAYSON, watches Eric from the doorway to the lounge. Grayson hefts a mostly full rubbish bag in one hand, and carries a video under the other arm.
Grayson drops the rubbish bag and places the video aside.
Eric steps back, puts his arms out. He doesn’t want trouble.
Grayson impassively walks toward Eric, slides by him. Eric cries out in pain. Grayson vanishes out the front door, pulling it shut behind him.
Eric finds a knife protruding from his abdomen. He stares in it in disbelief.
Eric stumbles for the phone, misses it. He falls to the ground.
Silence. Beat. Beat. Beat.
The sound of the front door being unlocked.
Gwen saunters into the room, oblivious.
She spots the letter on the table, opens it, begins to read. Her calm expression turns to horror.
Gwen stumbles away from the table. She sees Eric lying on the ground with the knife sticking out of him.
(even more horrified)
EXT. MAIN STREET - DAY
An ambulance zooms through the busy street. Max stares at it in amazement.
INT. SURGERY - DAY
The hospital doctors rush to save Eric’s life.
A nurse bustles Gwen out of the surgery room.
How is he?
The nurse grimaces, shuts the door on Gwen’s face.
EXT. GARDEN - DAY
Eric walks out of darkness into a beautiful garden. In the centre of the garden is a pond. Gwen stands in this pond, dressed in flowing white lace.
Gwen smiles, welcoming. Eric walks towards her.
INT. SURGERY - DAY
Eric’s heart monitor stops. The doctors struggle to resuscitate him.
EXT. GARDEN - DAY
Eric crosses the pond to reach Gwen. The water barely covers the tops of his shoes.
As he reaches her, Gwen stretches out her arms and offers him a sparkling sword.
Eric takes it from her hands, examines the blade.
Abrupt cut to black.
INT. SURGERY - DAY
Eric’s heart monitor reveals life signs. The doctors congratulate each other.
INT. HOSPITAL CORRIDOR - DAY
Gwen marches along the corridor in civilian clothes. She looks expectant, and carries a large book.
INT. HOSPITAL ROOM - DAY
Gwen enters Eric’s hospital room. Eric is propped up in bed, and looks much recovered. He smiles at her.
She kisses him. He returns the kiss with interest.
(spies the book)
You brought it.
Gwen passes him the book, an illustrated tome on the adventures of King Arthur.
Yeah. Mind telling me why?
Eric flicks through the book. He settles on a page.
Ah. There it is.
What’s going on, Eric? You said you’d tell me once you got the book.
Gwen sits beside him, takes his hand.
It’s like you’re hiding something.
He shows her a picture in the book. The sword Excalibur being held aloft, sparkling.
It’s the one I saw.
Near death experiences produce -
It’s the same one, Gwen. That shows I was brought back for a reason.
Sure, for us.
Definitely. But more than that.
(reads from the book)
“The once and future king will return when the people need him.”
Your name’s Gwen. My best friend’s name is Lance. Lancelot.
I am King Arthur.
INT. HOSPITAL CORRIDOR - DAY
Gwen sits with her head in her hands.
She’s tapped on the shoulder.
Gwen looks up to see two plainclothes CIB cops, JARROD and MORGAN.
Jarrod and Morgan smirk at each other. Gwen stands.
Eric’s indisposed right now.
We’ll need to start on his case as soon as possible.
Someone has to get some work done.
Well, let me know if it’s you.
Don’t get us wrong. It’s good that you’re here for Eric. Best place for a woman really.
What was that?
I said -
Gwen cleanly punches him in the throat.
INT. POLICE DISTRICT COMMANDER’S OFFICE - DAY
WARREN, the older district commander watches Gwen play with a pen.
Warren waits for her to speak. Gwen looks up at him. He smiles. She continues playing with the pen. Warren’s disappointed, is about to speak.
(blurting it out)
I’m just worried things are getting on top of you in Stafford.
Tell me what I can do to help.
How about another three sworn officers?
Yes, that’d be nice. But -
Alright, an admin assist?
That’d be nice too -
Can I keep the pen?
Gwen stands, prepares to leave.
Thanks for your help.
Just keep that temper under control.
Is that an official reprimand?
Of course not -
Gwen leaves, shuts the door. Warren fumes. He throws the pen against the closed door. The pen breaks. He fumes some more.
(Sorry folks, that's as far as I got...)
Monday, October 27, 2008
Megan lays an ultimatum on Tash – if they’re going to have a future together, Tash has to introduce Megan to the family. This is the day Tash has always dreaded, but not for the reasons Megan imagines.
Tash is actually the daughter of the ‘famous’ King Arthur, a nut who has been causing a real stir in the small town of Savage. Tash is terribly embarrassed by her family, and just wants to disassociate herself as much as possible. Relieved that she was wrong, but recognising that there's still some stuff here to sort out, Megan persuades Tash to take her to meet the parents.
Upon arrival, it’s very clear that the town of Savage is going weird. People are polarised between supporting ‘King Arthur’ and opposing him. All of them take him seriously, which is the weirdest thing of all as far as Tash and Megan are concerned.
Tash introduces Megan to 'King Arthur' and 'Queen Guinevere'. She doesn’t introduce Megan as her girlfriend, re-igniting Megan’s annoyance at Tash’s avoidance. Megan also meets Sir Jeremy, a member of the inner circle of the Round Table and Tash’s old boyfriend from Savage College. All of Tash’s secrets are coming out…
Where does it go from there? I’m not too sure, having to re-create this version from my memory. (It never got any further than the outlining stage…)
The King approves of a union between Tash and Sir Jeremy, and he and Queen Guinevere are working to make that happen. Tash isn’t willing to tell her parents where she really stands, when leads to Tash and Megan fighting, which drives Tash towards Sir Jeremy – who is a pretty good guy.
The main question of the script was whether the spell of King Arthur and Albion would fall on our two main characters, and whether Tash would get honest with her family, with Megan, and herself. It was really pitting honesty and modern day values against cultural expectations.
Why did I abandon it and move on?
I felt this version wasn’t quite right and there was something better out there for the idea. I also suspect I felt it was moving too far away from the original idea, and not focused enough on Arthur.
Ironically, I was probably drawn towards this version because I felt it was difficult to draw Arthur’s psychology, and there was an appeal in keeping him at a distance. I think I’ll blog more about that tension about the distance at which to view Arthur in a later post.
Monday, October 6, 2008
In fact, if there's one thing that differentiates the versions of Albion in my head, it's the different tone to all of them. That tone basically runs the continuum from comedy to drama, and all those colourful spots in between.
The first version of Albion tried to mine comedy from the premise (using slapstick and a sense of the ridiculous), but was ultimately aiming to be an uplifting drama. The King himself summed up this attempt very well - he was a comic character initially, but still a man who could change the world.
Other versions took different tacks to him and the concept. Is the King comic, dramatic, or comic-tragic? Is his madness serious, or humourous, or both?
Trying to reconcile the tone between comedy and drama did take me down some fun roads.
Anton Chekhov is my favourite writer for combining the comedic and the tragic, and walking the knife edge between those two emotions.
One of my favourite versions of Albion (which I hope to post up in its entirety) was what I call my 'Chekhovian draft'. Basically I'd just read all five of Chekhov's major plays and was super-inspired by him. I rushed off the computer the next day and knocked off ten pages of script. The next day, the Chekhov inspiration wore off, and I abandoned the script.
I don't know whether it captured that Chekhovian tone - you can judge for yourself - but I did really like what I'd written. And going back to it recently, as a part of researching for these blog posts, I found I still liked it. I didn't really see the Chekhov so much, but I did like what was there.
So that was a cool experience!
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Why did I move on so fundamentally from this first version?
I realised that the script didn’t work. I knew it wasn’t working after I’d given it to at least one reader who gave a reasonably polite assessment, but really wasn’t enthused. I wanted her to love it, and her ‘ho-hum’ response was pretty telling.
The concerns I think I had at the time:
- Questioning whether Albion really was a better place. I’ve mentioned in an earlier post that I was looking for Albion to truly be a better society, and what I’d presented here didn’t really seem to do it. There’s a scene where two ‘peasants’ are effectively arguing what the standard measurement for rope is, and the King has to make a decision… That didn’t really seem an improvement on our world.
- The script is overlong and overwritten. It’s 123 pages long and not formatted like a normal script. It would probably be about 160 pages long if properly formatted. For non-screenwriters, that’s very long as the rule of thumb is one page equals one minute of screentime.)
- There’s a lack of subtext. Everyone pretty much says what they mean.
- The events were large-scale and felt unreal. In particular, the King taking over the entire country felt too big.
- I realised that the characters needed more depth.
My solution to these perceived problems was to throw the entire version out the window, and try to come up with a whole different approach to the story that solved them all.
So there’s an insight into my personality!
Saturday, September 27, 2008
First, the story doesn’t take its characters seriously enough. The characterisation is slim. One of Tash’s only traits is that she always takes black coffee (after all she’s a reporter...) with three sugars. There’s a significant moment when Tash sides with Quillian when she rejects the sugar in her coffee - “I’m sick of sugar”!
Bigger than this, the characters are lost inside the transformation of Eric. It becomes entirely unclear who some of these characters actually are after they’ve been influenced by Arthur. Not only do they begin talking like Arthurian characters, they seem to have lost their identity. Admittedly this is a relief in some of their cases - the behaviour of his family and Lance at the beginning of the story is so despicable that I feel the best thing Eric can do is get some distance on these people… Subliminating their personalities is one way to do that, I suppose.
If I were to approach this story again, I would take the characters’ transformations as the basis of the story, and in particular the conflict of the Eric/Arthur identities.
Second, there’s a strange structural note where a partial transformation takes place, then leading to a full case of madness and identity transformation. The partial transformation is effectively the end of the story – Eric has successfully integrated charisma and ‘magic’ into his everyday life. The rest of the story basically loops back to that point.
I think I could improve this story structurally, and that's one of the things I'd be aiming to do.
Third, the power of the King. The effect of King Arthur seems to be that people just love him, far in excess to anything particular we see him do onscreen. His effect needs to be justified more – why would normal people abandon their lives and change course so dramatically. The answer seems to be charisma – which ultimately isn’t the best of all answers! Charisma doesn’t feed your kids…
I’m not so interested in portraying the perfect society now, but I am interested in exploring how the King is able to transform others. This would make for really interesting material if the transformation(s) felt truly motivated.
I’ll end my analysis of the first version with my next post, asking why did I move on from this version?
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
The simplicity of the story is a joy. It knows what it’s going for, and it simply goes for it. Recently I’ve been exploring breaking a story down to sequences (with Hix funnily enough). Breaking this story down to its sequences is very revealing.
Looking back over this draft, its hardly surprising that when I think of Albion, I usually think of this version, and not just because it was the first. I feel like picking up this draft again and seeing what I can do with given the benefits of distance and 11 years experience.
I like its build. I like the sweep of the story – it feels epic. I like the movement from disregard to respect on the part of the family and other characters. I like the rejection of Eric by this new personality of Arthur. I like the idea of the ultimatum from the outside world, and the King turning it back on the outside world. I like the march to Parliament.
I was coming back to this draft as a point to measure progress from. I was pleasantly surprised to find how much I liked it, and how much I was willing to forgive its flaws.
And its flaws are pretty significant.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
The Business Round Table! (led by business star Quillian) conspires against the new state. Their agent, the local MP Maningrey, enters Albion, and we see how much the town has transformed and abandoned the conventions of the outside world. Maningrey issues an ultimatum – the new kingdom has two weeks to disband or force will be used by New Zealand to restore democracy. The King responds that in two weeks New Zealand will no longer exist.
The Struggle For Wider Control (page 72)
The King and the people of Albion march on Parliament, building an immense groundswell of support as they go. There’s a garden of Gethsemane scene where the King fears his course will lead to violence, and Lance reassures him. The expected violent clash does not occur, given the King’s overwhelmingly popularity. The Prime Minister (Winston Peters!), Quillian, and Maningrey bend their knee to the King, but obviously they have other plans…
Cracks in the Regime (page 82)
The King is now the status quo and wildly popular. His enemies are faced with a problem: how to get rid of the King without doing it openly. Luckily, the King’s friends are doing a good job of screwing things up themselves. Shelly and Jeremy conspire against each other. Shelly drives away Tash, who sides with Quillian. The Eric/Arthur divide comes to a crisis, and the King questions whether Gwen would love him as Eric. The King disappears, leaving Lance nominally in charge while Shelly and Jeremy duke it out for succession.
Integration (page 106)
Tash leaves Quillian, finding his wicked ways not to her taste. Gwen and Tash team up to find Eric/Arthur, who has returned to the old car yard. Gwen tells Eric she does love him without the King Arthur trappings. An invigorated Arthur returns to Parliament to claim his throne, bypassing his enemies who are waiting for him. He reveals himself at a press conference, only to renounce his throne and his identity as King Arthur. Plain old Eric is good enough.
Coda (page 118)
Flash forward a year, and everyone has improved their lives. Eric is back to reading stories at the library, but they’re his stories now.
The End (page 123)
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
This version of Albion we worked on together, so I want to acknowledge his script credit here. And I’ve also run my comments about this first version under his nose before publishing them here.
I thought I’d summarise this first version of Albion over two posts (at the risk of boring you all!). The following posts will analyse it.
Set-up (page 1)
Eric is an aspiring writer and particularly poor car salesman working in a yard run by his childhood ‘friend’ Lance. Eric’s on the verge of being fired and his wife Gwen is having a sleazy affair with Lance. His kids (twins Shelly and Jeremy) have no respect for him. The one bright spot in Eric’s week is reading stories at the library, especially from a book about King Arthur. The town reporter (Tash) reluctantly covers his efforts, as she’s unable to get the big story (a brewing fight between a local gang and the Mayor).
The Transformation – Partial (page 24)
Eric cracks under the strain. At his lowest ebb, a mystic moment occurs as he withdraws a key from one of the cars in the car lot (the Sword in the Stone). Eric’s charisma and inner confidence are transformed: he starts selling cars, he manages to get Tash an interview with the gang, he makes love to his wife... Eric is confused by what’s happened to him (though interestingly he seems to have sorted out all the problems of his life…) He seizes on the book of Arthurian tales to explain things.
The Transformation – Full (page 33)
Tash comes calling for Eric, interrupting Gwen, Jeremy and Shelly at breakfast. Jeremy is smitten with Tash. ‘Eric’ descends from the bedroom and announces himself as King Arthur, astounding everyone. Arthur shows his full transformation by sealing a peace between the gang and the Mayor, heading off the looming confrontation.
Development of the Transformation (page 47)
Arthur becomes a community co-ordinator, working with the gang with the Mayor’s mandate. His initiatives start to transform the town for the better. The gang turns to good deeds, such as (literally) helping little old ladies across the street. King Arthur and the town become a focus/running joke on the national news. Gwen chooses Arthur, rejects Lance, and wants to tell Arthur/Eric about the affair. Arthur rejects the Eric personality – he is no longer Eric, so the past is truly the past.
Control (page 66)
The town council steps down in favour of the King. The King’s first announcement is the succession of the new kingdom of Albion from New Zealand.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
This is a simple enough idea, but you can always count on me to bugger up a simple idea by over-complicating it.
First off, medieval society (even the faux medieval society of King Arthurian myth) is decidedly not democratic.
Quite obviously there is a King. The King is in control and makes the law. Around the King there is a court, who hold some level of delegated or advisory power, but their authority derives from their association with the King. This is a model of authority centralised in one person.
Now I'm sure the King is a very wise man (well, he was in most of the approaches to Albion anyway), but I quite like my democratic freedoms, thanks. And I can't quite imagine myself being happy to live in what we'd now tend to define as a dictatorship.
Medieval society had quite a few things wrong with it apart from a lack of democracy. It wasn't liberal, it wasn't educated, or enlightened. Women and minorities were repressed, wealth was centralised in the hands of a few, and a serf class was kept uneducated and poor. Disease, low life expectancy, no colour TVs... Why on earth would we want to go back to that?
I kept on trying to reconcile the modern and the medieval/myth into a better society - after all, that was the purpose of Albion wasn't it? To present a vision of a better world. And I was always struggling with these questions and attempting to come up with a society that actually worked.
Should Albion the society do away with modern amenities? Do away with capitalist modes of production e.g. factories and corporations, etc... Is the society socialist, or is it based on feudal land owners tempered by a spirit of compassion for their fellow men?
And civil liberties and social questions tended to rear their head as well. In one version, Eric's daughter was gay and bringing her girlfriend to the transformed society for the first time. The daughter was worried that the medieval morality of the town wouldn't accept her sexuality, and if I remember properly, there was some idea of her being married off as a political alliance. (So really not an ideal society, where your father would marry you off against your will and sexual preference to stabilise his throne).
In another notable version, I turned against King Arthur entirely, and put the King's estranged wife Gwen and her lover, the weak-willed Lance, at the heart of the story. The story began with the couple being harassed by the King's knights, while the King turned a blind eye. So this version was a situation where modern civil liberties were being over-ridden by a sense of medieval morality and loyalty towards the sovereign.
One thing I feel now is that I tried too hard to deal with the real, and let go of the mythic side too much. Albion is about the embrace of mythic medieval values - celebration, adventure, camraderie, egalitarianism (after all, there was a Round Table), honour, romance, justice, truth, and valour. The golden age of Camelot. It might on the surface look regressive, but given that Camelot never existed, it was actually progressive and utopic.
And I also realise that I didn't need to resolve the tensions of modernity vs medieval/myth. The clash between the two poles is actually the interesting stuff, where the story tensions are being generated. One of the things that attracted me to the idea in the first place was the centralisation of power in just one man, and a crazy man at that.
Albion doesn't need to portray a perfect society. They really don't exist. It just needs to portray an attempt in that direction, and all the interesting things that fall out of that.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Eric is crazy, but that’s not the point. His craziness is useful and liberating – it shields him and others from a hostile world and gives Eric purpose in his life.
In some ways, Albion is a modern Don Quixote, but with more respect for the knight – the feeling that chivalry has good points as well as being foolish. Or maybe think Lars and the Real Girl, but with King Arthur instead of a blow-up doll.
At heart, Albion has always seemed a simple idea to me.
Hah to the idea of a simple idea. Nothing else has haunted my scriptwriting career quite like Albion.
Part of that is when I started it. Albion was one of the first scripts I wrote an actual draft for, begun around 1997.
Like several scripts in the 1990s, I wrote it with Hix – at least, I wrote the first draft with him, and always kept him appraised of the current state of play. (I greatly enjoy collaboration, though I have been a major pain in the neck to work with at times. But I want to talk more about collaboration elsewhere, so I’ll keep this series of posts to Albion.) Hix, if you want to comment during this series about your experiences with Albion, it'll be great to hear them.
Another reason that Albion haunts me is I feel I never quite nailed the tone – except in one notable semi-draft. Achieving the right sense of tone is much more difficult than I ever bargained on.
And part of it is something I discussed in this blog earlier – an ability to shift the goalposts of what the project actually was, so I never managed to fulfil my current level of ambition.
In future posts, I’ll go into some of my takes on Albion to both show the evolution of the idea, and key problems I was struggling with it.
Monday, August 18, 2008
What I want to do now is explore the writing projects that have been most problematic for me. These are the perennial projects that will just not give up the ghost. They’re neither dead nor alive, but lying somewhere in-between. Some because they’re simply not the priority of the moment, others because I have no idea how to progress them from here.
Perhaps I can finally put them to rest. Or maybe I’ll be able to bring them fully back to life and then finish them off properly!
I’ve struggled long and hard with how to approach this subject matter, and whether to come here at all. Will it be interesting enough for anyone other than myself to explore my writing projects? I don’t know. I hope so. You be the judge!
The first of these ‘limbo’ projects for me is Albion, my King Arthur story.
Friday, August 15, 2008
At first it was very difficult showing my work to anyone. What if they told me that it wasn’t very good? That just seemed too hard to bear.
But my need to impress managed to win out over this fear.
So I did show my work to people. And often impressed them. Particularly if they were my age or younger, and were often just impressed by the fact I was writing at all.
Except my work in and of itself wasn’t that good yet. When I started showing my work to more independent readers, I was forced to realise that I still had a long way to go.
What I started to cling to as a defence for my ego was to embrace the gap between ‘professional’ writers and me as a beginning writer. I didn’t need to be a good writer yet because I was just a beginner.
Around this time I was mostly writing short stories, at a pace that amazes me now. I would always work to finish a story in one day – that way I didn’t spend too much time on anything (and I could always use that lack of effort as an excuse if someone didn’t like it).
The main defence was that I was always on to the next idea. My ego was protected by being a moving target. And I got to be a better writer quickly because I was writing so much.
I kept on applying this technique while working on my first film scripts and into the TV series Love Bites, where I think it started to become a problem. My unwillingness to revise an idea led to many different versions of the first episode, in an effort to continue to impress through new ideas.
After Love Bites I moved into a different space, which wasn’t necessarily better in hindsight – though it was a growth for me.
In this phase of my writing career, I wanted to get something ‘right’ before I showed it to anyone. I wanted to impress through depth and power rather than new ideas and the weight of fresh material.
One problem here was that I gave full vent to my perfectionist streak. When I actually had to stand beside a project and not just abandon it, it had to be pretty damn good to protect my ego.
And it was slow. I was afraid to put pen to paper, so I didn’t do anywhere near as much writing. As a result, I don’t think I’ve improved enough as a writer given the amount of time – roughly seven years since the end of the TV series.
So now I’m looking for a third way. Neither phase works for me now.
I want to move to a place where I can show others my work as it progresses, continue to work on stuff, and see an evolution in my writing. Getting drafts finished and getting them out there to be read is now a key goal for me.
And self-reflection is important too in helping me develop by looking back at my writing career. I can look at my strengths and weaknesses, and to see how I want to behave in the future. This blog is an important element in that self-reflection.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Soon I’m going to start also exploring some of the writing projects I’ve worked on. I want to ask "why did I write this?", what problems I faced, and if I got through them.
I expect it’ll be a lot like what I’ve been writing to date in this blog, but coming at the topic from another direction. And there'll be more 'reasons' posts as I go.
I'm looking forward to it. I hope it’ll be fun!
Friday, August 8, 2008
To take an example, Run (the script I'm working on now) draws on personal experiences and problems I've had in my life, and applies them to my characters. While also being a story about someone chased by a monster!
I find I enjoy my writing more when I'm drawing on personal experiences, and hopefully it makes the writing better as well.
My biggest problem with being honest is not so much around exposing myself, because I can always use the excuse "it's just fiction".
The thing I struggle with more is that when I use an idea, I can't use that idea in the future.
Every time I write about something that is personally important to me, I'm reluctant to let the idea go. Because I don't want to 'spend' the idea, particularly on projects that may not work out.
I'm the kind of guy who likes to have another trick up my sleeve. On the Myers Briggs scale, I come out as an introvert. Which means I like to figure out what I'm going to say before I say it. And one of the reasons I like to do that is that I like to stay in control, by keeping a little piece of myself in reserve. By keeping an idea or two up my sleeve.
When I'm writing in this honest way, I don't feel that comfort zone so much. I'm giving stuff away left, right, and centre. Which is scary for me, though it's exactly what I want to be doing. I'm scared of running dry and having nothing worthwhile left to say.
Honesty for me requires a leap of faith. A belief that the ideas I give away will be replenished, hopefully by better ideas... And so far that's been the case for me. The more I give, the more I've found to give.
So the worry that the bank will run dry has diminished for me over time. And I also kind of question what I'm saving stuff up for. It's not like I'm going to get to write forever!
Monday, August 4, 2008
Saturday, August 2, 2008
I’ve been writing for a fair while now. Though I haven’t achieved as much as I feel I should have in that time (due to my various struggles with writing), I have written quite a lot.
One of the main outcomes of all that work is my growth as a writer. Looking back at my writing history shows me how much I’ve grown. Which gives me hope that I will one day become the writer I want to be, and create the work I aspire to.
I want to be always growing as a writer. I’m disappointed when I feel I’m not continuing to evolve, and that’s been a source of frustration for me the last few years.
But ultimately I find the fact that I have gotten better as a writer incredibly exciting. It’s part of my journey through life. Who knows where it’ll end up?
Saturday, July 26, 2008
But I absolutely need to start finishing them! Because bubbling under and starting to sing to me are:
- Two seasons of a TV series I've been tentatively calling The Kingdoms
- An uncompleted Katherine Mansfield script
- A teenage horror movie called The Devil You Know
- An untitled horror project about the great advantage of being able to die.
- An abandoned fictional future documentary called Only Human, which is now re-surfacing after seeing the wonderful Guy Maddin 'documentary' My Winnipeg.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Writing was one big competition, with all my fellow writers as contestants - not that I'd ever admit I was competing (of course). But all of us were in a race to achieve the elusive crown of respect and achievement. And there could only be one, and that was going to be me (of course).
Competition is invigorating. It's helped me put pen to paper. But it has a pretty big dark side for me.
Jealousy has been a reoccurring experience for me as a screenwriter. I've found myself seeing the industry as a zero-sum game with extremely limited opportunities. Another screenwriter's success has deprived me of my rightful dues by squeezing me out of the frame.
I'd look for factors beyond my control to explain why this writer has 'succeeded' and I hadn't (ah, it's because they know such-and-such). And God knows I haven't approached their work fairly or with a positive attitude - I've been eager for them to fail.
Particularly galling is the success of a friend or someone I know. Then I have to congratulate them while secretly envying them and wishing for them to stumble.
Well, that's the dark side of my soul. But it's not the attitude I try to approach things with now. It's taken me a long time to turn it around, and sometimes it creeps back in anyway. Jealousy is a very strong emotion.
But I've tried to turn this around for me, because my jealousy hurts no one as much as myself. I'm the one who gets all worked up about the success of my fellow writers, and all that's doing is distracting me from the thing that counts - getting my work good enough so that others will be excited enough to help make it a reality or watch it. And therefore reaching towards achieving those successes I've been so jealous of.
Besides, I like helping people. I don't want to be the person dragging others down. And I believe the screenwriting industry, or whatever writing environment, isn't a zero-sum game. It can grow it, and I'll do it my part of that through achieving good work. Which will open up more opportunities for myself as well as others.
I believe that. It makes me happier believing that. When I slip away from that the jealousy creeps back in...
Monday, July 14, 2008
Perfectionism for me means:
1. Avoiding committing anything to paper before I've gotten it just right, and therefore not writing anything, or
2. Never being happy with what does hit the page and therefore never seeing an end in sight for a project.
How do I know I've got a script or idea 'perfect'? I never can, because the next time I look over the idea I start to become unhappy with what's there. There's always something to change. I've spent years being trapped in projects because of my perfectionist streaks.
Particularly deadly is a streak of perfectionism coupled with a growing sense of ambition. This allows me to shift the goalposts for a particular work as I'm working on it. Which allows me to chase my tail in search of perfection forever.
I think the worst problem about perfectionism for me is I eventually end up giving up on scripts, and to some degree myself as well, and moving on to something else that seems easier and brighter. I never quite finish because it just becomes too hard to finish.
What I hope I'm moving towards is a place where I can stop working on scripts and be satisfied with what I've accomplished. To really finish things rather than have the process aborted in some way or another - which includes having the script made but still not being happy with it. Which is yet another kind of perfectionism I suffer from...
Thursday, July 10, 2008
To return for a moment to my previous post, it's taken a long time for me to accept the idea of writing for myself. All that matters is I should be happy with a script, and it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks of the script as long as I like it.
That's a worthy impulse as far as it goes, and it's certainly good when it comes to actually writing the script, when I don't need a lot of internal distractions.
But ultimately I am also writing for an audience.I don't chip away for years at scripts (or ideas for scripts) simply for them to end up in a bottom drawer (or a box on top of the closet in my case). That's where they often end up, but that's not what I intend for them when I start on them.
I do get something out of these scripts or ideas that never see the full light of day. I get a huge amount out of them. But not everything that I hoped for them.
Part of what drives me onwards into the next script is the idea that this one will really get made, and an audience will get something out of it.
I use the words 'an audience' rather than 'the audience'. Not everyone needs to like or relate to everything I write. It's taken me a long time to accept that as well.
But someone (and preferably a lot of someones) have to get something out of what I've written. Otherwise frankly the script isn't good enough. That's why it's living in a box.
Monday, July 7, 2008
I've noticed this effect when writing in group or for others - the desire to accept the opinion of others that something's good even when I know it isn't working for me yet. Sometimes others will be happier with stuff I've written than I am - or they'll be more willing to move on.
In those kind of situations, the temptation is very strong to leave something alone. And in some situations, factors such as time pressure or producer edict may mean that I do.
But I know the writing process, and probably the writing itself, is better if I feel happy with it. That way I can own it. That way it really comes from me, and I feel I have written for me.
Screenwriting can turn into a bit of a factory where no one really owns the finished product. And I instinctively rebel against that - I want to be able to own something I've written, or have participated in writing.
I believe that if I totally gave away writing for myself, then I'd be giving away a piece of myself - the piece that cares. And I'd be what I call a hack.
For me, that term doesn't mean someone who writes for money or whatever. It means someone who doesn't care about what they're writing and doesn't care what happens to it. I have had one encounter with a fellow writer who gave every impression that this was how he felt about his writing, and that encounter turned my stomach.
I don't want to give it away.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Monday, June 30, 2008
The nagging feeling that I should be writing, that I need to write now, and I'm wasting the precious minutes of my life doing whatever it is I'm doing now, and everything will be better with the world if I can just get to that page. If I can stratch the itch.
I've learnt over the last few years that I need to keep my life in balance. There are a number of dimensions in my life that need to all be taken care of if I'm to remain happy.
Writing is definitely one of those dimensions - much as I try to deny myself it should be. After all, what's writing? My self-indulgent inner workings which may never see the light of day... Why should I need to write?
Except I've caught myself time and time again feeling down, wondering what is bothering me, and realising that I haven't been writing for the last week. The itch is the symptom of that need to write, and it's good to listen to it before my mood starts getting worse.
Luckily for me, stratching the itch doesn't take too long. Ten minutes working on a story idea is usually enough to lose the itch and feel all is right in the world (I have a very low work threshold combined with an impressive ability to deceive myself that if I've started on an idea, I'm almost there...)
So maybe I'm an addict and writing is my fix. Or maybe I'm healthy and the itch is a reminder that I could get sick. I like to think the latter, but then again, it's cool to be an addict. Who wants to be healthy all the time?
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Writing full-time was my dream and aspiration as a career. But I found this to be one of the hardest times of my life to date.
Writing was bringing out very dark feelings in me. Expectation of failure, tension, a lack of self-belief bordering on depression. Writing put me into a bad mood. Half an hour was enough for me to feel tense and want to lash out.
At the same time I really wanted to do it. I was drawn to writing, but the actual process of writing was really hard.
The immediate source for these negative feelings about writing was the damaging experiences I'd had while writing for the television series I co-created, Love Bites.
First, and most of all, I'd had a very hard time writing (or not succeeding in writing) parts of that show. The first episode, which I was in charge of, was rewritten too many times to remember. A few things fed into that experience in hindsight - uncertainty about my abilities and how to channel them in high pressure situations, a lack of clarity around what I wanted to produce, tight deadlines and the pressure of a production riding on my output, and sheer overwork.
Second, the show didn't make much of an impression in the cultural consciousness, so the sacrifices didn't seem to pay off into the finished product. The show came in for some criticism as well as some praise. My ego took a battering and that's something I've had to recover from as well.
The thing is, once the series had finished, I was eager to put into practice some of the lessons I'd learnt from writing on the show. And to improve on what I'd done. But now the actual process of writing had become incredibly difficult for me.
How did I get out of that? Persistence - I pushed through it by continuing to write. Awareness - knowing the writing process was hard for me, so not being so surprised when I felt bad while writing. Listening - hearing the negative voices inside of me, letting them have their say, and become part of me. Balance - I had come to place such pressure on writing that success or failure was too important to me. My life is now more balanced and I'm happier.
Writing still puts me in a bad mood. The less familiar I am with a particular part of the writing process (e.g. developing the idea, writing the first draft, editing), the more likely it is to bring out difficult feelings in me and more quickly. So the healing is ongoing. It's made me nervous of combining pressure situations and writing, which is something I still want to get over.
The process of writing Love Bites wasn't the only thing that caused me to feel the way I did then. The show came along at a particular time when I had a lot to learn, and I learned a lot from it. So I don't regret the show or blame the show - actually I thank it now and appreciate it.
Writing was hard before the show, and I think it'll always be hard. But it doesn't need to be as hard as that time of my life. I'm feeling the pleasures more now than the hurts, and that's something to celebrate.
Monday, June 23, 2008
There's the delight of feeling something falling into place. The 'Aha!' moment, where I find just the right line that I'm proud of, or just the right point to end the scene, or just the right insight into the character. The bigger the insight for me, the bigger the thrill. But I very much enjoy the feeling of getting it right, and the continuing glow afterwards - which I stoke up by reading over and over something that I feel is right. I can dote on a favourite line for hours...
There's the joy of knowing something is on track and going somewhere good. It's the expectation of the finished good work combined with a sense that my life is on track. I don't need to be immediately working on a project to have this feeling, so it doesn't necessarily lead me towards actually completing anything!
And there's the deep satisfaction of accomplishment - the 'Ahhhh' moments where I feel I can sit back, take it easy, and crack open a beer (or a can of Coke in my case). I've overcome the fear of the blank page and persisted long enough to take the work all the way from A to Z.
I hope I would be able to take the conscious choice to give up writing if I didn't experience these pleasures from time to time. I fear I wouldn't be able to - maybe I'm enough of a masochist and dedicated enough to pursue in the face of receiving no reward whatsoever... Luckily, even when I haven't felt good about writing at all, I've eventually come through to a place where I do derive these pleasures from writing again.
It's those darker emotions that writing generates for me that are going to be the subject of my next post.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Writing is something that people like. They generally respect or admire writers, particularly successful ones. So getting on the writing bandwagon seemed like a good way to get me some of that action.
There are at least three flaws with this plan.
First, writing can lead to respect and admiration. But that doesn't mean people will like me. Success doesn't bring personal connection - in fact it tends to distance people. Fans do not like the person they are fans of - they admire them. They place them at a different level to themselves. I don't have fans in this way, but I have seen this phenomenon in action, and have seen it's the person who is being admired who has to work to build a personal connection. It's actually kind of tiring!
But at least people are positive towards you though, which leads me to the second flaw.
Writing is always in danger of being judged negatively, particularly when you're starting out and maybe the work isn't all that good yet. Someone is not going to like what you've writtten, and particularly if they are a guy between 17 and 25 years of age there's a good chance they are going to tell you that, at the party at which you've just met them. Which doesn't really bolster a weak self-esteem.
The third flaw is probably the biggest, and the trap for the actual writing. If I write to be liked, this negatively influences what I write. I don't take risks. I avoid certain topics. I stick to the known in order to create a known effect. And the work is never as good.
Writing is not for the faint-hearted or for people with self-esteem issues. Writing has helped me with my self-esteem issues by forcing me to confront that I can't rely on external support to always feel good about myself. To be liked has transformed over time into To not rely on what others think of me. Which is all very positive but still not always the case!
Monday, June 16, 2008
But what do I mean by meaning? I have two questions and a test.
The first question is whether the story is meaningful to me. I'm going to spend a lot of time working on this story, and I need to know that it moves me. There's plenty of projects that don't fulfil this test, and plenty of them are worthwhile. Just because I think they're good ideas doesn't mean I personally should be working on them. I've already talked about the idea of pursuing the heart of the story, which I called the nugget. That glow of the nugget indicates the story has personal meaning for me.
(So what are the topics or themes I consider meaningful? One of my goals for this blog is to help me figure that out. I want to dig into the projects I have written and try to identify what was driving me to write them. By identifying these nuggets I expect to find some common topics and themes, and some I'll still want to be writing in the future.)
The second question is whether the story is meaningful to others. This is harder to accomplish, and is a true test of the writing.
I may find something I've written meaningful, but that may not be having that effect on a reader. That may be because I haven't written it well enough yet (entirely likely) or this person doesn't find that story as powerful as I do. Given it can be an individual response I try to show my work more widely. But if no one is relating to the story, then this particular piece of work either needs more work or is staying on the shelf.
So how can I test whether the story is meaningful? I've identifying three factors that I want the effect of a story to have, based on my own response to work that inspires me.
Force. A story must carry force. It must make an impact by the reader.
Depth. A story should affect the reader at a personal level. They should feel it affects them deeply.
Longevity. A story should have a lasting impact.
So when I say I want to write something meaningful, I think I mean I want to write something that forcefully strikes the reader at a personal level, the experience of which stays with the reader over time.
How about you? What does meaning mean to you?
Thursday, June 12, 2008
One thing that holds me back is a reluctance to repeat myself verbally. Once I've told something once, I can't be bothered telling it again. But of course that practice helps get the story right.
That unwillingness to repeat myself is turned on its head when I come to writing stories. Here, I'm happy to continue reiterating an idea over and over again.
The true advantage of the written story is I don't need to get it right first time. In fact I'm not expected to - I'm pretty much required to practice it. The culture of screenwriting is such that if you haven't done half a dozen drafts, you've barely started.
Actually I can smell fear at the heart of my positions about both modes of storytelling.
I'm afraid to tell a story orally in case I get it wrong. And I'm afraid to let go of the written story in case I get it wrong.
My challenge then is to get stories out there and not let practice get in the way of achievement!
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
So half a million dollars for one script. How long's that going to take me to bang out? A few weeks? Sweet.
Ten years plus later I have yet to make that big Hollywood sale. Or any Hollywood sale. Most Full members of the New Zealand Writers Guild earn less than $10,000 a year from writing, and I've been in that camp for a number of years now. But at least I have been paid and stuff I've written has been made. For a screenwriter anywhere that is a big deal.
So I've had to revise my Hollywood riches scenario a few times now over my screenwriting career. In fact I work full-time now so screenwriting doesn't have to pay the bills. This way, if some screenwriting money comes through to help pay for the bung door on the downstairs flat, I'm a happy man rather than a desperate man.
But there's still part of me waiting for that Hollywood money to flow. Easy money. And isn't that what screenwriting is all about - the fulfilment of dreams?
Monday, June 9, 2008
All three scripts are in approximately the same place - the process of finding out why I feel driven to write them.
There is something in all three of them that I cannot let go of. I'm going to call this something the nugget.
In the process of finding out what the nugget is, I will let go of vast amounts of extraneous ideas which surround the nugget. And I don't know what this extraneous dirt is and what the nugget is until I go through this process.
Should the protagonist in Run be a man? Turns out she's definitely a woman. Old or young? Young, but not too young. Is her love interest a man then? No, turns out she's gay.
Through feeling my way through all these choices, I somehow get closer and closer to the nugget that is driving me to write the script. Maybe the nugget is a question. Maybe it's an emotion. Maybe the nugget doesn't sit still. Can I trust it's worthwhile? I don't know, but it keeps on gleaming. And it promises answers.
On reflection that doesn't sound very trustworthy.