Writing Is Easy ​Until It’s Not

How do you measure productivity from a writing standpoint? If one is getting paid to write, I suspect payment and follow up offers of work would be a good barometer. What about the vast number of would-be scribes who are not employed to write – most of us – who write for the love, the practice and because you feel compelled to? How do you judge your output? Is a blog a day a lot? Not nearly enough, if one has delusions of being a writer of any note? Or is it all just procrastination, a way of avoiding the actual kind of writing – scripts, plays, books – that one ought to be focusing on?
It is probably, depending on why you write, all of the above and a bit more. In the world of blogging, I suspect there are as many reasons as there are bloggers. Not every blogger wants to be a writer, even if by blogging they inadvertently become one. Some are more sporadic than others, writing more streams of consciousness than subject focused blogs. There are many a diarist as well. For these types of bloggers, I suppose the volume of output is not especially relevant. If you’re just emptying your head, twenty words might work one day and two thousand the next.
Approaching it as a discipline, a task that must be done daily, as I do, it takes on a different significance. I like to try and write at least six hundred and fifty words, that is my minimum requirement. I have occasionally gotten really into a flow and ended up nearer a thousand, but the six fifty mark is my benchmark. It is an arbitrary figure with no reasoning behind it except that most of my blogs tend to run about that length.
With something like a script, it is much harder to quantify what constitutes a good daily output. Depending on the scene, with a rough guide of a page being one minute of screen time, two pages can feel like an absolute triumph. Because of the specificity of a script, or any kind of storytelling, you cannot, generally, just write and hope. Story structure dictates that there must be some purpose to each and every paragraph or direction.
Writing opinion is relatively easy in comparison to storytelling. In that way, blogging is definitely my procrastination, as it is more a conversation written down than a structured piece of writing. It is definitely a good practice, forcing me to come up with stuff to write about that is related to the blog’s title subject matter. I still know that I am just avoiding – delaying – tackling several works that would be closer and more beneficial to my goal of becoming a screenwriter and filmmaker.
The thing with writing as a profession, as opposed to blogging, is you have to get it right. With a blog, regardless of your following, you can write whatever you feel like and get it out there, no filters, no edits – though of course I do edits and proofread, still end up missing stuff! – no rigid structure. People will read it or not, but it will still be, in effect, published. If one wants to get paid for one’s writing, not only should it adhere to recognisable structure, but it has to be good, better than what a potential reader could write and entertaining enough for the prospective employer’s audience to want to read.
The initial question of productivity is not so relevant when viewed in the context of who the output is for and to what end. Writing regularly

Writing regularly every day is a good and necessary practice. Whether it the right approach for what one might one to achieve is down to the individual. For myself, the gnawing feeling of not doing the right sort of writing – both book and screenplays remain in limbo – is enough to tell me that it is, in a roundabout way, the best approach for me at this time. Hopefully, I am pretty sure it will manifest in a sudden urge to write one of those long waiting works.

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To Get It, Write.

Every writer does rewrites or drafts, especially screenwriters. I do not think any screenwriter every did a McCartney and smashed out a perfect first draft after the initial idea. Just getting the first draft on paper is enough of an achievement, without the pressure of getting it right at the first time of asking. The writing of a screenplay is a write-and-repeat process, hopefully, improving and refining the work as you do so.
You have written your umpteenth draft, no typos or waffle, every scene working and seamlessly flowing into the next. You know the characters and can see them, their actions, their emotions, their motives. The exposition is organic, no forced or unnecessary characters randomly popping up to explain bits of the plot. Your script is tight. You send it out and get feedback; it’s good but… you tweak, edit, write some more, get more feedback. Hmm…I like it but…
I have said before that it will ultimately be up to you to decide whether your work is ready or not. There will always be differing opinions, those who feel you could have approached the subject differently, but in the end, it has to be your voice, your words, your decision. That being said, sometimes you are forced to heed the obvious message that the ‘yeah, I like it but’ is telling you, especially when it is coming repeatedly. Something is not working.
When a screenplay is not working on a fundamental level; the story is not engaging, perhaps a character does not work or belong, maybe the first act is weak, something is definitely askew. It needs a rewrite, no tweaking, no minor changes, a tear-up-the-script-and-start-again rewrite. I have gotten to that stage with a script I have been writing for a few years now. It needs a rewrite of surgical proportions, the ‘buts’ and ‘ums’ tell me that.
When you’ve written a script, one you’ve really invested in, you have come up with a story that you believe is worth writing and seeing, so much so you write it and rewrite it almost without a break, only to belatedly realise that as compelling as your premise is, your execution leaves a lot to be desired. That is a hard place to be in. You have already played the episode or film in your mind, heard the dialogue and seen the reactions. Now you have to forget all of that and create new images, whilst still retaining the same premise.
I suppose it is the ego that suffers the most, the realisation that the story you fashioned for the purpose of expressing your premise is not very good. It is a hard truth to follow, especially when your log line, premise, has proved quite compelling. It can and does hit at the core of you as a writer, great ideas or premises are not exactly rare, the great execution of either is though. Life is full of people who have great stories that have never been told and great ideas that have never been fulfilled, so to have made the effort to complete an idea only for it to ultimately be subpar, is demoralising.
It is a good thing I suppose, as it helps to keep one grounded – a few of Hollywood’s finest could do with such grounding. Believing in one’s own brilliance can create a sense of entitlement that no writer should fall prey to. I feel every writer needs a degree of fear and uncertainty, it helps to keep the creative juices keen, fires the synapses. As much as you need to be confident in the idea or premise, it is the uncertainty that keeps you exploring, looking for different scenarios and story angles. It keeps you asking the necessary questions, the questions that spark, perhaps, that little moment where the story comes together and you are smiling as you’re writing excitedly. For those moments of flow, being in the zone, the temporary mental anguish is worth it.

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The Intrusive Talent

The lot of a would-be writer is fraught with very specific difficulties. Writing is an insular process for most, definitely in the beginning. It is a singular pursuit, it is time-consuming, it is necessarily lonely and at times frustrating.
Like a lot of creative types, writers tend to be people who, when asked, say they have always written, it’s just something that they feel compelled to do. Like a calling, maybe. The thing is with any talent, creative or otherwise, is it needs to be nurtured, practised. For most talented or allegedly gifted individuals, their gifts are not only normally noted at a young age, hence giving them more time to hone their talent, but encouraged. A fleet-footed football prodigy, an angel-voiced songstress, an artist with an eye for detail, these all things that can be spotted passively, a would-be mentor or adviser glimpsing a standout talent by chance. Even in later life, especially in the world of reality television and multimedia entertainment, a talent that can be displayed, seen or heard in passing, can be discovered.
With writing, even the most obviously blessed scribe has to have their work actively read for anyone to notice. Writing cannot be discovered passively. Once one makes that fateful decision to pursue writing, getting discovered or read is only the beginning.
Like most things in life, there will be those who like what a person does and those who do not, but unlike other undertakings, if someone reads a work that they do not like or agree with, it is unlikely that they will read work by the same author again. Unlike other prolific artists, visual or aural, one cannot be swayed by a later chance encounter with a surprisingly great work of that unfancied writer whose writing was not to one’s taste.
Every artist needs if they wish to make their hobby or passion a vocation, the implicit permission of others. A belief in one’s own ability whilst admiral, will not persuade Joe and Josephine public you are any good. Conversely, it is easy to convince people that you have no discernible talent or anything of value to add the great and good written works that already exist in the world. Nobody cares if it’s your umpteenth draft if they are going to take time and read it, it had better be good.
The reader wants different but the same, like fresh linen when you get into bed after changing the sheets. They want to see pictures in their minds as they read, whether it is a character they recognise from life or a situation they can relate to. Those are the anchors, the ‘I know this’ moments. Remember, we human beings are lazy by nature, making a person have to work out where your story, script or play might be going without a compelling premise is heresy.
I suspect that writing a book is the most difficult. Not only is it a huge commitment, there is no guarantee of it being any good or interesting to anyone else. I think with a script because it is written to be seen, most feel they can imagine a different take. A script, for the most part, suggests what direction the story and actors take. The director or editor or even the actors can bring a distinct and differing interpretation to a script. A book tells you exactly what is happening.
As the world gets progressively faster, with expectations increasingly excessive when it comes to achieving results, time is seen as the most precious of commodities. Reading is not a convenient activity for the time poor. It is not even as though there is another option. Writing with enough brevity to make your work less time consuming is hardly going to showcase your talent. Even if it did, the interested party would most likely want more of the same. The writer’s lot is unique in its approach to gaining recognition because no one inadvertently reads a script, book or play. All one can do is keep writing and hope that someone is curious enough to read it.

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Listening To Everybody

There will always be some doubt. That is the nature of any creative undertaking, the overall idea or goal to be achieved might be, usually is, known, but the route to getting to that point is fraught with possibilities and decisions. This is especially true when fashioning a story, book or script. I suppose, like for many a would-be scribe, I start writing a story entirely for myself. There is no thought of what a future audience might make of it.
With a collaborative medium like film, the writing of the story or script is the starting point, the first input. So even though you start off writing for an audience of one, with the opinions, feedback and input garnered moving forward with any project, it quickly becomes a group endeavour. It still starts with the writing and your vision of what should happen.
The issue with a script especially is it is not an exact science. As much as the internet and bookstores have vast – truly vast – amounts of information devoted to the craft of screenwriting; how to write, structure, tropes, character development, loglines, theme and any other thing that you can think of related to screenwriting, there is still no definitive way to approach a script.
We have all heard about Tom Hanks’ “grab me in the first ten pages” approach to scripts, this quote spread like wildfire and every other script opened with some explosive happening, just to grab the readers/audiences attention. Not that it meant that it created a good script, but what an opening!
There is Joseph Campbell’s the hero’s journey, an extremely popular story guide that can act as a simple blueprint for most stories. The is John Truby’s complex and intricate approach to screenwriting, the late Blake Snyder’s near omnipresent guide to how to plot a script, Syd Field’s sage words and many more, reinforcing, confusing or contradicting, the desperate, fledgling screenwriter, with them purchasing books, downloading PDFs, signing up to newsletters and attending seminars in the hope of finding that thing, the answer that will point them in the direction of story or script nirvana.
You bite the bullet, grab the bull by the horns and write. It’s not great, but you keep going. Practice, more writing, rewrites, character changes, adding and losing scenes, you get better, you understand and can see the faults in your work faster, more clearly. There is no absolute with scripts. Another popular piece of advice that did the rounds for as long as I can remember is to never use voiceovers. It’s a cheap trick and lazy exposition. That is utter bollocks, of course, exposition can be lazy even without the help of a voiceover. There was a certain successful television show, set on the fictional Wisteria Lane, that employed voiceover to great effect, as did another well-received show featuring a serial killing blood specialist.
As you write more and know more, you will have a few trusted voices, people who you send your stuff to. There is, if they are the right people, always feedback, good and bad. The hardest feedback is when the work is liked but not quite right. ‘Not quite right’ is far harder to work with than ‘this does not work.’ If you are told that, for whatever reason, something does not work, unless it is just a feeling – no help at all – you can rewrite something that does not work, especially if you get the ‘why’ it does not work. With a vague ‘something is not right’, an element they cannot pinpoint, it becomes much harder.
If writing for somebody else, so not the filmmaker yourself, feedback becomes much more critical, as you are trying to work to someone else’s vision. When writing to make a project yourself, the decision for when the script is ready is solely your own. If you believe you know how a scene is going to play out or why a scene should be where it is, you just have to trust yourself. There will always be naysayers, but ultimately the vision and final say is yours.

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Dream A Little Louder

They say not to talk about your dreams. I suppose it’s because if you’re talking about them, you’re not chasing them. Obviously, that’s not true, many people talk about their dreams whilst pursuing them, it is their passion and drive for their objective that engages others, persuading them to help or join the ride. A conscious dream is a goal not yet realised.
My dream or goal is to be a working screenwriter and filmmaker. Like everybody, I feel I have stories to tell, it just so happens that I want to tell them on a screen. I do have some specific jobs or dreams I would like to do as a screenwriter/filmmaker. I would very much like to tell a definitive British black story. For a race that has graced these shores since the seventeen-hundreds, there are very few stories in fiction reflecting that on film or on television. My other dream is to reboot the X-men franchise because it is all wrong.
Another dream of mine is to work with Joss Whedon. Or maybe not. Is it good to meet those you admire? Especially in writing terms, it might be quite intimidating. No busy screenwriter has time to nurse a nervous sycophant through a starstruck induced writer’s block! So that also rules out Aaron Sorkin, Jonathan and Lisa Nolan and possibly Amy Sherman-Palladino, though she only really smashed it out of the park with the Gilmore Girls. How I would love to have that on my C.V.!
Once the dream or goal is defined, it is time to get after it. As long as it remains in one’s head and not out in the world it remains a dream, not a goal. So I write. Should I, perhaps, be writing screenplays? Probably. And I do, just not with the same proliferation that I produce blogs. I still need to take that plunge, that step to push my writing to the next level; writing a screenplay on a consistent basis.
So how would that look? The thing is, with a blog there is an audience. It may be a small one, it may even be only one individual, but that individual will read your words and feel however they feel about them. A screenplay is a blueprint for filming. It is designed to be watched, not read. When writing a screenplay, it should feel incomplete without pictures, there should be things you want to see. Otherwise, I might as well write radio plays.
The aforementioned Aaron Sorkin writes the most beautifully wordy screenplays. His characters are erudite and command wide vocabularies, utilising their words to devastating effect on many an occasion. But a lot of his screenplays can be understood without any visual reference. Michael Bay, he of Bayhem fame, using unnecessary hero shots in every film, volume cranked up to eleven, teal and orange colouring, regardless of the subject matter and generally explosions aplenty, directs screenplays that I would guess do not read so well. Visually, however, they work.
Still to achieve a dream, the goal. One has to do. The ‘do’ for me is writing screenplays and I suppose making films. I think I need to look at writing a screenplay a week, just purely as a discipline. The reasoning behind that is, my favourite type of television is the series – Joss Whedon’s Firefly and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Sorkin’s The Newsroom, there are others….the Nolan’s Westworld! – and even with the changing landscape of television, it no longer being a medium where one waits for the next episode, the various streaming models giving would be viewers all the episodes at one time, I still think in terms of writing at least, you need to write episodically, almost wondering what might happen next.
Of course, that might be utter nonsense, but for me, it is a starting point, a sort of plan to get to. Now that I think of it, you’re supposed to tell everybody your dream! Apparently, it helps to make you feel more accountable, thus more likely to follow through. Whoever came up with that notion, never met a writer. Though I think it might have been referring to weight loss. Anyway, keep dreaming, keep doing.

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Don’t Speak

Ah Ms Banks, you really ought to check the filmography of those whose careers you wish to speak of before you decide to besmirch the name of a director, especially a white, Jewish, industry heavyweight like Spielberg.
There has been in Hollywood over the past couple of years a real push for more prominent roles for women and any race that isn’t white. That this is a thing in a country where a black man can start his own self-sustaining film industry – Tyler Perry – or a woman can, as far back as the sixties – Lucille Ball – run a television studio, is a little odd to a black person looking on from the United Kingdom as the U. S. was always the place to look for any sort cultural and ‘people like us’ references.
Blaxploitation, the blanket term used to describe the slew of black films that came out in the early seventies in America, set the tone. Films with black leads, set in black communities and featuring identifiable black cultural references. The films still managed to cross ethnic barriers, appealing to many outside of the black community at which it was marketed. Bruce Lee was the lone voice for Asian cinema with him popularising martial arts in the West.
Since the early days of cinema, it has always been a boys and their toys medium. Early works were made mostly by men, though Alice Guy-Blaché is credited as one of the pioneers of cinema having made a film, albeit only a minute long, way back in 1896. What was important with regards to her early film, is that it was given a narrative at a time when other pioneers such as the Lumiere’s and Edison were only thinking in terms of a ‘live’ photograph.
Still Elizabeth Banks’ accusatory tweet – social media really gets people in trouble sometimes – dragging Spielberg over the lack of female leads in his films, whilst in some respects true – his films, like most leading Hollywood films, tend to have male leads – he did with his adaption of black author Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple back in 1985, address the issue of colour and a female lead – Whoopi Goldberg starred – more than twenty years before the first tweet or hashtag.
The world has changed over the past twenty years, the biggest shift being in social media and the ability to connect with people, at least superficially, relatively easily and quickly. The internet has changed the way we receive and seek information. It has also become the place where everyone with an opinion can voice it. (I appreciate the irony of putting that statement in a blog!) A person with a degree of social influence – they get a lot of traffic on their blogs, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media platform – can start a topic and make it relevant in an hour, hashtags or shares spreading like wildfire.
That is how a subject you have never heard of makes the news now. Unfortunately, sometimes people like to jump on a bandwagon or wade into a subject that they have very little knowledge of or only know one side of the story. With the anonymity that can come with commenting online, some find a type of bravery that they would not display generally if asked to comment on a subject, whether they liked it or not.

Unfortunately, sometimes people like to jump on a bandwagon or wade into a subject that they have very little knowledge of or only know one side of the story of. With the anonymity that can come with commenting online, some find a type of bravery that they would not display generally if asked to comment on a subject, whether they liked it or not.
What’s so stupid is that it is easier than ever to check facts or stories before commenting on them or giving and uneducated opinion, the only reason to venture an opinion from a position of ignorance is laziness.
This need to call people out on supposed slights or for not stepping up to promote the case of women in cinema, in Spielberg’s case, smacks of bullying. To call out an individual when there are so many other high profile, not to mention more prolific, filmmakers who are not doing anything to further the cause of women or minorities in cinema is spiteful and truthfully, somewhat unhelpful.
It is good that many are no longer prepared to sit at the back of the bus, metaphorically speaking, but we must always be mindful to not let one sort of egocentric dominance be replaced by another.

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X-men? No.

It is rant time again. Normally I reserve my rants for real life, keeping my written rants to a blessed minimum. No one wants to read daily whines, not when you can be entertained by them on YouTube. But as I don’t do vlogs and I would probably forget a lot of my grievances if I did do it as a vlog, so normal, written blog it is.
My topic for ranting today, in keeping with the overall theme of the blog, are the films of that – close to my heart – team of mutants, shunned by society at large, the Uncanny X-men. Unlike some of the comic geeks online and forums, I do not claim to be a definitive expert on everything mutant related. I was a comic collector – X-men, Daredevil, New Mutants, The Dark Knight (not Batman, just the Frank Miller series) Alan Moore/Alan Davis run in Captain Britain – over a period of maybe five or six years, when Forbidden Planet was still a basement store, way before anyone cared about comic book movies.
Even though the X-men comic and characters debuted in nineteen sixty-three, it is the eighties Chris Claremont run that made the comics famous. His Jean Grey/Phoenix/Dark Phoenix story arc, encompassing the Hellfire club run – very important in the cannon in relation to Grey’s mind – the original Days Of Future Past comic (spoiler, Kitty Pryde was the lead in that comic. Logan dies.) plus other crucial character arcs.
Logan/Wolverine was always the most popular character and it is easy to see why. He, more than any other character, embodied the freedom, otherness and injustice many of the readers of the comics identified with. It stood to reason that his popularity would translate to the big screen.
Bryan Singer’s X-men in 2000 kicked off their cinematic journey, followed three years later by the, unusually for a sequel, better X2, also directed by Singer.
As is the nature of film sometimes and it is not something I usually have an issue with, they like to change things so as to accommodate the story. This is common especially for a book to film translation. Singer’s adjustments were….interesting. I did enjoy the first two films, but that does not mean they were right. The first thing to go, as has been common in most superhero films, was the costumes. Obviously, brightly coloured spandex was never going to be taken seriously on the big screen. The costume changes were a necessary evil.
Anyone who read my review of Logan – loved it – knows I thought it was by far and away the best X-men film. It was gritty and raw, emotional and gripping. Hugh Jackman was astonishing as the broken Logan. He is still nothing like the comic book character. Logan in the comics is five foot three, butt ugly and also gorilla hairy. Jackman, as one would expect, nails the manner and attitude, but he could not make himself ugly or nearly a foot shorter.
The other stand out characters in the films have been Magneto, played by Sir Ian McKellan and Michael Fassbender and Professor Charles Xavier, played by Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy. In an ensemble film, based on the eighties best-selling comic, only three characters stand out. Even in the sequel, that opened with the fantastic Nightcrawler attacking the White House scene, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is still the lead character.
In the comic, Cyclops is the group leader, with Storm taking over the leadership when Cyclops takes an indefinite leave of absence. The Scott Summers/Cyclops and Jean Grey/Marvel Girl/Phoenix relationship are also very important in the X-men story, not that you would get that from the films. The casting for all of the films, strangely casting two statuesque actresses as Jean Grey – Jean was never a physically imposing character – in Famke Janssen and Sophie Turner, whilst casting underwhelming Scott Summers’ in James Marsden and Tye Sheridan, neither screen couple ever convincing.
I’m not sure I can talk about Mystique. Singer got it so right initially, casting Rebecca Romijn who was perfect in the first two films. After the worst X-men film ever made by, when Brett Ratner stepped in for the risible Last Stand, Singer, who had left after the first sequel, returned to try and save the franchise. He did a good job as well, even if he did completely change the story and make Wolverine the central character – surprise, surprise – side note: for an openly gay man, one would have thought that an opportunity to have a female-focused superhero film out first would have appealed to Singer. Apparently not.
In the sequel, Singer replaced all the main X-men characters with younger actors, with the exception of Jackman. The mangling of the cannon continued in Apocalypse with Jennifer Lawerence – an actress I like a lot – reprising the role she had taken over from Romijn in the previous film, as Mystique, becoming a….hero. This is so far from the comic character! Romijn had nailed it, as had Lawerence in the first reboot, but the Apocalypse Mystique is terrible and unknown to this comic book geek. I will salute Singer for what he did with the Sentinels though. Genius.
Even as I am writing this I am realising that it could run on two or three blogs. There are so many aberrations to the cannon and as I said before, it is expected that there will be differences. What is so galling is, if they are going to follow or be influenced by stories that have already, for many a comic fan, been movies, in essence, having been panelled in comics, just make a new story. Stop rewriting perfectly good histories and characters and changing their ages and relationships and…argh! Too much. Just stop.

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