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 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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Why Can’t They See Me?

I had planned to begin this blog with the popular idiom ‘the cream always rises to the top’, putting forward, in a roundabout and hopefully engaging way, the theory or belief that if your work is good enough, it will be discovered. I decided to look up the history of the phrase – research folks, just like a serious writer – and came across an interesting argument against it here.
It got me thinking, especially as the central premise of this blog is not about being talented, it is about that most dreaded of activities, one that anyone who is serious – that word again – about their craft, must engage in; networking.
What prompted this was a blog by the brilliant Lucy V. Hay (if you’re a writer and do not follow her you’re obviously not serious about it.) She points out that no writer should be without a social media presence and that this was also the perfect way to build your network. Hmm, network. Networking, not a thing that comes naturally to yours truly.
The thing is with networking is that it is sort of the equivalent of the long con. When you are networking, it is not necessarily for the now, or even for the when, it is advertising without selling anything tangible, the product being yourself, your personality. People want to and like to work with nice people, people they like. That’s not to say being nice is what gets you work or even noticed talent wise, it definitely helps though.
It is, as Lucy points out, about getting your name out there. Though many derided the work, both as a book and a film, E. L. James’ Fifty Shades Of Grey is known around the world, as is her name. As much as we might like to believe that, given the opportunity, we would only ever employ or utilise the best person for the job, if you are paying money to somebody and working closely with them, as much as the quality of their output matters, you would want to like them –  not have to tolerate –  as well.
Of course, there are those who could care less if they are liked, confidently believing their talent speaks for itself. That may well be true. One could indeed be an extraordinary writer, your gift obvious to any who should peruse your work. In years gone by, before the explosion of social media, you could, in spite of a less than warm personally, get discovered due to possessing great ability. Now, however, being popular, coupled with high competence, is what will get you noticed.
What’s that you say? It’s not fair, especially as you are so much better at writing than so many out there. No doubt you are, but think of it this way; an engaging and friendly writer has a social media following of ten thousand, you like their work but are not blown away by it. Another writer has a following of twenty-seven, writing heart-wrenching prose and captivating stories, only a smattering of followers but definitely superior written work. If both of these writers produce a book, which one do you think is going to gain the most traction? Don’t answer that.
These days especially, a social media presence is a must. If you can gain a large following, that’s even better. A writer with an audience is much more attractive to an agent, publisher or any person of influence than a bog standard brilliant writer, because not only is there less work for them to do, it also shows that the writer is prepared to work and push as well, beyond their comfort zone of just writing.
Now, a social media presence is only the beginning. You have to engage as well. Admittedly, this is where I flounder. I have quite the healthy media presence – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube – I am out there. It’s the interacting where I fall down. I read other blogs, tweets, watch short films on YouTube, I even tweet and link works of other artists regularly. What I don’t do is engage. I rarely comment I will leave a like, but that is about it. I don’t even have the good grace to comment on comments left on my own blogs! I will comment or reply on Facebook, but the mechanics of that particular platform encourages that, also you can sort of ‘see’ everybody there. I have had brief Twitter exchanges, but that is such a fast moving medium you need to attack it with military regularity.

I don’t even have the good grace to comment on comments left on my own blogs! I will comment or reply on Facebook, but the mechanics of that particular platform encourages that, also you can sort of ‘see’ everybody there. I have had brief Twitter exchanges, but that is such a fast moving medium you need to attack it with military regularity.
For a writer Instagram is crazy! It’s a good place to show your likes and loves – mine being film – but its link-less architecture makes it a very niche platform, better suited to visual than written content. So how do you stand out in a sea of millions of web pages – some with cat videos, which for some unfathomable reason are popular – and great content? If you have the answer, please let me know in the comments. I promise I’ll engage.

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Love Of The Panther

The excitement is already building eight whole months before the film is due for release. A who’s who of this generations black stars in their ascendancy make up the cast. Chadwick Boseman, known better on the other side of the pond for his biopic roles, playing James Brown in Get On Up and, to the soccer loving U. K. audience at least, the little known of U. S. legend that was the baseball player Jackie Robinson in Forty-Two. Michael B. Jordan, who I first saw in the great little film Chronicle, but is better known for the wonderful Creed and the infamous, much maligned, Fantastic Four.
The luminous Lupita Nyong’o, magnificent in 12 Years A Slave. Forrest Whitaker, of far too many roles to list here, though most recently seen hamming it up in Rogue One, also feature. Angela Bassett, another veteran of many roles who will always be remembered for her portrayal of Tina Turner in What’s Love Got To Do With It? Daniel Kaluuya of Get Out fame also makes an appearance, as does Phylicia Rashad, who will forever be Claire Huxtable to a generation.
The film is, of course, Marvel’s Black Panther, king of the fictional African land, Wakanda, home to the most precious (fictitious) metal, vibranium. Directed by Ryan Coogler – Fruitvale Station, Creed – Marvel has gone black from top to bottom. Initial looks at the King of Wakanda are promising, with the first teaser trailer – actually a bit long for a teaser but no complaints here – landing on Friday night stateside and pushing comic book internet geeks into instant overdrive.
Created by two white, comic maestros, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, back in the mid-sixties, the writers showed the infamous lack of world geographical knowledge always levelled at Americans and invented Wakanda. Admittedly. It was over half a century ago and the internet was probably not even a thought for a then, short trousers wearing, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man who would bring about the worldwide web.
With so little to cheer about on this side of the pond when it comes to blacks in the media – even in the expected fields of my youth, song and dance, the positions now dominated by white artist – Black Panther is a big event for black people. Too often black people have had to, in terms of globally recognised films, look to slavery or hip hop and street gang films. The likes of Tyler Perry, a one-man media mogul stateside, might argue that his success is global, as would Lee Daniels no doubt, but America needs to remember it is not the whole world, even if they do hold the World Series! Though Tyler’s name would be known by most U. K. blacks, I do not think Daniels name carries the same weight.
Not since….ever, has a black film represented what Black Panther does; a black film, with a black director and cast, showing a black world. Barring a Hollywood shafting of Nate Parker proportions (they let Casey Affleck’s…ahem ‘aberration’ slide) or the film is Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four terrible, Black Panther will be a worldwide hit. With the recently released, woman-centric, Wonder Woman tracking great numbers globally and garnering the best reviews of any of the DCEU films so far, it will be interesting to see how Black Panther does in the already successful Marvel universe.
For Ryan Coogler this is a big film. The thirty-one-year-old director has shown himself to be a talented auteur – loved Creed! – and I sincerely hope that he does not suffer the fate of the aforementioned Trank or my favourite writer/director Joss Whedon, both of whom alluded to an uncomfortable amount of studio interference.
There is still a long way to go before its release, but I for one, cannot wait for Black Panther to hit the screens.

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