Saturday, 27 February 2010

As versatile as an egg?

My writing website says I'm a screenwriter. This was an attempt to focus both myself, and anyone visiting, exactly where I wanted to work. Fair enough, but was this a wise move?

The reason I'm thinking about this right now is because of what two professional screenwriters, quite independently, have recently said to me.

Each of these guys is responsible for works of fiction that are not limited to writing scripts. One ghost-writes a sports column for a newspaper, has written a novel, and is responsible for being one of a team of screenwriters for a Hollywood movie, albeit one made in the UK.

The other one, as well as being a prolific writer for such dramas as Brookside and Casualty, has written a number of plays that have toured around the country. He also writes prose fiction because, he says, wanting to write is all about wanting to tell a story. Both these writers have, strangely enough, also written plays for education. This is what I have been telling people for years – we want to tell stories!

There seems little point in reducing our potential marketplace, so I'm going to alter my site to "Writer" and keep my options open.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Three books

Here are 3 books I've recently read:

  • Falling Angels – Tracy Chevalier
  • Ordinary Thunderstorms – William Boyd
  • The Winter Ghosts – Kate Mosse

Each one combines situation and characters to make such engaging stories that, in all three instances, I never once looked at the page numbers to check my progression. I was so engrossed. Each of them would make an excellent screen drama.

Tracy Chevalier – well, it is largely because of her that I am doing an MA in writing. Just because she has been so successful, having achieved a similar MA, doesn't guarantee success for all the other MA students, of course. But I see the MA as providing an opportunity for rubbing shoulders with industry professionals, getting my work critiqued by others that don't feel obligated to shower undeserved compliments, and also to fill in knowledge gaps, both academic and practical. Until the course begins to pay for itself I'm a good few thousand quid down – but I've made some good friends and met some amazing people.

So thank you, Tracy, for pointing the way forward.

Both William Boyd and Kate Mosse were interviewed in ShyArts' The Book Show, about which I will write later. That TV programme has certainly sold some books to this household.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

A winter draft

At last the UCF portfolio for February has been completed, printed, bound and posted. Working on it has been a bit like running a marathon: tense, engrossed, pacing the emotions, alert to the slightest alien mark on the paper. Is everything included? Are all the page numbers in order? Will both copies fit in one envelope? Will the package be too big for Royal Mail? Is this my better side...?

It's not like having won the marathon; it has yet to be marked and yet the adrenaline is still flowing. What do I do next? What further project can occupy me so intensely? Will I go mad if I can't find something – anything – else?

I sit and watch television, but the only thing playing are scenes from my script and odd fragments from the accompanying critical rationale. This is the worst that can happen: I don't want to see my mistakes floating before me uninvited; the damned thing's gone, now, and it's too late to put it right. If it's wrong, then tough!

I know what's happening – and I know I had better get used to it.

And then the words of Blake Snyder come to me, "it is what it is", and I realise it's time to leave that story alone: don't think about it; pretend it belongs to someone else.

Now it's time to sit back, relax and make up for all those weeks sweating over the (unmentionable) story. But within five minutes another idea is taking shape...

Saturday, 6 February 2010

The write place to try

A mandatory component of my degree course is the preparation of an industry analysis. This is to gain some insight into the writing industry and working practices. Fair enough; it seems like a useful activity that should provide worthwhile experience and contacts.

But is life ever so simple?

There is a shortage of writers. Why? A growing number of television channels, soaps (or serialised dramas) that run into five episodes a week, long-running dramas such as New Tricks, Spooks and Silent Witness that all need new ideas, and all the new productions needing scripts means that scriptwriters are in huge demand in this growing industry.

So why is it so damned difficult to get to speak with TV writers?

I mean no disrespect to the very market I want to enter, but why is it that certain "soaps" are so cagey about "future storylines" that to enter their offices requires security clearance so strict that it puts to shame the typical CRB check that would licence you to work with children? And I've lost count of the number of stamped self-addressed envelopes I've sent off, none of which were returned, and having producers' assistants setting hurdles for me to jump whilst they do a runner in the opposite direction.

And then, just as I'm about to pack in the degree and save a year's university fees – after all, no industry analysis means no pass – I find one particular writer who has no problem speaking with new people.

He writes for a serialised drama (amongst other things), his attitude is welcoming and I see that his ideas are imaginative and diverse. In fact, his whole attitude is refreshing.

How did I find him? A contact through my son. Simple. Why didn't I think of that in the first place?

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Internet Movie Data Backlog

For over twelve years I have been using the Internet Movie Database (Imdb) as a source of information regarding films (or "movies", if you're American) and their writers, actors, directors, etc. I suppose many of us do take advantage of this highly useful resource. It has loads of amazing features including the listing of actors whose names did not appear on the credits, so at least the site gives the aggrieved and those who desire attention to detail some satisfaction. There's also information about filming locations.

In fact, if you consider just how many films and television programmes have been made over the better part of 100 years, and add the number of actors and technicians, and then consider that each one requires a separate webpage, and then add another one for pertinent trivia, plot summary, full synopsis... that is a lot of web pages and one hell of a ginormous database.

And there's always a "but"... is flawed with inaccuracies that, at times, can cause severe grinding of the teeth. This is because it relies on ordinary people (me, you) to submit information and, whilst Imdb hangs on to the new data for a few days, supposedly getting it checked, the good stuff can end up growing whiskers in the backlog and, inevitably (because ordinary people are not always the best source of information), stuff that isn't factually correct can actuallyget posted. In my experience, by the time you have gone through the rigmarole of freely giving data, by the time it has been – and in some cases not – posted, you have lost interest and moved on.

Since 1998 the database has been owned by Amazon and, when one considers the size of that company and the fact that it uses Imdb as a tool to further its own sales (and who can blame it?), it makes me wonder why the vetting system is so slow and so defective.

And then it expects industry "professionals" and committed film fans to fork out $12.95 per month for even more errors. No, thanks; there are other places to get this information.