Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 105: The mother of invention

A friend and regular bloggee of this site, fighting wolves at the door, is having to forego internet usage for a short period, because of impecunious straits, familiar terrain for this writer.

I have always been of the belief, via my own experience, that there is no correlation between a cheque book and creativity. Early on in my filmmaking apprenticeship I made two or three short films with a Peckinpah/Kubrick/Lean mindset, where budget was no object, costumes and sets were unlimited and the results questionable. The most successful of the shorts, however, was made with a relatively meagre budget of $500, most of which went on post-production, it was a time when we had to go to an editing suite to finish the film (personal computer editing software was not widespread).

About the same time, I blew an horrendous amount of money on a stage production that turned into a disaster, on most fronts, and whilst it wasn’t necessarily lacking in creativity, I made the mistake of solving every problem that arose by throwing cash at whatever obstacle popped up. The story of that production, ‘Thyestes’, is worthy of a day’s writing and a campfire telling all of it’s own; I will, I promise, come back to it in the fullness of time to regail you with that disaster.

When funds are low, I cook with greater imagination, I read more, I write more, I waste less and, I think, I maybe have a little more humility that I am otherwise graced with. To wit:

In 1985, I scored a coveted position as a ‘suit’ at an advertising agency in London’s, Covent Garden; boy did I feel I’d arrived. It was a job bestowed on me through nepotism and a mentor who’d encouraged my talent through two previous companies where I’d been a salesman then a marketeer. I had no formal training in advertising and no real idea of what I was meant to be doing as an adman. Not to worry, the agency was at one end of Floral Street, on top of an historic inn - The Lamb & Flag - and at the other end of this famous thoroughfare was English clothes designer Paul Smith’s first outlet, his then flagship store, so solutions, I thought, to my problems were in abundance.

In readiness for my first day in the fashionable world of advertising, my best thinking had me head off to the Paul Smith end of Floral Street, credit card in hand wher I charged them to kit me out to look as though as knew what I was doing; Don Draper may look snazzy and hep in ‘Mad Men’ but I was at my sartorial best when I swanned, maybe sashayed, into that agency on Monday morning. Yes, I had no idea what I was doing, but hell, I looked damn fine.

Not one year later, an envelope had appeared on my desk with the briefest of fare-the-well letters inside, accompanied by a tax-free salary cheque covering me for the next three months. I’d never been able to muster the humility to actually say to someone “look, I know I might look like I know what I’m doing, but actually I haven’t got a clue, could you help me please?” but heck, I looked as fine a dandy as I left as when I first came through their doors.

Interestingly enough, these days, I am the lucky recipient of regular hand-me-downs from two friends who stayed on that advertising gravy train that I jumped off/was pushed from. One of these charitable donors has passed on unworn Ralph Lauren shirts, Levis jeans and the like, whilst the other....well, let me tell you.

In London’s Jermyn Street (tucked away in St. James’s, behind Piccadilly) lie a collection of bespoke shirtmakers, one of which is Turnbull & Asser, provider of shirts to Prince Charles (next in line to the throne of England.....that Prince Charles). My close of friend, of SW6, a goodly man whom I have know for just on 30 years, is also supplied in shirtwear buy the good tailors of Turnbull & Asser. Because said friend moves in a rare business stratosphere, he cannot afford to run his shirts into the ground; frayed collars or cuffs are not the done thing, which is great for me. Great for me, because Prince Charles and I now share the same shirt-maker (at least in name if not in person). The shirts no longer cutting the mustard for my CEO friend are handballed my way and I certainly wear those shirts until they are hanging together by threads. I have no qualms about being somewhat of a secondhand Rose, at least I know what I’m doing these days or if I don’t know, I try and find out what’s to be done from those around me.

Day #105 Tip: Ask and ye shall receive but ye shall have to decide
I have talked a lot and advised a-plenty about sharing work with others and getting opinions, especially at the last stage of the Story Outline (gleaned from the Index Cards). I have also offered thoughts and shared experience on receiving opinions and guidance from reader’s reports and coverage (an industry term for a screenplay response). However, there’s yet more.

I find myself in the lucky position of sometimes working on commissions, with producers, directors and script editors/consultants/doctors and that in itself opens up a whole other box belonging to Ms Pandora. Opinions and thoughts are often diverse, contradictory and everyone has an agenda; maybe a more positive way to put that, is that each of the practitioners that I get to collaborate with has a different angle or perspective from which they are approaching a response to the work.

I find that producers often have casting, number of locations (how many outdoors?!) marketability, target audience and the like, as a prism through which they consider the script. Directors are often more visual, thinking in terms of action & movement, colour, themes and again, casting. Both have great and indifferent contributions and thoughts to offer on story, but generally, that’s left to me and the script editor if, hopefully, there is one.

The Script Editor becomes the screenwriters best friend, sometimes the second in your corner, often your confidante and definitely an advisor. There is no one, exhaustive job description for the role of Script Editor, at least not that I’ve come across. Picking one to work with is tricky too. I’ve watched plenty of films with under-prepared scripts and wondered whether the filmamkers had listened to the script editor or whether the script editor had given them a bum steer?

What am I counselling here? Advice comes thick and fast, demands too. Precarious waters to negotiate; as you steer onward, follow that true north of your compass.....and make sure that you look good!

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