Thursday, September 30, 2010

Day 174: "Every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven"

On 5th April 1994, three months before his death from pancreatic cancer (with secondary cancers in the liver), television dramatist, Dennis Potter, gave a TV interview with Melvyn Bragg on Britain’s Channel 4. He knew at the time that he was dying and the interview is punctuated with Potter sipping from a small flask of liquid morphine, enjoying champagne and smoking his favoured cigarettes.

Dennis Potter’s television work was distinctive and seminal, using the non-naturalistic devices of characters lip-synching to songs, having adult actors play children, characters addressing the camera (speaking through the fourth wall) and more. These techniques became the trademarks of his famous television series Blue Remembered Hills, Pennies From Heaven, Lipstick On Your Collar and the his most well-known and loved of pieces, The Singing Detective,

The Singing Detective went to air on BBC in the UK, in 1986 and was most people’s introduction to the actor that is Michael Gambon (The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Gosford Park), making him a household name, but maybe not known in as many households as his is now, for playing the part of Albus Dumbledore in the wizardry that is Harrypotterworld. The Singing Detective suffered a ghastly film remake - featuring Robert Downey Jnr and Mel Gibson - in 2003. Maybe my thinking on the remake is coloured by my affection for Dennis Potter and the original, but I know that I’m not alone; enjoying a mixed reception, the film was called “an interesting failure” by one critic.

But then, the original television series in the UK was by no means a phenomenal hit, rather it was for an acquired taste, even an eccentric palate, however it was influential. So to was it's predecessor Pennies From Heaven (1978), the first of his several television series, in which this time, we met Bob Hoskins (The Long Good Friday, Mona Lisa), as the protagonist, Arthur Parker, a role that was to make his name.

It was this stylistic choice in Dennis Potter’s work, of characters suddenly breaking into song, that made his work instantly recognisable, but not singing in the way that characters do in traditional musicals; in this style of his, characters would lip-synch to the original recording, a style that has since been much imitated on television and in TV commercials.

He followed-up The Singing Detective with Lipstick On Your Collar (1993), the first major role for another acting talent who has endured, Ewan McGregor. It’s unofficially thought of by many, as the third in the trilogy of works that Dennis Potter began with Pennies From Heaven and The Singing Detective.

Potter wrote much; as well as the television work, there were stage plays, novels, journalist works and film scripts - Gorky Park (1983) and his own film Brimstone and Treacle. However, Dennis Potter is also well-remembered for his thoughts on the media and notably, his verbal “attacks” on mogul Rupert Murdoch. At the beginning of an half-hour television piece called Opinions (broadcast on Ch 4 in 1993) Potter opened with this: “I’m going to get down there in the gutter where so many journalists crawl... what I’m about to do is make a provenly vindictive and extremely powerful enemy...the enemy in question is that drivel-merchant, global huckster and so-to-speak media psychopath, Rupert Murdoch...Hannibal the Cannibal...”

Journalist Craig Brown, writing in the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times described this performance of Potter's thus: “ many ways it felt like being collared by a mad man on the Tube. Filmed disturbingly close to camera, seemingly ad-libbing the entire half hour, now mumbling, now rasping. Potter somehow managed to cut through the vacuum that on television usually separates viewer from viewee. This made the performance extraordinary.”

And that was the hallmark of Dennis Potter’s work, the ability to “cut-through” on an increasingly mind-numbing medium.

In that final interview with Melvyn Bragg, Dennis Potter revealed that he had named his cancer, “Rupert”, adding “ can we have a mature democracy when newspapers and television, where there’s standard television, cable television is beginning to be so interlaced in ownership terms? Where are our freedoms to be guaranteed? Who is going to guarantee them? Look at the power Murdoch has....”

Benign or benevolent dicatorship (however well-meant) worries me. I have a great sense of unease over the rich and powerful holding undue sway and influence. It concerns me that previous Prime Ministers of the country in which I live, oft supped with Rupert Murdoch and that other late media-mogul, Kerry Packer, and it worries me greatly that on a television programme last night - a programme that astutely analyses the world of advertising - one of the commentators said what I have often thought: Oprah’s “hand of approval” on Barrack Obama’s shoulder “probably got him the Presidency”.

Day #174 Tip: Tell the truth
Let me turn to my barometer on all such screenwriting things, that is McKee: “...given story’s power to influence, we need to look at the issue of an artist’s social responsibility. I believe we have no responsibility to cure social ills or renew faith in humanity, to uplift the spirits of society or even express our inner being.We only have one responsibility: to tell the truth....for although and artist may, in his private life, lie to others, even to himself, when he creates he tells the truth; and in a world of lies and liars, an honest work of art is always an act of social responsibility.”

“They” say that on the day of the revolution, whatever that might be and whenever that might come, we writers will be the first to be lined up against the wall, because writers are to be silenced. For “silenced” read “shot”!

Maybe I’ve drifted back to my feisty, late teenage years, when I listened to The Clash and Billy Bragg, that same period in the 1970’s when an emerging Dennis Potter was in full-flight? Maybe I’m romanticising the whole notion of speaking one’s truth and being a writer; forgive me, beneath my imperial British exterior, I have some long-lost French ancestry that rears it’s head de temps en temps.

Power to the people, power to the late Dennis Potter.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Day 173: “Come on with the rain, I’ve a smile on my face”

“What’s your favourite film?” I get asked this question all the time. If a friend is close by, they’ll often answer for me: "Chinatown". Often, the person who enquired will then say “never heard of it.”

Australian Film critic David Stratton’s favourite film is Singin’ In The Rain (1952), a glorious film that he watches twice a year; I have often wondered to myself why he does that? It’s a bizarre thought, given that I watch Chinatown a couple of times a year. One of my rituals, on completing the six-month journey of writing a screenplay, is to watch this favourite film of mine (which I will talk about before we’re done here on the Blog) as a treat, a reward, maybe even a reminder.....of what? To remind myself that great screenplays can be written.

It’s shocking to admit, but when I’ve completed the journey of six or seven months, or however long it takes to write a screenplay, and type those final words FADE TO BLACK, END, my first thought is always “well, that’s a piece of s**t”. Actually, that’s no longer true, it USED to be my first thought, I’ve progressed. Whilst I’m not yet at the “what a brilliant piece of work that is” stage, at least I’ve reigned in my self-deprecatory judgement and the harsh critic that wanders lonely as a thunder cloud around my head. My head’s a dangerous neighbourhood and I shouldn’t go in there alone, because there won’t be too much singing in the rain for me, let me tell you.

My head is now pretty neutral at journey’s end of a script. I’ve always had other people who are waiting to receive the draft, either a producer and/or director, and I whizz it off through cyberspace and let them decide what they want to decide, me, I stay out of things whilst the jury has retired to consider it’s verdict and here’s a newsflash: that considering can take a very long time.

By and large, I’m a pretty quick reader of scripts. On the other hand, if you pay me to give you feedback I’ll tell you honestly when I’ll get back to you, which is generally no longer than two weeks, during which, I’ll read the script three times: the first time I’ll read it through in one sitting, resisting the urge to make any notes whatsoever, I just want to read the piece in it’s totality and get a feel for the arc and trajectory of the story. I’ll leave it a couple of days before my second read, but this time I’m stopping and starting to make initial notes and jot down thoughts. At the back end of the two weeks, I’ll read it a third time, to try and write a synopsis of the story, so that then I’m really clear on what’s written and to make sure that I haven’t missed anything.

Handing out scripts to friends and colleagues (unpaid) is, in my general experience, an entirely different thing altogether. Days, weeks, months can go by and I might not hear a thing; sometimes it never gets read. On one particular occasion, I was badgered by someone to let them read a draft of one of my pieces and, I reluctantly caved in and handed over a hard copy in person (I should have listened to my intuition) only for them to say, six months later, “when are you going to let me read that script of yours?” Luckily for me, and that friend, I’m past the point where I hold that against them: I’ve become a little more judicious about who I give my scripts to, and, if I choose to do so, I hand it out with NO expectations.

Day #173 Tip: Thou shalt think long & hard about who you give your script to
Asking someone to read 90-110 pages of a screenplay is a big request. I’m used to the form of the film script and can knock one over in two to two and a half hours; good, bad, weird, crazy, brilliant or indifferent. I’m used to reading between the lines of what is and isn’t on the page and I love reading screenplays, for me they don’t sit like a leaden lump next to my bed, I devour them.

My advice, based on experience, is this: think long and hard about who you’re giving your script to, give a great deal of thought about what response you’re looking for and whether the person is capable of giving it to you. If it’s a professional and a they’re doing you a favour, then when you have handed it over, you lose all rights to expectations, so, again, think LONG and HARD. Alternatively, offer CASH. If you’re sending it out, unsolicited, to a producer, agent, director, actor or studio, think twice before you embark on this MADNESS. If you’re giving it to a friend who “likes films”, deeply consider and meditate on this action before you set sail on this voyage of INSANITY; it’s akin to sending your baby out, naked, into the world, to knock on the doors of strangers to ask “do you like me”, if and when the doors are opened.

But the paradox is this: you must get your screenplay out there, if you want to get it made. Between the devil and the deep blue sea we are, indeed, caught. When you’re finished your script, when you’re done, just press the ‘pause’ button of your life, put on your favourite film and have a think before you act.

Or, if Gene Kelly is your choice, have a song and a dance, whilst mulling things over. In my case, I lieback on the sofa and mumble that favourite mantra to myself “Forget it, Jake - it’s Chinatown.”

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Day 172: Apu

Eating some of my favourite homemade dahl (see a previous blog in the archives for the recipe), with a little broccoli and a touch of mango chutney, whilst listening to a selection of soundtrack pieces from the movies of Indian director Satyajit Ray, I was immediately wafted back, on gentle winds, to my experience of the Ray’s The Apu Trilogy.

The Apu Trilogy (1955-59) consists of three Bengali films - Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road), Aparajito (The Unvanquished) and Apu Sansar (The World of Apu) - made on a shoestring budget by lauded Indian director Satyajit Ray, they are considered, collectively, as one of cinema’s greatest trilogies ever made; not Star Wars, Indiana Jones or Herbie the Love Bug. I saw the three as part of the Sydney Film Festival’s retrospective programme some ten years ago now. Look, I have to be honest and say that I struggled with the first of the films which deals with Apu’s childhod in rural Bengal, but at the end of that first film, thankfully, Apu leaves the family hut for the holy city of Benares, making, in my humble opinion, for a better second and third film.

Film magazines, critics and cognoscenti rave about the Apu Trilogy, as they do the films of Hungarian director Béla Tarr, whose latest offering of the time - The Werckmeister Harmonies - was in the same festival line-up.

The Werckmeister Harmonies was, for me, an almost impenetrable film. Let me quote from another source: “Shot in black and white and composed of only thirty-nine languidly placed shots, the film describes the aimlessness and anomie (personal feeling of lack of social norms) of a small town on the Hungarian plain that falls under the influence of a sinister traveling circus lugging the immense body of a whale in its tow. A young man named Janos tries to keep order in the increasingly restless town even as he begins to lose his faith in the world.”

I could go on and tell me more, but truth is that I feel I’m catapulting myself back to that cinema ten years ago when, for 145 minutes (two and half hours that I won't get back), I had no idea what was going on, from one of those 145 minutes to the next? Yet, the film was a darling of the festival circuit??!!

I must own up and confess here that, whilst I love attending film festivals (if I have the money and time) I increasingly find myself squirming in my seat, restless and agitated at often, what I think of as two hours of “pretty pictures‘ edited together or composed to make what’s then referred to as a “feature film”; a feature film that in all probability will never see the light of day beyond the festival circuit.

I have a suspicion that many films are made or first dreamt of, that never aspire to a general release, knowing that, if lucky, the film can live and breathe, hopping from festival to festival to festival. Who am I to say that’s wrong, who am I to say that all films should have a commercial rather than cultural or artistic imperative? Indeed, I have sat through some magnificent crud at film festivals, just as I have similarly watched some diabolical efforts at my local cinema that should never have got a release. A plague on both their houses.

Just because a film is in a film festival, doesn’t mean that it’s “good”. Like my mini-discussion about the false economy that is the French film industry (two days ago), so I often think that some festival films can be accused of living in a protected environment where they are showered with accolades, awards and plaudits beyond their actual “ability” (if that’s the right word).

Day #172 Tip: Know what you want to make
I have a very clear explanation, to people, of the type of films that I want to write.

At one end of the film-making spectrum (imagine a protractor or semi-circle) you have the art-for-art’s sake film that maybe I’m alluding to, which if released, might play to an empty, darkened cinema, whilst one hundred and eighty degrees away, there is the third or fourth film in whatever the latest gangbusters “Hollywood” “franchise” or abhorrently vile “horror” brand of film is, either of which has had the worthwhile filmic air sucked out of it. Well, plum in the middle of that arc, at about the eighty to one hundred and ten degree mark are the films I aspire to watch and write.

For me, they are the are or were the films of the last golden age of cinema, which was the late 1960’s and the early 1970”s; a time that predates the multiplex. This was when most towns had one cinema and showed the one film and everyone queued up for that one film and tried to, or not to, catch the whisperings of the audience that came out of the screening before: "was it any good?"

These were films that won awards, made their mark at the box office and were hits with critics and audiences alike, from The Graduate, Butch Cassidy, The Way We Were, The Godfather, and Dirty Harry to Jaws, The Exorcist, Love Story, 2001: A Space Odyssey and American Graffiti.

By and large, I’m a three-act, beginning, middle and end, kinda guy; maybe I could be accused of being overly nostalgic and wistful about the past, especially in regards to the cinema? I have no truck with that, you’ll get no argument from me. Film is a broad church, there is room in the congregation for Bratz: the Movie and The Werckmeister Harmonies alike, but I think it helps to know which side of the aisle you’re standing on, NOT, I hasten to add, to TAKE sides or draw up battle lines, but just to work out from which part of the church you like the view best, so that you know where you are with your work. Believe me, it helps.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Day 172: Move over "wolf of Wall Street"

Tess McGill is one of the many commuters who make the daily Staten Island Ferry trip to their routine office job in Manhattan, in Tess’s case, like so many other of the other young women, as a secretary. Only, Tess is different in that she uses her ferry time to research financial and business opportunities in the daily paper, as Tess wants out of the typing pool and into an executive position, that’s why she’s just recently earned a business degree by attending college at night. But Tess has luck on her side, as her successful, formidable and ruthless boss, the financial executive, Katherine Parker, agrees to help Tess and will look over any potentially good ideas that her secretary has.

However, when Katherine breaks her leg on a skiing trip and is unable to return to New York, Tess discovers that Katherine has been duping her and is about to pass off one of Tess’s ideas as her own. In her boss’s absence, Tess wastes no time in using the opportunity to pose as Katherine and run the idea past executive, Jack Trainer, who is working on the deal. Tess and Jack immediately fall for each other, but Tess soon learns that the situation is both professionally and personally complicated, as Jack is Katherine’s boyfriend.

So, the pieces of plot are carefully arranged in the blend of Romantic Comedy and Comedy of Disguise that is Working Girl. This 1988 film that starred Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford and (famously) Sigourney Weaver, in a delicious performance as Kathereine Parker, was a winner on all fronts: box office (it took $103 million [and that was twenty-two years ago]) so audiences obviously loved it, the critics went for it (the respected Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said “The plot of Working Girl is put together like clockwork. It carries you along while you’re watching it, but reconstruct it later and you’ll see the craftsmanship"), and it garnered a sackful of awards and nominations for the three lead actors, for supporting actress Joan Cusack, for director Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Silkwood, Heartburn) and for Carly Simons anthemic song ‘Let the Rivers Run’.

But Working Girl is more than just the mix of two comedy sub-genres; Tess’s journey is heroic and transformational. Her rise and battle to escape everything that is her and so many other women’s lot, using her guile, tenacity and hard work, is the stuff of a rebirth plot and a her eventual triumph, over the monumental opposition inherent within the man’s world of the New York financial market (in which Sigourney Weaver’s Katherine is more-than-equipped to play like, and with, the boys, however dirty she has to get) is inspiring.

In the climactic moments of this great film, Tess finally manages to lay all asunder before her and win the day, so exposing the wretched Katherine in the process and winning Jack’s loyalty (his heart and body were hers from the get-go) and we are left with the sweetest of coda’s:

Tess and Jack have moved in together and Jack has prepared a lunchbox for Tess on this first day of her new job at Trask Industries. When Tess arrives at the office, she sees a woman on the phone and the dutiful Tess hangs up her jacket in the cubicle opposite the woman’s office; Tess knows her place in this familiar world. When the woman gets off th phone and introduces herself, Tess asks how she takes her coffee? The woman is nonplussed and embarrassed, after all, she is the secretary and Tess is the boss, she had just been caught out, on her boss’s phone, in her boss’s office. A stunned Tess McGill, takes in what is HER office and the view over downtown, then insists that her new secretary treat her as a colleague rather than a superior, after which Tess calls her friend Cyn, back in the typing pool to say “guess where I am”. Tess’s journey is complete.

Day #172 Tip: “Return with the Elixir”
Yesterday, I talked about the Resolution as the fifth stage of the five-part screenplay structure, the “tying of the bow on the giftwrapped present” that is the script.

In Christopher Vogler’s great book ‘The Writer’s Journey’ (based on mythologist Joseph Campbell’s work), the twelfth and final stage of the 12-part journey, is the “hero returning to the Ordinary World” but, and there’s always a but, “the journey is meaningless unless she brings back some Elixir, treasure or lesson from the Special World”.

What Tess brings back to the “ordinary” world which she is from - the very literal "typing pool" of life, where women of her kind are maltreated both professionally and personally - is hope and proof of a way out. Even though it strikes me that the script was written with more than a little sexist ink (and that’s over two decades on), nevertheless, Tess has definitely broken through that glass ceiling and this is is her “return with the gold”.

Just watch that last shot, panning out from Tess’s high-rise, office window in downtown Manhattan, underscored by Carly Simon’s Grammy and Oscar Award-winning song and tell me if that’s not a victory and an accomplishment; not just for women, but for everyone who's trying.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Day 171: Fidelité

A middle-class, married woman - Connie - from the suburbs of New York City, embarks on a passionate sexual affair with a younger, Frenchman - Paul - that she randomly encounters on the streets of Manhattan. Unbeknownst to Connie, her husband - Edward - discovers the adultery and goes to the young man’s loft apartment to confront her lover. In a fit of unpremeditated rage Edward kills the young man and then disposes of his body. Paul’s corpse is eventually found and then, Connie’s phone number - hastily scribbled down at the young man’s apartment - leads police detectives to her family home. Connie is distraught on learning of the death of her lover, but cannot display her distress in front of her husband (for she has no reason to believe he knows what has taken place, nor dare he find out). She has to lie about knowing the dead, young man and her husband backs up her alibi, in turn, lying to protect his wife. Connie wonders why her husband takes this out-of-character, and illegal, action (for he is a lawyer) and soon unearths clues that piece together the story she knew nothing about, realising that her husband killed her lover. Now they share each other’s dark confidence. Edward offers to turn himself in but Connie rejects this idea, telling him that they will “get through this crisis together”. The pair decide to keep their respective secrets and move on with their lives. Later, Edward and Connie are in the car and find themselves, inert, at traffic lights that change from red to green and back again; this happens several times, as it’s revealed that they are outside a police station.

This is the short synopsis for the remake of Unfaithful (2002), directed by Adrian Lyne (Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal), starring Diane Lane and Richard Gere. The script was adapted from the original La Femme Infidèle (1968) by that French master of the erotic drama, the late Claude Chabrol, and starred his wife, Stéphane Audran. Chabrol, who died just over a week ago, at the age of 80, was a member of the “nouvelle vague”, the French New Wave, along with his contemporaries Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Éric Rohmer and Jaques Rivette.

I’d really love to go into a debate and discussion here about the French film industry, and in particular, the funding of French film; did you know that a percentage of EVERY cinema ticket sale in France goes into a kitty, along with money from the national TV networks and government funding, to ensure that French language films survive? For if the French do not make films in their own tongue, who else will (save the Canadians and a few French-speaking colonies)? A staggering 200-250 feature films were made in France last year, and yet interestingly, an ongoing debate is gathering airspace and column inches as to whether this serves French filmmakers (and audiences) well or not? The argument goes something like this: ensuring that French film and the French film industry always remains alive and vibrant, guaranteeing a cinematic platform for French culture, and employment for local artistes is a great thing, but, does the “unearned” financial support cosset the French filmmakers and protect them from the vicissitudes of global tastes and commercial vagaries, leaving them in an artificial film vacuum, a filmic arena that whilst being highly individual is out of kilter with (maybe detrimentally so) with other parts of the film world?

Day #171 Tip: Tie a ribbon on your story
But, back to Unfaithful. That final moment at the traffic lights, is the fifth of the five-part story structure (offered by Mckee and other writing scholars), the Resolution or what the French call the dénouement: “...the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved.” McKee offers that “a film needs what the theatre calls a ‘slow curtain’", even if it is open-ended.

The Resolution (or Denouement) can be an opportunity to tie up the loose ends of any incomplete subplots or, as Mr M suggests, “a second use of the Resolution is to show the spread of climactic effects”, after story’s “end”.

I think that this final “slow curtain” of Unfaithful (possibly a tad heavy-handed?), shows us the spread of the climactic events of Connie & Edward’s story, in that here is a husband and wife who both claim have acted out of “love” (even though misguided?) and now, in the spirit of love and commitment (they have a young son), are prepared to move forward with their lives, albeit in a covenant of guilt. But as the changing traffic lights show, for human beings to attempt that, might not be possible and maybe akin to only existing in some sort of living limbo, which I think, is a place called purgatory.

The things we do for l’amour.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Day 170: “...I really don’t know life at all....”

HARRY: What is this we’re listening to?
KAREN: Joni Mitchell.
HARRY: I can’t believe you still listen to Joni Mitchell.
KAREN: I love her and true love lasts a lifetime. Joni Mitchell is the woman who taught your cold English wife how to feel.
HARRY: Did she? Oh, well, that’s good. I must write to her someday and say thanks.

That’s a vignette between two of the UK’s finest acting talents, Emma Thompson (Karen) and Alan Rickman (Harry), from the uneven Richard Curtis film, Love Actually (see blog from the archives date 25 April).

I don’t know many male friends who have Joni Mitchell albums in their CD collection (apart from my bricklaying friend Pete), but most of the women that I know have Blue and/or one or two others. My anima (and Pete’s for that matter), must be more prevalent or “higher” than that of your average bloke, I guess, for I owned copies of The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975) and Hejira (1976), when I was 17 going on 18. The “anima”, by the way, was Carl Jung’s term for the feminine part of a man’s personality; the part of the psyche that Swiss psychologist Jung felt is directed inward and is in touch with the subconscious.

In Love Actually, Richard Curtis continues the Joni Mitchell theme and uses an orchestrated version of Both Sides Now, to moving effect, in a scene which finds Emma Thompson’s Karen character, cruelly duped by her husband, the carpet of life pulled from under her feet. It’s a film moment that I would swap for nought, as heavy-handed as I could label it. This small moment of screen time touches me so, that I would protect it to the death from that side of my film brain that screams out “it’s all wrong”!!

The film was made in 2003 and so, twenty-seven years after my last brush with Joni, she was able to pick up where I’d left off and begin my “emotional education” once more; Joni harbours no animosity because of my absence. The play count on my laptop’s iTunes, tells me that I’ve played this purchased version of Both Sides Now, 78 times, a similar orchestrated version of A Case of You, 47 times; Amelia clocks in with a respectable total of 31 nudges and the Diana Krall version of 'A Case of You' (from her Live in Paris disc) has hit a healthy 40 plays, which I think is inaccurate because I’ve listened to it countless more times than that.

So there you have it, Joni has dibs on a musical and emotional part of my heart and always will have; in my little fantasy world I would marry her off to Nick Drake and have them give birth to a love child that would sing the early works of Elton John: Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters and Tiny Dancer.

So man-up my fellow man and admit, that like me, you are just as smitten, just as bitten, by the strains of Joni songs that are there for you, in those reflective emotional moments of your life.

Day #170 Tip: Listen to Joni
It may seem like not much of tip but believe me, it is; in fact, if truth be known, it’s probably better than the 169 other snippets of advice that I’ve offered up: go to the iTunes store, shell out your $2.19 and buy the version of Both Sides Now, from the album of the same name and listen to her.

You tell me something else that you can buy, so inexpensive, that will give and give and give and give and give, asking nothing of you, that will last a lifetime?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Day 169: Chocks away!

Ten years ago, in 2000, I was invited to accompany a friend to the premiere of the Australian movie My Mother Frank, a film that starred Sam Neil and Sinéad Cusack. At the opening night party that followed, I found myself abandoned by said friend, temporarily, and noticed an elderly woman nearby, in the same boat. Being the courteous young man that I am, I sidled up to the woman, recognising her as an actress who had played a small part in the film, and engaged her in conversation. What I’m about to tell you is exactly as I recall it.

I complimented the woman (who I guessed must have been in her seventies) on her role in the film and enquired politely, about other pieces that I might have seen her in. The actress in question mentioned a couple of things that I hadn’t heard of and then, cursorily dropped the tiniest of devices into the conversation that exploded the dialogue, for me. The woman mentioned - as she distractedly glanced around the the film people that surrounded us animatedly working the room - that she had had a small part in a film called The Dambusters. I think I nearly spat out the nineteenth morsel of sushi that I was enjoying.

I’m of the generation of Englishmen, that was raised in the 1960’s on black & white Sunday afternoon movies (on TV) that depict with great pomp, fanfare and Britishness, just exactly how we won The War; films like Reach for the Sky, 633 Squadron and In Which We Serve. The Dambusters was a veritable jewel in the crown of these heroic tales.

The Dambusters, made in 1955, tells of the RAF’s 617 Squadron and it’s bombing of the Ruhr dams (the Möhner, Eder and Sorpe, in industrial Germany), using the prototytpe “bouncing bomb” developed by scientist/engineer/inventor, Barnes Wallis. In the film, (Sir) Michael Redgrave plays the affable and retiring Barnes, whilst the devilishly handsome Richard Todd, channels Wing Commander Guy Gibson. The first two thirds of the film detail the never-say-die spirit of Wallis and Gibson to develop the “bouncing bombs”, when all others had given up on Wallis’s fanciful and far-fetched idea. The final stanza of the movie deals with the “never say die” courage of the young men of the Royal Air Force, who in their Lancaster bombers, flew a great distance into enemy territory to deliver their payloads.

The Dambusters is part of my DNA, as it is for probably any male of my vintage and of my homeland, and here I stood with an actress that had actually been a part of that iconic film. Not only that, as quickly as my newfound friend had “thrown away” this titbit of information, I was already scanning the film in my mind and could only come with one “speaking” female part of any real significance....that of Barnes Wallis’s wife. I almost stammered the words out to her and, she turned to me with a beady eye and smiled. I was tempted to climb onto a chair and call for attention, wanting to silence the whole room, to stop them from clamouring around the new young talents of the day and draw attention to the filmic greatness that was among us. Before I could perform such an action, my friend told me that it was time for her to go, she thanked me for the conversation, grateful that I’d rescued her and thanked me for the praise I’d given her. She shook my hand and was off into the night.

When I contemplated writing this piece this morning and the themes that I wanted to explore, I recalled those events of ten years ago and how I’ve dined off that serendipitous meeting, from time-to-time, and thought that I’d best research my facts and find the actress’s name for this article. Here’s what I discovered: the part of Mrs. Molly Wallis was played by Ursula Jeans, who died in 1973. Who had I been talking to?

Day #169 Tip: Never abandon your script
Somewhere in the writing of the screenplay proper, after five months of hard work have gone into the preparation, I get to a point where it all seems to difficult and I want to throw the whole thing up in the air and run away. It usually takes a phone call to someone who knows me well, to remind me that this is not an option, that I’m not playing Monopoly now (and losing) and that I owe it to myself and whoever I’m working with (paid or unpaid) to complete the task.

The Dambusters is inspiring for many reasons, not least of all, to me, for Barnes Wallis’s refusal to give up and give in, even when others were writing him off as a “crackpot”. Jimmy Stewart’s boffin’ish engineer character faces a similar test in the film, No Highway in the Sky (Nevil Shute wrote the original novel that has James Stewart’s character all chewed up about metal fatigue, and planes falling out of the sky, and everyone else concerned that Jimmy S’s character is going bonkers).

Half a mile from the finishing line is a place for “creative u-turns” (a phrase coined by Julia Cameron); that’s the time when I must remind myself of Barnes’s Wallis’s tenacity and self-belief.

I must add a coda to this piece. I was a different person ten years ago and not always “in command of my faculties” at such events; it could be that the actress in question told me that she was the housemaid (if there is one) in the Wallis household in the film??!! My retelling of the conversation of that night could be completely unreliable, and I hate to think that I have may have sullied an otherwise impeccable professional reputation because of the mists and fumes of time and because I “got it all wrong”.

Whether this is so or not, perhaps I’ll never know. It’s a great film, and anyway I look at it, it’s a fond recollection.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Day 168: Danse macabre

Around the desk at which I work, are piles and piles of folders, notes, clippings and sheets; some of film projects that I’m working on, many others of cinematic progeny that I’ve yet to send to school. On this computer, I have folder and file upon folder and file, containing more abandoned creative offspring, left to become something one day, maybe go nowhere or be there when a file attracts my attention and, like an old box in a store cupboard, I open it to find one or two little trinkets and baubles inside.

Here’s the contents of one such “untitled” file that I stumbled across today:

“An old man and his daughter quietly about on the River in a small wooden
boat at night in the fog. They pull a sodden body from the water. The old man
takes any untraceable valuables that are found on the body: cash and jewellery
and then delivers the cadaver to the back door of an old-fashioned Funeral Parlour.
The body is then picked up and taken to another place where the stomach
is sliced open and bags of drugs are extracted. From here the body is removed
to a further place where the organs are taken. The body is then disposed of”.

I then wrote “Red Chinese firecrackers. Green poison. Gunther Von Hagens”.

A grusome little piece, I grant you. Suitably Victorian Gothic, both grotesque and yet exotic, words that remind me of the typical clues given to Sherlock Holmes at the outset of an enquiry that would see he and the trusted Watson a-foot through wispy lanes in London’s Spitalfields or dashing to Paddington Station to catch the 4.50 to somewhere on Dartmoor, once the great Holmes has realised that another life is in peril and only he can stop the murderer.

In my mind, I see Watson deferring to his intellectual friend, asking “who is Gunther von Hagens?”

Let me handle this one. Gunter von Hagens is a 65 year-old German anatomist, famous or infamous, for his invention of a technique used to preserve biological tissue specimens (and bodies) called ‘plasticination’.

In 2002, when I was back home for the first time in a long time, Prof von Hagens performed the first public autopsy in the UK for 170 years to a sell-out crowd” at London’s Atlantis (art) gallery. The procedure was relayed to the 500 on giant screens within the East End location, whilst 200 more disappointed hopefuls, stood outside in the rain, having turned up on the off chance that they might spring a ticket; the unsatisfied waiting list for seat was more than 1,000.

Professor von Hagen defied warnings from Scotland Yard, HM Inspector of Anatomy and a vast hue & cry from affronted members of England’s decent, yet “outraged” middle class.

“After opening the corpse’s chest, Prof von Hagens stuck his hand in deep and with the help of a colleague, pulled out a huge portion of innards. He declared, ‘I have liberated the lungs and the heart’. Many of the audience covered their mouths and noses as the stench from the body filled the auditorium.”

A year of two later, aptly, in the East End of London, somewhere in the once-grisly neighbourhood of Whitechapel, von Hagens toured his Köperwelten (Body Worlds) exhibition; a collection of preserved human bodies and body parts, all plasticinated. Over 500,000 people paid “the ferryman” more than a simple coin or two to temporarily cross the River Styx and enter von Hagen’s “underworld”.

Two people attacked the exhibits, prompting commentators to ask if the British are more squeamish about death than other nationalities?

Day #168 Tip: Save everything you write
I would like today’s tip to be about encouraging everyone to embrace the dark arts, like I’m a chum of Professor Snape or Draco Malfoy or something. A learn’ed man once pointed out to me that those who shy away from "difficult" material in films, claiming “I have enough of that in real life” are often found to have nothing like that at all going on in “real life” at all, whatever dimension that might be? A healthy relationship with the dark arts, the shadow world, is a good thing.

But alas, my tip today is more prosaic, less expressive: keep everything, throw nothing away, you never know when things/ideas are ready to bear fruit and it is always a great pleasure to stumble across an old friend of a thought and reacquaint oneself with a little rough pebble of a premise...even if it was dragged from a murky river.

The discarded and the "dead" often have plenty tell us

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Day 167: LA Confidential

Curtis Hanson directed LA Confidential and co-wrote the film with Brian Helgeland, based on the novel by James Ellroy (part of his 'LA Trilogy') and it is one of my favourite detective movies.

A box office-disappointment, it received huge critical acclaim and garnered nine Academy Award nominations, winning two: one for Hanson and Helgeland’s screenplay and the other for Kim Basinger’s support role as call-girl Lynn Bracken.

The story is dense, convoluted, weaving in on itself and has us follow three LAPD cops - Officer Wendell “Bud” White (Russell Crowe), Sergeant Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) and Sergeant Edmund Exley (Guy Pearce) - all three of whom are caught up in, and investigate the Nite Owl slayings (a multiple murder at a coffee shop).

It’s the early 1950’s in Los Angeles and the lines of corruption, sex, lies and murder, blur, between the law-makers and the law-breakers. It’s equal parts glamour and violence and the body count his high; seems that crime-on-film and the two major cities of California are familiar bedfellows: The Maltese Falcon (San Francisco), Chinatown (LA), Basic Instinct (San Francisco), Vertigo (San Francisco), Bullitt (San Francisco), The Big Sleep (LA?), Dirty Harry (San Francisco), The Black Dahlia (LA), Zodiac (San Francisco).

The plots in most of these stories are complexed and demand several viewings, perhaps that’s why these stories of the ‘dark arts‘ make for my favourite films? I like to revisit LA Confidential again and again, each time, discovering another little piece of the investigative jigsaw that I hadn’t picked up on before. I’m not meant to solve the crime on first watching, that’s an implicit deal that I make with the filmmakers, however, when the architect of the crimes is eventually revealed in the climactic moments, I am meant to nod and think to myself “why didn’t I see that?”

Every time I watch either The Maltese Falcon, Chinatown, The Big Sleep or LA Confidential, I wonder what it is that endears these films to me; stories set in a very different, hard-bolied time and place to that of mine and my life, today? It would be easy to hang it on the sartorial elegance of the detective (private or otherwise) or lazy of me to pin it on my attraction to the smouldering love interest - Lauren Bacall, Faye Dunaway, Kim Novak - but it’s got to be more, something, dare I say it, deeper?

I’ve made a great study of the detective-on-film and, with a few exceptions, they’re all hewn from the same stone: a drinker, smoker, loner, ladies man (with a failed relationship somewhere in the past), a man prepared to step outside the law to get the job done, if he’s a cop he’s often despised by his superiors yet they love the results he gets, he’s violent, troubled, smart, smart-mouthed and lives on the margins of society. The actors that get to play the memorable detectives bring a vital unpredictability to these roles - whether it’s Mark Ruffalo in the recent Meg Ryan vehicle In The Cut or Gene Hackman in Mississippi Burning or Tommy Lee Jones in In The Valley of Elah.

They are volatile men but they are not two-dimensional, their writers and creators give them contradictory character traits: Russell Crowe’s “Bud” White, in LA Confidential, abhors men who beat up on women, but come one of his moments of unguarded rage later in the film and he hits the woman he loves, so becoming the very thing that he loathes. Sergeant White is best deployed -professionally - using his brawn and the brute strength of his fists, yet he metaphorically floors Basinger’s Lyn Bracken with his sincere words in one of the film’s finest moments.

Lyn Bracken is a call girl “cut” to look like a movie star, in her case, Veronica Lake (a femme fatale in many noir films with Alan Ladd); if you are wealthy enough then your money will buy you time with Lynn, doubling as Lake. But Lyn Bracken and Bud White fall for each other and in the moment that clinches Bud’s claim on her, this is the deftest moment of the 3/4 pages of dialogue that take place:

BUD: You fuck for money.
LYNN: There’s blood on your shirt. Is that an integral part of your job?
BUD: Yeah.
LYNN: Do you enjoy it?
BUD: When they deserve it?
LYNN: Did they deserve it today?
BUD: Last night. And I’m not sure.
LYNN: But you did it anyway.
BUD: Yeah, just like the half dozen guys you screwed today.
LYNN: (laughs) Actually, it was two. You’re different Officer White. You’re the first man in five years who didn’t tell me I look like Veronica Lake inside of a minute.
BUD: You look better than Veronica Lake.

Day #167 Tip: Work the dialogue
If I knew what to tell anyone, to ensure that they wrote the greatest dialogue going. d’you think I’d be sitting here, banging out a blog?

The best advice I can give is this (i) follow the method I’ve espoused (of Robert McKee’s) that will lead you to writing ONLY what the characters NEED to say and NO MORE (ii) read scripts and watch great films again and again and again (iii) go back over the dialogue in your script again and again and again, cutting, cutting, cutting (iv) cut all of your CLEVER lines (vi) in the hands of great actors, that might be cast to play your characters, be in on rehearsals and the shoot and cut some more and then some more. When you think you’re done, see if there’s any more extraneous, superfluous, look-how-high-I-can-jump stuff and definately cut that.

It’s a late one today, time for some dinner.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day 166: What have I done?!

I said at the outset that I would Blog as The Hungry Screenwriter for six months, which is 182 days, unless you want to split hairs. As fortune and fate would have it, Day 182 will fall on 7th October, the day that I go to the UK for five weeks.

As the whirligig of kismet would also have it, Robert McKee is in London, when I am in London, dispensing his usual November 3-day ‘Story’ seminar; he literally does the book in two and a half days and spends the last afternoon screening Casablanca, almost frame by frame, using it to demonstrate everything that he’s talked and written about. I’ve done the ‘Story” seminar twice and now I feel I must beg, steal or borrow the money to be inspired one more time and to be reminded why it is that I do what I do. We screenwriters need the fuel in the tank.

The first time I did the seminar was back in 2000 at the Enmore Theatre here in Sydney and the auditorium was packed with three or four hundred film industry types; there were those who came to scoff and scorn, those who came hoping to hear the magic formula, those with open minds and those with doors of perception that were firmly, slammed shut. Me, I’d read the book and knew I’d read my professional truth, a believer. It’s amazing, but two books guide my life these days - ‘Story’ is one of them - take the jacket off that and the other one and they look remarkably the same.

We started on the Friday morning and by the Sunday afternoon, Mr McKee had led us to the point in his book (pg 410) where he talks about a way of working employed by the “struggling writer, and then offers an alternate method, used by “successful writers”. I’d just finished my first draft of my first feature film screenplay and it weighed in at 186 pages....that’s a whopping three hours and six minutes of screen time!! That’s only 30 mins shy of Lawrence of Arabia. The difference is, in Sir David Lean’s 3 hrs, TS Lawrence goes to the desert, comes back, goes again and comes back again; in my 3 hrs we are in one room and leave it just the once?!

As Robert McKee was detailing the method of the “struggling” writer, my head was sinking lower and lower into my hands. I had done exactly what he was describing and every one of those pages was tattooed with blood, tears, sweat and droplets of my life that had been seeping away. I had wrestled that screenplay from the recesses of my psyche page by wretched page, all one hundred and eighty-six of ‘em.

When he started to tell of a method that “successful” writers employed, that I could too, if I so chose, my head became lighter and lifted from wherever it had sunk; not that light as I knew that I had to start all over again, but dammit if that man didn’t give me hope.

Every draft since, I’ve employed the method a little bit more, then a little bit more until now, a draft of mine is about 80-90% his method.

Am I still “struggling” or am I “successful”? Fate, the stars, providence and the Gods will decide some of that for me, still, as my friend Francesca Smith once told me “believe in Allah but tether your camel.” Using the method suggested by Robert McKee is me “tethering my came” and let me tell you: not only is there no struggle, it’s a joy and a love.

Day #166 Tip: Decide how much you will write today
Graham Green (too many novels to name) used to write 2,000 words a day. Richard Curtis (Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral) works from 10.00am to 4.00. “Hollywood Bob” suggest that, using this method, “writing a screenplay from a thorough treatment is a joy and often runs at a clip of five to ten pages per day.”

How I laughed when he said that. Some days I would sit and stare at the same page of my Final Draft screenplay and could barely come up with “INT” or “EXT” (Interior or Exterior for those who aren’t sure). No joy, only gnashing of teeth, fist-shaking at the sky and thumping of the table.

I am pleased to tell anyone who cares to listen that today, when I get to the last five weeks, of the six month process that I’ve allocated for the writing of the screenplay proper, I do my maths thus: most scripts are between 90 and 110 pages, so I’ll AIM for a median 100. I can comfortably do eight pages a day, so that’s twelve and a half working days. If I write five days a week, that means I’ll be done in two and half working weeks, leaving me another two and half weeks to go over the dialogue with a red pen, work on making the big print pithier and generally buff, prune, cut, polish and paste it into some semblance of a decent, readable draft of a story.

Do the sums with the time that you have available and master your craft, rather than be at the mercy of your imagination.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Day 165: Do not fall back

I think it was Spike Lee (Do The Right Thing) who said that, as a filmmaker, you don’t want to have a career choice to fall back on because you’ll only fall back on it when the going gets tough.

I had this very same conversation with a close friend of mine this morning. Said friend has an important life-event coming up on the weekend and, going against my own philosophy of life, I asked her what he contingency plan was, should things not work out the way that she intended? For some reason, I was aghast when my friend put me in my place by telling me that there was no need for a contingency, things were going to work out.

At the risk of sound a tad like Carrie Bradshaw, I wondered: “Have I got to the stage where I’m happiest, when dispensing medicine to others yet resiling from taking it myself?”

Another case in point: my niece/goddaughter has had dreams of dancing professionally, since anyone can remember, has put in the years and hard yards on the amateur dramatic scene in the UK, has done the BA in whatever strand of performing arts it was at University and was then offered a place at a great and illustrious contemporary dance school in London. Everyone around her went into a tiz about London and money and this and that and it got to the stage where it infected her and her belief in her dream (I use the word “dream” cautiously these days as it seems that it’s become a dirty word since the advent of every reality TV show and every contestant whose “dream” it is to.....fill in the blank).

Many around my neice/goddaughter were counselling for caution and encouraging the idea of teaching and other such contingencies; I understand that, I know that those suggestions are well-meant and I’ve blogged about that here before. But, at last, I saw a purpose in me being the godfather (I do have something in common with Pacino after all). In short, my advice was to ignore all that hoo-ha, to embezzle, steal, beg or borrow the money and get on with the dance career. I’m pleased to say that she started at that very dance school last week (well done to family members who’ve backed her financially).

Let me bring Winston Churchill into this. I was listening to a podcast of the BBC Radio 4 show, ‘Great Lives’ last week (I cannot recommend the Beeb’s podcast too highly) where someone, in referencing Churchill, described the greatest quality of a leader as being: “the ability to inspire others to be the best that they can be”. You only need listening recorded speeches of the Prime Minister who saw England through it’s darkest hour to know that he had that facility in spades. However, I don’t know whether Churchill had a contingency plan if the defence of Europe went to cock?

Another version of this snippet of advice came from a successful woman-in-business who counseled other young women never to learn to type; her reasoning was that once people know you can type, they’ll give you typing.

And another one: any great salesman who fancies moving up in the world, to maybe a management or marketing position, should stop being a great salesman. No one wants a great salesman to be doing anything other than achieving great sales figures.

Screenwriter and sometime teacher, Jose Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries) was quoted in the book “Tales from the Script’ as saying “I always tell my students ‘don’t have a backup a younger person, I intentionally never developed another skill that I could fall back on, because I didn’t want to fall back on anything.”

Day #165 Tip: “No”
What we say “no” to, is, arguably, more important that what we say “yes” to.

A couple of months back, I was down to a shortlist of two for a part-time position that would have saved my butt from financial destitution and put something other than chick peas on my daily menu. There would have been a great deal of creativity in the job, but not really the kind of creativity I left the world of business and commerce for. I wanted the gig, yet didn’t want it. The company in question did me the favour of cutting me out of the running.

My life is still okay, I’m not on the streets, it’s not all chick peas and maybe I was right to keep saying “yes” even when I really meant “no”, who knows? The leap from “belief” to “faith” is one that I can get skittish at, but the best encouragement I’ve found is when I watch those around me - the people I have faith in - having faith in themselves. Their faith inspires my faith; my neice/goddaughter, my friend who has an important event on the contingency, no backup, no to “no”.

I got two “no’s” on development funding for a treatment recently, but, unlike the past, I’ve decided not to consign this little gem to the bottom draw. I’ve just been inspired by a two-hour meeting with the director, been encouraged by a friend/producer who has faith in me, and now we’re off to listen to the two august bodies that said “no” to us; not to argue with them or to defend our position or to complain, but to learn everything that we can from their respective responses that might help us move onward and upward.

George Michael may not be right about many things, but he is so right, when it comes to matters of “faith”.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Day 164: Tell me why, I don’t like Sundays?

Despite being over fifty years on this planet and over four decades away from my childhood, I feel the same on Sunday evenings now, as I did back then: maudlin and melancholy.

It’s Sunday evening, I am an adult, and yet I still feel like I haven’t done my homework for tomorrow, that I’ll get up at six in the morning to do it, will probably sleep in and end up either dreaming up some fantastical excuse or even cribbing off someone else at school.

Sundays were always a day about being dragged off to see a relative that I didn’t want to see, Sundays were about miserableness and I could never understand how the potential and optimism of Friday evening could get to the lows of Sunday night so quickly? Friday nights were fish and chips and The Flintstones; the beginning of the weekend was a “yabba-dabba-doo time” in Bedrock, Sunday evenings were ‘Stars on Sunday’ with Jess Yates, Gracie Fields, Harry Secombe and the “son of man”.

Sunday evening’s saving grace was cheese on toast and a cup of tea, still is and that’s what I’m going to have right’s “too Sunday evening” to write more.

Day #164 Tip: Know your “comfort sandwich”
This is my “comfort sandwich” and has been, since I was first a homesick child staying with my mother’s parents. It was my Nan’s favourite sandwich and she introduced me to it:

Cheddar cheese
Spring Onions
English mustard

A friend of mine’s is Vegemite, cheese and lettuce, which sounds very good to me. Her partner’s however, is cottage cheese, alfafa sprouts and dates, which makes no sense whatsoever to me.

The comfort sandwich, is a vital tool of the screenwriter, use it when necessary.

What’s yours?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Day 163: “Who the f**k are you?”

On Saturday 18th August 1979, I was one of over 80,00 who were at Wembley Stadium to see The Who, reformed, headlining a concert bill that boasted AC/DC, The Stranglers and Nils Lofgren as support acts; all for the princely sum of £8.00 (including VAT)!!

This was The Who’s biggest outing since Keith Moon’s death, Kenny Jones, ex of The Faces, sitting in his seat. I found a recorded recollection of the day on the net, which describes the event as being awash with booze, and it was, this was a time and place when you could still bring your own alcohol (and drugs) to outdoor venues. The report I read, referred to one or two outbreaks of violence, describing The Who’s fans as “no shrinking violets”, a fair appraisal. I mean, I’m by no stretch of the imagination a violent person but ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ gets my dander up today especially when I hear it used as the theme to whatever that CSI programme is?!

Nils Lofgren, a journeyman guitarist of the time did his usual stage somersault party-piece, The Stranglers - who should have been better - were average, but then the fire that was punk rock was all but extinguished by the summer of 1979. AC/DC, on the other hand, ripped that corner of north-west London apart.

My relationship with The Who, dates back to 1970 and the Idle of Wight “pop festival”; don’t let me mislead you, I wasn’t there, but as an eleven yaer-old boy, I have distinct memories of being with my parents down at Southsea sea front, watching the “hippies” board the ferries bound for the IOW. I don’t have many regrets in life, but IF ONLY, I could have broken free and sprinted for one of those boats, life would have been psychedelically different, if only for the briefest of moments.

My brother then bought the The Who’s milestone album Who’s Next and in 1974, the the notorious Ken Russell shot his film version of Tommy, in and around Portsmouth and Southsea (my home town), On June 11th, seven days after my 16th birthday, they nearly burnt down South Parade Pier, the ornate, confectionery of an English seaside pier. That’s what happens when you put the late Oliver Reed and the late Keith Moon within intimate drinking and roistering distance of each other I guess.

In the film, the delicious Ann Margaret has a famous scene in which she slithers around in chocolate, making her even more of a delicacy, Elton John was the pinball champ defeated by Tommy. Tina Turner was the Acid Queen, Keith Moon was slimy Uncle Ernie and Eric Clapton was the Preacher.

For the course of the shoot, my hometown was rife with rumours of unannounced, secret gigs being played by Clapton et al, at holiday camps on nearby Hayling Island, not that I got to see any of them.

Keith “Moon the Loon” Moon died on the 7th September, 1978. The story goes that he was dining out at Peppermint Park in Covent Garden (a haunt of mine some years later) with Paul and Linda McCartney and then returned to a loaned flat of Harry Nilsson’s in Mayfair (in which Mama Cass Elliot had died four years earlier) and took some pills prescribed to him to alleviate his alcohol withdrawal symptoms....only trouble is, Moonie took 32 of them.

'Who Are You', Keith Moon’s final album as part of the band, was released a couple of weeks before his death. For me, it was The Who’s last real musical hurrah, this from the band that had fuelled my youth with those albums mentioned, plus 1973’s ode to “Jimmy”, Quadrophenia.

John Entwistle (aka The Ox) was found dead in Vegas’s Hard Rock Hotel, eight years ago now, after a night with a stripper/groupie, a death brought on by a cocaine-induced heart attack. Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend kick on, even releasing a new album in 2006. Despite it reaching the Top 10 in both the UK and US charts, I confess to having no interest.

I don’t know that as the headline act that day at Wembley, thirty-one years ago, that they were the best band; that gong probably goes to AC/DC, but I’m glad that I saw them before I and the remaining members of the band got old. When indcuted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, Time magazine said this: “No other group has ever pushed rock so far, or asked so much from it.”

The kids were indeed alright.

Day #163 Tip: What was I thinking?
One of the many books that I have on screenwriting is, enticingly, called ‘How To Write A Movie In 21 Days’ (Viki King, Harper & Row). Of course I bought it, with a title like that. Not much has stuck in my mind from that book, aside from one idea, which is that our age reveals - in our writing - the different things that are on our mind. Ms King posits the following;

At age 17 your film might be about first love, “at 19 the theme tends to be ‘so what’s the big deal anyway?’. Early 20’s, “I’m okay and the world is terrible”, “in your 30’s you will have theme involving your relationship with either your father or mother”. Late 30’s and “you want to come true” before your 40’s.

In our 40’s, apparently, we’re “strutting our stuff”, 50’s is “now what” and a “big shift in thinking” and 60’s is a time of “memory” and reflection.

I seemed to have reached the “memory and reflection” stage a little prematurely if this blog is anything to go by. However, I think it’s interesting to pay attention to the shifting sands of the ideas and themes that change and occupy us as the years move along.

In The Who’s first incarnation in the early 1960’s they gave voice to their preoccupation of “I hope I die before I get old”. They did age: two of them did die before getting old and I guess, the remaining too are seniors: Pete Townsend is now 65 and, presumably, drawing a pension, whilst Roger Daltrey is one year older. But, their musical themes in “the day”, my day, were in tune with those of mine, as a young man, which basically, were sex, drugs, drink, rock n’ roll.

“Tommy, can you hear me?”

Friday, September 17, 2010

Day 162: Pearls of wisdom

I am an inveterate note-maker/note-taker and always carry my Moleskin notebook with me. At one end of the desk where I write this, I have a pile of over 20 Moleskins, dating back to 1999, other shapes and sizes of notebooks are stashed here, there and everywhere.

I am also a voracious collector of quotes, you only need to say something that’s mildly interesting, colourful or sagacious and I’ll write it down and credit you. Like this, from a screenplay writer talking about how you might get your first break and get someone to turn one of your scripts into a film:

“Sleep with a producer”

That’s from Olivia Hetreed, who adapted Tracy Chevalier’s best selling book of Girl with a Pearl Earring, the story of the relationship between painter Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth) and a young, peasant maid working in his household (Scarlett Johansson); see where hopping into bed got that little minx?! It was no off-the-cuff, jokey comment to engage a room full of writers (of which I was one) as Olvia Hetreed is married to one of the producers of Girl with a Pearl Earring, Andy Patterson. Hetreed’s adaptation and pillow talk won her a BAFTA in 2004, amidst many other plaudits and accolades.

Now, let’s be honest here, I’m not counselling that, as a screenwriter, we have to be immoral, illegal, nefarious or unethical in our attempts to do whatever it is we have to do to get our scripts produced, nor I think, was Olivia Hetreed suggesting that either. It just happened that she knew it was a good line to throw out there in a masterclass, an amusing line which just happened to be her her truth too. Mind you, I’m working with four producers at the moment - three men and one woman - and I wouldn’t hesitate to jump into bed with any one one of them if I thought it would get me further towards my goal. Do I need to say that I’m just joking? Am I ?

A book of extended quotes from 50 Hollywood Screenwriters is my latest literary acquisition, ‘Tales from the Script’ (edited by Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman, Harper Collins) is a collection of pocket-size stories and thoughts from a bunch of notable film scribes, including Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Julie & Julia), Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), Ron Shelton (Bull Durham) and many others who are regulars on this site, like William Goldman and Paul Schrader.

Yesterday I was reading the second chapter, entitled ‘Breaking In’. As a preface to this part of the story, the editors stress that the journey of the would-be (and practicing) screenwriter is a roller coaster of a ride and urge, at this point to “strap yourselves in because that roller coaster is about to hit the first big drop.” What follows are some very very very salutary tales from California. Thank God my bookmark is a postcard with a black & white photo of the beautiful Kim Novak on the set of Bell, Book And Candle (1958), to keep the flagging spirits up.

Here’s something else that I’ve come across from from Moleskin Vol IV (begun on 12.06.01). This is an ex-girlfriend of mine talking about her first job in Europe in a dance troupe:

“Whilst having a great time, I realised that I was the only one in the group who didn’t have a solo, so I called my mom, from wherever it was that we were, and I cried down the phone, and mom said: ‘Look, you chose the biz, don’t call me about this again’”.

Actually, I’m lying, it wasn’t an ex at all, but Jennifer Lopez. I have no idea what is was that I was watching or listening to that I should be nodding in agreement with and taking note of what J-Lo had to say, but it’s a goodie and it’s a mirror image of an idea that I’ve oft counseled for on this blog. I’m always encouraging, nay demanding, that a screenwriter-in-waiting, needs to get him or herself a support team for those emotional, financial, physical and spiritual moments when (not “if”) a night of crowning glory and adulation at LA’s Kodak Theatre seems further away from you than the Sombrero Galaxy. But, in support of Ms Lo, let me borrow words from another regular source of mine for today’s tip.......

Day #162 Tip: “Get a backbone not a wishbone”
I’m/we’re nearing the end of our six-month blogger-bloggee relationship together, and in theory or in practice, we should have/might have/might not have something resembling a script, treatment, synopsis or idea (if you’ve been writing along with me). Doesn’t really matter as I’ve enjoyed and been grateful your company along the trail. There’s still three weeks to go before we part company.

Tea and sympathy are not really my cup of tea, however I do need the occasional listening ear. At other times, as I’ve written here before, all I want is friends and family to shrug off my latest rejection for me, with a “keep going, you’ll be fine, you’ll make it, I believe in you”. But sometimes, I think that J-lo’s mother is bang on the money.

I/we choose to be doing this. I don’t know about you, but no one held a pistol to my head and said "become a screenwriter or I squeeze the trigger". It was me, all along, that came up with this one. That’s not to say that this is an invitation to those same friends and family of mine for open season on tough love, but you can use the Mrs J-Lo snr., quote every now and then if you want to. I can’t guarantee that I will be either polite, courteous or full of magnanimity in kind, in fact, you might want to get out of the way as I turn purple; just remind me of this blog if I look like I’m going to explode, implode, or both.

Let’s finish today with a little more erudition and eloquence from La Lopez:

"I stay grounded as the amounts roll in
I’m real, I thought I told you
I really been on Oprah
That’s just me
Nothin phony, don’t hate on me
What you get is what you see
Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got
I’m still, I’m still Jenny from the block"

Sister, I hear you!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Day 161: Favourite Actors #2 - Paul Newman

I have a suspicion that I’m harbouring the idea that everything the late Paul Newman was, is the man I’d like to be: immeasurably talented in his field, altruistic philanthropist, entrepreneur, devoted and happy family man, race car driver, all round guy’s guy, political activist, colleague of Robert Redford and devastatingly good-looking.

I reckon that professionally speaking, it was easy for many to write Paul Newman off as a movie star rather than an actor, but, like Pacino (who I blogged about yesterday) he won an Academy Award and plucked up eight other nominations (not that that’s a definition of professional prowess in his field). And, also like Pacino, he won for a film that was not by any stretch of the imagination, his best outing - The Color of Money (the sequel to The Hustler that came twenty-five years later).

How come the “esteemed” members of the Academy overlooked him for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Hustler, Hud, Cool Hand Luke, Absence of Malice, Road to Perdition, Nobody’s Fool and The Verdict??!!

Sure, the movie star Paul Newman, is very apparent in The Towering Inferno, The Sting and Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid but have you seen him in The Hustler or The Verdict?

I’m biased towards The Verdict, it’s my third favourite film on my list of 239 favourites; for me, The Verdict is a confluence of three great cinema talents: director Sidney Lumet, writer David Mamet and actor Paul Charlotte Rampling and James Mason to boot. Newman plays Frank Galvin, a washed-up, down-on-his-luck, alcoholic lawyer in this courtroom drama. Here’s a few zinger lines from the poster:

“Frank Galvin has one last chance at a big case. The doctors want to settle, the Church wants to settle, the lawyers want to settle, and even his own clients are desperate to settle. But Galvin is determined to defy them all. He will try the case.”

Writing that and reading it back to myself, again, I get as drawn-in as the first time I came across this film, which was in the slim volume of Sidney Lumet’s thoughts, ‘Making Movies’. In that book, which I recommend to anyone interested in film, Lumet talks candidly about working with Paul Newman in preparation for the role of Frank Galvin. I lent my copy of this book out, so I don’t have it to hand, but what I recall is this: early on in the rehearsal period that they had for this film, Sidney Lumet took Paul Newman aside and sent him away to think about whether he was up for this role and committed to playing the part in the way that Galvin needed to be played. Please read Sidney Lumet’s book to get the real and correct version of things, rather than rely on my retelling of the story. The results of what Paul Newman went “away” and thought about are there on the screen (dvd now) and, for me, with the exception of The Hustler, it’s Paul Newman’s finest hour or two, maybe not his most popular, not most memorable, but certainly his finest.

All in all, I think that the world tends to recall Paul Newman, with a great deal of affection, and as a good man. I ho9pe he’s remembered as a great actor too.

Day #161 Tip: Go away and think about this.....
In his book ‘Story’, Robert McKee talks about “risk” in relation to the characters in our screenplays and in relation to us, as writers. I’ve written about this here before in these pages, but writing about the seminal collaboration between Paul Newman and Sidney Lumet reminds me, to remind myself, of McKee’s words:

“Life teaches that the measure of the value of any human desire is in direct proportion to the risk involved in its pursuit. The higher the value the higher the risk. We give the ultimate values to those things that demand the ultimate risks - our freedom, our lives, our souls........
....examine your own desires: you wish to write for the cinema; you wish to give us works of beauty and meaning that help shape our vision or reality; in return you would like to be acknowledged.....and you’re willing to risk vital aspects of your life to live that dream: time, money, people.....The writer places time, money and people at risk because his ambition has life-defining force. What’s true for the writer is true for every character he creates.”

Strident and stirring words. I reckon they’re the kind of words that Sidney Lumet imparted to Paul Newman on that first day of rehearsal for The Verdict, and that’s why Newman went “away” and thought about it, only to return and put down on film a performance that I and many others return to again and again and again for inspiration, because watching an actor (or actress) go out on a limb like he does in this film, is to watch someone taking risks....and I bet that’s what Lumet demanded of him same as he demanded it of Al Pacino.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Day 160: Favourite Actors #1 - Al Pacino

One of my favourite trivia questions to offer people is this one: which actor has been nominated for an Oscar for the same role three times and never won? It never ceases to amaze me how many of those questioned, work through Harrison Ford as either Hans Solo or Indiana Jones (yeah, right, Indy as Best Actor in a Leading Role??) or any one of the Bonds - Connery & Moore in particular - and even Clint Eastwood for either Dirty Harry Callaghan or the “man with no name”. Eventually I nearly always have to yield the answer, more to ease my anxiety and hysteria than theirs. The correct answer, of course, is Al Pacino for Michael Corleone in the three Godfather movies.

That’s right, three nominations and no statuette. I can understand no gold for The Godfather 3, but 1 and 2...??!! Let me just reel off a couple more mind-bending Academy titbits re Al: Serpico (1973) nominated for Best Actor but didn’t win, Dog Day Afternoon (1975) nominated as Best Actor but didn’t win, And Justice For All (1979) nominated Best Actor didn’t win, Dick Tracy (1990) nominated for Best Supporting Actor didn’t win again, Glengarry Glen Ross (1993) nominated Best Actor in a Supporting Role, no win. Including the three Godfather nominations, that’s a total of EIGHT Oscars that he’s been put forward for. But of course there was a ninth.....1992, Scent of a Woman.....for which he WON. You gotta be kidding me right?

The Golden Globe nominations (not that anyone really believes those scams) total 14, add in the Emmy’s and everything else and I can only begin to imagine what size mantelpiece Mr P should have at home to accommodate those awards that he didn’t get?

For my money, not only is he the greatest living actor, Pacino is also one of the all-time greats, ever, up there with Brando, De Niro and Bogart. I don’t really know what to write here that wouldn’t simply sound like a shopping list of the films that he has triumphed in or the incredible directors he has worked with and the reasons I love Al Pacino. There’s no way that I’m going to try and explain why he’s so good or why I think he’s so brilliant.

Pacino is my foremost choice of detective - Serpico, Insomnia, Sea of Love - paradoxically, he’s also my favourite gangster - Godfather, Scarface, Donny Brasco - proving that the line we tread between justice and injustice, good and bad is blurry, vague and very thin. But that’s what I like about Al; whichever side of the line (of law) he’s on, he evokes empathy and gets you on his side of the courtroom. I have nothing in common with mob boss Michael Corleone; I’m not putting death warrants out to have my brother whacked nor am I having to run the family business and keep all the other “ five families” in line, but like everyone else, I sure identify with the pressures of balancing a personal and professional life...maybe I have lots in common with Don Corleone after all.

As a cop, Al Pacino is the guy who’s prepared to do for us (society) what we we would balk at doing for ourselves. Sometimes blind lady justice’s scales need a little weight added to ensure that “the bastards” are put away, it’s not a pretty job, not a nice job - just ask Eastwood, Nicholson, Bogart, Hackman, De Niro and Russell Crowe. These are the law enforcers you want out there on dark nights and Al Pacino is the best of them: one part brawn, three parts brain, two parts guile and cunning and ten parts tenacity & decency.

Day #160 Tip: Do you want to be happy or right?
American remakes of European films are normally scoffed at and scorned even before the first day of principal photography....”why does Hollywood have to go and f**k it up” is what’s normally leveled at the heretic reinterpreters (they’re often right). Not so with Insomnia.

The original Insomnia is a 1997 Norwegian film starring Stellan Skarsgard (Breaking the Waves), directed and co-written by Erik Skjoldbjaerd about a police detective investigating a murder in a town up in the Arctic Circle where the sun never sets. The investigation goes deeply off-kilter when he shoots his partner by mistake and attempts to cover it up. It’s a good flick.

In 2002, Christopher Nolan (Memento, Inception) directed the remake, starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank, with Hilary Seitz on board for the rewrite. This time the cop and his partner are from LA (where they are under Internal Affairs investigation), shipped off to Nightmute, Alaska to investigate the murder of 17 year-old, high school student, Kay Connell. The Pacino character (Will Dormer.....‘Dormir’ being the French verb ‘to sleep’, gettit?) shoots his partner by mistake, and there’s a great deal at stake here because that partner of his, Hap, was going to roll over for IA which would certainly have led to evidence-tampering disgrace for Pacino’s character, even though his motivations were honourable.

What Hilary Seitz weaves beautifully into the remake, is the local, rookie-cop character of Ellie Burr (Swank) a greenhorn who has worshipped Detective Will Dormer from afar and is now given the job of dotting the formality “i’s” and crossing the investiagtive “t’s” into Hap’s death. Having studied the Will’s teachings from afar and studied them well, Ellie finds some inconsistencies that will eventually lead to the potential dishonouring of her mentor (Pacino/Dormer). It’s more than a great great subplot, with tough character dilemmas for Will and Ellie, it becomes the vehicle for the Controlling Idea of the film.

I could talk at length about the two Insomnia’s and about the strengthening of a story with a subplot, that takes it from good to great. Could the original writers have done that themselves.....I very much doubt it. Would they have wanted to, who knows? Objectivity and fresh eyes were needed here and, given that none of us will be wanting to hand our scripts over to other writers to polish and buff for us, we’d better get that that lack of prejudice (to our own work) wherever and whenever we can. We must endeavour to drop our defensive guards and intransigence and open the door of our mind to new solutions....just like I’m going to have to do with a Treatment of mine in the next couple of weeks.

However, if my buttons are pushed too much I’ll just do a Michael Corleone (Pacino), slamming the desk with a meeting-ending “ENOUGH!”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Day 159: Cinema Paradisio

My earliest memories of the cinema, were Saturday mornings, back in the old country (the UK), being bundled into my parents’ car with my brother and one or two other mates and being taken to the Odeon in Cosham High Street (Portsmouth).

Now, humour me whilst I lament the old days a little bit. In Woody Allen’s Radio Days, the protagonist recalls how the first time, as a child, he went to Radio City Music Hall: “it was like entering heaven”. In the film, the scene is underscored by an equally heavenly piece of music, Frank Sinatra singing ‘If You Are But A Dream’:

If you are but a dream
I hope I never waken
It’s more than I could bear
To find that I’m forsaken
If you’re a fantasy
Then I’m content to be
In love with loving you

It’s one of my all-time favourite moments of movie magic, which ironically, is not about the movies but radio, Woody’s hymn to those “radio days”. I remember the sights and smells and excitement of that Cosham Odeon in the same way.

I was given enough money for an admission ticket and either a hot dog or a Jamboree Bag or buttered popcorn and the choice was always a dilemma (irreconcilable goods - you can have one but not the other). My biggest regret, in hindsight, was that we were under strict instructions to buy tickets for the “refined” Circle not the rough and tumble of the stalls. Remember, this was ten years and more before the burrows and hutches that are Multiplex; the cinema was just one big great cathedral. The Odeon, like most other cinemas in my home city - the ABC, the Granada, the Gaumont - was huge, cavernous, ornate and all art-deco.

There were crimson curtains that would slowly swish back, a safety curtain and man playing an organ that rose out of the orchestra pit. The lighting was subdued and golden, the ceilings high than the interior of St. Paul’s and the enormous screen surrounded my a muted phosphorescence of mint green or some other such hue.

The programme was one or two cartoons, something by the Children’s Film Foundation (the gorgeous Susan George or Hayley Mills used to be in all of them) and then the feature which was often distributed by J.Arthur Rank and opened with that oiled muscle man striking a gong. I’ve read recently that those saturday morning matinee screenings were down to 300 cinemas by 1978, having peaked at 2,000 in 1955.

The staple diet of Carry-On films were too racy for kids but not the Ealing Comedies like The Lavender Hill Mob or The Ladykillers. War and Westerns were perennials and I think that the entire back-catalogue of any film that featured the English comedian-actor Will Hay (1888-1949), in which he invariably played an headmaster, were passed down to us, the next generation. And speaking of schools, the “gels” (girls) of St. Trinian’s - the originals, not today’s tawdry schlock - were regulars, starting with The Belles of St Trinians (1954), then Blue Murder at St Trinian’s (1957), The Pure Hell of St Trinians (1960) and The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery (1966).

The St Trinians series of films (I’m not going to use that dreadful latter-day word, “franchise”) were all distributed by British Lion Films and featured those great staples of the United Kingdom’s cinema screen Alistair Sim, Joyce Grenfell, Terry Thomas, Lionel Jeffries and, beginning his fictitious life as England’s favourite spiv, a young George Cole (Arthur Daley). The scores were always composed, orchestrated and conducted by Sir Malcolm Arnold (favourite of the Proms and composer of soundtracks for The Bridge on the River Kwai [Academy Award], The Inn of the Sixth Happiness [Ingrid Bergmann) and the extraordinarily fantastic and thought-provoking Whistle Down the Wind).

I must stop, feeling that I’ve gone all nostalgic, not just for a time and place that no longer exists but for a cinema (in the broadest sense of the term) that is maybe just a product of a young boy’s eye.

I miss the fact that the red seats no longer fold up and down.

Day #159 Tip: Do yourself a big favour....
Whatever age of movie you grew up in, if a day amongst your writing days comes when you are stifled, stultified and stunted, then go get a bunch of the films from your local dvd store that exited you back then, back as far away as you can remember, before computer games.....around the time that paint-by-numbers and jigsaws. were popular Christmas presents.

You don’t have to stay stuck there forever, but it’s worth reminding yourself of why you loved and still love films. I have a local outlet that does seven weekly hires for seven dollars on a Wednesday, guess where I’ll be going tomorrow?!

Robin Hood, Captain Blood and Zorro live again. “Who was that masked man?”


Monday, September 13, 2010

Day 158: The day I met Thelma or Louise

In 1999, which I date as the true or official start to my screenwriting career, I was one of an intake of four “emerging” writers, at a cottage within the Fox Studios grounds here in Sydney, called Tropnest - a now defunct writing hothouse spin-off of the Tropfest short film empire. During my time at the ‘nest we were paid a visit - who knows why exactly - by the fine American actress Geena Davis.

Geena Davis was not in Sydney in her acting capacity but because of her well-publicised involvement in the sport of archery. Sydney was in pre-Olympic mode in 1999, trying out the venues that were to be used the following year, before the world descended on us for the 2000 summer games, Geena Davis was here to compete in the Sydney International Golden Arrow competition, having narrowly missed inclusion in the US team for the Olympics proper.

Successful archer, member of Mensa, founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, and either Thelma or Louise, the very tall Ms Davis, joined us at the cottage for afternoon tea, resplendent in a very sporty tracksuit and regaled us with anecdotes, mostly (at our insistence) about being either Thelma or Louise. Being the “emerging” writers that we were, we hung on every morsel of advice, wisdom or tittle-tattle that dropped from her lips, the only one of which I can remember however, is this: the first choices to play Thelma and Louise, were not her good self and Susan Sarandon, but Cher and Michelle Pfeiffer??!!

Just hold that thought for a moment..........weird, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I think both of those women are very fine actresses and, in the case of Michelle Pfeiffer, to quote Robert McKee: “proof of the existence of God”, his words not mine. But Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, so made those roles theirs, and their faces and voices are so imprinted on my filmic psyche now, that to think otherwise feels somehow indecent.

Here’s another one gleaned from the book ‘The Making of Blade Runner’ by Paul M. Simmon, Dustin Hoffman was the first choice to play Deckhart - hunting down replicants like Rutger Hauer - not Harrison Ford? Doesn’t make sense does it? But wait, there’s tons more: Mel Gibson turned down Gladiator, Warren Beatty passed up Burt Reynolds’s role in Boogie Nights,, Julia Roberts was first slated as Catherine Tremmell in Basic Instinct and John Travolta said “no” to Forrest Gump.

What about the notion of Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones, or Sean Connery as Gandalf?! Gandalf in a black polo neck sweater with a Scottish brogue.....that wouldn’t be at all right in Middle Earth?

A final word on this one, once more, must go to scriptwriter William Goldman, who in his book ‘Which Lie Did I Tell’ (Bloomsbury) lets us in on the fact that, before James Caan was cast as Paul Sheldon - the writer held hostage by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) in Goldman’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel Misery - one or two notables turned down the role: William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Dustin Hoffman, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Richard Dreyfuss, Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty and William Hurt again.....have I missed anyone? There’s reason for this, but I’ll leave you to get the Goldman book rather than give his ‘gold’ away.

Day #158 Tip: Pay attention to the voices in your head
When I’m writing screenplay dialogue, do I see or hear particular actors and/or actresses in the cinema of my mind? I think this is an individual choice and there’s no hard line or answer on this one, but for me, it’s a “yes”.

The cadence, lilt, timbre or particular phrasing of an actor or actress can help me pin down a character and bring specificity to a role, but consistency is the watchword here. In a screenplay of mine for which I’ve written multiple drafts, I’m now just about past the rewrite stage and am looking down the barrel of another draft, where the dialogue is going to the focus of my attention.

In this particular script - The Detective - the antagonist of the story, an American from the south, was a character drawn, at the time of writing the last draft, with the voice of Tommy Lee Jones in my head, the only trouble was that I drifted a bit here and there. Consequently, in the notes that I’ve just received from the UK, I read that this character “...veers between sounding like a cowboy and a refugee from a (Terrence) Rattigan play”. That note is on the money, although whether I was drifting from Tommy Lee jones to Jeremy Northam (in Mamet’s version [1999] of Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy), well who knows, but, hopefully, I’m getting another shot at writing the words that fall from this and other characters’ mouths.

I’m not sure how much I’d counsel making those decisions before screenplay stage as I’d still like to keep some options open, although, if my character biogs are as thorough as they should be, then I’d know the demographics of any one of my lead and/or co-leads, which would narrow down the choices of who could or would play that character.

In The Sixth Sense, Bruce Willis’s character may very well have seen dead people, I do my best to use my senses to channel the living.