Thursday, 23 September 2010

Scenes without words

I watched 'Cemetery Junction' last night - the Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant feature and was pleasantly surprised. I'm a fan of the pair but thought 'The Invention of Lying' just didn't have the legs to warrant a full feature, and went into 'CJ' apprehensive.

The main trio of Christian Cooke, Tom Hughes and Jack Doolan had great chemistry and screen presence but the scene for me which took the film was when Bruce Pearson (Hughes) - after finding out the truth about his father's action over his mother's infidelity - went back home. It looked like he was going to go through his usual routine of ignoring his father, changing the TV channel and sitting back in an armchair, but instead he went and sat next to his dad, opened a beer for him then reached out and put a hand on his dad's arm. No dialogue needed. Pure genius. It conveyed more than 'I'm sorry' or 'It's ok' could ever manage and, as I say, it took the film.

And that got me thinking about how many good or great films have scenes like this, rather than the fall-back position of redundant dialogue. This is the mark of quality in the writing and direction/acting of such scenes. One that I think all writers should aspire to.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Reviews and Classes ...

I'm still waiting to hear back from the kiddies - sorry, the young adults - who were given the opening chapters of my supernatural mystery to read. My teacher friend was ill yesterday and didn't get in to see her class, so it might be another week before any feedback comes this way.

And I also found out today that the Screen Writing classes that I'm going to run, and which are due to start next week (28th) haven't had any up-take as yet. This may be down to two things; 1) It's a dull subject and no one's interested, or 2) Minehead Eye have only been advertising their autumn courses online, and only today were a couple of people sent out with flyers etc to 'spread the word'. Mmmm. I know that they don't have much, if any, of an advertising budget but simply relying on online views and in-house posters doesn't really cut the mustard. It'll be interesting to see what happens.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Reviews pending

The first ten chapters of one of my stories went to a test group yesterday - half-a-dozen young teenagers in a friend's tutor class. Ten chapters may be too much for them but they've only been asked to read as much or as little as they want and will hopefully fill in a questionaire next week, as to what they thought.

Scary. But maybe a good indicator as to whether the start is enough to keep them reading. Only time will tell.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Separated by a common language

One of the sites I regularly visit is Query Shark - a blog site for 'query letters' touting stories. It's run by American Janet Reid and, if you're not familiar with it, she comments of query letters sent to her as to their style, content and overall quality.

It's great and a must-read for all novelists - wannabes and established.

She doesn't pull any punches; her advice is straight-to-the-point and quite often brutal, but that's as it should be. In the real world prospective agents or publishers wouldn't be any different and it's a way to learn how to hone the query letter to make it short and interesting.

One query that I read recently (#123) was from a British writer and the language in his/her query provoked many comments from the mainly American readers - mostly along the lines of that they couldn't understand what the author was meaning or whether they were genuine words. One didn't understand 'John's out the nick', 'handing out money to all and f*cking sundry' and 'blowing up the bastard screw'. Many couldn't understand what they called 'the slang' and ended up confused.

I think that in the UK we've had so much US tv shows and Hollywood films over the years that we've become accustomed to 'America-speak', and understand pretty much all of what a US author writes, but transpose that and they seem to hit a wall. And they also seem to think that slang is centred only on London and within the sound of Bow bells at that ...

So what can we learn from this? If we want to appeal to a wider market (i.e. the US) do we have to curtail the use of colloquialisms and 'dumb down' the language? Or - like Guy Ritchie - beat them round the head with the stick of rhyming slang? Personally I think a mix of the two is the ideal - use a colloquialism but show the meaning through a visual description. I don't think that American readers will baulk at UK-slang if they're shown what the word, or description, means. I'm sure that some deep-south US slang would leave us all baffled on this side of the pond, but if it were 'explained' through action then it wouldn't seem out of place.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Minehead is the New Hollywood

Okay, well maybe not quite.

I had a meeting today with Molly Studley from Minehead Eye today. Minehead Eye is the new youth and cultural centre based a stone's-throw from Butlins in (unsurprisingly) Minehead. Thirteen years in the planning it's having its grand opening this weekend and has fun and games planned for everyone who goes.

Apart from the skate park, music studio and dance area it also has a Media Lab, and from the 28th September for eight weeks (excluding a weeks' break for half-term) I'll be running an evening screenplay/scriptwriting class for teenagers. The hope is that during the course the people attending will be able to produce one or more 5-10 minute scripts that will (hopefully) be filmed and edited using the centre's brand new equipment. So if you see zombies walking the streets of Minehead later in the year, it may just be one of the films being made and nothing to worry about. But then again ...

Very exciting times ahead. I've been running a short story critique service for the last eighteen months, but this is something entirely new to me and is both thrilling and terrifying in equal measures.

Now all I have to do is work out the lesson plans and hope that people are interested...

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Random words

Can the burst suggest an orchestral microprocessor?
Often the writing of random words can lead to tangental ideas and sub-plots.
The random sentence at the top may be a piece of dialogue in a sci-fi setting. 'The Burst' may be an elected position and the thing he/she/it is suggesting might be a tracking device which enables our hero to eavesdrop an crucial meeting, or it might be the opposite - it enables the antagonist to learn a crucial piece of intel about our hero.
Random writing is one way I help to deflect the dreaded 'writers' block', although I'm not sure it's everyones cup of tea...

Quality research

To help me get a feel for how current horror comedies are, I turned to Lovefilm.com. I have the package where you can have two discs 'at home' at any one time with no limit per month. And boy did I pack a lot of films in.

Good films (in my opinion) -
Black Sheep: a Kiwi-set 'zombie' sheep film with some great lines and set pieces. Tag line: Get ready for the violence of the lambs.
The Cottage: what starts as a kidnap ends in death and murder, starring Andy Serkis, Reece Shearsmith and Jennifer Ellison (boy, has she got a dirty mouth). The first half is pure comedy - great writing and spot-on acting/direction. Tag line: Sleeps four, bloody comfortably.
Shaun of the Dead: 'nuff said.

Bad films (in my opinion) -
Dead Snow: zombie Nazis in Sweden/Finland? Very run-of-the-mill slasher. The best thing was the tagline: Ein, Zwei, Die
Doghouse: yawn-inducing zombie 'lad' flick starring Danny Dyer. WTF?

Now all I'm waiting for is my mate, Andy Tiernan's film to come out next year. It was originally called 'Stone's War' (he plays Capt. Stone) but it's been re-named 'War of the Dead'. The rough-cut trailer I saw a while back looked amazing and I hope that the final cut lives up to it. Not so much comedy, though, I think in this one.

Where did those two years go..?

Wow. It's been two years. Saying it like that it seems such a long time, but when you're going through it, it goes in a flash.

I bought the lease on a restaurant in May '08 - just in time for the economy to crash and people tighten their wallets - and have been hanging onto it by my fingernails ever since. I'm chef, pot-wash and everything else but waiter. Talk about an albatross around my neck. Some weeks are great others it's a ghost town. No pattern, no reason.

Never mind.

The writing has been continuing. A novel finished and rejected multiple times. Then I decided to re-work it - changing the protagonist and all associated elements - and I think it's better for it. It now has clear identity and who it's focussed at. 2nd draft has now been completed and is ready to go to a test market - kids, who'll no doubt give a VERY honest opinion.

A second novel is well under way. Based from two short stories I wrote for a competition last year. It's in the YA market as is the other story, but very different - a future setting as is like a cross between Alex Rider and Jason Bourne. The arc is going well and I'm happy with the skeleton so far. Now I just have to write the thing...

I reached semi-final stage last year in the Kaos Films BSSC, which is one step further than my previous entry, so I'll win it in a couple of years at this rate. The slightly tweeked script has just been sent off this morning to a guy (director) asking for short scripts from the 'Shooting People' scriptwriters bulletin - it's now called 'Coffee, Biscuits and Bullets'. A quirky tale of a hitman being visited by some of his past kils, but that's only the start of his evening ...

A horror/comedy screenplay has been started as well. Still working on the act beats but so far so good. I'm billing it as: As quirky as 'Black Sheep', as funny as 'The Cottage' and as bankable as 'Shaun of the Dead'. I'm not sure any of them hit the mark, but I can try. Celtx is great. If you haven't got it, get it. It's free and does a great job.

Anyway, it's good to be back - I know that I've said that before, but it is.