Monday, June 28, 2010
Looking back, this Boxer script may well have been the second thing I actually completed. So very early 2002 at a guess. Ah well, no big deal. Dodgy East End dialogue aside (hey, I’d only been here just over a year), I’m still rather pleased with it for the most part, although the mockumentary format is a little done to death (read: cheap).
Anyway, on with it! Script at the link, notes after the break.
The Boxer - 1st Draft
I have a nagging suspicion the idea of a boxer who everyone bigs up but who is actually blatantly shit may have come out of discussions I had with my friends Doug and Ossie, but the idea of doing something in a mockumentary (wow, I really hate that word) style goes back to my first day of frantic brainstorming, as recounted in the first of these blog posts. The original idea was far more serious, a crime drama recounting the rise and fall of a gangland figure. I wrote a few lines of dialogue for it on that first day that actually make me physically cringe now I look back at them (I still have the original notes from that day). In the balance,
I’m happy I used the format on this.
I probably have more affection for the characters in this than I do for anything else I ever did.I admire plucky underdogs, however deluded they might be, and I feel that Jimmy is a pretty nice guy who has been used by Barry.
From what I can recall, this all came together fairly quickly, especially after the torturous development of the Jesus script. The only tricky thing I can think of was trying to tell the story while balancing screen time for the characters. It’s also the first time I tried to write something which involved quick cutaways, writing with a mind to editing. Writing with a mind to film, basically, and this was one that I did nearly go ahead with filming, thanks to its cheap, straightforward style.
Into the script itself:
Page 3: “When he were little, you should’ve seen him!”
Cor blimey guvnor, let’s have a knees up around the old Joanna. Okay, so this is something I always feel a bit funny about. Writing accents is always a fine line: too much and your script looks ridiculous; too little and you lose some essence of the character you’re trying to write. Again, this is one of those things that marks out a writer’s role in film. At the end of the day the actual dialogue will be based around the performance of an actor who will probably base his or her delivery on what they know. The script can certainly suggest accents and dialects (and should, I think), but I believe a writer needs to know when to let it go. One half-finished project I have is a radio-play adaptation of an Arthur Conan Doyle short story, with a cast composed mainly of Scottish sailors. Nightmare. That all being said, I was a resident of the East End for a while, within spitting distance of the Bow Bells, no less, so, y’know, it's all totally authentic.
Page 4: “A piano is playing in the background”
Now, to the untrained eye it may seem like I’m trying to convey the idea that the working class people of the East End have no appreciation of culture. Of course not. I’m merely-ahh-merely—oh, I guess I am. But it’s all good-natured, I can assure you. Actually, I just liked the idea that everyone was so invested in Jimmy, who actually wasn’t the talent he was being sold to be, that they were ignoring a prodigal talent under the same roof. I like to think that Rose represents a wellspring of hope, and that she will flourish within her newly supportive
environment after the end of this little story.
Page 5: “I could be sunning myself in Vegas!”
So I appreciate that it’s all a bit silly. Even if they were to support his ambitions, they would never become quite this deluded. It could be argued that painting these characters with such wide-eyed naiveté is just terribly patronising, and there is a part of me that cringes a little. But then, common as muck, me, so doesn’t that mean I’m allowed to poke fun?
Page 5: “We’re Jimmy’s oldest mates! Ain’t that right?”
Okay, so all the sequences with these guys are awful. There, I’ve said it. I don’t mind the idea of them, but in the execution they just suck. Terrible, tin-ear dialogue, for one thing.
Page 12: “EXT. COUNCIL FLATS – DAY”
This whole scene is just weird. So out of place with the rest of the thing, both in terms of featuring the interviewers themselves, and also for breaking the interview format. I certainly wanted some kind of finish with Barry, but this whole business of them being beaten up by thugs is just completely out of left field. Serious work needed here.
Page 14: “Pending getting my hands on a copy of When We Were Kings!”
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Ahh...Office Zombie. Probably the best received of my recurring characters (yeah, I’ve got a couple, though I did always try to make each short stand alone), and certainly one of the most enjoyable to write.
(As an aside, I do find it difficult to take myself seriously doing this, when I’m essentially doing some kind of retrospective on something that never even had a second draft, let alone got made, and only a handful of people saw. Still, it’s a good exercise. Must think of it that way.)
Anyway, script at the link, rambling after the break:
Office Zombie - 1st Draft
The idea came from discussions with various people, though I believe it was Jeff Wheeler who threw out the original germ of the idea. So this skit came of that, then it kind of took on a life of its own, and I’ve still got one half-finished script for the Office Zombie Christmas Special lying about.
In terms of timing on this, it was certainly one of the first things I did after finishing the Jesus script, though I can’t remember for the life of me whether it was this or the Boxer script that was next. In the end I figured it was probably this, simply because I didn’t do a title page, something that every script after this has (I think the Jesus one was added after). In any event, it was certainly early 2002. Not too important, I guess, but I’ll do the Boxer next week, before what will probably be a string of several Office Zombie stories (I was on a roll). Anyway, it’s a quickie this week, so let’s get it done!
Page One: “in his late 20’s and rather slick. An up-and-comer.”
I have such a stereotypical idea of office guys, probably due to never having actually worked in and office. Office guys in most of my scripts tend to be slick, stylish, driven, sleazy assholes. Not true, of course. Is it? Actually, I think it comes from being a child of the 80’s, when businessmen were all self-proclaimed masters of the universe and all of that. Now they just seem to be stressed out twenty-somethings who desperately live for the weekend, ducking and diving their way through petty office politics. Wait...still not a particularly positive view, is it?
Page One: “He...ahh...he smells rather bad, sir.”
This thing of people stumbling over what they’re saying is a common feature in my scripts, and not one I think necessarily works in practice. When I’m writing it helps to make the dialogue feel more naturalistic, but looking back I think it just acts as a superficial means of creating natural speech, and to be honest that kind of naturalism in film should come from an actor, not a script. Or at least that’s how I feel now. But then I often fall into that kind of direction trap in my scripts, probably because I was fully intending to be a director at the time and, after all, production-ready these ain’t.
Page One: “Well...there’s the whole thing of personal grooming too, sir.”
Speaking of dialogue, a lot of what’s here just feels a little clunky. When I’m writing, I do speak through lines in a put-on voice for that character, but never particularly loudly, and I think the effect of muttering a line under your breath doesn’t quite give an accurate representation of how a line really sounds. And...I...really...need...to...give...the...ellipses...a...rest.
Page Two: “Well, I can only hear one person moaning here Jones.”
I really like this line. It’s always so gratifying to read back through old things and find stuff that still works for you, and this is one of them.
Page Two: “Davis...ate him sir.”
Whereas, upon reflection, the punchline here is pretty weak. Almost redundant, undercut by the previous suggestion by Jones that Davis is a zombie. It’s not a surprise that he ate someone, he is a zombie, after all.
Page Three: “THEME SONG”
The theme song, a recurring thing throughout the OZ scripts, is one of the things I enjoyed the most when doing them, but is also what probably works the least in practical terms. The idea was to juxtapose this light, breezy tune – kind of an Andrews Sisters ditty – with this horrible creature. That was important, too. I actually wanted Davis to be a bit scary, or at least a little gross. For the most part this worked throughout the scripts. I think. I guess we’ll find out soon enough. I can think of one really notable exception, actually, but ideally Davis should have always brought some horror to proceedings.
And that’s that! I think this is actually about the shortest script I did, apart from perhaps “Redundant Zombie” - the final OZ story which I never really properly formatted and don’t remember if I ever emailed it out to people. Well, we’ll get to it in these posts, I think.
Monday, June 07, 2010
Okay, so as discussed previously, I'm going to start going back through all my old short film scripts, reading through and commenting on each. It's a way for me get my head back into a script-writing mood, and I hope it's reasonably entertaining for you. If not, well, you can skip it. But I gotta fill this blog with something!
Now these won't be planned out or structured particularly. It'll just be me making notes as I read through, then doing a quick rattle through things that stand out for me. The scripts are presented as-is, unchanged from the day they were originally finished.
So, script at the link, with my rambling commentary after the break:
Fishing - 1st Draft
Let me take you back, baaack through the mists of time. A plucky young fellow had decided he needed to change the momentum of his life, to take the first tentative steps towards creative fulfilment, to meld together his love of film with an almost forgotten love of writing for the purposes of script-writing. Oh, and also film-making, but that’s not really pertinent to what we’re discussing here.
Anyway, the script above is among the first complete script ideas I had, and the first short film script I ever finished. Like most of my short ideas, it began with an image in my head and, in this case, sounds. Specifically, the image of two men sitting in a boat and the sounds of water and creaking wood. This one had a pretty torturous birth as I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing or even what the point of it was. But, like all torturous processes (except, perhaps, for actual torture) it was a learning experience. Actually, I guess actual torture is often a learning experience, just not so much for the tortured. Anyway, the best thing I got from this was the confidence to do more.
Some background: I used to write a lot. In primary and secondary school I loved to write. Creative writing was my favourite thing and I was a sucker for reading anything that fired my imagination. Reading was almost always for pleasure, as was writing. Then came university, and suddenly neither reading nor writing were as much of a pleasure anymore. It’s not that I particularly lacked the time, given that I treated much of my time at university like a protracted summer holiday, but rather that it slowly sapped the joy out of reading and writing for me. Even shitty fantasy novels, the bread and butter of my adolescence and hardly demanding fare, didn’t grab me (although it could be argued that I had largely burnt out on them at the time). I just didn’t read or write unless it was course related. Not to say I hated my courses. Psychology, the subject I was most excited about when I began, had left me cold by my second year, but I loved criminology. It’s just they became associated with work, and as a lazy 18-21 year old, the last thing I wanted to do was work. Anyway, comics became damn near my sole reading matter for years afterward (though to be fair, once I started working in a comic shop I had a hell of a lot of reading matter at my disposal, including all kinds of classic material I had never seen before), and I didn‘t write at all.
Slowly but surely over the years I started reading again, but the writing was stalled for a good long while, and with it any confidence I had in my ability. I mean, it’s not like I think I’m some kind of creative mastermind, but for a long time I had a crippling insecurity in setting words to paper (he says like he feels every word now is gold). It wasn’t until a couple of years before I left for the UK, when I was beginning to feel as though I were in a serious rut, that I started to play around with the idea of writing again, and writing scripts specifically. Not sure what inspired me on that front, but I started toying around and wrote a number of snippets, a scene here and there, a loose outline of a plot that I had no real confidence in (and not for the last time). That brief aspiration fell to the wayside before too long, and then I moved to the UK, deeper in my rut than ever, unsure of what to do next (other than working in comic shops). Then, on my 28th birthday in November 2000, sat at home during the day, more coffee than blood in my system, I had a revelation. I was going to write! It was a revelation that chiefly involved a mantra of “Why not?”, and on that day I brainstormed a number of ideas, one of which was this.
(Okay, excessive preamble, but just had to get it out of the way on this first script).
So, why Jesus and Andrew? Well I’m not a religious man, it should be said, but I do enjoy the stories of the Bible, both new and old testaments (well, especially the old). Hell, Ben Hur is one of favourite films, Timotei Jesus and all. More to the point, it was on my mind at the time, as my dad was very ill and - having found a renewed piety in his later days - had made me promise to read the new testament he gave me before I left (always referred to in our phone conversations after I left as ‘that book’, most commonly in the form of “Have you read that book?”). Now, his intention was the salvation of my soul and I’m afraid to say the mission was a failure, but I enjoyed reading that book (for the most part). The story of Jesus is an interesting one, so there was that in my choice of subject matter, but I guess more importantly was this idea of a normal man who is caught up in the doings of the son of god. The perspective of ordinary people close to greatness will always be a more interesting story to me than the perspectives of great people.
In addition, I had been on a Terrence Malick kick since Thin Red Line had come out, and Magnolia was also fresh in my mind, so I was into the idea of creating something that had a visual poetry to it. I thought the visuals of an old boat on the water as it glistened in the sun, the details of fishing in biblical times and the physicality of the men who would have lived in that time would all lend themselves to that goal.
So that was the genesis of it all. And it slowly came together in a piecemeal fashion, at a fairly tumultuous time for me for a variety of reasons, and was largely written out longhand while sitting in Russell Square in the mornings drinking shitty coffee. It’s almost embarrassing to admit now, but it must’ve taken me 6 months or so to write this first draft. Hell, maybe closer to a year from initial conception. Unlike my other scripts, I didn’t date this one, so I don’t know the exact finish date, but I’m guessing from other events it coincided with it would have been late summer, 2001. Very slow, but I really was just learning to write again and to be honest most of my writing in that period was stream of consciousness journal stuff. So, it took a while, but sparked off a run of creativity that reached a peak with more-or-less weekly short film scripts that were emailed out to a list of people for a period of around 6 months. Scripts that I intend to revisit here over the next 6 months or so.
Anyway, reading through the script now, my overall impression is how lightweight it is in terms of content. There’s not much in the way of a hook, and I guess that reflects my focus at the time, which was all about this kind of visual poetry idea. But that’s not to say I dislike it. I must admit, I find it a lot less cringe-inducing than I expected, though I don’t know if I’d consider it ready for people to see if I wrote it now. But then, showing people my stuff on first draft actually worked wonders for me in terms of just getting things done and not taking it all to heart or feeling like I was exposing myself to the world. It’s just a first draft, after all.
Okay, specific thoughts:
Page 3: “Oiling the rope of a net”
Here’s an example of “write first, research later”. I was wanting to fill this with details of fishing in the time of Jesus, but I know about as much on the topic as I know about enriching uranium, so throughout the story I make up things that I think sound plausible, with the intention of revising them later. In this case, I figure they would have needed to do something to stop the nets rotting, so would perhaps coat them in some kind of water-resistant oil or the like. Okay, it might be bullshit, but it was all about the intention of adding in fishing detail.
Page 3: “Jesus has the rough, weathered look of a man who spends more time outdoors than in.”
I wanted Jesus to be a labourer. I figured he was raised as a carpenter and had subsequently spent a hell of a lot of time in the sun walking about. He’d be weathered and probably quite tough. This did, however, result in an early reader describing him as the Marlborough Man.
Page 4: “It’s the sounds I miss the most”
It’s all about the sounds, baby! I love the sound of water lapping against the side of a wooden boat. I also love the sounds rough, worn wood makes, the thunking and creaking and scraping of it.
Page 6: “Have you seen him since?”
Guilt about leaving fathers? Hell, I didn’t even realise this was in here, or forgot about it if it was intentional. This was finished after my dad died, so I don’t doubt the fact of my leaving the country while he was sick and my inability to go back for his funeral was on my mind, let alone the subject matter. I’m sure it must have been intentional, but I honestly don’t remember.
Page 6: “Insert St Andrew’s cross into the picture”
Ouch. Now that’s cringeworthy. Still, at least I had the good sense to dismiss it if it were too blatant (though not the sense to realise it couldn’t be anything but).
Page 7: “And here in Gethsemane”
Page 7: “He’s got nothing to worry about. And nor have you.”
Wait, if the business about the guilt was intentional, does that mean I intentionally absolved myself of any guilt? Nice work, Salmond.
Page 9: “Have you spoken to Simon Peter?”
Here’s the hook for me, actually, the idea that not only is he swept up in the world of Jesus, but also that his older brother is nothing but confident and strong in his belief. This was why I chose Andrew, I think: because he is overshadowed by his older brother (which is not about me this time, by the way). How can he not doubt himself, being an ordinary man placed in extraordinary circumstances, with an elder sibling who displays none of the confusion he feels? How could he not feel inadequate, being an apostle of Jesus?
Page 10: “You are still a fisherman Andrew”
BOOM! I guess that’s the hook, the payoff, the twist. But is it enough? There’s something I find dissatisfying about the ending. I’m okay with that as a twist to finish on, but the finish feels very abrupt.
And that’s it! Script number one! I hope you’re still with me, and if you are, I hope you enjoyed it! This script is the only one I’ve ever actually gone back and done a proper second draft of, so I’m looking forward to rediscovering what I did there, though that’ll be a bit down the track yet. I’m going to try and tackle these in chronological order, though some of the early ones might be lacking dates, so they might get a little muddled.
I’ll continue to do these, as they’re a good exercise for me, and even after this one I’m feeling the urge to do something new. If for no other reason than I feel like I’m cheating by just trotting out the same old nonsense. If you do have any comments to make, please feel free, either here or by email at andrew