You’ve Got To Write, Right?

The quest for an optimal writing approach is never ending. It seems no two writers have the same approach, though it is to be noted that the most successful ones tend to be quite prolific. As an artistic pursuit, it is, by its very nature, a mercurial process. I think one has to be very disciplined if deciding to be a writer.

   It is quite an insular profession. Of course, there are those who write as a duo or television writers who work in a team, but for most aspiring writers and those not working in television or have no desire to, it is a solitary process.

   In some respects, the writing is the easiest bit, especially the first run or draft. If the initial idea really has legs, it can feel as though the writing is just happening, with no real effort on your part. When writing flows like that, it is glorious. In those times your confidence just soars, every scene, action, emotion spilling onto the page feels right. Writing seems the easiest job in the world.

   You stop. Put the draft to one side, work on something else maybe. Or not. You go back to that brilliant first draft. Things have been percolating; was that scene right? Did that reference make sense? Is the lead interesting enough? Is the story coherent? So you reread it. Hopefully, it’s not terrible. It’s not perfect, but you never expected it to be. Does it need tweaking or a complete rewrite? The first, ego driven, response is it only needs a bit of tweaking. Of course, it does. An entire rewrite means your period of flow was utter crap and what you felt was you writing in the zone was probably too much alcohol or caffeine. Tweaking it is then.

   It still is not right. You know it’s not right. You are writing a line every hour instead of a page. The inspiration is on holiday. This where the need for discipline comes in and it is hard. You already know you’re not feeling inspired, so to force yourself to keep writing anyway seems futile. Won’t anything you write just be more crap, an uninspired litany of words, desperately trying to be interesting? Maybe.

   I suppose it’s akin to the marathon; the only way you can do it is to do it. If you have twenty-six miles to run and you start to hurt sixteen miles in, you can’t just stop and stay where you are. Even if you walk, shuffle or crawl, you have to get to some sort of conclusion, whether it be the end or medical intervention. There is no stopping.

    More accurate, now that I think about it, would be scaling a peak. The obvious one would be Everest, but it does not really matter which mountain, or hill for that matter, it is. Once you reach the top you have to come back down. You cannot just stop at the top. You have to find some way to get back to the base. So that’s decided; writing is as hard as mountain climbing.

   Obviously writing is not as demanding as climbing, though it can be as mentally arduous, if not more so. The truth is, which is true of any endeavour, skill or undertaking is the more you do it, the better you get. That is true for any and everything. It’s not to say you will necessarily become exceptional at it, but you will definitely get better, more competent and more comfortable at doing it, that includes writing.

   You may not become the next J. K. Rowling or Aaron Sorkin, but you will improve your writing and complete the amazing ideas, concepts and scenarios that play out in your head.

In The End

Every writer has been there. You’ve got a brilliant idea for a story. Scenes vividly play out in your mind’s eye, the characters aren’t so much your creation, more born straight into your consciousness, fully formed, living their parts. This is beyond make believe, it is a recounting of a story already hurtling full-throttle toward the paper, dynamic conflict to the fore, every action seamlessly leading to another, this is ready to go! There’s only one problem; you’ve got no ending.

   Will you take the risk, like so many times before, and start writing in the hope, much in the manner of Michael Mann, an end naturally comes, only to, much like Mann, peter out unsatisfactorily? You might be lucky and find that dynamic, conclusive end, but if you have begun with no end in mind, is there not always the chance that you may well meander, diluting your ‘brilliant’ story in the desperate hope for a satisfactory end?

    Admittedly, this tends to be the downfall of many a surprise hit television series. They have a brilliant concept and or idea and the initial execution are spectacular. Television, being such a fickle beast, catches the writer unaware. So many so have burnt out after a stellar opening season or even half season.

   How many shows go out like Seinfeld? Riding high and still a must see for many, Jerry Seinfeld decided to quit whilst he was ahead. Ballsy. Lucky. Unlike my writing hero, Joss Whedon, whose seminal series Firefly was cancelled before it could gain traction. It seemed the trauma of that experience influenced his approach to his next television series, resulting in one of his weakest televisual outputs in the middling Dollhouse, a series that lasted two seasons, the arc never fully realised and the end unsatisfactory.

   The end matters, it’s what we remember. Or not. Remember Angel Heart? The mildly indulgent Mickey Rourke vehicle, he ran around for the whole film confusing the hell out of everyone, having gratuitous sex with Lisa Bonet and fearing Robert DeNiro. It was bonkers, but the end pulled it all together, leaving you with your mouth hanging open as you realised what had happened.

   Remember the end of Blade Runner? Not the Hollywood-driving-off-into-the-sunset(misty evening) ending; the epilogue. No, the proper ending. Rutger Hauer’s replicant’s final moments, his understanding of humanity. What an end!

  Back with to Joss references (reverences maybe?) and the conclusion of Buffy The Vampire Slayer; the empowering of all the girls, the collapse of the Hellmouth, Buffy no longer the sole defender of humankind from beast, ghouls and vampires. Perfect.

   There were the shows crushed by the infamous writers strike or a bad title. The first two seasons of Heroes were amazing. We were so invested in the characters. Admittedly the save the cheerleader, save the world thing got a little wearisome, but those first two seasons, as Sylar scythed through gifted individuals and Peter acquired powers by osmosis, they were excellent the tensions of the mysterious Sylar driving the show. Then the writers strike happened. Seasons three and the final fourth terrible season suffered irreparably.

    Prison Break, a show with a simple and compelling premise, suffered from that rare problem of having the end in the title! The first season showed the planning and execution. The second season showed a collection of characters we were invested in from the previous season, in the aftermath of the breakout, the Prison Break. Season three, with nowhere to take a story with the premise in the title, decides to break the lead protagonist back into prison! It went pretty badly after that.

   Films that have tanked midway or towards the end are much more common. In recent memory, there is the much derided Fantastic Four. The film promised so much in the first hour, then became an unwitting car crash in the final act. Another film that turns into an unholy mess midway through is the Tom Cruise starrer Oblivion. The third act is so poor, I cannot even remember the end.

    As eager as l am to write a story or script, long or short, I always want to know the end, where I am going, before I begin, so hopefully, at very least, my story will have a satisfactory ending if nothing else. 

Worthy Sequels

As an aspiring screenwriter, I, like many, sometimes get caught up in the haughty conceit of thinking of film sequels as a tasteless, feeble and gratuitous attempts to elicit the hard earned from the film-going masses.

   Why can’t they write something new? We wail, convinced that if – when – they read one our brilliant works or even just an outline, they would find the next great tentpole movie. Of course, if that were to happen, we would never do a sequel. No. Nope. Never. A sequel is the laziest kind of movie. What self-respecting scribe would take on a sequel gig? Stop shouting about Joss Whedon and Alien 3! He was trying to help! Never diss Joss!

   Anyway, as much as there are one or two films that may have gone somewhat sequel-mad, following the tried and tested formula of getting progressively worse – Police Academy, The Terminator, Die Hard, The Matrix, Resident Evil, Jaws – to name a few. Sequels are not always a terrible idea, some stories naturally lend themselves to an extension. You want to know what happened next. Sometimes the sequel tops the original.

   One of the best sequels ever made (if you have not seen it, stop reading now and go and watch it! You should hang your head in shame!) is The Godfather part two.

     Generally speaking, films of books tend to depart from the source material. Sometimes it’s because some aspects are unfilmable or would be prohibitively expensive to make, though with the rapid advancements in CGI a lot of things that were considered unfilmable in the past, are now even possible on a home computer! There was also the egos of creatives involved, director or writer thinking they have come up with a better filmic view, or even the studio just wanting a more audience-friendly film.

    Whatever the reason many a book to screen translation has ended up an unholy mess. The Godfather and its brilliant sequel were written by Mario Puzo. Puzo also wrote the book so understood the nuances that needed to stay in the film and script. As an aside, he also happened to write the Christopher Reeves’ Superman one and two. Pity he was no longer around to help Zack – it’s too damn long! – Snyder! Though studios generally like to keep the authors away from the films – looking at you Anne Rice – director Francis Ford Coppola, a man known for getting his way,  was team Puzo. The Godfather part two is truly an astounding sequel.

   Another egomaniac director, James Cameron, who generally hits home runs, though his insistence that the truly awful Terminator: Genisys was a good film has put him on my laminated hate list forever, what he did do was make one of the greatest sequels ever in T2.

   The advance of computer graphics in the intervening seven years between films, allowed Cameron to bring an exciting, bigger spectacle to the screen, whilst still retaining the relentless urgency of the first film. Not only did we see a newer and more dangerous terminator, we believe the story.

   For an X-men fan, especially of the Chris Claremont era, Bryan Singer has a lot to answer for when it comes to the X-men canon. Having taken extreme liberties with almost every aspect of the X-men history, from their ages, group make up, founding members and costumes, it’s a wonder his X-men is watchable at all. Of the films he has made, the sequel to his first X-men film is probably his best. With a cracking opening, introducing a battling, teleporting Nightcrawler/Kurt Wagner, the film thunders along nicely, showing fantastical set pieces amid a modern take on oppression due to differences. After the first X-men film, with all its faults, fans were unsure as to whether he could follow it up. X2 tops the first film.

   Staying with the super powered, the most surprising sequel, especially considering its predecessors, is Logan. If you suffered the two previous standalone outings of the Wolverine franchise you have my sympathies. What is truly surprising about Logan is not how utterly brilliant it is, it’s that it was directed by the same person who did the Wolverine! James Mangold directed the risible The Wolverine, a film so bad it made me angry. Logan is possibly the biggest improvement in a franchise I have ever seen or heard of. From the opening scene – no spoilers – through to the final resolution, Logan is as close to a perfect X-men film as cinema has ever got.

Guerilla – just don’t

Just to be clear, this is not a fair review of this programme. It is not fair because I found the programme so awful, that I could only manage to get through one episode of six. I started watching the second episode but had to switch off after twenty minutes. So, to be clear, I did not enjoy it.

    The programme I am speaking of is the much promoted and heralded Sky six-parter, Guerrilla. With the headliners being Idris Elba and Freida Pinto, advertising has, misleadingly, lead with their images. Perhaps Idris comes more to the fore in later episodes, but in the opening episode, it is Frida’s character that drives the story.

    So the story: Guerrilla tells the story of a group of militants who decide to free a political prisoner and wage war on the establishment after one of their friends is murdered by the police during a demonstration.

   We begin with Jas (Pinto) and her partner, Marcus (Babou Ceesay) visiting their activist friend, Dhari (Nathaniel Martello-White) in prison. Later they meet up with another couple, Julian (Nicholas  Pinnock) a peaceable activist, and his Irish girlfriend, Fallon (Denise Gough) and head to the pub. Elsewhere, Pence – played by Rory Kinnear, channelling his best Afrikaans accent for some unknown reason – is a policeman on a mission. He wants Julian dead and instructs officers to target him during an upcoming demonstration. During the demonstration, police plants make sure trouble starts. During the ensuing melee, the police beat Julian to death.

    An aside – as I write this I am trying to watch the second episode again. It is awful. Utter garbage.

    The fact that this is written by a black person is even more galling. John Ridley, off the back of the critically acclaimed 12 Years A Slave – once again I must admit I was not a fan of that either, though I did not hate it – is an American – and how it shows! – has already received some backlash for casting an Asian Indian, Pinto, in the lead role of a black activist drama, weakly offering that his own real life partner is of Asian descent and a strong woman! If we all decide to write dramas based on the people we like and admire, whilst using historical themes as our context, we can no doubt look forward to a version of Jews being liberated en masse by a black man because some well place writer totally knows a guy who would do that!

   If that was the only issue with this drama, it would be a minor one. An important one, but in the context of the sheer awfulness of the show, a minor one.  The sets are good and the clothing, though it would be a piss poor wardrobe department that could not recreate the seventies look with so much material and pictorial material available. The music? What the hell are they listening to?!I never such music in an English black household.

    Though actors are always struggling for work and black actors even more so, I can only believe that on seeing this, that there are many black actors who feel they dodged a bullet.

    I thought perhaps it was my age, as I was only a small child when this was set in the early seventies, but it is too terrible to be that. Ridley, for some reason known only to himself, decides that in the U.K.- in the early seventies – that Indian Asians, African blacks, West Indian blacks, Irish and Afro-Americans all hung out together, fighting against a near apartheid-like police force and their own liberal minded brethren!

   He introduces gun play – they can’t get any money together but they can get a gun?! – in the first episode. This is set in England! Nineteen seventies England! Gun was not easy to come by and if a black person had shot a white person of uniform – Marcus shoots an ambulance man – in the seventies, they would have called out the army!

   Now suffering episode three – oh god! – they are trying to mix with Marxist!

   This show is so mind-numbingly dreadful that I am struggling to find enough adjectives to describe it. It is meandering, cliched, indulgent, unbelievable, dreary, uninspired, mistaken and pointless. I really do not recommend this show, not even for curiosity value!

The Glory Of Gotham

I have missed Gotham. All my other comic book favourites returned awhile ago; Arrow, Flash, The Blacklist – not strictly a comic book show but so good! There are other shows, pure entertainment; Revenge and Scandal, show that the audacious nature of the writing, the stretching of credibility, can be breathtaking, amusing and highly entertaining.
   I love television. Especially serial television. Having always come at film or TV from a writing standpoint, the television programmes that appealed to me were always more verbose and character driven. Though my favourite television show of all time is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it is the writing of the show rather than the action that drew me to it.
   So why do I love Gotham?  It is well written, strong characters,  tied into the Batman mythology and nicely paced. These are not the reason I love the show. The reason I love Gotham is visual. It is an amazing looking show, blending fifties and sixties Americana, but somehow getting away with using mobile phones! Every frame is exquisite. The colours pop, every scene is rich in detail. Gotham is the character, darkest darks, piercing lights, ornate rooms and clubs and homes, neither modern nor historic. Men wear sombre colours or black, women dress like molls. Shallow depth of field, three point positioning, rule of thirds, lighting composition and colour balance, it is all there. This is Gotham. This is a would be filmmaker’s wet dream.

Draconian Measures – How To Improve Reality Television

Back in 1992, MTV launched a programme that would influence and change the landscape of television. That programme was The Real World. The original reality show, The Real World featured a cross section of young adults, cohabiting in an apartment as the cameras watched on.
  Original,  fresh and engaging, it was at once social documentary and soapish entertainment. A genre was born.
  Some two decades plus later, reality television programmes not only are plentiful, they are ever present. Almost without exception, they follow the same format; a gathering of young adults, sometimes of differing backgrounds, sometimes not, thrust into the limelight of big brother-esque observation.
  As these programmes became more popular, the people who populated them, responding to programme producer needs and craving fame, became more and more extrovert. Where as before there were perhaps two extrovert characters, in a programme with six people, there would instead be four. Maybe five. 
  The number of fame hungry, narcissistic, wannabes populating television needs addressing. Going on most reality shows takes no more skill than enjoying being the centre of attention and being happy to be that, in front of a camera. Though programme makers have tried to address the monotony of the shows, the wannabes still seem comfortable in displaying various levels of tomfoolery in an effort to be famous. Would they still be that way if the stakes were, shall we say, higher?

Big Brother.
Still hanging around like an archaic Miss World contest, Big Brother continues to be both offensive and embarrassing in equal measure. Even as the audiences dwindle, producers continue to squeeze advertising revenue out of this ailing show. I think I could pep the show up.
  What this show needs is a moat, remote acreage and wild dogs.
  Generally, the contestants are varying degree of obnoxious, acting out and being outrageous in the hope that they can ride the wave of notoriety once they are kicked out of the house. If they had to swim a moat and traverse several kilometres of forest, whilst pursued by wild dogs, they might display better, more palatable, attitudes in the house. We, the viewers, would see real emotion and true, unvarnished, reactions to stressful situations.

Made In Chelsea
The show that shows already fabulously wealthy young people, galavanting around London and the home counties, partying, interchanging partners and having mind numbingly, banal, interchanges.
What this show needs: rohypnol. Every character needs to be drugged and transported, less their comfortable trappings, to some barren wasteland, where they would be forced to hunt for food and forage for water. Now that would be fun to watch.

The Secret Service Of Seen It Before

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a peculiar film. Whilst highly enjoyable and well executed – by the ever reliable Matthew Vaughn – the story of a ne’er do well, diamond in the rough, London street youth, who is recruited to join the most secret of secret agent cabals, is entertaining yet immediately forgettable.

Taron Egerton –  posh playing street….irony? – plays Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin, a going off the rails, scallywag, whose father gave his life saving Colin Firth’s Harry Hart, a core member of the Kingsman. Hart, feeling guilty and indebted, takes Eggsy under his wing, offering him the chance to become a Kingsman. First he will have to pass the trials and beat out his rivals.

With this coming of age, finding-the-man-inside-the-boy story going on, there is also Samuel L Jackson’s Billionaire villain, Valentine to contend with. He has a plan to cull the planet, so as to save the planet.

The story is lightweight and a little nonsensical, not helped by an underwritten and frankly irritating villain. Samuel L Jackson plays the villain as a lisping, gregarious, violence averse, maniac. We never really care that he wants to destroy the planet, his argument for doing so seeming hollow, not even really believed by himself, which is the main problem. We do not believe Valentine as a megalomaniac.

Considering this comes from the usually highly reliable team of Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, who brought us Kick-Ass and X-men: First Class, this is definitely below par. There is no point at which you believe that the Kingsman will not ultimately win. The film looks good, if a little CGI heavy – exploding heads? Really? – and Sofia Boutella as the lethal, Gazelle, wielding blades where her legs should be, is fabulous. The action sequences are expertly executed as well, especially the utter mayhem that is the church test!

KIngsman: The Secret Service, running at around one hundred minutes is entertaining enough and is not a terrible way to kill a couple of hours. The performances are all good, if, in some areas, a little underwritten (which I hate to say, as I am a fan of Vaughn and Goldman!)I know it is based on a comic, but I feel they could have done more with the characters. If they make a sequel – let’s wait for the numbers! – hopefully it will be a more cerebral effort and a little less comic show.

Whiplash – You Will Never View Drumming The Same Again.

I went into the viewing of Whiplash with some trepidation. I must admit, that up to a week ago I had never heard of it. Very unusual for me, considering I am on IMDB everyday and like to keep up with all thing film and television. Especially if, as was the case with this, it is causing a buzz. Trepidation.
Whiplash tells the story of Andrew, a young up and coming drummer, enrolled in a prestigious music school, believes his luck is in when the most respected teacher in the school invites him to join his elite class. What follows is a battle of wills and test of resolve.
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, Whiplash is a remarkable feat of a film both visually and aurally. The pace is perfect, no unnecessary scenes or stuff left in too show off. Every scene moves the film forward or reveals something about a character. As the music is jazz, the look is, even in the school, mildly jazz bar; cool, orangey hues and shadows, no wild colours.
Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons play student and teacher respectively. Both are perfectly cast. Teller as the drum obsessed, leaning toward autistic, student Andrew and Simmons, departing so far from the comedic roles he is better known for, to deliver a career best performance as the bullying, relentless Fletcher.
This is, in my opinion, a brilliant film. It lives up to all its hype, delivering on every level. It is difficult to contain my excitement for this film. I cannot recommend it highly enough, in fact I did recommend it to a friend and told her I would refund her if she did not like the film!
This is the best film I have seen in a very long time. 2014 was a good year for films, but if the bar for 2015 starts with Whiplash, this could be an exceptional year.

My Least Favourite Films: 2022

I have no knowledge of whether there are plans, notions, wishes or even the slightest thought, of any of these films coming to your local multiplex.
This is all simply wild speculation, fertile imagination and work time boredom. Enjoy.

1.) The Dark Knight: Return To Darkness
With the studio unwilling to finance Nolan’s latest 35mm filmic opus, Christopher Nolan is forced to find another way to raise the estimated half a billion dollars needed to shoot his top secret project. The studio offers him half the money for his venture if he will make another Dark Knight film.

Nolan argues that the trilogy is complete, but the studio refuses to take no for an answer. He reluctantly relents, insisting on having the original cast. The studio say that is no problem.
Christian Bale, having recently received an Academy Award for his portrayal of a mute, sumo wrestling, assassin, is not eager to reprise the role, having gained three hundred pounds and liking it. He says he will come back if he can be funnier this time.

Anne Hathaway has semi-retired from film, having had two children since getting married. Presently pregnant with twins, she offers to reprise her role as Catwoman, arguing that she could be pregnant and a hero. Michael Caine has become a recluse.

He sends Nolan a message telling him to CGI his face onto a younger actor. Johnathan Nolan, so irked by the thought of messing with what he considers a complete work, refuses to write a script and gives the job to one of his understudies. The understudy, Wayne Bruce, decides to go right back to the original comic strip and gives the caped crusader a gun.

He copies the original Death Wish story, adding in some Rambo-esque death numbers for modern audiences. Nolan, racing against the clock and under pressure from the studio, allows Bruce to edit, as he is desperate to work on his next project. The film is a disaster. Nolan is forced to make Inception 2 to pacify the studio.

2.) Terminator: Legacy
Having failed in his bid to have the Constitution amended so as he might become president, Arnold Schwarzenegger, nearly broke from campaigning, embarks on another outing as the T1-800 killing machine that is The Terminator.

Even with the advancements of CGI Arnold recognises that he is perhaps too old for the role. Taking a story credit, he decides that the Terminator can procreate and goes back in time and impregnates Sarah Connor, thus becoming the father of John, who will go on to lead the resistance.

John will then send Arnie back too kill Thomas Edison because he is the father of electricity. He stops off to kill Charles Babbage on the way. The film is an unintelligible mess and lasts a week in the theatres. It wins an unprecedented twelve Razzie awards.

3.) The Fantastic Four: A New Dawn
A right-wing, fan-led, crowdfunding is started after fans show disgust at the racial interpretations of the last Fantastic Four outing, Ade Loft, a fanatical Marvel comic collector, and Nazi sympathiser, promises to realise the true vision of the four.

He tries to enlist Samuel L Jackson to play Doctor Doom. After an expletive-riddled rejection and the realisation that he could never afford him, he decides to play the role himself. In blackface makeup, to show, you know, black is bad.

The original owners of the Fantastic Four franchise, get wind of the project and sue the pants of off them. The film never sees the light of day, except for Loft putting a rough cut on his website. The studio closes that down as well.

4.) Police Academy: Let’s Do It Again
Unable to break into serious acting, Steve Guttenburg decides to return to the film’s that made his name. Taking charge of production, he decides to take a darker, sexier route, recruiting porn stars to fill the roles of new recruits. The film is, not unexpectedly, not well received by the general cinema-going public. It does become a cult softcore porn film, grossing several million dollars on release to DVD.

You have now seen the future.