Fairly Fearsome Future

I think this blog is going to be short. I made the mistake of missing out on doing a daily blog last weekend and find myself in the midst of the purgatory that is writer’s block. I have ideas for a few stories, feature-length script ideas, I also have several projects that need rewrites and/or reworking, not to mention the distinct lack of blogs.
I have started writing scenes on cards. You would think with all the technology and programs around – Final Draft, Scrivner, Celtx – that working scenes out in a random, as-they-come fashion, would be easy.

It isn’t. Something about clicking and dragging, as opposed to the shuffling about of 3 x 5 cards, is just less appealing and interrupts my creative process.
Meanwhile, other ideas are crashing in on my psyche, completely unrelated to any of the stuff I am trying to focus on. It is as if my brain is hardwired for procrastination, with the smallest thing taking my focus away from the task at hand.

This blog is a case in point, I’ve been writing it for three days and I have managed less than two hundred words!
I think the thought of writing a feature-length script is affecting me. There is no reason it should, as I have written longer pieces and shorter bits, but that one hundred to one hundred and twenty pages of a complete – no, I am not going to think of a trilogy! – story, beginning, middle, and end, is strangely daunting.

It is the building of a compelling story, with interesting characters, driven by an unavoidable goal, plus engaging the emotions, that is the challenge. It is exactly what every film guru tells you, what every great film shows, what every screenwriter is trying to and believes they are doing when they embark on a screenplay.
So, it is obvious now, as I write this babbling blog, what the issue is. It’s fear and not the weird, but strangely real fear, of succeeding. Nope, this is proper, I could royally fuck this up fear. This is the fear where you write something and end up second-guessing yourself, lacking the courage of your convictions.

This is the kind of fear that makes one write derivative works, clichéd works, boring, safe work. The sort of stuff that no one, not even your nearest and dearest, can get through when you ask for their feedback.
Perhaps I am being a tad melodramatic. The fear of writing horribly is all too real though. No one starts writing and tackles rewrites with the thought of producing something sub par. In the mind, it is always a great idea. Then you put it on paper and start, hopefully, to see the flaws. If you’re fortunate, they are easily fixed, more structural than poorly thought out.
Sometimes one can become wedded to a bad idea, desperate to make it work. I myself have many an unfinished script or story where the excitement of an idea, when you think you have an original take on something, turns out to be a bit rubbish or not as compelling on the page as it was in my head.

What is the alternative? Give up writing? No chance. Even as I wrestle with the notion of perhaps not becoming an Oscar, Emmy or Bafta award-winning scribe, or not being good enough to make the slightest dent in the lowliest of film festivals, I know that I want to write.
The thought of not writing or making a film has not really occurred to me as a possibility or probability. Maybe, even with the advancing years and a lifetime of experience, I still retain that almost necessary naiveté, believing I can still make my way in the cruelest and unforgiving industry that is film and television. Only time – and a herculean effort – will tell.

It’s Story Time

Ever since I have decided that I am going to write a feature film I have had a mini mental block. I have no idea for a story that I think will make a good feature length film. I do not even have a genre preference. My short films were all couples related, comedic with a twist. A five-minute film, however, is a lot different from a ninety to a hundred minutes feature.
It is not even the long form that I am worried about. My favourite type of writing or story is the serial, with the arc running the entire season. Two ideas I have tackled and written are first episodes of serial ideas. Even when I wrote a sitcom it was with a six-episode arc in mind. I seem to find it difficult to think in terms of a self-contained, eighty, ninety or hundred-minute film.
Even as I write the above words I know it’s silly. After all, the length of a project is entirely up to me. Obviously, some subjects lend themselves better to a more detailed – serial – approach and others work better as a short format. Still, no idea or scenario is presenting itself as something to tackle with the potential to become a feature-length script.
I am thinking to just start writing, a bit like my approach to blogging sometimes, I write and something comes to me. This is not always the best approach, as even I have to admit that at times the blogs have meandered on occasion, the subject matter sometimes petering out.

The reason I write a blog every day – one day film related, one-day fitness and mind related, alternating – is that waiting for inspiration to write was not working.
Sure, I would occasionally get inspired and write furiously and passionately about some subject. Unfortunately, it would sometimes be months between blogs and, practically speaking, writing so infrequently is not the best practice.

I feel that my forced practice of writing every day is more beneficial than hoping or praying for inspiration.
It is a practice that I think I may have to adopt in relation to screenwriting. Probably not on a daily basis, but thrice weekly at the bare minimum. One cannot be a screenwriter or filmmaker without producing some kind of work, whether it is writing, filming or editing, because without the doing I am just another bloke dreaming of accolades without the work.
I also believe that one’s brain adapts to the patterns and challenges you throw at it. My decision some months back to write every day means that I am thinking about what to write or searching for a subject to write about every day. I know that I am going to write a blog and on which blog it is going to be posted, so I am – or my brain is – always searching for something I feel I can bring my voice to or maybe write about from an unusual angle.
My thoughts are that I need to focus on storytelling. Though dialogue is my strength when script writing, people watch and enjoy films and shows for the story and the journey the story takes them on.

The mechanics of story and scenes are something that can be studied extensively, with many a film guru or scholar on YouTube, blogs, Facebook and at seminars, happy to tell you all the things you need to do to write the ‘perfect’ screenplay.
Three act structure, five-act structure, fifteen point plot map, the twenty-two must use elements, so many possible ‘right’ methods to adopt or follow, but when all is said and done, it is still people doing stuff that they care about or cared for, that create stories that you might empathise with.
The upshot of all of this waffle is I need to start writing more fiction. Writing and wanting to write is what has ultimately driven me thus far. It is time to get even more strategic; it’s story time.

Watching The Wars

When I used to collect records, the vinyl kind, back in the eighties there was one artist whose music touched my heart to such an extent, that I would buy anything they produced. Anita Baker hit a musical and critical peak in the eighties, the release of her album Rapture, pushing her into the national consciousness. I bought her next album without even hearing a track, so enamoured with her sound I was at the time. Music was still mostly an aural experience then, not the social media driven industry it is now. Visual is king now.
I have written before about how I will and do watch anything that Joss Whedon is involved with. The creator of the glorious Buffy The Vampire Slayer television show and the criminally short-lived Firefly, I have rarely been disappointed with any of his output. Aaron Sorkin is another whose writing will get me to seek out a show, though not with the same acolyte like favour with which I approach a Whedon works.
After the dynamic Whiplash, I was eager to see Damien Chazelle’s follow up and La La Land did not disappoint so I look forward to his future works. Like most, I will either look for a subject matter of interest, recommendations from friends or, as a bit of a film fan, work by people who have impressed me before. It does not always work out well. I am quite the fan of David Fincher, director of Seven and most recently the excellent Gone Girl, but I could not get through Zodiac, especially as – spoiler alert – I realised there could be no resolution as, based on a true story, the serial killer had never been caught. An hour in I switched it off.
I also, like so many, love a Martin Scorsese film, but I have also been underwhelmed by some of his biggest hits and the slower paced, earnest efforts. There is a director working currently whose name on a film project guarantees my attention and that is Christopher Nolan. In tandem with his brother, Johnathan – who along with his wife, Lisa, created the unmissable Westworld television series – Christopher Nolan has brought not only some of the most watchable films to the big screen but also some of the most intelligent. Famed for the Dark Knight trilogy, he also made my favourite film of 2010 in the mind scrabbling Inception, the great, if mildly indulgent Interstellar and the staggeringly gripping The Prestige.
Nolan’s latest film, due for release in mid-July, is a film covering a dark period in British history. Set to be an epic retelling of the battle, Dunkirk will once again feature a stalwart of Nolan’s in Cillian Murphy, he of the haunting eyes. As is Nolan’s way, the scale looks grandiose, no doubting that the battle scenes will be full-on, visceral, heart-thumping depictions of the worse elements of war and battle. I am still not even slightly excited for this new film.
I have never been a fan of war films. I have yet to get through even the first hour of Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan held no interest whatsoever for me, I watched Black Hawk Down on a recommendation and can only remember a lot of helicopters! War films really are not my thing. I have seen a few old classics; The Bridge On The River Kwai, The Great Escape, Full Metal Jacket, M.A.S.H, to name a few, but even the Midas touch of Tarantino failed to elicit a liking for war films, with Inglorious Basterds my least favourite of his films and I include the risible Deathproof in that.
I probably will succumb to the Nolan pull and end up seeing Dunkirk as I love his cinematic verve. I probably should get around to watching Apocalypse Now as it is considered the benchmark in war films. Maybe, hopefully, I’ll enjoy it.

Black There, Not Here

There are terms and phrases that immediately conjure up certain images; period drama, western, sitcom, road trip movie, rom-com, these are all terms and genres that are easily identifiable and which one can think of fare that falls into each category.
Here in the United Kingdom, there is a rich history in film, television, theatre and music. In comedy, drama and serials, there has been a vast output of memorable films and television programmes. The likes of Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and even the comedy, Keeping Up Appearances, are worldwide successes. For such a small island and one that is somewhat set in its way, – more on that later – the United Kingdom manages to hold its own in the highly competitive visual media arena.
The English language being the dominant language of film is a big factor in that, with the top ten highest grossing films of all time all English language films. In the British media landscape, the same country that vocally defends its animal rights record, its lax border approach to immigration, its law enforcement without guns (a good thing) and the general fairness for which the British are famed for throughout the world, things are not as fair as one would like.
For a nation that prides itself on fairness, the image of the British around the world still is of an overwhelmingly white nation. Whereas in the States, a country that is routinely targeted for its lack of diversity and racial inequality, the programming reflects not only the country’s racial complexity but also the many stories and struggles that have faced the various communities, here in the U. K. one would never know that there was a diverse population by watching its television output.
As a British born, black person the scarcity of programmes with black people in them was always noticeable but never an issue as, like anybody, one gets use to what is normal, in this case, very few non-white television shows. The fact that most of the black programmes that were shown were American – The Cosby Show, Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, Different Strokes – one could not help but notice they were all comedies, perpetuating the long-held image of black people as grinning, jigging, entertainment. Alex Haley’s slave drama, Roots, was a big deal in the eighties amongst black people, a programme that showed a history, albeit an unsavoury one, and black people as more than caricatures. Of course, it was an American show.
Here, the paucity of black shows remains. There was a brief spate in the nineties – Desmond’s the standout amongst them – still, all were comedies. With the explosion of social media and every person able to venture an opinion and speak their mind – welcome to my blog! – issues of every ism – sex, race, gender – can be aired and debated. Any social issue can quickly become a cause, careers blighted by foolish utterances or proclamations in the social media world.
Such is the dearth of black shows in the U. K. many a black actor, much to the consternation of Samuel L. Jackson, moved to the States for work. With its rich history in television, featuring black ensemble shows since the seventies, as well as having black actors in a lot of their other shows. As well as television shows, there are also many black films of every genre, going back as far as the early nineteen hundreds, a truly rich history of black filmmaking.
Here in the U. K. even though black people have lived here since the seventeen hundreds, there has been very little television reflecting that with black British films so rare one could be forgiven for believing none were ever made. The few that have been made have not only been poorly marketed, a problem for a lot of British films but are so little known they even struggle to find a cult audience.
It was disappointing that Steve McQueen, the black British director, that when deciding to make a black film, starring the black British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, he elected to make an American story instead of a British one. The production money for 12 Years A Slave was predominantly American, so that may have been a factor, but if a respected director such as McQueen cannot get a British black story made, what Hope is there? The like of Amma Asante’s Belle got so little traction even as a historical, costumed drama, that one despairs of trying to get authentic black, British stories out. Still, I will keep writing until I find the right story to put out there. That’s what a writer does.

Before I Die: 101 thing to do – part four

Back to the list…

22.) Drive a supercar
I am not really a petrol head. A motor vehicle is for the purposes of transportation. I do, however, love a fast car! Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, doesn’t matter as long as it is stupidly fast. Zoom.

23.) Attend a major sporting event
Six nations, Olympics, World Cup, even the World Series and I don’t even understand baseball! I just love a big event atmosphere. The London Olympics were magnificent. It is both inclusive and tribal. Everyone should experience it.

24.) Go in a spaceship
So space travel is not really a thing yet. It will be. When it is – and I expect it to happen in my lifetime – I want on that ride. Imagine actually seeing the planet from space! The planet! Would be so awesome.

25.) Float on an updraft
Like sky diving with out the need to jump out of a plane. Also, it is only a few feet off the ground. Genius.

26.) See a north London derby
Of all games in football – soccer, not the random American game played using one’s hands – the derby is the game that most fans look forward to. There is no game that carries more passion or intensity, than that of a contest against your local rivals. Being an Arsenal fan, the thought of my team putting Tottenham to the sword….! That I want to see.

27.) Join a soup run
Not everyone in the city is living the high life. Some, whether it be life circumstances or their own poor choices, live a hard life in the city. I have had many a Xmas when I’ve thought – usually after stuffing too much! – I should do a soup kitchen. So it’s on the list.

28.) Pay off my mother’s mortgage.
Doesn’t everybody want to do that?

That’s seven more. Hmm, even I’m curious about the next seven!