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. 

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!

Pushing Boundaries

  With great reluctance, it would seem, the BBC took the decision not to renew Jeremy Clarkson’s contract this coming summer.
  For those who may not know, Clarkson is a fifty – something, jeans sporting, man child, who fronts the very popular, thus lucrative, motor show Top Gear. Viewed in over one hundred and seventy countries around the world, Top Gear has been a massive cash cow for the Beeb. This is in no small part down to the rapscallion wit, ensuing of political correctness and general laddishness of Clarkson.
  Whether you are a petrolhead or not, or maybe have just a passing interest in cars, amidst the plethora of car shows Top Gear stands out. With its three contrasting presenters; Clarkson; lanky, smart alec, raconteur. James May; bumbling, foppish, petrol geek and Richard Hammond; personable ferret – like, chuckler, the show appealed to a certain demographic,  that of the forty plus, white male, harking back to a world before mobile phones and social media.
   Clarkson was the star. By no means a handsome man, or even a man who tried to pass himself off as ordinary.  He just was good at television. He was relaxed and spoke eloquently on motor cars, whilst not alienating people with technical specifics.
   His buddy chemistry with his co presenters helped as well, the three generally acting like overgrown school boys who had stolen their dad’s car. 
   Like school boys, or any child, Clarkson, as his popularity – and power – grew, tested the boundaries of his power. He had already some years before, as many stars before him have, forced a salary rise out of his employers. He knew he was the draw and so did they. They paid him. And so it began.
  He was embroiled in inappropriate racial and insensitive slurs, always sailing close to the wind – almost a kindred spirit to Charlie Sheen – he managed to ride the storm. Then came the incident of steak and chips.
  After a day of filming, followed by several hours of drinking,  Clarkson and Co returned to a pub at which they were staying the evening. Clarkson wanted steak and chips but was told that the kitchen was closed. At this point he berated the producer and punched him.
   Clarkson was immediately suspended pending an investigation. An online petition in support of Clarkson gained several hundred thousand signatures. How dare the BBC punish Clarkson! The fact that in any other walk of life, were. he not a public figure, he would be facing prosecution or arrest did not matter to his supporters. They wanted their Top Gear on.
  The victim of the assault, as is the modern way, became the subject of a social media witch hunt. How dare he massage dear Jeremy’s fist with his face and complain about it! Jumped up little….!
  Clarkson used his status and position to bully and harass people. Undoubtedly a great presenter and perhaps, to his friends, a fine fella, but he is still, regardless of position or popularity, subject to the law of the land. He had already managed to avoid unemployment from situations most would not have survived. He never showed any sign of curbing his rancour or even acknowledgement that he had done anything wrong. Clarkson was deservedly sacked for this misdemeanour and though he will not struggle to find future employment,  one can only hope that this episode might give him pause and time to reflect on the boundaries he pushes and whether it is right.

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.

Seppuku: A Lesson In Shame

In Feudal Japan, a warrior – samurai – would, if captured by his enemy or in order to prevent falling into enemy hands, having brought dishonour on his clan, commit ritual suicide rather than live in shame or be tortured.
In modern day Japan, suicide is still seen as a way to end one’s life if one feels a sense of shame for being unable to support the family or unable to attain the high standards in life expected of them.
In times past, a politician or person of high social standing, a film or television personality could, overnight, see their career reduce to ruins. The sense of possible disgrace, public ridicule and personal embarrassment was self policing and helped to maintain a semblance of decency in society.
With the explosion of social media, reality television and the all encompassing World Wide Web, this seems to have got lost. There is an almost insatiable need to be entertained and humoured. When seen first time on film, a train coming into a station scared and fascinated people, but quickly became mundane when people realised it was harmless entertainment; a new medium. So has been the way with media and entertaining.
Things that used to shock became everyday and, like everything, if it happens in the media it filters down to the general populace. Sexual promiscuity is fine. I saw it on a reality show. Having no sense of embarrassment, along with no discernible talent is fine. I saw that on a ‘talent’ show. It is not just television. The get-ahead-at-any-cost mentally is reflected in the relentless pursuit of technology and upgrades to that technology, usually mere months after the last iteration.
Banks ripped us off? Oops, we will reduce our bonuses, sorry. No jobs lost; no grovelling apology. Politicians taking advantage of age old home allowance laws? Plenty of exposure, not one resignation or moment of contrition from an avaricious, cheating seat holder. It has got so that even those accused of actual punishable crimes, show no sense of shame, no covering up as cameras thrust toward them on their walk to or from the courtroom.
The things that offend are no longer a collective agreement; where one may argue that public nudity is inappropriate, another would as strongly argue that the human body is natural thing and was never meant to be clothed! Freedom of speech, of expression, the liberal belief of everyone has a right to be, is a beautiful and laudable thing. What happens when, as it seems has happened, we affluent, over fed, consumer crazed, must-have-it-now society of the West, get that? It is, nobody is seeing it, the absolute power.
Shame, self pride, was the unseen guardian of society. If it’s power has waned to such an extent, that the only people truly vilified are rapist and pedophiles, what is going to stop anarchy?

That’s what I’m aiming for!

Even though I am currently concentrating on filmmaking and writing, and thou I love and admire a good film, my true love is television. The television serial has always held a fascination for me. The building of a story, characters, themes, and subplots, over a period of weeks or months.

If the serial has a good central character/hero/heroine, you watch, aching as they make both good and bad decisions. That is what great television does; it makes you feel like you know the people you are watching. You talk about them at work or with friends. Even post major plot surprises on Facebook. Television is, even though we know it is not real, personal.
Last night I watched Homeland. The ever-watchable Clare Danes, even playing the less than sympathetic Carrie, was brilliant. As was Mandy Patinkin as likable, but singleminded Saul.

It was, in its third season, one of the better episodes. In ‘Still Positive’ an episode credited to Alexander Cary, the Brody family subplot was what raised this episode to brilliance.

Morgan Saylor, who plays the surly teenage daughter, Dana, was fantastic. The episode, the writing, perfectly captured the teenage girl becoming a woman in one scene.
Dana has a conversation with her mother, Jessica – the easy on the eye Morena Baccarin – telling her she wants to change her name, the burden of baring her father’s tainted name and, by association, reputation, too much for her.

In a look, Jessica conveyed understanding. This was not the playing up of a silly little girl. She was not just acting up. Dana had been disappointed, like so many women before her, by men. By her father, who she wanted so badly to believe, then by her first love, Leo. Jessica understood. She helped her daughter change her name. Brilliant, emotive, riveting, concise television. Exactly the sort of work I want to produce one day. Everyday.

Must try to get here more often….

Hi occasional perusers of my witterings, I am thinking that I need to get back to my blogging ways, if for no other reason only than to empty my head! Though this will not be the soul searching kind of blatherings of my youth, I will no doubt whine, gripe, grumble, pontificate and babble about all things film, filmmaking and film/tv production related.
So, enough of my meandering intro, what film/tv gem of subject matter do I have to share today? As well you may ask! I only happened to purchase a ticket to the London Breakfast club talk featuring Jane Espenson (Buffy, Gilmore Girls, Battlestar Galactica) and Brad Bell (Husbands)! In a room full of would-be scribes and fanboys/girls, we sat rapt for over an hour as they spoke about some of the challenges faced in producing their joint venture ‘Husbands’. Rather than take notes – I am no secretary! – I recorded the audio which you can listen to here. Hope you enjoy it! (apologies for the crackly opening, was recording it on my mobile…)