Last night I came across Dean Spanley, a film I’d not heard of before. I was sold on the description of a quirky, adult fairy-tale with a masterful performance from Peter O’Toole. What I found, though, was a profoundly affecting take on basic human emotions. It may not be a film for everyone – at turns slow and lacking drama – but it’s everything I needed it to be, personally, as it created a very specific impact relating to grief. And it’s a keen example of how powerful art can be. Continue reading
Are you struggling to create focused characters in your writing? There’s a gem of advice in Syd Field’s classic screenwriting guide, Screenplay, that I feel is really worth dwelling on. It’s introduced mid-paragraph, almost an aside, but I think it’s something that can really help a lot of writers quickly and solidly create a character background. In its simplest form, the point is to ask what and not why when you’re exploring your character.
The 2015 AURA Screenwriter Award winners were announced on 1st January, which made for a pleasant New Year discovery to see my script, The Faergrowe Principle, received the Silver Award for Feature Screenplay. It was up against a large range of projects so it’s a great result.
The Faergrowe Principle is a screenplay I wrote mid-2015, a dystopian/sci-fi thriller with a grim tale of faded friendship. In a world that barely survived a global war, scientist Allison Heartridge searches for lost friend who helped develop the sustainable food supply society now survives on. With the help of a battle-weary mercenary, she follows the trail of the Church of the Ascension, a cult that had taken her friend in and had since been violently suppressed. The journey takes her beyond the comforts of New Oak City to the chaotic wastelands of Matterfoss, where she discovers a devastating connection between her missing friend, the Substance Engine they created together, and their mutual old flame, Laine Faergrowe – the leader of the free world.
The screenplay takes its rich backstory from an unpublished novel I wrote a few years ago, set years before the events of this feature. It’s a gritty future created by two super-powers that, in trying to kill each other, effectively damned themselves. A future that asks questions of what becomes of the leftovers in such a conflict; the footsoldiers who knew nothing but fighting, and the engineers who created both the instruments of destruction and survival. Beneath its grand setting are simple human stories – the relationships that keep people going, and the morality of survival.
Receiving an award for this screenplay now is a boon as it’s a project I’m still working to improve. The next step is to complete it’s next stage of edits and submit it to more festivals!
Bill Lancaster’s screenplay for “The Thing” is a great read for a number of reasons – one that struck me immediately, though, is the quiet brilliance of the first page. As a method for introducing a cast of characters, it’s at the same time somewhat unconventional and widely applicable. Unconventional because it presents the characters all at once as a list, rather than in-line as they appear (as the usual convention would have it) – but widely applicable because the characters are built so fully in so few words. If you haven’t read it, click the image to enlarge it. Continue reading
Ever had a conversation with a friend where you’re recalling a fond, or not so fond, memory, and one of you describes everything that happened detail by detail as though giving a police report? To which the second person might respond, “I was there, why are you telling me this?” The second season of True Detective offered this up in abundance, as one person after another tried to fill in backstory holes in a desperate attempt to get us to care about the characters’ eventual demises. A lot of people have complained about a lot of failings of the show, but it’s the way characters talked to each other that bothered me most. And in the season finale there was one scene, I felt, that summed it up perfectly. Continue reading
I don’t know who’s responsible for the summary of Mad Max: Fury Road that’s currently loitering on the film’s IMDB page, but it’s got too many words and reads like someone’s trying too hard to sound dramatic. It may be that some random Joe has written this summary, someone with nothing to do with the film itself. Or it may be the production put it forward themselves. Whatever the case, it’s a good candidate for improving. So here’s a little challenge – can this descriptively over-the-top summary be improved simply by removing some words? Have a look below, and you decide: Continue reading
Here’s a great scene from Sophia Coppola’s The Bling Ring that I think says a huge amount about how not to write movie dialogue. It’s the sort of forced, totally unnatural piece of dialogue that only makes sense in a script, where the writer wants to tell us something but doesn’t know how to succinctly show it. Looking at it on paper, it might not seem that bad. It apparently worked for everyone involved in making the film. But if you read a little between the lines, it’s a textbook example of how not to write dialogue.
Any student of English language is, at some point, taught that sentence fragments should be avoided. A sentence needs a verb, or a verb needs a subject, and the lack of one or the other means the sentence makes no sense. But take a look at any half-competent screenplay and you’ll find it full of clipped sentences, which still make sense. This is because screenwriting is about communicating a plan of action, a blueprint, not a full-bodied description or a fortress of flawless grammar. Grammar does matter, but the English language is flexible – the question you have to ask is when is it okay to bend the rules? Continue reading
Aside from the general mind-numbing amble into cliché and the colour-by-numbers approach to plot and character development, Olympus Has Fallen appears to have suffered from basic grammar errors that apparently no one in the hundreds strong production team noticed. Or cared about. With an estimated $70 million spent on this tripe, was there really no room in the bloated production for someone to step back and say, hold on, are the news reports saying (badly) that a single terrorist has attacked the White House? Or should there be some form punctuation separating (presumably) a story title from its location? Who was responsible for letting this sentence through production?
And on another note, did no one in the scriptwriting, reading, rehearsal, filming or editing stage step back and think the line “We’ll get back with you later.” (spoken by the Secret Service Director) might be improved? How does $70 million not buy a professional standard of English?
My first exposure to the work of Neil Gaiman, I can still remember watching the original Neverwhere series on the BBC with rapt enthusiasm. It was richly full of originality, blurring local folklore (or, at least, names) with bizarre new mythologies. The literal interpretations of Black Friars, Angel Islington and Earl’s Court, for example, were incredible flights of fantasy. Some 17 years later, I finally got around to reading the book. And how did it compare? Continue reading