Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Woo Hoo

Draft number 9 has arrived!

Oops, breathed on it. That probably turns it into draft number 10.

No mail

After sending off a 19-page document of design suggestions for Lionhead's upcoming 'The Movies' computer game (which, admittedly, was exactly the same document I sent to Edward Grabowski with suggestions for a sequel to his Movie Studio Boss game), I churned out draft number nine of Nothing Travels Faster Than Bad News.

I shall now make an aside where I explain the numbering methodology I use for the various drafts of a script:

Fixing a spelling mistake does not warrant an increment in the draft number, fixing two spelling mistakes does. If I were to use stricter criteria I probably couldn't claim more than three drafts, but you've got to admit nine drafts makes it sound like I've done a heck of a lot more work. The other alternative is to use Captain Bucky O'Hare's drafting system (okay, that's not her real name, but her real name just has too many syllables for me to bother typing it here) - this system makes full use of alphanumerics. I think her latest script is on draft 436D which is now undergoing the 'thematic cohesion rewrite'. Additional colour coding is applied to hardcopy versions, with the last being 436C-Yellow.

As you can probably tell, I'm not nearly that professional in my writing.

Anyway, the mail system at work seems to be labouring this morning so I haven't yet received the copy of draft 9 I sent myself last night. It does, in case you're wondering, include a change to ... the line (I know, italics are a poor substitute for the dramatic chords that should accompany mention of ... the line). However, the change only involved the removal of a word that I'd forgotten was in there and prevented the line scanning as cleanly as it should have done. Whether that will be enough to appease the Argonath Alliance, who currently have their battlecruisers positioning on the dark side of the moon, awaiting the order to smite our planet from material existence remains to be seen.

Finally, I'm hoping that Peter Collett's Book of Tells, which I mentioned in an earlier post, will help with my direction. I've got a theory that 'bad' acting is at least partly due to the actor failing to match their body language to the part they're playing. Whether they consciously realise it or not, the audience will spot the conflicting signals and deem the performance unconvincing. Of course, body language mirrors thought, so if the actor is thinking the thoughts of their character, the appropriate body language should follow. Unfortunately, I fear getting some of my actors to think might prove beyond even my superhuman skills ...

Monday, April 26, 2004

By the power of Greyskull! I have the power-er-er-er!

The UN resolution has been deferred yet again, but the Alpha Centauran Confederacy are now locked in a bloody and bitter war with the Zeta Reticuli Housing Association over the line with the formerly peaceful race of the Quons looking likely to enter the fray any day now (their religious beliefs such that they are actually claiming the line does not in fact exist at all and all this conflict over it is sacrilege and therefore punishable by a good talking to. The fact that the Quons' speech matches the harmonic resonance of most biological matter makes that a dreadful prospect indeed).

But the good news is that we may yet have a posh office available for the shoot, provided I can nag a friend enough to nag his friend enough to get us permission. That would make organising Seb's participation in the shoot easier. He's currently down to play the character of Joe - a part specifically written for him. Or rather, a part specifically written for the owner of a flash red sports car. Seb's acted in my short films before and has such a sports car, so it was written and so it shall be done. Anyway, with Seb based in Derby and these offices near Nottingham, it would prove much easier to organise that shoot than to get Seb up to Leeds to shoot in my office here.

Provisionally that could bring the shoot down to three weekends:

1) London / Colchester shoot:
- opening scene with Francine and Tyler
- taxi scene with Emily
- scene of women in park
- scene of girls on street corner
- scene with businessman in car

2) Derby / Nottingham shoot:
- office scenes
- Lyndsey's scenes
- Joe in and around his car
- Joe running down Tyler in the street

3) Leeds shoot:
- Cassandra's flat and associated scenes
- Thief snatching Tyler's mobile phone
- Flower shop scenes

With a friend of Suw's hopefully shooting the mountain scene (woo, that means we get to claim a second unit in the credits), that means we could indeed wrap and get into post-production by the end of July.

Of course, for those who haven't read the script all of the above will make no sense whatsoever.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

The Line of Contention

As the world is now aware, it all started inconspicuously enough. A conversation in a pub on Saturday 17th April does not usually lead to events that have global repercussions. Apart from when Dame Vera Lynn bet Adolf Hitler he couldn't invade Poland of course. And when Michelangelo dissed Leonardo Da Vinci's taste in snack food setting off a chain events that would culminate in both the Rennaisance and the invention of pork scratchings. Both of those incidents, however, we can comfortably write off as exceptions to the rule.

The subject of a line was raised at the meeting. There was some amicable disagreement that divided those present into the Suw camp and the Vince faction, but it was certainly nothing to write home about. In fact, had fate so contrived it, that might be the last anyone heard of the line.

But, for reason or reasons unknown, word of this contentious line spread. It spread and it divided. By the end of the weekend, local news stations were reporting that a definite schism in the beliefs of the inhabitants of Brentford. As one interviewee put it:

"You're either for the line or against it, there ain't no inbetween. Because it's a line. And very thin. And you wouldn't fit."

As is the way of such things, when a bandwagon rolls merrily into town, the weak-minded and the gullible cannot help but jump on the back like a metaphorical Pied Piper made of wood and spoked wheels. Creak go the wheels, jump go the bandwagon jumpers. The curse of memetics was illustrated clearly on Midlands Today on Tuesday the 20th April, where barricades were shown surrounding the Bullring Shopping Centre.

"These shops are only for moral folk. Folk who hate the line and all it stands for," claimed Birmingham's Mayor sporting a brand new belly tattoo of a line in a circle with a line through it. He then tried to explain the significance of the tattoo to irate pro-line protestors who demanded the barricades be demolished and the anti-liners be burnt at the stake.

At Prime Minister's Question Time on Wednesday, Mr Blair was openly mocked by the opposition for failing to come down either for or against the line.

Mr Blair was heard to say to an aide: "If I say I'm for the line they'll crucify me, if I say I'm against, they'll decapitate me..."

By the evening he no longer had a choice: President George W Bush proclaimed the United States to be Anti-Line, immediately drawing support from Mr Blair and derision from France, Germany and Japan, who claimed the merits of the line were undeniable.

This Thursday we see the Suw camp submitting a UN resolution, sponsored by Britain and America, demanding that the line be withdrawn or the perpetrators will face 'severe consequences'. However, commentators are suggested that unilateral action may be inevitable, even if France use their veto as promised.

Nuuaaaarrrrghh

Jogger's nipple, the joy of.

I think I need a sports bra.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Let's Croak Us Some Toads!

You know the thing I found most surprising thing about Saturday's meeting? It was the 'head of the table' effect. I had positioned myself at the head of the table in the beer garden in which we were holding our meeting, but I didn't really notice the effect until I had occasion to point at something.

And I used my thumb.

I never use my thumb to point at things. It lacks the pointing precision of an index finger for a start. However, while thumbs do not have the pointerly potential of any of the other fingers (including the pinky) they represent something else - they represent dominance.

Thumbs gestures are associated with a dominant personality. Just as sitting straight-legged and relaxed is also a sign of dominance (because you're making yourself bigger and claiming a larger personal space, while showing you are unconcerned about potential danger) and I found myself doing that later on too.

I knew about the thumb thing beforehand, but I didn't read about the 'head of the table' effect until last night. Anyone, regardless of their personality, when positioned at the head of a table, is likely to assume the dominant position in any conversation; talking more, talking fluently (without um's and err's) and talking longer without interruption.

I'd quote the research, but I haven't got around to reading the bibliography yet. The book, however, is Peter Collett's Book of Tells.

Anyway, while I was assuming all these dominant traits, I was also getting nagged into writing a to-do list of outstanding tasks for the film. Which just goes to show this dominance thing can only achieve so much in the face of a persistent woman.

Things To Do:
- Write final draft of Nothing Travels Faster Than Bad News based on feedback from meeting
- Produce storyboards (rough versions of which we were going to do in the meeting, but didn't)
- Determine availability of my office for use as a location
- Determine use of local flower shop for use as a location
- Once locations are in place, agree on production design
- Revisit casting list once locations are confirmed
- Once cast is in place, agree on costumes
- Obtain quality microphone
- Produce production schedule
Post-production issues will be considered once the film is in the can (by which I don't mean in the bin or the toilet).

Other things I learned from the meeting:
- Trying to maintain everyone's involvement and interest proved a little beyond me this time round.
- There is only one funky, green rabbit who can take care of it.
- That I do actually want to act in the film, rather than just be an actor by default due to practical time/budget considerations.
- The Italian restaurant we had dinner at does an excellent steak, but puts its roast potatoes under a shrinking ray so they come out the size of marbles.
- When playing hangman on the train with some Geordies returning from a Newcastle Falcons match, it was entirely proper to avoid being a spelling fascist. Instead, trying to guess misspelt words adds to the challenge.
- And finally, that Victoria (another writer I asked to come along) is not a short, fat, peg-legged pirate like I had imagined.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Production meeting, additional

The times people will be arriving is currently as follows:

Dominic will be arriving at London Waterloo at 11am. Being mobile-phone-less, he will locate the rest of us using a divining rod.

I shall attempt to catch the train that will bring me into Kings Cross at 11:30am. I do have a mobile and so will not be forced to resort to superstitious nonsense. Though it's never been proved to my satisfaction that these cellular phone contraptions aren't the work of evil magicks.

Suw being already undercover in the Capital, will attempt to meet us at the aforementioned stations. We, in turn, will be doing our best to slip by unnoticed in the crowds.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Production meeting, Saturday 17 April, London

I'm going up to London tomorrow (Tuesday), so although I'll have some access to my email, the blog will be easier for making arrangements. Which is lucky, because that's what it's for.

I'll scope out possible locations for our meeting, which currently include the Sherlock Holmes Hotel on Baker Street, Smiths of Smithfields in Farringdon, or if the weather's nice, we can just find a pub with a beer garden and I can get happily sloshed whilst everyone else does all the work. Either which way, will try to post here and/or text Vince.

I may also have another location, a flat in Tooting, which I'll get to suss out beforehand, and also possibly a few more willing and able actors. (Although frankly, willing is far more important than able at this juncture.)

Monday, April 05, 2004

Leading Ladies

At this point we have most of our cast filled. There will be some switching and swapping of parts depending on which locations we ultimately use, but we have enough volunteers to see us through. However, we were struggling to cast the key part of Tyler's girlfriend.

Now, it seems, we are not. Seb (who is playing the part of evil, moustache-twirling villain Joe (now there's an evil name if ever there was one) due to him owning the flash sports car I wrote into the script (do you ever get fed up of nested parentheses? (I don't, personally))) emailed me the other day saying there were two ladies up for the part (one of which I am acquainted, the other is her cousin).

This came after I managed to find someone else willing to play the girlfriend Cassandra (she's currently in hospital and hating every minute of it, but this does mean she should get the chance to actually read the script this evening. I'm fully expecting this to adversely affect her enthusiasm). So it really is true that you wait for ages and then three actresses come along at once.

P.S. I should point out that this whole project is being exclusively undertaken using friends to fill the roles of cast and crew. This isn't because I think they'll do a better job than any of the millions of desperate thespians out there, but mainly because I'm still relatively inexperienced as a director and I'd rather work with people whose foibles I'm aware of and can work around, rather than strangers who might spring unexpected foibles on me when I'm not prepared for them.

Air of Respectability (or lack thereof)

On Friday I wrote to Screen Yorkshire asking if they could provide some info on local suppliers of microphones and video equipment. They replied quite promptly, but suggested they needed some more information on the project and our company before they could deliver.

Company? What company?

I wrote to Suw asking if this might be a good time to looking at starting one up, at which point she wisely replied: 'trust ye not the soul who asks ye a question when ye asks them a question. Suspicious a practice this is. If contact details they want, spamming ye to high heaven and back again is no doubt their wont' (or words to that effect).

Heeding this somewhat cryptic advice, I deigned not to reply to Screen Yorkshire's email.

Then today I get another mail from them pointing me in the direction of Provision, Yorkshire Television's equipment arm. Clearly the moral of this story is that if you ignore someone long enough, eventually they'll give you what you want. I'm thinking if I keep ignoring them now we might well have a few thousand pounds worth of development grant foisted upon us by the end of the week.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Saturday

I'm beginning to dislike Saturdays. A curious comment considering Saturday's prime position in the week. It's not like Sunday where you know it's back to work the next day, it should be the most relaxing day of the week. In fact, it usually is and that's the problem. I don't get anything done on a Saturday.

I went shopping this morning. I watched some of the FA Cup Semi-Final (Man Utd, unfortunately, won). I, err ... read some of the latest issue of Empire, while listening to qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Throw in some sleep and that all that accounts for over 17 hours of my Saturday. Yeah, feeling like I'm wasting time is probably the only thing I have that approaches a proper neurosis nowadays. Part of that stems from the time after my A-levels where I was desperate to finish my first novel so I could go into undergraduate education safe in the knowledge I had a bestseller under my belt and wouldn't actually have to work after the unctuous ceremony with the silly hats and gowns that precedes entry into what is popularly termed 'the real world'.

Turns out work hasn't been too bad to me, which is probably the main reason why I'm still unpublished, unproduced and undulating (okay, I needed a third un- word and that was the first that sprung to mind. I can in no way vouch for its veracity). Necessity may be the mother of invention, but contentment is the death of ambition (an interesting aside at this point would be to relate the story of whathisface of War and Peace fame, who, on completion of each successful novel, would promptly gamble away his earnings in the belief that without the motivation of poverty he would never 'write squat' (his words (albeit originally in Russian (which probably means he said 'writski squatski' or suchlike, with a backwards R thrown in there somewhere for good measure)))).

I have managed to scribble some notes down on a revision for my latest short story, The Storyteller, but it's still a tragic fact I am seriously considering spending the rest of the evening not working on my book, on Bad News or the romantic comedy project that popped into existence last weekend, but playing Pro Evolution Soccer 3 for the umpzillionth time and then possibly watching either American Beauty on BBC2 or Cinema Paradiso on DVD (probably the latter because I feel an irrational antipathy towards American Beauty because it's a critically popular film which, in a holdover from my naive teenage worldview, means I'm sure it'll really be crap).

This is why I'm thankful for having Suw along on Bad News to provide the kind of impetus I'm often sadly lacking.

I'd be more thankful of a cleaner to purge my flat of its perennial mess before the letting agents come to inspect it on Monday morning, but that's by the by.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Upcoming Production Meeting

On April 17th., Suw, myself and, thus far, Dominic will be meeting up in London at a secret location for top-level discussions on taking the Nothing Travels Faster Than Bad News project (codenamed: The Flying Nun Versus Nazi Shellfish Zombies From Beneath the Earth's Core) forward.

The primary goal of the meeting is to develop the visuals for the script. We'll be producing rough storyboards for the key sequences which we'll then develop into detailed boards for use on the shoot (I'll make sure to post up some samples here). Other considerations will be the production design and costumes. Rather like sound effects, they're the kind of background details that no one pays any attention to when they go right (and nor should they, they should be paying attention to the story), but when they're crap, it drags down the quality of the whole production.

Case in point: my last short film was called Trespass of the Magi and it featured invisible ninjas. My idea was that when we finally revealed these invisible ninjas, they'd be shown in garish, colour-clashing costumes so we could make the serious social point that it's hard to have any kind of fashion sense when you're see-through. But, alas, things didn't work out like that. When I got down to my friend Dave's house in Colchester where we were shooting the film, I found a distinct lack of garish costumes awaiting me (a baggy jogging suit was waiting for me, but that's Dave's attire of choice and I am completely non-judgemental about that).

This inevitably begs the questions: what costumes did those invisible ninjas end up with?

Well ... they looked pretty normal. Jeans, t-shirts, jumpers. The only concession made to any kind of cinematic costumery were some cheap Hallowe'en masks we bought from Sainsbury's the night before we were due to shoot. The effect was somewhat disappointing.

So, this time around, we're going to do things properly. Our biggest step made in that direction was to avoid putting any invisible ninjas in the script (though we may include some in the crowd scenes). The second biggest step was keeping Dave away from any responsibility for prop and costume acquisition (a decision since born out by his efforts to make his next short film: Red's Adventure. I won't spoil the film by describing it here, but suffice to say it involves jelly babies and several attempts at shooting test footage have been scuppered by the cast being eaten before making it infront of camera).

Anyway, back to the meeting. We're also planning to try acting out various scenes to get an idea for how they'll actually play out on screen. Hopefully, this will be just the first in a series of rehearsals, rather than our tried and tested method of learning the lines during the take.

Reboot

To kick things off (again) I thought I'd give an overview of what the film is all about. The best way of doing that would be to give a kickass one-line sales pitch, but if you've ever tried writing a kickass one-line sales pitch, you'll know why I'm just going to write two-line description of the plot, with negligible sales appeal and certified 'ass-safe' by the British Standards Institute.

NOTHING TRAVELS FASTER THAN BAD NEWS

Tyler wakes up one morning in a strange bed, next to a strange girl, who has just texted her best friend news of last night's sexual conquest. Tyler is then forced into a desperate race against time to reach his girlfriend before word of his infidelity does.

Okay, I'll admit as pitches go it does kick some ass and I did get 'a desperate race against time' in there, which I feel is grossly underused as a cliché nowadays, but any suggestions for a better pitch are welcomed.