Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Yet more screenwriting tips and advice - On Writing From The Heart

There is a lot of writing advice out there. And it's all really great. You can learn how to structure properly, you can learn the ten things script readers are looking for, you can learn about how many explosions you need to put in to impress studio execs, you can read up on the common mistakes new writers make and you can read articles on how to choose character names. You can read the books on 'How To' and you can take the courses on 'What Producers Want.' You can do all of these things.

But instead, you could write what you want.

Because, yes, it's true - Producer's do want safe pictures. They do want stuff to guarantee them money. But that doesn't mean they actually know what they're looking for. And if you go chasing what people want to read, it's unlikely you'll give it to them. I mean, they might say 'all scripts must have scenes about Elephants who enter beauty contests' and you'll write them into your story-- but it's not going to have truth, it's not going to be organic. Whereas if you just write what you want, write what you feel, write what you have to say - then believe it or not, someone is going to feel your voice.

Remember when you FIRST started writing---- do you remember? You'd write a little story, or a scene; then you'd read it back and be amazingly excited. These characters and these words are magically SPEAKING YOUR WORLD VIEW! They say everything you need to say. It's amazing how quickly we lose that.

Or the first time you found a writer who REALLY inspired you. Who made you bounce around with excitement. The first time you picked up Roald Dahl, or the first time you watched a film and had the realization that somebody had written those beautiful words. Well, when you think back to what those words were; they were probably written by someone who wrote what was in their heart. They spoke what was bursting to come out. That's what made you want to write.

It breaks my heart to see new, enthusiastic young writers, giving in so easily to this notion that they should be writing by committee. That they're okay with some slick guy in a business suit with a mobile phone stuck to his ear saying "yeah, scrap that scene. Scrap that character. Put in some breasts on page 5 and and a death on page 42." That is not what great writing is.

"Well, that is not what inspires people. That's not what inspires people. Shut up. Play the game. Play it from your heart"
-Jerry, in Jerry Maguire.

This industry is tough. We need all the advice we can get. You need to know what a screenplay is like and you need to have an idea of what works-- but here's the thing. There are thousands of people out there writing spec screenplays that suit a predetermined 'market' or some notion picked up about how screenplays are meant to be. You can do that-- or you can be one of the few people out there who is writing WHAT THEY WANT, saying WHAT THEY NEED TO SAY. I guess it just comes down to what kind of writer you want to be. Do you want to inspire people? Do you want to say something REAL? Do you want to have HEART?

It's no easier to do that. To write who you truly are and say what you really need to say is even harder than writing a studio-executive-friendly-action flick. But I dare you, I double dare you-- write what you really want to write, say what you really need to say. "Hollywood sucks," "films aren't what they used to be" -- you've heard these things a million times. They're true. If we are going to find exciting, dynamic, truly gripping films-- they need to come from us, the new generation of writers. And we need to get out of this mindset that somebody knows what's the right thing for us to be writing.

Narrative feature films are less than a hundred years old. How to make a great film is not set in stone. Until the 1970's, nobody knew that disaster films would rake in the millions. Until 'The Blair Witch Project' nobody knew that an amateur looking handheld flick could be one of the most profitable films of all time.

"Nobody knows anything."
-William Goldman

If you follow all the advice, instructions and rules-- you might write a good screenplay. It might be exactly what someone wants and it may well get made. In that case, I salute you. You've achieved what you set out to do.

But, if you write what is truly you--- even if you have this idea about two people who are locked in a toilet at a Diana Ross convention......... if that is truly what you are excited and passionate about. WRITE IT. When we are passionate, truthful and writing from who and what we really are, that's when the nuggets of wisdom come out. That's when we truly comment on the human condition. That's when we inspire people.

So it's time to decide. Do you want to write 'Transformers' or do you want to write 'Shawshank Redemption'? The choice is yours. Right now you have enough time to decide-- realistically; with enough dedication, hard work and soul-selling; you could conceivably write a major popcorn-Hollywood blockbuster. But you could also use that same dedication to your craft to write something personal, moving and truthful. And, like 'Shawshank Redemption' - you might flop at the cinema. But, eventually-- justice would be served, as it always is by moving and honest material, such as Shawshank. If it's good, it'll find an audience. Even if that audience is seven people. If you move them enough, they'll tell seven of their friends. Seven by seven, the world will get to see your movie. It's up to you, decide who you want to be. Decide what you want to write. Write what you want. Or write what they want.

Care to share?

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Why Everyone Should Really Get Some First Aid Training.

When somebody smashes down onto the floor, head-first, whilst painful screeching noises come from the depths of their throat, as they simultaneously froth at the mouth; it would, perhaps, be nice to have an inkling of an idea of how to respond appropriately. The collective response of everyone on set; hoping someone else knew what to do, is not something I, nor I suspect anyone else, was particularly proud of.

I admit to feeling relief when someone yelled "call an ambulance!" - because that was something I could do. It mattered. It was important. It was far better than staring at this guy on the floor, wondering why I am such an idiot of a human for not knowing how to respond.

Although this happened on a film set, it really applies to everyone, everywhere. It got me to thinking-- if I was out with a friend, walking through a field - and they suddenly smacked down on the floor, unable to move-- I would like to at least have some kind of idea as to how to respond. How many of you know what to do when these things happen? I'm going to be honest and tell you, if you told me right now to put you in the recovery position-- I wouldn't know what to do.

How awful is that!!!?!? Surely, as a human being, I should know. I don't want to play Doctor and I don't even want to take charge whenever somebody has an episode of some kind; I would just like to be confident that I am not completely useless.

I would like to know that I can play a part in helping another human being when they need it the most. And I don't ever want to momentarily freeze again. Admittedly, this freeze was only for about a millisecond-- but life comes and goes in a millisecond.

Film sets in particular are manic places at times, full of hot lights, cables scattered about and empty stomachs waiting for lunch-- all sorts of things can happen. And yes, most sets have designated first aiders on site. But that doesn't stop your responsibility, as a human, to NOT stand around and be completely useless when the horrible happens.

But, as I was saying-- this applies to everything. If you work in an office, a supermarket, or even if you're a homeless person. Do you really want to be completely helpless when someone around you collapses? I want to at least know that, if someone has an epileptic seizure, or a heart attack, or they break a bone-- I want to be able to provide the basics, at least until someone who knows what they're doing comes along.

I'm sure most of you are probably better equipped in these situations than I am. But then, I know I'm a pretty average person; so I'm assuming there are many people like me, who wouldn't have the foggiest idea what to do in these situations. Let's go and enrol in some kind of first aid courses right now. Let's be more responsible. Let's value those around us with a little more respect. It's literally a life and death matter.

Care to share?

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Money and Old People.

So I booked a flight to New York, as many of you know. Problem is, I don't yet have accommodation. Even more of a problem, is that I don't have any money. It's entirely my fault as I have not been doing enough projects that yield immediate income. Not only that, but I am owed a heap of money from various places and they have yet to pay up. These are from both industry and non-industry sources. And now I'm kind of laughing, because the way I described that makes me sound like a drug dealer.

So I need money. Like, right now. Maybe I'll do an old fashioned car boot sale like these fine ladies below.

Although I can't quite figure out what's for sale -- is it the Grandma sitting in the middle? Maybe I could sell old people. That's it. Okay. If any of you have access to any old people who may be worth money, please let me know -- and I shall sell them.

Old people aside - I welcome your ideas for how to become swiftly rich.

Care to share?

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Let Obama Be Bartlet.

Isn't President Obama great? I'm not a political person, and I'm not even American. But I find the way Obama is running things pretty inspiring. In fact, like many people, I only really got interested in American Politics due to the pretend version; namely; 'The West Wing.'

And I've been obsessively watching it again recently. I'm currently watching Season 4. And a big part of it is President Bartlet's (Martin Sheen) campaign for re-election. His aides get into heated debates about how Bartlet should run his campaign. Toby Zeigler (Richard Schiff) wants it to be about smart. The idea that there's nothing wrong with being the smartest kid in the class. Even though, as Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) tells him, nobody liked the smartest kid in the class back in school.

The episodes in this early part of Season 4 were really inspiring. They were, quite simply, about reaching potential - they were about Bartlet being Bartlet. If he was going to be seen as arrogant and elitist anyway, then he might as well go out there and prove he knows what he's talking about. Prove that he knows how to read, rather than hiding it.

I'm up to the point now where Bartlet has just had his Presidential Debate with Governor Richie, the Republican Nominee for President. It's riveting stuff--- watch this. Amazing.

What made The West Wing exciting for me, was the idea that leaders could actually be, not only engaged in what they were working towards, but human, too-- people who were passionate and exciting. And most of all, that they could inspire change in other people. We don't have that in the U.K. We've not had that in my life time. I mean, look at the fella..

Anyways, this blog was meant to be focusing on America and I got a little off track. Bartlet made us believe, not only that the world could be better, but that we could be inspired to care about it. And that's part of the problem. I like to think of myself as an independent thinker, but I'm not as much as I would like to think. I need the leaders of the world to inspire me if I'm going to want to walk to the end of my road to vote when needed. If I'm going to care about climate change, crime, education, etc... well, I kind of need the leaders to take me there. Don't get me wrong, I care about climate change. If we do nothing, we all die soon, I get it. But despite knowing this, I just sat here with all the lights on eating a biscuit. It takes someone inspiring to make me want to change the way I live.

Bartlet was that guy. But he was a million miles away from what real people are like. It was actually quite depressing; when an episode of 'The West Wing' would finish, I'd flick over to the news channel to see them wheel out George Bush for one of his depressingly hilarious speeches, the likes of which, I don't need to repeat again. Okay, maybe I will.

And then, Obama came along. I was lucky enough to be in New York on election day last year. The energy was incredible. Everyone was out to vote and there was a palpable change in the way people were talking to each other, the way people were feeling about their country. It was inspiring.

Now, as I said. I don't really follow politics, so I am kind of full of crap, I admit. But I'm still excited. Excited by Obama. Whether you agree with his policies or not. Whether you think public healthcare is good, or whether you think he's secretly a Communist-Nazi creating death panels (seriously guys?), it's still exciting. Exciting because, he's getting people talking. I mean, he's even getting the Israeli's and Palestinians talking.

I like the transparency of it. I like that the Whitehouse have a YouTube channel. I like that by looking at it you can see what President Obama is doing every single day. I like that they haven't disabled comments. So whether you want to say "I love you Obama!" or "you're a dumb [insert idiotic racist phrase]!" you have the chance to. I like that. I like that people aren't getting marginalized-- they're getting a voice.

But most of all - I like that the dream of President Bartlet is truly alive. I like that we have (well, you have, I still have Gordon Brown) a President who is engaged. That it's a President who stands up for the smartest kid in the class..

"When the president's got an embassy surrounded in Haiti or a keyhole photograph of a heavy water reactor or any of the fifty life-and-death matters that walk across his desk every day, I don't know if he's thinking about Immanuel Kant or not. I doubt it. But, if he does, I am comforted, at least, in my certainty, that he is doing his best to reach for all of it and not just the McNuggets. Is it possible we would be willing to require any less of the person sitting in that chair? The low road? I don't think it is."
-Josh Lyman

People have always hated blacks, been scared by Muslims, blamed Jews, wondered why white people rap, etc etc-- but what I like is that, even though, they still do hate blacks, run away from Muslims and blame the Jews-- at least now, because of this man called Obama, they are beginning to ask themselves why. And by asking why, you begin to grow, you begin to learn about yourself and about other people. You begin to see everybody else for exactly what they are -- which is just like you.

So, yeah. I don't even follow politics. But, I can't help but do something I never did before-- which is occasionally read up on what he's doing, read one of his speeches, watch the WhiteHouse YouTube channel, etc. Finally-- there is someone on the world stage who cares about things. It's just like TV.

"I was watching a television program before, with a kind of roving moderator who spoke to a seated panel of young women who were having some sort of problem with their boyfriends - apparently, because the boyfriends had all slept with the girlfriends' mothers. And they brought the boyfriends out, and they fought, right there on television. Toby, tell me: these people don't vote, do they?"

-President Bartlet.

Care to share?

Great Advice From Tom Hanks on how to survive as an actor, using perseverance.

A few years back I was watching Tom Hanks on The Actors Studio with James Lipton. I think it's from around 1999. Hanks, as always, was funny, profound and interesting. But it was this last question, from a young actor, which really showed the most wisdom. I typed this out; and I'm glad I did, because the videos of this interview keep getting taken down from YouTube. Luckily, it's a great thing to read off the page.

Young Actor to Tom Hanks - "I was wondering if you could impart some knowledge about the nuts and bolts of the industry.. just the grey reality of what that entails, and how do you really survive?"

Tom Hanks - "Wow - well you're really talking about perseverance. Um, and it's sometimes perseverance in the face of great adversity. And the adversity always is, 'I'm not working.' That's hard, man. It's hard to get past-- look I'm not in a play, I'm not in a movie. The best I can say is I'm up for a callback on a Danone Yogurt commercial - that's hard in order to have that be the thing that is kind of like defining what you do. There's no trick getting past it, there's no magic thing you can do. But it's like a love affair with someone you're gonna live your whole life with. You have to protect what it is ----- Now, you're talking to a guy; I haven't been out of a job since 1982. I had a fallow year after 'Bosom Buddies' in which I really thought well that's it, I've had my shot. Nothing else is gonna happen for me. And a year unemployed in Los Angeles is like six years unemployed in New York. It is a long friggin' time. And you think you've got a sticker on the back of your car that says "I used to be an actor", it feels that bad some times. But since then, I'm the luckiest man in the world...... The perseverance aspect of it is something that you can define every day and that takes a little bit of discipline - and more than anything else it takes this degree of perseverance that ultimately is not your measure of who you are as an artist but it's a measure of what you are as a professional, and it's HARD - cause there's nothing greater; nothing greater than saying I am a professional actor and I will be till the day I die. So, and that's where it gets tough."

Care to share?