Friday, 23 October 2009

The Lovely Bones, The Visitor, Last Chance Harvey. - [Notes on Last Screenplays Read]

Yesterday I read three screenplays and so I thought I'd have a collective round up of thoughts and offer up an Award for the Best Screenplay of the Day. (Note: There are no spoilers).

Firstly, The Lovely Bones, written by the team behind The Lord of the Rings and based on the best selling book of the same name. It was an interesting read simply because it was different from any script I have read or film I have seen.

Going in I was aware it was the story of a murdered young girl who narrates her story from heaven, which is known from the outset. But instead of entering a potentially dark drama about the loss of a child, I was swept up and surprised with its often light-hearted nature at times and from within her viewpoint of death from heaven. It offers such an interesting contrast to the events and emotions on the ground and a very brave way of approaching such poignant and horrific subject matter.

It is a heartbreaking and tragic story but those emotions aren't solely relied upon and enforced to carry you through, as that's not so much the angle of the story being told. It's achieved in an often light-hearted way with dramatic and suspenseful moments. It's interesting that as an audience you're so angry at the crime but find yourself forgetting about it at moments and being amused at some of the things the girl says or a moment or two within the family as we pass through the years; offering some much needed relief from the unapproachable and quite frankly inconceivable thing that's happened.

However, it wasn't an incredible read, (although the more i think about it, it kind of is) but it was different, structured in a way i hadn't seen or read before, naturally powerful due its nature and subject matter, but handled in such a unique and sheltered way. I did want it to go to those high emotional and dramatic places, which the characters didn't as such, but then again, I suppose that has been done many times before and like i said, this was different to anything I've read or seen. I applaud them for adapting/making it and just hope that the film turns out really well because it deserves to.

Second is, The Visitor. It was an interesting read for one major reason and that it didn't appear to be good enough to be made.

At first, I expected a horror or thriller of some kind as I went blindly into it, which is the way I like to go into screenplays. But I was surprised with a drama essentially about illegal immigrants from the view point of a lost and lonesome college professor.

At the end, I was aware that although it was naturally a powerful story, it just had something missing, some personality and real drama. It didn't go to the emotional places i wanted it to and generally thought as a film, it would go to. I was unsure to whether it was the real deal and wondered if it had been made. I thought the potential was avoided and was left with a sour thought of 'How can that be it?' I wanted more. The script was so basic in its detail and personality or lacking rather that it didn't feel like a professional screenplay. It was a competent read but just not what I thought would be enough.

Bare with me...

Anyway, so i hopped over to Apple Trailers and found its trailer. It was nominated for an Oscar and has won many, many awards! And the trailer, is awesome! The performances looked great and the cast spot on. It looked like it held together really well on such simple and basic drama. It was a little shock and nice surprise because the script was so basic in every detail and i thought missed out on its potential in drama and character bonding. It glided lightly over the surface, I thought.

That then told me two things, the actors and actresses on the film did an incredible job because i didn't feel or read much emotion in the script, everybody was constantly coming and going and hardly stayed for long, and two, there can be scripts that are so subtle, simple and only briefly touch on the drama potential, and that is enough itself. I am aware of that last one, but the script was such a surprisingly sparse and lacking read that I did wonder if it would be enough.

The director also wrote it, which is a factor and one where I can imagine specifically allowed the freedom for the actors and actresses to portray the roles and had confidence in himself as a director to achieve the performances, and so didn't feel the need to write them into the script as such.

But I have more respect for it now as a whole and it was a great lesson to fully realise with a proven and successful example.

The Third was, Last Chance Harvey. It was an interesting read for many reasons. The first is due to the fact I had seen the trailer awhile back, and thought, 'A funny stiff-upper-lip scene,' but hasn't all this awkward romance meeting stuff been done before? It was intriguing nonetheless. But the main factor was that I was aware of the actor and actress who played the two lead roles. So they were obviously coming along for the journey as well.

So going in with decidedly low expectations and hoping to be proved wrong - I was and pleasantly so. I found a moving and often amusing story of an estranged father who arrives in London for his daughter's wedding and subsequently meets a woman, suffering from the pressures of being single and reaching forty. They get off on the wrong foot and in a situation that would see most guys would walk embarrassingly away from and with some dignity. But not Harvey.

It was a delight to read and I didn't want it to end. It had such a great blend of subtle humour and drama that made it a really pleasant and mature read. It's a testament to the writer because I feel like I know these characters and that they are people I have met and spent time with. And ultimately, I think that's the goal of a good screenplay to achieve such a personal connection with the audience and this one had it. I really loved it. Kudos.

And so without further ado and all that malarkey...

The Award for Best Screenplay of the Day goes to:


The Award for Special Jury Prize of the Day goes to:


Till next time.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Trailer Watch: Up In The Air.

One of the best teaser trailers I've seen in awhile:

It's released in the UK on January 15th 2010.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The Book of Eli

By Gary Whitta.

I've been wanting to read this for over a year and finally got around to it yesterday. Everything in the universe felt correctly aligned and so I went for it.

Since knowing what the screenplay was about, I was intrigued mostly to see if it would hold up as another post-apocalyptic yarn. And the verdict is: it does.

The story is about a lone man who's been travelling a long time on the word of God and is determined to reach his destination. This means keeping himself to himself and not entering into situations or conversations with people because they're not important to his journey. No matter what, he must keep on moving west.

The screenplay is well written, naturally and in such incredible detail from the outset it had me reading with awe. How such simple and mundane things were described with such elegance and purpose to it. The characters were vivid and carried interesting traits and stories and were handled nicely within the confines of such a world. The standout element was how it played with our (my) expectations of such a desolate world and its pre-set conventions. It offered up new ways of doing things or unexpected events and characters. It's nicely paced and works so well in creating effective intrigue/suspense and the slow delivery of the main character and his meeting with the opposition that you know is out in the wasteland.

The screenplay is more than the sum of its part and ultimately is about faith, what is it and what it means to a person, which can mean a different thing to another. It's about following your path and doing what you feel is right even if there's no proof or guarantee of success.

I'm looking forward to seeing the film and how well it transferred.

Monday, 19 October 2009

The Pedlar of Swaffham. Update.

I had a surreal trip back up to Bournemouth and the University on Friday to meet the animators (BACVA) and talk about the script.

And the good news is it's happening and the script will be made, which is great and I'm really pleased!

The animated short will be thirty seconds long and in what was descibed by the course leader as quality over quantity. This has got me intrigued to how it will turn out and most especially the view of Old London Bridge with its mish-mash of structures.

The final script deadline is in two weeks and will be discussed and finalised with the four animators. The group will then spend the year creating the animation, which I assume will be completed in the summer term around June/July next year.

It's incredible being back in a collaboration as there's nothing like it. I'm really looking forward to getting the script finalised and then on seeing the progress and offering any character/story advice and details I can.

It's nice to be on the road to having a sole written animation produced and has been one of my ambitions for awhile.

Just awesome.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Unsuckessful Vampire. - [Reflection/Update]

Strangely this is the first post on this collaboration which was completed over six months ago. But it was such an incredible experience that I am going to offer a brief insight and reflection on the project.

The Unsuccessful Vampire is a three minute stop-motion animation produced across the road from Bournemouth University at The Arts Institute Bournemouth. I didn't write the animation's story but did co-write the narration to it and had a blast.

Initially being chosen for the project was a mix of terror and excitement. I had no experience in the area and wanted to achieve the best I could because I didn't want to let anyone down and wanted to do justice to the story/visuals.

So I was given an animatic (rough version) of the short and had to come up with a suitable narration to accompany it. There was 30 seconds of an original attempt from the start, which helped to guide me and in the end most of it remained because it worked so well. At first it was very difficult because I had no story or character notes to work from, just the animatic/part narration and the fact that this vampire was rather unsuccessful in his line of work, well in his nature. But once I got started and involved it all started to flow and was great fun.

I think I did three rewrites on the narration which spanned over six months and received some great notes on them. I had time on this which was the best thing because it took awhile to get into the mind of the story and the world of animation. But it was such an incredible and rewarding challenge, and fun thing to do that I really miss the process. There were a few problem areas for awhile, where it just seemed impossible that anything suitable would fit there. But in the end, suitable words came from nowhere and seemed to fit and work.

It was such a great story and animatic and relaxed collaboration that it was a pleasure to work on and I learnt so much that it was also a blessing.

Currently, the short is being shown around film festivals and I should be able to get a copy within a month or so, as I haven't seen the finished version yet.

I do hope that it will be uploaded online at some point as it would be great to be able to proudly post the link.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

The Impatient Reader; and Screenwriter

I just wonder if anyone else has this same frustration or if it's a general thing with screenwriters in particular, but the common novel is getting even more frustrating to get through; because there's so much talking and oh those flashbacks! I don't care, just get on with the progressing narrative, please.

Do I have a specific condition or is this natural? I can imagine that now I'm completely aware of it it's going to become an even bigger problem. Or maybe I should simply demote novels and read more screenplays? After all, I don't want to be a novelist.

The problem and frustration came to light recently whilst reading James Herbert's 'Haunted', and although it is rather pacey, sparse-ish on talking and has only three flashbacks, it frustrated me quite a bit. It just wasn't progressing to the beats I wanted it to even though it was pretty fast for a novel.

Or maybe I just simply picked up the wrong thing so soon after the great, symmetrical and exactly thirteen chapters apiece and relatively short stays of The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room and The Wide Window. All belonging to 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' and being the first three volumes.

Another series that springs to mind with a lot of dialogue or talking rather in scenes is whenever Harry Potter sits in a room with Dumbledor. That guy can talk, and talk and talk, and then some. For me, those scenes or chapters have always been the most frustrating otherwise the books are great. The last one, possibly untouchable.

One book that I regret putting frustratingly down, and the second ever, by my foolish, amateurish and impatient nature quite a few years back, was The Wizard and The Glass by Stephen King. The Gunslinger, the first volume, quite possibly my favourite book ever. But once into The Wizard and The Glass, it delves into a flashback and I got so frustrated that I skipped some pages, then ten, then twenty and a hundred, and it was still going on. So I skipped another hundred and it was still going on. Then left it. I wanted the progressing narrative to continue. I didn't want the back story stuff. I just wanted the ride!

However, a week or so ago, a friend pointed out that the book is an entire flashback and relevant to later events and books in the series. So I felt stupid, and said, 'Yeah, that makes sense. I'll give it another go.'

I was always going to go back to it someday, I promise, Roland, Gunslinger, Mr. King...

So I think my post has answered itself really and that I should be reading more screenplays than novels, as I'm clearly striving for a ride and experience that's suited to the format and not so much with the novel.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The Pedlar of Swaffham.

I've recently completed an unexpected short animation script entitled 'The Pedlar of Swaffham,' which I'm really proud of.

I had initial doubts in achieving the script as by nature it was different to my other animation shorts and was my first adapted piece.

The Pedlar of Swaffham is an english short story that derives from the legend and myth of said Pedlar who came into a fortune due to a dream.

The project came about through Bournemouth University and the new wave of first year animators there. Five short stories were available for adaptation and the best ones will be created into animations by a team over the next year.

This was an opportunity I thought was too good to be true and there was no way i was going to pass on it. I love animations and writing them and have been trying to get 'Book' and 'Vampire' made for awhile. And, here was the chance to potentially get a written credit on a short animation! Too good to be true, and yet it is. :)

So I got reading the short stories, found mine and got to work, and with a one-week deadline. It may have only been six or seven pages long but the story's essence had to be compressed to a mere 2-3 pages of screen time, which was rather difficult as there was a major section of dialogue at a crucial point, had a lot of beats in the story and was historical. And I had picked the easiest one to adapt!

But the more I cut certain beats out on the fly and under pressure, I realised that the audience could deduce for itself what was missing and I soon found out the story could work with its bare bones. It's fascinating now, how quick I am to cut my favourite things as from experience they're often the weakest link, and with this I went straight to them and with only a slight hesitation. The characters and story always comes first, not me.

One of the most fascinating parts of it was the research, and finding out about the Old London Bridge (which the Pedlar visits) and that there used to be shop buildings on there, which people also lived in. The pictures and info I found were incredible and took me off on a tangent for awhile. It was a really great discovery as I love finding out about these kinds of historical gems.

Only in London folks:

It was such an incredible project and exercise and went so fast that I really miss it. I hope it gets picked so I can return to it and improve on it and hopefully see it for real.

It has also proved once again and only in the words of George Mcfly:

'If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.'

Monday, 5 October 2009

WWII Drama Screenplay - [Brief Reflection]

To be bold and ambitious or rather, naive and foolish, would all collectively summarise my decision to write the screenplay for WWII Drama one evening in February 2008.

Although, fingers to keys for the first scene wouldn't happen for at least a year and a half later and confined to evenings during a work placement. (To note: it's not an action war film).

As previously noted, it was a daunting prospect to be writing a drama set during the Second World War, although, it wasn't a decision made with my head but my heart. I had a burning desire to write this story and it just took over any rational thought. Plus I knew it had elements that had never been done before, other relevant positive factors and featured a knock-out title.

So I would have been a fool not to follow it, right?

I also knew nothing about the two world wars and had no real clue to the amount of research that lay in front me, as I had never written a script that required any large amount of research before. I hadn't even written a feature screenplay.

At a Danny Boyle talk last year (BFI Oct 08), he mentioned something along the lines of: In order to stay fresh, challenged and to lose your ego, he attempts a film in a different genre. This would account for his special array of films and is a great piece of advice because going in 'you know very little' and have to learn a whole new lot of everything.

In hindsight, the process of writing in a new genre is the greatest challenge there is and becomes a liberating and extremely grounding experience. I have always had ambitions to venture into different genres but this has made me even more determined but also aware of the ground work involved.

I did underestimate initially how much research was involved and soon learnt how it never ends, and that I wish I had a basic level of WWII and 1940s knowledge before I started. This lack of previous knowledge meeting the real deal soon started to chip away at my original treatment and reveal the various cliches it contained. But as the research and feedback continued the central story became more focused and its emotional journey enhanced. I became fascinated with what I was reading and it fed into my script and affected me emotionally unlike anything I've ever experienced.

The screenplay itself didn't end up as polished as I wanted due to the limited time I had to write it. But I am extremely proud and surprised at where it ended up and will trust my ability even more in the future. It did break my heart handing it in at what I consider an unfinished state, but thankfully it all worked out.

The process was unlike anything I've experienced and has become my own war story to tell or at least, to hold up against any further projects. The strangest thing is that I hardly remember the experience and question whether it was really me that wrote it.

In the end, it turned out to be an extremely challenging, rewarding and enlightening experience. It was as profound as they come and for a first feature screenplay it has certainly set the bar. It has also made me realise that I have so much to learn about character, writing and the world.

Although, I must say, I can't take full credit for the development of WWII Drama and hand over a good portion of that to my tutor for the project, Rosie Cullen. I don't think I could ever thank her enough for her advice, support and encouragement.

I look forward to polishing the current draft of WWII Drama for colleague feedback and then returning to it after one or two projects are complete. I aim to use it as a calling card script and look forward to the reunion and its next stage.

WWII Drama is the pinnacle of my writing achievements and is one I would go crazy over seeing in the cinema, and I think many others would also.

It... would... be... INCREDIBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And that is why I write.