I have just completed a really great film script with a writer living abroad and it’s about – well, I can’t actually tell you what it’s about, but it’s great, believe me.
Later next month I am writing another film script. It’s an adaptation of a novel, which I am really enjoying. It will make a great film. It’s about – well, I can’t actually tell you what that’s about either.
In the meantime I’m writing a game story for a client that is absolutely fantastic. The idea behind the story is totally unique and the artwork is stunning and … I wish I could tell you some more about it.
But I can’t.
What about the series of children’s poems? Not a word from me, unfortunately.
The Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) is a vital and necessary part of a writer’s life. So – I am told – is building your ‘brand’ as a writer. Make your readers interested in you, as a person, with information about the things you like and do.
Well, I write a lot – a lot of the time, in different areas and media. And it’s all pretty damn interesting, and thanks to the NDA I generally can’t breathe a word about any of it.
So – tonight I am going to a performance about a woman who died in 1979*. That’s about it.
‘The Prisoner’ was a 17 episode television series broadcast in the UK in 1967. Wow, that makes it 50 years old. Wow, that makes me old too!
Co-created by its star Patrick McGoohan, combining spy fiction with fantasy, science fiction, allegory and psychological drama, there had been nothing like it before and probably very little like it since. After the airing of the far from illuminating last episode people wandered the street looking dazed and confused for days.
Or maybe that was just me.
I loved it, partly because I had been a huge fan of Mcgoohan’s previous secret agent series ‘Danger Man’ and partly because it had just about everything the younger me liked at that time. No breasts, so ‘Game of Thrones’ is ahead there. (“Oh grow up Dr Tel!” “No, won’t! Tried it, didn’t like it!”)
The good news is that it is currently getting an airing on the ‘True Entertainment Channel’ for those that have Freesat (and heaven’s knows what other providers.) I caught up with an episode last night and the even better news is that it hardly creaked at all!
What is more, back in 1967, some genius had decided to film the series in a widescreen format. I was literally seeing more ‘Prisoner’ than ever!
I never knew that. The Wiki document says it was filmed in 4:3 picture format. It fitted my 16:9 TV beautifully! Portmeirion, the ‘Italianate’ Welsh resort village had never looked better. It was one of my favourite episodes too: ‘Schizoid Man’, which is very close to one of my favourite songs of all time ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ by the ‘mighty’ King Crimson, also produced in the late ‘60s. (Yes, I do have favourites from other eras too!). I am writing a TV series for a European Production company, guess what it’s going to have lots of in it? Fantasy, science fiction, allegory and psychological drama – if I can convince them.
And then it occurred to me last night, for the first time I was watching ‘Schizoid Man’ in the 21st Century! I’m not saying the thought ‘blew my mind’, but it got me typing this morning!
Those of you who have been paying attention will know that ‘Detective Strongoak and the Case of the Dead Elf’ was a #1 Kindle Bestseller in the Epic Fantasy genre. It has sold some 5300 ‘units’, which is pretty good for a book published initially as an ebook with a Print On Demand paperback only coming out some months later.
It’s also had some 120 Amazon reviews with an average of something like 4.3 Stars!
Thanks for that everyone!
Sadly the road to publishing continuity can be a bumpy one. Suffice to say, the next Nicely novel has been completed – as has number 3!
I am hoping that they will be with you ASAP.
In the meantime there is a co-written SF comedy coming your way soon with fantastic cover art and an accompanying – Ok, can’t tell you that!
Hopefully some of you have had a chance to see and listen to some of my work on the feature film ‘Chasing Robert Barker’, which is available on Video On Demand services like itunes and Amazon.
Plus I have started work on a game story for a fantastically talented writer/artist/game maker. That’s going to be a more long-term project, but it’s just phenomenal – already!
Kurt Vonnegut had Pumpkin. Neil Gaiman had Cabal. John Steinbeck had Charley and was so fond of Charley that he went on a road trip with him, which he wrote up in a book entitled ‘Travels With Charley’; a title which didn’t even raise a snigger back then.
Dogs make you move. Not excessively so, but the occasional trip to see what they are barking about is a good way to keep the circulation going. New research has shown that the majority of writers who do not move are dead. This is bad for a writer, although it can be good for sales. It is very bad for aspiring writers.
Dogs need walkies. Walking is an extended form of movement that is very good for writers too. Although it takes them away from their computer/word processor/typewriter/pen/pencil or quill/slate – slate being the choice for real hard core traditionalists. Walking can provide some much-needed thinking, or even inspiration, time. Ideas, characters and plots can come together when you walk in the most opportune of manners.
Also, collected poo in a bag is a very good metaphor for what most writers have to face in their chosen profession. Above all though a dog gives a writer what they probably are really looking for in life: indiscriminate adoration. If only dogs bought books.
Got to go. Lotte is grumbling at Fifty about something. Ah, movement – thank you writer’s dogs.
In my ‘other job’, as a script consultant and scriptwriter, I have been lucky enough to be involved in some great shows, including musicals, animated films, TV shows and live-action films. It’s great to see project come to completion and know that you have helped it along the way on that difficult journey.
It’s really exciting then to see that one of the feature films I have been involved with, ‘Chasing Robert Barker’ is now available on VOD channels such as itunes. This was a real labour of love for the team who all deserve congratulations for their hard work and shows what can be achieved on even a very modest budget when talent and enthusiasm are involved. I am particularly delighted for the principle writers, Maria and Daniel (who also directed brilliantly) for having the vision and determination to see their project through to completion.
I love writing novels and my own scripts of course, but I also love helping people with their projects too and sometimes I do also love that feeling of being part of a dedicated team.
I am currently writing a book and writing a film, at the same time. Well, not actually physically at the same time. I mean I am not ambidextrous or split-brained in some weird SF grey matter bisection style. I write one on one day, one on another and try not to get too mixed up with the plots. It keeps me fresh and I don’t tire of either and fortunately they are both science fiction (no brain splitting involved mind!) and they are both, sort of coincidentally, adaptations, but going in different directions.
So far so good.
What I do have to watch out for are problems connected with the differences between screenplay and book writing, because of course there are differences. I always try to be aware of these distinctions, but one gaff came to my attention yesterday. I was writing what I thought was a particularly good scene with snappy dialogue going backwards and forwards very nicely when I realised there was a problem. The problem was this: “the snappy dialogue going backwards and forwards very nicely”!
I think it was Alfred Hitchcock who said something along the lines of: “we’ve written the script, now we add the dialogue”. He certainly is quoted as saying: “dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms”. Yoiks! I’d gone into ‘Dialogue Overload’!
There is always a temptation when writing a script, especially when adapting from a book, of taking all the character’s internal thoughts (and when adapting, even material from the written descriptions) and putting it all into people’s mouths. This was what I was doing.
Now, I am not somebody who gets hung up on the “film is a visual medium” malarkey, as far as I’m concerned film is a recording medium and you do what you want and what is appropriate. Sometimes it is right to have scene after scene of characters expressing their thoughts and emotions … and we call them French films. You just need to be aware of what you are doing and consider if this is the time to be doing it because most of the time you won’t be writing a French film, even in France. It wasn’t appropriate for my SF script.
And I looked back and I realised that the scriptwriting was also causing some problems for my novel writing. Book sentences were becoming too terse and too short. Although this is actively encouraged for scriptwriting, where action is usually condensed to a couple of lines per paragraph, such writing can get very wearing for readers when presented in book form. I would argue that it can even be irritating in a spec script, especially if not done really well! Although you can get away with grammatically incorrect, or even incomplete, sentences in a script you need to get proficient in this style of writing and this proficiency isn’t something that comes overnight. I always think you should stick to simple evocative sentences when starting out scriptwriting.
A spec script, in particular, isn’t a shooting script and its first job is to be a pleasurable read to get somebody interested in your story. And although I am a huge fan of the hard-boiled detective style of writing sometimes in a book you should take the opportunity to stretch yourself a bit to produce a sufficient fluent read for your reader.
Time for some rewriting, I do believe.
‘And what about the plate juggling?’ I hear you ask.
I do quite a lot of adaptation work, mostly book to film, although I have also adapted for the stage and am currently adapting a musical to book form. That last one is particularly fun! It’s science fiction too!
Sometimes this adaptation is from complete stories and sometimes it is from treatments and outlines. The point remains, you are working with somebody else’s ideas and characters. You have been put in a position of great power here, and with great power comes great responsibility. (Now that’s a line for somebody).
For me it is like being a child again and going round to somebody else’s house and being invited to play with their toys. It’s really exciting, loads of fun, but you make doubly sure you don’t break anything – these are not your toys after all. You are in a position of trust.
When ‘adapting’ writing gurus such as Syd Field go on record as saying, ‘The original is the source material. You are not obliged to remain faithful to the original’ and Robert McKee says, ‘never be afraid to reinvent’. I tend to disagree, I think you should fall over backwards to stick as closely to the original as possible, WHILE RECOGNISING THAT YOU ARE WORKING IN A DIFFERENT MEDIUM WITH DIFFERENT REQUIREMENTS. That last bit is of course crucial.
I don’t think you should work with somebody else’s ideas and characters and remake them in your own image. I also happen to think far too many directors have been cavalier in their approach to pre-existing stories, but that’s another matter. If there are things about the story material you have problems with, don’t get involved. By the same token the ‘originator’ has got to recognise that producing a script from their work will probably involve some changes to get it onto the screen. Films work differently from books and plays and that’s part of the joy of experiencing story in different forms.
The point is that you don’t go round to a new friend’s house and break their toys deliberately.