Thursday, June 30, 2005

[Film] Batman Begins

What did you think of the movie?

[The Limit] Realisations

These are all simple things, but ...

Trying to cut 10% of the script (down to about 90 pages) is fun.

The longer I write a scene, the more chance I have of fucking up what the scene’s about.

Action obeys Harold Ramis’ rule for writing comedy: it should take as long to read it as it would to see it.

The Limit has 5 acts.

At the moment, I’m back on schedule.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

[The Limit] Stay! Calm!

Feeling stressed out at the thought of trying to finish all of Act 1 today. So I've set myself a couple of small goals. First, I'd like to quickly rough out the new introduction to the movie (over several passes) and bat that off to Andrew. Then I'll do all the macro restructuring of the rest of Act 1, after which I can start to fine-tuning.

Probably going to end up half a day behind schedule at the mo'.

[RPG] Last Night's Game

While continues to go crazy, I thought I'd post about the play test last night. I had a lot of fun, was pleased Wayne grasped the rules better than I did and have made a lot of notes for rules changes. What about you? What did you think?

*Jenni, I just saw your comment in the post below. Rock!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

[The Limit] Overusing declarative sentences

The script analysis is completed. Halving my time estimates really has resulted in me doing the work faster. So much so that my Safety Buffer is back up to 20 days. Conclusion: if I want to get work done fast I should focus on it until it’s freakin’ done.

Now I’m going to start on the edit. 4 days seems even more ridiculous now I’ve seen what needs to be done on the script. I’m going to take it as a challenge … to see if I can get back up to ‘TV writing’ speed.

For future business reference: That was a full script analysis in 2.5 days.

[RPG] My first playtest

Hopefully tonight we’ll be playtesting my game Luck of the Joneses. However, I’ve just figured out that it’s a 5 player game and there are 6 people in our group. Looks like I’ll be sitting out and watching – which actually sounds fun to me, I’m exhausted!

Spear Tackle = Iraq?

A little off-topic, but all the footage I've seen of O'Driscoll's injury in Saturday night's game clearly shows Tana Umaga and Kevin Mealamu tipping the guy over onto his face. Yet the MSM seems reluctant to discuss that directly.

"Tana Umaga's such a nice guy. He'd never do that."

"Perhaps someone took offense to the Lions' reaction to the haka. Except all the experts we've just interviewed say that wouldn't happen."

I think it's weird. Obviously the story is the anti-climactic nature of the first game in the series, but the more interesting story is an apparent cultural blindspot where we can't examine the potential misdeeds of our sporting heroes with any objectivity.

[The Limit] I Cheat!

So, yesterday I analysed the script - what I felt while reading it (highly instructive!), the questions it raised, and the negatives. Today, instead of continuing the process ... I'm going to cheat and pull together my 1 page summary sheet of the script. My logic is that I already know the positives, I'll brainstorm ideas while I'm redoing scenes and I'll be overviewing the structure in the process of writing the summary.

Hopefully I can save myself half a day and increase my safety buffer.*

Anyway, project management geek-out aside, the main plot concern is 'have I made the solution to the mystery too obvious?'. I think so - and I think it's an easy fix.

[*36 days to go. Safety buffer of 19.5 days.]

Monday, June 27, 2005

[The Limit] First Read

Interesting. Lots of really good stuff in the script. Be interesting to hear what Andrew thinks about it. (BTW: His pages have elegantly solved a major problem.)

Overall: the plot's almost there and the heart of the script - what I feel while reading it - needs a lot of work. The rhythm of the script feels wrong. If the script were a pop song, there'd be too many repetitions of the chorus, the verse going on for too long and not hitting the notes you want to hear, and the mood being not quite right. All fixable stuff, but a bit of work to get it 'just so'.

I can see ways through the problems but they involve a moderate amount of work, ranging from simply shifting material around to writing completely new scenes. I may soon face the screenwriter's dilemma: "Get it done on time or get it done right?"

Started half a day later than I thought, so my safety is now down to 19.5 days. Now on to a 6 Hat Analysis for the next couple of days.

Friday, June 24, 2005

[Script] Next feature

On my days off, I'm brainstorming the next movie I want to write. Based on a short story by Sean Molloy, I've wanted to make this film since 1997 - and it's had various incarnations: horror, thriller, even romantic comedy.

Anyway, I think the central question of the script is "Will Gene and Becs save their marriage?" Just recently I realised that the main character has always been Gene, who wants to have an affair - and that I didn't like him. So my first recent breakthrough decision was to show the situation from both their sides. I think this provides a decent conflict for the central question and it also probably sets up Becs as the more sympathetic of the main characters

So now I know what the married couple want ... and I've come up with a few nasty surprises in the motivations of their circle of friends. The pieces I need to set up the film all seem to be there. Plus I have an idea about the midpoint I want to use to complicate the situation. And in the shower tonight I came up with a deeper, secret want for Gene that has me reeling with its potential.

Darth Tom kills Oprah


Wednesday, June 22, 2005

[The Limit] Big effort coming up

My goal’s to have a second draft of The Limit on the market by August 7. Doing that requires a massive amount of focus and time-management. Since applying the concepts from Critical Chain (a book on project management) worked for finishing off Draft 1, I’m going to use them again.

Some of the relevant ideas are:

  1. Assume all work gets done at the last minute.
  2. With that in mind, halve my time estimates for how long it’ll take to do things.
  3. Put the 50% of time I’ve saved into a safety buffer at the end of the project. That time can get fed into the project if any particular step starts running behind.

Here’s my plan.

A. Edit Draft 1 [finished by 3 July]
B. Send script out to readers. [12 July]
C. Polish Draft 2 [17 July]
D. Send script out to producers. [18 July]

A. Edit Draft 1

26 July
Read it. [0.25 days]
Emotional Engagement Chart. [0.25 days]
6 Hat review. [1.5 days]

28 July
Boil 6 Hat notes down to 1 page. [0.25]
Write up a ‘Gut’ report of what I feel about the script. [0.25]
Compare 1 page note and Gut report. [0.25]

29 July
Consult with Andrew (depending on his availability). [0.5]
Distill core problems. [0.25]

30 July
Re-edit. [4 days]

So, assuming everything goes according to plan … which it won’t … there will be a leaner draft to send out to a select few readers on July 3. It’s a totally insane schedule and I’m feeling slightly stressed even writing about writing it … but I have a couple of aces up my sleeve.

First, I’ve done this sort of thing, under these constraints, many times before – on the TV series and on at least a couple of feature films. Second, I have that safety buffer. Say the re-edit gets bogged down. I have days I can draw out of the buffer and spend on the rewrite.

Third, once I’ve finished that rewrite and handed it off to our readers, I can relax again for at least a couple of days. So it’s not like this is persistent pressure through to the first week of August. There actually will be ebbs and flows. It’ll be tough, but I think it’ll be achievable.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

[The Limit] More things I do (that might alienate Billy)

So what did I learn from Draft 1 of this script?

To outline thoroughly, then write. Maybe not four years of outlining (like with this project), but analysing the script pays off.

Don't settle. Try and make each sequence as good as I can without pressuring myself to get it right first time out. In fact, each pass can be crappy and unformed - but the idea is to build the sequence into something I'm happy to sign off on.

How do I do that?

First, ask myself what is the question I want the scene to raise in the audience's mind. Hopefully that question follows logically from what they just seen (I've just written). This question is what I interpret others mean when they ask "What are the stakes?"

The conflict: I suspect that works best when the conflict centres around two different answers to the question. That way, the answer to the question is uncertain and keeps you in suspense.

"What is the emotion I want to produce?" I kind of forgot about this as I got further into the script.

Brainstorming conflicts, beats and lines of dialogue until I'm happy. Come up with at least 20 ideas, and then add 10 more until I'm satisfied.

Make sure that at least every 10 pages there are moments reflect your genre and unique moments that could only appear in your movie.

That’s all I can think of right now. Any questions? Anything you’d like me to expand on?

Monday, June 20, 2005

[RPG] Who's your audience?

Lightbulb moment. Brand Robins is talking about one-on-one gaming and sexuality in RPGs over at his blog. Towards the end of the comments, he says this:

... [make] games for people that are already friends (or more than friends), who already like each other, and exploit their social context in order to build the game from that healthy point rather than trying to do the inverse.

That feels like one of those principles of game design Vincent's talking about over at anyway.

Makes me think that a great paragraph on the first page of Luck of the Joneses would be: "Who do you play this with? Grab 3 or 4 of your friends, maybe people that you play board-games with already, and invite them over. Make a night of it - put the stereo on, have some drinks. Simply hang out and play this game."

[The Limit] It’s over

Sort of.

In Which Lie Die I Tell, William Goldman talks about scenes in screenplays where – after you’ve read them – all the work is done. The audience has bought into the story and they’re just going to be taken along. In The Limit, I think that scene comes 3 pages from the end. And I just wrote it.

It’s a weird emotion: relief, triumph … and a little bit of fear. I’m disturbed at how little craft I applied to Act 3. Basically I burned through it today, wanting to write from the heart and follow my old outline rather than re-break the scenes by Stakes and Conflicts.

It made me believe that a well-worked out outline really would create speedy fun writing for me. That’s the goal for next time. I feel I got distracted by the pitch … put it at the wrong stage of the process. Oral should be 1st or 2nd – and then last.


Couple more pages and a re-edit but for the first time in months I can think beyond the immediate task of ‘finish the script’.

  • TO DO
Finish the script.
See Revenge of the Sith.
Writer’s Summary. What have I learned? What will I do differently next time?
Describe how I managed my time.
Days off.
Planning next couple of months.
Assemble 1st 10 pages from Andrew.
Print out script.
Read … Take the whole day to do it.
Should I take notes on that first pass through?
Build a Whammo Chart.
6 Hat the script on six passes.
Polish with Andrew.
Send to Sean and Ainsley.
ID main problems.
Send out 2nd Draft.

There’s also Directors’ Notes, the Pitch and Marketing to start thinking about.

[How To: TV] What’s your Inspiration?

Can you articulate the bundle of images and associations that have you jazzed about working on your project?

Try writing a paragraph or a list or a manifesto or whatever of why you really want to write this thing – and then try and stay true to it over the next 3 years.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

[The Limit] Onto Act 3

I have more to write but:

a) I'm loving the Armed Offender's sequence.
b) must add another beat to it - and re-edit a previous scene
c) it's 20 pages, about 8 pages longer than I thought.
d) it's an action sequence with character development.

A couple of cool things happened during the writing:

e) I started hearing the voices of actors I want to cast saying the dialogue.
f) I got scared and moved and righteously angry along side the main character.
g) I cast a friend in the movie who I've been trying to find a part for, for ages.


h) Maybe the conflicts in the first half of the film are off. Need to check.

Happy with progress. Want to move faster. I'm going all out for the next 3 weeks.

[Script] Kung Fu Monkey

Couple a quick updates today. First, I am really really grooving on John Roger's blog, Kung Fu Monkey. He's the script writer behind The Core and Global Frequency (TV pilot). I'll probably add his blog to the sidebar soon.

For an example of what I mean, check out the Writing articles in his Index post (another neat idea I'll probably yoink). What I find so great about these posts is that I've been coming to similar conclusions as him - and where we differ, I can see the differences offer up some exciting possibilities.

Friday, June 17, 2005

[TV] Funny sh!t

I'm probably WAAAAY behind the 8-ball on this one, but this is a damn funny spoiler-ridden script about why the survivors in Lost deserve their fate.

(Oh, and this script review about Jurassic Park 4 is the funniest thing I read last year.)

[RPG] The Sabers of Paradise

Finished designing my second role-playing game last night. I even play tested it twice - found it was gripping and fun. The game is supposed to be intense and action heavy, inspired by 24 and Global Frequency and especially by an unproduced TV show idea from a friend of mine, Brian. Here's the intro copy:

The world is three minutes away from destruction.

You are the guardians of Creation. And Creation is constantly on the verge of being destroyed.

There's only one team who can save it. That's why they send for you. The Sabers of Paradise.

The threat is here.
The world is ending.

Can you save it?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

[How To: TV] The Question

Proposal: There will be a fundamental question your story will (or seeks to) answer. This can apply to both an episode and a series. It definitely applies to The Limit, the feature film I am writing. The question for The Limit is "Will Peter find out who killed his son?"

A typical question in lovebites would have been "Will Ben get this girl?"

Knowing the question seems to help focus on telling the story.

[How To: TV] The Worst

To write drama, ask yourself what's the worst that can happen? Right now?

[How To: TV] Open vs. Closed Episodes

Open episodes are used when you are telling an ongoing story. When you start watching an open episode, you have no idea or guarantee where it will end up. The Sopranos and Everwood are good examples of series that use open episodes.

Closed episodes follow a predictable formula. The end point of an episode is almost certain to maintain the status quo of a series. CSI and Law & Order provide good examples of closed episodes structure.

Now, there is a give and take between these two - mostly to do with series and season continuity and character growth. Lost, for instance, seems to have a closed structure when you think about its backstories but a reasonably open structure when you look at the overall story it's telling. It would be fascinating to see a Closed Series (such as a police procedural) with strong character growth... so that revisiting the same type of story gave no guarantee of the same outcome.

Of course there are advantages and disadvantages to both types of episode structures (which I'll expand on later).

[TV] Freaks & Geeks - Index

Here are links to all my posts on Freaks & Geeks, an 18 episode comedy disguised as a drama series about what it was really like at high school.

Hitting its stride.
Is it flawed?
Make or break.
Continuity appears.
Stalker humour.
Testing the limits.
The End.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

[TV] Writing for Facelift

While reading this transcript of the Don Brash / Simon Dallow interview on Agenda, I figured out how to write for Facelift. Just spend those 7 weeks up at Mum & Dad’s watching as much TV as possible, with a notepad beside me … bouncing ideas off what’s actually happening.

That interview is basically a comedy sketch in and of itself.

Reminds me of what John Clarke said about satire, that it’s just hitting the ball back to the politicians with a bit of spin. No wonder I was having trouble. It’s very tough to write comedy in a vacuum.

[The Limit] Trying to move on

Going through the AOS Callout sequence, putting it into a rough structure and now I want to read through it and finetune the emotional flow.

As full of enthusiasm as I was about doing this last night, I seem to be putting it off today.

[RPG] Better Actual Play reports

This is a thread over at that goes into why Actual Play threads are important, and how to write better ones.

Monday, June 13, 2005

[The Limit] @ss-kicking approaches

I’m nearing the point where Trace puts the whomp on Forster – and I’m really looking forward to writing it.

[TV] Freaks & Geeks, The End

It’s over. And what am I left with? That Freaks and Geeks was a good series seems obvious. It was fearless in the way it induced flashbacks to all those moments that made me cringe during college.

But it was doing more than just the comedy of social dysfunction. Despite my early frustrations about the lack of continuity – specifically that significant changes in characters’ lives tended to be ignored in the episodes immediately following – F&G is essential viewing if you’re interested in seeing how a love of character translates to the screen.

The creators said they weren’t interested in building the series to a plot-driven cliffhanger but rather in developing an understanding of these people’s interior lives. So, the other way of looking at my continuity complaint is that the writers appreciated the essences of the characters … and made sure they fully explored them in one state before moving them on to the next.

That’s pretty much what the 2 final episodes are about. Moving on. In the penultimate episode (involving VP George HW Bush’s visit to the high school), Ken and Sam both deal with new relationships – leading to a scene where they share their problems with each other; a scene that is simultaneously a little contrived and exactly what I wanted to see.

Discos & Dragons is the finale for everyone else. Daniel learns to use his imagination through roleplaying, Nick might just pull his damnfool life together and Lindsey makes a choice after being confronted with her future.

These 18 eps form a perfect little portrait of these people’s lives. I guess the injustice is that Freaks & Geeks heralded the rebirth of the current era of good TV, with its deepening focus on character. If it’d come out a couple of years later, or screened on a more supportive network, we might all be loving it even now. Or talking about how jumped the shark after they graduated from high school.

We’ll never know (so I’ll just enjoy what we’ve got and try to get my hands on the DVD set again one day).

Sunday, June 12, 2005

[TV] Analysing Firefly and Buffy

Steve Darlington has written some articles on Firefly and Buffy. Check them out.

[TV] Global Frequency

This post about Global Frequency made me tear up. Not only was it a show I really wanted to see but it sounds like they nailed what I felt was the heart of the idea: at any time, any one of us could be called up to save the world.

[The Limit] Progress, again!

I was finding the mis-direction scene a bit difficult. Coupled with my now consuming desire to FINISH something, I spent Thursday through to Saturday morning writing a playtest draft of my new RPG, The Luck of the Joneses.

After that, I came back to the scene I’m been blocked on and finished it in a couple of hours.

[The 48] Getting ready for next year

So, I started these posts talking about the Disney vibe, the sense of well-being-happiness-community I felt after finishing the movie. I was not alone in feeling this way. For me, the best quote was Debz': "It is now my firm belief that there would be fewer wars in this world if leaders and politicians were forced to make Disney family movies in 48 hours."

It lasted a full day and a half, and first started to wear off after visiting Pak n’ Save (nothing like a trip to a supermarket to bring idealism and warm fuzzies sinking down to earth). But a big advantage I discovered was that I was also running on the vapours of decisiveness – and I was able to use that to make a lot of calls I’d been putting off – including interviewing the head of the Armed Offenders Squad.

In that spirit of decisiveness, the HODs all got together for a debrief of what we’d learned during the production. I thought I’d built up enough credit to give some honest feedback (and receive some in return), but instead what I did was hurt someone’s feelings. Fortunately later discussion made it (I think) all better.

Finally, the screening … which eliminated the last of my Disney high. We were up first, excited and then discovered that for some as yet untraced reason the sound was dropping out of the tape we’d submitted. This rendered a good 50% of our movie silent – but even so we still managed to elicit one “Oh, that’s cool!” from an audience member when we revealed the price to leave the Fairy Kingdom was a story.

Afterwards, dinner … and I was in good spirits, but after that, while walking home, I threw a HUGE tantie/hissy-fit which basically boiled down to not believing a group of 12 year olds could have produced a more technically proficient film than us. There were tennis rackets involved. In fact, most of my 5-yearly temper tantrums involve tennis rackets, which I speculate stems from too much childhood exposure to John Macenroe.

But that passed … and now the work continues. I do want to make more short films with my new friends and enter the 48 next year and deliver on time (and even hopefully go through from our group – a goal which is, of course, totally outside our control).

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

[The Limit] The end is in sight!

I’ve just been through 2 big rewrites and one cruisy action sequence. Now I’m into the final strand of Act 2 and working on a scene that (for the first time) requires a lot of thought about how much to mis-direct the audience.

What’s frustrating is that I’m so close to the end of the script. I’d like to just zoom through and finish this thing.

Of course, by ‘the end’ I mean the end of this draft. There’s more work beyond that. Like taking my new understanding of the characters and the plot - and feeding it back into the start of the script, refining the story. All I’m hoping is that the amount of intense thought I’ve been putting into the writing this time round is going to remove my standard errors from the script. Of course there will be mistakes – that’s what a first draft is :) - but I’d like to be dealing with a higher level of mistakes.

[TV] Watch Gilmore Girls this Sunday

It's a defining episode in the 5 year run of this great series about a very complicated mother-daughter-grandmother relationship. If you're a casual viewer, then this is one you won't want to miss.

Monday, June 06, 2005

[TV] The Smile Time Comic

For those of you who've been watching Angel S5, this unofficial web-comic is a sequel to an episode that'll air in about 4 weeks (Smile Time). I reckon it's in the top 3 of best Angel eps ever, but beware of the click: massive spoilers lie beyond.

The Smile Time Comic

[TV] No more ads ...

As I speculated way back when, product placement inside TV shows is taking a big step forward.

[Script] A Quote about writing passionately.

In my screenwriting class we set out to discover what would happen if you treated your screenplay-in-progress like someone you had recently fallen in love with. What if you courted your story, wooed it, gave it your very best, and loved it madly?

"The results were extremely promising. Our conclusion was that if we were willing to throw ourselves into falling in love with our work, risking heartache, holding nothing back, the inner muses responded in kind.

Cynthia Whitcomb
Writer’s Guide to Writing Your Screenplay

[TV] F&G does drugs, gets dark.

Ken finally gets a sub-plot and it involves an equally sarcastic tuba-player. Neil finds out some truths about his cool dad – and the show reaches its darkest ever point. All of which is brushed over in the next episode when Bill nearly dies of a peanut allergy (also the show’s darkest point) and a heavy handed anti-dope message is saved by a bunch of heavy-handed anti-dope comedic setpieces.

Interesting reveals including a backstory for the school bully that ties him closer to the geeks, a change of romantic focus for Sam and growing evidence of class differences between Sam and Neil.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

[VW] Another way to waste time

This one's a massive on-line riddle called NotPr0n. It's been around for about a year.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

[VW] Ways to waste time

A couple of on-line SF worldbuilding communities for you:

Orion's Arm - explores 10,000 years of transhuman culture.
The Lattice - is a communal story being told among massive interstellar artifacts left by a previous civilisation.

[TV] Next Season ...

Kristin at eonline has some inside information on developments next season for shows like Veronica Mars and Alias, and ...

... a way to find out what the creators of Lost could be planning for a second season. Here's what she says you should do:

1. Go to the "official" Oceanic Airlines Website.
2. At the bottom, where it says "Travellers," enter Hurley's unlucky lottery numbers: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42.
3. Click the "Find" button.
4. Click on the row numbers on the flight's seating chart that match Hurley's numbers.
5. Don't blink.
6. Change shorts.
7. Figure out what the hell it all means.
8. Keep digging. The site has much more to spill.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

[Film] Mean Girls

***½ (out of 5)

Definitely not perfect but definitely fun. A teen movie, social satire, Wiseguy parody, revenge movie, date flick, therapeutic life lesson black comedy with a heart of gold.

Great beginning and end. Highly variable second act. And just like Primer, crams an awful lot into its relatively short running time.

[Film] Primer

****½ (out of 5)

Very satisfying. Validates my idea that low-budget SF movies are going to be the next big thing. A group of inventors build a time-machine in their garage. Things go bad.

It’s not a perfect movie because a crucial plot point involving a girl, a shotgun and a party isn’t developed. In fact it's so undeveloped that it’s hard to care about the major reason the movie exists at all: the twist.

Yes, there’s a twist. But the way the film is presented (with gaps in the narrative and oblique hints) makes it impossible to develop a definitive timeline of what went (or will go) on. However, I trust the film-makers that it all makes sense and look forward to watching it a second and a third and a fourth time.

[Film] In Good Company

*** (out of 5)

Slow, very mechanical set-up that creates a drama more than a comedy. Obviously Paul Weitz has been influenced by working on About a Boy, because this is a very simple story: Topher Grace becomes Dennis Quaid’s boss. Play up the age difference.

What saves it is an amazing cast: Grace, Quaid and Scarlett Johannsen. I didn’t understand what the fuss was about her until I saw this movie. Now I agree, this woman is a star.

[Script] How Neil Gaimen gets ideas

I really like this essay - it's practical and terrifying, which describes about 50% of the time I spend writing.