Friday, August 25, 2006

Sapphire & Steel

Sapphire and Steel fans, make yourselves known. You will be contacted.

(And I'm talking big fans - you reference it in casual conversation; you speculate about what happened next; you either own episodes or you've seen them multiple times. I'm talking love here, people.)

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Silent Hill is coming

My god, that trailer is great.

Sean and I will be seeing Silent Hill on Tuesday 5 September after work. Details posted closer to the time, but feel free to join us if you know what you're getting yourself in for.

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Thanks, D

What you said last night gave me a real boost.

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Michael Mann, I love you

Miami Vice.
I want to write a film like this. This was absolutely the perfect movie to see at this stage of writing The Limit, and I went into it perfectly primed.


Here's what I was told: the movie starts in the middle of a police operation, and it keeps going from there - you really have to pay attention to follow what's going on, because Mann doesn't ease you into the world of the story.

1. It's like Brick. You have to listen carefully to everything everyone says & figure things out for yourself.
2. This is a perfect companion piece to The Wire. In fact, I'd say it's almost compulsory to watch a season of The Wire before seeing this film. It'll get you in the mood for the tone Mann is going for.
3. That mood is 'Hollywood' + 'Miami Vice' + 'The Wire'. Schmaltz + Cool + desperate people (on both sides of the badge) having to be as smart as they possibly can, to stay alive.

Here's what I didn't like:

- the script needed one more beat in the first meeting with the Fed to establish Crockett & Tubb's emotional connection with the case. That would have sustained us a lot more easily during their initial moves undercover.
- the performance of their fixer was over the top.
- where'd they get that grenade?
- the dialogue during the second meeting with the Fed was over the top.
- bringing the people they did to the club. It was a stupid move, and they should have known it. Biggest plot flaw of the movie, but it also sets up such an intense ending.
- Crockett & Tubbs needed to get proactive after what happened to Trudi.
- the story didn't return to the initial sting on Neptune.

Here's what I liked:

- Farrell & Foxx.
- starting in media res. I'm really coming to understand the advantages of this, for me as a writer.
- the jeopardy in their first meeting with the drug dealers. Smart people doing smart things because they know they could die at any moment.
- the seduction on the boat. A classic Mann scene.
- the romance. Absolutely unbelievable, but so necessary to (a) get in, (b) create tension in the finale, (c) be sexy.
- how will they respond to Trudi?
- the intensity of the ending & how it builds. Competent people doing deadly things.

The film is filled with music, it has a relentless pace, and its use of video captures the world in such a way that I was seeing the streets outside Reading when I stepped out like I was still in the movie.

Miami Vice is sleazy. Maybe it represents the real Miami; maybe it represents the degeneration of Michael Mann from the stylisation of Manhunter and Heat. All I know is I loved it.
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Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Limit – Anatomy of a Scene

Not so much procrastination in the re-starting of the writing this time. Maybe because I’m already three-quarters of the way through the script – because it’s in media res, I’m immediately interested, whereas starting from the beginning involves slowly relearning why I like the characters and then building up interesting situations for them.

Anyway, I took a crack at the confrontation scene between Tracy and Forster on Tuesday. By about halfway through Draft 1, I stopped. Here’s what I wrote about that:

Fuck, I really want to mine the subtext – but I think I have to write the scene out first, then figure out what it’s about – and how that adds to the About of the film (‘2 dads vying for the love of their son’), and then simplify the scene down. I’m talking about writing and editing, really … and then re-reading the whole thing in sequence, so I can see how it all fits together. So … no need to panic about ‘getting it right’.

All I was doing here was taking the pressure off myself - to remind myself that while I was doing the best I could with the scene, there were going to be plenty more opportunities before the script was finished to judge how it worked.

So I backed up, started a Draft 2, and stalled again.

Time to take a break, think through it again. In the middle of doing dishes, I realised what each character wanted, that it was actually a pretty simple conflict (and that I’d been circling around articulating it that simply for about 2 years). Tracy wants Forster to live and face justice, while Forster wants to die, in a very specific way.

I also realised that I wanted to create a connection between the 2 of them, to show that they had common ground, having been through the same stuff. It’s a technique I admired in Lost, in the Sayid/AnaLucia conversations after Shannon’s death.

So, I worked yesterday, mulled over the scene and came back to it this morning after a bit of internet procrastination.

First things first, what’s at stake? Well, I know that the lead character will live, and I know that she’s going to ‘get’ Forster. What’s at stake is how she’ll do it: will she use the law and reason, or anger and brute force. It help, having already written the brute force scene that I know I can make that plausible.

I wrote down the fundamental beats I want to see in the scene, and ID’d the next point to get to – which is Tracy’s realisation that Forster wants to die. I decided that Tracy had to be the one who realised, because (a) it makes her active, and (b) it shows her doing some detecting.

The dialogue came easily to start with, because the characters’ Wants are so diametrically opposed. I was handwriting everything, and if I couldn’t get an exact phrasing, then I just jotted down the idea behind the dialogue – to work it up later.

I came across a couple of things repeatedly:
1. An impression that some lines were either clich├ęd, or contained a repetitive subtext. (Have I talked before about how (for me) subtext has to be deliberately constructed and hammered into a scene? That was certainly the case here, with Tracy’s concern for her Dad.) Anyway, I decided to leave judging all that to the next readthrough.

2. If the audience knows some information is coming, withhold it. Create tension. It’s very natural to pop that stuff too early.

Toward the end of the scene's second act, Tracy learns some bad news. It's a Bang - I'm fascinated in how she'll react because I have no idea what she'll do. So I start brainstorming 20 ideas. At #8, I get to one I like - that she confronts the situation. I'm able to write out two or three more lines between Tracy and Forster, and then the dialogue dries up. After half an hour, I admit that to myself & back up, brainstorm some more ideas and adopt a subtler, softer approach. The scene flows pretty easily from that point to its end.

I wasn't sure exactly how Tracy would subdue Forster, so when I reached that moment I wrote from the heart. The end result is probably way over-long, but I was really INTO it while writing.

Anyway, I’ve roughed out the scene, I’m ready to move on now. Tracy has a real hero moment; I understand the characters better; their conversation NEEDED to happen; and it’s probably made the remainder of the film about 70% to 240% more interesting than it was before.
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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Talking with Sean

During our lunchtime stroll, we talked about another two things to be alert for in creative groups.

The first is ‘dead points’, areas or ideas that one or more people just aren’t interested in. The flipside is when there’s an idea that only one person is interested in, but they’re PASSIONATE about it. I experienced this during our first 48 Hours competition; there were some elements of the story that only a few people were into it, and each time the story focused on those there was a drop in energy and contribution. So, some solutions:

- Talk about why they are or aren’t interested.
- Accept you can’t make someone interested in something.
- Try to massage a story so it contains only elements that everyone’s interested in.
- Be generous in attempting to become interested in an idea. Really try to understand and internalise it.

The second thing to be alert for are conversations that go awkwardly. There’s usually something going on behind that, and although it takes bravery to bring it up for discussion, you’ll usually come to (a) a better understanding, and (b) develop more trust that you can work through creative differences.

Sean, anything else you want to add?

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Personally, I'd read #2

Two incredibly useful threads at the Forge.

One, discusses
how to start conflicts in Primetime Adventures – and it’s suggesting taking a WAAAAY less overt approach than I’ve used in my games. Jenni, I think you’d be particularly interested in this post. Look how it’s saying you don’t explicitly describe how a conflict will play out; you just identify that the conflict is a-brewing, play your cards and take the results into account.

That's very different to how we approached our Buffy game, and it really makes me want to play PTA right now, to try it out.

Two, which discusses the RPG 'Bachannal', and
how to approach roleplaying that has an erotic content.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Limit - It begins again!

Well, having cleared the decks of Lucky Jones design, it's back to The Limit. I left it just at the end of Act 2, about to start a big rewrite of an action scene. So, let us see if I have my usual day of procrastination. (To try and prevent it, I started the morning with a big, uphill walk, to try and get the endorphins flowing. I'll have to see how that works).

... and Matt, yes, there was a Mystery Post, and yes, I took it down after half an hour. There are good reasons for that, and it’ll be reposted soon, probably in another location.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Tips for working at the Writing Table

Over the last year or so, I've been involved in semi-regular get-togethers to brainstorm ideas for TV shows. Here's a few things I've learned from that, about working as part of a creative team:

Like the people you're working with.

Listen. Plotting is like jazz; you have to listen to everyone's contribution. Make sure you (and hopefully everyone else at the table) is committed to the principle that it's not about getting your ideas across, but making everyone else's shine.

Accept that it doesn't have to go your way; other ways are just as good. The end result won't be like you thought, and that's fine. However, you do need to buy in to what the idea's become.

Assume everyone's adult and friendly - you can raise objections and alternatives in a mature and reasonable way.

Proceed carefully when disagreeing with people. If you think an idea is lame, wrong or stupid, DON'T SAY THAT. Ask what's behind their suggestion. Seek to understand and keep trying, until you either buy in to it or get what their goal is. Asking them to explain is better than saying ' No '.

Play with the idea and the characters. Have fun.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Pointing out problems at the writing table

This is an addition to the writing table post, below. It's inspired by a conversation with Sean, yesterday, where we were talking about how you need to create a team where everybody feels like they can contribute (in order to bring out the best in them). It's also about getting everybody on the same page, and trying to improve a show by solving the problems that will have the most benefit on other areas of the show.

It's pretty simple:

Tell everyone we're going to list out all the problems we have with the show.
Tell them we're not going to try and solve them yet. We're not even going to say WHY they're a problem. We're just going to list them and move on.
Once everyone understands that we're going to try and keep the big picture in mind and not get bogged down (and everyone feels free to point out if the conversation starts getting down into specific details and justifications) ...
Get everyone to list out all the problems they have, on a whiteboard.
Get everyone name their top prob, or top 3.
Look for patterns, priorities. See if there are problems that everyone has in common.
Choose the problems that, if you solve them, they’ll have the most flow-on effect
Brainstorm solutions. Brainstorm a lot of them.

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Joining a Writing Table - some tips

As I've found, it's not easy to be the new person at the writing table. I've mentioned before how I'd like to be part of a table that listens to each other and tries to bring out the best. Here are some tips on how to do that:

- Just ask questions – try to get a feel for what’s important, the reasons why something was done, and where the reasoning is weak.

- Don’t prepare a 40 page document filled with all the problems I've identified and how I'd solve them. This sort of stuff has to come out in conversation.

- Do bring a page of questions, organised in order of importance.

- If I do have to ID problems, keep the list very very short. Either, (a) Point out why I find them problematic, and suggest a couple of solutions, or (b) do a deep analysis to find out what I think the basic problem is – and then see if others at the table agree with me.

- Don't get anxious about joining an established team. It takes quite a while to fit in with them and get a sense of their style (like a month to six month quite a while)

- Try to keep the Big Picture in mind.

- Be co-operative.

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My new writing process - a rough outline

Hmm, here's the stripped down, mechanical version of the writing process I want to try.

Intro characters. Present them with a Kicker, a situation that cannot be ignored
Brainstorm 20 (B20) ideas for each character’s reaction.
Choose the most interesting.
Write down on a separate page for each character, what I’ve discovered about them in making that choice.
Create the new situation based on that choice.
Write a synopsis of it on a Word doc.

Characters have to react to the new situation. Intro any new characters that that situation demands. Repeat the B20, writing process.
Soon I’ll have ‘character sheets’ filled with traits that allow me to make decisions that are consistent with their characterisation.

If I come up with awesome new ideas, write them down on a page that says Act 1,2,3. But keep going with my current story – to see what I learn. Why? Well, the idea is that I won’t know if these new ideas are the 'right' ones – all I’ll know is that they’re better – but I could come up with more if I keep going. So rather than keep getting distracted by - let's face it - an inexhaustible supply of new possibilities, I'll work through the entire story and then be able to make a decision based on overviewing the whole thing.

Read aloud. Record.
Take notes.

Go back to the start and start with the most interesting situation I've now devised. Rebuild.
Repeat till I’m confident.


This whole process is more character based, with a structure that (I assume) will naturally get imposed on it over time. The question of what it's 'about' also needs to be answered - but I have another post on that coming up, based on my recent consulting work on this TV show.

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Some Lucky Jones playtesting

So, we played my family sit-com game, The Lucky Joneses on Tuesday night. The nuts-and-bolts write-up is at the Forge.

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