A place I go to waste time and put off actually WRITING movie scripts. Join me.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Everything you are doing is bad. I want you to know this.

Hmmm. I thought I'd got it out of my system after my last post (for post read rant) but it seems not.

So... we're back to the "How to make films that make money in the current climate" debate, but this time it'll be skewed a little towards the role of the writer; a person, incidentally, conspicuously absent from the
Insight debate that I banged on about last time. I wonder why?..

Anyway, as established, the making of a 'genre' movie is clearly frowned upon. With little to no successful film production to speak of, those who sign the cheques would not want to spend their precious finance on something that would not push the art forward. The idea is that if you spend on one or two 'critical' successes a year then while you won't actually generate much income, at least you'll have something that might win awards and get prestigious screenings at International festivals. Fair point if awards and critical acclaim are your goal, but let's not forget that it's (supposed to be) an industry just as much as it is an art. Good reviews and awards don't finance future film production, they just widen the gap of perception between film-makers and audiences. We all know that making a good film is not a guarantee of making money. In fact, they are usually exclusive of each other. A quick glance at the average ratings across at Rotten Tomatoes is enough to prove that.

So the sweet-spot when it comes to making a successful movie is, quite frankly, tiny. It exists where a
good film and a commercially viable movie intersect. It is in this sweet-spot that the modern screenwriter must train themselves to work. While that may seem like a difficult ask, let's not forget that the very genesis of the idea comes from the mind of the writer.

Nothing exists until the writer creates it.

While it is true that there will be tens, perhaps even hundreds of other people's input into the finished product, if the underlying idea and structure are brilliant then they will not be overwhelmed. They will be added-to and improved-upon, creating a finished product of a quality that not even the writer could have expected. As someone important once said, "You can make a bad movie out of a good script, but you can't make a good movie out of a bad script."

How do you write a good script? I could tell you now, but then you wouldn't come back next time for:

1: The Premise.

See you then.


Saturday, September 17, 2005

That's not a knife. THIS is a knife...

So, it was by a very lucky happenstance that I found myself inert in front of SBS one evening earlier this week. Whilst casually flicking through the channels with more than half an eye on a forkful of super-heated microwave lasagne hovering precariously above my groin on its way to my mouth, someone said the words "film" and "industry", in that order, and my ears pricked.

Insight, the SBS current affairs live (I think) discussion programme, was just the latest media outlet to dive on the old "What's wrong with the Australian film and TV industry?!" chestnut. In attendance were various media types: producers, directors, financiers, film-makers, critics, students, studio representatives (well, Fox at least), the AFC, SBS itself but NOT, notably, anyone from any of the commercial channels here in Australia. Apparently they'd been invited, but had elected not to come. Presumably they had no good answers as to why they keep moving their scheduling around in a seemingly random fashion. I guess "We're following a post-modernist interpretation of the ancient Mayan calendar. Isn't everyone?" just wouldn't cut it.

What was established was this; the Australian film and TV industry ISN'T DOING VERY WELL.

I'll give everyone a moment to come to grips with that shocker.

Now that you're all back in your seats I'll continue. Everyone constantly referred to "great Australian stories" as being the saviour of the industry. I'd agree with that. The trouble is I think they're getting a bit confused between "great Australian stories" and "great
Australian stories". My distinction is this: one is chiefly Australian (dealing with issues that only affect Australians) while the other is a universal, archetypal story that is set in Australia and has an Australian flavour. It is these archetypal stories that endure across cultures and across contexts. It is that type of story that should be strived for.

"But what about Crocodile Dundee? It made $48m at the Australian Box Office," someone shouts, "and it did great business in the larger world!"

True enough. Dundee was a great success, and it's Australian... but what isn't
chiefly Australian is the fact that it's a fish-out-of-water comedy which is, I think, responsible for some of its success. The appeal of Paul Hogan as a comic (with a very successful TV series to his name) certainly added to that appeal along with the fact that, at the time, Australians (and Australian movies) were viewed as a little bit 'alien' to other cultures, especially to audiences in the US. Since one of the constants in successful screenwriting is to give the audience a unique view of a world that they are unfamiliar with, these three factors combined to make that movie the success it was, and indeed deserved to be.

We cannot make Crocodile Dundee now. Australians are almost as commonplace in Hollywood as Americans so the uniqueness of the culture has been lost. With nothing like that to differentiate ourselves we have to do what everyone else has to do. WRITE GOOD STORIES.

"We should be aiming squarely for the Multiplexes! We need to be making genre movies! Why aren't we making genre movies?" shouts someone else.

I echoed this question. What aren't we? Genre movies are often the ones that may cost more due to their higher production values, but they also have what is closest to a ready-made audience. The most important demographic (as established in this very debate) in box office terms, the 16-24 age group, are exactly the demographic that the genre pictures appeal to. Look at the current
Red Eye. A measly (in US terms) production budget of US$26m and it has already grossed US$52m in the first four weeks. And can ANYONE explain why last year's Saw - a genre movie - ended up being financed by the American Lion's Gate company? It cost about US$3m and grossed US$55m. If we have the talent here, and we do, why are we not utilising it?

It seems that the luminaries of the industry over here think that unless we spend all our finance on "serious" films then we'll somehow not be taken seriously. While
Somersault and Look Both Ways are important Australian films that definitely should have been made it is short-sighted to think that they are the ones that will keep the industry afloat. It's the - dare I say it - popcorn movies that would pay for them and pay for a lot more besides. The industry needs to have an eye on both the creative and the commercial sides.

I'm keen to see whether this point will be proven with the outcome of the third series of the US
Project Greenlight. After two commercial disasters with Stolen Summer (budget US$1.8m, gross US$134,000) and The Battle Of Shaker Heights (budget US$1.8m, gross US$280,000) the Greenlight team made the third series a genre contest and chose the script Feast, a horror about patrons locked in a bar being forced to fight monsters to escape. While it does sound suspiciously like From Dusk 'Til Dawn, I'll put my neck on the line and say that I think it'll be the only Greenlight movie that'll make money.

And if it does, I think there's a lesson to be learned from that.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

You had me at "Hello".

Mission Statement (and Disclaimer).

This page, 'A severe case of writer's blog...', was founded in September of 2005 to provide advice on the art of screenwriting, especially to new writers, as well as to promote useful and contemporary discussion of the current state of screenwriting and moviemaking in order to build a base of like-minded people who will (hopefully) go ahead and have both fulfilling and creative careers within the industry.

What this page won't do, however, is to give you major insights into what it takes to break into and survive Hollywood... simply because I haven't done that bit yet.

There is one important thing to remember at all times about screenwriting - indeed about any creative art - and that is that great work will find it's market, irrespective of from where it comes.

That's the bit I'm trying to help with. The 'great work' bit.

I may not be able to give you Stephen Spielberg's mobile number (I'm keeping that one to myself!), but I can sure as Hell steer you around the potholes that'll get you laughed out of his office when you do get there.

(At least, I hope I can...)

Next week, we begin.


Sunday, September 04, 2005

See you next Wednesday.

That's the day.


Hump day, as it is sometimes called.

It is my noble intention to update this very page once a week, every week, on that very day. Between Wednesday's I'll try to shoehorn in time to make the site a little more personal, but the real stuff, the meat-and-potatoes if you will, happens mid-week.

I think I can actually feel your excitement.

See you then.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

The first draft of anything is shit. - Hemingway

So I guess the first draft of this will be no different then. Oh well.

Okay, first up I should welcome you to my blog. So.... welcome!

Secondly, I'll give you a quick rundown of what I intend to do with my corner of the web so you can make an informed decision as to whether you should click that shiny "Bookmark this page" button, or the equally shiny (but less favourable, at least in my eyes) "Back" button.

I'm an English bloke, just in my thirties, who lives in Melbourne (that's Australia for those geographically-challenged) and who has a deep and abiding love (and hate, possibly in equal measure) for the art of screenwriting. I've been writing now for a few years, currently with little commercial success and it's here, open to the eyes and minds of Internet users from all corners of the globe, that I'd like to discuss anything and everything about the art and all the emotional torture that goes along with it.

Doesn't that sound like fun?

So, if you're a screenwriter yourself, stick around.

If you've ever read a screenplay, stick around.

Hell, if you've ever seen a film then stick around.

Failing that, if the prospect of a good dose of catharsis and a few belly-laughs at one man's outpourings of pain and rejection makes those ears prick up then bookmark this page, you sick bastard.

Until next time, keep writing!