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

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The loneliness of the long-distance... writer?

As writers we are all, in some small way, prepared for and accepting of the fact that writing is a solitary experience. Hell, some of us even do it because it's solitary. For some of us it's a justification of our own innate anti-social tendencies; a necessary evil that just happens to fill a guilt-shaped hole quite nicely.

Quite often we will do our best, be it consciously or sub-consciously, to preserve its solitary nature, finding reasons not to collaborate on something that we know full well may add layers of complexity that we couldn't hope to achieve alone.

And we do it for many reasons, not the least of which is the realisation that the film-making process is so collaborative in virtually every other aspect that we rebel, and attempt to grow that first precious seed in a hermetically-sealed environment. After all we have all grown up knowing what too many cooks do to that broth. And film-making has cooks by the truckload.

Just occasionally, though, the solitary nature of what we as writers do sneaks up on us in that most communal of all film experiences: watching it.

Picture the scene: with some enforced down-time on hand recently I took the opportunity to convince my partner to watch a film that has a particular significance to me. Everyone has their favourites for a myriad reasons, and this one fell into that 'this-made-me-want-to-be-a-writer' category. So we fire up the home theatre gadgetry, dim the lights and succumb to the magic playing out before us in widescreen. A hundred minutes fly by where I share every moment of joy, every shard of pain, my heart racing as the excitement builds to an imaginative and satisfying climax as my partner, reluctant at first, begins to be interested, then entranced and is finally transported alongside me, living out the rollercoaster lives of these characters until ultimately, in a state of mental exhaustion the credits roll and I turn to her and say "Whaddya think?"

A shrug. A turn-up of the lip. "Take it or leave it."

Now, it's not that I'm that much of a film Nazi that I cannot handle others having differing opinions to mine. (Stop that mumbling at the back, thank you!) I have had my fair share (or perhaps more than my fair share) of film arguments with friends and a relatively low percentage have actually graduated to physical altercations. Everyone has different views on stuff. But this one was quantifiably different. Sub-consciously this was my way of saying "This is what I wish I could do". And in that one simple phrase, "Take it or leave it", I realised that if I became that writer I want so much to be then that'd be all I could ever hope to get. A shrug.

Most of us, deep down, look for acceptance from others in almost everything that we do, especially from those that we care about the most. As writers we risk our loved ones due to protracted periods of enforced solitude, perhaps in the hope that the finished product might somehow pay back that disregard in other, more meaningful ways. The strange thing is that that meaningful payback is likely to come from someone else, not from yourself. In my example, my partner's payback comes from Louis de Bernieres, Kazuo Ishiguro and, of course, J.K. Rowling.

Thanks guys. Hope I can return the favour someday...


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Story is a metaphor for life. - McKee.

"Has Robert McKee saved my life?"

This is the question I found myself addressing earlier this week. Of course, I'm not talking about the silver-haired guru sky-diving from his private plane to perform an emergency tracheotomy on me with a two-and-a-half inch ACCO brad as I choke on a bagel. No, I'm talking about something far more important than that.

But first some background. Even though I've been writing for a few years I first read his book Story only a couple of years ago. If you don't know it, it's an imposing tome some 466-pages long (and that's little type, too!) and it's not something to be taken lightly. Check out the reader reviews at Amazon to see how many human beings have been crushed by its intellectual weight.

Anyway, the first time I read it I was in a bit of a funny place... emotionally. It rang true in a number of ways and I felt I'd taken from it some good advice and ignored some of the more complex stuff. Upon finishing I closed it, put it in my 'writing' bookshelf and got on with my feature rewrite. Deep down, I was intimidated. The act of creating a "good story, well told" in McKee's eyes is akin to building a replica of Neuschwanstein Castle out of individual grains of sand. It really is like atomic physics.

Since reading it, these notable things have happened:

1: I finished my rewrite, and think I improved upon the previous draft.

2: Progress is being made on production of a short animation script I wrote a while back.

3: I made the top 20% cut in the script call for Channel 9's upcoming two Twisted.

4: I wrote a half-hour script for an upcoming Channel 31 series, Raw, but didn't make it to final selection.

5: I prepped a poker-based comedy for a couple of months, then recently abandoned it.

All in all, a somewhat mixed bag. So what's my point?

Well, nothing new that I have written since reading McKee's book has felt like my writing, and not one single word typed since then has actually been fun. The two Twisted script worked (to a point) and I was pleased to have made it that far. The script for Raw was more play-like than screenplay-like and didn't fit the series. The producer told me they had found some "strong stories". Mine wasn't one of them. That's fine.

"It seems like he's ruined your life, not saved it!" many of you are probably thinking. Not true. It was the act of going back to Story again in the light of my most recent failure that made me realise what I had been doing. Or, more specifically, what I had been doing wrong. (Warning! Cliche Alert!)

I have always prided myself on been true to myself in everything I do. And in my writing I had been doing that. Notice the past tense: had. My writing post-Story had become self-conscious and overly thought-out. And I'd stopped enjoying it. That was the kicker. I actually once said to Amy, my partner, "Of course it matters if it doesn't get made! What am I doing it for if that doesn't happen?", and I believed it. As much as a writer would love to see their work produced, that should never be the motivation. I am lucky enough now to be in the position of writing something I care about, something I have infused with my spirit.

The magic of Story is that when you are mature enough to shoulder the responsibility, McKee teaches you to write the stories that are in you, irrespective of how big (or small) and how commercial (or anti-commercial) they are. He gives you the tools to create your story. He is a supporter of nothing other than great work and for that, I thank him.