An INDIE TRAINING FUND Course that I’m running in June–
June 21st 1 Day STORY, CHARACTER & IDEAS MASTER-CLASS
TRIBUTE – A Writing Challenge
Without wishing to depress you all too much, one of the things that has been occupying me a bit more than I would have liked recently is – death. My mother died at the start of March, only a matter of weeks after her only sister had died. My mother had written a 25 page account of her life, and it’s been sad but also fascinating re-reading it, and looking back at her life. Some of the detail of her experiences before and after WW2 evoke a completely different and now lost way of living.
And there have been so many celebrity deaths in the last few months that have meant something to me – particularly David Bowie but also Victoria Wood, Ronnie Corbett, Prince, Johan Cruyff, Garry Shandling, Terry Wogan. Just writing that list, that weird combination of names who could only ever be linked by death, makes you think of the uniqueness of every person, and the impact that each individual life can make. It’s made me think about how extraordinary everyone’s lives are, and the fact that so often we only celebrate people’s lives after they’ve gone.
Something else I’ve been thinking about a lot is PODCASTS. I have become rather addicted to them – they are such a booming phenomenon. To quote Beau Willimon, writer of HOUSE OF CARDS, from a recent interview in BROADCAST –
‘There has been a paradigm shift in audiovisual story-telling. Podcasts and video games are the two most exciting media right now, where the most innovation happens. They may end up trumping film and television as the primary art form in the 21st century.’
I’m keen to start a podcast series of my own.
My idea is this – that I record a series of mini-drama / monologue podcasts. The series will be entitled TRIBUTE – and each 5-10 min recording will be a dramatised eulogy / tribute to a fictional character who’s just died, looking back over the course of that person’s life – a short history of a life, but each of these tributes should also have a personal slant, a unique quality that reflects the relationship between the deceased and the person writing / reading the tribute.
It seems to me that this might be a good format for fascinating character studies – epic stories of a life told in miniature. If this is something that inspires / appeals to you, please do write one and email it to me. And the podcasts (a series of 10, I hope) will be chosen from those submitted. This could be a great opportunity to get your writing broadcast (or pod-cast anyway) – a showcase for your writing. At 5-10 minutes, I think these should be about 1500-2000 words. And this isn’t a money-making venture for me – there’s no charge to ‘enter’, and I’ll fund all the production costs. But I think this could be a lot of fun – and hopefully the format will enable you to tell some powerful, inspiring and unexpected stories.
I look forward to working with you!
SOME RECENT SCREENWRITING HIGHLIGHTS
I have to mention the last 2 episodes of LINE OF DUTY which were superb. In the final 90 minute episode Jed Mercurio outdid himself with two police interview scenes of 20 minutes+, both of which were absolutely gripping.
Mercurio is a brilliant story-teller – the way he kept the audience on the edge of their seat for the final 90 minute episode was so impressive (never has a 90’ TV drama flown by so quickly – I was really sorry when it ended). But he’s also something of a pioneer in the way he plays with the form of TV drama, breaking all the rules with these static 20 minute talking head scenes, and also interspersing these set-piece scenes with some brilliant action sequences.
And similarly on his Sky medical series CRITICAL, he played with the form / genre, doing something entirely different by running an episode, a single medical case over real time, almost entirely within a single operating theatre. This also (IMO) was a brilliantly successful experiment that demonstrated his originality of thinking as a dramatist, and introduced a real sense of intensity and originality to an over-familiar genre. Although it was possibly a show that was more suited to BBC2 or C4 than Sky audiences.
RICHARD LINKLATER : ‘Everybody Wants Some!’
I went to see this film on Wednesday night, which was followed by a Q&A with its writer / director RICHARD LINKLATER. The film is excellent – the latest in a long line of outstanding films that Linklater’s made – films like the ‘Before’ series (BEFORE SUNRISE, BEFORE SUNSET, BEFORE MIDNIGHT), SCHOOL OF ROCK, and BOYHOOD, among many others.
The film is set in a Texas college town over the three days of the equivalent of their freshers week, around an ensemble cast of characters made up of the college baseball team, who share two houses. Over the three days of the film, we get to know the new students as they arrive, and the older members of the team, we see them bond, fight, get drunk, go to parties and trade banter. There is very little in the way of plot – the film stands or falls on the quality of the characterisations, the dynamics between the characters, and the dialogue – and a sense of nostalgia for the early ‘80’s and student life in general.
It’s a hugely impressive example of a character-based film – the comic detail of the characterisations, the fact that he manages to make comic and believable, idiosyncratic individuals out of such a large cast of characters of a similar age, is brilliant.
And he spoke really interestingly afterwards at the Q&A about his career and working methods –
How the three day story of EVERYBODY WANTS SOME (which by the way I think is a terrible, unmemorable title – by far the worst thing about the film!) is, though hugely tonally different, almost a direct follow-on from where he left off the 18 year old lead character in BOYHOOD, his previous film.
He talked about how he has largely ‘replaced notions of plot with time structure.’ So, the big conceit of BOYHOOD was its elongated time structure and, above all, the fact that it was shot over 12 years with the same actors, effectively growing up on film.
He justified this by talking about how, as he sees it, ‘most of us live character-driven lives, our lives aren’t about plot twists.’
The (compressed) three day structure of EVERYBODY WANTS SOME (And this structure was flagged up in the film by recurring on-screen captions counting down to the first day of class) is quite long compared to most of his movies (He was referring particularly to the ‘Before’ series of films, in which the entire film takes place over a few hours).
For EVERYBODY WANTS SOME, he underwent an intensive three week rehearsal, reading, rewriting process with the cast, in which they all lived together in a big house. A lot of the character detail was added and refined during this three week period.
Despite the appearance of spontaneity in much of his dialogue, there is no improvisation. His films are tightly scripted. As writer / director, he talked about how, once he gets on set, ‘he sacks the writer’ (ie himself!).
The film is about college baseball players. He talked about the huge competitiveness of US college sport, and about the normally unsympathetic depiction in US films of ‘jocks’. As someone in the arts / film-making, who also played college baseball and has a deep love of sport, Linklater talked about how he had tried to redress this balance – to give these archetypal ‘jock’ characters’ a greater sense of complexity and in particular empathy. He talked about how his college baseball friends were the funniest people he’s ever met – and this is reflected in the film.
He talked about the BEFORE films – and how the greatest compliment people pay the films is to talk about how the dialogue feels made up on the spot, improvised by the actors – it wasn’t but this is the effect they were after (and the two lead actors contribute hugely to the scripting process of the three films).
The next newsletter will be on Friday May 20th
All the best
May 6th 2016