An INDIE TRAINING FUND Course that I’m running in June–
June 21st 1 Day STORY, CHARACTER & IDEAS MASTER-CLASS
TRIBUTE : Update
First a quick update on this podcast project that I announced in my last newsletter. I have received several script submissions for this project. And to all of you who have submitted – a huge thank you! I have to say that the standard of submitted scripts so far has been really excellent. Reading the scripts as they’ve come in has made me very excited about the project.
I’ve also been offered help by two directors with experience of this sort of work, so it looks like the project is coming together well.
I’ve had a few queries about a deadline. I know all writers need a deadline to aim at(!), so the deadline I’m giving is June 11th. I feel confident that I will have 10 scripts that I’m really happy with by then, but if not I may extend that deadline. If you’re working on a script or intend to submit one before June 11th – thank you! I feel confident that this could be a really good way to introduce your writing skills to a wider audience.
HOUSE OF CARDS Season 4
I’ve been binging on this and I watched most of the 13 part series over the last few days. Once I’d watched a couple of episodes, I found it ‘unputdownable’. The way Beau Willimon and his team have maintained such an amazingly high quality of scripts over 50+ episodes is extraordinary. It made me go back to this Laura Eason blog from the BBC writers room
which gives you an insight into the organisation and hard work (not to mention outstanding writing talent) that enables them to maintain such a fantastic level of quality.
There are so many things I enjoy about the show –
I think one of its strengths is that it taps into the zeitgeist – into our current very strong disillusion with typical Western party politics, the profound lack of principle and conviction in our politicians. Frank and Clare Underwood articulate our complete and utter disaffection with our politicians. The unexpected success of politicians like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn is the other, more positive side of this coin. It’s a show that really speaks to its times. Although even the Underwoods look a bit pallid next to Trump.
Brilliant characters. Brilliant story-telling, with a large dose of the gothic.
It’s also really interesting to look at the thorny, much-debated issue of ‘sympathetic characters’. Pretty much ALL the characters in HoC are objectively vile – calculating, amoral, venal. But you engage with and care about what happens to them – because they’re also credible and human.
Late in the day, I caught up with this Argentine movie last week. Written and directed by Damian Szifron, it’s an anthology movie of 6 unconnected but tonally similar tales of revenge. A grand guignol Tales Of the Unexpected. What I loved about this was the flair of the story-telling. It’s packed with brilliant, unexpected twists, huge imagination and a wonderfully warped, dark sense of humour. And it’s highly entertaining. For pure story-telling ability, this is outstanding.
WHATEVER NEXT? HOW PLOT GRIPS US, FROM DICKENS TO LINE OF DUTY by John Mullan
This is a brilliant article from last Saturday’s Guardian, about plot. This is the other side of the argument from the Richard Linklater quotes I included two weeks ago, ‘‘replaced notions of plot with time structure.’ ‘most of us live character-driven lives, our lives aren’t about plot twists.’
What John Mullan argues in this article is that, in story-telling, nothing beats the thrill of a clever plot. ‘It must all connect.’ He references Dickens, John le Carre, The Killing and Line Of Duty, among others.
‘The Bridge has specialised in introducing one apparently unrelated character and episode after another, trusting that we will trust that there must be connections between them.
‘Plot is what stops narrative being just one thing after another.’
He also says ‘You can see why serious novelists became suspicious of plots: they subjugate reality to a plan…’ This is a constant, ongoing debate. Personally, I would still argue that character is the primary element at the heart of good story. Sometimes (Everybody Wants Some!) you can build a film / story on compelling characterisation, even when there isn’t much of a plot. On the other hand, a brilliant, intricate, puzzle of a plot doesn’t mean a lot without compelling, relatable characters.
I’d argue that the works Mullan references were primarily wonderful because of the brilliance of their plotting, and those thrilling, earned moments of revelation – but they would not have been so brilliant without their memorable characters (George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, so many wonderful characters in GREAT EXPECTATIONS, Lindsey Denton etc in LINE OF DUTY).
The end of the 2 year Hillsborough inquest in April produced a flood of stories. The BBC Hillsborough documentary (still on BBC i-player) was a wonderful piece of film-making, hugely powerful and thought-provoking in so many different ways, and with so many moments that screenwriters and writers of fiction could learn from. Some of the most memorable interviews were with the South Yorkshire police officers who were on duty on the day, and whose first-hand accounts of the events of the day were doctored or buried by their superiors. If you’re looking for clues about how to portray PTSD, look no further.
Jimmy McGovern’s seminal factual drama HILLSBOROUGH was also re-shown. IMO this is one of the TV drama highlights of the last 30 years. Not only because it’s a brilliantly written and made work of drama, but also because it demonstrates the power of drama as a weapon for change and debate. This film was a significant part of the jigsaw in the 27 year (ongoing) fight for justice.
Jimmy McGovern’s work is an inspiration – and more screenwriters should be challenging themselves to seek out these sorts of important stories that need to be brought to the attention of a wider public. It’s one of the great strengths of TV and film drama, that it has the ability to bring to our attention important stories like this – while at the same time entertaining and inspiring us.
Via Twitter I came across this excellent article by US screenwriter Tom Vaughan
It’s about his observations of story from scripts he’s read. And the three major things that are missing from the less good scripts he reads, what he sees as ‘the three most basic elements of story’:
- Somebody wants something,
- They are having trouble getting it, and
- Something will happen if they fail.
A very simple but invaluable check-list for any story.
MANCHESTER UNITED BOMB SCARE – Character Study,
My heart went out to the poor sap who fell on his sword and claimed responsibility for the fake bomb left behind in the Man U toilet – from his training exercise the previous Wednesday. Whether he volunteered or was pushed, he basically had to make a public statement that was filmed and recorded for posterity and broadcast around the nation if not the world, announcing what a complete and utter plonker he was. One of those moments that we all dread happening to us. I imagine him at home or wherever on the Sunday, when he first heard the news from Old Trafford. There must have been that enormous, sinking ‘Oh shit’ moment when he realised it was his fuck-up. There but for the grace of god…
The next newsletter will be Friday June 3rd.
All the best
May 20th 2016