Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Easier said than done when it seems things are falling apart.

Unforeseen challenges are what I call them and they usually happen when everything is going swimmingly. They creep up on you when you least expect them and throw your life into a mini tornado of chaos. Opportunities you've worked hard to create now seem to be slipping through your fingers and there's very little you can do about it.

But you have to stay calm. It won't help you getting in to a tizz about them. These things happen...quite a lot as it goes, and on occasion you will have to walk away and forget about them. There will be other opportunities, plenty of them in fact, so it's not worth getting hung up on something if it doesn't work out.

Your first disappointment will always hurt the most and that opportunity slipping through your fingers is the most difficult to let go of. But you have to. You'll probably experience an overwhelming sense of panic. You're big break is on the verge of disapeering before your very eyes and you'll feel like you will never get another chance. It happens to all of us. It's part of being a writer. Just remember whatever happens you'll get your chance again.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


After reading the comments about writers from New Tricks actors Amanda Redman, Alun Armstrong and Dennis Waterman on the BBC News web page, and writer and director Julian Simpson's wonderful four lettered sprinkled replies on Twitter, I experienced a moment of utter disbelief and anger. When I calmed down an hour later I looked at the actors' accusations a little closer and wondered where the true blame for bland TV might lie.

For those of you who haven't seen the article Amanda Redman and her fellow actors basically accused the writers of New Tricks of making the show bland.

My personal belief is bland TV does exist and is a problem. I would like to point out I'm not saying Amanda Redman and her fellow actors are right and New Tricks is bland TV, because to be honest I don't watch the show so I wouldn't know. That is for other people to decide and comment on. However, there's a perfect example in the form of another show I won't mention, which I'm extremely disappointed to see returning to our screens sometime soon. It is a very bland drama, one I will be avoiding at all costs. But is it wrong to blame the writers?

From my experience the majority of writers aren't bland and are fit to bursting with brilliant ideas. There are a huge number of exciting TV scripts out there, several of which I've had the pleasure to read over the years. They have been bold and brilliant and shows I would happily invest my time in if they were broadcast. Yet none of the screenplays I've read so far have been produced and broadcast. This seems strange to me when long running shows that could be considered bland keep being granted new series every year.

What I do know is what I like and what I hate. For example I loved BBC 3's The Fades. It was brilliantly bold and original and yet it was cancelled after its first series. It won awards, but even that wasn't enough to save it. Is that the fault of the writers?

Perhaps the blame for bland TV actually lies with the producers and executives that make the decisions, who are afraid to stray too far from what they know in case it fails and costs them their job? They don't want viewers to turn off and are afraid to offend or alienate.

Or perhaps it's the fault of the viewers who happily sit and watch dull TV because it's become familiar to them as an old sofa or a favourite mug? If only they would switch off and demand something braver, more daring, more original.

Or perhaps the blame lies with the critics who poo poo any show that dares to be different? What do they know anyway?

One thing I know for sure the blame can't be laid solely at the feet of writers, if at all. We have to look further to find where the problems really lie in TV drama and to simply aim these accusations solely at the writers of the show is both wrong and naive.

After all you have to remember that unless you're lucky enough to be Russell T Davies or Steven Moffat most writers have to do as they're asked on a show or they get booted in favour of someone who will do as they're told.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I wanted to find out how a screenplay can change during production, so I asked the lovely Shiphrah Meditz, an up and coming writer/producer/director from the US of A, to write a guest post on the subject. And she duly obliged. Enjoy.

A Gunshot'S POV: How I Saved My Script through Sound

A week to production, and I was worried. A two minute gun battle that read really well on Final Draft was fighting every step of the way to be translated on film. It was for a 15 minute narrative short called "Where Snakes Roam" that I produced and directed in January 2012. My story follows two young girls who discover that their father is an assassin. For  the final, all-is-revealed fight scene, I needed loads of fake guns, blood and guts, special effects, combat choreographers, stunt crew, and lots of time to pull it off successfully. Also, we were shooting in a 1950s mansion in Austin, Texas. I was dealing with location logistics that included four stories and multiple porches which had to support eight actors, a chase scene, and two final shoot-outs. Furthermore, the budget was already allotted, and the crew and actors were working around their jobs and family time to be on set for four days. The scene would have severely eaten into the time required for other takes. While I'm a firm supporter of pushing beyond boundaries, I knew that filming this scene would most likely be a huge mistake since we lacked the proper resources and time to make the action work.

For those that are new to film, shooting great action is one of the hardest magic tricks to pull off on camera.   I'll explain why.  I like to compare an action scene to a video game.  A video game engages the player in a series of true or false choices that incrementally lead them to their goal.  The success of achievement and the reward factor drives the player through the video game.  For example, players rarely question how striving to win at a game makes them feel. In an action scene, you have the same scenario. Thus, the key element is to build emotion into the viewer beforehand and give them all the reasons why they need to  cheer on the hero before the blows begin to fly and attention is riveted on the ACTIONS of the characters. This way the action becomes equal to "enacted emotions," and every take must be carefully planned to convey the proper effect.  Of course the repercussion if that, if the emotions aren't properly stacked in the script, the actions may come across as "hollow" and predictable.

Thus any action requires well-rehearsed choreography with thought given to the 180 degree rule, actors who have had fighting experience to avoid amateurish reactions, on-set special effects sewn into the sequence to help the VFX artists in post production, stunt people with accompanying insurance and proper protection for the more dangerous moves, quibs to show a bullet's impact, and among other things, absolutely precise editing. To help the editor, I'd further have to plan how much action to show on screen, and how to have the viewer "imagine" the next reaction by keeping an actor's movement off-screen for as long as it occurs, and have it "enter" the screen just in time so the viewer isn't startled, but expecting it. This management of the viewers' expectations brings them into the action and rewards them with the actor's achievement (hearkening back to the concept of the video game).  Thus, as you can see, the list for requirements for an action scene can go on and on, and monetary expenditures only exponentially increase!

I drew and re-drew story-boards, and discussed them with my DOP, Gary Huff, and special effects artist, Jason Zentner.  I concluded that, given our time and resources restrictions, obtaining success was going to be questionable at best.  Furthermore, my script was taking a huge chance shifting the POV from the two girls in the final moment onto the father's fight with the gunmen. I risked losing the emotional climax in a plethora of fighting extras.

I cut the scene.

So, here I was, about to shoot a film that had a team of 25 people attached to it, and the crucial scene was gone. So, what did I do?

A movie plays upon the visual and auditory senses. I look forward to the day when filmmakers will have commercially viable technology to expand the cinematic experience to further sensory experiences, but, for now I turned to sound as the answer. I rewrote the scene as follows. 
The story sticks to the POV of the two girls. They are discovered by three men come to kill them, manage to outrun them and are momentarily rescued by their father. He tells them to hurry into a nearby forest and hide while he takes care of their pursuers. As they run through the trees, a carefully-planned "conversation" of gun-shots blast the air, along with fading organ chords, atmospheric effects, and a heightened audio of the girls' feet. Suddenly, they realise their father hasn't followed them and so they rush back.  In dead silence, they discover the house and lawn strewn with dead, bloody bodies, including that of their father.

Thus, I managed to preserve the important plot elements of the chase and shoot-out, but only filmed the crescendo and the aftermath of the gun fight. We shot the film, wrapped on time, and now "WSR" is competing for entry into several international festivals.

I love the film industry because of the organised creativity that it demands. There are always finite amounts of time, resources, and money...even on the biggest productions in Hollywood. The artistic challenge to work with these factors and still try to make a film to the very best of my ability is one of the many reasons why I love producing and directing films.

Speaking of which, I'm currently about to start my debut feature film, "The Dying Eye," in Edinburgh, Scotland. Production begins October 12, 2012. It's about a brilliant, young computer hacker who fights crime in the streets of Edinburgh while navigating love, political conspiracies, and hallucinations.

I'm currently holding an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for the production. To read further and donate, go HERE.

Be a part of my team!  I'd love to have you on board!

You can also view her website HERE and her blog HERE.

Thank you, Shiphrah.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012


I never used to believe in writer's block. Maybe I do now.

For the last three days all I've been able to write is this blog and I've had several attempts at it. I changed my mind on content three times. I've even made it to a paragraph twice before erasing and starting again. The words just won't flow for me this week no matter what I do.

I always work on two or three projects at a time so if I get stuck on one I can swap to another to keep my momentum going. However, this week I've hit a massive brick wall. I haven't progressed on any of my projects. It may be because it's the school holidays and I've got both boys running around driving me nuts, interrupting my train of thought every five minutes. It's hard to think when a four year old is screaming in your ear he wants food, a drink, the TV on, to sit on your lap and watch you work, to play on the CBeebies website or to go outside, which he could do if it wasn't raining. Or maybe I just need a break.

In the past I've scoffed at the suggestion of writer's block, but now I'm not so sure. I'm not even sure where this blog post is going. My mind is wandering. I've lost my focus.

One thing I do know for sure is that it won't last. Inspiration will come my way some point soon. I just have to wait for it to arrive and not feel guilty in the mean time because I'm not putting words on the page. Trying to force the words to come out will only makes it worse for me. So I'm going to take a break for the rest of the week and come back fresh on Monday morning with a clear head.

See you on the other side.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


There seems to me to be a new social networking site, app, or service launched every couple of weeks or so and I have to admit I find them very hard to ignore. I'm very happy using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and don't want to be left out should some new social networking service come along which could potentially be better than what has come before. I'm terrified if I don't sign up I'll miss out. But just recently I've been bombarded with requests to join far too many new networking sites, services and apps and I've finally had to draw a line.

It's easy to be lulled in by their flashiness, the promise of connection with like minded individuals, and it's almost impossible to ignore if someone you know has invited you to join. Odd thoughts run through my head whenever I get a new invitation like, 'will they speak to me again if I don't sign up,' or 'do they know something I don't'?

I know if I signed up to all the services I was invited to I'd spend all day checking them and never actually do any writing. So I've had to make a choice and I've decided to stick with the three I know best because I trust them. I do also occasionally use Google + although I haven't yet come to fully trust it to do what I want it to and I admit I don't really understand it enough to do so.

The other danger of these sites and apps is adding people because they asked you to without really knowing who they, afraid they might actually be an important contact one day. I'm guilty of this, especially with LinkedIn where my contacts now number nearly three hundred. I know I should go through my contacts and remove those I never communicate with, or have never met, but that is easier said than done. Again I don't want to miss out. To me every contact is important, no matter who they are and what they do. That's just me I guess. I'm a socialble person.

My advice, or though I may not actually follow it myself, is to stick to two or three social networking sites and only accept friend or connect requests if you've met that person in the flesh, or really believe they are a good contact to have.