Monday, November 26, 2007


We read and hear a lot about Wikinomics these days. Is it conceivable that this kind of open, collaborative business model will replace the traditionally hierarchical, protectionist organization of the film industry?

According to Peter Day a recent episode of the BBC radio programme In Business entitled Eureka Democracy, when Proctor & Gamble need a particular molecule for a new product nowadays, they put up an online announcement. Instead of having to make do with the hundreds of scientists they employ, they can now appeal to thousands of people all over the world. The risk is that they reveal the nature of the new product they’re working on, but the rewards make this risk entirely worth taking: They get their molecule far more rapidly than in the old system, and they create new and exciting working relationships in the process.

Imagine Steven Spielberg posting the following online:

“I want to make a film about a great white shark that terrorizes a small town on the west coast of the US. The local sheriff acknowledges the danger, but is told by the mayor to keep quiet in order not to scare off potential investors in new real estate. In terms of theme: The shark symbolizes our fear of the unknown. In terms of plot: the central conflict is the power struggle between the sheriff and the mayor, a metaphor for the struggle between greed and integrity. Please send scripts to …”

The risk Spielberg takes is that he’s publicizing his idea for a movie, which other producers might “steal.” But doesn’t it also make a lot of sense? Or at least more sense than all this secretive, paranoid behaviour? I mean how likely is it, that if Spielberg puts up a posting like this, someone with a “shark” script lying around is going to look for a different producer?

Production companies would get what they’re looking for quickly and efficiently and writers would get to send their scripts to people they know are interested in their subject matter.

Any takers?

Friday, November 23, 2007

No comedy without drama

This was the gist of an almost throwaway comment made by a fellow screenwriter during a recent meeting to discuss further development of our clay-motion animated feature. And as with all substantive screenwriting maxims, it’s simple and true at the same time.

I saw a great illustration of this yesterday on Lead Balloon. To my mind the comedy in last night’s episode worked wonderfully because of the underlying drama.

Rick Spleen, desperate to break into mainstream TV, bumps into a high-ranking TV producer in the neighbourhood and hastily invites him and his wife to dinner. He tells him he’s got a (non-existing) project he wants to discuss with him. We then follow him desperately trying to think up a project and nervously preparing to host the important evening. He buys champagne and cigars and splashes out on all sorts of other unaffordable items meant to impress his visitor. He’s obviously not used to entertaining important guests and is desperate to make it look as if he is. He even rehearses the nonchalant lines he’s going to use. So when the guests finally arrive, we the audience are fully keyed up to the impending drama: Is he going to make an impression and land himself that all-important TV project?

What really happens, though, is that his wife recognizes their guest. He's not a TV mogul at all, he's the building contractor who repaired their roof four years ago. Rick is gutted and has to wrestle his way through the rest of the evening attempting to be polite while feeling like shit.

I found the comedy in Rick’s pain, embarrassment and self-loathing excruciatingly funny. It would certainly have been a far less intense experience if the build-up to the reversal hadn’t been as dramatic (and cleverly misleading!). The lengthy set-up, during which I unwittingly identified with Rick’s mixture of ambition and lack of self-confidence, made his deflation that much more entertaining.

The moral of the story? You have to show what’s at stake in the story in order to be able to make fun of the characters in an emotionally engaging way. If the audience identifies with the comedic character’s desires, then they will experience whatever happens to them far more intensively.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Screenwriting is like sex

The harder you try, the worse it gets. To write great scenes and dialogue, you need to be relaxed. Even if a deadline is looming. Especially if a deadline is looming. You need to write as if nothing whatsoever depends on what you’re writing. You’re writing because it’s your favourite thing to do. That’s when the ideas really start flowing.

While I write, I like to distract the critical, anxious and agitated parts of my mind with the blandest new-age type meditation music. If you actually sit and listen to this kind of music, it’s utterly boring. But as an accompaniment to a creative (or indeed erotic) activity, it’s the best. I’m no neurologist, but my guess is it’s something to do with alpha waves, left/right brains and stuff like that.

Whatever works for you. As long as you can relax, be 100% with what you’re writing and let what you’re visualizing flow naturally into the text. That seems to be the most important thing. Just as your lovemaking can be ruined by concerns about “performance” or other distractions, so too your writing.

As long as you are completely present in what you’re doing, you have the best chance of enjoying the experience, and possibly being invited to do it again.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Is this the way I want it?

I recently read an immensely inspiring article by Mark Forster, a time management mentor, in which he suggests a method of dealing with procrastination. It basically entails identifying the frustrating issue and then asking yourself, “Is this the way I want it?” Obviously the answer will be, “No,” after which you then ask “What do I need to do to make it the way I want?”

Forster gives examples ranging from tidying a drawer to buying a new house. But his idea is not only useful for procrastinators, screenwriters can also learn a thing or two from him.

If you stop to consider it for a moment, this a is a hugely powerful way of identifying a character’s goals and conflicts.

Simply by imagining (or writing) your character in a situation and having them ask themselves, “Is this the way I want it?” you hit the ground running. You activate that part of your imagination where your character resides. Especially when you follow up with, “What do I need to do to make things the way I want them?”

These two highly evocative questions set your character in motion, get them talking.

Each “What do I need to do to …” yields a concrete task. Something a character has to do (i.e., something visual) to work towards getting things the way they want them to be. And each “What do I need to do …” can be followed up with another one until you finally arrive at the very basic and frightening thing the character has been avoiding all along.

Of course, to make things even more interesting, your character can be wrong. They think they know what to do to make things better, but they’re actually making things worse.

As I’ve written before screenwriting is often about asking yourself the right questions.