Progress Report #4: 30/09/2017

 

Okay, two things…

Firstly, I missed last week’s update. Secondly, this one is a day late. This sounds ominously like failure, particularly after the struggles outlined in my previous update, but the truth is I’ve still been getting the pages down. I’ve got another 15 pages of script down, which equals the target of at least 7 per week.

But why the missed update?

In short, I’ve decided that a fortnightly update is enough for my purposes. That allows me more time to get things done during the week, and if one week proves more of a challenge I can make up for it on the back end. So, from here on, it’ll be the second and fourth Friday of every month when I’ll be checking my progress.

And the lateness of this one?

Life. It happens. Work, family, and a little down time. It all needs a place in our routines, if only to remind us to breathe and let it all sink in from time to time. Again, this might sound like I’m making excuses, which is the first step to failure, but the reality is I’m doing the most important part: getting the pages down. If that takes priority over a blog post, then so be it.

Now, onto the updates.

No Hidden Extras

Page count: 77

Target: 15 pages

Another fifteen pages down, and getting closer to FADE OUT.

This draft is feeling bigger and bigger as time goes on, and I can’t see it being anything less than 100-110 pages, maybe more. For a low-budget debut feature that mean it’s about 20-30 pages too long, but that’s fine. Darren Aronofsky always writes what he calls a “muscle draft”, where he gets everything down and then cuts out the flotsam in the rewrite. I’m happy with that approach. To paraphrase Blaise Pascal, it takes more time to write a shorter screenplay. A writer’s main job is to uncover the essence of the story and remove all that is unnecessary to its telling.

Our ideal vision for No Hidden Extras is a terse, crisp 85-90 minute movie which tells a clear story. Light on the subplots, no crazy set pieces, just characters telling their story in the most effective, efficient way possible. Think Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin, Christopher Nolan’s Following, or J Blakeson’s The Disappearance of Alice Creed. Yes, these are ambitious benchmarks to aim for, but if you aim high and fall short, you’ve still achieved something special.

NHE script front page

Playwriting

Pages of short play written: 3

Target: Undefined

This craft demands respect. As such, it seems only sensible to take the same creative approach here as I did as a filmmaker: start small, and work your way up. Get something smaller written and performed first, see how it comes across, listen to people’s responses and go from there.

I’ve been working on some dramatic monologues over the past week or so. The style reminds me of the vague style in which I used to write poetry: loosely rhymed lines with a conversational, colloquial rhythm. I never thought of writing plays back then, but there was something about the poetry which seemed to lend itself to performance. The only problem was, I’m no performer.

One monologue is called “How to Live Your Life”. It originated from a few fragments I scribbled down about the culture of “How To” books which pervade modern society, and as more lines poured out of me, a character and a story began to emerge with them. It’s still very raw, but it hints at something promising. Because my approach to this project is quite organic, and because of my primary commitment to this draft of No Hidden Extras, I’ve not set myself any target for the coming weeks. However, every time I turn to the project, more happens.

Gary Owen’s electrifying play Iphigenia in Splott, which I re-read in the week, has been hugely influential in this regard. The protagonist’s story is told entirely via her own dramatic monologue, and although I’ve not seen it live, the written play is so full of life and energy it leaps off the page. If I can capture a fraction of the energy of this play for one of my own monologues, I might be lucky enough to get someone to perform it.

I got in touch with the Dirty Protest theatre company last week to ask if they have any shorts nights coming up, but no response yet. I’ve admired their work for some time, and their reputation was established as a fringe theatre company that worked with new writers to get their work staged. Fingers crossed.

Reflection

Life gets busy, which I already knew, but it’s important to remain flexible in your ambitions. The main work is still getting done, and new ground is being covered, which is the number one priority. Forward motion, progress, pages down.

Also, I’m constantly reminded of the value of focused reading and viewing. Input is just as important as output, but that input has to be switched-on. Don’t just let your eyes fall on the page or screen; analyse, interpret, and absorb. The more quality work I take in, the better I feel about putting my own work down.

Finally, to quote David Hughes (not Dylan Thomas, as suggested in Twin Town): ambition is critical. Set your own bar high, aspire to greatness, and if – if – you fall short, you’ll still have done some damn good work.

Get it read, get it right, get it written

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When the postman stops at my door, it’s usually to deliver bills or junk mail. Today, however, I opened a parcel containing two very promising books: The Art of Script Editing by Karol Griffiths, and Reading Screenplays: How To Analyse & Evaluate Film Scripts by Lucy Scher.

Beats a damn bank statement any day. And the nuggets of knowledge they contain are likely to be worth more than the cover price for those who are going it alone.

One of the apparent downfalls of not taking a postgraduate course in screenwriting is the lack of immersion in your chosen craft. (Note that word, ‘apparent’.) Access to lecturers is shunned; the regularity of face-to-face interaction with fellow creatives is greatly reduced; and knowledge – that magical word that is commonly known to dispel fear – is a little more difficult to come by. Not to mention the self-discipline required to push on when there’s nobody around to actively encourage you during the tough times.

Today’s world is a lot different than it used to be, however. Now there are groups like Tuesday Night Writes, run by the spiffing Janine H. Jones both online and via weekly meetings in Cardiff Bay. And with the ever-growing availability of knowledge that is either free or a damn sight cheaper than current postgraduate fees, indulging in constant study is easier now than it ever has been – with or without uni. (No Bono impressions here, thank you.)

Of course, it is far from being all about the money.

I have read a fair number of screenplays, even analytically and with a view to providing my own evaluation of them. But as an autodidact there’s always that monkey whispering: “What if you’re doing it wrong?”

Well, thanks to books like these I can get a better idea of the tree up which I’m barking. They will take their place on my shelf alongside the books of John Yorke, Christopher Booker, and Linda Aronson to name a few, and I will doubtlessly dog-ear their pages for years to come.

Knowledge dispels fear. Without the right kind of mindset, that fear can drive some to spend thousands of pounds on an education that you could have got for a few quid in late fees from the local library (to paraphrase Will Hunting). At worst, it’ll cost you a fraction of your monthly wage and as much time as you’re willing to sacrifice – which, if you truly love your craft, will be as much time as you have to spare (and a little more on top).

With or without uni, professional writers put themselves out there, do the research, read the right material and get their pages down. There is simply no substitute for getting it read and getting it written.

Do that enough times and you might even get it right.