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I write this Scriptland almost a week late…and for that I apologise…blaming work is a weak excuse but the truth. I could blame the weather but that would be a lie. I’m sitting in the British Library with a Japanese man beside me. He really does look like Mr. Miyagi. Honest. He sneezes a lot. I think swine flu. Get a grip. So Thursday is graphic novel day (please check out the sneak preview at or under the GRAPHIC NOVEL SECTION.) Love working on our comic. It feels pure and without interference. I am also hugely excited by the story as it’s been festering within me for years. I want to create a graphic novel that people who don’t read comics want to buy…to read as a stand alone book or to read to their kids. That’s my goal…I’ll let you guys be the judge.


So library…ear phones listening to Alberto Inglesias’ score to the Constant Gardner. One of my favourite films, editorially, story wise and visually. When I first saw it I dissed it. Not impressed was I. But I wonder if some films when you watch them you have to be in the mood for them? Like I hated Wanted the first time I saw it. But saw it again recently and really appreciated it. Not as good as the graphic novel but the graphic novel would never have been filmed.


So a few weeks ago in the Guardian…Friday’s G2 the dog’s bollocks…there was an article by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver and Exorcist II!) on narrative exhaustion.  Let me just relate some of it to you:


‘Writers have always known there are a limited number of storylines. Christopher Booker’s Seven Basic Plots popularised the number 7, but others have argued 3, 20 and 26…Rudyard Kipling said 69. That’s not new. We do tell variations of the same stories over and over. That’s not what I mean by the ‘exhaustion of narrative.’  What is new is the omnipresence and ubiquity of plot created by media proliferation. We are inundated by narrative. We are swimming with storylines.’


Schrader goes on to talk about how our Grandfathers might have seen 2,500 hours of audio visual narrative by the time they were 30…but today an average person aged 30 would have seen over 35,000 hours of plot. In part because I think film has replaced books as the main narrative well that we drink from. Which is a shame I think. Prose should be the foundation.


Schrader asks what does to mean to the storyteller? He argues that is incredibly difficult to get out in front of a viewer’s expectation. I’ll repeat that… he argues that is incredibly difficult to get out in front of a viewer’s expectation.


He goes on:

‘Almost every subject has been covered and covered exhaustively. How many hours has the average viewer seen of the serial killer plot? 50? 100? He’s seen the basic plots, the permutations of those plots and the permutations of the imitations. How does the writer capture the imagination of the viewer seeped in serial killer plot? Make it even gorier? Seen it. More perverse? Seen it. Serial killer with humour? Been there. A parody? Yawn.’


He goes on to argue and this happened with me in some Hush reviews…that people hear your story and immediately place it in a  box. Schrader thinks that the average Joe is so savvy when it comes to story he immediately upon hearing your idea labels it. ‘Oh that sounds like Memento.’ ‘Oh that sounds like Breakdown.’


And Schrader asks one pertinent question (he actually asks quite a few!): does the proliferation of media mean it is harder to be original today than 50 years ago? He says yes. And half agree with him. As he says ‘the bar of originality has been raised’ but notice how classic stories continue to be ‘rebooted’ for a new generation?


You see, in some reviews of Hush we were accused by SOME CRITICS…of being unoriginal. Well that’s because the basic plots of everything will be by definition be the same. But what makes something unique and original is its soul. And should be best typified by character and theme. Theme…what the film is about…not what the story is. Hush is about self interest verses social responsibility merged with that is the theme of being trapped. The car is literally Zakes’ prison. Zakes’ view on the World. His situation is totally unique. Totally. That journey…the one he makes…the one the coupe make is totally unique. And that is the point. What I have taken from inside me and put on screen that’s what gives a story a unique angle. Everything that happens in Star Trek has been seen before. Rogue outsider who goes good. (Kirk.) Time travelling vengeful bad guys? Seen that too. But what makes it unique is JJ/Orci/Kurtzman’s take on it. What they’re trying to say about friendship is what makes it unique.  Take away all the gloss that film could still have been filmed as a 2 million dollar film. Trust me.


Look at the Hangover. Again. A premise deceptively simple. 3 men wake up with a baby, a tiger and missing groom with no memory of the night before. They need to find the groom before he gets married.  Even this has a whiff of familiarity about it but what makes it unique are the characters and how they respond to the situation and the wonderful line Todd Philipps treads…he never lets the humour become puerile nor does he ever let the premise exclude women. Unique in my book. 


Hopefully next week I’ll get back on track on the story telling stuff.










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I know I said I wouldn’t do this but people keep asking…when I wrote this week I was listening to:


Music: Johnny Greenwood’s Score to There will be Blood.

Brain Food: Pelecanos’ The Turnaround.


Gotta say THE HANGOVER is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a looooong time. Class.


As I sit here in the British Library writing…for the 9th weekend in a row (I took an afternoon out to watch Star Trek)…I think about the craft and how sometimes how much I despise it. I know I’m not alone in expressing this, I know many a writer feel the same way. It’s not about the sacrifice….last night I was invited to two parties but knew I needed a clear head for today so didn’t go…like I said it’s not about the sacrifice…I made a call long ago that my work would always take precedence over anything else and to my detriment I’ve probably lost many friends because of it.


I don’t advocate following this intensity your whole career but I know the only way I got a break was by obsessing about the craft. But let me be clear I think you need down time. How can you write about Life if you don’t live it? It’s about a balance. Which is another reason why I think reading is so important to writing. You can lead another Life for 350 pages and change without leaving your living room.


Why do I do this? Forsaking a stab at normality, spending an unhealthy amount of time alone? I can tell you one thing. It’s not for the money. It’s not about how many films I can direct. How many awards I can get. No. I believe we’re all put on this Earth to make some sort of a difference. Big or small. I believe that that the stories I want to tell have some sort of insight into the human condition. That’s not being arrogant. That’s just saying it as it is, much in the same way your experience has some sort of insight into Life too. Everyone’s does. The only difference is I have decided to put pen to paper.


I always think about my brothers when I think about differences. All of them in some way do exactly that in particular my older brother David who will always go out of his way to aid or help people. Sometimes at a cost. When I think about the amount of people he’s touched in a positive way…including me…frankly its humbling. So that’s why I do this. I want to touch people in what ever way I can. Thrill. Scare. Shock. Make them laugh. Make them cry. But doing that is a privilege and it comes at a cost…and that cost is why I hate the craft.


See anybody can write a story. Plot it out. But what makes it unique is the character and theme. Essentially its soul. That elusive element that gives a piece of work Life. But where does that come from? From within of course. Like some sort of parasite the work sucks on you, like a foetus, taking what it needs to grow. Once it has what it needs to survive and take its first steps, I think you then sit back and just describe what you see.


But this gestating. This incubating of the story. This bit for me personally is the hardest. Because you feed your mind with everything you can (the research bit I call gathering) your head swells so much with information it’s like angry bees are bouncing around in your cranium. 


I think because I am what my agent calls a ‘method writer’ (though aren’t we all?) I have to know every minutiae of what I’m doing. That means spending a great deal of time inside your own head. And I’ve said it before…there are places in a man’s head he shouldn’t go. I think that’s what drugs do. They allow you access to those places…I’ve never understood why a trip is described as mind altering. It should be described as mind revealing.


Before this comes over as some sort of self pitying blog, it’s not…all I am trying to do is describe my process with the hopes it may aid yours.  I should get to the point. The gathering bit of a project is the worst bit not just because of the soul searching/giving involved but also because of the amount of input. The amount of options you are presented with. You have lots of path (there’s that forest analogy again!) choices given to you…which way do you go?


Again though this is where I think if you have a vague idea of what you want to say…you won’t feel so lost. My latest project has taken just under a year to finish and I’m sure it’s because I didn’t quite know what I wanted to say. And because of this I stumbled and went up the wrong paths many, many times.


So…the point of this blog. Yes. The Gathering stage…the research. Write down everything you think may be of use. Every single thing. Always with a watchful eye on time and also do not get side tracked or become to self indulgent. It’s the road to Hell.


So next time we move onto the treatment…I’ll be using examples from Steve Cleary’s Arista programme…(great scheme…what happened to Steve?) plus some of my own devices…


Oh yeah…I don’t want to end on doom and gloom but this hate for the work…it does turn into love at some point…then when it’s all over to hate again as you can see all its flaws…then it starts all over again!





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I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules into getting a script done. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way either. I think stories are like being lost in the forest.  You beat the bush clear and eventually unearth a path.  Start walking down it BUT will the path be overgrown with nettles? Will you have to turn back? I think you know when you’re on the right path you can just feel it.  Everything just makes sense and you start writing subconsciously almost. Writing things that you have no idea what they’re doing there but trusting in the process that it’ll become clear. Okay moving on from the forest…


So how do you find the right path?


I write scripts in 4 stages.


1. Logline.

2. Research.

3. Treatment/ Beat sheets.

4. Script.


Roughly this is the process I follow.


Now the first thing I do is give myself realistic deadlines. Most writer’s hate them. I don’t. I think they’re really great tools. When I first started I used to spend 3 years writing a screenplay. That just doesn’t make sense. If I was a car manufacturing company and it took me that long turn out product I’d be out of business. And I hate to mention the ‘B’ word but it is a business. You can not spend too long on a piece of work as you’re in danger of being self indulgent.


So this series of notes is called From Idea to Script in 12 weeks (as it was for HUSH) we should start mapping out timings.


For me the next stage…the research stage should take about 6 weeks of really intense work. If your idea is an original idea what films are like it? Buy all of them and watch them. If your character has autism go and meet someone with it. If you can’t read about it. (By the way READ. READ. READ.  Writing action is a fine art and prose writers are a great source of inspiration.) You set your film on the M1. Go and drive down it. You get my point…what you’re trying to do is remove all the fear that a blank page can give you. You’re trying to get confident about the work and I think to do that you have to colonise the space ( I tell actors to do the same thing with scenes) you have to make the World your own. After 6 weeks of this you should be really fired up. I think good research fires into story and vice versa so it’s worth doing it right but be really disciplined about your research. Don’t go off on tangents or get too bogged down by the amount of research.


It’s always good I think in the back of your mind to be always thinking about plot and character. Maybe breaking off and doing character essays…like have coffee with your protagonist…or there are some interesting programmes like Character Pro 5 or  Truby’s Blockbuster that can help you. None of these programmes do the work for you but when you’re stuck or need a fresh angle they make you ask yourself questions. For example Character Pro uses psychological profiles to form character and it spits out some interesting stuff.


So a great place to find research? The British Library. It’s free and if you can get a membership card is a good place to go and work. Food’s dear though so bring a packed lunch.









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I go back again to the whole debate on last week’s distribution blog. There are too many films being made at the moment…there is literally more supply than demand…so if you don’t have Michael Mann directing your film or have Johnny Depp in it…why is your film gonna get picked up? Because it has a great hook  might be a reason.


Don’t get me wrong you can still have a great film that isn’t spun around a fantastic hook. I call these ‘doing’ ideas…you have to do them and then people will buy them. I just read a script that has a really simple logline… Trying to start over, an ex con loses his way when he vows to hunt down his brothers killers.


But man was it not just that. It was probably one of the best screenplays I have ever read. Period. His use of action bordered on prose but without the hyperbole or inflation. And his dialogue was inspired. It was so real. Almost Peckinpah like in its construction. It was a script about the gaps between the words which is a rare thing to pull off.


So yeah you don’t have to have a great hook if you want to sell your work but if you want your work to be seen (i.e. made) it does help having a great spin on an idea.  My writing sample…the script I send to get work is a film that I have never been able to get off the ground. Everyone agrees it’s well written but no one will make it…mainly because they aren’t sure who will go and watch it!


The best person to describe it has been Alex Epstein in his great book Crafty Screen writing. ‘A hook is the concept of your picture in a nutshell. Not just any concept. A hook is a fresh idea for a story that instantly makes people interested in reading your script and then makes the audience want to see your movie.’


Here are some hooks:

A bunch of unemployed miners decide to strip to earn money. (THE FULL MONTY.)

There’s a bomb on a crowded bus. If the bus slows below 50 miles per hour the bomb will go off. (SPEED.)

A fractious family go a road trip to the little Miss Sunshine contest. (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.)


Epstein asks how you come up with a great hook. And recommends paying attention, nicking it, what if’s or opposites.


I like the paying attention one I mean Hush came about because I drove a lot and noticed a lot of trucks. I always used it imagine what was in them.


Mark Millar another really intelligent good writer does a variation of the ‘what if.’

What if one day you found out you were the son of an assassin? WANTED. What if you got a super power when you joined the US Army? WAR HEROES.


Hooks not help your film get seen but I think they also help you when you get lost during the scripting process which does happen, they kinda earth you.


Someone said to me once if you can explain your idea in one line it’s a good idea…a paragraph then something’s wrong. Good rule of thumb. In the current UK climate if you can come up with a hook that is high concept but cheap. Bingo you’re in. The best example which I always come back to is Saw. High concept. Low budget. (It only cost a million.) I’m also being told by sales agents that comedy is in at the moment.



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You’ve spent lots of time thinking about your idea and now its time to be honest about it.


Before we get into that we really need to talk about how film works.


Okay so simplistically here’s the cycle of a film:


You write your script, it gets picked up by a production company, they make it, a distributor picks it up, and it’s in the cinema, then goes to DVD, then eventually TV.


Okay so the area I want to focus on before we even write a word is the distributor and exhibitor bit. After you’ve made your film you will have an exhibitor screening, where the cinema chain will watch your film and then decide whether they want to book it. I’ll repeat that. Whether THEY want to book it.  Now why should they screen your film if they get another showing of STAR TREK in there and make money?


My point is this: before setting out to write anything I always ask myself of the idea is it:


  1. Strong enough that people will lave their homes to see in the cinema.
  2. Is it a DVD only idea.
  3. Is it a TV idea.


I’m not downgrading TV but some ideas are better suited to the small screen. You want people to pay money for your idea. Is it really good enough? Is it?


I think this part of the job is really hard. You have to take a sieve to your ideas and be really honest about them. Can you see exhibitors really booking your film? Be really honest. That might mean your slate shrinking from 6 ideas to 2. But who cares…as long as those two are strong. That’s all you need.