Saturday, February 18, 2006

Learning, and meetings

Things I have learned this week:

-- The Tom Baker SMS to landline service is the greatest thing ever. My first text (to my own landline, naturally) was "Hello, this is The Doctor. Have you seen my TARDIS?" I was in absolute hysterics for several minutes. Yes, I'm a massively childish geek.

-- Going to the cinema to watch a double bill of Brokeback Mountain followed by Final Destination 3 actually works quite well. You get a beautiful piece of cinema, superb acting, and great drama, then get cheered up again by a gleefully gory and tasteless piece of fun. The sunbed sequence in FD3 is worth the price of admission alone, particularly the match-cut at the end of it. Superb.

-- If you shoot a man in the face, but you're Dick Cheney, the man you shot will apologise to you ("My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice-President Cheney and his family have had to go through this past week"). Clearly, if you're swinging your gun around while hunting, it's up to everyone else to make sure they don't accidentally hit your shotgun pellets with their face.

-- "Hunting" is apparently what happens when a bunch of fat, old, white guys drive to a ranch, and shoot some stubby, mildly retarded, farm-bred quails that are released several inches in front of their noses. I mean seriously, why not just bring out a plank with the quails nailed to it by the feet, and hand out hammers? You'd save money on shotgun shells. That's not hunting. *Kurt Russell* goes hunting - he goes out, stalks an animal, kills it, brings it home, and his family cook and eat it. That's hunting. Big difference. That's because Kurt Russell is a man, whereas Dick Cheney is an animated bag of fat, brought to life by lightning and voodoo.

--The RIAA does not want you to rip your CDs to your iPod. CDs that you purchased legally. They don't think that's "fair use". I suppose suing children wasn't ludicrous enough, eh? What next? Will getting a song "stuck in your head" be declared illegal, too?

Meetings and so on:

Had two meetings this week, one for the low budget horror movie I'll be doing with the director of the short film (short film happening soon, hopefully), and one with a TV bloke. It's only recently that UK telly seems to be going for the sort of bizarre, surreal stuff that I do, whereas before genre seemed to be a bit of a dirty word. Doctor Who and Life On Mars have proved that there's an audience for it, so I'm trying to get some telly stuff going. The TV bloke was cool, very funny, and keen on my stuff, so hopefully the door is open for people like me now. The low budget horror meeting went well too, I had pitched them my take on their existing draft, and what I planned to do with it, which seemed to go down quite well. We're now talking about how to rebuild it from the ground up, using all the cool stuff from the original version. It's going to be very different visually from any other horror movie, and we're not even sure if it will work yet, so we're all learning as we go along. No responses as yet from the comedy TV thing that went out, except for one person that said "I love it!" and then promptly vanished off the face of the Earth. Couldn't have loved it that much, then. Same thing happened back when Curfew was doing the rounds - one guy was very keen, demanded to read my other work *that very day*, we couriered the stuff over, and never heard from him again, not even a "no". Meh, his loss.

Meanwhile, I was hoping to finish the new Curfew outline by Friday (yesterday), which didn't happen. I've had two nights with no sleep in a row this week, along with the beginnings of some weird throat thing, which meant I've just been too trashed to do much in the evenings. I'm about three quarters of the way through, and hope to finish it before Monday. So why am I doing a big blog entry right now? Because I will do anything to avoid work, don't pretend you're not the same. Okay, I'm getting off the internet for the rest of the weekend. Probably.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Burn your bridges

Missed opportunity: Murder She Wrote, the last ever episode. As the latest murderer is dragged away, protesting their innocence, Jessica Fletcher goes home, and unlocks her basement. Inside, on one long wall, are photographs of every single victim from every single episode. Newspaper clippings of every single "murderer", that she has framed using her expert knowledge of detective work and forensics. Vials of semen, blood, underwear, hair, saliva, evidence for the planting. Thick files of information on every single case, the result of months spent preparing *before* each casual visit or holiday, knowing every face and every name intimately, pretending to have just met them, interviewing them so she can "solve" the murder. She adds the latest photograph and newspaper clipping to the wall, removes all of her clothing, laughs, and blows her head off with a shotgun.

But of course, they didn't do that. Why not? Seriously. It was the last ever episode, they had nothing left to prove, so why didn't they just say fuck it, let's do it, subvert the entire show, give all the viewers the shock of a lifetime? End it in style. What's the worst that could happen? It's not like you're going to get cancelled - the show's over. Go crazy. Be bold.

Knight Rider, last episode, we finally see it from someone else's perspective, seeing things as they really are: Michael Knight, hopelessly insane, talking to himself, answering in "KITT's" voice, lips moving, sitting in his beat-up Volvo estate car, which has no wheels, engine, or seats, pretending to chat up the ladies, solving imaginary cases, but merely a homeless drunk, still suffering the debilitating effects of the near-fatal shooting in the pilot episode.

The A-Team. Two words: Peckinpah shootout. Years of luck and magically dodging millions of bullets come to an end, as the team go out in style, ripped to pieces by machine gun fire, their smoking helicopter falling from thousands of feet up, crashing and exploding in the mountains. No survivors. Colonel Decker takes off his cap, the music fades down, all we hear is the whumping of helicopter blades, as a single tear makes its way down his face, showing the immense respect he has for his fallen enemies. This is all in the first 5 minutes - the rest of the episode shows Decker trying to cope with what he has done, realising that now he really has nothing left to live for. He ends up framing yet another group of war heroes, letting them "escape", letting the whole cycle begin again, so he can have something to live for.

Sure, they're all downers, but it's better than just fizzling out. There was no final mystery to wrap up, so they'd have been able to experiment and give us a cool surprise. The only TV shows that have come close to burning all their bridges like this are the Incredible Hulk, where Banner finally becomes "free" of the curse, but not in the way you'd hoped for, and the beautiful, infuriating, heartbreaking finale to Quantum Leap, which did everything I wasn't expecting, and left me an inconsolable wreck on the floor. I still go all quiet and wobbly when I think about it. I have no idea how Murder She Wrote ended, and don't even know if Knight Rider or the A-Team had endings at all. But I will remember the Quantum Leap ending forever.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The following post contains strong language, which some viewers may find amusing

When the TV announcer warns you that the following programme contains "strong language", you expect a bit more than a few shits, couple of bollocks, and one single, solitary fuck, thrown in for the sake of it. Eleventh Hour has the same warning every week, but that's all you get. It feels like a bit of a cheat, saying "look out, big swearwords up ahead", when there really aren't. Almost like a desperate attempt to be seen as controversial or adult. I don't care if there's swearing or not, but don't prepare me for something that you're not going to deliver.

Most of the stuff I've written so far has got swearing in it. I don't do it to be cool, I don't decide to do it, I just do it. I swear a lot in real life, as do a lot of people. Severance is about a group of office workers getting attacked, maimed, or killed in various horrible ways, so all the characters swear. It would be ridiculous if they all maintained perfect, soapy clean mouths in that situation. Take the most polite, well mannered person, stab them in the arm with a rusty knife, and I guarantee you they'll immediately scream out words that would embarrass a sailor. So I didn't hold back or censor myself, and the script was quite a sweary cocktail. In the draft I originally sold, there are: 48 fucks or fuck variants, 25 shits, 10 bollocks, 8 bloodys, 6 arses, 6 pisses, 5 cocks, 4 bastards, and 1 prick. The most recent production draft has 46 fucks or fuck variants, so not much difference there. As for Curfew, it's a dark, gritty, violent horror thriller. Many people are killed, in extremely nasty ways. Without even thinking about it, I'm fairly positive that the characters are going to swear. The School had a light sprinkling of shits and bollocks, only bringing out the f-bomb when things got serious. The characters in it were fairly innocent, normal kids - not the glue sniffing, violent scumbags that kids really are - so their speech reflected that.

I've used a lot of swearwords. I even like to come up with swearword combos, to vary things. Like shitfucker, or cockwank. Two for the price of one. But the one swearword I haven't yet used in a script is the strongest one of all - cunt. Again, not a conscious decision. I say it a lot in real life, but so far, it hasn't found its way into a script. Maybe I'm waiting for the right place, the right moment. It is, after all, the best swearword. The one guaranteed to offend, guaranteed to get a reaction. Even in today's modern, cynical, naughty-words-before-the-watershed world, it's the one that'll always rub someone up the wrong way. It's special. So I'm saving it.

But my point is, if there's any point to this post other than to swear a lot and sound clever, that you shouldn't censor yourself. Don't throw in stuff to be deliberately offensive, but don't restrict the characters when it doesn't make sense to. People do bad things. They swear, they kill people, they have sex with people they shouldn't. So don't hold back. Unless it's a movie for kids, about a fluffy rabbit who has an amazing adventure, then you should probably try and avoid things like swearing, murder or incest. Mind you, who wouldn't pay to see a movie about a sweary cartoon rabbit who fucks and then kills his brother? It's a niche market, obviously, but they said that about every other genre.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

It's all in the mix

Dropped into the place where they're mixing Severance on Monday, to hear how the sound mix was coming along. They should be finishing this week, and were doing the sort of last minute "up a bit… down a bit… back up a bit but not quite as much…" that would drive me absolutely batshit insane if I was doing it full time. They've been at this now for 5 days a week, for a couple of months, in a darkened mixing room, tweaking, pulling, pushing, drinking lots of coffee, running the same scene over and over and over again, making tiny adjustments, and I think it's made them all go slightly feral. Chris had blood all over his face, Jason was lying dead in the corner with bite marks on his stomach, one of the sound guys kept smashing his head against the wall, howling "WHY? WHY?", while the other one just masturbated furiously while crying at the same time. I pitied them, but I tried not to get too close, making sure I was between them and the exit the whole time.

I'm exaggerating, but not much. Seriously, I was really fascinated with the process, and was only in there for a few hours, but felt it destroying my sanity even after that short time. I can't even imagine doing it Every. Single. Day. For months. MONTHS. Poor bastards. We'll have to shoot them all when it's finished, it'll be the kindest thing for them.

It was so interesting though - the sound mix is probably 60-70% of the impact of a movie, if not more. It made such a difference - scenes that were fine before were really fucking harsh and intense. The music gave it more of an epic feel, while the sounds layered into it accentuated the violence and atmosphere. There's a really nasty sound where - oh, but I'm giving away the plot, Michael! Anyway, it's all done in the best POSSIBLE taste.

The acting, the visuals, the dialogue, they're all vital, but the sound adds an extra dimension. A bass hum overlaid on a tense, silent scene resonated everywhere, making us all feel the tension. But how much bass? Enough to freak people out, but not so much that the subsonic part induces vomiting and bone damage. The music peaks here, but when do we fade it down? - there's no dialogue, so do we leave the music on full blast, or do we pull it down a bit when we cut to a wide shot? - yeah, let's try that - okay, doesn't feel right, let's try it the first way - okay, now let's bring up the rain sound - bit too much, pull it back a bit - now lets try it with the rain, but fading when we cut to wide - okay, let's try the other way… I was totally geeking out at how much difference these tiny tweaks made. But still. 5 days a week. For months. The horror. The horror. Sound dudes - I salute you. You insane geniuses.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Eleventh Hour's downward spiral, Masters of Horror, and Curfew news

Eleventh Hour is starting to fall apart. I enjoyed the virus episode last week, but the show's getting scuppered by unrealistic silliness. I can accept that a scientist would try and cover up his mistakes if it resulted in accidental deaths caused by a virus, sure, no problem. But there is no way that people who might be infected would all be shoved in a warehouse together - if one of them has it, then they'll all get it. Unless that is the official containment policy in the event of a virus outbreak. Is it? If so, I'm buying a fucking hazard suit just in case. As for the coughing, pox-ridden guy rushing to his family, to get them away from the outbreak? Dude, you're bringing the outbreak RIGHT TO THEM! I realise that was the dramatic point of that scene, and I loved the speech Patrick Stewart gives him, but I just couldn't see the character being that stupid. Still though, it was reasonably good fun.

As for last night's episode (the global warming one) - fuck me sideways. Utter, utter bollocks. It was the messiest, sloppiest, most inconsistent hour or so of telly I've seen for a long time. It made very little sense, the science was nonsense, and the whole central sequence of a scientist going missing turned out to be completely pointless. It relied on several people behaving out of character and doing ridiculous things - if they'd behaved normally, then the story would have been over in 5 minutes, sure, but you can't just say "right, they do this because I need them to do so for the plot". You have to make it work, make sense of it, sit the fuck down and think it through. If I'd handed in anything that lazy to my agent, or to anyone I've made contact with in this business, they'd laugh in my face. I don't know what's happened to it. Maybe there was some ITV fiddling, or some dodgy rewriting, or just too many sticky fingers in the pie. It's just quite shocking to see the wheels coming off so spectacularly. A shame too, I take no pleasure in slagging off something like this. Come on - you've got Patrick fucking Stewart in your show! Step up your fucking game! There are FOUR LIGHTS!

From what I've read about the show, the intention was to do a proper, serious, science-based thriller, which is all well and good, but it's getting infected by ITV-ness. And as yet there's no cure for that.

Which brings me on to Masters of Horror. A bunch of legendary horror directors, frustrated at their inability to get things made and shown, decide to create their own TV series of one hour one-offs. Anything goes; no limits, no restrictions, if the TV station gets cold feet, fuck it, it's coming out on DVD anyway. Week 1: A fun, but fairly generic supernatural slasher/monster thing, with a twist visible from quite some distance. Week 2: Horrendous goth-wank wish fulfilment bollocks, with barely any story, barely any horror, and barely any acting. Week 3: Nice tits, shame about EVERYTHING FUCKING ELSE IN THE EPISODE. Tonight is week 4, directed by Stuart Gordon, the madman behind Re-Animator. Stuart, please don't let me down. Again, I take no pleasure in this, I was dying to see this series. But think about it: legendary directors... no limits... do anything you want... Yeah, bit of a let down so far, eh? Looking forward to the John Carpenter and Joe Dante ones, they're supposed to be cool. And obviously, dying to see the Takashi Miike one, but that'll have to wait for the DVD - he's taken the "do what you want" thing to a whole new level, apparently, which is why it won't be shown on TV...

Thankfully, Life On Mars keeps getting better and better. It is my one safe place on the telly right now.

Anyway. The Curfew outline: Initial feedback from the Big People is very, very good. Me and the script editor had a meeting with one of the bigwigs yesterday, and it all went very well. They're all really positive about it, love the outline, and are really excited about how it's come together. They'd like me to do one more version of the outline, just to tidy up and "bury the gun" in a few places (hide some obvious twists, throw in some more complications, etc), then hopefully I can start the script. I'm meeting the script editor again next week, we'll chat about the changes that are needed, and I'll go off and do them. I wasn't nervous about this meeting at all, because of the amount of work we both put into the outline - we hammered the shit out of that storyline, pulled it apart and put it back together, making sure every single strand hung together, that there were no plotholes, that every set up was paid off, that it all made sense. So I knew it was really solid, and was quite happy sending it off, didn't even consider that they might not like it. I can't wait to get started on the script. They're keen to keep things moving too, so it looks like things are kicking off fairly quickly. More news as it happens.