Do we have the right to tell true stories?

This was the question posed by filmmaker Vincent Lambe to justify his Oscar nominated film Detainment.

Subsequently, the overriding sentiment from most people was: Yes – provided you have permission from the victim’s family.

Detainment was made using the archived transcripts of interviews with the killers of James Bulger. Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were just 10 years old at the time they kidnapped the two year old from a shopping centre and terrorised him before killing him. The transcripts are in the public domain so permission isn’t needed.

However, as many pointed out, common courtesy dictates that you’d at least contact the family and ask for their blessing before you went ahead. This Lambe did not do – and therein lies the main issue for most people.

As the mother of a two year old at the time, my sympathies lie entirely with Denise Bulger and what she went through then, and what she is going through again now.

Another Twitter user took umbrage that I’d dared to express my opinion on the matter and after a long conversation, pointed out that I’m a screenwriter and they hoped karma would get me, by way of a project I’d spent hundreds of hours on being withdrawn.

I pointed out that it wouldn’t happen* – because I would never even begin to write a screenplay about such a sensitive subject without having got the relevant parties on board.

I guess for those who don’t remember this case – too young, outside of the UK, perhaps – it’s hard to understand why there is such a backlash against this film. But I do. I can remember the atrocities that small innocent boy suffered without needing to look it up.

For me, this is the side of a true story that simply didn’t need telling again.

*Sadly, the nature of the film and TV  industry means there are many projects whose collaborators put in hundreds of hours of work for them never to appear. It doesn’t have to be controversial.

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Writing daze

The Coffee Break Screenwriter by Pilar Alessandra

You know I said I’d be writing at least 3 pages a day? I actually have!

Therefore, as we near the end of January, I can look back on the month and be really proud that I’ve now two complete project drafts. And it’s thanks in part to the excellent book (see above) by Pilar Alessandra: The Coffee Break Screenwriter.

I was stuck at a rough 12 pages for the pilot episode of my TV series, so, since it was Pilar’s weekend TV writing course that set me on the journey with it last year, I revisited her book to jump start me again.

Going into the weekend last year with just the basic concept, I came away with the full template for all the elements of a mini series bible, which subsequently turned into a 5 page document that set a strong framework for me to work from.

But knowing my characters and where I want them to go turned out to be the easy bit. So using Pilar’s book, I’ve begun to work through the 10 minute exercises and concentrate on one part of the script at a time. Before I knew it, I’d hit 45 pages. And I’m still only at the beginnings of the rewrite processes!

Having already completed the vomit draft (as I’ve charmingly seen it called) of my feature – Pilar refers to it as the speed draft (as in you write it quickly, not while you’re high) – I’ve started the rewriting process on that and already it’s gained another 4 pages.

It helps that I’ve finally made the effort to make more, dedicated, time. I’d let too many distractions keep me away from the writing but a new approach has proven worthwhile. This is essentially not writing just on the computer – printing the drafts off and going through with a red pen (like in the olden days) clearly works for me. Pen and paper, you can’t beat it.

Yesterday I was at the second Rochester Write Then Socialise and basically sat quietly for 3 whole hours working through the script, with Pilar’s book becoming more and more thumbed as the day wore on. The beauty of this was that once I felt a break was in order, I could reward myself by chatting to fellow writers over a coffee, the importance of which can’t be underestimated.

Writing is a lonely, solitary business and it’s easy to become isolated. While we were all concentrating on our own projects, the sounds of low chatter, tapping on keyboards and the scratching of pens reminded me I’m not on my own.

It’s been almost two years (I thought it was longer)

2019

Yep, almost two years since I last blogged. Outrageous isn’t it? Or would be if I hadn’t been busy with all sorts of things that, sadly, were just more important.

But here I am, having guilt tripped myself into it, mainly to get back in the habit of just writing freely – even if it’s a load of nonsense (which it quite likely will be).

I’ve been concentrating on screenwriting, which includes reading and watching lots of stuff too, and also organising the first Murderous Medway which – even if I say it myself – was bloody good. Quote of the day? “The quality of the panel discussions was as good as any I’ve heard at Harrogate” – from a regular Theakston’s Old Peculiar attendee.

So it’ll be happening again this year – details will come in due course. My personal aim for 2019? To write at least 3 pages per day. I’ve still a few hours left today …

First up though (and the guilt comes from having had this a while) from one of the Litfest’s lovely volunteer’s Christina, who did some work experience at a television production company earlier this year and shared her thoughts on how disabled creatives can break into the industry. Stay tuned!

Exploring Sicario

sicario

As you know from a previous blog post, I’ve been taking part in an online course, Explore Film, with the NFTS / BFI on the Future Learn e-learning platform.

I did this predominantly to help inform my scriptwriting and to learn a bit about the physical aspects of filming – thinking of light, sound and music – particularly when editing anything together for the LitFest.

I didn’t realise how much I’d absorbed until watching Sicario last night, when the cinematography of Roger Deakins and the score by Johann Johannsson completely knocked me out. I feel like I’ve watched a film properly for the first time ever. It’s an awakening!

Tutors Jon Wardle, Pete Fraser and Tom Woodcock will be so proud. Although I’m completely ruined for watching films now. I’ll probably revisit lots of old favourites and spend the entire time picking holes in them …

While Deakins feels we should be too immersed in the film to notice his work (see video above) he can be assured that while entirely immersed, I nevertheless saw the beauty he created, particularly in the most memorable scene for me – and others, it seems – with the sunset silhouettes, as the task force headed for the hidden route to Mexico, then the switches from night vision to infrared giving an almost game like feel. Trust me, it’s 9m 22s out of your life you will not regret. And pay attention to the sound too – more on that in a minute.

From the opening scenes, where the slants of sunlight illuminated the characters one by one (reminding me of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, actually) through to Benicio Del Toro’s ruthless (yet still I was rooting for him) dispatch of the evil drug lord, I was aware of the editing that created the movie’s pace, the perfectly pitched lighting – particularly of Emily Blunt in radiant blue at the cowboy bar – and every sound: the dog barking, the door slams, the slightest muffled footstep – now knowing that these have been added in after (probably), and not just filmed ‘live’ which, having no experience of how a film is made (apart from the odd bit of sweding) I always assumed was quite natural (how good are these people?).

How have I never heard of Johann Johannsson? I listen to Classic FM, I know Hans Zimmer, John Barry, Howard Shore, Thomas Newman – I need to have a word, because in all my time listening to that station, I’ve never heard them play this Johann. And I even watched Trapped, for God’s sake, and thought how haunting the soundtrack was. To be fair, the credits ran into the hundreds of thousands, so little surprise I didn’t catch his name.

I mean, I don’t get out much and it’s only because of the LitFest working with the Rochester Film Society recently that I’ve seen 3 films in the last few weeks (that weren’t repeats of Bourne or RED) but still … *note to self*: email Andrew Collins with a suggestion.

Sicario’s incredible score doesn’t sound as though played by an orchestra, reminding me of Week 6, where we captured our own ‘found sounds’. With its thumping heart beat mimicking your own “like the throbbing heart of a beast charging at you” as Johannsson says himself, it creates a menace to match the brutality of the film. Read the interview that quote comes from here – it says everything I was thinking, and is perfectly captured in the clip above. I’m off to listen to The Theory of Everything.

NEWSFLASH: SICARIO 2 ON ITS WAY! 

Continuing personal development …

movies-1167319_960_720

My ambition is to write a screenplay. A full length film. I’ve got the whole film playing out in my head – interrupted occasionally by the TV series I want to do. And chocolate adverts.

So I’m dabbling in online courses for film making and screenwriting, through the brilliant Future Learn portal – masses of free online courses you can do in your own time, or alongside potentially thousands of others. Do check them out.

The one I’m currently engaged in is ‘Explore Film’ and it’s pretty awesome – I’ve already watched some brilliant short films and am feeling inspired. Into Week 2 and there was the opportunity for some practical work. Today found me on location (at the ever welcoming Cafe @172/Dot Cafe in Rochester) with the lovely Sam Rapp, The Dyslexic Poet, and the also lovely Penny from the cafe (who didn’t need too much persuasion, since she’s another crafty creative we’ve found).

The brief was to write a 30 second script on the premise on someone in a room giving something to someone else coming into the room. I then had to storyboard it (you can see that on my Creative Arts Pinterest page. A must if you like stick men work) and then rope in some unsuspecting victims to film it with me (see above).

And this was the result. I still haven’t discovered the techy tricks that will make the video look as good on YouTube as it does on the iPad, which is annoying – but hopefully that’s something we’ll cover as we progress.