Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

quick tessa & adam / new eden update

9, October 2011

I know it’s been a long time between drinks here at drettworlb so I thought it was time for an update.

I’ve been busy since my last post in July. The scripts for all ten episodes of Tessa & Adam are now completed and I’m currently working on the script for the eighth double-episode finale for New Eden.

Freek and I have been doing more work on the New Eden pilot and it’s coming together nicely. It’s taking a while due to the fact that we both have other work and contracts to complete but we’re very happy with the progress thus far. Freek is working up some more promotional images for New Eden that I can’t wait to share with you guys.

On the producing side of things, I’ve got some interesting leads on financing for both series. Now it’s just a matter of seeing how things play out. It’s too early to talk about and nothing is definite but watch this space.

In terms of distribution for Tessa & Adam and New Eden, I’ve being researching successful original web series and have drawn on my growing skills in social media to put together a solid distribution and marketing plan for both projects.

If you’re interested in the whole web series/original digital content/youtube space then you need to be reading NewTeeVee, TubeFilter and Reel SEO. Also follow NewEdenseries, which is littered with tweets and links from all three and many other sources.

And finally check out the YouTube Creator Playbook, a free resource breaking down the best practices in production, distribution, marketing and community building learnt for successful YouTube creators.

That’s it for now. Thanks for checking in and feel free to say G’day if you see me mucking about on Twitter.

a podcast for every occasion

30, January 2011

My number one companion as I tube, bus and elbow my way through the streets of London is my iPod and the number one thing I listen to lately has been podcasts, so much so that I’ve now got one for every occasion.

My absolute favourite at the moment is Chicago Public Radio’s This American Life, hosted by Ira Glass. Every week he brings you a variety of stories on a theme that is for the most part journalism but told with a storytellers’ sensibilities. Covering everything from global issues to stories exploring people’s inner lives, every episode is always a treat.

If I want a definite pick me up after a long day or at the start of one than there’s nothing better than NPR’s Monkey See Pop Culture Happy Hour. But if I’m looking for something more thoughtful and to dive into a world of ideas, science and philosophy I turn to Radio Lab.

When I want to geek out I go to shows like Epic Fu or A Comicbook Orange to get my fix. And for a more considered examination of the latest in the world of modern American culture I tune into NPR’s Culturetopia podcast.

The Onion News Network always tickles my funny bone, as does BBC Radio 4’s Comedy of Week and BBC Radio 5’s 7 Day Sunday. And for mindless adolescent humour Adult Swim UK’s podcast floats my boat every time.

Ever since my Amstrad and first electronics kit I’ve loved videos games and anything to do with tech. I’ve since retired my joystick and soldering iron but keep up with the latest in both fields thanks to ABC TV’s Good Game and The Guardian’s Tech Weekly.

For the latest goss, insider interviews or analyst on the television and film industry in the UK I hit up The Guardian’s Media Talk, and KCRW’s The Business for the same stateside.

There is a great UK/US pairing of podcasts on writing that is always great for when I need some inspiration, UK Scriptwriters by Danny Stack and Tim Clague and Sam and Jim Go To Hollywood by well, Sam and Jim!

If I have more than an hour to kill and up for a dense discussion on the craft of scriptwriting I delve into Creative Screenwriting Magazine or Film London’s Microwave podcast to hear interviews and discussion on indie filmmaking in the UK.

And finally my guilty pleasure up until recently has been Kevin Smith’s Red State Of The Union podcast about the making of his latest horror flick, Red State. Kevin Smith is still as crude as ever but I tell you that dude can talk under water and is nothing if not entertaining.

Now that it has finished up I’m on the hunt for something new to fill its place. I’d love to find a UK equilavent to This American Life or Radio Lab, so if you hear of anything let me know. And if there’s anything else you think I should be listening to you know where to find me.

If I wand a definite pick me after a long day, or the start of one, than there’s nothing better than NPR’s Monkey See Pop Culture Happy Hour.

inspiration from across the blogs

26, January 2011

The new decade seems to have kicked off to a good start for many writers and there’s a real sense of positivity and hope out there. It may just be because it’s the start to a new year but it does feel like some of the uncertainty surrounding last year has dissipated and people are just cracking on or starting to see the fruits of their labour bear fruit.

So if you need a bit of inspiration for the new year, look no further than your fellow bloggers.

David Bishop has an excellent post entitled “Don’t wait for an engraved invitation to write” … Danny Stack, inspired by a mate’s low-budget filmmaking endeavours, has been spurred on to take a step closer to his dream of directing a feature … Jason Arnopp talks about how his many years of work and building a portfolio helped him secure an agent … Jez Freedman blogged about Massive Action Day, a fun and free way for writers to support each other as they collective kick off the year with a mass day of writing … Laurence Timms has been giddy of late over seeing his work going in front of the camera … Lucy V Hay‘s appropriately titled post “Can’t Get Read, Yes You Can” gives loads of helpful tips on getting your stuff past the gatekeepers and read by that elusive prodco you’d love to work for … and the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain recently posted an excellent podcast “Writing Comedy for Television” where the central message for emerging writers was to just get out there and get your work read, seen or made any way you can.

If anyone else has their own success stories or sources of inspiration, feel free to share.

radio sketch comedy samples

24, January 2011

Late last year I recorded three audio comedy samples to add to my portfolio and you can now find them under the sample radio sketches page on my blog and also here on AudioBoo.

I’ve had them kicking around my hard drive for a while now and after a year of being half way through several different projects for one reason or another I just wanted to put something out there that I could say was finished.

I put them together with the help of some talented actor mates (Lawrence, Jo and Jonathan) and found an equally talented and enthusiastic sound engineer/designer (Billy), all of who were keen for some fresh radio samples to add to their reels.

I had a ball working with the actors and in the edit and look forward to doing it again. It was a great learning experience and in the end delivered a solid result that everyone can be proud of.

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Now that the radio samples are done and dusted I thought it was worthwhile reflecting on the process and what I learnt.

don’t scrimp on recording time

Because of scheduling constraints we had one three-hour session to record four sketches. This turned out to be just enough but if I was to do it again I would have budgeted a little extra time or would have dropped one of the sketches. Often by the third and fourth take the actors where really starting to fire on all cylinders. If we had a couple of extra takes I think we could have given both them and me just a little bit more opportunity to play with the material.

pick-ups

I did a few pick-ups with a couple of the actors after our initial recording session to have another go at several moments and it helped immensely. I have to say though that the best and most nature performances that we got was during our first recording session when things just clicked. I think that’s because so much of the magic of comedy is in the timing and chemistry between the actors.

The other thing with pick-ups is that it can take a considerable amount of time in the edit to listen to and then place them. This eats into your editing time, which could be better spent working on the sound design. As the old saying goes, yes you can “fix it in post” but it’s always better to nail it on the day.

painting a world with sound

With only audio available as your storytelling tool it goes without saying that it is vitally important to be able to paint the world of your story with sound.  I found that often it was less about creating a complex design with layer upon layer of sound and instead about finding the right sounds and and then the right moments to use them. The sound design has to not only add to the world of the story but also help move the narrative forward.

Because the sound design played such an integral part to making House Cat work, Billy created 90% of the sound effects and foley from scratch, including recording Lawrence’s stellar turn as the kitten. By comparison 3am only required minimal sound design work and then just needed to stay out of Jonathan and Jo’s way because the sketch hangs entirely on their performance.

real sounds are always best

Billy did a great job recording the foley tracks and sound effects for the sketches. We discovered during the process that nine times out of ten recording the real thing always produced the best result.

One example of this was the banging on the sink basin in House Cat. We recorded numerous takes of a small steel basin that we brought into the booth but it never quite worked. Later we discovered a nice big steel basin in an artist’s studio next door. So the next day Billy stretched a microphone and cable out and around and got exactly what we needed.

It can be easy to think that you can create anything in post production but as I’m sure any foley artist will tell you, more often than not, nothing beats the real thing.

make what you’ve got work

At some point I think during any editing process whether it be film, TV or radio you have to let go of the idealised vision of what you hoped for and embrace what you’ve got. Sometimes you find little gems that deliver something so far and above what you imagined. Other times you have to bite the bullet and just do your best to make what you’ve got work.

The end to 3am underwent some last minute editing because what we originally had dragged it out too much and didn’t add anything to the sketch. Even though what we now have isn’t as punchy as I would have liked to go out with I think it’s always better to get out early rather than overstay your welcome.

I’m not worried though because this is not the last you’ll see of this style of writing from me and not the last time I’ll get to play with these types of characters.

kill your babies

As I mentioned above, there was a fourth sketch that we recorded during our initial session. Once we got it into the edit and listened back to it though I soon realised it just didn’t work. It wasn’t written well for radio, was too long and put my actors in a situation where they weren’t at their best – completely my fault, not theirs. So rather than trying to persist with it I decided to shelve it. Sometimes you can make something work with a tweak here or there but sometimes you just have to be decisive and kill your babies as they say.

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As I said, you can check out the samples on my blog or over on AudioBoo where you can share it on Facebook and Twitter and feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.

my writing habit

10, October 2010

Recently someone ask me about my writing habit. In the same week I read a blog post on the subject by the talented Michelle Lipton, which sparked some interesting discussion in the comments, so I thought I would pick up the ball and share my thoughts on it.

9 to 5 / mon to fri

I usually write 9 to 5 because I like to keep my evenings free to relax, hang out with the girl, socialise or watch telly. I ease into the day with emails, twitter and my RSS news feed, take care of any housekeeping and then get down to it. I’ve estimated that on a good day I can get 4 to 6 solids hours of writing done. If I know the girl is coming home late or is away I’ll tend to work even later, with some breaks, which can be a great time to write as there just seems to be fewer distractions or demands on your time at night.

I love my notebook

If I’m not churning out pages or editing a script then I’m usually writing in a notebook. One of the best habit-forming things I did was morning pages from The Artist’s Way. I don’t think I completed the entire book but the act of doing pages, getting out ideas, removing blocks, brainstorming, doodling and generally engaging my brain has been invaluable in the development of my writing process.

making the most of a commute

My day job is shift work, which keeps me out of the poor house and also affords me time to write. So whenever I do find time to write I make the most of it. This includes my commute to work. If I can get a seat on the tube then I’ll usually be scribbling in my notebook or marking up my latest draft. For me it proves to be a very effective use of my time and apart from the odd Friday night drunken query from a fellow commuter I find I can usually zone everything else out and focus on the task at hand.

splitting attention

At the moment I tend to focus on one project at a time, partly because I’m somewhat of a completest but also because there’s only so much I can keep in my head. This year I’ve been developing a passion project but have had to put it aside for several other opportunities that have come my way. Slowly I’ve been knocking them off one by one but I can’t wait to get back to what I was originally working on. As I mentioned, I make plenty of notes because there is no worse feeling than losing an idea, so I’m confident I’ll be able to pick up where I left off.

personal sanity

I have a couple of trusted writing buddies, a writers group and sounding boards that I meet up with from time to time to puzzle through story problems, to share work with or just to shoot the breeze. Like most writers I’m content with the isolation of the job but I have to admit sometimes I do go a little stir crazy and need human contact now and again, usually when I start talking to myself on the bus or pounce on my partner for attention the second she walks in the door. That’s when I know it’s time to step away from the keyboard and go outside.

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I think creatives of any discipline all have to find their own rhythm and pattern to their work. I agree with the general consensus that it’s a job like any other but when you’re constantly having to create by yourself, as opposed to working in a team, then I think you need to set yourself some parameters. Otherwise you’re just not going to generate your best work and will probably drive yourself crazy in the process. The most important thing I guess is that you create a habit that gets you writing and doesn’t create distractions or excuses for you not to.

This is what works for me. What works for you?

who is your sounding board?

3, July 2010

For as long as I can remember there has been one person who has always read my material. I’d say he’s read everything I’ve ever written as well as heard a million stories that never made it to the page. He’s my best mate since our amateur theatre days and is the first person I go to when I have written something new.

Why? He’s a sounding board I can trust. He’s someone I know I can talk honestly with, he’s someone who understands story, he gets me and my writing and sometimes he has moments of brilliance that he lets me steal!

Graham Linehan (The IT Crowd, Father Ted, Black Books, Big Train) recently said:

“Writing with a partner is paid socialising. Writing on your own is work.” Chorltle.co.uk

This is what bouncing stuff off my mate is like; a great opportunity to not only hang out together but also do what we love – discuss and pick apart stories. And after countless months bashing something out on my lonesome it’s a great reward and has now become an invaluable part of my process.

Now your sounding board may be a co-writer, an editor, a dramaturg, a script assessor, a director, a producer or even your mum. But what makes someone a good sounding board?

  1. As I said before they have to be someone you trust to share new and often raw work with.
  2. Someone who knows what they’re talking about. Anyone can give an opinion but not everyone can give constructive criticism.
  3. But make sure you pick someone you respect. There’s no point bouncing stuff off some lauded genius if you don’t respect their opinion.
  4. Same goes for having someone who gets you and your writing. You need someone who can challenge you but ultimately is on your side.
  5. Oh and get someone who makes you smarter. Two brains are always better than one but they have to be the right two brains.
  6. And finally, someone you want to hang out with and can be comfortable with. Not just over a beer but someone who is as equally willing to share personal truths, embarrassing memories and human observations as you are.

I recently finished a session with my mate reviewing my latest work, a 60 minute comedy/drama pilot (writing sample + competition fodder) called ‘Mad Love’. I have a script reading in about a week and I needed someone to go over it with one last time before spending a small fortune in photocopying and shooting it off to the actors. So naturally my mate was the first person I turned to.

What was meant to be just a couple hours turned into a six hour session. We read, discussed, pulled apart scenes, put them back together and general had a great day with a cheeky break in the middle for kebabs from up the high street. The script is now all the better for it. All my niggly little bits of dialogues and moments got duly addressed plus some other ones I didn’t realise needed hammering out as well. Six hours may sound like an eternity but for me to potentially achieve the same result by myself whilst dealing with being way too familiar with the material could have taken six days, so in my mind it was incredibly efficient.

Thanks mate.

So, who is your sounding board?

quick update … planet strange & couple comedy web series

17, November 2009

Last week a slot opened up at Script Tank so I quickly whipped a couple of pieces into shape to be read. One was Planet Strange, which I had to finish writing and the other was a re-write of of my couples based web series.

Thanks to my mate Lawrence, who helped me to assemble a great group of actors, it turned out to be a great night with lots of feedback and constructive criticism that I could use.

As it’s only a first draft, Planet Strange got a great deal of constructive feedback (which I expected). To be honest I don’t mind at all. It helps to confirm what is working and what isn’t and what are the stand out elements that people really love. the read has given me confirmation on what to build on and how to tackle my next re-write.

The 2nd draft of the pilot episode for my couples comedy web series got a great response. I worked hard on this re-draft since my first read of this piece at the London Comedy Writers group and it paid off. I still need a final beat for the ending but the response was very strong – two of my favourites being “These are characters I’d like to visit again” and “smart, sexy and funny.”

I’m now busy taking a step back and formulating clear pitches for the projects I’m working on, not just for myself but also to take out and pitch to others. Things are good.

first reading of comedy web series

8, October 2009

Last night I had the first draft of the first ep of my comedy web series read at the London Comedy Writers group.

Before I get into that though I have to let you know that as I am writing this I’m seated at the British Library (free wi-fi) jammed between two people talking incessantly on Skype, so if I suddenly drop in the odd bit of Spanish or corporate jargon don’t worry, I haven’t suddenly developed turrets it’s just one of the many occupational hazards of writing in public spaces.

Anyhoo, back to the sketch … well to start off with I’m happy to say I avoided the “up til 3am re-writing” hell that I’ve managed to fall into before. I came close but saw the writing on the wall and stepped away ASAP. Previously I endlessly re-wrote a piece to the point that it just screamed to be put out of its misery. This time a brisk walk, a bit of house cleaning and visit to the gym helped to clear the cobwebs and got me back on track – gracias a Dios.

That said, I’m still having trouble realising on the page what I imagine the series (and style of comedy) to be. Ideas are great, they are never more fully-formed or beautifully crafted than when they appear in your head but as soon as you put them down on the page they turn into inept brain farts. It takes instinct, craft and lots of hard work to re-write it into something more palatable. And when you do it often bears no resemblance to what you first imagined. So what do you do? Go with this new creation or try vainly to capture that elusive image in your head? That’s where I’m at. I wrote something that was decent and (in parts) brought the funny but it’s no where near where I want it to be … yet.

First problem – I’m being too kind to my characters. I’m trying to make them too well-rounded – too well adjusted. I guess I’m wanting to avoid cliche stereotypes (the up-tight repressed Brit and the liberated worldly European) but after hearing the script read I realised that without some sort of anomaly or twist the character cease to be comic. Comic characters are by nature extreme in some degree (Black Adder is super-humanly sarcastic and witty, David Brent is a humongous vain sad wanker), so for the re-write I think I need to embrace the stereotypes, at least for the time being, until I find the particular characteristics that make my characters really sing. I also realised (upon hearing other people’s scripts) that what may seem old, tired or “done” to me might not to others.

The other main problem about the first ep is that it skims over several gags but doesn’t really hook into one in particular. The episode opens with a strong visual situational gag so it needs an equally strong follow-up to see it through. I’m part of the way there but have still got a way to go. I am hoping through that once I heighten the characters it will come more from them rather than from me forcing the plot.

I did discover a couple of lines that really zinged, which was great, especially seeing as they were right at key turning points in the script, so that tells me that those beats are working. The main thing that isn’t is the ending. I find comic endings hard. Especially on short pieces because you don’t have the benefit of half an hour or two hours to build to something. In a sketch the ending has to be just as punchy as the first hook and then some. Everyone is waiting on that one final punchline to bring the piece home. A tall order. Some people can pluck these out of the sky – these are the people I hate! The dynamic blue-sky talented bastards that they are. Me, I have to work at it – Perro que no camina, no encuentra hueso.

Zing! …. ugh.

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‘House Cat’ sketch read at London Comedy Writers meeting

15, August 2009

Tuesday was my comedy writer’s group again and not only was ‘House Cat’ and another sketch read but also a piss-funny animated sitcom ‘Blames Direct’ by Alex Howley. You can read how it went down over at the London Comedy Writers blog.

The night was a real hoot with plenty of new faces and lots of energy in the room. The group has been on fire recently and I’m looking forward to what the next meeting brings.

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So, how did ‘House Cat’ go down I hear you ask?

Good. There was plenty of feedback and hearing it read with audience reaction was invaluable. It all gave me plenty to work on for the next draft.

It didn’t get a raucous response or endless praise (writers – they’re a tough crowd!), not that I was hoping for either but there were laughs where I hoped there would be, which was a good sign. There was feedback about what worked and what didn’t and suggestions on how to punch it up, which is what I was really looking for in the end.

The lead in to the sketch is still a bit too long, I need to get to the set-up and first real gag quicker. This is something I’m still learning with my comedy writing and a tip that’s applicable across all genres – get to the set-up and first genre defining moment (be it comedy, drama, horror, sci-fi) as quickly as possible to tell your audience what story they’re in and where it’s headed.

My main comic character can be punched up some more as well. This was reassuring feedback to get as I was worried he was too big. I tend to write quite naturalistically and so I have to remember that comedy gives you the license to go big – to push characters and scenarios to the extreme.  I’m quite happy to do another pass and make him much more devilish.

There was some discussion about whether or not the sketch was too long and whether it was one or two sketches. The group was quite divided on this and I wasn’t left with a definite answer. A lot of the debate got down to personal opinion more than craft and since the reading I’ve been mulling over it.

Most sketches are usually short – the general rule being ‘the shorter the better’. After thinking about it I still believe it’s one sketch but I can see where I can set up the mid-point twist a bit more at the start. I can also now see where I can cut.

The one unanimous response was that the sketch finished on the right punchline and didn’t overstay it’s welcome. Whew!

-*-*-

Overall I count the reading as a success. Yep, there’s more work to be done but the structure and characters are there. Now it’s about re-write, trimming and tweaking.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

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brainstorming

11, August 2009

Following up on my previous post about the current projects I’m working on – yesterday Lawrence and I got together to brainstorm the interrogation scene that we plan to workshop together into a showreel piece ( to showcase his acting and my writing) and then eventually shoot.

We started off with the basic premise of two men in a basement/bunker with a table and two chairs. We talked about our characters, the situation that brought them together, threw around ideas, discussed themes, explored motivation – bouncing things ’round to see what sticked.

We ended up settling on an idea that Lawrie threw out there at the start but I wasn’t necessarily so keen on. What made me change my mind was that we hit upon a theme that linked everything together. Suddenly I could “see” it and it all fell into place. Later I realised this is what we were looking for all along – a hook that set up a compelling situation and connected the characters to the story and theme in a dynamic way. Without this hook we would have been left with just another interrogation scene featuring two guys in a room.

I also found myself reacting at one stage to something Lawrence suggested and thinking “That’s such a Lawrie idea!” I wasn’t so keen on it or I should say, it wasn’t my take on the point of view of one of the characters. I admit, this was completely my own prejudice at work here. Again later though I realised this difference in opinion could be used when developing the scene because it could help create a real sense of tension between the characters.

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So, what did I learn out of this?

For the most part brainstorming is just about throwing around ideas until you find something that resonates with you and what you want to say. It’s not about finding the right idea, it’s just about finding something that works for you. And when working with two or more people this is vital. If everyone isn’t on board then you’re always going to double guessing yourselves or at odds with each other.

Find a hook or a theme that’s central to your characters and the story. It will give you the thematic backbone that will underpin your story and give you a clear direction to go in – reminding you what to include and more importantly what not to.

And lastly, when working with a writing/creative partner a difference of opinion can be very useful – especially if you can bring it to life through your characters. Do this and then suddenly your characters will start making a stand for what they believe in and arguing their own unique point of view. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong, it just matters if it feels authentic. You’ll get some great dimensional characterisation out of it plus the opportunity to hash out an opinion that you the writer feel passionate about without having to resort to exposition.

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Come back here for more updates on our progress and feel free to leave a comment with your own take on brainstorming and what you’ve gotten out of it.

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