Saturday, 25 April 2009

BAFTA and The Script Factory present Serious Screenwriting

"If you are serious about a writing career in the British film industry then join our two-day networking and training event.

Fri 5 & Sat 6 June 2009BAFTA, 195 Piccadilly, London W1

If you are serious about a writing career in the British film industry, this two-day networking and training event is meant for you. Our aim is to help you ensure that your talent, passion, energy and time are invested in projects that are genuinely screen-worthy and that, after two days with us, you are clued up about the opportunities which exist for getting your films made.

It works like this: mornings are dedicated to Script Factory training sessions (we assume that all attendees have a working knowledge of screenwriting theory so sessions are focussed on areas that cause difficulties for many of the writers that TSF work with); then, afternoons are devoted to sessions with a fantastic array of established industry guests who will offer lessons learnt from the frontline of filmmaking.

Serious Screenwriting costs £185 + VAT (total £212.75).

To make your booking please call The Script Factory on weekdays between 10am-6pm on 020 7851 4890 with your credit or debit card details, or email with any queries"

More info here.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Obscure and Underrated British Films # 2 - Yield to the Night

Yield to The Night isn’t quiet what I expected. All I’d seen of it was a clip of the sensational (in both senses of the word) opening sequence, where a cold, beautiful busty blonde shoots down a woman in a fur coat. It more than lives up to the rather wonderful US title - Blonde Sinner. It’s fast, flashy, amoral, all strange angles and sharp cuts, like something from a Sam Fuller film. But as the film develops, it becomes something deeper and richer, and the last scene is complete contrast - sombre, intelligent, moving and deeply moral.

This is perhaps writer Joan Henry and director J Lee Thompson ‘s greatest trick - wrapping a political message and a sensitive character study in such an appealing package. The film is an anti hanging polemic, but the filmmakers doesn’t make it easy for themselves. Thompson said “For capital punishment you must take somebody who deserves to die, and then feel sorry for them and say this is wrong. We…made it a ruthless, premeditated murder."

They succeed brilliantly - not only does Mary Hilton kill in cold blood, she doesn’t repent. She’s moody, temperamental, but ultimately utterly sympathetic. A lot of this is down to Diana Dors, who is incredible. She was more known at the time - and since - for her figure and her private life - her to delivering this kind of performance is like Kelly Brooke or Abi Titmus suddenly turning into Kate Winslett.

And it’s her performance, her presence, that ultimately make the film iconic (Morrissey used an image of Dors from the film on The Singles cover.) In the prison scenes, without make up, she’s even more beautiful than in the more glammed up flashback scene - this is a real old fashioned, light-up-the-screen star performance. Apparently not many of her films stretched her as much as this, but if this is her one great role, then it‘s enough.

I met Diana Dors once, when I was young (she died in 1984, so I must have been under 12.) She was opening a Fun Run that my Dad was taking part in. I remember being told to go up to get her autograph. Of course, I had no idea who she was. All I remember is a a big lady in a fur coat with a huge white Rolls Royce. I wish I remembered more. She seemed like someone who enjoyed life and had a sense of humour about herself - she once described herself as “rather like Britain's naughty seaside postcards”

I’ll try to do this more often. Later.

Monday, 6 April 2009


Three things struck me about Watchmen, from a screenwriting point of view. The first was how the plot moves, or rather how it doesn’t move. The second was how little this matters.

The story’s about the hunt for whoever’s killing costumed heroes, and why. At one point Rorschach finds a lead linking the conspiracy to a company called Pyramid Holdings. So, naturally, he investigates Pyramid holding. The only trouble is, there’s about an hours screen time between the two scenes.

Without the constant backstory, you could easily fit the plot into an hour long TV episode. McKee wouldn’t approve. If a story doesn’t constantly move forward, shark like, towards a third act climax then the audience will switch off, right?.

Well no. Watchmen is a brilliant, utterly gripping film that totally held my attention for 3 hours. This despite the fact that I knew exactly what would happen in every single scene, so faithful is the adaptation.

Which brings me to the third thing - how completely irrelevant the “What’s going to happen next?” factor is. This is supposed to be why we watch stories - to find out the ending.

This is something that’s been on my mind for a while. I happened to see two similar films in the same week a while ago - Control and Downfall. Both great films. Both are about charismatic right wing figures who kill themselves in the end.

Those spoilers alerts are a joke, of course. The vast majority of the audience would have known the endings of both films before they start. Furthermore, There’s a scene in Control where Ian Curtis gets married, then they cut to his wife hoisting up the dryer in the kitchen. In Downfall, the blonde folk singing Goebels children pop surreally throughout. If you know how Ian Curtis killed himself, or what happened to the Goebels children, then it adds to rather than detracts from the film.

There seems to be a trend towards adaptations and true stories recently. In other words, towards stories that are already familiar. When I finally caught up with the second series of Rome recently, I remember coming back from work excited I’d have the last episode to watch. But why? I mean, the outcome was hardly in doubt : Anthony and Cleopatra were never going win the day and live happily ever after. Similarly, I watched series 2 of Dexter and then read the (excellent) novel before I saw the 1st series.

Add to this genre films, where the good guys win, the mismatched couple get together, the tragic hero gets their comeuppance and you have the question in how many film is the outcome in doubt. How often are we surprised by the ending? Very few films do a Se7en or an Empire Strikes Back. Even these films we rewatch - I‘ve seen Se7en about 3 times, and The Empire Strikes Back god knows how many times.

I’ve got Ice Cold in Alex next on my to see list. Marvellous film, but I’ve seen it at least twice before. I know exactly how it‘s going to turn out - The DVD even has a still from the famous last scene on the cover! Which raises the question : Why bother watching films, consuming stories if we know the outcome?

Maybe it‘s because it’s the ride, not the destination, that‘s important. We watch films to be entertained. To learn about the world. To feel something. To laugh and cry. To be comforted or challenged, to escape from or engage with our world.

The story is just the delivery method for whatever emotion or sensation or idea the film is trying to convey or invoke or inspire. In focusing on just on the technical aspects of story, then we’re in danger of forgetting that it’s the content that the audience pays to see, not the craft.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

The Devil's Whore 2 (Hopefully)

From Broadcast

"The creators of Channel 4's English Civil War drama The Devil's Whore have begun working on a follow-up set during the Restoration period.

C4 head of film and drama Tessa Ross has given creator Peter Flannery and co-writer and executive producer Martine Brant seed money to develop a new series.

Brant said they were fleshing out storylines that would tackle the immediate aftermath of the four-part series, using Charles II's restoration of the English, Scottish and Irish monarchy in 1660 as a starting point.

The follow-up has yet to be formally commissioned as C4"