Wednesday, 28 April 2010

On Feedback

Getting and giving feedback can be, at its best, exhilarating; at its worst, deeply depressing.

I heard a suggestion once that the best way to give feedback on a script is to pass comment in the form of questions. “Do you think he would do this?” is infinitely easier to take than the judgemental, “He wouldn't do this..."

And it immediately forces you to find solutions.

If you still want your character to behave in this way, then you may need to add or subtract some information/ scenes/ dialogue earlier, on character or story, that will allow this action to feel credible. Maybe we need to know your character a bit better, feel what is driving them, what is making them irrational for us to believe their action at this point.

Or have you forced your character to do something because the plot wants it, in which case, you have cheated your character. And this requires more serious thought. In the best films, character drives story, not plot; also then, if there are holes, the audience is more forgiving because they are too busy enjoying the world you have created.

So, feedback as questions, a more gentle way of directing a writer to where problems lie for you, the reader, in their story.

Mind you, there are times when you really, really want someone just to tell you straight what’s wrong and then it feels as clear as a frozen lake. You’ve known it all along, subconsciously. All you have to do is dive back in again and pull your story free.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Punky, an update, and snails

The first batch of scripts are gone despite a birthday party for my daughter which lasted 24 hours. Did we ever have them?

Overheard were snatches of "truth or dare" and "it's okay, we can watch Glee here and your parents will never know" and something about setting the alarm for a midnight feast. Fortunately the dog snored through it all, my daughter believes her alarm clock broken and so they slept through and the worst 'truth's that seemed to emerge were to do with fancying a boy years ago and "once I wore yellow lipstick but I don't know why". They're eleven.

The struggle to write when you have kids, and I have only one, is sometimes exhausting. Just rewriting one seven minutes script - I thought they'd take about 20 minutes to rewrite; they took about 70; I'd swear it's harder than writing a feature! - involved seven interruptions.

My daughter wanted me to adopt a snail. I kept fobbing her off, thinking that the work would, as I said, take 20 minutes max. Initially, I was gentle but firm. Then I explained that the more she interrupted the longer it would take me to finish. She finally drew her horns in when my response to the repeated question - are you ready yet? - became an anguished and angry roar reminding her how she hates to be interrupted when she's doing something and THIS IS WORK!!!!!

And then felt immensely guilty. It was Sunday afternoon and she only wanted company. But I still finished the work. A deadline's a deadline. I'd hosted her friends for the guts of 24 hours, making sure they had a fantastic party, sleepover, excursion to the Science Museum - go, it's brilliant! - and this was why at least some of the work needed to be done on Sunday.

My daughter has decided to keep pet snails in various containers in the front garden. She varnishes their backs so you can tell them apart and takes them for walks on a string. I had to go through a similar procedure to the one we recently took when we got our rescue dog.

I named my snail - Pettigrew, just to be awkward, got the adoption form officially signed (looking suspiciously like the dog licence), purchased the habitat (a blue flower pot), the cover (a broken tile) and the food - a bag of dry rosemary needles - but postponed the varnishing, vet visit and decision on insurance.

I have a feeling men are better at separating work and family. Either they draw the boundaries more clearly and demand that separation. Or we keep the kids away, maybe that's it? As my mother put it, she was protecting us from him, not the other way round.

But if I could maintain that division, I wouldn't now be the proud but somewhat bemused owner of an embarrassed snail name Pettigrew.

Friday, 16 April 2010

On Second Drafts...

I’ve just had feedback in the last fortnight on two different feature projects, both at second draft stage. Both meetings, while pleasant, were the sort that you came away from feeling flat but knowing deep down that the drafts were not your best work. Which is disheartening and shouldn’t happen. Working for no money has some effect on this, I suspect, and other commitments, although they shouldn’t.

But second drafts are almost always problematic. Any writer will tell you they are probably the hardest to write and turn out least well. I put it down to trying too hard to get it right this time. You have all the feedback from the first draft, time has passed and the project has been hovering on your shoulders like an ancient wisp. You know it has to be done.

You want to get back into it but also you dread it because you know exactly how much work is involved. And even then you know you’ve underestimated it.

Sometimes the babies go out with the bathwater and they turn out to be the parts that worked. Or different parts of the story need to be drawn out, at the expense perhaps of the parts you liked originally and you’re left with a story that doesn’t quite do or say what you wanted it to do. Or the characters get a bit lost because they should be fully formed but you know, deep down, that in this draft they aren’t because you’ve tried too hard.

For me, it’s often that I am wrestling with structure in the second draft. Trying to simplify the story and yet live up to the promise the first draft held.

Of my two meetings, with one script, I instinctively knew I could do better the minute the producer rang me to arrange to meet and said nothing about the script she had been anticipating with delight.

By the time we met, I reckoned, pessimistically, that I might need to take a whole different direction, toss out half the characters and be more experimental. Now, it seems, I have to go back to the first draft and see what I lost before I decide what I need.

In the other, I’m trying out a plot change that I don’t entirely believe in yet. If I’m not convinced, how on earth can I make it work?

Tuesday, 13 April 2010


Just received an MP3 demo of some music that has been written specifically for my three minute short, MANDY which is being produced by Causeway Films and directed by Paddy McCarney. It has been written by Graeme Stewart and it is wonderful. As the composer puts it: "basically fairytale-like with a tinge of melancholy and slightly sinister, but with a kind of Tim Burton twist".
The script itself is a bit dark and twisted, but I’ve always loved it and I can't wait to see it made. Hopefully, I won't have to wait too long either. Filming should happen in the next month or so, all being well.