The past four days have been such a blur of ideas, conversation, food and shockingly warm weather that I’m still having trouble believing it’s Thursday already — I only flew down on Sunday to get a headstart on things and —. Did I say I’m having trouble believing it’s Thursday already?
I was very chuffed to attend the 2017 Screenwriting Research Network (SRN) Conference in Dunedin this week. It took me a good day or so to get my head around what the SRN mean by “rethink[ing] the screenplay in relation to its histories, theories, values and creative practices”.
Screenplays as more than just the starting points for film and television productions. I could dig that. Kind of.
Since Monday, academics and practitioners have rubbed shoulders and broken bread together on the Otago University campus, and I thought everyone played rather nicely together. Highlights included — beware shameless name-dropping:
- being on a couple of panels with filmmaker Tusi Tamasese, multihyphenates Steve Barr and Casey Zilbert, and producers Catherine Fitzgerald and Christina Milligan;
- enjoying talks by Rachel Lang, Fiona Samuels and Kathryn Burnett, and Alan Brash (scheduling meant I missed out on talks by fellow guild board members Allan Baddock and Andrew Gunn, and guild ED Alice Shearman);
- presentations by and/or chats with Terry Bailey, Shirin Brown, Alejandro Davila, Paul Janman, Desha Dauchan, Levi Dean, Eugene Doyen, Emily Duncan, Patrick Gillies, Mauro Giantini, Amie Taua, Rosanne Welch, Paul Wells, Gavin Wilson, and a gentleman screenwriter from Wanaka whose name I neglected to note;
- and keynotes by film maker Gaylene Preston, New Zealand Film Commission CEO Dave Gibson, New Zealand On Air CEO Jane Wrightson.
Big props to organisers Davinia Thornley, Al, Amie, Maureen Lloyd, Pippa, Katie Baddock, and a small army of volunteers for making the whole occasion smooth sailing.
The next conference is in Milan. How hard can it be to knock up an abstract on Screenwriting as discomfit: at which point did I begin to self-identify as a writer?
So when I heard last year about this television adaptation, I was prepped and ready to hate it hate it hate it so much that I wasn’t going to even bother wasting my time watching it. And then…
First ep in and I’m on the fence: great world-building but I don’t like the flashbacks — I’d read the book, dammit; viewers should either fill in the gaps or use their damned library cards if they were confused. Second ep in and I’m immersed: the flashbacks aren’t gratuitous; and lead (and producer) Elisabeth Moss’ performance is television gold. The eps are consumed in rapid succession — I read somewhere that it’s been renewed for a second season — and then the season ends just where the book ends and something goes off in my head:
They’ve gone off-book.
I haven’t been this excited about a sophomore season since I don’t know how long.
This evening The Goddess and I tried a new police procedural show — and boy oh boy were there a heckuva lot of shots of:
- driving to/from work/crime-scene/witness;
- walking to/from office/room/building.
It was unfortunate timing for the latter show to follow so soon after some L&O eps.
But still illuminating from a storytelling point of view.
(I know Apocalypse Now is a galaxy away from television police procedurals but it was all I could find on reducing right down.)
Okay, I’ve been a bit laggardly on the fitness and health side of things but that’s okay: I’ve been investing those ‘lost’ hours in my televisual research (145 titles totalling 496 hours, up a respectable amount from last year).
Enjoyed on the big screen were:
- Mississippi Grind
- 45 Years
- The Hunt for the Wilderpeople
- The Nice Guys
- La Isla Minima
- The Accountant
- Blood Simple
- 99 Homes
Honourable mentions: Beach Boy Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy, unexpectedly affecting Rocky spin-off Creed, the unlikely and uncompromising Young Adult, the ridiculously fun Central Intelligence, and Florence Foster Jenkins which I was totally prepared to hate but couldn’t because it was so well executed.
The small screen offerings held their own:
- The Americans S01–04
- The Expanse S01
- Getting On (UK, 2008) S01–03
- Better Call Saul S02
- Low Winter Sun (UK, 2006)
- Animals Pilot
- Westworld S01
- Game of Thrones S06
- Catastrophe S02
- The Good Wife S07
Honourable mentions: low key sci-fi robot drama Humans S02, an happy bonus season of Offspring S06, and Transparent S02 which continues to make me scratch my head after each ep but unable to stop pressing the Next button for the next episode.
(I’d actually already watched the first two seasons of The Americans but made the mistake of introducing the Goddess to the pilot. It was a hard slog rewatching those first two seasons, I tell you.) (It wasn’t a hard slog — it’s a damned good show.)
Bring on 2017!
Late last month I attended the 2016 Big Screen Symposium in Auckland. It was the second network-y thing I’ve done this year (ah yes, I neglected to mention I attended the 2016 PANNZ Arts Market in Wellington in March).
Cue shameless name-dropping as I saw:
- Alice, Fritha and Pippa from the guild;
- Leanne, Selina, Christina, Karin, Jasmin and Chris from the commish;
- the gentlemen behind the smash hit Three Wise Cousins;
- multiple Adam Award-winning playwright Maraea Rakuraku;
- Aaron, Ali and Arnette from PIFT and IIML;
- Louise and Katie from the Kingswood reading;
- and dined with Mr Reid, Mr Barr, and several other gentlemen whose names I neglected to write down (sorry, I had a beer in one hand and a naan in the other).
As for the speakers, highlights were:
- creative couple Cate Shortland (Somersault, The Slap) and Tony Krawitz (Devil’s Playground, The Kettering Incident) on writing and directing Australian television drama;
- Jonathon Raymond on screenwriting for Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff) and Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Mildred Pierce); and
- producer and BSS keynote speaker Heather Rae (Frozen River) on decolonising the screen.
Nice work, all around.
Earlier this year, the New Zealand Writers Guild added a new category to the SWANZ Awards for 2016: unproduced scripts for film and television.
I had a pilot script called Firebug that’d been kicking around the cave for a few years so when I heard about the new category I thought, What the hell.
It went on to win best unproduced television script.
I am rather chuffed.
Suppose I should shop it around now.
Two six-ep mini-series were consumed recently:
- The Night Manager, a BBC-AMC co-production based on the John Le Carre novel, directed by Susanne Bier and stars Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman (who, to be honest, was the main reason why I started watching this); and
- The Last Panthers, an original Sky (UK)-Canal+ co-pro created by Jack Thorne, and stars Samantha Morton, Tahar Rahim, Goran Bogdan, and John Hurt.
Both have excellent casts, are slickly directed and written, jet set around the Continent, and are absorbing thrillers with compelling and flawed characters.
So why have I forgotten most of one while still mulling over the contents of the other?
It was the endings that sorted these two out — I was fully invested in each of them through the first five eps. In one show, the final ep was a stomach churner of suspense that followed the main players to inescapable and sometimes bitter resolutions. In the other, what began as a tense finale went limp partway through as it copped out with an ending where good triumphs over evil.
Who am I to say that it copped out? Well… what was I supposed to expect after five eps of betrayals and reversals and sacrifices? It certainly wasn’t what I got, I can tell you.
And what the heck do I know about inescapable and sometimes bitter resolutions? We’re all doing life, aren’t we? And, like it or lump it, betrayals, reversals and sacrifices come at a price.
So: beware endings.
By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43487416
What possessed me to try this show with The Goddess six years ago? Was it recommended to her and I was humouring her? Was it a weak/apologetic/fawning moment on my part? Was there channel-surfing and we got hooked like I did once upon a Wire?
At first I swore to merely be in the same room with her as she watched it — I’d be doing something (anything) else like knitting, taijutsu or practicing quick-draws — yet as every episode unfolded, I found myself sitting with my beloved as we were pulled into the world of a thirtysomething obstetrician and her family and friends.
Shit ain’t bad, yo.
When it wasn’t renewed after its fifth season we were both a bit bummed at the unfairness of it all.
But ooh, look — and just in time for an anniversary with the Better Half: a sixth season is playing right now.
I suppose the wool, gi and gun leather will have to wait.
Contrary to popular belief, when energy, motivation, and/or creativity is low in the Writing
Cave Keep, I do not resort to singing along with Ms Krall ad infinitum.
If a project has certain constraints or is more long-form, there’s these classics to crib from:
- Joss Whedon‘s Buffy the Vampire Slayer — not just a scantily-clad teen-girl who can kick serious demon ass1;
- Jed Mercurio‘s Bodies — a visceral and heartbreaking look at just how little separates life and death in a maternity ward; and
- David Simon‘s The Wire — its novelistic approach to presenting a criminal investigation, showing us every shade of grey between the police and their adversaries, as well as the world in which both operate, is something to which I can only dare aspire.
It’s not necessarily the story I worry about — it’s how I’m going to make it interesting. I want to grab and hold the reader’s — and, eventually, the paying audience’s — attention, take ’em for a ride, and then afterwards, drop ’em back in their seat, exhilarated, exhausted, and begging for more.
All of the above touchstones do exactly that.
Most times, soon after referring to any of the above, I’m back at the keyboard, writing.