Purely Coincidental Similarities

With the Silly Season about to smother my General Good Will, I’ve been proactive in sending out overdue emails to longtime friends and acquaintances. ‘Touch-bases’, ‘hi-how-are-ya’s’ and ‘long-time-no-see’s’ have been the order of the day. Mucho time and/or distance may have passed but these are the people that do reply to my emails, and the mutual exchanges of offers of visits and hosting and/or coffee are sincere.

It’s had me thinking, too: if I had a dollar for every friend I snuck into a script, I’d be twelve dollars richer; and if I had a fifty cent piece for each line of dialogue I’ve ripped off those same friends, I’d be comfortably wealthy, thank you.

Friends’re good like that.

When it comes to characters based on friends, by the second or third draft, the character has its own idea on what s/he should be doing in the story. (Usually because the friend in question may not be an astronaut/psychiatrist/assassin by trade.) The similarities with its origin begin to blur further as traits are added and/or subtracted at whim. That’s how it goes.

As for dialogue, no one’s safe. I make sure none of it’s attributable and as long as I don’t get asked directly, I can take credit for ‘creating’ it. Damn, I’m good.

Using friends and family for dialogue or characters isn’t just for some in-joke (or laziness) on my part. Their existence provides a grounding that points to some kind of Truth. It’s fun, too. And I also see it as … love letters to friends and family.

I lie, cheat and steal1 for a living – I’m a writer. Get with it.

1 All on paper, of course. And within reason (and libel laws).

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Hunting the Phoenix – Addendum*

(* My manners have always required a conscious effort.)

Firstly, big ups to Dan and co – namely: screenwriter Victoria Cleal, cinematographer Ethan Smith, audio recordist Kurt Oram, Darryl from FX Contracting who provided the pistola, and the actors Jacob Tamaiparea and Tamariki Totoro.

And a big thank you to Gina, Katrin, Tamara and Kate, being the ladies behind Jameson Show Me Shorts film festival for providing the opportunity.

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Hunting the Phoenix

Dan Power and Victoria Cleal‘s Hunting the Phoenix had its world premiere before an audience of two dozen last Saturday at the Jameson Show Me Shorts Festival.

I’d watched it at least a half-dozen times since Dan locked down the final cut… and goddamn it, I was still pulled into the story for those nine minutes. Maybe it was because it was on the big screen. Or maybe because it was a very well executed short film by Dan and his people. Probably both

Yeah I’m biased but I believe it was on certainly par with its companions in the Love or Loss section – almost all of whom had state funding and medium- to large-size crews. Dan’s crew was three, including hisself.

Boo-yah.

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Housekeeping

Tinker-tinker-tinkering at dfmamea.com:

–  the Scripts page was getting a bit long so some navigation links have been added for features, television and shorts;

–   synopses are now available for the Break and Amateur scripts;

–   and a wee bonus for ye: Kimbo, a faux-treatment written at short notice as a prop in some reality programme prank; a ludicrous piece of writing but nevertheless my paean to the heydays of Messrs. Stallone and Schwarzenegger.

Enjoy.

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Making Stuff Up

Nothing can surpass Alan Moore’s description of where ideas come from in his ‘Behind the Painted Smile’ article that accompanies the V for Vendetta trade paperback. The boys at How to Write Screenplays – Badly have an outrageous methodology which is just begging to be taken up en masse.

But for me, it usually starts with ‘what if?’

What if a bunch of ninjas were to arrive in some suburban kitchen, intent on silent death, but are thwarted by a teenage girl and her grandfather?

What if our story starts with some crazy-eyed guy running down city streets, going faster and faster, until he dead-ends in an alley… and his gasps for breath turn into sobs of despair?

What if… yeah, you know the drill.

For every idea that I explore, countless others don’t make it onto the page. There’s any number of reasons why they don’t get used: it’s a cliché; I’m being lazy (and I know I’ll pay for it later in the story); I’m being wanky; it adds nothing to the story; and whatever other reason I make up at the time.

The cliches and stereotypes I try to forget wholeheartedly. The straight-up stupid ones do a fancy dance and flash a bit of leg before they’re exposed to be straight-up stupid ideas.

And the rest of them, including homage-worthy situations, conventions, archetypes and stereotypes, they go into a holding pattern, waiting for a story for which they’d be the perfect ingredient.

And a few of those morph into ‘what if?’-type ideas. At first they’re patient, pacing back and forth, unwilling to be ignored, until some other ideas attach themselves, elevating their combined mass into A Story.

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Old Faithful

Law & Order has returned! And it’s got Dennis Farina whom I’ve admired since Crime Story.

Not much fanfare from the local broadcaster, of course. This’ll mark at least a decade’s worth of necessary sharp-eyed t.v. guide-spotting for a programme that is scheduled late, moved around at will, and sometimes abruptly stopped completely to make way for cricket or quality reality programming.

It clashes with Green Wing, but. Just as well the VCR’s still grinding along.

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Mmm. Guns.

Show me a gun and I can reel off its specs without once squinting at the slide or housing. Hand it to me – and after I’ve ensured its safety is on and the chamber’s empty, its business end pointed at my foot the ground the whole time – and I’ll list any number of films and tv shows it’s been used in.

I like guns.

The Goddess – who Knows These Things – could very probably trace my fascination with weapons of destruction to my Y-chromosome, my television addiction (one of my earliest memories are SWAT and Starsky and Hutch), and my all-too-male predilection for all and every thing phallic and destructive.

She’s probably right.

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend as I get older though. No longer is it funny for a character to wave a pistol around in blithe ignorance. Nowadays, I actually appreciate a denouement where the villain’s life isn’t taken with a bullet. And most disturbing of all, I find myself flinching at set-pieces which only a decade – even a half-decade – ago I would have revelled in each round’s subsonic track through the air, each squib’s slo-mo explosion… a symphony of stylised, choreographed violence on flesh.

It wasn’t Peckinpah’s blood-sodden Wild Bunch or even Mann’s bullet-ridden Heat that was the turning point for this action junkie. It was a 1986 telemovie: In the Line of Duty: The FBI Murders. It was a typical procedural based on a true story: a couple of guys get a taste for armed robbery, the local law enforcement begin tracking them, and the inevitable showdown ensues.

It was the showdown that left me horrified – a real-time set-piece, faithful to the FBI reconstruction of the actual bloodbath. No whizz-bang cutting between the shooters. No slo-mo heroics with rousing music. Just people killing people. Very messily.

I’ve listened to gun-nuts and veterans espouse their philosophies. I’ve shot some pistols at some very obliging pistol clubs. The Goddess is ‘why have guns at all’ while I’m ‘guns don’t kill people – people kill people’.

I like guns. But only on screen and/or under strict supervision.

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Quick Updates

Time enough for some quickies this week:

–  5, Unkreative Artists‘ next feature, is shooting as I type this. I helped out with the script over a development and pre-production schedule of just over six months. Unkreative principal, Mr T, needless to say, is a legend.

–  Hunting the Phoenix, directed by Daniel Power and written by Victoria Cleal, screens at the Academy Cinema on Saturday 25 November at 9:00pm as part of the Jameson Show Me Shorts film festival.

–  And finally, the boys at How to Write Screenplays – Badly are on hiatus due to life and work commitments. I miss them already. If you haven’t visited them – and shame on you – allow me to introduce them via their post on horror films.

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Dean Parker

Longtime Kiwi scribe Dean Parker (Came a Hot Friday and Greenstone) has an entertaining and pragmatic look at writing for a living in New Zealand.

Can’t say I’ve seen any of his plays – but I certainly grok the road he’s travelled.

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Contracts

The following has been kindly reprinted by the New Zealand Writers Guild. They didn’t commission it – it was a chest-clearing exercise.

If I learn nothing more from this year, it’s that contracts are a sign of how serious things are. (To those of you for whom this is, like, so obvious, what can I say? I am – or was – an idealist.)

So. The first thing the Writers Guild told me when I joined three years ago? Don’t work without a contract.

And what’ve I done in that time? I’ve worked in good faith. It’s gone like this: the terms of the contract are verbally agreed in the early days; writing commences whilst a draft contract is bounced around; the script is finished; a contract is agreed and signed; and throughout, money changes hands. In the end, someone has themselves a script, and I was paid to write it.

Sure, I’ve had a few projects explode in my face, some of which has provided fodder for my writing. But for the most part, I’m a trusting soul and I like to give the benefit of the doubt. This doesn’t mean I’ve provided all the work to date with the copyright already assigned. I try to be reasonable and flexible; sometimes this has been interpreted as being easy.

As I shift towards projects with ‘real’ money, what I’ve noticed is that the expectations and the contractual/political manoeuvring move up a level. Besides my writing having to be more than professional-looking, each gig is a potential career-maker or -breaker (or -extend-just-a-little-longer). The expectation as a writer I can deal with. But the contract shenanigans… oi vey.

All that stuff that was verbally agreed up front? Worth the paper it was written on. All the work that’s been done in good faith? Taken for granted and/or leverage to get you to continue to work in good faith and/or a very possible waste of your time.

The earlier that contract is signed, the sooner everyone knows how to behave.

Negotiate and sign that sucker now. Work long. And prosper.

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