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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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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Pots on the Boil

I was talking with a fellow South Seas grad the other day. He was telling me about how he was going to have to build up to having multiple projects on the go. It was the way he said it that made me bristle: like having various pots on the boil was some kind of insurance against the inevitability that most of them would fall over anyway.

It wasn’t until later that the reason for my bristling came to me. I didn’t want to admit the very real possibility that very few – if any – of the projects I pour myself into will reach fruition.

Then… why?

Maybe I have some kind of attention deficit so multiple projects keep my creative juices flowing and out of trouble. Maybe it’s a sense of contrived self-importance (“When I’m shuttling between my features in various stages of pre-, actual and post-production, I make time for my six pet television epics”). (Anyone who can put me onto a reliable amphetamine supply, call me.)

I don’t know.

At a pragmatic level, it makes complete sense. No, not all of my little babies are gonna make it. Yes, it’s good to have another project to fall back on when one stalls and/or dies. And yes, not only do I have a short attention-span, I like being a busy bee.

But at a creative level… how freakin’ depressing. Could I really be throwing ninety-five percent of my energy at the wall? How can I truly give my best to a project when I’m questioning its future?

Maybe it’s like the sometimes endless rewriting I have to do for any and all projects: the next draft will be better; look what I’ve learned and achieved on this pass; and it’s the final product that counts, no matter how I got there.

That’s what it is: the audience doesn’t care how many bodies you buried to get it up on the screen. Only the end product.

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Hollywood Endings

I wrote my first ‘Hollywood ending’ recently. As I finished typing it up, I felt no overwhelming guilt, no fear of exposure. No sense of selling out.

The story was based on actual events. The specifics of that story will out over the next few months but suffice it to say that the audience the story is intended for wouldn’t have been able to handle the truth. The story’s prefaced with ‘Inspired by a true story’ – having had to ditch ‘Based on a true story’ (too close to the bone) and ‘Inspired by true events’ (too specific) – and I wrote it My Way.

Yeah. I tacked a happy ending on to it.

And life is good.

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One month down the track and not only are we still here, we’re updating, yes’m we are.

Thanks again to the WebMistresse whose project-management skills and experience have ensured yours truly doesn’t get ahead of himself at the expense of his real work.

And all praise and appropriate animal sacrifices to The Goddess for her love, sharp-eyed copy-editing, and unwavering belief in this mortal.

For your entertainment this month:

  Scripts: I was going to start off easy with some short-film scripts I wrote once upon a time but then I thought, What the heck – and so, for the more masochistic readers, I’ve thrown in a feature script.

Other Writing: I know I said last month that this’d have all the pre-pubescent scribbles and adolescent angst that you could wave a baton at but… either I didn’t write for pleasure as a young ‘un, or I’ve blanked it out. All you’ll find here are whatever articles that I’ve thrown together for publication.

That’s it – next update’ll be 1 September.

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– and malo to dfmamea.com.

Besides singing my praises and touting for business, this site’s for people who want to check out my writing without me pacing and harrumphing in the room next door. (And should I find time for a blog, friends and family will tune in only to see when – not if – I commit industry- and/or career-harakiri with my attempts at wit.)

It’ll be coming on-line in stages over the next few months. One reason for this is that the very kind WebMistresse DeborahK has a fulltime job and is doing this voluntarily. Be nice to her. Another reason is that DeborahK will be waiting on me to provide copy and various files.

Coming soon to this space:

  Scripts: shorts, television and features;
  Projects: whatever’s in the works;
  Other Writing: all the poems, haiku, songs and one-man plays you can shake a stick at; and
  Rant: another bleeding blog… maybe… time permitting.

Until then, you’re stuck with this page (don’t forget the Links), my absolutely sizzling About page, and should you feel the need, my email address. Check back after 1 August for Stage Two.

… Hi. My name’s D F Mamea. I’m a screenwriter.

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