Go To

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 it’s a technical challenge, I turn to the writing library, top most being William Goldman‘s Which Lie Did I Tell?, Alex Epstein‘s Crafty Screenwriting and Stephen King‘s On Writing.

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.

The words "The Wire" in white lettering on a black background. Below it a waveform spectrum in blue.
And if it’s all too much and/or I want to procrastinate for hours I just need a little kick, I never go wrong with any of these:

  • James Cameron‘s Aliens — a war movie in space;
  • Quentin Tarantino‘s Jackie Brown — a small-time crook’s One Final Score;
  • and David Mamet‘s Spartan — a rogue agent’s attempt to Do The Right Thing.

Spartan movie.jpg
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.


1   But oh how The Goddess rolls her eyes when I talk about superior subtextual story-telling amidst well-choreographed ass-kicking.


Oh Well

Ye olde local started showing this one so we saddled up to support local business and see what the hype was all about.

As the end credits rolled, I turned to The Goddess and said, Well, and she loooked at me and said Well, and we hugged each other because it was nice to get out and support local business.

In an unprecedented move in our relationship, we returned forthwith to Fortress Mamea and watched the following two films in very short order:


It was an exhausting, essential cleansing process but well worth the time.

Postscript: Chris W at The Editing Room deconstructs the film perfectly, with my favourite abridged script line being:




Welcome to Josh Sully’s World

It must be a decade since I first read those words.

And now I’ve seen the trailer. The Boy watched it with me – he was a little bemused by my admittedly reverent whisper of Awesome. Mr Ebert has seen a fifteen minute preview (twice, the lucky sod) and has reserved judgement on the finished product.

That’s okay – I’m a little jealous of their innocence.

The Avatar scriptment has been a treasured D F Mamea Script Library item for the past ten years, something I often referred to in my early writing career as a kind of ‘how-to’ bible.

Yes, the finished product will be whatever it will be. But until then, anticipation and expectations are high.

Postscript: Late in 2008 Motorbike Steve asked what I was looking forward to in the new year. I shrugged and mumbled that maybe there was Watchmen but otherwise… nah. My outlook didn’t really change until around last month. Besides, obviously, Avatar, there’s Michael Mann‘s Public Enemies I want to find time for, and Pixar’s Up next month. ‘S nice.


I Heart “Sports Night”

Watching Sports Night with The Goddess followed Cameron’s Logarithmic Curve. We started back in February, watching about an ep a week. March was the same. April was a wash-out. But as we entered May and The Goddess got to know the characters – in particular their relationships – as an ep’s end credits rolled, I would hear a Little Voice beside me: Can we watch another one?

Such requests are unheard of in the Mamea household.

In between, amongst others, Desperate Housewives, Lewis and Build A New Life in the Country, an evening with Dan, Casey, et al, became two-ep affairs. Then last week, on a couple of nights, we watched three eps in a row. And only two nights ago, we watched five.

Then I had to explain to The Goddess why there were no more eps to watch.

In the after-match debrief – and also while we worked our way through the DVD set – it’s the little details that stand out. How less is more – where what’s not said can define a relationship far better than declarations of loyalty or bemoanings of betrayal. How a certain behaviour can really be mere displacement. How expectations of standard TV drama situations and relationships were not met because they were handled with wit, intelligence and compassion. It’s safe to say that for all the verbosity, wit and good intentions of the characters, they’re as inhibited, neurotic and selfish as anyone in the real world.

I could go on and on about Sports Night but others have said it better in the nine years since it was first aired. As sad as it was that it got canned after only two seasons, it ended as well as it started, and you can’t say that of many television series.

POSTSCRIPT: The Goddess is quite reluctant to try Mr Sorkin’s West Wing because, for all my arguments that politics is merely behaviour and relationships on a different scale and plane, it’s about politics.


I’ve Got Something To Tell You

You know the point in the movie where the AUDIENCE-SYMPATHETIC CHARACTER, already keeping the peace between PLOT-ADVANCING CHARACTER and MUTE-UNTIL-NECESSARY CHARACTER, realises that Mute~ has crucial information that will affect the outcome of the film and so does the obvious thing:


(to Plot-Advancing Character)

I need to tell you something –


I don’t have time for this –


But it’s important!


(claps hands over ears)


Moments like these are vital for there to be suspense, victory and/or tragedy down the line. But it’s about as tired and welcome as the telephone call from someone with vital information who won’t spill it over the damned ‘phone.

If I was watching an okay to great movie or T.V. ep and one of these exchanges turned up, the whole thing was spoiled for me. (Nowadays I’m a little more forgiving.) Then a couple of movies seemed to turn the tide. I watched them so many times that, whether I wanted to or not, I’d studied them. Two things I learned from James Cameron‘s The Terminator and Aliens:

One:  if there’s potential film-ends-right-now information to be exchanged, introduce an external interruption –


I need to tell you something –


I’m all ears.

A passing .50 CALIBRE SNIPER ROUND vaporizes Plot~’s head.

Two:  even better, make the external interruption the pay-off of a much earlier character set-up –



I was thirsty so I got a drink from the fridge... nope. Then I rinsed the glass and set it on the shelf... not there either.

Audience~ enters, flustered:


I need to tell you something.



Plot~ continues retracing their steps.


Mute~ said something. I can’t make sense of it but it’s something important.




Then I sat down to watch the telly...


Mute~ said, “Beep. Beep. Beeeeep.”

Plot~, already half-way to the LOUNGE, freezes mid-step.


Does that mean anything to you?


ANGLE ON MICROWAVE as it counts down – 0:03, 0:02, –

SLO-MO as Plot~ shoves Audience~ aside –

SUPER-TIGHT ON MICROWAVE L.E.D. as it reads 0:01 –

WIDE ON Plot~ in mid-flight, headed straight for the microwave –

SUPER-DUPER-TIGHT ON LAST L.E.D. DIGIT as it switches from 1 to 0 –


Beep. Beep. Beeeeep.

One could argue that the external interruption is a mere variation on the knock on the door or ringing telephone that cuts in on an escalating conversation. I agree: there is that about the first device.

But the second device takes it a step further: by removing the deus ex machina, it makes the characters more responsible for their own – and others’ – destinies. It gives a story that circular/holistic/karmic/we’re-all-in-this-together touch.

Y’know, like in real life. But with more guns and car chases and stuff.


The Actual Writing – Part Two

The moment of glibness having passed, I remembered James Cameron‘s superb description of the process in the introduction to his 1993 scriptment of Strange Days:

I find the writing follows a logarithmic curve. Plotted against time, the curve is almost flat at first, then curves upward until it is nearly vertical.

I offer this not as an excuse but as a possible explanation of how I write.

I’d like to think I’m a regular kind of writer – y’know, bang out five/ten/whatever pages of script per day, no matter how long it takes, come family crisis or no. But try as I might, I’m not that kind of writer. (Nor would my family allow it.) I have to set aside a fixed number of hours per day to write. Sometimes they’re productive, sometimes they’re not. What’s important, for better or worse, is that I have the time to be creative. I need the discipline.

My first feature script followed that curve for the most part. Well, it would if you saw it from the far end of the room; up close, the peaks and valleys leading up to The Big Upward Curve represented the failed attempts to turn it first into a novel, then a comic. It was a combination of extreme boredom and some depression that put me onto screenplays. Everything clicked. It was game on.

After missing a couple of self-imposed deadlines, and in the lead-up to a Meaningful Birthday, there was a blurry month – this was pre-Goddess – where full-time work took up a third of the day, and the remaining waking hours were spent hunched over a keyboard. And then, for the first time, I got to type in the magic words:



D F Mamea

It felt good.

Still does, each time I get there.