Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Scene 47: A Tribute to Richard Briers

Today I'd like to talk about a great British actor Richard Briers, who died yesterday - please see the wonderful BBC report below - at the age of 79. He is an actor I am particular fond of because he played Tom Good in The Good Life, one of my favourite television shows, and which he is probably most famous for. 

The Good Life is a sitcom from the 1970's, about a couple, Tom and Barbara Good, who live in the suburbs, Tom with his nine to five typical job. On his fortieth birthday however, Tom decides he wants to do something and more and comes up with idea that they should go self-sufficient. I believe the show was popular at the time of broadcast, and is certainly still relevant today - but most importantly, the jokes are just as good and Richard Brier's cheeky performance in it, is wonderfully believable and funny. 

Before this writing this post I only knew about a few of the television shows Richard Briers had been in - though I guessed he would turn up in alot of television shows, being a such a well respected actor. 

Looking at CV though and the range of work he has done, the treasured shows and classics he has been in,  he really had a fantastic career.  

I knew he had another sitcom after the Good Life, in which he starred, called Ever Decreasing Circles - where he played a less charming, and more annoying character than Tom Good. However I had forgotten he had been the narrator of the old cartoon Roobarb, which returned in in 2005, and was the voice of Fiver in the animated classic in Watership Down. 

I am amused to find he has been in three of Kenneth Branagh's Shakespeare films, but perhaps that is not surprising as he was a theatre actor too, and played Hamlet himself in his younger days. More recently he was of course, in The Monarch of the Glen, and appeared in cameos in all sorts of television shows from Torchwood, to detective dramas like New Tricks and Marple. 

Finally, his last film, is a comedy called Cockneys vs. Zombies, where he plays a pensioner caught up in a zombie apocalypse - which showed that not only was he not afraid to do something really different, but if you watch the trailer, you can see he was still great  comedy actor, even in his seventies.

In summary, in my opinion, Richard Briers was a national treasure of British television, and I think the best way to pay tribute to his brilliant and varied work over the years is to go and watch it. 

Richard Briers, thank you, and rest in peace. 

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Scene 46: Three Scriptwriting Problems and How to Tackle Them

I am going to be honest. I had difficulty sitting down to write this post this week, hence why this post is late again. Last week I really had no excuse, I had plenty to write about. This week I just had no idea what to write about, I couldn't settle on a subject. 

Well now I have one, inspired in fact by the fact I didn't know what to write - today I am going to look at how to tackle the different problems involved in sitting down and writing a script. By this I mean, problems the writer has writing, rather problems with the script itself, like structure, dialogue, spelling and grammar. 

1] Starting It

The first problem you might encounter is actually sitting down and starting to write the script. 

One of the reasons for this might be lack of confidence, as mentioned in the Raindance Writers' Lab book by Elliot Grove - who describes lack of confidence as when you may be filled with inspired to write, but can't when faced with a blank page. 

His suggestion is not to give into this feelings, as it'll just stop you from writing and points out that: 

"...no one said that your end result was going to be any good - so take away that pressure right now. Forget the pressure of winning an Oscar. Writing this script will be challenging and exciting. Enjoy!" 

I would further suggest that if the lack of confidence comes from the idea then going back and developing the idea further until you're happier with it, might be a good idea. You can do this by testing it out on a few friends, or writing it up as a premise or a treatment.

If you lack confidence in your abilities as scriptwriter, well, ability is going to vary from person to person - we can't all be Oscar winners - but you can improve and hone your skills by reading up on the craft. There are plenty of websites offering advice on scriptwriting - the BBC Writersroom has a guide to scriptwriting essentials - and lots of books too. I have also been told that reading lots of scripts can help, and to write regularly - as after all practise makes perfect. 

2] Finishing It

A second common problem is finishing a script once you've started it. Writing requires quite a lot of motivation and discipline, and if you're a scriptwriter starting out, all that has to come from you - there will be no one giving you deadlines or making sure you keep on track. 

This where another of Elliot Grove's reasons you won't wrote you screenplay comes in - procrastination. Procrastinating over the script is generally due to either worries about the script, hitting an obstacle and not knowing how to resolve it, or because you want to avoid the hard work of finishing it. 

Lots of writers seem to have encountered the procrastination problem. In Russell T Davies' book The Writer's Tale - which I recommend for want-to-be television writers -  he mentions spending the day watching television instead of writing the latest Doctor Who script. Whilst Elliot Groves gives himself as an example, saying how he realised that whilst 'writing' a book he had actually ended up cleaning his whole apartment instead. 

One of the best ways to tackle procrastination is discipline and to make sure you write a little everyday. I've already mentioned the three pages a day idea in my Five Scriptwriting Tips post, which can be useful for getting a script done within a set time. 

Setting goals and planning to give yourself a reward every time you reach them may also help keep you writing. 

3] Writer's Block

Writer's block is defined as the inability to write, and in the case of scriptwriters, it's normally that moment when suddenly you don't know what's going to happen next, or how to write the next scene. 

The best I know to overcome this type of sticking point, is to move on to different part of the script, a part where you know what's happening or you're more excited to write, and do that before returning and linking it with the missing scene later. I actually did this with a 45 page script I was writing once. I kept getting stuck on the opening scene, to the point that I wasn't actually moving along with the script. I knew how it ended, and the middle bit, so in the end I started in the middle and wrote to the end, before skipping back to fill in the beginning - and it worked! 

That is if you believe in writer's block anyway - most of the writers in this video about Writer's Block from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website, don't seem to think so. 

Also check out 17 Writing Tricks to Help Get You Through Your Screenplay, which has some good advice on how to keep going with a script when you get stuck. 

Please tell me if any of this advice was helpful in the comments box below, thanks! 

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Scene 46: Review, Nothing

I've been managed to watch quite a few films this last weekend, and out of all of them, I decided to review this one, Nothing (2003), because it is the weirdest film I have ever seen. Directed by Vincenzo Natali, who also directed the cult film Cube (1997) and Splice (2009), and starring two of his friends from school, Andrew Miller and David Hewlett. 

Nothing is a film about two guys who are having the worst day of their lives. Both are in trouble with the police, their home is about to be knocked down and a huge crowd are baying for their blood. However, just when it looks like they're doomed to be dragged away by the cops or killed in the demolition of their house - having hidden inside -  suddenly  all the noise and commotion outside stops. They go out and look to see what's happened and find...nothing. Just a big empty, white void. 

I thought the film felt slightly familiar as I watched it, to a certain type of film that seems to have developed in the recent decade, which involves slack-eqsue, nerdy, socially awkward protagonists who encounter something extraordinary. It particularly felt akin to Simon Pegg and Nick Frost movies. In those films too, you have two geeky friends who have to cope with a load of weirdest – in particular the scenes of Dave and Andrew playing computer games reminded me of Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Spaced, and the samurai sword that Dave welds also reminded me of Paul. 

However, the relationship dynamic between Andrew and Dave is quite different, and is allowed to be more deeply explored. The film has room to do this, because unlike in the Pegg/Frost films, once we reach nothing in Nothing, we only have Andrew and Dave. There are no extra characters that require having attention and development - no girlfriends to win over, no family to impress, no outside antagonists.

The other big different is that both Paul and Shaun of the Dead played on genres and cliches. Whilst the concept behind Nothing is just really, really original. I've noticed that Vincenzo Natali has a good knack of keeping his audiences intrigued - Cube is a brilliant idea and Splice, though less original, still pulled me and kept me watching and wanting to know - and Nothing is the same, you just want to know what's going on and how its going to end. 

The film isn't perfect of course, some of the jokes are hit and miss and there's a running sequence in the void that goes on for far too long. 

The production values on though are good. The interior of the house is a particular triumph. Covered in great swathes of paper and clutter, to the point of being almost surreally messy, it absolutely filled with details and I personally think the team who had to stick all those posters and pieces of paper onto the set should be given a worthy mention – it must have taken ages.

The white nothingness outside does feel a little enclosed rather than vast, but that's probably due to the fact that's been obviously shot in a studio, and that the actors voices echo. However I did like the idea that floor was bouncy, and though it looks white, is shown to be actually transparent. The CGI is acceptable, though not incredibly realistic compared to the type of CGI we can achieve now. Whether that is due to the fact the film was shot in 2003, or because of the film's budget, I don't know. Nonetheless, the 'pooling' or 'stripping' away affect of bits and pieces throughout the film, is rather good.

The film also uses some fancy editing, in a sequence where Andrew and Dave go exploring and in a scene where they dual on a boxing computer game. Both sequences work well, especially the fast pacing, whirling affect of the editing during the computer game boxing match, which made the scene funnier and more exciting than a more conventional, slower cut would have. 

In summary, like a good sci-fi story Nothing gives you a fascinating concept, plays with it for a while, and then ends in a strange way, that is satisfactory but still open enough to leave you wondering.