Now Don’t Look To Us

Usually I do entries in this block after I’ve finished a writing spell. It’s like a cool down from a long run and after spending so long trying to make stuff up it’s a bit of a relief to have a few paragraphs just writing about how the day is going.

It is getting a little bit old though. There’s only really so much I can give away when I’m writing about writing a book lest the entire story be dropped out there before time. I was thinking about writing a little bit about movies I like. Nothing greatly critical or in depth but just something to say why a particular title appeals to me and how I discovered it.

If anything it’ll give you a break from reading about me getting stressed at various chapters. I also means I can get some pictures up to brighten it up because there are not many interesting pictures I can place here to convey the writing process.

The first time I ever heard of the terms ‘Manga’ and ‘Anime’ were when I read Super Play magazine in the early 90’s. The vast majority of the magazine’s contents were about the Super Nintendo and there were certainly many magazines covering the same topic at the time. What made Super Play special though was the fact that, despite being written and made in the UK, it was designed as if it were Japanese. This was even right down to the price being in both Pounds and Yen on the front cover. Nobody in the UK used the term ‘Japanese Role Playing Game’ (or JRPG) in 1993 because nobody really knew anything about the culture. Super Play made an effort to change all that.

In between the sections of video games Super Play had regular columns about Japanese comics and animated TV series and films. Names like Appleseed and Ghost In The Shell cropped up a whole but one title seemed to be lauded as the pinnacle of anime at the time. That was when I first read about Akira. Not only was it apparently a fantastic movie but it was also constantly being lined up for video game adaptations that were either poor or didn’t turn up at all.

I don’t think I ever took steps to seek out Akira though. Japanese animation seemed a whole world away from Scotland, there were certainly no streaming services to watch it on at the time and buying it would involve importing a VHS copy that may or may not work on our current VCR set up. It bypassed me for a good few years. Eventually though it was screened as a special on Channel 4 in the very early hours of the morning. I happened to flick through channels, land on it and instantly recognise the opening bike chase scene through Neo Tokyo. I stuck around and watched the whole thing. It instantly became one of my favourite films.

I always have a theory that certain themes in films are often tackled much better by those from countries who experienced such events themselves. District 9, a film made in South Africa about aliens being segregated from humans in Johannesburg is all the more compelling as it comes from a country has seen apartheid. Akira is the story about a weapon being set off that will destroy the city and its inhabitants from a country that experienced two atomic bombs.

Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo and based on his mage series of the same name Akira tells the story of the leader of a biker gang called Kaneda trying to save his friend Tetsuo from secret government experiments that turn him into a weapon. Tokyo was bombed twenty years previously in the story and it’s very possible it may happen again. This feeling of everything being one step away from destruction feeds Akira and keeps it going right until the end.

There isn’t really a frame out of place in Akira and as I watched it in my room on a 14 inch Sony TV in 1993 I was blown away. Being made in the late 80’s meant that computer technology wasn’t really up to speed yet for something like Akira’s scope. Everything in the movie is hand drawn and painted, each individual cell and it’s all the more staggering when you see it flowing. Akira was the movie that convinced me that animation can say something and not just be the reserve of Saturday morning kid’s TV. It lead into a great appreciation of Japanese art in general. Akira tapped into my love of sci fi but put a whole other cultural spin on it. For that reason it’s a high entry in my favourite film list.

Also I never got around to buying the VHS. I did buy the DVD when it came out though. I’ll probably get the bluray as well.

The Pit Of Man’s Fears

Whilst chugging through the script for Parallel (and chugging is the only word to use currently) I’m becoming overwhelmed by the feeling that this whole thing might never clear the hurdle waiting at the end. I might take the time to polish it and get it readable but there’s the risk that it’ll be rejected at the end. A couple of weeks ago I put Order For Burning up online in an effort to pitch it again. I’ve heard nothing back. Perhaps the timing of this means that I’m reflecting on Parallel a lot more than I would usually. I can make it a solid story but will that be enough?

As a result I’ve been thinking about writing in other formats. For a long, long while I’ve toyed with getting a book done. I’d never truly put anything towards it because I was always of the opinion that I was a screenwriter, that nothing else should occupy my time. Films were pretty much the be all and end all of any career I might possibly have. Anything else just seemed like a waste. Then, for the first time in many years, I took a break from writing ‘EXT. DARK FOREST. NIGHT’ and began to write a couple of short stories. I’ve found it quite liberating.

For the last few years I’ve always tried to write scripts that could easily be made on a smaller budget. When I was at college there were plenty of hopeful writers who would jump in and start their first script with The Matrix as a starting point (it was 1999, give me a break here). Alongside driving our script writer tutor up the wall it meant that all these stories would usually only ever be concepts. The thought of actually just writing something not featuring space ships, other dimensions and mysterious creatures never really occurred to any of us. It was only when we were shown a few examples of movies which concentrate on human interactions rather than large scale action. The two that stuck out for me were ‘Mystery Train’ by Jim Jarmusch and ‘Chungking Express’ by Wong Kar-Wai.

mystery train.jpg
Mystery Train, a film with three interconnected stories in the same hotel. Yes, that is Screaming Jay Hawkins.

Most of the films I’ve written since have been on this kind of vibe. Partly this is because they would be easier to make if somebody picked them up (as Robotics was, being set pretty much in only two locations) and partly because it’s practising for being more disciplined in writing. The problem is though that there’s always a barrier to actually having a finished product with scripts. It needs another step before getting to an audience. Writing stories or a novel means the end result is direct, from author to audience. It’s something that really appeals to me right now. There’s also the chance to expand settings and characters without having to worry about putting it up on screen afterwards.

I won’t be abandoning Parallel completely, it’ll be bubbling along as I go by but I was perhaps investing too much into the one project as far as responses go. I’ll still be trying to write something like The Twilight Zone, as it always has been.

 

The Glass Jarred Dust Of All That Remained

The occasion has arisen when, whilst writing one script, I feel that the idea was possibly stronger and better for another one that I was just planning out. Then that thought process carries on to thinking if that better idea would be better still if it wasn’t a film script at all but a book. A straightforward book when the costs of locations for filming could be jettisoned out of the window at great speed and shatter on the pavement below.

One great thing in the positive marker for this would be the fact that text would be complete with only me working on it. It wouldn’t need another person to agree to it after reading, making sure it was worth putting on screen and taking the time and the money to gather everything needed and go forth and make the thing. The idea would be there, it would only take me to get something readable.

But then I’ve never written a full scale book before and I probably think very visually anyway so delving into such a different craft is probably not something that would come off well. Also, putting some changes into a ninety page script is fine but I can only imagine the pain of having to change paragraph after paragraph of pure text.

Yet, I still want to see what it would be like.

And Nothing Much Happens

When I’m planning scripts one of the main things I get paranoid about is making sure something is happening in each scene. It might be my lack of confidence in just having conversations between each character but there’s always the nagging need to have some kind of threat. I’m currently looking at the complete scene by scene of Parallel and getting worried that some parts are just conversation. Act one is establish paradigm, act two is breaking it and act three is resolving it but making it different to the start. That’s the classic Hollywood way.

totoro

I was watching the Studio Ghibli classic ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ for the first time last week and I loved it (as did my nine year old son). What struck me was that not a great deal actually happens in the hour and a half long film. There’s also a lot of plot points that aren’t explained fully in any way.

Two girls move into a new family home alongside their father. Their mother is absent as she’s sick in hospital. What disease has struck her down remains a mystery for the entire film. The house they now live in looks haunted and they discover soot sprites almost as soon as they arrive.

Whilst the older girl is at school the younger discovers two small creatures in the garden. One is like a small rodent and the other is a smaller, ghostly version of the same thing. Why one of them is a spirit is not explained. She follows these creatures into woodland when she discovers Totoro, a much bigger version of the creature who doesn’t talk and seems to like sleeping.

Usually, if this were a Western film, there would be some form of danger straight away. Totoro would be under threat somehow, the local village would see him as some kind of ghostly monster. The family would stand in front of the tree defending their friend. Instead, not much really happens until they receive a telegram from the hospital and the family all try to make it there in time. Totoro conjures an imaginary bus which is shaped like a cat to get the girls there in time to they can deliver corn on the cob (no, really). You never find out of the Mother recovers or if she manages to join the rest of her family in the new home.

cat bus

Totoro seems like a wistful dream in which events move along at a steady pace only really to pick up for the last fifteen minutes. I imagine a scenario if them doing a Western remake and a producer tearing his hair out asking where the danger is and how all this resolves. As stated before, this doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the film but it does make me think about how I lay out my scripts. Do I, as a writer, back away from the power of human relationships?

When The Fires Came Down

The script for ‘Parallel’ has stayed still for the last couple of days. Around the twenty five minute mark we’ve had the reveal that our main scientist’s hated work colleague is both back at base on Earth (as he arrives there within the first few moments of the film) but also up in the station as well due to the split through time. It’s hit something of a roadblock in that it’s hard to just have a movie about two people arguing in a space station. I admit this is far better that two people getting along inside a space station but you catch my drift. Everything seems to a little bit motionless right now

This was going to be the point where I wrote about what I was going to do about that problem, how I was going to raise up this script and drag it kicking and screaming into the light. All this seems irrelevant at the moment as it’s all just talk. I have ideas about it indeed but the pace is disturbing me right now. Not so much the pace of the story but more my progress in getting it down on paper. I’m frustrated that I’m writing in another vacuum, unsure as to if any of this effort will be worth it in the long run. In an ideal world I’d have somebody sat next to me reading every bit saying ‘Yeah, seems worthwhile to me’ at regular intervals but that’s not really going to happen.

There are two feature scripts in the drawer. I spent the bulk of a year writing ‘Order For Burning’ and about the same writing ‘Seven Lucky Stars’ but they didn’t go much further forward that pages right now. I get a buzz from people reading my stuff, any writer does, yet getting through the down times when that’s not happening is tough.

 

The Court Of The Jaguar

More progress, more pages. Working on the script on my days off and aiming to get at least four or five pages done seems to work well. It sure beats doing a full day at work, coming home, having dinner, getting cleaned up, getting my son to bed and then starting to write. This usually means it’s around 9:30pm and I’m starting to get tired. This usually means more blank staring and very little getting done. At least if I’ve done a few pages during the daylight hours I feel no guilt playing Grand Theft Auto in the evening.

The other piece of news today is an advert that dropped in via my email subscriptions. Somebody is looking for a writer to work on a feature script about witches with attention to historical detail. I’ve got in touch and told them about writing Order For Burning. We’ll see how this one goes.

Fearing The Reaper

I’m in bed as Storm Henry is battering the house (and pretty much the entire of Scotland by the sounds of it). My wife is on a nightshift so the cat has decided to place himself where she would usually be. My Son finally fell asleep around 10:30pm. I have to be upstairs with him tonight because it’s part of his procedure for somebody to be there for him. Being downstairs somehow doesn’t count.

I have my notebook however and I’ve been writing the outline for the script over and over again. I had planned to spend last week, which I had booked off work, writing solid scenes and having half half the thing finished simply from bring able to spend hours each day on it.

I am still planning. Still marking up diagrams. Still changing details.

It’s not usually like this. I’d be writing it by now and probably grinding my teeth through draft one. Here’s the problem I’ve had and I’d appreciate your thoughts on this one.

When does a concept become a story?

I have my stranded astronaut who wakes up to find that mission control are reporting the shuttle has left for Earth with her on board. She tries to radio home to say this is impossible as she’s still there. They take no notice. Soon they will shut down the oxygen and power to the base. Our astronaut is in a blind panic, what can she do?

One voice cuts through the static.

“I believe you” it says.

As hard as it is for me to admit, this is a concept. It’s the blurb on the back of the DVD. I’m trying to build this up to be a story and failing a lot. She has an obvious goal in wanting to get home but how does she take steps to carry this out? I find myself with a great five minutes but nothing else to fill the other eight five minutes plus.

And it’s gnawing at me.

Because I should be better at this.