I wouldn’t call myself a conventional writer. I guess that’s because I haven’t become one in a conventional way. I didn’t grow up with my head buried in books, I wasn’t a massive film or TV buff, I didn’t study English beyond GCSE, and I don’t think I ever spent much time actually writing. I’m not sure these are conventional traits of an aspiring writer, but I guess I’m just trying to say that I don’t feel like a ‘stereotypical’ writer. Is there a stereotype? Sort of. I’ve met and worked with a number of writers that are intelligent (sometimes to the point of being slightly condescending), awkward (mainly socially), quite reserved (off the page) and usually fairly eccentric in their own special way (if only in private). Obviously not every writer is like this, but I’ve found these can be fairly common characteristics. I don’t think I’m ANY of these things, but I’m still a writer. Maybe that’s why I always question my title? I used to say ‘I’m an aspiring writer’, but I was swiftly corrected by an ‘established’ writer and told that if I write…I’m a writer. Makes sense I guess! You don’t have to have an album in the charts to be a musician. You don’t have to have a piece of art hanging in the Tate to be an artist. Once I got my head around that, I was able to fully embrace all the delightful benefits that come with being a writer – the stress, the doubt, the lack of confidence, the sleepless nights, the being ignored and undervalued, and of course – the being refused car insurance. FACT. I was once refused insurance on account of my occupation. I put myself down as being a writer and they immediately said they couldn’t insure me…seriously, what’s with that? Anyway, I’m not just saying all this because I’ve had a bad experience and I’m feeling sorry for myself…I think other writers will agree that most of the above is true. But why? Throughout my studies I’ve had it drilled into me that being a writer is NOT a career you choose if you want an easy life. I’ve heard it put more bluntly – ‘don’t become a writer, it’s crap’. So why the hell did I choose to become one? I think it’s like any creative career…it’s not something you necessarily choose to pursue; it’s something you’re drawn to and can’t NOT pursue. I’ve had many wobbles along the way (and still have a long way to go). So many moments when I’ve been scrawling through old friends profiles on facebook – seeing them with their nice cars, lavish holidays, getting married and having kids, buying houses etc. Then I look at how they achieve these things and they’re usually in some sort of trade – plumber, electrician or just working a typical 9-5 office job, but they seem happy and are achieving everything they want to. I kick myself and say ‘why can’t you be like that?’ It’s not because I don’t have the capability, and it’s certainly not because I think it’s beneath me, it’s just because I know it would drive me insane not being able to do what I love.

You’ll be forgiven for thinking that if I’m heading for a career with the knowledge it’s going to be a tough ride, I shouldn’t really have too much to grumble about. Well, if we thought like that about everything, we’d put up with shit for the rest of our lives and nothing would ever change for the better. It is true it’s going to be tough, and that’s something I’ve accepted, but that doesn’t mean writers should have to deal with people making a tough career even harder than it already is. In fact, I would say the same for all creative careers. This is my way of asking people to give us a break. So if I haven’t had a bad experience and I’m not just sat here feeling sorry for myself, what’s spurred me on to write this? Well, a number of things really. If you don’t already know, I write radio scripts for a living. When I say radio scripts, I don’t mean radio plays…I mean scripts for those annoying adverts and jingles that get stuck in your brain and make you want to head butt you car’s steering wheel until you go careering off the road into a tree to finally be rid of those infuriating lyrics or straplines forever. It would be fair to say I don’t sell my job as being too glamorous, mainly because it isn’t, but there are times when I really do enjoy it. Those days when you’re given complete creative control by a client that understands YOU’RE the expert and they really should listen to your ideas and advice. These clients are extremely rare. Generally, people won’t listen to a word you say, and then they blame you when it all goes tits up. It’s amazing how many clients we get that think they know everything there is to know about radio advertising, when they’ve never actually advertised on radio before. A hairdresser wouldn’t let me walk in off the street, pick up a pair of scissors and start cutting someone’s hair…so why should they be able to ring us up and tell us how we should be writing our scripts? Well, basically, it’s because they’re paying for it. They just seem to forget that they’re paying for our expertise too! I honestly couldn’t care less if some random hairdressers are insisting they have a shit advert running on a radio station I’ll never EVER listen too, but just remember people – I’m not to blame for it. I tried! That’s my day to day struggle, but it happens everywhere. There are people that really don’t understand the value of ‘good quality’. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to measure? With something tangible, there are factors that define its quality – the materials made to use it, the time it’s taken to create it and the finish it has. So why don’t these translate to things like TV programmes, films etc? Well I think they do. For example – the BBC were recently slated for their coverage of the diamond jubilee, and rightfully so. Personally, I had no time for the event, but I completely agree with comments that the show was aimed at a fictitious audience of dummies. Admittedly the coverage wasn’t scripted as such, but this seems to happen a lot. Take Prometheus – one of the most anticipated films of the year (for me anyway). I refuse to go and see it due to the negative feedback regarding the storyline. I saw the trailers and I was really excited – it looked slick. It had big shoes to fill with Alien being the masterpiece it is, but on hearing it fell flat because it was relying too heavily on special affects and strong visuals to provide a spectacle rather than a good piece of filmmaking, I was gutted. I know I’m relying on other sources for this opinion, but they’re sources I trust. It’s like Avatar. I went to see that in 3D after hearing it was a ‘must see’, but I didn’t go expecting much. Sure enough, it looked nice – but that was it. I hope this isn’t a sign of the times – people really need to understand that audiences aren’t stupid. 90 minutes is a long time to expect people just to stare at pretty things, we need substance. I can understand if a newbie filmmaker was to come along and make a film that looked beautiful, but the script sucked…but these are some of the most well established Hollywood filmmakers with almost unlimited budgets, and still they can’t get a decent script??? That sucks. And the problem is it gives writers a bad name. The thing I fear (being the cynic I am) is that the scripts were fucked up by producers, directors, maybe even actors? I’ve heard stories about this sort of thing happening, and have experienced it myself (on a much smaller scale, of course). I wrote a short film a few years ago that was set in a security van. It was based on true accounts of illegal immigrants that had died in transit due to the way they were gagged and bound. The main character was a new officer on his first arrest riding with a female immigrant the unit had just picked up. Whilst on the journey to the station, the unit have to restrain the woman as she becomes hysterical, and the new officer has to decide how far he will go with the brutal treatment. In the end, he goes along with it, and she dies. The key element of the film was the setting. The van provided a dark, claustrophobic interior that no one could escape – it was integral to the decision making of the main character…he couldn’t escape the situation, he had to either go along with it, or try and stop it somehow. I thought the script was intense and dramatic, and was praised by a number of people who read it. I can’t remember how it came about, but I gave the script to a number of MA producers at Bournemouth and they were keen to get it made. I think their brief was to produce a short film that challenged them with cast and location – my script was perfect! A tricky location and 5 characters (a lot for a 5 minute film). What happened? Well, as they began to organise the shoot, it became apparent that they were struggling to find a security van. To be fair to them, they had no budget – I did offer to pitch in with some cash to make it work, but this didn’t seem to help. As time was getting on, they took the problem to one of their tutors (I assume) and were advised to think about changing the setting. When they told me their tutor had said ‘it could work just as well having her in a cell in the station or something’ I was pretty dismayed to say the least – it was one of those ‘shoot me now’ moments. Again, to be fair to the tutor, he/she may not have read the script. Well, I fought for my van, and I got it. To cut a long story short, the shoot didn’t quite go to plan. While I think the guys did a great job with the time and budget they had, I can safely say what they did will never see the light of day. All I know is if I weren’t involved and they’d run with a different setting, it wouldn’t have been anything like the film I’d written. I’m not saying producers, directors, actors or anyone else involved can’t change things for the better (sometimes), but generally a script is written in a particular way for a good reason – don’t go fucking it up too much!

That’s radio, film and TV, but what about elsewhere? One place I’ve noticed good writing to be lacking is right here on the internet. You can put any old shit on the internet, and people do. I guess it’s because it’s so easy. I’m not talking about facebook or twitter (I put loads of shit on there myself) I’m talking about websites and pages that are actually aiming to promote an individual, service or product. I had a meeting recently with the head of content at a big web design company, and she told me how difficult it still was to make client’s understand how important good content was. It’s all very well having a website that looks slick and functions well, but if your copy reads like it was written by a 12 year old, what’s the point? It’s the Avatar syndrome all over again. Admittedly you don’t want blank pages with expertly written copy, but you do need to get someone who understands your brand and objectives to convey these in a way that speaks to the audience you want to captivate. Believe me, it’s not easy…and just because you got a B in English at GCSE, it doesn’t mean you understand the art of marketing and good copyrighting.

To bring it back to my own writing for a second, I’m proud of the fact I’m writing a low-budget British drama. I want my script to jump off the page with colourful characters, witty dialogue and great visuals that utilise the arena in which it’s based. I don’t want special effects, I don’t want high-concepts, I don’t want things jumping out of the screen at me…I just want a well-written, entertaining piece of film. Fingers crossed! However, I will take the special effects and high-concepts, just make them enhance the film, don’t make them the film.

So the next time you’re watching a crap film, you hear a bad advert or see some really stupid text on a website, just remember the writer might not be to blame. Writing is a craft and it’s worth investing money in if you want your website, TV programme, film, flyer, magazine, newspaper (or anything else that involves copy) to work well. And if you do invest in it, trust the writer. If they’re good, they’ll most probably be right. If they’re not, they’ll most probably be mental. How do you tell the difference? That’s your problem!

To writers everywhere – keep writing to a high standard and defend your craft…I’ve got your back! We all have those ‘shoot me now’ moments, but the most important thing to remember in life is to do what you love, no matter how much of a struggle it can be. Finally, to a very special person attempting to write their first ever novel (without any previous writing experience), you’re doing a great job – keep it up!

Until next time…

Peace x

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What is British?

Posted: May 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

In my last post, I talked about receiving a script report back for my screenplay ‘Beach Huts’. After reading the report and going back to my script, I became aware of something. It’s not something I didn’t already know, but it’s something I began to think about in more depth. I’ve always pitched Beach Huts as a ‘British comedy drama’, and in essence that’s exactly what it is – but why? Why do I always tag the word ‘British’ onto the description when people ask me what sort of film it is? That’s what I want to discuss today, and perhaps it’ll give me some food for thought when tackling this latest draft.

Genre

I’m not a massive fan of categories and genres. I hate it when someone says ‘What music do you like?’ They instantly expect you to label yourself with a genre, so they can form some ill-informed judgement based on common stereotypes and misconceptions. If I say hip hop, will they think I’m some sort of stoner rude boy gangster wannabe? If I say drum and bass, will they assume I have a 10,000 watt speaker system in my car that I drive around blasting out at full volume? If I say trance, will they think I like to paint myself in florescent colours and jump around taking pills all night? I certainly can’t say ‘I have an eclectic taste’, because that the most clichéd comment EVER, isn’t it? Really what I want to say is ‘I like GOOD music’, but I guess that’s a bit of a conversation stopper and may label me a ‘twat’ rather than a musical stereotype. And what’s to say my perception of ‘good’ music is right anyway? Fuck it, I like music in general and that’s it…now piss off with your labelling! Apologies for the outburst. I know why it’s done – we need genres to help us when we’re shopping in HMV, obviously. A similar thing happens with film. We all know the basic genres – Action, Thriller, Romance, Horror, Comedy, Documentary etc. and the various break-off genres (whether labelled in HMV or not), Comedy Drama, Gornograhy, Mockumentary and so on. But every so often, you get a film that breaks all the conventions of its genre to produce something quite unique – films like Let the Right One In (2008) and more noticeably From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). I’ve always wanted to write a ‘good’ film without worrying about what genre it is. If people watch it and say ‘that was a great comedy’, then it’s a great comedy, right? Don’t mistake me for one of these pretentious artist types that will present a dog shit on a plinth and let critics form in-depth theories about how it ‘represents the breakdown of our society in the 21st century’, and then just agree by saying ‘it means whatever you think it means’. That’s bollocks. David Lynch is a name that springs to mind. I think elements of his filmmaking are great, but I’m not sure it’s a good thing to come away from a film completely baffled. Also, I don’t think it’s great that when asked about what one of his films is like, people just say ‘well, it’s a David Lynch’. I think a lot of people say they like his films just because they think they’re being intelligent by doing so, whether they understand them or not. I don’t want my films to be so obscure that they have to be categorised by my name. No, it has to be good and has to have a point, but it doesn’t have to be so engineered. I’m not opposed to selecting a genre and writing with its conventions in mind, but I think it’s important not to be constrained by them. I just know that Beach Huts was never written like that. It has funny moments, it has dramatic moments, and it’s overtly British on every level – I guess that’s where I get my description from! I did actually write an essay based on this script for my masters degree, and if I were being really technical I’d say something like ‘Beach Huts is best defined as a ‘social realist’ text’. The Full Monty (1997) is classed as social realism, but that’s not how it would be categorized online. In fact, a quick google search throws up descriptions like ‘British comedy’ and ‘comedy drama’.

I’ve never really thought of Beach Huts as being like The Full Monty, but I do recognise the similarities. Touching on ‘social realism’ for a second, I suppose it is one classification that encompasses the style, tone, and themes explored in Beach Huts. McKee (1998) defines this genre as the ‘Social Drama’; a genre that ‘identifies problems in society – poverty, the education system, communicable diseases, the disadvantaged, antisocial rebellion, and the like – then constructs a story demonstrating a cure.’ In its current form, Beach Huts does this, but I think it can do it better. I never formulated this idea by following conventions of the social drama, social realism or ‘British’ comedy/drama, but it so happens that it fits in these categories. Maybe it’s time I embrace the label and make it work ‘better’ to fit in this genre?

Why is my film British?

The arena has been one of the most influential factors in determining the tone and genre of Beach Huts. The beach location has been a focus for a number of British filmmakers. Gurinder Chadha, Pawel Pawlikowski and Michael Winterbottom, with the exception of Shane Meadows, have all made films using the British seaside as their primary location. I think Beach Huts challenges our understanding of this location by exploring what it represents for the different characters, looking at how these perceptions might mirror or contradict those within contemporary Britain. The ‘seaside’ setting in Britain has changed over the years, but still a wide range of predominantly British iconography remains. Fish and chips, amusement arcades and pleasure piers’, including the beach hut itself (a uniquely British phenomenon) have all been used in Beach Huts to build this British theme. But can more be done? This is what Alec had to say in his script report – ‘looking at UK films recently (and not so recently), I see a trend of placing them in distinctively recognisable time periods. ‘Hunky Dory’ has the long, hot summer of 1976 as it’s backdrop; ‘Wild Bill’ has the building of the Olympic infrastructure, ‘Submarine’ is deliberately vague on its 80s setting, and of course ‘Billy Elliot’ happens with the miners’ strike in the background. You might want to consider threading through a similar strand just to make your film resonate more as British.’ We discussed a number of possibilities, and I think we’ve come up with an idea that will work. There’d be no point in shoe-horning something in without it being integral to the plot – it has to be something that works to drive the narrative. I’m going to give this new idea a go and see how I get on…maybe it’s the missing link to tie everything together? Maybe this is what I need to drive home that social realist tone?

It’s British, but is it?

Now this is what’s been bothering me. Whatever happens with this latest draft, Beach Huts will be set in contemporary Britain (at least post 2004). However, the characters in the script only reflect a small proportion of the ethnic demographic in Britain’s current multicultural society. In another essay I wrote for my MA, I was critiquing Doc Martin in relation to this very subject. Entitled ‘Doc Martin: The people’s Doctor?’ my argument was that this series was created purely for entertainment value and maximised audience ratings, with no awareness of Public Service Broadcasting and the cultural diversity of a contemporary British audience.

Similar to Beach Huts, Doc Martin has a picturesque, typically British setting. Unlike Beach Huts, this arena is combined with light-hearted comedy and a feel-good factor that doesn’t really challenge an audience. I must admit, I’m a fan. It’s the escapism I enjoy, but that doesn’t stop me noting the use of stereotypes that inhabit a stereotypical community comprising of the plumber, the school teacher, the doctor, the policeman etc. In Beach Huts, there is no real reference to the character’s occupations – you learn about each of them through their interaction and reaction to scenarios. That’s not to say some of them don’t need a little more development, but generally I’ve tried to steer clear of outright stereotypes. Now, the problem I have is the diversity of the characters. In Doc Martin (at least throughout the first three series), we see no inclusion of diverse cultures. In fact, there isn’t a single individual who represents any other culture or background other than ‘white British’. It could be argued that it isn’t relevant for such a programme to include a multi-cultural cast. With such a rural location as a remote fishing village in Cornwall, would the inclusion of a multi-cultural community not be seen as a form of ‘tokenism’ or misrepresentation? This is what I’m struggling with. I don’t want to include characters in my script just for the sake of being PC, but I do want to show some awareness of a multi-cultural audience. This is something I am going to have to consider carefully with this latest draft.

Am I happy my film is British?

I love British films. Not all of them, but a lot of them. The ones I know and love have a real candour that I can only hope to achieve in my own writing. I think I’m getting there, but I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that I want my film to speak to many different people on many different levels. With Beach Huts, the arena, the characters and the tone are what renders it British…I never set out to write a typical British film, but that’s just the way it turned out. What I hope is that the story will travel. I don’t think the question I should be asking myself is ‘am I happy my film is British?’ I think the questions I should be asking is ‘am I happy that people may perceive my film to be written for a ‘select’ British audience?’ The simple answer is, NO. However, I’m not going to change my characters for the sake of being politically correct. I’ve been told they’re ‘strong’ and ‘well developed’, so why sacrifice that when the story is the element I want people from other communities and cultures to engage with? Beach Huts is about  a community, and the struggles with class, acceptance and rebellion within that community. Isn’t it what the story is about that’s important, not the people telling it? It’s something I’ll be thinking about over the next few days, but any thoughts on the matter will be gratefully received.

However Beach Huts pans out, I know my next project will include a much more accurate portrayal of contemporary Britain’s hybrid society. You can’t set a film in London and not expect it to represent characters from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures.

It’s back to the writing for me, and you should go back to whatever it was I’ve just distracted you from!

Until next time…

PEACE x

Well not technically a script doctor, but as good as. In my latest blog I told you about the process of going back to my feature script and what spurred me on as I tackled a new draft ready to send off to my friend Alec, who would provide me with a script report and notes. So, the script was finished, I sent it off and now I’ve received the report back. So this is the first instalment to document this process and I will continue to update you as I continue the journey towards getting my script ready to send out into the big, scary world of producers, directors, agents and script readers. Once I’m at that stage, I will let anyone who is interested in reading the script have a copy, and I will keep you posted regarding any feedback, meetings or opportunities that may come of sending it out – hopefully I’ll have something to tell you, but who knows.

The report

For over a week I was biting my nails, sitting on the edge of my seat, twiddling my thumbs (if I had hair, I’d be pulling that out too) waiting for this feedback to arrive. I wasn’t being impatient; in fact I was quite grateful for the break as it gave me a bit of time to focus on other things…but I was still feeling very apprehensive about what Alec might have to say. It’s a funny thing. I mean, it’s not like it’s the first time I’ve had feedback like this for my writing. At Uni we received feedback in a similar format to a script report, but I think it’s always different when you’re being assessed for a grade rather than as a professional. Even if lecturers insisted marks or feedback were given as they would be in the industry, that ‘educational’ environment would always fill me with a level of doubt. However, the notes I’d received on a previous draft were generally very positive…I guess I was more worried that I’d gone backwards with my writing and that the new draft would turn out to be worse than the last. I was pretty sure I’d managed to improve it, but I just needed that reassurance.

It was Friday, which meant ‘high-concept’ day. Alec and I do this thing where we send each other a logline for a film every week – it’s called High Concept Friday and I’ve found it really useful. I’d recommend it as a fun exercise that gets you thinking about generating ideas. I also think some of the ideas we’ve come up with have been really good (if I do say so myself), and one of them I’ll be developing with my friend Simon (who I’ve mentioned in previous blogs and written with before) – more on that another time. So I received his entry along with a note that said ‘script report to follow’. I genuinely had butterflies – sad or what!!! Well that’s how much this script means to me, so I don’t care how sad it sounds. Sure enough, a few minutes passed and another email popped up in my inbox. Because I’m down with the kids, I thought ‘BOOM!’ Just to appease my OCD tendencies, I made sure every other application on my computer was closed before opening the document – this way I could give it my undivided attention.

One of the comments in the email that contained the report read ‘I really enjoyed the script, and think it is very marketable’ and I instantly relaxed. Although Alec is a friend, I know he’s not someone that would give positive feedback unless it was deserved. So when he said that, I knew he meant it. I downloaded the file, opened it and began reading. As I went through all the comments, suggestions and mistakes that had been included, rather than think ‘oh shit’ or ‘I don’t agree with that’ I was thinking ‘oh yeah’ or ‘I knew he was going to pick up on that’. The two or three scenes that bothered Alec or didn’t work for him, were the very same scenes I was struggling to make work myself. I knew it at the time, but just didn’t have the solution – that’s what I needed help with…I needed a solution! I have friends that read scripts for a living, and I always delight in their facebook statuses that slate a particular script they’re reading for being a pile of shite for whatever reason. I’m not that delusional – I know when parts of my script aren’t working, and I think that’s an important skill to have as a writer. Now I just needed a helping hand to put them right.

The Solution 

I’d been provided with a number of suggestions and ways to improve or rectify certain issues, but I really felt I needed to talk through ideas before I could move forward with the next rewrite. I find I really thrive off interaction that’s face to face (even if it is via Skype) so Alec agreed to do a Skype session, and my alarm was set for 6am on Thursday of last week (damn time difference). I was poised with my notes and questions ready to thrash it all out, and I’m pleased to say it was WELL worth getting up at that ungodly hour for. We worked through the points I was unsure about and came up with numerous possible alternatives and solutions that might help certain scenes work better. After chatting, I was confident I had everything I needed to attack a new draft – I was inspired, I was confident, and I was…LATE FOR WORK!

With notes and ideas at the ready, it was time to start piecing together a plan for my new narrative. All was going well, but one thing was bothering me – Alec had pointed out the fact I hadn’t shown my main characters in the first few pages, and I was struggling to find a way of showing them without losing the strong sense of arena that I’d built into my original draft. It wasn’t until I was cycling from work to my girlfriend’s house (which takes about an hour) that it hit me – it’s amazing how time alone with just your own thoughts can conjure idea after idea after idea. I quickly scribbled it all down before it was lost forever, and it was a big relief to know I had the new opening nailed (for now).

I’m still mid rewrite and I’m hoping that the new draft will be a vast improvement on the last, which was a vast improvement on the one before that. It seems that writing this script has so far been an exercise in narrowing down plot issues – each draft has had strong characters and arena, but now I’ve finally found the best way to bring them all together and tell my main character’s story.

That’s the latest on the script, and I’m hoping it won’t be too long until I can move onto the next phase and start sending it out. I have some ideas of what I’ll be doing with it once it’s finished, but I’ll save that for another blog. What this process has taught me so far, and my advice for anyone that’s writing a script is…get someone to read your work and give you feedback! I would strongly recommend you give it to a professional. After having Alec work on mine, I would definitely consider paying for this kind of service in the future. I think it’s invaluable to have someone critique your work before you send it out – you certainly don’t want it to end up in one of my friend’s status updates. It’s even better if you have a writer friend you can trust to give you solid advice for free, but it’s up to you to decide whether you value their level of experience and knowledge. Another tip is that you can find some competitions that give feedback for submissions – you may have to pay for the entry, but it’ll no doubt be cheaper than paying for a private script reading service…you never know, you might even get somewhere in the competition too!

So it’s back to the writing for me, and hopefully I’ll have another update for you soon. I have other things to post and talk about, but they will feature in due course. I apologise if this blog isn’t as interesting as others I’ve posted, but I hope it’ll be useful for other writers going through this same rewriting process with the aim of getting work optioned or produced.

Until next time, stay classy!

Peace x

I’ve been TAGGED!!!

Posted: March 19, 2012 in Uncategorized


So I haven’t blogged in AGES, but I do have a post half written that I’ll be putting out in the next week or so. Before I do, I thought I’d answer a series of questions I was asked by a fellow blogger…a bit of fun, I guess. If you do read (or know of) my blog, you’ll know my posts can be pretty epic at times – although this is meant to be a way of divulging a little info about ‘the real me’, I wouldn’t want to disappoint my critics by giving them something quick and easy to read. I’d also rate myself as a ‘novice’ blogger, so being ‘tagged’ is all new to me and hopefully I won’t make myself look stupid with any blogging faux pas. So, in an attempt to give you an insight into my ‘real’ world, here are the answers to JJ Cocker’s questions…

1. What is the best thing about where you live? 

The sea. I live in Bournemouth and have previously posted a pic of where I live – here it is again…

And this is the view from our garden.

I love Bournemouth for many reasons, but the sea is the one thing I’d miss more than anything if I was to move inland. I surf (on the rare occasion there are waves) and row on the sea, so it’s quite a big part of my life. I also like knowing it’s close by – a bit like a comfort blanket, but a damp one.

2. If you could be anyone you wanted to be, other than yourself, who would you be? 

This is a tough one. I can’t narrow it down to a single person – I’m far too indecisive and analytical, so I’ll outline the characteristics I’d like and maybe you can tell me who it is? I’d like to be someone with enough influence to make a positive change for humanity. I wouldn’t want to be famous, but I would like to know that whatever I did with my life would have a positive impact on society.

3. What is your favourite item of clothing? 

I’m a big fan of trainers – Vans, Adidas hi-tops, Converse etc. so I do like my collection of trainers, but I’d have to say my favourite item of clothing is my pair of grey, baggy tracksuit bottoms (‘trackies’ to the kids). Not because they look good or have any sentimental value, but simply because I only ever wear them in the flat and they make me feel relaxed, comfortable and always get me in the mood for writing or editing.

4. Who, or what, inspires you the most? 

Music inspires me. Any type of music can touch a nerve and inspire ideas, invoke memories and provoke a number of emotions within me. Other than music, one thing that really inspires me is simply talking to likeminded people. Workshops and festivals are great for meeting individuals or groups that are passionate about a particular topic, but just talking to friends and family that share similar ambitions is inspiring. My parents have always inspired me too, both in different ways…but I’ll save that for another blog.

5. Do you use public transport? 

Yes. Bus, train, coach – I got rid of my car last year and cycle most places, but use trains and coaches for long journeys and the bus for getting to work when the weather’s bad. I like getting the coach to London – no worrying about parking, being able to have a drink etc. The local bus I’m not so keen on. I wrote a one-off drama about a criminal that uses bus journeys to choose his victims…I’m not sure what that says about my feelings towards them, but they do creep me out a bit.

6. What is most likely to set off the fire alarm at home? 

This is an easy one – my flat mate Leigh cooking his steak. He’s a big fan of steak. Below is a picture of him at Steakout in Bournemouth about to embark on the £50 Steakout Challenge…50oz of meat and 2 sides for £50, and you get it free if you eat it all in 40mins. He tried, but didn’t succeed.



7. What do you do to stay healthy? 

I row. I train at least 4 times a week and I also cycle to work most days – it’s not great in the winter, but summer will soon be here and there’s nothing like riding to work along the beach every day. I also think it’s important to keep your mind healthy, and time out with friends, family and loved ones is vital for this (in my opinion).

8. If you could pass one new law, what would it be? 

I can think of loads! Is that a bad? It’s not that I have some sort of dictator mentality; I just think there are people in society that take advantage of the system and are allowed to get away with it because they’re in a position of power. I think I would have to pass a law that gives ‘the people’ more power – any major policy change or government decision (like sending our troops into battle) should be put to a public vote and the result have a direct impact on the resolution.

9. Is there a uniform that grabs your attention? 

Crap ones. Mainly because I think of all the horrendous ‘uniforms’ I’ve had to wear over the years in various retail jobs. Now that I write full time, I can wear what I want (within reason) and I look at anyone wearing a hideous uniform and just feel sorry for them. Years ago I used to work for Sainsbury’s, and because I worked in the chiller section we were given these awful bright orange fleeces (see below). All I can say is, thank goodness camera phones weren’t about then.


10. If you had to choose between who you love and what you love doing, what would win?

I know this is a bit of a cop out, but I don’t think you should ever have to choose. I’m fortunate that the people I love also love that I’m passionate about what I do. However, it’s very hard to love someone that makes you question what you do – so for that reason, I think you should always choose what you love doing and then you’ll find someone who loves you for that. I’m not sure if that really answers the question, but that’s what I think.

11. What is your best time of day?

Sunset, for sure. Give me a sunset, music, a glass of wine or a beer and I’m in heaven.

Well that’s all the questions answered. Until the next blog, or the next set of questions I get asked, I wish you all the best!

Peace x

It’s 2012. I was going to do the whole ‘2011 round-up’, but I decided not to bother – the time has passed and I think this year is all about moving onwards and upwards…no point in dwelling on the past. The one thing I will quickly say about 2011 is – it was busy, I think I achieved a lot and I certainly learnt a lot. I’d say one of my biggest achievements (in Screenwriting terms) was being a finalist in the London Screenwriter’s competition – you can see the script in an earlier post I made. Anyway, it was the London Screenwriter’s festival that inspired me to write this blog post. Throughout the year I attended various screenwriting events and spoke to numerous professionals from the world of TV and Film, and something was becoming apparent – they were imparting their knowledge on me and I was slowly learning the secret to ‘making it’ as a screenwriter. It was at the Screenwriters festival that my suspicions were confirmed – I KNEW THE SECRET!!! I feel it’s my duty, my responsibility and my calling to pass this knowledge on to you…so just as Bastian did in The NeverEnding Story…find a dark, secluded place (perhaps not in a school like he did, I don’t want you getting into trouble and telling the authorities it was my idea), but you know what I mean – just find a quiet place brace yourselves for the answer you’ve all been waiting for!

Firstly, I’m sorry if you didn’t see this coming, but the secret is…………….THERE IS NO SECRET!!! Mwah ha ha ha ha (evil laugh) Well there is, in a way, but we’ll get to that. Of course you may have your own little secrets (in the form of contacts or lies you’ve told to get where you are, or that you’ll be using when you need to), but generally, there is no easy route into the industry. What I’ve learnt from all the people I’ve heard describing how they ‘made it’ is – everyone’s route is different.  There are lucky breaks, right place right time scenarios, blagging techniques etc. but generally, there’s only one way you can really maximise the possibility of getting where you want to be – hard work, perseverance, more hard work, bouts of depression and lacking self belief, more hard work and most importantly…a lot of fuckin’ HARD WORK. Sorry if I’ve just completely shattered all the expectations you had when clicking on this blog (I’ll understand if you return to YouTube or Facebook now), but I think it’s an important thing to point out…hopefully by the time you finish reading this post you’ll be inspired, enthusiastic and ready to take on the trials and tribulations of life as a screenwriter. So, how do you achieve your goals? Well, it may be a little odd coming from someone who hasn’t actually achieved their own goals yet, but I’m going to give you my ideas, theories and experiences anyway – then you can decide for yourself.

Last year, I heard three interesting stories about how three different people made it to where they are in TV and Film – two of them actually made me quite angry, and I’ll tell you why…

The first was from Fay Rusling (Writer on Smack the Pony, Green Wing, Campus). I heard Fay talk at the Southern Script Fest, and she was asked the obligatory ‘how did you make it as a writer?’ question. Now Fay is a lovely person, and funny, but her answer annoyed me. She basically told us that she ‘sort of fell into it’. She was originally working the Edinburgh circuit as a comedy performer and used to write sketches for her own show – she was then picked up by a producer and started doing stuff for Smack the Pony, and she’s stayed with the same producer ever since (there’s a lot more to it and she tells the story much better than I do, but that’s generally it). Maybe I was just jealous, but I thought to myself – ‘I’m sat in a room full of writers who would chew their best typing arm off to be where she is, and she just sort of ‘fell into it’. I’m not sure if that sort of thing happens anymore, maybe she’s a product of her time? It just seemed like a complete dream-come-true scenario, and I was a little disheartened…how many people will that really happen to? Don’t get me wrong, she seemed very grateful for the amazing opportunities and success she’s had, but it was clear she never had to fight for it – there didn’t seem to have been any blood, sweat or tears. I also think she’s very talented (as long as we ignore her involvement in Campus), but I kind of wanted to hear that she’d been writing for years and years, perfecting her craft, and all the hard work finally paid off. That’s definitely an example of how ANY route can take you into the industry.

Even more of an interesting ‘route in’ was Ash Atalla’s (Producer of The IT Crowd, The Office). Again, Ash is a very nice and funny guy, but his ‘how I made it’ answer annoyed me even more. He started by training in business, and wanted to work in the city as a stockbroker. Unfortunately that didn’t happen because (as he puts it) he was ‘shit at maths’ and kept getting sacked, or ‘found out’. He then went and did some presenting work at the BBC for the News Channel, but apparently was shit at that too. Finally, he managed to convince them to give him a job looking through scripts in the comedy department (where he met Steve Merchant as a minibus driver) and that was that. Bastard! You know how many jobs I’ve tried to land at the BBC? They wouldn’t even accept me for work experience after I’d filled out at 22 page application giving them more information than God (if he exists) would have on me…I mean come on!!! Who just walks into the BBC, becomes a presenter, gets sacked and then walks into the comedy department? I was thinking ‘nice guy, but a jammy shit!’ OK, I was throwing my toys out of the pram somewhat, but it’s frustrating when want something so badly that just seems to fall into the laps of others. I needed someone to cheer me up…

Ah ha! Edgar Wright (Writer of Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The Adventures of Tin Tin). Another funny, likeable, really cool guy, and best of all…he always wanted to make films. Yes!!! I was thinking ‘this is like me, I’ve wanted to make films for AGES…I’ve just got to do whatever Edgar says’ Well, actually, he made a film – and that IS what I’m going to do. Edgar’s story was very interesting and funny, but the important part for me was where it started – he went out and made a feature film (A Fistful of Fingers) as a very young, naïve writer/director. Admittedly it made more sense for him to make something as a director too, but at least he knew what he wanted to do…and he did it. He didn’t fall into it, or have it handed to him on a plate; he went out and made it happen! *PHEW* That’s better – some balance has been restored.

So there we have it – three successful individuals with three very different stories of how they got to where they are now. Do you think that’s helped? Well, if not, here is some advice these guys gave:

‘Send stuff out when you’re 100% happy with it – it might be shit, but if it’s what you think is your best and a producer thinks it has potential, they’ll help knock it into shape’.

‘Work with people who are good or that you work well with – a good partnership will go a long way.’

‘Make stuff. If you show someone a script, it looks like every other script they’ve ever seen. If you give them a YouTube link, it will be your work on screen and they’re more likely to take it in. It also shows you’ve gone to the effort of producing something.’

‘I can’t stop you sending me a script in the post.’

I admit they’re not all direct quotes (and I might have used a bit of poetic license), but this is what I heard, and what I’ve heard from MANY industry professionals over the last few years – so I’m going to do them all! This is the year I focus on MY work. I WILL get my feature script finished and sent out to people once I’m 100% happy with it – even if they say they don’t want me to send it to them ‘unsolicited’, I know they need it in their lives.  I WILL be working with someone I work well with – I’ve just finished writing a mini web series with my good friend Simon Regan (follow him on twitter @simon_regan) and we’re just about to start work on the second. And I WILL be making stuff – in fact we have a director on board for the mini web series and we’re hoping (fingers crossed) to be shooting early this year, and then I’ll be filming the next idea myself. So there’s MY secret – I’m thinking of something prolific to say, but basically the idea is to work your nuts off and hope your work gets noticed. The great thing about it for me is – even if I don’t get noticed, I bloody love doing it! I got a message from an old uni mate today (I won’t name him in case he gets embarrassed), but he’d seen a short film I made years ago on my new website (www.dombeno.com) and sent me the following:

‘Mate, Balloons the short vid on your site, loved it…almost brought a tear to the eye, what a poignant ending, without sounding too deep, awesome mate, and loved the score! Congrats’

You know what, that’s what makes it ALL worth it. And not only that, another uni friend messaged me to say she shows my work to her students – how cool is that??? I may not be getting an audience of millions, but as long as I touch someone (not physically – of course), then I’m happy. And just for a laugh (and to show you won’t always get GOOD feedback) here is the other end of the spectrum…

This is an email a company received about a jingle I wrote, which they aired on a radio station I won’t name:

After listening to your advert on the fantastic ***** radio. I wanted you to know how I feel about you ruining a perfectly good radio station with the most annoying advert I have ever heard! ??? Every time your stupid advert comes on, I want to ram a handful of angry hornets up my back entrance!!! I will be sending ***** radio an email in regard to my disgust in your advert! It enrages me to the core!!! 3 by 3 and 4 by 4 shove your fence up your japs eye!!! Fucking stupid advert!!!

You know what – I was quite proud of that! Why? Because the client had specifically asked for ‘one of those annoying adverts that sticks in everyone’s mind’…I’d say that was a success.

So my advice to all of you for 2012 is – BE PROACTIVE! Whether you want to be a writer, director, producer or anything else, do everything you can to make it…don’t sit around and waiting for things to happen (or for something to fall in your lap), go and make them happen yourself. That’s what I’ll be doing this year – so who’s with me??? *INSERT LOUD CHEER HERE*

Peace x

P.s. My flatmate (Leigh) wanted a mention in this blog…so Leigh, this is for you – without knowing it, Leigh has provided me with material for various scripts I’ve been working on recently. I won’t tell him what, because it will be much funnier to see his reaction when they appear on screen. Keep ’em coming mate!

Grammar Police

Posted: October 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

In this blog, I’m going to draw upon all my writing experience and education to try and iron out a few issues people have with writing (particularly screenplays) as well as air a few of my own struggles, issues and qualms regarding ‘creative’ versus ‘academic’. I’ll try and keep it as closely related to writing a script for film as possible, as I think this would be more beneficial to the subscribers of this blog – it is the ‘the incomplete guide to hopefully one day becoming a screenwriter’ after all. However, before I talk about formatting scripts, writing dialogue, different writing styles etc. I want to tell you the story that inspired me to write this particular post and some of my own experiences and struggles as an aspiring writer.

A few weekends back, I went to the South Coast Championships to row and represent my club ‘Westover and Bournemouth Rowing Club’. It was a great day and we came 4th out of 26 boats, so we were pretty pleased with that result. Of course we wanted to win, but personally I was pretty happy seeing as I’ve only been rowing for a year. So anyway, on the way up there I was in a car with Ali (the stroke man from our crew) his wife Funda and their adorable little girl Mila. As we were approaching Dorney Lake
(Eton College), we took an exit with signs for ‘Slough’. Ali is Turkish and English is not his first language, so he turned to me and asked how to pronounce the word…he asked if it was pronounced like ‘slow’. I told him it was like ‘plough’, which also has ‘ough’ at the end, and then I tried to think of other words that were similar. I said, ‘or like cow’, and that’s when I realised the problem! There really is no consistency in the English language whatsoever…how the hell does anyone learn it? OK, I think we can leave place names out of this one. My advice about place names is, just do your best and you’ll be corrected. If you didn’t already know, I write adverts for radio stations all over the country. I still have no idea where Gillingham that’s pronounced like the part of a fish is, or Gillingham that’s pronounced like the girl who watch Jack crack his head open – they’re spelt the same for goodness sake. And don’t get me started on Wales! I have nothing against the Welsh, and I think it’s great they have their own language and funny place names, but when two people from the same place have an argument about how it’s pronounced, what hope is there for the rest of us??? So back to the inconsistencies in the spelling of English words. You’d think Oliver Cromwell, or Shakespeare, or Queen Victoria, or whoever it was that invented the English language, would have sat down and made a few ground rules. There are some, like ‘i before e except after c’ (which isn’t always right is it Mr. ‘Feisty’, that complete ‘weirdo’ that’s my ‘neighbour’ who lives at number ‘eight’ and loves ‘science’) hmmm or what about doubling the consonant when adding a suffix that starts with a vowel, such as ‘er’, ‘ed’ or ‘ing’? Like Mopping – it was mop, you add a p and the ‘ing’ (and a bucket, some water and maybe fairy liquid) and then you can get mopping! But wait, what if you want to go ‘boxing’ instead, but it’s ‘raining’ outside and it’s ‘blowing’ a gale??? I don’t know, I’m sure all you grammar wizz kids out there will have all the answers as to why certain things are done a certain way, but for us poorly educated folk and people whose first language isn’t English – give us a break!!! As for pronunciations, the list is endless! I always think, if it looks like another word, it should sound like another word, but back to ‘Slough’ (I know it’s a place name, but…) – if I knew that was pronounced like ‘cow’, I’d look at words like ‘tough’ and ‘rough’ and think they were pronounced  the same way too! Then that would mean ‘rough’ would be ‘row’ as in an argument, but what about ‘row’ which is what I do in a boat??? All I can say is, good luck to anyone trying to learn English!

My crew at the olympic lake

Just before I leave pronunciations and spellings, I have a confession to make – when I started writing for my job three years ago, I was hopeless! I’m still not great now, but at least I know the difference between there, their and they’re, I know where to put an apostrophe (most of the time), and I know that when you’re coming last in a race you’re a loser, not ‘looser’ as I’ve seen it written so many times. Now there’s a lot of grammar snobbery when it comes to writing, and I guess it’s justified really. A writer should know how to write, just as a session musician should know how to read music. If one of those musicians they get for the radio 1 live lounge turned up one day and kept hitting bum notes all the way through the song, you’d kind of question his ability to play or read music and they probably wouldn’t ask him back. Now that’s not to say he or she isn’t an unbelievable musician that can improvise and come up with some of the most glorious riffs or melodies ever heard, but I guess that takes us back to the whole ‘creative’ versus ‘academic’ argument. Now I know there should be no separation, and yes the two should work in perfect harmony, but for me it doesn’t always work. Stick with me on this and I’ll try to explain…just quickly though. The point I want to make is that I never had that level of snobbery some writers do due to struggles I’ve had with writing. I’m not sure why I struggled
so much…I worked fairly hard throughout my school career, I got fairly good grades at GCSE, but still I was lacking some of the basic knowledge in grammar and spelling. Not good for someone who wants to be a writer! Now, with a bit of hard work and practice, I think I’m doing a lot better now than I was 3 years ago. How did I improve? Well writing and reading everyday does help, being corrected at work by the grammar queen I used to work with was another big help, and I actually used to do little exercises and follow tutorials on the BBC Bitesize website. It may sound like I’m taking the piss, but I really did sit and read through kiddies ‘learning pages, which actually really helped! If you think you need to brush up on your English, I’d certainly recommend them. I can’t believe I’m advertising BBC Bitesize pages to aspiring writers!!! I guess I’d rather be honest with you about where I’ve come from, rather than be some arrogant twat that thinks he knows it all – because I definitely DON’T know it all, and hopefully you don’t think I’m an arrogant twat.

OK, so now for the hard part – writing a screenplay. But is it? Is it really? Yes it is bloody hard to write a feature length screenplay that really works and is good – in my opinion, I haven’t managed it yet. I’m getting there, but I’m realistic about the quality of my work. However, formatting a screenplay is another matter – it’s a bloody doddle! I’m not being funny, but I think most writers are fairly computer savvy these days, so really there’s no excuse for not being able to format a script properly. I’m all for keeping things ‘old skool’ (I still wear high tops and ride a bike from the 80s), so I’d be happy if we all went back to using ink and quill, or the good old typewriter, but if the resources are there to make things easier – why not bloody use them?  Here’s a tip, if you want to know how to format a screenplay, don’t go out and buy any books, don’t spend hundreds of pounds on intense weekend courses, just look online – it’s all there, and it’s all free! One place you should look is here… http://www.bang2write.com/ it’s a great resource for this sort of thing, and author Lucy V writes a great blog dealing with lots of interesting screenwriting issues. Secondly, google ‘Celtx’– it’s a free screenwriting programme that basically does everything for you. Obviously there are other screenwriting programmes (Final Draft being the industry favourite), but essentially, if you set the programme up properly, you won’t ever have a problem with formatting. Unfortunately it won’t write your script for you, or suggest plot points and character arcs, but it will make sure your script looks professional and is formatted correctly. I know this to be the case as my recent entry for the London Screenwriters’ Festival’s ‘Four Days In August’ competition has been shortlisted to the last 12. The competition rules specified the script had to be formatted correctly – I wrote mine with Celtx, and if it’s got this far I’m assuming I ticked all the boxes. So that’s your formatting sorted, but what about grammar and dialogue? Now this is where I get on my soapbox and stand to upset all those academics out there. A SCRIPT IS NOT AN ESSAY. Please guys, don’t take this the wrong way – you still have to be able to spell (spell-check is great for this) and you still have to be able to string a sentence together correctly, AND get your character’s name right! But as far as I’m concerned, a script is a piece of artwork – write it the way you want the reader to visualise it. I remember reading a book called ‘Before I die’ by Jenny Downham – it’s essentially about a 16 year old girl coping with cancer. She has months to live and writes a list of 10 things to do before she dies. It’s a really good read, and hopefully this won’t spoil it for you, but in the last chapter the author writes about her last moments and leaves parts of the pages blank to create a sort of rhythm as you read. I found it really powerful and thought it was a nice touch to help the book come to life. So I thought, why shouldn’t you
do it with a screenplay? If there’s an important sound, image or moment – give it space to come alive! Put it on a separate line. Sod it; put it on a separate PAGE!!! OK, maybe a bit far, but if you have a great story and well constructed narrative, why not go against convention and play a little. I’ve been told so many times that a script is like a blueprint – it is, but that doesn’t mean it has to be so regimented. When I was younger, I loved art. I still do, but back then I’d regularly visit art galleries and studied artists for fun as well as for my school work. The thing I loved to look at more than anything was an artist’s sketchbook. I guess these could also be compared to a blueprint, but for their masterpieces. They were fascinating things, all those sketches and notes, but never did I see a sketchbook that had measurements and formulaic designs for a painting. I guess what I’m trying to say is; be free with your writing and don’t get bogged down by trying to make your script a perfectly formed document that looks like every page is the same. Obviously if it’s well written, it will ‘flow’ and ‘live’ whatever it looks like, and it’s important to have structure and formatting to help with this, but worry about all that after it’s written. To start with, just write! See where it gets you.

OK, before I bore you all to death, the last thing I want to pick up on is dialogue. Everyone seems to struggle with dialogue (myself included), but I have been told (in some cases) that my dialogue isn’t too bad.  I’m no expert, but my advice would be – say it out loud. If it doesn’t sound right and it doesn’t sound natural…change it. I’m forever getting on my creative high-horse at work (not sure what a ‘creative’ high-horse would look like…maybe it would have its hair dyed pink) about the fact that dialogue doesn’t have to be grammatically correct. This is where I got the title for this blog from. The lengths of the radio scripts I write vary, but generally I’m writing 30 seconds of dialogue. So who are the grammar police? That would be the voiceovers. Now I don’t want to generalise here, but some voiceovers really don’t understand that they’re reading dialogue. I’ve heard them question some of my writing saying ‘it’s not grammatically correct’ (which may well be the case), but if they were to read their own ‘grammatically correct’ version, it would make absolutely no sense to the listener and would just sound odd. I’ve tried to find a specific example I remember from a script I wrote last year, but unfortunately I write so many I can’t for the life of me remember what client it was for. Anyway, I was right and the voiceover was wrong – that’s all you need to know. I’ll be the first to hold my hands up when I’ve made a mistake (spelling or grammar), like when I wrote ‘willies’ instead of ‘wellies’ in a country store script, but dialogue has to sound natural. Unfortunately, and I’m more guilty of this than most, we don’t all speak with perfect English rolling off our tongues in perfectly formed sentences – we do say things that don’t really make much sense, but at the same time do, you get me? Innit! Anyway, before I leave dialogue, I have a question for you! What do you do about accents or local dialect? We all know there are certain things people say differently in different regions of the UK, but do you write it in English and let the actor translate? Or do you research the accent and actually write it as it sounds? It’s something that’s always baffled me. We’re told as writers not to tread on peoples toes – don’t include camera angles or directions, they’re for the director or DOP to agree on, don’t put in directions for the actors, they should know how to deliver the lines upon reading the script…but does that extend to not putting in specifics for accents and local dialect? I remember when I was on the set of Channel 4’s Dubplate Drama – I’d been roped in as an extra for this scene (mainly because I had a funny car and the director wanted to get it in the show) and we were meant to be 4 lads from Birmingham driving to a rave, who then curb crawl beside the main character and ask her ‘is this where the party’s at?’ in a brummie accent. Originally it was going to be the guy in the passenger seat (who was from Birmingham) that delivered the line, but for whatever reason the director wanted me to say it. I asked the guy how to deliver the line, but he said – ‘I wouldn’t say that’. All I wanted was for him to say the line in his accent so I could mimic it, but he just kept saying – ‘we wouldn’t say something like that’. I’m not sure whether he was just bitter because I’d been given his line, but I actually wondered if he was right – he’s the actor (although he probably wasn’t trained in acting at all), he’s from Birmingham, and therefore he should know best. Maybe it’s a bit of give and take, but I’d be interested to hear your opinions.

Me trying to look ‘ghetto’

So now I wait patiently to see if my script goes any further in the London Screenwriters’ Festival competition – if it doesn’t, I’m already very happy I made it through to the last 12. Who knows, I might just make it anyway. For those of you who haven’t already got your tickets to attend the London Screenwriter’s Festival, I’ve heard it’s a fantastic weekend and I’ll be there for the duration – maybe see you there?

Until next time…

PEACE x

I predict a RIOT

Posted: September 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

It was never my intention to use this blog to make political statements, or to express my political views, but I’m an aspiring writer – that’s what writers do…isn’t it? If you’re studying screenwriting, at some stage you’ll be told you have to ‘find your voice’. I always took that to mean you have to inject your scripts with a dose of your own personality, views and themes that mean something to you. Well I hope that’s what it means; otherwise I’m doing something wrong. So, the themes you choose to explore, characters you develop and scenarios you create will inevitably be influenced by your experiences, beliefs and political stance – right? Obviously people write for different reasons – some to entertain, and others write specifically to make a comment on society. In my opinion, a good writer is one that can do both…that’s my goal anyway. So when something happens within our society, whether it’s a terrorist attack, rioting or some other major event, people want to comment on it. I guess the media is our main source of information for such events, or at least it used to be, but now with the rapid growth and popular use of social networking sites to share information and express opinions, it’s kind of opened the flood gates. Now EVERYONE can put their opinion out into the world for all to see. Is this a good thing? Well I believe it’s always important to listen to other people’s views, even if you do think they’re a complete load of bullshit. What I’m more interested in is trying to understand where their views and opinions come from. Maybe it’s the researcher in me, but I think that’s the key to solving some of the problems we have in our society. If we can learn where people’s views, passions, issues and general outlooks come from, it might help us to understand where they get their motivation to do certain things. To give this some context, I thought I’d discuss the recent riots across England.
The riots. *Disclaimer* I don’t condone violence or looting. The reason I want to make that clear is because I’m not one of these people that believes everyone involved in the riots should’ve be shot. Don’t get me wrong, the riots were bad. They were wrong, they were unjust, and they were upsetting. But were they really without any political motivation? Was it really just a bunch of well-off kids turned opportunist thieves stealing to appease their greed? Did they really have no point to make? My sister is a London Fire-fighter and was at the first riot in Tottenham when the trouble started. She said it was like being in a film. She had to wear riot gear to protect her from missiles and attacks, and I was extremely concerned for her safety. I’m sure I would have been overwhelmed with anger towards any individual that might have hurt her, but still I wanted to understand why this was happening. I had this nagging feeling that the riots were happening for a reason, but no one wanted to face up to that fact. As far as I could make out, there were a number of issues that caused the riots to start and then spread. The way I see it is that you can divide the rioters into three main categories…

Type 1 – the ‘pissed off at the police’ rioter.

I have to say, as much as I understand the police have an extremely difficult job to do and are themselves frustrated by things such as ‘political correctness’, I’ve had a few dealings with the police (mainly as a victim) and they’ve pissed me off too! I’m not saying I want to hurl bottles at their heads, or that every police officer is the same, but I really do sympathise with those young people in London that are constantly badgered by the police for doing absolutely nothing wrong. I was working as an assistant director for a channel 4 show where we were filming on a North London estate. During the filming a gang turned up to confront some of the extras we had on set, and a gun was pulled. Fortunately the gun wasn’t fired, but I can tell you it was an extremely scary and volatile situation. The police were called immediately, but it wasn’t until 20 minutes after the incident that two officers turned up. They literally took the piss! As the only eye witness that wasn’t an extra and who was actually working for the production company, I was the one to give an account of what had happened. Once I had gone through the events, the officers proceeded to ask me a series of quite ridiculous questions in the most condescending manner. I was livid. One of the questions was ‘what colour eyes did he have’, after I’d already explained the guy had a hood up and scarf around his mouth. But the question that really did it for me was – ‘do you know what a gun looks like?’ I just wanted to tell them to ‘fuck off’. I know I haven’t lived in London for a few years now, and things are a lot different by the coast, but have things really got that bad that the police don’t even care about people carrying guns anymore? And even so – what sort of impression does that give me? I have to say I have a number of stories like that, and these experiences really have made me lose all faith in the police service. I don’t doubt there are plenty of good officers and many people who have had good experiences, but unfortunately I haven’t. All it makes me think is, if I’ve been treated badly as a victim, how have certain people been treated as potential suspects? There are obviously a lot of problems in London, but the police have to understand that when things come out in the media like the death of an innocent man (Jean Charles de Menezes), or the assault of a woman found asleep in her car (Pamela Somerville), there comes a point when people say ‘enough is enough’. I tweeted this link literally days before the riots started (obviously I’m a psychic genius), but seriously – this is not a new issue, this is something that’s been simmering away for a long time.

Whether you believe the shooting of Mark Duggan was justified or not, the man was a father of four and belonged to a community where he was well known. They’d obviously had enough. If the police say they find it difficult to police for whatever reason, let’s find out why and deal with those issues. The police need to do a lot to regain the respect they once had, and they need to do even more to regain my respect.

Type 2 –the ‘pissed off at society and the government’ rioter.

I don’t care what anyone says, these rioters existed. I heard so many news reports with people saying ‘we have to be careful not to turn this into something political’. Oh right, I see…let’s not turn it into anything political otherwise we might have to actually comment on it and face up to the fact that we have some major problems in this country. There are people that feel let down by this current government. They feel lost and let down by society. I’m fortunate to have a nice flat, a good job and enough money to get by each month, so it would be easy for me to sit on my high horse and say – ‘well they’re not doing anything to help themselves’, or ‘there are plenty of jobs out there’ or any other completely ignorant comment that allows me to feel safe in the knowledge that these people are just ‘bad’ and I don’t have to give them a second thought. The  fact is, there are a huge number of people that are now worse-off due to decisions the government has made…we can’t just keep ignoring them.

 

 

 

 

 

Type 3 – the ‘I don’t give a fuck about anything and I want a free TV’ rioter.

Yes there were people out there that I’m sure were ‘bad’ people who literally used the riots as an excuse to make a quick buck off of a stolen TV. So, should we shoot them like a lot of people on facebook were saying? OK, let’s shoot them…but let’s think about this logically. What are we shooting them for? Theft? OK, if it’s theft, we now have to shoot every thief in our society. Oh wait a minute, doesn’t that mean we then have to shoot all of those politicians who were caught stealing off the tax payer? Whilst we’re at it, we better shoot those wankers…oops! I mean bankers. Maybe they steal legally, but who likes bankers? So that’s that sorted. Unless…just an idea…why don’t we try and understand why we have people in our society that think it’s OK to steal? To loot? To riot? What has happened in their lives that have made them the way they are? I’m sorry, but when you have a society with a government that are found to be stealing (and you can dress it up however you like – it’s still theft), what chance have we got? Way to go with setting a good example guys.

So that’s what I think, and I guess everyone’s going to be calling me a ‘crazy liberal’, or a ‘hippy’ or something to make it seem like the idea of trying to better our society by helping and understanding people is just some unrealistic fantasy. I purposely didn’t write any comments on any social networking sites at the time of the riots simply because I knew what they’d be met with. A couple of my friends put comments about the way some young people in London are treated and how certain groups might feel frustrated, but they were bombarded with abuse. Unfortunately I have a number of people on my facebook that would respond to such comments with the same ignorance, so I thought I’d save myself the onslaught. I guess I feel a little apprehensive about putting this blog out, but as well as giving my thoughts on this particular subject; I really want to think about how it’s relevant to screenwriting. As I said before, everyone now has the opportunity to express their views to a fairly wide audience. So I guess the goal of a writer/screenwriter is to reach the widest audience possible. Rather than write a blog, I could make a film that might include some comment on this subject, or a related subject, that tackles issues I’ve outlined in this blog. I don’t think it’s a matter of trying to influence people to think the way you do, or to change their views in an instant, but I believe it’s important to make them think. There are films I’ve watched that have really made me think, and I want to make films that make others question their own views and beliefs. I don’t claim to have the answers to all the problems in the world, but I like to think I’ve been brought up to maintain a set of morals and values that make me think about those individuals who are worse off than me. It’s easy to turn your back on people or issues that don’t directly affect you, or make comments and pass judgment on things you don’t fully understand, but perhaps it’s time we faced up to those problems we so readily ignore. Just like all the reports I read about communities coming together to protect their homes and clean up after the riots, why don’t we all come together to listen to these individuals and find out why they feel so frustrated and detached from their own communities that they feel the only option they have left is to destroy them.

 
So I’ve put my views across in black and white, but maybe I’ll go further and feed them into my scripts somewhere. I always remember what our lecturer Jon used to say to us – as a writer, you have to be responsible for what you’re putting out into the world. What you write can influence people in a good or bad way. I hope what I’ve written in this blog will make you think, just for a second, that maybe we should start looking at how we can avoid another disaster like the recent riots. Then, once that thought has passed, we can go back to building more prisons and locking up thousands of people that were involved without ever thinking about why we’ve let things get so bad. I know what I’m going to do – I’m going to write a film.