Sad Stories, Real Life and Meta Reflective Jargon…

Here it is, the last in this grand, self-indulgent saga of me explaining how my mind works when I try to write things that are (I hope) in some way, likeable to someone. I will admit, that on the eve of my final deadline before summer, I’m a little bit contemplative about what the future holds and whether, ultimately, embarking on an MA was the right decision, much in the same way as I did a year ago when I was wrapping up my journalism degree. But I’ll get on to why I’m feeling that way towards the end of this post.

In this edition, I’m going to be revisiting a project I’ve previously talked about – ‘Give My Ashes To The Coast‘ – and talking about the final product and how it’s evolved from the idea I posted way, way back in February. After that, I’m going to be addressing how writing about what I know has helped in my evolution as a writer. And finally, I’m going to be offering up some thoughts on blogging as a form of reflection on my creative practice in contrast to other methods. I hope I don’t bore you all to death in the process because I have a feeling this might be a rather lengthy entry.

So! First and foremost, I’m really stoked about ‘Give My Ashes To The Coast‘. It’s been a wonderful journey, writing this particular piece of work because, actually, it’s the first remotely sad thing I’ve ever written. Up until now, I’ve always written rather dark, macabre pieces of work that almost parody the idea of death and use humour to cover up the much more sinister undertones of my work. It’s kind of a reflection of how I am as a person; constantly using a smile, a laugh and sarcastic humour as a coping mechanism for my own problems because I’m far too much of a coward to tell anyone or to face them head on. Writing something that is so explicitly sad and having small parts of my own outlook on the world as the main driver for the project has been an unexpectedly therapeutic aspect of undertaking it. Not only that but that old writing adage – ‘write what you know‘ – has undoubtedly added to the emotional impact of the work as a whole.

But it isn’t just me and my own experiences. I had previously mentioned that the work is inspired by Deaf Havana’s latest album ‘All These Countless Nights‘ and the clear narrative that I was able to pick up from that particular work. When I embarked on the project, I felt like simply basing a screenplay on an album was an incredibly superficial way to go about creating something that I had already attached so much meaning to, and so thought it was necessary to go back and tease out some of the underlying issues behind the piece of work I wanted to create.

I had always been aware of the frank way in which musicians such as Deaf Havana had addressed the real life struggles musicians face; whether it be financially or mentally. In fact, the band address this in a recent interview where they talk about the amount of debt they managed to accrue while touring in support of their third album, ‘Old Souls‘ and the pressure that managed to put on the band. As someone who wrote extensively about the issue of musicians’ financial struggles, I was able to call upon one particular example from Music Producer, Count Eldridge’s documentary, ‘Unsound‘, where he offers the shocking statistic that only 1% of musicians can sustain themselves financially in the digital age. This is just one of the issues that my screenplay addresses in some way.

The second main issue my screenplay addresses is the emotional strain that musicians face. As I’ve previously mentioned, Deaf Havana themselves, along with musicians such as Frank Turner and even Bruce Springsteen touch on this in their work.

The idea for the main protagonist in my screenplay to actually experience the height of his own struggles after what looks to be his band’s final tour actually came from Bruce Springsteen’s recent autobiography, ‘Born To Run‘ where he talks about his own struggles with depression:

It also remains congruent with research that indicates that 68.5 percent of musicians believed they had experienced depression, while 71.1 percent believed they had experienced anxiety and panic attacks, compared to the 19 percent of people in the UK aged 16 or older who had said they had experienced anxiety or depression (Gross & Musgrave, 2016).

Ultimately, though, because I wanted to write something that doesn’t end well for my main protagonist, I wanted to kill him off at the end after he succumbs to his own demons. There’s even a nod to the infamous ’27 Club’ in there too. Everyone loves a rock star death, really, don’t they?

So going forward with these projects that I’ve been working on, I am planning on continuing with ‘Fangirls‘. It’s an excellent opportunity to develop my severely lacking filmmaking skills and to create more short episode scripts to showcase my understanding of how to actually carry through an entire story. Myself and my team are going to begin filming this over the summer and I’m hoping to have the first episode, ‘#SpiderSquad‘ online in July and continuing on a weekly basis after that for the other four episodes. As previously mentioned, the project aims to serve as a primer for my MA project, ‘The West End Cultists,’ in the sense that all the kinks with my film making and editing skills should be ironed out when the production of ‘Fangirls,‘ is complete, allowing me to create a better end product. With ‘Graves’ Girl‘, I feel like the project needs further work and development. It’s pitched as a short film right now, but it does have the potential to be extended to feature length. Some of the characters are gravely underdeveloped and certain minor aspects of the story can be teased out more. The main aspects where the project does shine is that it has served the purpose of personal development in the sense that I was able to collaborate with another writer on it and it’ll definitely go in my portfolio as is for the time being. Similarly, ‘Give My Ashes To The Coast‘, is going to be a mainstay in my portfolio. I feel like the quality of my writing on this project is by far the strongest and it tells a complete, satisfying project with the length that it’s at right now. It also satisfies the requirements of a long short by The Academy’s definition, so there is no need to extend the project over the course of the summer. Not that I’m planning on making a kick ass movie out of this and taking The Oscars by storm next year, as much as I’d like to. Last, but by no means least, I’ll be continuing ‘The Berlin Bug‘. It’s always good to have a back up and I’m a trained journalist, so a travel blog, complete with eye catching images, is a great way to update my existing journalism portfolio. This particular project has prompted me to go back to some of my old music photography and give it an editing update and to think of interesting articles to keep the project alive by delving into my own experience of traveling (that same experience that inspired ‘Fangirls‘).

I just want to round off this blog post by talking about the process of documenting my creative output on blogs. I was reading back through my posts over the course of  my MA, even dating back to the tail end of my journalism degree and I had found that I had, pretty much inadvertently, managed to maintain an interesting and insightful recollection of my creative process and the influences behind my projects. It also made me realise how my goals have changed, where I began to find my own ‘niche’ during my MA and the mindset I’ve been in all this time.

At first, when the notion of ‘documenting your practice’ was thrown at me at the beginning of my MA, I kind of balked at the idea. I didn’t see the merit of it, contrary to what a plethora of academics may have written about it. I mean, I just sit down and I write things. Or when I have to film, I grab a camera and I do it. I don’t attach any meaning to things like that while I do it and I’m not the type of person to sit and actually ponder that. But, for the purposes of getting through certain classes, I had to find a way to document my practice. Blogging was always going to be the thing I gravitated towards because I’ve unknowingly been documenting my practice all along! I hadn’t realised that until last night.

I feel like utilising blogs to actually contextualise and document my output has been such an easy, insightful and even enjoyable thing for me to do, in comparison to penning an entire essay at the last kick or having to actually talk about my work in front of actual people (it goes beyond introversion; public speaking is just a plain fear of mine). Perhaps it’s because I get to make use of a rich array of resources such as video content and external hyperlinks that I wouldn’t think to use in an essay. Or it may even be in the fact that I get to write in a more informal sense, safe in the knowledge that it actually might make sense (compared to verbally explaining things, which I just plain suck at). But honestly, it’s because I’m a writer. I have a style that doesn’t translate well into the crisp white expanse of a blank word document destined for Turnitin, and with blogs, I get to use that to my advantage.

In fact, I can pinpoint when I realised that no, I don’t want to make music documentaries (which was my main reason for applying for this particular course), I’m gonna make films instead. I know when I realised that I categorically sucked at making films and that my mum had been right along – I’m a damn good writer. And I’m fairly certain I’m going to look back on this post, a few months down the line, and remember exactly when I decided to blog about my experiences more, because it helps. So yes, documenting your practice is important.

Mic drop.

Collaboration, Music and the 1970’s

So today, I’m going to be rabbiting on about a screenplay I’ve been working on recently and all of the wonderful things that are helping to bring this particular piece of work to fruition. It’s called ‘Graves’ Girl‘ and it’s probably the most badass piece of work I’m writing out of the iconic trio of scripts I’m submitting this semester. But I’m just gonna give you a short synopsis of it first:

“Set in the 1970’s Marsha Gold, in her desperation, heads to one of new york’s most notorious strip clubs in search of a job, and quickly falls in love with her boss, Stanley Graves, an ex hitman. But all is not as it seems as remnants of his past come back to haunt him, namely his assassination of a high standing politician, Russo Salvatore, who swore to close all the illegal clubs in the city back in the 1960’s. Now, the politician’s son Salvatore Jr. is back for revenge and our protagonist is forced to adapt to the chaos, or be swallowed by it.”

Sounds great, right?

The first thing I’m going to tell you about this project is that it’s the first time I’ve shared writing duties before. Writing, for me, is such a personal thing. It’s something I do on my own. And, as someone who, outwardly, manifests themselves as a huge introvert, and inwardly has a mind that just won’t shut up, I tend to find that I get my best (and quickest) work done when I’m on my own. So working with someone else on a project was never on my radar.

Until it had to be.

Remember that book I talked about in my last post? The one by Pamela Douglas? Yeah, I’m mentioning that again. According to Douglas, I’m gonna have to get good at writing with other people and sharing my ideas with them, because it’s part and parcel of writing for television. So, I’m considering this screenplay to be me dipping my little toe into the dark and terrifying depths of collaboration.

It throws up so many issues for me that it’s hard to figure out where to begin. At times, during the writing process, I feel like I’m basically bombarding my co-writer, Jamie-Louise, with snippets from my dark and twisted mind (like a super villain, kinda). I’m finding it hard to strike the right balance in terms of how much I should be contributing, how much I should be communicating, how much of that bombarding I can get away with without sickening my writing partner off the project entirely. Because other people have lives too, you know? But I like a fast pace to any workflow and, no matter who I find myself working with, in any capacity, I feel like things become more considered and sometimes static.

I don’t know if this is me latching on to something that excuses my overthinking of all these interactions, but, according to the Myers-Briggs personality type model, I’m an ISFP. And lookie here:

Freedom of expression is often ISFPs’ top priority. Anything that interferes with that, like traditions and hard rules, creates a sense of oppression for ISFP personalities. This can make more rigidly structured academics and work a challenge.” – 16 Personalities

That feeling of perhaps having to censor myself a little bit may just be the kicker here. Maybe we need more structure. Maybe more communication on my end. Maybe the fear of overwhelming someone else stems from me and that’s why the project is taking more time to come to fruition. Who knows?

I’ve also realised that different people have vastly different styles of writing and it’s helped me to better understand where I really shine as a writer. For example, Jamie-Louise is great at dealing with emotions and exploring the relationships and reactions of characters. I’m all about action scenes and dropping little pop culture easter eggs in there. It’s great because sometimes, in everyday life, I feel like a bit of a cold, emotionless robot, and that sometimes bleeds its way into my writing, so it’s helpful in having someone else to balance that out to give the script some emotional depth.

Ultimately, collaboration isn’t the most natural way for me to write, but I realise that this is something I’m going to have to master. I can’t just see all my works as my babies in the future and I can’t be too precious about them being ‘all me’ as it were. That’s never gonna make for great television, is it?

But anyway, I can’t speak for Jamie-Louise, but I’ve been having an absolute blast researching the 70’s and getting into the headspace of being able to write that time period.

Influence from that era is bleeding into so many aspects of pop culture today from fashion, to film, television to music. It’s everywhere.

One of the things that inspired the idea of this screenplay being centred on a club is an upcoming show called ‘I’m Dying Up Here‘. Produced by Jim Carrey, the show centres on various clubs and characters from the Los Angeles comedy scene in the 1970’s. From the trailers they’ve posted, the characters seem to be bonded together as a family.

I’ve spoken about the show more than a few times on this blog and there’s a number of aspects drawing me in here. First and foremost, the cast is stellar, with Melissa Leo, Clark Duke and Sebastian Stan all gracing our screens. Secondly, the grading on those trailers is blowing my mind; completely in keeping with the decade. And third… Jim Carrey! What’s not to love? Check out the trailer below:

Another piece of media that I was really taken with over the course of my research was Ben Wheatley’s ‘Free Fire‘ which was produced by Martin Scorsese. The film itself doesn’t really inform any aspects of the plot of ‘Graves’ Girl‘ but it did prove one thing: your plot doesn’t have to be overly complicated for your film to get its point across. The whole film takes place in a damn warehouse and yet, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen when I saw it. Oh and thanks to this film, I now know that you can survive for a looooooong time looking like a human Swiss cheese with all them bullet holes.

Let’s be real here, it wouldn’t be a post of my blog if I didn’t gush about who I’m listening to during the writing process.

As you would expect, Brian Fallon and Ryan Adams are staples on my playlist for this project. It’s all those twangy, 70’s guitar sounds that do it. Surprisingly enough, Lana Del Rey features heavily too. It’s not so much her actual sound that inspires the writing; it’s more in her lyrics that heavily document power imbalances in relationships, paralleling the relationship of Marsha and Stanley in this screenplay. I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t blaring a fair amount of Rolling Stones, Derek and the Dominos, and Blondie. It’s been one heck of a time for listening to great music.

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But there’s one interesting by-product of that. I can’t actually listen to music while I write anymore. I don’t know the science or the psycho-babble to explain this, but I somehow end up typing the lyrics to whichever song I’m listening to, instead of some kick-ass dialogue. Weird.

But anyway. ‘Graves’ Girls‘. Woo.

Travel Blogging, Fangirls and The Big M.A

This is gonna be one heck of a long-ass blog and for that I do apologise, but needs must! Today I’m going to be talking about everything you see there in the title of this post.

Remember when I said, on this very blog, that I was going to abandon journalism as soon as I got that nice bit of paper telling me I’d wasted four years of my life on something I hated? I lied (gasp). I know, terrible, but hear me out, I promise it serves a purpose. Well, a few, actually.

I recently began working on a travel blog called ‘The Berlin Bug‘ with some of my colleagues from my MA programme, documenting our time in Berlin and supplementing it with some newfound photojournalism skills. Not only had I always wanted to create a travel blog (it’s one of my biggest passions, but you all already knew that, right?) but I’ve been wanting to up my photography game for long enough (hooray for skills development). Professionally, it’s great. Re-engaging with those existing journalistic skills will, I’m sure, prove useful when the inevitable happens and I don’t get filthy rich off the back of a six-figure pay check for a script I wrote for Marvel. It’s a necessity. It updates my existing portfolio of music journalism that’s gathering a thick layer of year-old dust and completely diversifies that.

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More than that, though, it provides an opportunity for reflection. I’m a writer who is hugely sensitive to location. I get inspired by seeing new things and being in interesting places. It even goes right to the action of writing; I find it painfully difficult to write anywhere that isn’t in the dead of night at my kitchen table. But I digress. By documenting and writing about the interesting places I’ve been, I hope that this can bring a richness to the locations in my screenplays by allowing me to cast my mind back to more interesting surroundings when writers’ block hits me.

So yeah, journalism ain’t so bad. In fact, it’s proving to be useful as I sashay (or rather wander aimlessly) into writing television scripts. See, in screenplays the action is used for expositions. But in television, dialogue is far more important, or so I’m told (I’ve latched on to Pamela Douglas’ ‘Writing The Television Drama Series’ and I can’t let go). As a journalist, you spend so much time manipulating quotes and selecting the best words; especially in broadcast journalism. So I fancy myself as more of a television writer. I’m willing to bet on that.

Which is why one of my main projects this semester is, you guessed it, developing a television series!

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‘Fangirls’ is a five-part web series that follows a group of girls who sell their possessions to cobble together the money to follow their idol, Dennis ‘Spider’ Dawson, on his first tour. One-by-one, each of the girls go missing until just one remains, Madeline Morrison.

The idea behind the series came from my own experiences of traveling around to see bands when I was younger, and, while I had an incredible time (to the detriment of my studies), there is much to be said about the mindset of young women and the rockstars they idolise. It’s a very one-sided relationship with a huge power imbalance that I’m essentially highlighting the absurdity of in a completely absurd manner. However, there is a fine line here; sometimes, during the writing of the series, I feel like I’m caricaturing the very scene that I once felt so much comfort in during my late teens. But I do feel that, as an adult, I have the clarity of mind to analyse those happenings and point out what’s wrong with them. Which is what ‘Fangirls’ essentially does.

The plan for the show is to begin filming at the end of May, through summer, with the first episode, ‘Spider Squad’, premiering in mid July.

The whole thing aims to be a primer for my MA project, ‘The West End Cultists’ which I’m starting to film in September. I feel like undertaking ‘Fangirls’, a much smaller scale project in terms of writing, will aid my time management when it comes to writing longer episodes and directing a lengthier pilot off the back of that. It should also throw up some meaningful learning experiences across all aspects of writing and directing that I can take forward into my MA project.

But September’s an entire summer away.

In the mean time, check out our Twitter and Facebook pages, and have a look at some character interviews we shot while blocking out a few scenes last week.

Using The Opportunity To Write

I’ve probably already mentioned this on here before, but the environment I’m in has a huge impact on my ability to sit down and write. What better place to inspire than my favourite city in the world.

It’s inexplicable that I can spend two days in a city I love so much, wandering around and snapping pictures for my work in progress portfolio for another class, and suddenly be so inspired to get to work on the scripts for my masters project: a comedy drama on press and power. But that’s exactly what’s happened. I’m not even going to pretend that this process makes sense, because it doesn’t, but it’s blatant proof that environment is everything in terms of my creative process. Very seldom do I get this excited to write when I’m back home. Even in my ‘spot’ at the kitchen table that I’ve created out of necessity.

As far as the content of my masters project goes, I’m currently sketching out character profiles on each of my main players. The idea is that I’d like two, completely different, female, journalists teaming up to expose the wrongdoings of their local council (‘wrongdoings’ might be a slight understatement). Their editor hates the duo and is in the pocket with some of the prominent figures within the power structure of the council. So he seeks to censor the womens’ efforts to expose this corruption. I want to play on those stereotypes you come across in a newsroom and in politics and to almost caricature them. I feel like it’s coming together nicely.

Whether it’s good or not is another question entirely, but for now, I’ve been relishing the Copenhagen sunshine and getting inspired for other projects in the works. Definitely not looking forward to returning back to normality this evening.

I’ll be detailing my adventures in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Berlin

Hey everyone. Sorry I’ve been god-awful at updating this, this is the first time I’ve really had a moment to write words about my big adventure.

I’m having a blast. Berlin was wonderful. Sure, it’s not my favourite place to have visited, but I’m still glad I went, if only to tick another place off the list. To be somewhere with such a vast and chequered history was deeply inspiring. I guess that’s the main thing I took from Berlin. I particularly loved the area surrounding the Ramones Museum and the East Side Gallery.

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It’s gritty, grimy and full of little surprises. I also visited this very harrowing and profound holocaust memorial which, I’m not going to say it was a highlight given the touchy subject matter, was so moving and will stay with me for a long time.

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Initially, I had planned to utilise my time in Berlin to put together a portfolio of portraiture and interviews with artists. But that quickly went out the window and now I’ve managed to put together a fair collection of street photographs that you can find on my Flickr. The idea is to continue on with this broad theme when my colleagues from Brandenburg travel to Scotland and perhaps put together some kind of blog or product involving the photographs. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

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I also visited Studio Babelsberg yesterday afternoon which was a dream come true. As someone with a passion for film, it completely blew my mind, getting to see where films such as Metropolis and Inglorious Basterds were filmed. Fun fact: they filmed the ‘Operation Kino’ scene in this very hall!

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Right now, I’m in Copenhagen, in desperate need of a nap. It’s been over two years since I last visited this city and I’ve lost my bearings and any trace of Danish I had managed to absorb during my stint at the Copenhagen Post in 2015. But I’m sure it’ll return in the next two days! I can feel the stress practically melting away.

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Anyhow, I’ll be back!

The German Adventure: Brandenburg

Hey everyone, just a quick update to tell you all that I’m alive and currently in beautiful Berlin (dream come true).

Over the last few days, I had the opportunity to head to Brandenburg Technical University to connect up with some of their students to work on creative projects before they do the same in Scotland. I’m pleased to say, it was a fun experience and I’ll be working on photographing and interviewing artists I meet as I go along on my travels.

It’s kind of daunting though, as I’m realising the scale of Berlin. It’s been a dream, like I’ve said, but I just don’t feel like I’m gonna have enough time to see everything I’d like to, as I’m only here until Monday. And that’s already really bumming me out.

Buuuuuut, on the plus side, I’m visiting Studio Babelsberg on Monday!

Anyhow, I’ll keep you posted.

P.S: I’m also heading back to Copenhagen on Monday night.

Give My Ashes To The Coast

It’s a fleeting visit from me tonight. I’m working on a new screenplay. It’s called Give My Ashes To The Coast.

And in case you were wondering, this is the album that’s inspiring this project. I came home from this band’s show on Saturday night so emotional yet invigorated and inspired to write. I wrote until 6AM the next morning. It was a wonderful experience.

It never fails to astound me how other peoples’ creative practices are miles away from my own, and yet, when you pick them apart, you can carry themes or even aesthetics (yes, film aesthetics from music – who’da thunk it?!) over into your own work. I should say that I don’t plan on making this into a film. I feel like I’ve found my comfort zone over the winter break and I firmly believe that it’s – surprise surprise – in writing. It would be lovely though to see it on screen.

This project’s a very personal one to me as it deals with themes that run through my everyday life. The self-doubt, the self-loathing, the feeling that you’re going to amount to nothing because of where you come from, the inability to accept responsibility for your own shortcomings and the expectations people heap on you after you do one good thing. It’s going to be fun to explore.

Not only that, but I tend to shy away from writing anything particularly dramatic or harrowing so it’s going to be a first for me as a writer.

So… yeah.

Listen to the album I linked up there.

You can find a short, provisional, blurb for Give My Ashes To The Coast here.