Modern Masters Formula

Hi everyone! It’s been a while since my last update. I had the intention of using this blog over the summer months to spew all my thoughts about film and television into one convenient internet baggie. It didn’t happen. Life gets in the way. This blog works best when I use it to store all my musings about academia.  It’s rare for this blog to receive an update so early in the semester (we’re, what, three days in now?) but I have the fear, so this is me trying to kid myself that I’m making meaningful in-roads into actually doing my masters project. I have three pages of a script, FYI.

I was so wrong, by the way. So very, very wrong.

Coming from a journalism background, and falling down so many social sciences rabbit holes in every research project I’ve had a hand in, it was instinctive to take a similar approach to my masters project. Carrying out a study into audience reactions towards shows of a political nature by way of creating my own web series of a similar nature was my initial idea. The practice was going to yield findings. I was comfortable with that. But it’s not what’s required of me in this case and now I’m struggling with the idea that this is more a journey of self discovery into my own creative practices than a study of how people react, behave and perceive what I do. I’ve mentioned this before, but ‘practice as research’ is an incredibly difficult thing to wrap your head around, especially when you’re used to looking at what makes other people tick. It’s also disheartening that all these objectives I had been milling over are now moot and I need to go back to the drawing board at this late stage.

I think my main stumbling block is my confidence, or lack thereof, in my own practice, since a large swathe of my success in this MA hinges on technical ability. I’ve been writing pretty much since I fell out the womb and, with a journalism degree, I should be all right at stringing sentences together. But I’ve only been dabbling in screenwriting for less than a year. Nonetheless, I know that that is where my comfort zone is. I know that, as a creative, I am a writer. A screenwriter, hopefully. But the thing is, I need to be able to produce something that is of the standard that it could be positively received by industry as well as academia. If I’m being frank, I’m not sure I’m at that level yet.

There’s also this idea in my mind that by even attempting a vein of research such as PAR, I’m shooting myself in the foot. I don’t see my future research interests being in that area and I feel like dedicating all this time to PAR is going to kill my chances of being taken seriously when it comes to attempting to get my PhD off the ground, where I’d be looking to revert back to research methods I’m more comfortable with. Is what I’m doing now going to be credible when I do that? Not only that, but what if this masters project doesn’t open up any doors for me as a screenwriter? Am I royally fucking myself over both professionally and academically?

Nevertheless, I have spent a chunk of my summer attempting to engage with the practice I’m developing. Not only am I still milling over Douglas’ invaluable guide to creating a series geared towards what the industry needs right now, I’m immersing myself in Yorke’s enthralling explanation of why we tell stories in his book ‘Into The Woods‘. I won’t say too much at the moment about the book because I do plan to write a review of it when I eventually reach its end. However, I will say that it has changed my perspective on the practice of screenwriting and, indeed, telling stories and consuming media. I have the tendency to overthink everything and, gasp, refer back to Vogler like it was the bible. Yorke presents a compelling argument for me to try new things in my writing, particularly disregarding structure (if it’s a story worth telling, then surely structure is intrinsic in its narrative?) and, in contrast, dabbling with five acts instead of three. So the next steps for me in writing my episode scripts for ‘The West End Cultists‘ is to perhaps consciously employ these aspects throughout my drafts and to compare the differences and similarities in terms of how the story flows.

Breaking away from theory, I’m glad I had the foresight in my proposal to mention shows I would like to return to and look at for inspiration. I had earmarked ‘Community,’ ‘Parks and Recreation,’ ‘The West Wing,’ and ‘The Newsroom.‘ Now, staring down the barrel of an average of five seasons, I’m not sure how feasible it is to be able to watch each of these in their entirety, but I’m going to give it a shot. I will probably fail miserably. But I feel like the first two should bear insights into the sitcom format (with the addition ‘Parks and Rec.’ bearing insight into the ‘mockumentary’ style that I’m aiming for), while the latter two deal more with thematics of the show. But I also want to pinpoint another show.

I was so miffed when I found out that season seven of American Horror Story was going to deal with political cults (I’m certain I had the idea first), but, after viewing the first episode, I firmly believe that this season might just offer me some inspiration and a point of comparison. I’m looking forward to seeing where Ryan Murphy takes it, especially since it draws from the election of Donald Trump and the impact that seems to be having on American society, albeit in a more dramatic form.

For me, it’s a no-brainer to follow news and current affairs. It was expected of me during my journalism degree and it’s stuck, allowing for me to take snippets of it and apply it to ‘The West End Cultists.’ I’m hoping that, now I’m rethinking my research objectives, this might be something I can address, linking my everyday life with the notion of a more grounded approach to storytelling and my own creative practice. I never stop being a writer, even if I’m not physically writing, because I’m constantly gathering experience and information to pour into my scripts. Who knows? There might be some academic jargon to solidify my view. I might get lucky with this one.

In fact, even writing blog posts, such as this, have become something that I take for granted so much that I’m doubtful of their value in my journey towards completing this body of research. Maybe it’s because it’s always been an expectation of every academic piece of work I’ve ever turned in, to have something there, documenting, contextualising, that I see it more as a requirement, or a chore, than something that could yield any groundbreaking insight into my own creative process.

That doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to writing down every creative meta-musing I have over the next few months. I love a good journal entry. I love illegible notes in so many notebooks that I need to dig through the pile for hours to find them again. But I am apprehensive. Less about the academic approach and more about the practice. From getting into the right frame of mind to write a compelling and interesting script after putting in a shift at work where I’ve used minimal brain power, I’m covered in burger grease and I just want to cry, to overcoming my fear of actually filming things (my short films suck, I’m a words and pictures kind of girl, that’s my thing). More than that, though, I’m apprehensive of how I’m going to combine practice and research, since, up until very recently, the two always existed as separate entities in my studies. It’s going to be an interesting few months.

To quote Mason Verger from ‘Hannibal‘, “I am enchanted, and terrified.”

 

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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.

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.