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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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.

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.

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.

2017

Hi everyone. It’s been a while since my last update and the reason for that is honestly because since I finished last semester, I’ve been all ‘creativitied’ out. My writing has taken a little bit of a hit and so progress on just about everything has been slow since it’s an integral part of my practice. So today, I’m going to talk about future projects, exciting things and what’s inspiring me.

So the first thing I’d like to bring up is the trailer for Jim Carrey’s ‘I’m Dying Up Here‘ because, as you all know, I’m a big big fan of Sebastian Stan. I know he’s only going to be in the first episode, however, he completely owns the trailer. The series premieres in June and focuses on the Los Angeles comedy scene in the 1970’s. I’m willing to bet, even just by the trailer, that is is going to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing TV shows of the year. Check out the trailer here. It definitely seems to be the kind of content I’d like to take cues from in my work.

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Speaking of my work, I had my first day back at university yesterday. The class was mostly to clarify what we’re aiming to do for our masters projects. I’m very pleased to say that I’m going to be making another film – this time a mockumentary – called ‘The West-End Cultists‘. The film utilises my experience in journalism to explore the relationship between the press, the public and politics and offers a response to the press’ complicity in the rise of Neoliberalism in a funny way. I’ve been working on the script as much as I can recently in an attempt to get a head start, but again, writer’s block has gotten in the way. Nevertheless, I’m working my way out of that and I’m feeling incredibly inspired to get the project underway.

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It’s awards season in the film industry, and so it’d be completely wrong for me to ignore my film of the moment. Last night, I saw ‘La La Land‘. Finally. Now, I’m always sceptical of these over-hyped, ‘boy-meets-girl’, Oscar-baiting offerings. But this film completely dispelled all of that feeling. Right from the very beginning, I was sucked into the film’s toe-tapping, feel-good vibe and became wholeheartedly invested in the journeys of the film’s main characters, jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), and Mia (Emma Stone) an actress. As a creative struggling to actually realise my own dreams, the film affected me in quite a profound way. It restored my faith and optimism in my craft at a time when I’ve been unsure about my ability to make good on certain projects. One of them being my next film, ‘Mae‘, which I’ve been stalling; half from lack of motivation, half from fear that the final product might not be what I envisioned in my mind. It’s a huge parallel to the journey Mia and Sebastian take in the film. But perhaps in a more practical sense, the film’s cinematography provided a really nice example of what I’d like to achieve with ‘Mae‘. Just because I want the project to have a vintage feel to it, it doesn’t mean my film has to employ dull colour palettes or have my cast donning victory rolls and petticoats and ‘La La Land‘ hammered that notion home for me. In short, ‘La La Land‘, is an absolute must-see. I hope it does well at the Academy Awards (along with ‘Miss Sloane‘, ‘Captain America: Civil War‘, ‘Deadpool‘, and ‘Silence‘.)

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I promise I’ll update m0re often as I go through the process of putting together each of my projects for this semester. Keep your eyes peeled!