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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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.

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!

Finished my biggest work to date…

And I’m feeling pretty great about it. I’ve always had an issue with running out of steam when it comes to longer projects (BA dissertation, my final Journalism portfolio for my BA…), so I decided to prove to myself that I could write something of length and stick with it. And, for the most part, the process was pretty painless. In two, eight hour, writing sessions over two nights, I wrote a near feature length  screen adaptation of Ed Brubaker’s ‘The Winter Solder: The Complete Collection‘.

I got the idea from the frustration I felt that there wasn’t any current plans in the MCU for a Winter Soldier film, and that Black Widow had never really had her time to shine (plus I wanted to give Hawkeye some really badass moments). So I decided to write a screenplay of my own, based on the graphic novel and subtly craft it to keep true to the current state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The approach I took to actually writing this came, mostly, from my journalism background. Taking the word count I’m aiming for, and breaking it down into ‘features’ (1,500 word segments). After I’d written one, I’d have a break, go back to my big ‘beat sheet’ (the big sheet in the image above) and look at where I am in my story. Then, I’d make another cup of tea and go at it again. In total, I wrote an act and a half each night – three acts. I found that planning my beat sheet as I read the graphic novel (littering it with SO many post-it notes) helped to keep my story tight, linear and made me think about how I accentuate certain important plot points in my story. I also kept in mind the Russo Brothers’ love of ensemble storytelling and their desire to give each character a satisfying story arc; with that, I made a spreadsheet with my characters on one axis and my beats on the other and filled it in with where each character is emotionally and literally. That just provided me with a point of reference for cutaways from the action. If I have to be critical of the story, though, I’d say that it does lack a strong B-story that runs beneath the whole thing, but when you take into consideration the fact that the source material is largely told from the first-person perspective of Bucky Barnes, the point is kind of moot. But, if I worked on the screenplay a little more, I could definitely get more creative and craft a B-story.

Perhaps one of the biggest aides to my creative process, actually, was having a ‘space’ to work in as well. I’m usually one of those people who just does dribs and drabs in different locations – mostly coffee shops. But we just got a new kitchen table, so I had a surface to spread out all of my materials, and I sat and wrote there. It helped the process, kept me focused and made me work faster (I had a clock facing me, and a kettle behind me). The writing process also helped me to understand when I’m most productive. I’m a raging insomniac, so the whole thing was done from 7pm until 3am. Writing this screenplay was a huge source of accomplishment for me, but also the opportunity I needed to actually learn about how I work and when I do my best work.

One of the biggest challenges I faced with this screenplay was figuring out characters that could work within the wider MCU. Because currently, Marvel don’t have the appropriate rights to the ‘X-Men‘ characters (so no Wolverine) and Jasper Sitwell is, I assume, dead in the MCU. And so I had to supplement. And you know how much I love badass female characters. So I’ve utilised Maria Hill even more than she is in the original work, and written Sharon Carter into the story. I’ve also used Sam Wilson in place of Wolverine. And taken out the whole Daredevil twist. I’ve also changed a lot of names of our Russian operatives, but that was more borne out of finding myself writing – for a brief time – without having the source material in front of me.

Additionally I’ve also cut a lot of the stuff from ‘The Longest Winter‘ and used a much simpler plot point to set up the film, with no mention of Doctor Doom and Latveria.

But perhaps the biggest aspect I had to downplay was the romantic element between Bucky Barnes and Natasha Romanoff, because it just doesn’t sit well in the MCU. There’s been no mention of Bucky training Natasha in the Red Room in the MCU, let alone them having the same extensive history that they do in the comics. Plus, Bucky’s in his nineties in the MCU… it’d be messed up, in my opinion, to have them madly in love with each other. In my screenplay, we kind of see them bond over their shared Soviet past, their search for redemption and their experiences of being brainwashed to operate against the United States. That’s not to say it lacks any emotional ‘drive’ for Bucky; by the point in the screenplay where Natasha is taken, Bucky feels like he’s found another person with shared life experience – much in the same way he feels towards Steve Rogers. She’s one of the only people in The Avengers who actually understands what he’s been through, and so it still packs quite a punch for Bucky.

Perhaps the biggest challenge I encountered when I wrote this was that I wanted to make it ‘work’ in the MCU, but, I have no clue what Marvel are writing for ‘Infinity War‘ and its subsequent movies. And so I had to get a little bit creative with what I hope happens in these other films. In my mind, it would be incredible for Bucky to be placed on this path to redemption in ‘Infinity War‘, perhaps even briefly taking up the Captain America mantle and ‘dying’ in the process, and then going off to operate in the shadows amidst calls for him to face justice for his work as The Winter Soldier. So that’s kind of what I went with, because it sets up Ed Brubaker’s work perfectly.

It was also in my mind about how best to end the screenplay and how best for that ending to reflect the MCU’s seemingly more ‘space-oriented’ future. And so, without giving too much away, we do venture into Ales Kot territory at the end, which could set up future films in a series.

Of course, this isn’t going be a film that’s actually going to get made, but I found it to be an incredibly valuable exercise to go through on my journey to learning to write for the screen, because I’m working with stories and characters that are familiar to me. I’m using what I know about them from the source material and from existing films to craft something that could work right now. That’s a lot safer to me right now, at the beginning of my journey (this is only the second, whole screenplay I’ve ever written), than crafting an entire world of characters and running with it for 10-15,000 words.

 

The Book Club

I’m very pleased to tell you all that my first short, ‘The Book Club‘, is now live and available for your viewing pleasure.

Looking back on the experience, I couldn’t be more proud of the finished product. I really look at this as a learning experience; riding a bike with the stabilisers on to gain confidence as a director and producer, before undertaking more complex works in the new year.

It’s been a great experience, collaborating with Lauren and Megan on this. I have this tendency to want to do everything on my own and as a result, take on too much, so it’s been a real learning experience for me to collaborate with other people. Now, I couldn’t imagine doing something like this on my own if I want to do a good enough job on it.

I’d also like to say a big thank you to Kyle, Lucy, Katie and Carey who all gave up a fair bit of their time to act in the film.

Please check out the film and let me know what you think.

 

The Fallon effect…

Hey everyone! So you know how the other day I posted some garbled nonsense about how I’d already rabbited on about how Brian Fallon was such a huge influence on me? It turns out I haven’t actually done that enough. So I’m gonna do that today if y’all don’t mind.

It’s actually a really great day to do this because a year ago, I was in New Jersey, rounding out 2015 by attending his shows at Crossroads. Now for those of you who don’t know, Brian does these awesome shows around Christmas, at this tiny (and in-credible) Cajun restaurant in a town called Garwood. It’s about the size of my living room, so super intimate; I met so many existing friends and made lots of new ones; and I consumed enough Long Island iced teas to kill a baby elephant. Needless to say, it was a wonderful experience, but I digress.

Music’s always been a major interest in my life, despite having zero musical talent. I can probably find a band or an artist to correlate with every single phase of my life, and for the last four or five years, it’s been the work of Brian Fallon. I discovered Brian’s main project, The Gaslight Anthem, at quite a transformative stage in my life, when I’d just started my journalism degree. They were the first kind of ‘adult’ band I ever really got into – before that, it’d be all about genre or the frontman’s hair, you know? I’d go to shows before I found Gaslight and each time, my eyes would loll further into the back of my head at the amount of obsessive, creepy, exploitative behaviour that goes on and the elitism involved in certain scenes. I was getting a bit old and jaded for it, at the ripe old age of 18. And so when I finally listened to ‘Handwritten‘ by The Gaslight Anthem and headed out to a show, it was a breath of fresh air. Suddenly I was in a really friendly crowd, spanning all age ranges; there weren’t any stupid kids wanting to start a pit during the slowies; and not much creepiness. There was just an air of acceptance at those shows. And the music harkened back to a lot of the stuff I grew up on thanks to my mum and my grandparents, but still had that badass punk sensibility that appealed to me when I was younger. It resonated with me and my life in a small, dead-end village. So it stuck. Big time.

A lot of Fallon’s work bleeds into my everyday life. I mean, music, anyway, is one of my biggest ways of coping with things I find difficult in one way or another; whether it’s listening to music on the bus or looking forward to going to a show when I’m stressed beyond belief. I remember working this Christmas job a few winters ago and I hated it; the long commute, the packed out trains, managers on your back. And I fully credit one of Fallon’s other offerings – ‘Elsie‘ by The Horrible Crowes with getting me through it. It’s the most depressing album you’ll ever hear, but strangely therapeutic to listen to because it just blocks all the shit around you out and everything seems to move more slowly outside that little bubble you’ve cocooned yourself in. But more positively, I’ll still stick ‘Handwritten‘ on when I’m in my car. I love to play that album loud, especially in the summer. As much as I detest where I live, because of the disconnect I feel from everything I give a toss about, I love getting in the car on a nice day and zooming through the Scottish countryside with that record on. It’s stadium rock that makes you forget your problems, essentially.

On an even more positive note, the biggest way I engage with Fallon’s extensive body of work is through live shows. I love experiencing music live and it’s usually my go-to litmus test for whether or not I like or ‘like like’ an artist, you know? Fortunately, Fallon’s gigs are incredible so I keep going back; he demonstrates a level of artistry I rarely see these days (different songs every night, the confidence to completely change up a song, and he’s just a really funny dude, go see him!). I travel to a lot of his shows. I always use these little jaunts as a way of getting past whatever I’m dealing with in the real world and so far, it’s a great coping mechanism that’s even brought me a lot of wonderful friends from all over the globe.

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So how does this relate to me and what I do? Well when I did journalism, editing an online music publication, I wrote about and reviewed a lot of Gaslight Anthem shows, and I even had the opportunity to photograph them at their final headline show in 2015. Journalism’s a funny facet of the creative industries, especially entertainment journalism, because you never see your fellow creators as equals. There is this tendency to kind of see musicians you’re dealing with as above you, especially if it’s an artist you like. When you couple that mentality with the rather ‘uncreative’ nature of journalism, it’s easy to see why there’s admiration for someone like Fallon, but not necessarily a direct influence on the practice itself.

Now that I am finding my creativity through the world of film and writing for the screen, it gets easier for me to find that influence and channel it, because, I know it sounds funny, but sometimes my mind looks like one of Fallon’s early songs. I see everything in muted colours, and red lipstick, and classic cars (this does NOT make sense, does it?). What I’m trying to say, is that now I’m working with visuals, I have this opportunity to actually realise the kind of imagery his songs conjure up in my head. Because that’s one thing Fallon’s great at, painting pictures with words (go and listen to ‘Mae‘, ‘Sugar’, ‘The Navesink Banks’, ‘Film Noir’, ‘Long Drives‘ and ‘Old White Lincoln‘ – you will see things in your mind, and no, I’m not on drugs). And that’s the kind of thing I want for my work. I want that old-timey look. I want my film, ‘Mae‘, to look like that.

I’ve always wanted to realise those pictures in my mind on a screen and now that I have the skills and the freedom to do it, I feel like this monumental weight has been lifted in terms of getting all this creativity out there. Being able to channel these influences in a constructive way has given me so much belief in what I do. I’ve never been this optimistic about my work.

I’m going to leave you with this quote from American Songwriter, where Fallon talks about Bob Dylan being the Catalyst to his journey as a songwriter because that moment when I first heard ‘Handwritten‘ kind of is to me, what Dylan is to him.

On the last day of the paper route, we were driving home and all of a sudden “Just Like a Woman” came on the radio. At that moment, the stars aligned and it just blew my mind. I thought, “Wait a minute – this is just a guitar and a voice, you don’t even need drums. I’m going to go and I’m going to write songs.” That was really the catalyst.

Just an observation for today

Just a short one for today, since I haven’t really been feeling too great and I’ve hit a bit of a brick wall in terms of motivation.

I’ve come to a bit of a realisation that studying something you’re passionate about really kills your love for it. I mean, it goes all the way back to when I did art at school; I used to be a fantastic painter, and now I just don’t. I used to love the idea of being a journalist, until my bachelors degree curtailed that. Now, I’m trying out film making and writing more creatively, and I can’t, for the life of me, find any enthusiasm for it at this point.

Maybe it’s the weather, or what have you, that’s responsible for my crap mood, but honestly, the thought of being graded on my creativity really sucks the enjoyment out of it.

Bad luck for me, since this is only the first semester of my masters degree… in being creative. Oops.