Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Back in blog

We’re back.  Honestly, I leave my blog for a month and the world falls to pieces.  Economic collapse, moral meltdown, hideousness in Norway.  Still, at least we won the cricket.

This is just by way of a quick update, although I hope to post more in the coming weeks.  I’ve finished and submitted my first draft of Her Royal Spyness to Matador Pictures.  I’ve made mention in a previous post of my frustration at not being able to find quite enough time to devote myself to this, utterly and exclusively.  Fortunately, in the second half of July the clouds lifted and I motored through to the finish under clear skies and with a fair wind.  It’s going to be interesting to see what notes come back, as it always is.  Scene-by-scene I’m sure there is loads that can be pumped up and tightened.  But I imagine there will also be quite a few ‘do we need this character’ or ‘do we need this scene’ comments (hopefully not too many ‘do we need these forty pages’), which is when you have to totally re-imagine the shape and flow of the whole piece.  Still, as I’m forever finding out, there are a million different ways of looking at a story, none altogether right or wrong.  In rewriting, I’ve got to keep my mind open to new suggestions and directions – often great ideas that I wouldn’t have got to on my own – while at the same time retaining that sense of unity and purity that I felt at the end of the first draft.  A complex and challenging balancing act.

I’ve also just spent a fascinating two weeks on a very short and sharp rewrite job.  I can’t say too much about it at the moment (which always makes things sound more mysterious than they really are) but there is a chance that the movie could go into production in the next couple of months.  It was a great gig, too.  The contract literally stipulated start and end dates (1st to 12th August).  I spent a week or so getting my rewrite outline approved.  Then, because it transpired that it was essentially a page one rewrite, I sat down last week and wrote twenty pages a day, for five days.  I was bouncing my pages off one of the key guys on the project as I went along, so I would spend two or three hours every morning rewriting the previous day’s work, then crank out the next twenty.  I imagine these sorts of deadlines are common in Hollywood, where production rewrites are a big income source for established writers.  But it’s not something I’ve ever done before.  It was exhausting but incredibly rewarding and I genuinely believe I delivered a good piece of work at the end of those five days.

Both of these jobs have contributed to a growing sense that I’m getting at the moment, that of demystifying the job of the writer.  So much is written and talked about the art of writing, of finding your voice and understanding your art, as if it’s some impenetrable, alchemical mystery whose secrets are revealed only to a chosen few.  And it certainly can be like this, particularly I suppose when you’re looking for your voice in the first place.  But it’s also a craft, a job, a process that can be understood, broken down and replicated at will.  Perhaps this comes with a growing confidence, when you know your way around a screenplay and you know that A must lead to B which must lead to C.  But I feel like my approach to my job has changed in the last twelve months.  What’s the brief, what are the project parameters, then go ahead and execute.  This attitude is informed both by the many on-set rewrites I did for Chalet Girl, where budget and schedule and locations and cast availability start to dictate the creative process (have you pre-ordered your DVD, by the way – October 3rd in UK), and also from all the corporate work I’ve done over the last ten years.  The objectives, in my mind, are no different whether it’s a £50k training drama or a £5m thriller – craft an effective piece of writing that delivers a satisfying experience for its intended audience.  Maybe this is too linear, maybe it will make me a painting-by-numbers kind of writer.  Or maybe it will make me a more confident, more efficient, more useful craftsman who can peddle his trade in a variety of situations.  We shall see.

I’m taking this week as a well earned and much needed reading and research week.  I’m finally, finally reading The Hero With A Thousand Faces, which is blowing my mind on pretty much every page (and which, incidentally, plays well into my ‘demystifying’ thesis – we’re not doing anything new here).  I’ve also got The Hare With Amber Eyes and How To Be A Woman to get through, and then I want to attack by David Lean Centenary Collection DVD Box Set – I haven’t seen either of his Dickens films, to my shame.  This is precious time which I’m determined not to waste.  August is quiet, and I get Her Royal Spyness notes back on 22nd.  Time to make creative hay while the sun isn’t shining and the phone isn’t ringing – I’ll need it during the long cold winter ahead.