Single paragraph treatment

Just over a week ago I attended Euroscript’s Exciting Treatments workshop run by Charles Harris. Using some of the things I was shown on the workshop. I have written a single paragraph treatment for Carrion.

Carrion is a science fiction thriller set in a contemporary future where the animosity to drug use is evangelical. When government agents release a plague of drug eating insects. A self-righteous policeman is forced to confront his intolerance. After his drug using sister is attacked by the swarm. As users start to fight back. And the war on drugs escalates into civil war. He is compelled to help his sister traverse the embattled city. Fight gangs of vigilantes. Evade police snatch squads. Flee hostile troops. So she can escape to dealer controlled territory. And the hope of a cure. Transformed by what he has witnessed. Realising the inherent cruelty of prohibition. He picks up a gun. And joins the insurgents.

I often find that posting something here solidifies it in my mind. I hope it will stop me tweaking what I have written. And move on to write a longer version.

David Mamet’s memo

I like the writing of David Mamet. I’m not one for heroes but if I was, Mamet would be one of mine. Here is a memo he sent to the writers of “The Unit”.

TO THE WRITERS OF THE UNIT. GREETINGS. AS WE LEARN HOW TO WRITE THIS SHOW, A RECURRING PROBLEM BECOMES CLEAR. THE PROBLEM IS THIS: TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN DRAMA AND NON-DRAMA. LET ME BREAK-IT-DOWN-NOW. EVERYONE IN CREATION IS SCREAMING AT US TO MAKE THE SHOW CLEAR. WE ARE TASKED WITH, IT SEEMS, CRAMMING A SHITLOAD OF INFORMATION INTO A LITTLE BIT OF TIME. OUR FRIENDS. THE PENGUINS, THINK THAT WE, THEREFORE, ARE EMPLOYED TO COMMUNICATE INFORMATION — AND, SO, AT TIMES, IT SEEMS TO US. BUT NOTE: THE AUDIENCE WILL NOT TUNE IN TO WATCH INFORMATION. YOU WOULDN’T, I WOULDN’T. NO ONE WOULD OR WILL. THE AUDIENCE WILL ONLY TUNE IN AND STAY TUNED TO WATCH DRAMA. QUESTION: WHAT IS DRAMA? DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, ACUTE GOAL. SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES OF EVERY SCENE THESE THREE QUESTIONS. 1) WHO WANTS WHAT? 2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON’T GET IT? 3) WHY NOW? THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS ARE LITMUS PAPER. APPLY THEM, AND THEIR ANSWER WILL TELL YOU IF THE SCENE IS DRAMATIC OR NOT. IF THE SCENE IS NOT DRAMATICALLY WRITTEN, IT WILL NOT BE DRAMATICALLY ACTED. THERE IS NO MAGIC FAIRY DUST WHICH WILL MAKE A BORING, USELESS, REDUNDANT, OR MERELY INFORMATIVE SCENE AFTER IT LEAVES YOUR TYPEWRITER. YOU THE WRITERS, ARE IN CHARGE OF MAKING SURE EVERY SCENE IS DRAMATIC. THIS MEANS ALL THE “LITTLE” EXPOSITIONAL SCENES OF TWO PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD. THIS BUSHWAH (AND WE ALL TEND TO WRITE IT ON THE FIRST DRAFT) IS LESS THAN USELESS, SHOULD IT FINALLY, GOD FORBID, GET FILMED. IF THE SCENE BORES YOU WHEN YOU READ IT, REST ASSURED IT WILL BORE THE ACTORS, AND WILL, THEN, BORE THE AUDIENCE, AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO BE BACK IN THE BREADLINE. SOMEONE HAS TO MAKE THE SCENE DRAMATIC. IT IS NOT THE ACTORS JOB (THE ACTORS JOB IS TO BE TRUTHFUL). IT IS NOT THE DIRECTORS JOB. HIS OR HER JOB IS TO FILM IT STRAIGHTFORWARDLY AND REMIND THE ACTORS TO TALK FAST. IT IS YOUR JOB. EVERY SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. THAT MEANS: THE MAIN CHARACTER MUST HAVE A SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD, PRESSING NEED WHICH IMPELS HIM OR HER TO SHOW UP IN THE SCENE. THIS NEED IS WHY THEY CAME. IT IS WHAT THE SCENE IS ABOUT. THEIR ATTEMPT TO GET THIS NEED MET WILL LEAD, AT THE END OF THE SCENE, TO FAILURE – THIS IS HOW THE SCENE IS OVER. IT, THIS FAILURE, WILL, THEN, OF NECESSITY, PROPEL US INTO THE NEXT SCENE. ALL THESE ATTEMPTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, WILL, OVER THE COURSE OF THE EPISODE, CONSTITUTE THE PLOT. ANY SCENE, THUS, WHICH DOES NOT BOTH ADVANCE THE PLOT, AND STANDALONE (THAT IS, DRAMATICALLY, BY ITSELF, ON ITS OWN MERITS) IS EITHER SUPERFLUOUS, OR INCORRECTLY WRITTEN. YES BUT YES BUT YES BUT, YOU SAY: WHAT ABOUT THE NECESSITY OF WRITING IN ALL THAT “INFORMATION?” AND I RESPOND “FIGURE IT OUT” ANY DICKHEAD WITH A BLUESUIT CAN BE (AND IS) TAUGHT TO SAY “MAKE IT CLEARER”, AND “I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT HIM”. WHEN YOU’VE MADE IT SO CLEAR THAT EVEN THIS BLUESUITED PENGUIN IS HAPPY, BOTH YOU AND HE OR SHE WILL BE OUT OF A JOB. THE JOB OF THE DRAMATIST IS TO MAKE THE AUDIENCE WONDER WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. NOT TO EXPLAIN TO THEM WHAT JUST HAPPENED, OR TO *SUGGEST* TO THEM WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. ANY DICKHEAD, AS ABOVE, CAN WRITE, “BUT, JIM, IF WE DON’T ASSASSINATE THE PRIME MINISTER IN THE NEXT SCENE, ALL EUROPE WILL BE ENGULFED IN FLAME”. WE ARE NOT GETTING PAID TO REALIZE THAT THE AUDIENCE NEEDS THIS INFORMATION TO UNDERSTAND THE NEXT SCENE, BUT TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO WRITE THE SCENE BEFORE US SUCH THAT THE AUDIENCE WILL BE INTERESTED IN WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. YES BUT, YES BUT YES BUT YOU REITERATE. AND I RESPOND FIGURE IT OUT. HOW DOES ONE STRIKE THE BALANCE BETWEEN WITHHOLDING AND VOUCHSAFING INFORMATION? THAT IS THE ESSENTIAL TASK OF THE DRAMATIST. AND THE ABILITY TO DO THAT IS WHAT SEPARATES YOU FROM THE LESSER SPECIES IN THEIR BLUE SUITS. FIGURE IT OUT. START, EVERY TIME, WITH THIS INVIOLABLE RULE: THE SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. it must start because the hero HAS A PROBLEM, AND IT MUST CULMINATE WITH THE HERO FINDING HIM OR HERSELF EITHER THWARTED OR EDUCATED THAT ANOTHER WAY EXISTS. LOOK AT YOUR LOG LINES. ANY LOGLINE READING “BOB AND SUE DISCUSS…” IS NOT DESCRIBING A DRAMATIC SCENE. PLEASE NOTE THAT OUR OUTLINES ARE, GENERALLY, SPECTACULAR. THE DRAMA FLOWS OUT BETWEEN THE OUTLINE AND THE FIRST DRAFT. THINK LIKE A FILMMAKER RATHER THAN A FUNCTIONARY, BECAUSE, IN TRUTH, YOU ARE MAKING THE FILM. WHAT YOU WRITE, THEY WILL SHOOT. HERE ARE THE DANGER SIGNALS. ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT. ANY TIME ANY CHARACTER IS SAYING TO ANOTHER “AS YOU KNOW”, THAT IS, TELLING ANOTHER CHARACTER WHAT YOU, THE WRITER, NEED THE AUDIENCE TO KNOW, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT. DO NOT WRITE A CROCK OF SHIT. WRITE A RIPPING THREE, FOUR, SEVEN MINUTE SCENE WHICH MOVES THE STORY ALONG, AND YOU CAN, VERY SOON, BUY A HOUSE IN BEL AIR AND HIRE SOMEONE TO LIVE THERE FOR YOU. REMEMBER YOU ARE WRITING FOR A VISUAL MEDIUM. MOST TELEVISION WRITING, OURS INCLUDED, SOUNDS LIKE RADIO. THE CAMERA CAN DO THE EXPLAINING FOR YOU. LET IT. WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERS DOING -*LITERALLY*. WHAT ARE THEY HANDLING, WHAT ARE THEY READING. WHAT ARE THEY WATCHING ON TELEVISION, WHAT ARE THEY SEEING. IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA. IF YOU DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE CRUTCH OF NARRATION, EXPOSITION, INDEED, OF SPEECH. YOU WILL BE FORGED TO WORK IN A NEW MEDIUM – TELLING THE STORY IN PICTURES (ALSO KNOWN AS SCREENWRITING) THIS IS A NEW SKILL. NO ONE DOES IT NATURALLY. YOU CAN TRAIN YOURSELVES TO DO IT, BUT YOU NEED TO START. I CLOSE WITH THE ONE THOUGHT: LOOK AT THE SCENE AND ASK YOURSELF “IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT ESSENTIAL? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT? ANSWER TRUTHFULLY. IF THE ANSWER IS “NO” WRITE IT AGAIN OR THROW IT OUT. IF YOU’VE GOT ANY QUESTIONS, CALL ME UP. LOVE, DAVE MAMET. SANTA MONICA 19 OCTO 05. (IT IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW THE ANSWERS, BUT IT IS YOUR, AND MY, RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW AND TO ASK THE RIGHT Questions OVER AND OVER. UNTIL IT BECOMES SECOND NATURE. I BELIEVE THEY ARE LISTED ABOVE.)

I would really like to make some insightful comment. But what’s the point. He’s said it all. “IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT ESSENTIAL? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT? ANSWER TRUTHFULLY.”

Condone

I am working on a treatment for Carrion. Started thinking about Adam’s behaviour.

Con·done
1. From the Latin condōnāre. To remit a debt. From com-(intensive) + dōnāre to donate.
2. To disregard or overlook (something illegal, objectionable, or the like).
3. To give tacit approval to. By his silence. He seemed to condone their behaviour.
4. To pardon or forgive (an offense). Excuse.

I realised that if Adam does nothing. He is in effect condoning the war on drugs. And the wholesale destruction all illicit drug users. Including his sister.

Exciting treatments

Yesterday I spent the day at Euroscript’s Exciting Treatments workshop run by Charles Harris. I can’t remember the last time I attended any kind of course to do with screen writing. I have certainly never done a workshop. I have to say I was a little intimidated. Apprehensive. The idea of standing up in front of people and reading out loud fills me with a paralysing terror. I can not read out loud. And when I do. I stumble over words like an illiterate infant. Thankfully there was none of that. Instead we were workshopped through a series of writing exercises designed to help us write the best possible treatment of our story. Some were specifically to do with writing treatments. Others more generally to do with story. For me the most interesting section. The highlight of the day. Was the time spent workshopping language patterns. And the different patterns used when writing screenplays and treatments. Screenplays deal exclusively with scene description. It’s concrete. Specific. Should never contain anything that can’t be filmed. I know this. I have spent a long time teaching myself to write to this standard. The problem is this style of writing makes for a dull treatment. It basically ends up being a repetitive catalogue of events. I can see now that most of my treatments have fallen into this trap. What I learned yesterday is that treatments need to move smoothly “between the different levels on the hierarchy of ideas from the abstract to the specific.” The key levels on this hierarchy are generalisation, sequencing and scene description. Basically you move through the hierarchy to create an more interesting read. The approach is nothing short of a revelation to me. And now I have been shown how it works. It seems completely obvious. I’ve read a lot of books on screenwriting. Numerous online articles about treatments. And have never seen this approach even hinted at. So if you’re struggling with your story. Writing flat treatments. This workshop is definitely worth a try. I don’t know why I didn’t take it sooner.

Bert Jansch – Dreamweaver

Way back in 1999 I shot and directed a documentary about Bert Jansch called Dreamweaver. It was made with no money. Shot on borrowed cameras. And took a year to make. Late in the production we managed to get a meeting with the head of 4Music. On the back of that meeting we were given enough money to pay the cost of post-production. And a slot on Channel 4. Dreamweaver aired 28 June 2000. Yesterday I was trawling YouTube. And came across Dreamweaver in its entirety.

I can only think Bert’s recent death prompted its appearance. In many ways it is a film for his fans. There are full performances from Bert. No talking heads getting in the way of his playing. Not my choice. Personally I think that was a mistake. I think it detracts from what could have been a more fluid telling of his story. But that was the agreement the producer made with Bert. And those were the parameters I had to work within. That’s why every so often you get those textured wipes. It was my attempt to differentiate elements of the story that would normally have been defined by music. I have to say I was a little surprised to see it there on YouTube. I’ve seen clips. One or two songs here and there. But not the whole thing. And truthfully I don’t know how I feel about its appearance. Ideas about copyright. Ownership. And getting paid. All come to mind. Some fairly primal emotions are dragged up when I think about the production. Especially the latter stages. Suffice it to say. The producer and I went our separate ways. And I haven’t seen him since. All I can do now is tell myself what I told myself back then. I didn’t do it for the money. I did it for the experience. For the credit. At least the YouTube uploader was kind enough to list me as the director. Which is perhaps why my IMDb rank has been on the up recently.

Addicted to albums

I drink beer. I only drink German beer. And to my good fortune the German brewers Beck’s have been running a promotion with the download service Napster. One bottle of beer gets you one track credit. Brilliant. But for some reason I’m unable to buy one track at a time. I am compelled to buy albums. I’m addicted to buying albums. I know people fill their hard drives with an abundance of single tracks. But I just can’t do that. I like a track by a band and have to buy the album. Why is this? Is it a generational thing? I know in the old days a single was only released so punters would buy the album. But of late this paradigm has changed. The iPod was created as a mobile jukebox. And the jukebox was the ultimate collection of singles popular at any one time. It is my good fortune that the Beck’s/Napster promotion has been running long enough for me to be able to download multiple albums by The Velvet Underground, Grinderman, The Smiths, The Specials, The Last Shadow Puppets, Soft Cell, The Doors, The Human League, DJ Shadow, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Plan B, Bob Dylan, LCD Soundsystem, Prinzhorn Dance School, Sonic Youth and The Fall. Not sure if the promotion has made me drink more beer. But it has allowed me to get more music. And that has to be a good thing.