Premise versus premise

Over the last few weeks I have read both Robert McKee’s Story and John Truby’s The Anatomy Of Story. While reading these two books I have also been working though some ideas for redraft of Carrion. Not sure if it is a good idea to try and assimilate both treaties in quick succession while still writing. But as paid work has cut my writing time in half. I feel the need to keep pounding the keys. Or lose whatever momentum I have trained into myself. Anyway. Prompted by what I have read. I started to think about the premise of Carrion. Truby assert that the premise “is your story stated in one sentence. It is the simplest combination of characters and plot and typically consists of some event that starts the action, some sense of the main character, and some sense of the outcome of the story.” On the other hand McKee asserts that the premise is simply “an open ended question: What would happen if… ?” For example. “What would happen if a shark swam into a beach resort and devoured a vacationer? JAWS.” But what Truby calls premise. McKee calls the controlling idea. “A controlling idea may be expressed in a single sentence describing how and why life undergoes change from one condition of existence at the beginning to another at the end.” And what McKee calls the controlling idea Truby calls the designing principle. “The designing principle is what organizes the story as a whole. It is the internal logic of the story, what make the parts hang together organically so that the story becomes greater than the sum of its parts.” While both notions of premise make sense. Truby’s version sounds to me like the logline. And seems too detailed to be what McKee describes as “the idea that inspires the writer’s desire to create a story.” But if Truby is right when he says “if your premise is weak, there is nothing you can do to save the story.” I need to seriously rethink the foundations of Carrion. When I first started work on Carrion. The initial inspiration came from an idea that they. The government. The powers of prohibition. Genetically engineered insects to eat drugs. The whole script was written from that starting point. Characters. Plot. Dialogue. I now come to realise were built on shaky foundations. With Truby’s help I now realise that drug eating insects was too nebulous an idea. And lacks any notion of what is at stake in the story. With some work. And the help of McKee. I have come to another what if question. What if the war on drugs escalates into civil war? According to Truby this is still not strong enough. And needs to be expanded to include the event that starts the action. Some sense of the main character. And some sense of the outcome of the story. While I still have the character of Carrion’s previous draft. I know this draft has a different outcome. What it is I don’t know yet. But I do know I have a lot more work to do. The one thing I have realised while writing this is that while both Truby and McKee offer invaluable insights into the craft of screenwriting. Neither has the definitive answer. But they are both useful as tools to clarify my own understanding.

Fear of facebook

I’m not on facebook. People keep telling me I should create a profile. But I’ve resisted. There is something about the whole thing that makes me very uncomfortable. I know it’s a completely irrational prejudice. Fuelled by something I read a long time ago. The articular stated that among other things an investment company set up by the CIA owns shares. As do a bunch of multinationals like Coca Cola. And that facebook is essentially a massive marketing tool. Allowing companies harvest information about it’s patrons. And target them with direct marketing. Or use the information as free market research. Or keep tabs on them in some Big Brother kind of way. Putting the paranoid conspiracy theory away for a second. What company doesn’t farm information about individuals likes and dislikes from the internet. I posted on twitter recently about my frustrations with edf energy. They hand’t read the meter for over a year so I had been overcharged. I wanted a refund. It took several very long phone calls over the period of a month. But I got some money back. Anyway edf contacted me through twitter offering to help. I didn’t reply. I didn’t trust that it was edf. So ignored their repeated advances. But that highlighted something for me. While Twitter is a very public arena it feels very private. I hadn’t given much thought to the notion that a company like edf would be monitoring the twitter timeline. Truthfully I felt a little stalked. And I think that’s another of the things that makes me feel uncomfortable with facebook. While facebook is a great tool for connecting people. It can also gives access to those who you would rather not have in your life. We all have them. That work colleague who you would rather not talk to. Or the long lost friend who is better staying lost. Social networking sites like facebook allow the kind of personal access I am reluctant to give to anyone but those closest to me. At some point I know I am going to have to hand them my details. Join the club. For professional reasons as much as anything. But for now I think I will stay clear of the microscopic spotlight that facebook exposes you to.

Drugs as a tool

I’ve been reading John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the intricacies of giving meaning to their story. For those who haven’t read the book. Mr. Truby approaches story as if it were a body. And dissects it as if her were doing an autopsy. He has a chapter on technology (tools). In it he observes that within a story “tools are an extension of the human form, taking a simple capability and magnifying its power.” Why do I mention this? Because while reading Truby’s book. I have also been working through some ideas for major redraft of Carrion. One of the ideas at the centre of Carrion is that insects have been genetically engineered to eat drugs. Within my story they are physical manifestation of prohibition. A tool that takes the ruthless unrelenting enforcement of prohibition to its merciless conclusion. The physical destruction of anyone who takes drugs. With that in mind. I started to think about drugs as a tool. And asked the question. What kind of tool are drugs? This quickly becomes more complicated that one might think. It is all to easy to view drugs simply a tool to alter one’s mood. I have written before about the link I see between drugs and prohibition. In a previous post Why they won’t stop the war on drugs I outlined a paradigm that uses drug prohibition as a tool for social control. Certainly that is one function drugs play within society. But it is not the only one. I read a paper recently by Tammy L Anderson that points to A Cultural-Identity Theory Of Drug Abuse. While the paper differentiates between drug use and abuse. “The theory proposes that drug abuse is an outcome of a drug-related identity change process featuring three micro-level (personal marginalization, ego identity discomfort, and lost control in defining an identity), two mesolevel (social marginalization and identification with a drug subcultural group), and three macro-level (economic opportunity, educational opportunity, and popular culture) concepts.” Without getting into the intricacies of a theory that describes twelve hypothetical relationships that lead to drug abuse. It does point to another way drugs are used. As a tool of cultural identity. From my own experiences I can say there is certainly an identification between those have used drugs. And those who have not. You only have to look at the way those who drink alcohol. View those who do not. To see a shared identity works. Conversely in this instance. Because alcohol is a socially acceptable drug. Those who do not us the drug are the ones viewed with hostility. But this binary polarization of us and them points to the dynamic at work when looking at the way illicit drugs are viewed. Cultural-identity theory argues that drug abuse is a consequence of a multitude of marginalizing experiences. “The greater the number of marginalizing experiences… the greater the risk for drug abuse.” If that is the case. And drug abuse is a consequence of an accumulation of negative experiences both personal and social. Drugs becomes a consequence of negative forces that define those who eventually abuse drugs. And not the other way round. Which perhaps accounts for the vicious way in which the sober world treats drug users. There is a sense of guilt felt by the sober world. A guilt that recognises drug use is not simply people being somehow weak willed. A guilt that can not be solved. And ultimately elicits hostility. There is a scene in David Mamet’s film The Spanish Prisoner that explains the psychological origins of human cruelty. The key line comes at the end of Steve Martin’s speech. When Campbell Scott asks him why his employers will start to act cruelly toward him. Martin replies. “To suppress their guilt.” But this notion of guilt does not take into account the cultural identity felt by drug users. But that is the subject for another post. For me. And certainly within the context of Carrion. I am starting to see drugs as a tool of guilt. A motivating forces for both protagonist and his antagonist.

Exquisite corpse

Exquisite CorpseI came across Channel 4’s The Random Spoken Word Competition today. It started me thinking about exquisite corpses. For those who don’t know. An exquisite corpse was Surrealist André Breton’s attempt to introduce chance into his artistic practice. Breton described it as a “game of folded paper played by several people, who compose a sentence or drawing without anyone seeing the preceding collaboration or collaborations.” The now classic example. Which gave the game its name. Was drawn from the first sentence obtained this way. “the-exquisite-corpse-will-drink-new-wine.” The judges of Channel 4’s competition “are looking for one piece of writing that imaginatively explores the theme “random” by using language in a rhythmically original and instantly engaging way.” Ignoring the fact that “random” is not a theme. As McKee tells us “theme is not a word but a sentence-one clear coherent sentence that expresses a story’s irreducible meaning.” I’m wondering if it’s possible to write something that resonates using the exquisite corpse technique? I’ve experimented with the technique on a number of occasions. With varying degrees of success. As a writing technique problems arise because it is by definition a collaborative endeavour. You need several people to make it work. It then becomes about the collaborative process. And not what is written. I once wrote an outline entitled “Exquisite Corpses Of Soloman Bishop”. In it Solomon Bishop speaks entirely in exquisite corpses. To circumvent the need for several people while writing this. I produced Solomon’s dialogue using Tzara’s technique for writing Dada poetry. I cut words from newspapers and magazines. Put them in a bag. Drew them out at random. And created sentences from the results.

    • Squad more robots forced adoption.
    • Lock-in sleeper defend green letters.
    • Trial bombers nylon contamination.

Interesting statements. Full of jarring juxtapositions. That are still a kind of exquisite corpse. But it is very easy for this random selection of words to be ignored as meaningless. The question then arises. How do you give the randomness meaning? Or more precisely. How do you control the randomness’s meaning? One way is to give the words context. How do you give them context? By giving them a title that starts a story. “Once upon a time” gets the ball rolling. Propelling the resulting exquisite corpse forward sequentially. Another way is more abstract. But grounds the exquisite corpse to something. An idea. Open with a title like. “The exquisite corpse of twenty first century sin.” And all that follows refers to something tangible. More work is needed on this. But that’s all I have time for at the moment.

Delaying gratification

Haven’t written here for a while. I’ve been reading Robert McKee’s Story. McKee demonstrates a clarity of thought. And a level of certitude about what makes a good screenplay. That focuses your understanding. It took me a long time to commit. And read this cornerstone of screenwriting theory. I do that a lot. Wilfully resist the imperative to do something just because people tell me I should. I do it with films all the time. There are films that I avoid just because people tell me I should see them. I did it with The Lives Of Others. I knew it was good. Because everyone I spoke to told me it was good. But delaying it’s viewing made it all the better. Perhaps because all the hype that surrounded it’s initial release has died away. And I came at it with a certain freshness. It could be that I just wasn’t ready. I have never seen an Ingmar Bergman film. I know I should. But I have never been able to make that commitment. McKee talks about Bergman a lot. He makes the point that a neophyte audience find Bergman’s films difficult. You need a certain amount of life experience to be able to appreciate them. But the reason I haven’t seen one of his films could be something altogether different. In this world of now. Of getting everything in an instant. Delaying gratification has become something of an art. It is the only antidote to the constant demand for our attention. I think it’s good. No. Absolutely necessary. To have something you know will pay dividends when you finally get to it. Something that you hold in reserve until it is absolutely the right moment. So next time you are told about a film you must see. Perhaps hold off a while. See how much sweeter it is when you finally get to it.

Why they won’t stop the war on drugs

I read a headline in the Metro last week. “The war on drugs ‘just isn’t working’.” Apparently the Global Commission on Drug Policy has called for the legalisation of drugs. Noted elders argue that “the war on drugs has failed to cut drug usage.” Adding that it has filled jails. Cost millions. Fuelled organised crime. And caused thousands of deaths. Despite evidence from Portugal. That problematic drug use and drug related deaths fall when drugs are decriminalize. They decriminalized drugs in 2001. A Home Office spokesman said they were going to ignore the report. “We have no intention of liberalising our drugs laws. Drugs are illegal because they are harmful. They destroy lives.” I am not surprised by the Home Office’s attitude. It’s the patronising parental attitude always displayed. The blinkered vision that completely ignores the reality of drug use in the country. DrugScope.  The UK’s leading independent centre of expertise on drugs. “Estimated that over 11 million people aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales have used illicit drugs in their lifetime.” That’s about 6% of the population. They estimate there 6408 drug related deaths between 2000 and 2004. In that same period there were anywhere between 25,000 and 200,000 alcohol related deaths. The “drugs are harmful” mantra is repeated at infinitum. As if repeating it. Makes it more true. It doesn’t. And not because drugs can’t cause harm. They plainly can. It’s because the “drugs are harmful” mantra masks the real reason drugs are illegal. Drug prohibition isn’t about public health. Drug prohibition is about public control. I’ll say it again. It’s not about public health. It’s about public control. Think back to the first world war. The government imposed closing times on the public houses. So munitions workers would go back to work in the afternoon. The government imposed limited prohibition to control its workers. Not because of fears for their health. But to get them back to work. What’s the difference between that? And the laws that stop people dropping an “E” at the weekend? Ecstasy is a Class A drug. Because dropping an “E” at the weekend might interfere with your work on Monday. If prohibition was about public health. They would ban tobacco. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man. Its use causes no end of health problems. From heart disease. To strokes. Lung cancer. To tumours. Ash. The anti-smoking charity. Estimate there are 12 million smokers in the UK. That’s about 7% of the population. DrugScope estimate “that each year in the UK around 114,000 people die from tobacco-related diseases.” Yet you can walk into any corner shop. Buy a packet. Light up. And get high. Cigarettes are proof. If proof were needed. That prohibition is not about public health. It’s about public control. Prohibition is a panacea of public control for governments around the world. It is a device nations use to endo-colonize their population. Endo-colonization is a term coined by French cultural theorist Paul Virilio. In the text of Pure War he describes the general militarization of society. In which economies. Unable to expand by colonizing other countries. Start to colonize their own population. The state. In the form of a civilian military. That’s the police. Have “come to settle among and establish political control over (the indigenous people of an area).” Drugs is not a public health issue. Drugs is a civil liberties issue. And we should demand our freedom to take drugs if we so wish. I say legalise the lot. Regulate drugs the way we regulate cigarettes. From cocaine. To tobacco. You should be able to walk into a chemist. Order your desired brand of drug. At your preferred strength. And go enjoy yourself for a few hours. Without fear of retribution from the state. The war on drugs is a war on freedom. And should be condemned as antithetical to an individual’s human rights.

Reluctant to reply

I see a lot of adverts on websites like mandy.com requesting screenplays. I read them with optimism. Go back to them looking for a glimmer of possibility. But ultimately rejecting them as more trouble than they’re worth. Am I cutting my nose off to spite my face? I don’t know. I do know the promised credit. Festival submission. And copy of the film. Is not enough. If you want my work. I want to be paid. Even for a short. Getting paid means they take my work seriously. I am also a little suspicious of would-be directors who have no writing skill. Because it seems to me. If they have no writing skill. Then they have no understanding of how hard it is to actually write something. So no respect for the pages given to them. How do I know this? Because every time I have given a director one of my screenplays. They have requested changes. Massive changes. That change the story. As if I hadn’t thought about every aspect of the story. Every word on the page. And made a concious decision to write the story that way. It seems to me the directors job is to tell the story. As written. Not the other way round. Perhaps I will regret writing this. Because it will no doubt alienate potential collaborators. But that is what I am looking for. Collaborators. People who respect what I have done. Enough to tell the story. As written. Especially when requesting speculative screenplays. The posters of these adverts could write the screenplays themselves. That’s why I started writing. I had stories I wanted to direct. Failing that. If they have stories they want to tell. And are unable to put it on paper. They could hire me to write it for them.

Dog to its vomit

You may have noticed that the previous post is very similar to a post I made back in October. I had to give someone a five hundred word example of my writing. I didn’t have one. So I went back to a previous post. And took another pass at it. I felt like the proverbial dog returning to its vomit. But why? I am very used to rewriting. Don’t they say “writing is rewriting”? I do numerous drafts of a screenplay. So why did this fell so different. Perhaps because I have made the changes in public? Or is it as the proverb concludes. So a fool repeats his folly.

It’s ‘cause you’re psychopaths!

I see the MiddleClass as psychopaths. When you say the word psychopath. Images of axe wielding homicidal maniacs come to mind. But the truth is considerably less histrionic. And comes in the form of the compulsive liar who always gets what they want. The social butterfly who leaves a whirlwind of destruction in their wake. Or the “interspecies predator” who controls others to satisfy their own selfish needs.

I have always been suspicious of the MiddleClass. Never really able to understand their demeanor. But when I came across Dr. Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist. While researching on my first screenplay. It all fell into place.

The checklist is the psycho-diagnostic tool most commonly used to assess psychopaths. It is a clinical rating scale of twenty items.

  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning/manipulative
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Shallow affect
  • Callous/lack of empathy
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioural control
  • Promiscuous sexual behaviour
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Early behaviour problems
  • Revocation of conditional release
  • Many short-term marital relationships
  • Criminal versatility

When completed. The test subject is scored anywhere between “0” and “40”. The prototypical psychopath scores the maximum “40”. A score above “30” diagnoses the subject as psychopathic. I see scores above “30” manifest all the time in the attitudes and behavior of the MiddleClass. Individual members may not be psychopathic. But as a class it’s a different story. Take that core member of the MiddleClass. Bankers. I’d score their behavior as follows.

  • Glibness/superficial charm (2)
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth (2)
  • Pathological lying (2)
  • Cunning/manipulative (2)
  • Lack of remorse or guilt (2)
  • Shallow affect (2)
  • Callous/lack of empathy (2)
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions (2)
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom (2)
  • Parasitic lifestyle (2)
  • Poor behavioural control (2)
  • Promiscuous sexual behaviour (2)
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals (2)
  • Impulsivity (2)
  • Irresponsibility (2)
  • Juvenile delinquency (1)
  • Early behaviour problems (1)
  • Revocation of conditional release (2)
  • Many short-term marital relationships (0)
  • Criminal versatility (2)

That’s a Checklist score of “36”. They should be banged up. But they’re not. They’re allowed go about their business. In the name of the free market. And a profit.

I see scores above “30” in the well dressed politician who demonstrates a complete lack of empathy by admonishing the long term unemployed. There in the grandiose sense of self-worth innate in parents who set up a school for their children. And there in the bankers who fail to accept responsibility for the whirlwind of destruction they left in their wake.

I have no idea what to do with this insight. But there is some small satisfaction in being able to j’accuse. “It’s ‘cause you’re psychopaths!”

Embarrassed by The Apprentice

If capitalism were a brand? What kind of brand message is THE APPRENTICE sending? I didn’t sit down and watch last nights episode. It was already on when I got in. And stayed on in the background while I busied myself with other things. In that half aware. Peripheral vision. Wallpaper kind of state. I was struck by how juvenile it all is. I realise this is a television programme. And these people are there as much for entertainment as anything else. But if these are the brightest and the best. Lord Sugar’s business is in trouble. They go about their task like a blind man in a patch of brambles. Snaggering here. Tripping there. Because as far as I can tell. They’re so busy trying to elbow their way to the front of the line. They don’t see the others in their team as anything but competition. The worst of it comes when they get to the boardroom. Where the team with slightly better result is rewarded with a trip to a peep show circus. And the others. The ones who did that bit worse. Get to play the greasy spoon blame game. The post task autopsy is like watching a child caught pinching a sibling. They shift the blame. And obfuscate. While holding their knees together. Hoping they will be believed. If they are. It’s off to slime another day. If not. They’re on their bike. Doomed to poverty. And the arbitrary nature of the labour market. If I were the brand manager of capitalism? I’d be embarrassed by The Apprentice. And what it says about my product.