The Blog Tour!

My blog today is part of the blog tour, where writers answer the same four questions about their work and career. Sally Abbott has passed the baton to me – or rather, passed on the four vital questions…

 

What am I working on?

Right now, I’m in the gap between finishing one series of Wolfblood and (hopefully!) starting to write a new one in the autumn – but I’m certainly not short of work! I’m writing an episode of a certain detective series (more will be revealed in due course.) I’m expecting to go pitch again to another existing series in a few weeks time, so I’m preparing story ideas to present to them – always a fun challenge, figuring out which of the many stories you could tell with the characters appeals most to you, and why…

Then there are new projects to be written! I’m starting to pitch ideas in the US now as well as the UK, so I’m working on a new feature script, an espionage thriller, for the US market, as well as ideas for the UK. Combining the two really is the best of both worlds for a writer – different markets, different kinds of stories, different ways of working…

How does my work compare to others of its genre?

I write a lot of different genres – science fiction, supernatural, action, adventure and thrillers – across TV and film, so that’s quite a complicated question. I’m undoubtedly a populist writer, someone who writes for the Saturday night blockbuster audience rather than the arthouse audience, but I still want my work to have depth and resonance. Some of the most profound and human fictional stories in the world are unabashed ‘genre’ pieces, that entertain as well as saying something about human nature, and that’s what I aspire to.

Why do I write what I do?

On a purely practical level, because my mother made the totally uncharacteristic decision to take me to see Star Wars when I was very young. And yes, she’s been regretting it ever since!

But really, I’ve always written to find out what it’s like to be someone else. I already know what ‘everyday’ life is like – now I want to know what it’s like to go into space, to be a soldier or a spy, to have superpowers, to deal with moral dilemmas no human has faced before. And by writing that story, I can live that story for a while.

How does my writing process work?

The more I write, the more convinced I am that careful preparation is the key. Though my process changes slightly from project to project, I usually start with a file box, and throw in everything I find that might relate to the project – photos, newspaper articles, scribbled scraps of dialogue or ideas for a scene. Then I’ll progress to index cards, each with a scene noted on it, and rearrange the order until I have some kind of structure and have filled in the gaps.

Then it’s time for the scene-by-scene outline – an outline so detailed it’s basically a script with no dialogue. This is a technique I’ve learned from writing for television, and now use on all my projects, because it encourages you to tell the story visually, and to iron out story problems before starting the script. Then, maybe after a few polishes of the outline, it’s time to begin the first draft…

And what’s this blog all about anyway?

It’s about screenwriting.  And film.  And story.

I’ve been writing for film and television for a few years now, and I’m just getting to the point where I’m starting to make a proper living out of it.  Along the way, I think I’ve learned a few things.  Like never order feta cheese at a lunch meeting (it’s hard to sell a pitch when you’re having violent coughing fits because your mouth is terminally dehydrated).

So I thought I’d share some of my hard-earned wisdom with all those other struggling screenwriters out there.  Because none of those other screenwriting blogs warned you about the dangers of feta cheese, did they?

I’m going to blog about the writing process; about any insights on story, structure and character that occur to me; about films and television shows I’ve seen and what I’ve learned from them; about projects I’m working on, hopefully including on-set reports and photos as they go into production; and probably about anything else that occurs to me and is vaguely relevant to writing.

So if that sounds good to you, stick around.  Read, comment, share and enjoy!

So, why “Never Get Off The Bus” ?

…’cause you know you want to know.

One word.  Speed.

Great movie.  Holds up fantastically even after all these years.  I think, despite the recent buzz about Justified,  Graham Yost is still an underrated screenwriter.  I seem to be the only person in the world who actually loved Hard Rain –  and yeah, when your entire movie is filmed in a water tank, you’re never going to make your enormous budget back…   But actually, isn’t it still one of the most ingenious and unpredictable heist movies you’ve ever seen?

And Speed is a classic.  But to my mind, it makes a fundamental mistake, one which gives its name to this blog, and one of my Very Few Unbreakable Rules Of Screenwriting™.  It gets off the bus.

Speed is  – as even Homer Simpson knows  –  about a bus that, once it’s reached 50mph, can’t drop below that speed, or it will explode.  Brilliant.  Real jeopardy expressed with real clarity.  Just show the audience that speedometer needle starting to drop, and they know exactly what the danger is and what needs to be done to resolve it.  And for the first two acts of the movie, this concept works fantastically.

And then they get off the bus.

Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock save the day, the passengers are safe, the bus harmlessly explodes… Okay, the movie’s over, right?

Nope.

No, now we go haring onto the subway system to try to catch the mad bomber.  And yeah, it’s all very well done, very exciting, and who doesn’t want to see crazy Dennis Hopper get his comeuppance, but…  It doesn’t feel quite as gripping as the rest of the movie, right?  Aren’t you glancing at your watch, wondering if you have any popcorn left?

Why?  Because they got off the bus.  They told you the movie was about one thing, and then they resolved the thing it was supposed to be about and just kept right on going.  See also, Casino Royale  (2006).  It’s about having to win a casino game to bankrupt a terrorist, right?  It’s in the title, dude.  And Bond does that, and, yes, the movie keeps right on going.

This is not really about location, of course.  Plenty of movies shift location for their third act, and it doesn’t matter at all.  Plenty of movies resolve one element of their plot and move on to another, larger conflict, or dispose of one antagonist and move on to battle a greater evil, and that works too.

Staying “on the bus” is about the core concept, the image in your head when you think of the movie, the tone and the actions and the conflicts that the poster and the trailer and the title sold you.  It’s about giving the audience what they came for (but in ways they never saw coming), all the way to the point the credits roll.

And that’s what we’re all here to do.  Keep the audience on the bus.