Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Saw Babel this morning. Stunning cinematography and editing. Felt as though I was still in the film after I came out.

Great to spend time soaking up images. Maybe I'll see something light tomorrow.

Phones ringing all afternoon. At 5pm I emailed to say 'no'. And then the phones stopped.

Now hub keeps reminding me - the job would have paid for the 'big trip' later in the year. But you have to listen to your heart. I reckon we'll be going anyway..


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

catching up

Taking a bit of a holiday this week to catch up on films. Saw Last King of Scotland this morning. Top performance from Forest and some brilliant lines which, here in South Africa - seem to resonate with the audience. At times it was too much charicature. Wasn't too keen on the 'whirling voodoo edit montages' . Maybe they tried to mimic the 'shaking hands' Africa magic bits of 'When we were Kings' (Rumble in the jungle) but the feel came off all wrong.

Swam six widths this afternoon as it is unseasonally hot at the moment.


Monday, February 26, 2007


This week's horoscope seems particularly apposite so I'm putting it up to remind myself. You can check yours out here at Mystic Stars

Image: "At a silent movie festival, a film critic scribbling notes"

Message: Reviewing the past.

Tensions in the workplace may be draining over the next few days. Prior to Wednesday colleagues or business partners may withhold important information or avoid direct questions. Later in the week, however, all returns to normal: pace yourself and expect sudden disagreements to be quietly and privately resolved. After Thursday a close friend or lover will leave old family disappointments in the past: watch for newly emerging confidence and a dedication to emotional health. For some Aries natives this marks the start of renewed social involvement or family commitment. Listen to your instincts: all is well.


Great about Forest Whitaker and Helen Mirren. No real surprises though.
The timing of the ceremony was good this year - managed to see the main wins before breakfast.
Now going to make it a week of catching up at the cinema.

Scripts (and rats)

If in doubt talk it over with mum - ha! My mum is a children's author (and poet) so very cool to discuss work 'issues' with.

Let's go back to the beginning. A while back there was a brief - for an intriguing children's TV (storytelling series). I wrote up a proposal for a prodco - it got commissioned. I scripted and then directed it. Some bits were great, a few bits weren't. It gets re-commissioned - is that not affirmation? I receive an email from the prodco making an offer (for directing and scripting.) I say yes to both. In between I complete my own doc series, have a falling out with the 'powers that be', get over it - do everything they say. Get it finished. It goes on air. People like it.

Ok fast forward to a workshop (about the second series) I think I'm there because I'm directing and scripting again. 15 people attend - some fly in. Copious scones and tea. Colourful lunch - a big, bright, shiny occasion. We discuss the first series. Exchange opinions and ideas. Write loads of notes. The next day I receive an offer from the prodco - but only for scripting - and for a lot less than the previous series. I ask about directing and re-state my terms of trade. They agree to my terms but say the 'powers that be' want an alternative director.*

I smell a rat. (Funnily enough mum smells a rat too!) Hub says just 'take the money and run'. But I don't think I can. It's not quite like a jobbing job where I just hit the keyboard hour after hour and churn it out. I'd prefer to put my heart in it - after all I was there at the start.

So I ask to know their reason*.

It's not always about being an 'awkward so and so' (writers and directors generally are). Sometimes it's about refusing to be fodder in some unfathomable agenda...

Let's see.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


Ok a confession - I've been spying on visitors (via a 30 day free subscription to hitslink.) It ends any day now so soon I'll be back to blogging oblivion.

As a procrastination tool, it tops the list - with pie charts, logs and graphs. It's been fascinating finding out about visiting patterns. Besides my regulars from the UK (you know who you are) - in the last week I have a rapidly growing number of visitors from China (all alerted by RSS feeds to new posts) Hello readers in China! Straight after posting there's a flurry of hits worldwide. Regulars pop around at more or less the same times each day. Right now the UK and US provide most readers and (surprise, surprise) South Africa one of the least. When I started I automatically assumed that local interest would be higher than international (despite a host of social inequity issues)

Maybe over the next month I'll rethink my sidebar or maybe I won't...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

on hold

All back on hold with scripting right now. So much for vegetable turrets. Eish - the ups and downs of this business. Not happy with the offer. Not happy at all.
Maybe now is a good time for some business advice for scriptwriters (particularly those based here - where there is not the same emphasis on writers' agents as there is globally)

  • Bide your time, don't cave in
  • Keep every single email from potential employers that contains the vaguest whisper about money, contracts, schedules or work parameters. In the case of forgetful producers or offers 'lower than discussed' this is always useful evidence.
  • Decline a low offer politely but mention the figure required for a 'yes'
  • Know your worth especially -if you've done something before and it is being offered to you again.
  • Remember none of them can do what you do or do it like you do
  • Make it seem easy (especially when you know it isn't)
  • Writing speed is power (especially here where development/re-writing time is virtually non-existent and everything needs to be done by tomorrow)
  • At meetings, befriend the other parties - that way someone will be rooting for you somewhere.
  • Make yourself indispensable (be a walking repository of relevant knowledge)
  • Have lots of other things on the go
  • Keep a blog [allegories ok - slatings no no]
  • Don't worry, something else is just round the corner

Friday, February 23, 2007


Spent all yesterday in a TV workshop in a hotel in Seapoint and wish I'd taken a photo of the starter at lunch - a turret of multicoloured vegetables...
Anyway, now have to crack on with scripting for the next while.

There was a minor ripple of excitement this week when this blog received 2 mentions elsewhere in cyberland and my readership doubled overnight to 8.

BTW for regulars - the story
below is now updated.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Screenwriters

For a great article in the LA Times - click here.

Scriptwriting Feng Shui (ii)

Here is the next in the series on scriptwriting Feng Shui. For the previous post in this series, click on feng shui in the labels cloud.

One of the key things we scriptwriters struggle with - particularly in the first draft of a script is getting the story from a to b and even to z, narrative momentum; the magic ingredient that keeps the reader turning the pages and (later when the script is made) the audience glued to their seats.

So what (aside from good writing) keeps a story moving? Scriptwriting manuals talk about how each scene must achieve at least four things (move story forward, reveal or develop characters, reveal emotions, give story info etc. And of course they are all right.

Here I'm going to look at the 'chi' or energy of the script. Remember this series is not about crafting tips - more 'alternative ways of thinking through scriptwriting' and trying to decipher the 'magic' of what works. The scene', 'the act' or 'the script' will not be discussed as separate entities but as 'a whole'.

Instead of narrative momentum - here's another word:


'Transference' needs to take place within each scene/act and across the entire script. So what is transference?

Well transference also means (ex)change or conversion. In terms of scriptwriting it can refer to 'cause and effect'. Transference sums up the script rules for ensuring narrative momentum, mentioned above.

But most importantly transference describes the exchange of energies that needs to take place within the scene/act/ script - whether these are exchanges of emotions, twists of story direction or mutations of possibility.

If at the beginning, character A is angry and gets mad with B, then by the end of the scene, A must be calm and B must be mad. OK for most scriptwriters this is basic knowledge. But many make the mistake of thinking that having A get mad with B is a complete scene. It isn't because there is no transference.

OK for further illumination - here's a letter. What I like about the letter X (apart from its symmetry and the fact that it is the first letter of my daughter's name) is that it works as a pictogram to demonstrate transference. (For more info on pictograms - see previous post in this series.)


And maybe this will be helpful too:


The use of feng shui to aid scriptwriting may not always be appropriate or useful.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Where are the stories?

The expert (who had contemplated the cosmos from observatories all over the globe) mentioned that there were now lots more stories from 'all over' and 'they were in a box somewhere.' The expert preferred stars to people. He had grown pallid and flabby from years of sedentary study.

The co-ordinators made an appointment to collect the stories. They arrived to find sheaves of stories and myths on odd shaped papers, in numerous languages, some typed up, some handwritten - in a stack that touched the ceiling. 'Oh you can't take them away', the expert said, 'that's years of research'. He pointed to the photocopier in the corner. The co-ordinators made another appointment and came back early in the morning. They were looking for moral stories - not just any old stories. The expert giggled knowingly into his telescope.

The co-ordinators shuffled and stacked and read and sorted until they grew dizzy. Finally they had a pile of stories that was not too big. Photocopying took a whole day. Then they took the stories back to the office and tried to order them.

The producers grew impatient 'Where are the stories?' they asked the writer. 'I'm waiting for them' the writer replied. The producers emailed the co-ordinators 'Where are the stories?' There was no reply.

In the office, the co-ordinators started to panic - the more they read, the more unmanageable the task became. The stories were unruly - they had no morals, they were uncontrollable - they refused to be sorted.

In the end the co-ordinators gave up and stuffed the photocopies back into boxes and hid them at the back of the stationery cupboard. One of the co-ordinators put half a ream of blank paper into an envelope. The other typed an apologetic letter.

The producers emailed the co-ordinators again, 'Where are the stories?'
'In the post' came the reply. The producers waited three days then emailed the writer; 'Do you have the stories yet?'

'Yes' she replied.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Fire Pig (was golden pig)

Happy Chinese New Year of the fire pig for those of you who forgot to mark it down in your diary. It is actually being touted as a golden pig year. So I hunted high and low for a decent golden pig and found this odd thing on a website about 'responsible transplantation' (of all things) Did start a train of thought about cell memory (or whatever they call it)

I remember reading about a delusional woman in France who thought she had received Princess Di's still beating heart - or maybe it was another organ - (she'd undergone a transplant soon after that fatal car accident) She developed all of Di's mannerisms as a result. Imagine what having a pig's heart would do.. Anyway

Apparently the fire pig brings potential for things to get out of control. The golden pig year (when it comes, brings abundance and prosperity).

Wednesday, February 14, 2007 forward. Stop.

Well I've been putting it off and putting it off (broadband being down was a good excuse) but here's the next instalment. Maybe I feel that this one is less about writing and more about 'getting on' with life - in fact I could sum it up in a single sentence:

I went and did all the things I wanted to do, before it was too late.

I packed up living in South East London, ran 5000 miles away across the sea to be in my (new) long-distance South African relationship, had a baby, got married, bought a nice house with a nice garden, renovated, made biscuits and here I am blogging about it.

Oh and I started writing rapidly for money - anything and everything and everywhere and as quickly as possible. My whole new approach was 'this is the only way I can stay at home with a baby and earn money and so I have to do it'.

The rapid writing thing actually started when my daughter was about 6 months old. Sitting in front of a PC is in fact a perfect occupation for a new mother. The baby, tucked into an armpit, quickly adapts to somniferous tapping (if kept regular).

If they paid, I wrote it. Deadlines became challenges. I wrote faster and faster. I tried to beat my own best times. I wrote internet travel video guides for places I'd never been to. In 3 months I wrote 22 half hour long scripts for the Ethiopian National Curriculum - schools TV. I churned them out. I wrote pitch documents for production companies for all kind of programmes and formats. I wrote articles for newspapers - (hub did the photographs) 2 hours to finish a script - or half an hour to get a rewrite in, I'd do it. I lost the ability to be precious.

I got work developing a brilliant drama series set in Namibia and mentoring new writers and flew to Namibia for workshops. Three months later the company dissolved. Then a children's series on African Sky stories was commissioned. I wrote and directed it.....
I wrote new feature scripts and blah and so on and other stuff...

And what happened to that script - the one I completed on 3 months sick leave? My long-standing 'friend-in-scripts' thought it was the best ever. Before I packed up my life to move to South Africa I sent it to Beeb Writersroom. Five months later in sunny Cape Town I opened a lovely letter saying they were recommending me to CBBC - who promptly lost the script and then when I re-sent it were a bit curious as to why I had. Being one of the chosen 10/10,000 per annum doesn't necessarily amount to much. Maybe a name added to a list in someone's office somewhere. Who knows?

Anyway here I am - still writing scripts and living hopefully ever after...

The End
(ha ha)

Happy Valentines day everyone!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Today I'm inviting comments from anyone (my 4 regular readers included) about anything. Your call.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


So broadband has been down now for a whole week and Telkom have finally admitted that it has nothing to with me tinkering with the router or the pots filter but it is actually their responsibility and there is a serious fault with the LAN. Did you know that South Africa's Telkom has the highest telephone charges in the world? (Well they never get their facts right so why should I) ..

So having been deprived of my number one method of desk-based procrastination - I've had to do other things like cook biscuits and watch TV and even talk to my family. Even found myself watching a repeat of '10 Years Younger' on BBC Prime with my daughter the other night (swiftly changing channels when the scalpels came out - of course)

Her: Why's she doing that?
Me: She wants to look younger
Her: Why?
Me: Because she doesn't want to look old
Her: Oh. Can I go on this programme?
Me: No
Her: Why not?
Me: Because you're 4½ and they would make you minus 5.

Normal blogging service (and the next 'writing life' instalment) will be resumed shortly I hope. Posting takes forever on dial-up and I always seem to notice an infuriating typo or floating colon right after I've posted and have to edit it straight away. Then I notice another..

In other news the UK/SA script rewrite is still on the back burner while they hum and ha over payment for a treatment. A children's TV series which I scripted and directed 2 years ago and which was commissioned for a 2nd series now seems to have moved to the front burner. I thought I had been booted off due to various tĂȘte a tĂȘtes but perhaps not. Sometimes it's best to feign ignorance. Watch this space. Plus had a positively encouraging rejection for a drama outline from the Beeb. Onwards! There's a Monday deadline to meet...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Broadband down for almost 36 hours now
*teeth gnashing sounds*

Can't do anything on dial up
*more teeth gnashing sounds*

Takes quarter of an hour for a page to load.
*gnash gnash gnash gnash*

Monday, February 05, 2007


Someone wanted to know how to make magic biscuits - I really can't remember - there's some here (but I can't vouch for them)

Ours had cinnamon in - in fact they were kind of like cinnamon shortbread. Its all in the mix - and for them to work - they have to get into the right mouths - you can't just leave them at reception..

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Rewind, pause...

The office was closed down. The script that had attracted a record amount of development money was dead. I was signing on.

Some back story before I continue. Around the time the first euros came through, my soon-to-be-ex was dreaming about returning to his native* South Africa. I accompanied him to SA, taking Viki King's inspiring tome and knocked out a first draft script in 21 days. The ex stayed in South Africa and over the next year I flew back and forth several times. Johannesburg was alive - change was tangible - the mood - upbeat. I directed a dance documentary and taught a short screenwriting course.

I had an idea for a script set in SA. It was the antithesis to the 'commercial' story that I'd been slogging away at. I wrote it in London. By now the long distance relationship was over.

No one much liked the new script - it was edgy and unfamiliar. It was accepted for a directing lab in Ireland - 10 days of Guinness fuelled fun and bonding and filming scenes with actors - (including the brilliant Chewy).

I received a 6 month 'Restart' interview letter from the Job Centre. Dutifully I skipped off to London Bridge, sat in a room full of people, filled in multiple choice questions and did a brief interview. I was measured for a uniform, told to obtain police clearance, sent for a drug and alcohol test and a full medical. Somehow I'd slipped seamlessly into a full time job on the London Underground.

The 4 week training was full of transactional analysis and personality tests. Every test indicated that I was the most unsuitable employee for LU. I was an anarchist. I was not a team player. I was not consumer-oriented. 4 weeks flew by. Some participants were mysteriously shown the door amid rumours of 'spying' or 'bad references' or worse. The ones that remained started to feel smug. We drew diagrams of magnetic fields and learned about conductivity and the positive and negative rails. We did a track walk. We visited the Transport Museum and made site visits to Charing Cross Underground Station and analysed used tickets. On the last day of the course we got drunk and danced the night away in Camden. My brand new life had begun.

For months I crept across London at 3am, ghosted through empty stations, sipped tea in subterranean mess rooms, hid myself in platform boxes to make announcements (in exactly the same mournful tones as I'd heard others do for years); 'The next Southbound Bakerloo line service will be calling at.. I showed thousands of people how to get to where they were going. In uniform I was invisible. Then I was moved to the shiny new Jubilee Line extension. Beneath the transcendent architecture and countless cameras, there was no place to hide. I walked back and forth and back and forth along miles and miles of polished platform impatient for the next break, the next train, the next radio message, the next change of shift, the next rush hour, the next minute, the next time to go home...

After 18 months I couldn't stand it any longer. I went off sick on full pay. I wasn't going back. I had a whole new script in my head and it took me exactly 3 months to get it out. Then I handed in my notice.


* It later turned out he had a multiple personality disorder and was not South African at all - but that's another story.

Friday, February 02, 2007


Although 'summing up' a writing life is quite cathartic - there's still some way to go - so I'll pick it up again at some point. Thanks P for the prod.

Right now I think I'll return to the present. The intensive language course finished today with a little tea party. It means I can get back to some writing again..

Thursday, February 01, 2007

False starts and setbacks

(For blog reasons no one is referred to by name.)

After the flurry of short film grants and the party years, came the long slog punctuated by false starts and setbacks. The metamorphosis from art filmmaker to screenwriter began.

I decided to do a screenwriting MA but after one term was accepted on a film school drama director's course and pursued that instead. One year later I dropped out.

The New Directors short had encouraged me to consider more 'mainstream' storytelling. I sent out ideas - widely - trying different places and schemes. Surprisingly people read them and weren't rude. Some called me for meetings. A script VIP recommended me for a 10 day residential screenwriting lab. A bunch of disparate screenwriters wrote, drank, bonded and were mentored by industry fundis. It was a turning point.

I came runner up in a newspaper script competition - the prize - a pitch meeting. Nothing came of my twitchy pitch but I developed the outline into a short treatment for submission to the ESF and was awarded 5000 euros to write the 'urban, coming-of age drama'. A later draft submitted to Media II was awarded a larger whack of development. By this time I had set up a company with a producer friend. I wrote and rewrote while "B" got on the phone and demanded finance from people. We had some meetings. We flew to Dinard and hobnobbed shamelessly. We held a reading. We made magic biscuits to entice prospective funders. Then it happened - a big VIP producer came on board, followed soon after by the biggest VIP producer in the world!*. We were hot. The script now had 3 producers! More development money came in. We held another reading for VIPs in Soho. We negotiated a spectacular soundtrack deal. Interest peaked. We cast. It seemed to be happening.

Except it wasn't really. There was a question ? mark over directing (there usually is for writer-directors.) I'd done 13 drafts. Development was going round in concentric circles. The script wasn't getting better or getting worse - it was getting stale. I was tired and it showed. By now, I'd been on it for 4 years.

Then the biggest VIP producer in the world* stepped off. I cried. "B" cried. Interest started to wane. The script drew comparisons to a film that just bombed (It was nothing like it). We began to despair. Unpaid bills piled up. The bailiffs came round. We borrowed money. The bailiffs came back. "B" found she was pregnant. We closed the office down. We tried to pretend it was ok for a while and kept on...

But it was a bit like on ER when they do defibrillation but it is already too late.

The script was dead. And I had to move on....


*slight exaggeration