Monthly Archives: December 2013

End of First Term Summary…

I meant to post every week about what I have learned and whatnot, but the course has kept me far too busy so far! So instead I thought I’d summarise my first term now, then try to post every other week after Christmas.

RESEARCH PARADIGMS… Okay, so this is the module I’ve struggled with the most in all honesty.  It’s entirely different from any other in that it doesn’t really relate to script writing! Saying that though, I suppose some of the methods I’ve learned about, such as content analysis, textual analysis and ethnography will be quite useful if I need to research something for a script, especially when it comes to characters.  I feel that I’ve got a lot out of the class, (thanks to the required academic reading my vocabulary has improved a lot!) but I’ve also had times where I’ve ended up in tears because I’ve become so frustrated at feeling so intellectually inferior to the others in my class (research MA and PhD). I’ve felt at times that I’m not smart enough to cope, but then was cheered up drastically by the first mark I got back, a Merit, YAAAAAAAY! This module, I’m sure, will come in quite handy when I move on to the next stage of academia after graduating from my MA, but for now the main thing I feel I’ve gained from it is confidence to assert myself in my work, even when I feel unsure about what I’m doing.

SCRIPT ANALYSIS… I have learned a lot about the writing process from this class, and I’ve really enjoyed making friends (through their books of course!) with the likes of Vogler and Booker.  My Nan reacted with annoyance when I told her I wanted their books for Christmas, she seemed to have her heart set on buying me a coat.  To hell with the coat, I thought. I’d rather keep my brain warm with formulas I can apply in my own writing. Think she’s still getting me the damn coat though….

I had always felt a little defiant when it came to writing structures created by other people.  My attitude was always negative towards using a tried and tested formula because I firmly believed that trying to stick to some sort of pattern would hinder my own creativity. I thought ‘why should I follow someone else’s lead? Don’t all the best writers create their own patterns?’ I’ve realised now that it’s been the act of shutting out all this fantastic advice that’s been actually hindering my process and through this module I have learned to embrace the techniques of others.  There was a moment when I realised that some of these patterns, like the mythic structures for example, were already embedded into my brain sub-consciously and I was already using them! Now that I’m aware of this, I think I can now improve upon what I was doing thanks to realising why I was structuring things in these ways.

MAJOR PROJECT TREATMENT… This has been the most beneficial module in terms of helping me shape my own ideas, and I’m very sad it’s come to end as I would happily attend this every day for the rest of the academic year.  There’s a lot to be said for an educated opinion of your work, and I’ve been very lucky to have someone so knowledgeable about the craft guiding me as I’ve proceeded with my Major Project.  At the start of the year I was adamant that my major project would be a comedy theatre script with a zombie plot. I love zombies, I love theatre, and that was going to be my project, and that was that.  Needless to say I didn’t listen at first when I was advised that this was a bad idea.  I wrote a zombie theatre script last year, which is now in pre-production.  I had an entirely different idea for the next one, but was warned that it was in too similar a vein and that it would limit my progress as a writer.  It was pointed out that if I were to meet with someone in the industry, they would want to know about the variety of things I had written and I can’t very well say ‘I’ve written only theatre zombie scripts, so I’m very employable as a writer!’

I struggled to construct the main plot of this idea, with characters feeling flimsy and I just generally had a lack of ideas in terms of narrative.  I had some entirely different ideas in the back of mind, but I’ve only ever written for theatre and I felt uncomfortable about moving into another medium.  I was encouraged to start developing the idea I had for a TV series, and as soon as I began I realised that my lecturer was right about the theatre project.  I was only adamant about it because I love zombie culture, but it had no real substance so that’s why I was struggling with it. Thanks to the encouragement and great advice and feedback I’ve had in this class I feel that I’m now working on something far more substantial, with far more potential for actual production.  Thank you Stapes!

TUTORIALS WITH SIAN… The thing I like most about my one-on-one tutorials with Sian is that she always tells me when something doesn’t make sense or add up.  As with my Major Project Treatment, I’ve been updating her on my ideas, outlines, synopsis, etc.  I’m really enjoying my project, but because I’m so wrapped up in trying to create the comedy aspect of the show, I sometimes miss quite obvious flaws and plot holes, even when I think it’s really tight.  Sian catches them every time and she asks me a lot of questions, prompting me to think far more deeply about how I’m constructing my characters and story.  She’s helping me to connect to my work on a personal level, as the idea for this project was sparked by something difficult from my real life, but I was trying to deny it. She’s helped me embrace it as the terms gone on, and I’m really grateful for it as I feel I’m producing a much higher standard of work than I would have before.  I’m now working on the third draft of my treatment.

RESIDENCY WEEKEND… with James Robinson

This weekend was great, I learned so much and really can’t wait for the next one.  The first day was incredibly informative and I was able to join Octopus Writers, which seems like a great opportunity, really can’t wait to start that in January!  The adaptation class with Sian was fabulous as I cleared up the questions I had (have been thinking about my adaptation treatment all term), and can now start structuring my idea over Christmas… I love to get these things under way early!  The afternoon of presentations was extremely informative and helpful, and generally I loved being with the part-timers, as I never get to see or work with them!

The second day with James Robinson from BBC Radio was great.  It was wonderful to have an industry professional work with us on recording our own short radio plays and very insightful about the industry.  I’m interested in radio, but after this weekend I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I might like to write, and have an idea I’d like to use for my Short Script module.  It was also quite refreshing to meet such a friendly, helpful and open professional who actually works in the industry I’d like to work my way in to – it reminded me that my goal to work as a writer isn’t so far-fetched.

 

Overall, I’ve had a wonderful and constructive first term, and have loved every day of my studies so far! A huge thank you to my lecturers and I wish you all a very happy Christmas! See you in the new year x

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Production Update #3

After the third rehearsal, I have some work to do over Christmas!

. The ending needs a re-write as the practicalities of what I had originally planned just don’t work on stage.  We tried, it can’t be done (unless it was to be created on-screen, but this is theatre!).  I’m not altogether worried about this, as I have an alternative ending in mind anyway, but it does of course mean altering small sections of the entire script in order to lead to this new conclusion.  Also, I am quite happy about changing the final image of the piece, as what I have in mind is now far stronger, (I hope!) as a lasting image for the audience to take away with them.  I wouldn’t have thought of this ending without watching the cast though, in fact, a lot of ideas and opportunities for comedy have come to light through identifying what can be utilised from the actors themselves.

What I’ve found particularly interesting about realising things about stage practicalities is that to a degree, I sort of thought I knew all of this before.  I’ve performed on stage myself, and through devising work have also co-directed amongst fellow performers.  I honestly thought when I was writing, that everything I had written was not only doable, but very simple.  When we realised that one of the key moments would actually be very difficult to perform effectively, due to a piece of simple equipment I had factored in, I was surprised at first. Then I thought, ‘of course that won’t work, what was I thinking?’. The director almost immediately asked if I could re-write this, if there was something else I could do.  This has taught me something I think will be very valuable in the future:

If sections can’t be done, the play more than likely won’t be staged at all. In this case, as I am part of the production process, the director could quite easily just ask me to re-write this section. However, this wouldn’t be the case for someone who had read my script and then come across an issue like this.  It would mean that the director or other people involved would have to solve this problem themselves, creating a lot more work for them, perhaps in an area (writing) that isn’t a part of their expertise or interest.  I understand that there are playwrights who write the impossible (I recall a Sarah Kane play in which someone is to ejaculate flowers into the air…), and I understand that given a large budget, other problems can be overcome.  Personally though, I think it wiser to simply write what can be done, and this has made me aware of limitations I hadn’t considered before. I don’t suppose that my job as a writer has been properly fulfilled if I create a situation that forces other people to take over writing and changing bits of my work.

. SPELLING MISTAKES. I actually just can not believe that there are a few spelling mistakes in my script.  I drafted 4 versions altogether, and must have read and re-read this play a thousand times – sometimes searching specifically for errors.  I can not believe that there are mistakes in there, especially since this is something I detest when I’m reading a published piece of work.  I usually assume it’s down to laziness and carelessness, as I can’t imagine someone submitting something that isn’t perfect in this sense.  Now I realise that I am quite wrong, as I know how hard I worked to ensure there were no such errors before submitting my own work… but there are still some in there.  I suppose the lesson to be learned from this is simply to print out a version, then go through it a final time.  The errors jumped out of the pages at me this way, whereas on a computer screen my eyes seemed to filter them out.

This rehearsal presented me with the same lessons learned from the previous two – that I must let go of the reigns a bit, and that changes will be made no matter how much I think some of what I wrote is important.  So far, those changes seem to have bettered the piece though, and this is something I’m learning to accept and, actually, embrace.  The next set of rehearsals will take place after Christmas, and I’m hoping the actors will be off-script by then so we can really get to work on the action.

Writing these updates is helping me in reflecting on the writing process a great deal, and I hope some of it is interesting to anyone reading.  I look forward to updating you on this process in about a month – have a jolly good Christmas!

xxxx

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Production Update #2

Howdy!

So last Thursday (05/12/13), our second meeting as a team took place, and we officially began rehearsals with the play ‘up on it’s feet’.  Here is what I learned this time…

I will from now on, always listen to the wise words of David Mamet, who in his book ‘On Directing’ stated that stage directions are likely to be ignored.  I was hoping to co-direct this piece (probably an element of my control-freak nature coming out there…), but found that actually, the director is great and I’d much rather observe the process.  Instead of interjecting where I noticed my stage directions where being ignored and/or changed, I found myself staying silent.  I found that watching the rehearsal process, but being not of it (much like the Talamasca in that respect) was both fascinating and terrifying.  The latter because with each tiny change that was made, I felt a sense of irrational panic that my work was going to be altered so dramatically that it would become unrecognisable to me.  This is silly, obviously, but the sense of losing control over what I envisioned was both unpleasant and liberating – and I think this is teaching me a valuable lesson about the professional world of writing.  Of course I already know that scripts and novels will be edited and criticised, but now I know how this actually feels I imagine that I am far more equipped to dealing with this reality in the future.  Additionally, I am learning (reluctantly I admit), that little things, like stage directions, don’t really matter.  I realised that even with lots of small changes, the overall context of the piece itself, and the characters, remained firmly intact.  I guess as long as the message is clear enough in the writing, I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff.  But letting go is hard!

 

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Current Project Update

Current Project: Update #1

On Thursday (28/11/13), the initial read-through for my first play took place with the actors chosen during the casting process.  I learned a lot, and already have the feeling that I’m about to journey along a very harsh, but necessary, learning curve.

A)  I have to let go of my vision to a considerable extent.  I realised partly during casting that no matter how much I explain what I intended when I wrote the characters, no one else, in the entire world, will read my words the way I wrote them.  During the read-through, I was surprised (both pleasantly and unpleasantly, depending on the line) at how differently the actors interpreted their pieces of dialogue.  Humour was (effectively) inflected in places I hadn’t even intended to be funny, giving me that classic ‘damn, I wish I’d thought of that first!’ feeling.  Additionally, the actors (all four of them) interpreted the sense of humour of their particular character in a way that differs to what I pictured in my head in terms of line delivery, but this isn’t necessarily bad.  As long as a sense of humour is coming across (vital, since the play is a comedy after all!), I think the writing serves its purpose, and the actors serve the script well.  It just means that when this play is staged, it is going to look and feel rather different to what I imagined during the writing process.

B) As a writer, I have A LOT of work to do and improvements to make. I was pretty pleased with myself when I was awarded a 1st for this piece last year for one of my undergrad modules.  I was ecstatic when another lecturer from the university suggested we actually stage it.  My primary dream is, and always has been, to see something I’ve written staged.  I just could not believe my luck that someone else read my work and wanted to do something with it, and I still can’t.  However, I’m not too proud but am embarrassed to admit that this started going to my head a bit.  I’ve had a pretty shoddy five years or so, and the notion of getting to see my work realised lifted my spirits so much that I believe I may have floated above the Earth somewhat. After hearing my words read aloud, my feet are firmly planted back on the ground.  Because some of what I wrote is not brilliant. Some of it isn’t as hilarious as I thought it was.  Some of it…. is crap.  I winced in parts because my writing, although it looked good on paper, sounded clumpy when spoken.  I found a section in the first scene to be so long and uninteresting that I didn’t even care what was going on.  One of my characters is so one-dimensional that in a scene I’d written in an attempt to expose his vulnerable side, my writing goes to all hell.  I may as well have written ‘I may seem tough, but actually I am a layered character with complex feelings.  So I am likeable and you can relate to me after all!’  I can summarise my feelings on these realisations in one phrase – face palm.

On a more positive note, I am relieved beyond words that it actually comes across as a comedy.  The actors struggled through laughter with a couple of lines because they found them so funny, which made me breathe a huge sigh of relief.  Quite often I’ve had the fear that my jokes are only funny to me…

The biggest lesson I think I’ve learned is that no matter how tight your final draft is, the writing process doesn’t really end there (not for me in this instance anyway).  Having the work read aloud is so insightful that I can now begin re-drafting again, and fix the problems that I didn’t even realise were there.  With a lot of hard work and my fingers crossed I think I can now begin to create something that is actually worthy of an audience!

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