Creative Scriptwriting and Copywriting

Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page

The little things

In scriptwriting, writing on July 29, 2010 at 1:21 pm

February 1977: the eight year old me takes eight new pence to Mrs McBride’s newsagents in Feltham Road, Ashford, Middlesex, to buy a new weekly comic I had seen advertised on TV.

I liked 2000AD a lot. I liked the free plastic “Space Spinner” on the front (a cheap copy of a Frisbee). I liked the exciting story, MACH 1 (a cheap copy of the Six Million Dollar Man). I liked the little “Credit Cards” in the corner of the stories which, unusually for UK comics of the time, told you who had written and drawn the strips.

(I still have my copy, although it does look slightly different to the one above). When Lee Majors grew a moustache in real life, I drew one on his cartoon counterpart. )

August 1991: the twenty-three year old me takes sixty pence to a now-forgotten newsagents (which obviously has a lot less resonance to me because I am twenty-three and have been in lots of newsagents) to buy 2000AD number 742. There is no free gift. There is no MACH 1. But in one of those little “Credit Cards” is my name. My first script for the same comic I bought at the age of eight.

You don’t get too many experiences as good as that in a writing career. The moment when you directly move from being the reader to the writer. Seeing your work made real (in print, on screen, on stage) can sometimes seem strange – it’s never quite what you imagined. So, often, the oddest little buzz you get from work isn’t the production as such, but the trivial little details that surround it: not watching my first TV drama go out, but seeing my name in the Radio Times.

And then, last month, another such moment. My first movie shown in a cinema. A cinema where I love going to the cinema.

Let’s be clear, this was no summer blockbuster.

It was a five minute movie: an educational film project I’ve been working on as a script consultant, helping primary school children shape their stories and experiences into filmable sequences, and then mucking in with some directing, editing and animating guidance too. It’s very much a film made by the children, but with adult professional help.

But even so…

Our little film! At the pictures!

I couldn’t make the premiere (it may have been ten o’clock in the morning, but it was still a premiere…). Ironically, I was having a meeting about a great project scripting on a million-pound plus motor industry sales conference in a Glamorous Foreign City, but it was the reaction to the little film that was making me more nervous.

I did get a text at 10:15: “The children cheered, the adults cried” which at least meant all had gone well.

And I made it the next day, when another couple of busloads of kids from the school in question were dropped at the city’s arts cinema for another ten o’clock screening.

There were plush velvet seats. There was popcorn. The house lights went down. The curtains opened.

And this played on the big screen. Magic:

(Screenwriter Phill Barron writes here about his experience watching his film on the big screen for the first time. The same, but different. )

Revealed at last: inside Alan Partridge’s hotel drawer.

In copywriting, scriptwriting, writing on July 13, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Good writing is as much about what you leave out as what you put in.

Like the monster skulking in the shadows, or the compelling off-screen presence (Her Indoors or Mrs Mainwaring) what we don’t reveal can be more captivating than what we do.

So when Alan Partridge was holed-up in the Linton Travel Tavern, the mystery of what exactly was tucked away in his desk drawer was made more delicious by never being solved.

Horrific? Embarrassing? Stomach-churning? Hilarious? Who knew?

Well, the writers knew.

Controlling the information you reveal is a technique that holds good whatever you’re writing.

If you can get your audience to do a little work for themselves – to use their imaginations, anticipate your punch-line, fill in the gaps – they’re engaging more closely with your world.

But leaving a space for the audience to fill can’t be a short-cut for a writer. You still need to know exactly what it is you’re holding back, so that the gap that you leave is exactly the right shape. That means fully immersing yourself in every detail of your fictional world and characters, or doing more research than your client will ever expect for your corporate brief. It’s only when you understand it all that you’ll realise what needs to remain, and what you hint at or allude to.

So, what exactly was in Alan Partridge’s top drawer?

According to Alan’s co-creator Armando Iannucci, speaking at Nottingham’s ScreenLit Festival earlier this year, the writers knew specifically: copies of the fictional Dutch special-interest magazine, Dikke Vrouwen op de Toiletten.

(Readers of an inquisitive disposition are invited to Google Translate the term. Readers of a sensitive disposition are warned not to. Readers of a particularly astute nature will notice that by asking you to work to fill the gap in your understanding, I am expertly manoeuvring you to engage more closely with the blog.)