#ThinkpieceThursday – Genre Is Meaningless

Thinkpiece Thursday

I am a screenwriting heretic.  I don’t believe in many of the so-called foundational tenets of screenwriting.  For example, I don’t believe genre is a helpful term for writers.

Genre is mostly style, tone, and setting.  It’s a marketing tool.  It’s designed to help people scanning Netflix or Hulu for something to watch that fits their mood.

The Silence of the Lambs, on a streaming service, could be found under keywords: detective, crime, serial killer (sub-genre), mystery, thriller, or even coming of age (it’s about a young woman who is assigned her first professional job).  How is that mix helpful to a writer?

A detective story sometimes involves a murder, but not always. A thriller often involves a crime, but not always. A serial killer story sometimes involves a mystery, but not always.

This is very hazy ambiguous stuff when great writing is always about specificity.  What to do instead?

Apocalypse Now and Chinatown would never be located on the same “genre” shelf, but they both have the same emotional structure.  To me, emotional structure is key.

Both of these films feature a protagonist trying to find the truth about one simple thing (AN: where is Colonel Kurtz? CT: Who killed Hollis Mulwray?).

Over the course of the film, the protagonist finds out the truth about a much larger thing (N: The moral quagmire that was the war in Vietnam. CT: The corruption in City of Los Angeles water system.).

And in the end, the protagonist finds out the truth about himself (AN: Captain Willard could easily become Colonel Kurtz and, in fact, Kurtz’s followers want him to do just that. Willard looks into his own heart of darkness. CT: Jake Gittes lost two women he loved because he refused to ask for help.).

In Chinatown, we know Gittes has a strong relationship with the press because he threatens the bureaucrat with exposure in the press.  He could expose Noah Cross publically.  His ex-partner is a decent cop.  Gittes admits as much to Cross.  But Gittes doesn’t go to his partner for help in exposing Cross.

In each alternative, Evelyn Mulwray probably would never speak to or see Gittes again for revealing their monstrous family secret, but she wouldn’t be dead and her daughter/sister wouldn’t be in the hands of Cross.

Emotionally, Apocalypse Now and Chinatown have the same structure.  This is a specific emotional pattern that I think is much more useful than undefined notions of genre.

 

 

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#ThrowbackThursday- Aardman, Bristol and Me

Throwback Thursday

Something a little different this week…

People often ask me why I moved to the UK and why Bristol in particular.  I will leave the UK answer to my post on the difference between American and UK/European broadcasters.  The answer to the Bristol part is easy.

My good friend Paul Kewley, when newly appointed as a development executive at Aardman Studios, invited me to Bristol to do a series of workshops.  These visits to the city from the US resulted in several consulting assignments on Aardman projects.

I met Paul when I was in the Masters Program in Screenwriting at UCLA and he, a Brit, was a student in the USC Masters program in Producing.

He like a script of mine and we went out pitching a number of projects together.  Over the years we stayed in touch and when we were in a position to recommend each other we did! So thanks Paul for the introduction to Bristol and Aardman

Paul has since become Oscar-nominated as a producer of Shaun the Sheep.  One of Aardman’s iconic characters, first introduced in Nick Park’s Oscar-winning A Close Shave.

Always be kind to school chums as they may someday be in a position to offer you a job! And it’s a good idea to be kind and helpful anyway because that makes you a human being!

The lovely Nick Park, as a result of my work on Aardman projects, wrote one of the two letters I needed to apply for my Tier One Exceptional Talent visa. This allows me to work in the UK without restriction.

Nick is quite simply a genius, although a genuinely humble and shy one. The gentle affection with which he writes his characters, despite their loopy eccentricities shows a depth of understanding of the human condition.  Thanks, Nick for being one of the principle reasons I was allowed my lovely time in Bristol.

Barbara Machin, BAFTA-winning creator of Waking the Dead brought me on board as a consultant for long-running BBC medical series Casualty.  

I’ve since done work on both Casualty and companion show Holby City. The first show is about A & E (or the emergency room in US terms) and the second is set in the hospital.

 The shows were initially shot in Bristol and subsequently moved to Cardiff.  But it was another introduction to Bristol and Barbara was a principal cheerleader and hand-holder during my UK Visa application process.

So thank Barbara for encouraging not to give up my dream of living in the UK.  Initially, I thought for one year, but it’s been almost five and with a recent visa renewal, I am good to stay until 2021 and eligible to apply for “leave to remain” indefinitely. (like a US Green Card).

Wildseed, a talent incubator and production company started by Miles Bulloughs and Jesse Cleary, Aardman alumnus, hired me early on to help young animators improve their storytelling skills.  It was a Bristol vote of confidence shortly after I moved. And subsequently, Scandinavian and UK writers/directors and producers have come to Bristol to work with me.  And it’s very easy to fly anywhere from Bristol airport via Amsterdam or Brussels.

So the final answer is, I knew a lot of people in Bristol (a real social network and not just a virtual one), there were lots of clients here, and it is easy to travel anywhere in the world.  Not to mention Bristol is a wonderful friendly creative city! Voted Best Place to Live in Britain-  CLICK HERE

 

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#ThinkpieceThursday – 30 Something Turns 30

Thinkpiece Thursday

It was thirty years ago last week that the seminal television series 30 Something first aired on ABC. Within a year it won an Emmy as best drama.  Hollywood Reporter published a great look back at the development of the show.  Here is a quote:

Baby boomers Herskovitz and Zwick realized that outside of Kate & Allie and Saturday Night Live, they weren’t seeing a lot of their baby boomer peer group on television. That led to conversations about doing a series that not only captured who their generation was but did it without making them be doctors, lawyers or cops. As they talked things out, they realized how they and their friends were all struggling with the same issues: fear of marriage, having kids and not really understanding how to be a parent and not having a clear career path.

I think we are in the same situation thirty years on.  You never see 60 somethings on TV unless they fill the minor role of grandparents in a drama. It’s like this whole huge population segment has no life of their own.  (Okay Netflix’s Frankie and Grace is a rare exception but, like Golden Girls, is a comedy.)

I wish someone would realize that this age group (as above) is struggling with the same issues: fear of losing independence, launching kids and have them coming back and not knowing where to draw the line, not having a clear path to retirement or what comes next, dating and finding love again. This is the stuff of drama.  I wish someone could take the leap that ABC took with 30 Something.

#MondayMusings – Awesome Oslo

MONDAY MUSINGS

I have been away from Norway for a while. When I arrived, I realized how much I missed working in Oslo. The Drama Days summit was wonderful.  Interesting panels and most of my local professional colleagues in one place!!  I did a short lecture on The Emotional Toolbox and the following day a full day workshop.

I had a great weekend off– well, sort of off.  I had several project synopsis to read in preparation for one-on-one consultations for the Norwegian Film Institute.  Excited to meet all the writers.  Several of the projects have already been commissioned by the NRK (Norway’s equivalent to the BBC).

Some great drama and comedy shows are coming from the network– I particularly loved Norsemen, a wacky comedy, Valkyrien, a wonderful medical thriller, and Occupied,  a show about the stealth takeover of the Norwegian government by Russia for the oil and gas resources (on TV 2).  You can catch all of this on Netflix!

Here is a great video that gives a taste of Oslo:

#MondayMusings – You Okay?

Monday Musings

When I first moved to the UK I was rather unnerved by the typical greeting: “You okay?”  I wondered if I looked ill or if I was somehow wearing my pants (underwear) outside my trousers (pants). Were they asking if something was WRONG with me?

Then a friend surmised (not sure how reliable this person is) that the greeting originated during the Blitz in London during World War II.

It was a reassurance that a friend or stranger had survived intact. A quick check that they had indeed made it through.  “Okay?  You okay?”

Now the greeting is a cursory, automatic response. It doesn’t unnerve me because, in fact, I am surviving just fine. And I answer: “Yeah, you?”

But after catastrophic fire, flood, drought, and wind in the US maybe it’s worth taking a note from our British cousins.  You okay?

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#MondayMusings – I Love Bank Holidays

Monday Musings

The Summer Bank Holiday has come and gone (August 28, the last Monday in August).

The August Bank Holiday was originally organized by the Bank Holidays Act of 1871 to give bankers a day off so they could participate in cricket matches. Since then, however, its significance has expanded to a much-beloved summer break intended to give all workers a three-day weekend before the summer ends and employees must return to the workplace and students to their schools.

The Notting Hill Carnival in London is probably the number one August Bank Holiday event in the whole UK. It is the largest street fest in all Europe, drawing one to two million attendees each year, and it is the second-biggest street carnival on the planet.

The festival was founded in 1964 by London’s Caribbean community to celebrate Caribbean culture, and it has maintained that Caribbean flavor to this day. This year a minute’s silence was held across the whole carnival at 3pm on Sunday to remember those killed when a fire ripped through the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, killing 80 local area people.

The “August Festival” is a collective name for a number of distinct festivals celebrating books, music, theater, comedy, and spoken word performances taking place in Edinburgh throughout the month of August. The festival variety lasts for the greater part of the month and runs through the August Bank Holiday Weekend.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival offers edgier avant-garde performances.

What strikes me as amazing is how sacred Bank Holiday are in the UK.  NO ONE is working.  NO ONE answers emails.  NO ONE returns telephone calls.

In America, people are expected to be reachable on holidays.  Not so in the UK.  This is just one of the many reasons life is so pleasant here. There is a real life work balance and an expectation that shared family holiday time is important.  The nine Bank Holiday long weekends are on top of about 5 weeks paid vacation a year!

And don’t whinge about Brits being less productive.  Study after study reveals how important time to regroup and recharge is to creativity and productivity.

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#MondayMusings – Alternative Workspaces

MONDAY MUSINGS

I live a part of the year in the US and the greater part of the year in the UK.  I am very happy to return to my adopted home now through May.

I do have my own office in Bristol but something draws me out and I find I am happiest at my dining table (inside with doors flung open or outside in my little courtyard). or in a nearby poolside coffee shop/restaurant around the corner.

Another favorite spot is in a nearby poolside coffee shop/restaurant around the corner.  Lunch, coffee, or a tea time dessert can be had as swimmers stroke back and forth.

Writing is a lonely vocation.  Sometimes I need people around me and a few hellos to friends. Lots of creative people hang out/work poolside at The Lido.  (You’ve nothing on Bristol, LA!)

Sometimes I just need a bit of air.  The value of good weather in the UK isn’t to be taken lightly! It is always a cause for celebration.

Where are you happiest writing or thinking?

 

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#MondayMusings – Packing for Business Travel

Monday Musings

I am on my way to Copenhagen as you read this.  Looking forward to a wonderful time meeting new and old friends. The conference has a big treat in store, a boat ride to a fantastic dinner location.  Then back to Bristol for just enough time to unpack and do laundry. Then I am immediately on to Amsterdam! Watch my ETBScreenwriting  INSTAGRAM for pictures,

This is typical of my schedule, I’m a frequent traveler, traveling back and forth between the UK and (mostly) continental Europe and Scandinavia.  I’m not quite in the same league as the main character in “Up in the Air.” In that film, George Clooney plays a frequent flier who is on the road 270 days a year. As Clooney’s character reports, the difference between having to check luggage and fitting everything into a carry-on is a week’s worth of time spent waiting in line.

So that’s tip #1:  Travel Light.  Limit yourself to one cabin sized roll on bag and a compact computer bag. Being the first through customs, never waiting for luggage, and no one EVER losing your baggage is a tremendous advantage in my book. I can easily get two weeks of travel out of one carry-on.

Tip #2: Start with a Dark Base Color.  Personally, I’ve been transitioning from black to navy.  I think navy blue is more interesting than the more expected black. I am lucky to work in the entertainment business where the dress is casual.  I usually pack two pairs of navy business casual trousers and a dark pair of slim jeans. I also bring three nice tops, two sweaters, and a light leather coat.  A couple of soft tee-shirts (cotton and cashmere), and a night gown completes my basic wardrobe. I also usually throw in a packable light down vest.

Tip #3. Limit Shoes. I usually wear ankle boots or trainers on the plane and pack two pairs of nice flats. I’ve picked out trainers that can double as casual shoes– I have good sturdy suede ones.

Tip #4: Add Color with Accessories. I pack a couple of colorful silk scarves to brighten things up.  And I always wear a big soft cozy scarf on the plane.  It’s can be cold on board.

Tip #5:  Wear a Denim Dress on Board.  This is one of the best tips I’ve ever gotten from a fellow female traveler.  A loose denim dress and silky leggings are like wearing pajamas.  I bring a belt to cinch the dress pre and post flight. The denim dress can be dressed up for dinner at the location, while still being casual.

Tip #6. Find Tube and Pencil Versions of Makeup. They fit more easily in the required zip lock bags. Lipstick can double as a blusher.  I snag travel sized toothpaste at the dentist and 2 oz contact solution at the optician. I also have a travel size of my favorite Hermes perfume.  There’s no need to bring more liquid than that.  AND there are drug stores all over the world. Buy what you need on location and leave it behind when you go.

Tip #7: Save Your Back. A roll-on with a hook that holds your computer case counterbalances the load so that you can cruise through the airport quickly. If your bag doesn’t have such an add-on bag strap you can easily buy one.

Tip #8: Test ALL Your Batteries. Make sure your rechargeables are fully charged (Kindle, iPad, FitBit, Computer). Know the capacity of your batteries. You might be surprised by how long a trip you can make without lugging along a bag full of chargers.

Tip #9: Always Bring Backups. “A high-resolution scan of your driver’s license, passport, visas, and credit cards on the SD card of your smartphone or on your computer HD can be a life saver if anything is lost or stolen.  I also recommend a paper print out as well.

Tip #10: Put Medications in the Safe. I once had medication pilfered at a high-end resort. I didn’t notice until I ran out, way ahead of schedule. In some countries, there’s a big black market in prescription medicine.

All that is left is: Relax, bring a snack (food on board is iffy), listen to a downloaded audible book, and enjoy the ride!

 

 

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#MondayMusings – Coincidence? Or Not?

MONDAY MUSINGS

I love Charity Shops in the UK and Thrift Stores, as they are called, in the US.  I bought a colorful large silk scarf in Bristol and yesterday, about a year or so after my original purchase, I saw the same scarf in Madison, Wisconsin.  I bought it  (and now have one scarf for each place, the UK, and US).

What a strange coincidence to find the same donated scarf in resale shops worlds and years apart. That got me musing about coincidence in stories.

Let’s say two women buy the same silk scarf in different countries and at different times and their lives are changed.  How?  Mistaken identity? The forging of an unlikely friendship? The purchase some how spirals one woman into tragedy and spurs the other woman toward fulfilling her dreams?

It’s the stuff of stories. Or is it?  The Atlantic published a wonderful piece on coincidence in stories.   My favorite excerpt is:

(M)aybe … what makes coincidences special is that they present a piece of evidence that the world doesn’t work how you thought it did. Did you run into your friend at the grocery store because cosmic forces were pushing you two together? Did you hear the same song everywhere you went one day because it contained a message for you? Probably not, but it can feel that way, at least at first, and that’s what makes a coincidence startling. It’s unsettling to feel a ripple in the fabric of your reality.

The takeaway here is if you use coincidence don’t just use it to push the plot forward.  Instead, or in addition, use it to show how this event knocks your protagonist of his or her stride or rips a tear in the fabric of their reality.

Read the full Atlantic article HERE

 

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#MondayMusings – Packing for Bristol

Monday Musings

I am back in the UK at the end of August and will be starting a series of Screenwriting Roundtables starting in September. Watch this space!  I am anxious to get back to my secret weapon and screenwriting guru, Mr. Otto Longi.  His expert advice does come at a price.  Packing the toys and treats he requires.

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