Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How the story began

I mentioned I have been writing a script. Where it came from and how, I haven't yet gone into here, something I mentioned back in this post. But the reason posts have been slow is that I am finally really getting somewhere with it. Characters, research, plotting and, now, finally, actually writing.

Well, where it came from is a story I want to tell here. How a once-lowly animator has people looking for a screenplay. But it all happened in so many unconnected pieces that putting a form on it would be trickier than writing the actual script.

But I wrote a beginning. And then I didn't post it. Why didn't I post it? Well, I'll get into that after this post, not posted earlier in the year:

This post is the most productive thing I've done all day. I am consumed by worry. It takes over. It prevents any sort of concentration. And it makes me feel ill.

This happens. It used to happen more and I guess I should take it as a good sign that the feeling is not as familiar to me as it once was. Small things would build up in my head and become big things. They'd eat at me. Sometimes, my fears would be completely unwarranted and I'd feel like a tit for spending so much time worrying. Other times, I had damn good reason to worry.

And, sometimes, the act of worrying in itself would create circumstances that would realise all my fears.

This time, it's a meeting. A meeting in which I am going to disappoint someone who has been very supportive I took too much on. My life is too busy and my brain is too small to contain everything. Something has to go. And so I have to meet to say exactly that - that thing you wanted me to do, well, I can't make it happen. Not now, at least.

It's too hot in here. Why is it so hot?

That's the post. I was worried because what happened was that I had dug myself into a hole. I was so busy last year and just kept on adding more and more work like some sort of masochistic nut. And I applied for some local funding to write a script. And I got it. Yay. And I worked at it and worked at it and worked at it and, eventually, realised a few things:

a) My writing was shit.
b) I knew how to make it better.
c) I couldn't ever make something of this story because the problem I had identified in 'a' was so fundamental to how I approached this story, it could never be saved. It was always going to be rubbish.

I tried my damndest to turn it around based on 'b', but I knew it wasn't going to happen. So I had to bite the bullet - I had to meet with the funders and tell them why I couldn't write the script I had convinced them was good. Why I would have to give back the money and leave it there. And the post above is the one I wrote that afternoon.

As for why I didn't post it, well, I decided at the last minute to see how the meeting would turn out. And it turned out with them saying, well now that you've realised you can write a better script, just write one from scratch. And so that's how this all began.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The ultimate trick to writing

I had found this worked before and may have mentioned the first part of this in an earlier post. Testing it again, it still works and I have a greater understanding of why it works.

Go away. To a country where you don't speak the language.

This works in two distinct phases. Phase 1 is the journey. There are very few things more dull on this planet than long trips on airplanes, waiting at airports, checking in, going throuh security and so on. With check-in times getting longer and longer, this experience gets more dull all the time. There is damn-all to do in an airport. Or on an airplane.

At a certain point, your brain gets so utterly bored, it starts making up interesting stuff simply to keep itself from shutting down completely. These are the beginnings of stories. Just embrace the boredom and let them come.

What I don't think I had fully realised before was the importance of Phase 2 - simply being in a country where you have no idea what people are saying. This works on many levels. Firstly, it helps you actually see things. As humans, our process for recognising things is about what is different, not what is the same. A smell, after a while, we'll cease to notice. The ticking of a clock will vanish sooner or later. Our brain takes familiar things and puts them in the 'not important' category. We know an apple from an orange not from what is similar, but from what is different.

Going about our daily grind, we encounter the same things over and over. And, after a while, we don't see them any more. It's hard to be observant. Hard to actually take things in. Everything is just normal and so goes unrecognised.

In an unfamiliar country, and unfamiliar culture, there are differences everywhere. And that wakes up our brain. It forces us to observe. We see buildings, people, objects, signs that we just pass by at home and never take in. But, somewhere different, we take it all in.

And what's even more important is that our brain is given its own space to work these images in, to interpret them and to let things form and flow. Walking down a street at home, we are bombarded with pieces of conversation, radio, television, whatever. There is constant language stimulation. Our inner brain conversations have a hard time being heard. When forming stories and working on writing, language clarity is all important. But that's really tough when words are being thrown at you from all over.

Not so in a country where you don't speak the language. Your brain is alone. Finally. It can work away by itself while actually being observant for once.

And then you just go to wherever you're staying and write. When you get tired, blocked or just fancy something else to do, go for a walk and 40 minutes later, without really doing anything, you'll have more material. Write again. And repeat.

It's my ultimate writing tip. And it's not failing me.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I'm away at the moment. In a whole other time zone, both physically and mentally. I've just had some beers in a tiny pub that apparently has been unchanged for over 40 years. Looking at it, I'd say longer. A shouty musician with an accordian topped off the whole experience. I thought he rocked. I am so going to learn the accordian. Or accordion. Whichever one is spelled correctly. I guess I could do a spell check but, jeez, I'm on holiday. Give me a break.

The poor ol' blog has been crying out for posts though and I don't even have my Wacom with me. So I dug out this old image I did a looooong time ago that I don't think I posted for whatever reason. I don't even remember the context, if there was any.

I was once in an apartment building years ago and one Sunday morning, the neighbours beside me were having very noisy screamy sex. And the neighbours above me. And below me. All at the same time. It was like surround sound. I wonder if everyone in the building all set a time and they just forgot to tell me?

Other things neighbours like to do include painting my side of the fence and hammering at weird times. In fact the guy next door to me (at home, not here) seems to have DIY going all year for the last four years. And the houses are tiny. There's no way there is enough work to keep him busy. I'm almost certain now that he's carving up bodies and burying them in his floorboards. I'm going to end up being that guy interviewed saying, "Well, he kept to himself mostly. A bit of a loner." Thing is, he is. I've never seen anyone else ever go inside his house.

When I get home, I think I might call the police.

I've managed to start writing. That's good.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I'm not in familiar locations right now, hence a slowdown in posts and an earlier failed attempt to post from my iPod Touch. This post probably would have been too long to type on that anyway. Well, back at a laptop, I have more empty pages to stare at as I attempt to start this script but, of course, empty pages aren't always bad.

I've always hated deadlines. I respect them. I never miss them. But I hate them. They are like this oncoming train and you're standing right on the tracks, trying to build a wall strong enough to stop it before it crushes you.

I've often thought it would be great to have a day to day job. You know, like retail, or something. There are plenty of them - jobs that aren't easy by any means but you've succeeded if you survive the day and you just start it all over again the next day. There are no major events that will make or break you. You can do your day's work, go home and that's it.

Could well be a 'greener grass' thing.

But one thing about long projects and deadlines is that they give you some clear chapter breaks in your life. Time to pause. To re-evaluate. And the opportunity to start fresh.

A major chapter break happened when I moved from advertising to children's programming. I had been diagnosed with depression, was on meds but was really in a bad place. Like, worse than I think anyone including myself knew. It's only looking back on it now that I can know that. And say it. It was a dark time. One way or another, my life was going to change. I didn't know if I'd survive that change. I didn't know if anyone would be with me if I did.

The big problem with depression is that it clouds everything. You can't trust anything in your own mind and that is a frightening prospect. It's dangerous to make any big moves based on clouded judgement and yet a complete change just might be that thing that lifts you.

But I was coming to the end of something.

I took a break. Somewhere, deep down, I think I knew I could never make another ad. They were pointless soul-destroying blots on society, cancers pushed by corporations upon corporations. If you follow the chain of ownership long enough, anyone you work for will turn out to be pure evil. What they were destroyed any and all artistic merit. They were filth.

My last ad was for a product by a company owned by Pfizer.

I was finished.

My career could have ended right there. I was lost. And then life just gave me a break. Said, this guy's had enough, let's give him something better. Things happened simultaneously - meds kicked in doing their thing, I had a break, a holiday that helped take me away from my previous life and, best of all, I was handed the opportunity to work on a children's show that I loved.

And a chapter ended. A new one began.

With the end of the last project, one that wasn't all that enjoyable spread over a very tough year for me, it brings with it a new chapter end. A complete close. A complete new start. We're well into 2009 now but I think only now can I really say goodbye to 2008. Only now can I let it go.

And so I begin again. I wouldn't get that clean a break working in a shop, would I?

Weird, I can post a title with my iPod but no text in the main text bit. I wonder how long my title can be? Pretty long it seems. Proper post later.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Here I go

Ugh... I don't even have interesting life crises. No, just the plain ol' usual ones that people are long bored of.

Was it Watchmen? Did Watchmen have me count the years back to when I first read it, not as a tiny child but as a young man? Twenty years ago. I wasn't even sure I'd even live to be twenty.

I did though. And then I lived to be thirty in a ridiculously short space of time. I mean, some say it was ten years but, no, it was much shorter than that. I'm now plummetting towards forty. Not long now.

Not long now.

I haven't yet changed the world. Made it a better place. Maybe next year. First, I've got to write this poxy script.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Writing is hard

Thing about this screenplay is that this, through a strange combination of random events (a tale I'll likely tell in bits and pieces), has managed to get further than any script I've written. Things are already moving with it. And I haven't actually written any of it yet.

Great, eh?

Well, no. You see, the amount of pressure that puts me under is immense. It is just so difficult to actually write it. To put words down on those empty pages.

It's not that I'm blocked. I haven't even started. But I have pages and pages of notes and they keep on coming. No, I'm not blocked. I'm paralysed by the fear of being blocked.

And it's not that I think it's rubbish and doomed to fail. It's that I actually think it could be fantastic and, if it could be, what the hell are the chances that I could realise its potential? If it was a crap idea, it wouldn't be a problem - I could only make it better. A fail student has nothing to worry about. If he gets a D, everyone celebrates. This could be my A project but, if I don't get it right, the disappointment of a B or, even more likely, a C could be devastating.

I am afraid.

That's why I needed to find that article and video here on the Daily Grail, the site Red Pill Junkie posts on (thanks, RPJ!). Elizabeth Gilbert, author of something I've never read called "Eat, Pray, Love" (I'm not so much into praying but I'm all for the other two), has this whacked-out notion of external beings just being creative through us rather than us being creative or talented ourselves. And, as whacked-out as that may be, I love that idea. I love that idea because it just might relieve me of some of that pressure. It might allow me to just go ahead and do what I need to do.
To actually write some words.

In the past, those screenplays I've written with other people in mind or drafts people are interested in, have been like the twelve labours of Hercules, only I've failed at least eleven of them. The pressure makes all the difference.

Somehow, I have to disassociate myself from this script. Find a way to tell myself that it doesn't matter jack shit what the hell I write. Only then will I really be able to do it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day all!

Hope you drunken Irish out there perpetuating the age-old stereotype don't make complete tits of yourselves and embarrass the plain ol' non-drunk Irish who are quite frankly fed up with that stereotype in spite of you all working your hardest to prove it true.

Nobody really believes the thing about the snakes, do they? I wonder if that's recognised by the church. I mean, he is a saint.

And if we can't trust the snake cover-up, what can we trust?

Yes, Paddy's Day is a dark day for truth.

Monday, March 16, 2009


I wasn't much of a superhero comics fan as a child. I loved comics and certainly the idea of drawings and words together and I grew up with 2000AD and stories like Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Nemesis the Warlock and Bad Company. If you also grew up with those, then you'll know that most superhero comics, by comparison, were plain stupid. Backwards.

Man in tights battles the forces of evil. Even as a young teenager, I'd think, how utterly naive. I think the only US comic that drew me in was Neil Gaiman's Sandman, mainly because it didn't treat me like a complete idiot.

Now people who don't know comics might be thinking at this point - well, of course. Comics are for kids. And, mostly, they are. But so were all those 2000AD stories and they weren't anywhere near as insulting.

Alan Moore wrote for 2000AD.

And then he wrote Watchmen. His take on the US superheros. And, when reading it, it was clear he was thinking the same thing I was - how utterly naive. He took that, and made it real. Showed how it might actually be if the world had supermen. And the world became a scary place. Many superhero comics tried to show human sides to their characters but Alan Moore actually made them human. And the one that wasn't... wasn't. Watchmen was a defining book of the '80s.

Many years later Zack Snyder made a remake of Dawn of the Dead and then went on to direct a movie version of Alan Moore's Watchmen. He stuck rather close to the book. Possibly too close at times - you wouldn't read the whole book at once and it was put out as clear distinct chapters with breaks whereas a movie is an 'all at once' experience. That made pacing very difficult. And some of the speeches that read fine on the page, sound a little odd spoken out loud in context.

So, if anything, I think the film could have done with more adaptation. A little more leeway in how faithful it had to be. Sure, some fans would spit venom over this and that being changed but a book is a book and a film is a film. All adaptations need to be, well, adapted.

And yet the one major thing that was changed didn't quite add up for me.

But, for me, what the film absolutely nailed were the characters. Those characters had all the spirit of the characters I read twenty years ago (yikes, is it really that long? Holy crap! How old am I?!) and, more than that, they had spirit on their own terms. I loved that all through it, Dan and Laurie just felt like two plain ol' regular people. And Jon's disconnection, his combination of look and that calm voice was perfect and had with it a sadness. I barely even need mention Rorschach. It was like they just pulled him from the pages and stuck him up on screen and he worked.

And, for me, that book was always about characters. If the film got that right, and for me it did, that's 90% of the battle to win me over.

I liked it. Just like the book was like no other superhero comic before it, the movie adaptation is like no other superhero movie.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Calling Red Pill Junkie!

RPJ, you posted a video on your site with a woman talking about creativity, inspiration and the idea of external forces at work. I was looking to see it again but can't find the link you posted in my archives and can't find it on your site either - just too many posts to go through. Do you remember it or who it was? Any chance you could link me to it again?

Friday, March 13, 2009

That Electric Company?

Linda Simensky posted over on Cartoon Brew about the new version of The Electric Company. Okay, so I would really have to have my paranoia dialled up to da maxx to think it's propaganda for GE (but, hey, when a corporation with so much control is that obviously evil, it doesn't hurt to be vigilant). I'm not sure that the UK ever got The Electric Company. I spent a significant chunk of my childhood in other places, wandering like the Littlest Hobo or like The Hulk on the television show, so I did see it and it was the next step up from Sesame Street in terms of language.

A fantastic show that consisted of sketches and language. Some of the language concepts were quite advanced - things that aren't that easy to explain - and yet the show made them totally clear. And it was very funny too. Featured stars like Bill Cosby along with its own cast, that included a young Morgan Freeman.

A show that, again, illustrates something I see totally lacking over this side of the Atlantic.

So, what about this new Electric Company? They have their work cut out for them. For a start, living up to the nostalgia of the adults who grew up with the original will be next to impossible. There's nothing they can do about that. They just have to try to make the best show they can. But today's climate seems less receptive to the creativity and indeed risk-taking that seemed to prevail in the 70s in educational television. I'm hoping I'm wrong there though.

Watching clips and episode chunks over at the website here, yeah, it's nothing like the original show. It's all very hip-hop. I don't have a problem with that. I actually quite enjoyed the I/YOU beatbox guy. But the episode sections with the stories seem altogether more... typical. Normal. Like the usual children's live action fare with a bit of hip-hop Hi-5 thrown in. And it has the usual bad guy (or girl in this case). These are the sections that drive the show and, so far, I wouldn't be a fan.

But once it actually gets into the language sketches, I think it does rather well. I particularly enjoyed the large camp street guy on the YouTube type video. And the letter songs and some of the animation sequences are pretty strong. So it's not the 70s version but it's not the 70s any more.

It's an admirable endeavour and to make any judgements on some web clips would probably be unfair. If anything, I don't want to make any judgements because I want it to be good. I want it to come from the right place and really help teach children. I hope they do a good job with it and, if they do, I hope it does well.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Turns out Saw V wasn't so great after all

Are you surprised?

It was messy. It told two stories, one of which I had no interest in and the other was mostly a montage of clips from previous Saw films. The character of Amanda was notably absent even though events took place around her. I wonder if they couldn't negotiate a deal or she just got bored doing Saw films or something.

This one was directed by a guy called David Hackl. Didn't he create Becker? This wasn't as funny as Becker. Actually there were a couple of unintentionally funny moments and, similarly, there have been some of moments in Becker that were unintentionally unfunny so maybe that fits. Probably not the same guy though. You know, because he would have had no problem getting the actress who plays Amanda... unless there was some dirt on the set of Becker... I think I may have to start some rumours.

But, yeah... not great. Not up to the lofty heights set by Saw III and Saw IV. I'll never understand how they never made the Oscar lists.

Man, they just don't make Saw films like they used to. Well, roll on Saw VI.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Piecing myself together again

This was me in work, many months ago. That steam ran out and I had no choice but to keep on going. That's not strength. It's just stupid. I should have demanded a break a long time ago.

Almost a week after finishing work, I'm still not even close to human. Nowhere near it. I'm soooo tired. Every part of me is weak. Exhausted. Is it possible to get a break when you have children? I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever have energy again or if I'll just collapse and die one day from fatigue. Like maybe Friday.

Blogging will be slow. It's already slow. My morning coffee time before work was my usual blog time. I'm not taking that right now. And my Cintiq is awkward- a big transformer thing, two connections to the computer. It's too much like hard work. The Wacom people should make a self-contained Cintiq. One that is a small enough size and runs Photoshop and some other graphics programmes itself. With maybe a USB or memory card for transferring to a computer later. That way, I could do my little drawings with it on my lap, in front of the telly, while I bitch about how rubbish Battlestar has got. That would be so much easier than the plug and two connections and my endless battle against Vista.

I haven't had a chance to see Watchmen yet. The book meant a huge amount to me as a teen and I want to see the movie but the three hour commitment plus journey time is too much right now. Nah, it will be Saw V on blu-ray for me - guaranteed classic. So I'm rereading Watchmen instead and I'm getting even more from it than I did as a teen. It really is something special.

I thought I was having a heart attack today.

I wasn't.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Yeah, it would have been cool

I'm only just beginning the recovery process. Trying to reclaim some humanity after all this work. It's not easy.

But I can't be the only one who went for tests at some point in his life and was disappointed to find that he was nothing more than just that - human. I think every child dreams about being something more. For girls, it's being adopted and finding out they're a princess. For guys, it's being a robot.

It was a crushing blow the first time I got an MRI and there wasn't one raised eyebrow. No emergency scientists appearing to study me. Just a plain old human body.

How dull.

Friday, March 6, 2009

I'm done

This image doesn't really relate to anything, except my own feelings on the use of the term 'black dog' for depression. I mean, who doesn't love dogs?

I'm finished.

This project is finally done. Over. I am currently a free agent. I need to sleep. Lots of sleep. It really wasn't fun. It was a pain in the ass all the way to be honest. I can't think of a project I've worked on that has been as tough as this. Maybe I'm just getting old.

But, you know what? I had to watch all the finished episodes over the last few days and it's actually a pretty damn good show. Better than it has any right to be.

But good or bad, the important thing is that it's finished.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Almost finished

Just the last few things left to tidy up in this project and then it's done. The last few weeks have been hellish. A battleground.

One of the most helpful things a producer or any manager can do for their staff is to take jobs and worries away from them. If someones workload is too full or if a new problem arises, the producer can sweep in and say, "I'll take care of that". It means people can stay focused on what they're supposed to be doing and deliver the best work possible.

But it only works if the producer actually then takes care of what he said he would. Rather than, you know, forgetting about it until someone asks him about it in the last few hours before tapes leave the building.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The world we show to children

This is something else that bugs me about shows for very young children. It is especially relevant to shows over this side of the Atlantic but I've seen it in many US shows too - the lack of written language or any word play whatsoever.

We show a child worlds with no literacy. No letters. And, criminally (as young children love rhyming words and funny words that sound like other words), no wordplay. No puns. Nothing that won't work on a direct word for word translation.

When it comes to language, we present children with a world that is positively backwards.

There is only one reason for this - the hope for international sales and the cost of reversioning. And it's blindingly obvious on many shows. I last caught in on the US show, Timothy Goes To School (about a school of all things, a place where written language should be incredibly important) but it's all over. A show I worked on a few years ago had one pun in one episode, out of about five hours of television. One pun. The distributor told the writer to get rid of it because, otherwise, they couldn't sell the show. One pun out of five hours of children's television.

The writer told them he would write an alternate pun-free version and they'd record both. He never did. And I haven't actually heard one complaint about that pun since.

But they weren't ever allowed use writing. Not one bit. The characters lived in a totally illiterate world.

Now, you could argue that children should get their literacy in the real world. And that would be a good argument. But children are watching television. Surely we shouldn't be hindering their exposure to basic skills to save on some reversioning costs?

On another topic, Humphrey Erm asked in a comment what I thought of Animaniacs, given my stance on children's programming. Well, I should point out that my particular area of frustration is for younger children, the Backyardigans crowd. It's not like I don't think there are problems in shows for older children. There are. But I just feel that few people seem to even notice the younger demographic. Animaniacs got more interest because older children and adults could enjoy it.

But, for my feelings on Animaniacs, I thought it was damn funny. I especially loved the Wheel of Morality, which was perfectly timed coming after a generation of cartoons with 'morals' plastered at the end for no apparent reason as if they justified any shite content in the body of the episodes. A funny show. Educational content? Yeah, it had a bit and certainly did in the songs but mostly that served the humour, which was clearly the focus. A very entertaining show though.

Monday, March 2, 2009

I was scammed by a deaf guy

On Saturday morning, I got a knock on my door. I opened it up to be greeted by a smiley face and a set of waving hands. It was early, I was tired and it took me a little longer than it should have to realise he was deaf.

He had a little card prepared. It said that he was trying to raise money to go to a special deaf school and so he was going around selling his drawings. I thought - well that's a nice idea, let's hope he's not really shit so I don't have to embarrass both of us by pretending to be impressed by his crappy drawings.

He showed me his drawings, all pencil renderings, and they were technically pretty good, if a little bland, but then I guess the door-to-door market probably gravitates towards bland so they were likely perfect for the target market. Seemed like a nice guy and a worthy cause and I thought it's always a good idea to support another artist.

So I bought one.

It was a while later when I actually really looked at the drawing. Yeah, it was a pencil drawing alright - I knew that from the familiar shiny marks on my fingers. But, hang on. There was more to it than that. There was a printed drawing underneath. He had just drawn over a printed drawing, just enough so that the surface looks like a genuine pencil rendering. I don't even know that the print-out came from one of his drawings or some picture he pulled from the 'net. What a scam.

Who knows how deep the scam went. Maybe there is no special school. Maybe he was just looking for cash to feed his heroin habit. Who knows...

Scammed by a deaf guy. It's just not right.