In an effort to keep this blog from falling into dusty disrepair as so often happens with my attempts at journaling, here is an update on what I’m up to, creatively.
Mostly I’m working on my feature script, Hen Party Massacre. It’s Bridesmaids meets Friday the 13th: An awkward hen party in a rundown cottage turns deadly when the bride and her hens are forced to fight off a masked killer if they hope to live to see the wedding. I’m on draft… 5… (I should have kept better notes of that, bugger. I’ll call it draft 5) and it’s a pretty strong script. Some lovely people have given me great feedback and notes, and it’s hitting Quarter Finals in some competitions, which is nice BUT NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Semi-finals or gtfo. Quarter-finalists don’t make waves, finalists make waves, and I’d be happy with even a ripple or two at this stage.
So right now I’m slashing up Act One of my slasher comedy (ok, ok, right now I’m writing this blog post as procastination, you got me) to tighten it up and nail the tone. As it stands, it’s pretty top-heavy; I’ve got scenes heavy on ‘shooting-the-shit’ dialogue, as a writer whose name escapes me called it. Basically friends hanging out and being funny while the plot moves at a glacial pace. It feels hard to cut these out, as there’s stuff in there that hints at the killer’s motive, but the readers are right: it’s too slow so it needs to go. I also need to add some creepiness in Act One to keep it tonally in line with the bloody shenanigans that ensue. I’m thinking something that’ll come back to play a part in Act Three, because setups and payoffs are important, you know?
It’s tough for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’m not confident enough in my own abilities. For example I’ve added a new opening scene with an image that hopefully sets the tone (a close up of a knife being sharpened, followed by the sharpener filing their nails to look pretty), but I second-guess whether it’ll work as well on the screen as it does on the page, whether it flows ok into the next scene, whether it gives away anything about the killer, whether whether whether aaaaargh. I’m overthinking it, that’s all. I need to trust in my instincts, take a deep breath, write and then see what people think.
The actual writing is the second problem. Over the past few months I’ve found it increasingly hard to focus on any one task at a time. I get intensely, almost painfully bored and find myself reaching for my phone or booting up a browser almost unconsciously. Attention has always been a problem of mine, but it’s been especially tough recently. I think that when my wife got her ADHD diagnosis and I sat in on her assessments and thought ‘oh, oh I see’ at every other answer to their questions, a switch of some kind flicked in my mind. It’s like my mind went ‘yes, that’s me, don’t believe me WELL HERE’S THE PROOF’. And with my mental health being not so good this year, it’s kicked into overdrive. Lately I just feel too deeply. Sadness is despair, happiness is joy, anger is rage. That’s grief for you, probably. I’ve got an ADHD assessment of my own next month and I’m going back to therapy this month, so cross your fingers for me.
Anyway. That’s my current job, and the obstacles in my way. I’ve also applied for a traineeship in Film Exhibition, Distribution and Sales, and ScreenSkills have assigned me a mentor whom I’m meeting on Sunday. Hopefully they’ll be able to give me good advice on how to take the next step in my career. It’s probably going to be ‘make your own short films’ and I’ll cry because I’ve already tried that and burnt out. It’s been 5 years though, maybe if I can find someone who’s good at herding cats to do the scheduling…
There are deadlines coming up and windows of opportunity rapidly closing. I’m worried about a lot of things (it’s the anxiety, stupid) but I think if I just look at one thing at a time right now then I might be able to make progress. I don’t want to be the guy who spends 30 years on one script, but Hen Party Massacre is a good calling card script, it just needs finishing properly. And then I need to make sure I have ideas and one-pagers and am working on other scripts as well. One out of three ain’t… well, it’s not great, is it? But I’m getting there!
Look at that, a blog post that isn’t all false bravado or Negative Nancying.
I might be getting better at this journaling lark.
You know the old cliché. “Oh, it’s been such a roller-coaster of a year!” Well, clichés are clichés for a reason, and 2019 has been a HELL of a year. Ups, downs, loop-the-loops. For me, the past few months have been the dizzying plunge that makes your stomach lurch and crawl up into your lungs before you slow down and come to a rest at the end of the ride. This makes a retrospective pretty hard, as it’s difficult to see the world without the filter of negativity that my depression has slapped on everything lately. But I’m going to try.
This will be a long post, and it’ll probably get quite emotional at times. To keep things breezy, I’ll try to pepper in some pictures to break everything up. I’m also going to split into sections to make it all a bit more manageable, though things in those sections will be in roughly chronological order.
I’ll warn you now, it gets political towards the end. It has to, given the date I’m writing it. PLEASE: don’t debate me on the things I say. Don’t assume I HATE YOU SPECIFICALLY if you voted for the government we’re getting. I’m disappointed in you if you did, but I don’t hate you. You don’t need to defend yourself to me, I’m just zis guy, you know? Just let me get some fear and anger off my chest and then we’ll both go our separate political ways. I know at least one close friend who might have voted this way and I don’t to lose them over this. As long as they don’t want to lose me over it too.
Anyway. Pull that bar down across your laps and remember to keep your arms and legs inside the carriage at all times.
Best New Films I Saw This Year
I managed to see more films at the cinema this year, which I’m thankful for. A writer needs to read and a scriptwriter needs to read and watch films. Here’ my favourites of this year, in the order I saw them in.
One Cut of the Dead: A Japanese comedy about a zombie film set that’s infested with zombies – or is it? About 40 minutes are shot in one long take, and it’s the most wholesome fun you can have with severed limbs and buckets of blood.
Captain Marvel: Doesn’t take itself too seriously, is packed to the gills with 90s references & music and has a great hero arc.
Booksmart: Achingly funny, smart and relevant. This was criminally underlooked at the cinema but it’s a must-see.
Midsommar: The director said it’s not so much a horror film as it is a breakup film, and it’s a HELL of a breakup film.
Knives Out: Daniel Craig’s country-fried accent is only the tip of a hilarious and supremely well-crafted iceberg. Another must-watch.
Work and Writing
I started this year reading scripts, having quit my job for mental health reasons in 2018 & vowed never again to work in a call centre. My condition has ruined me for customer service/public-facing jobs, so I’ve had to think very hard about what I can do. If anyone happens to know what I’m good at, answers on the back of a postcard, please.
The script-reading was great at first. I was reading on a volunteer basis for the Ojai Film Festival (still am, if they have me back for next year!) and had a paid gig reading for a different international festival. Unfortunately, the pay wasn’t great, amounting to around £8 per script for 30 scripts a month. For reference, UK average at the time was said to be around £20-30. With the amount of work required to write comprehensive and useful writers notes I found I couldn’t balance my time well enough and had to step away. I haven’t been able to find paid script-reading work since, which is a shame. I’m always happy to help other writers when asked, though.
Last year I got involved with Beeston Film Festival, joining the Programming team and helping select the films for acceptance. In the run up to the festival this year I helped set up and staff the pop-up shop and helped shift heavy stuff around when needed. The people involved are all lovely, and it feels so good to be part of an organisation dedicated to bringing international films to people who otherwise would have no chance to see them. They’re growing and growing, and I’m currently helping set up a tentative limited-series-run podcast to promote the festival and the film-makers from around the globe. It’s an exciting time!
Speaking of podcasts, remember Celluloid Scrutiny? That fell by the wayside as personal problems got in the way over and over, so it’s sadly on indefinite hiatus. BUT! This year I joined forces with my friend Panicky to start work on a brand-new podcast (actually two, but the fiction one is proving tricky to crack). I mentioned it in my last post. It’s called Mixed Pictures, because we’re mixing up our rather different film tastes and seeing what common ground we can find. The first episode compares/contrasts Upstream Colour with Robocop. We got three episodes in and, once again, personal life got in the way – but I’m not letting this die, not this time. I’ll drag this project into the light kicking and screaming and riddled with audio glitches if I have to. It’s worth it. Panicky and I are FUNNY, damn it. We’re FUNNY and INTERESTING and you should LISTEN TO US. I’m as MAD as HELL and I’m NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE.
Sorry, got a bit angry later. Got to save that up for a later section. You know what section I mean. More on that bloody later.
Anyway, what about my writing? Well, I did some writing for Cultured Vultures and Midlands Movies, but due to mental health issues yet again I let that slip. I’ve started writing again for it recently, and I’m determined not to let things get in the way of making a living from my writing, be it from fiction or non-fiction or anything at all.
This year I shopped my feature script, The Bride Wore Blood, all over the place. I submitted it to the BAFTA Rocliffe competition (declined), TLC Free Reads (great notes), BBC Writers Room (denied), Shore Scripts (denied), The Screencraft Screenwriting Fellowship (quarter-finalist), The Finish Line Script Competition (quarter-finalist and great notes) and Sheridan Smith’s production company (won’t hear back from them, sent it on a whim!). As you can see, it was a bit of a mixed bag. But I’ve had some great notes from them and from writer friends, and I know how to proceed. I was going to do that in the past couple of months, but things got on top of me – more on that later. I have however renamed it Hen Party Massacre and come up with a good pitch hook – it’s Bridesmaids meets Friday 13th. I just need to work on the first act and the tone and I’m confident it’ll be a career-movement-conversation-starter. Mostly confident. Well, pretty confident. I think.
And of course, as you may know from me never shutting up about it, I wrote a script for my friend in film-school which has been filmed (apart from two scenes I think?) and will be released next year for festivals! Whoo! My first real proper non-amateur credit. I’m so excited!
I applied for a few things this year. I applied for a work experience day at Channel 4 (turned down), a media open day at an agency (turned down) and a script doctor role with the BBC (turned down). Part of me thinks I’ve set my goals too high, but then part of me consistently undervalues myself and my skills so I just don’t know what to think about myself and my work. This will be a tough nut to crack in 2020. I know I need to work on my pitching skills, perhaps even getting confidence and speech training of some kind? I just don’t know. BUT I attended a BFI Workshop on developing a feature treatment and I attended a Screenskills Open Doors event, so there has been progress and movement. See? I can be positive. Later today I’m finishing up an application for a trainee position with an organisation involved in exhibition and distribution of independent film – cross your fingers for me, folks, I need all the luck I can get. And to paraphrase those merciful sisters, I need all the luck that I can’t get too.
Finally, my friend Susan lent me a metric fuckton (much more than an imperial fuckton) of books and films and series to consume as research for the fantasy detective series I want to write a pilot for. Expect progress on that in 2020 too.
I turned 35 in January. As with anyone, the closer I get to 40 the more I start to think about what I’ve done with my life. It feels like I’ve done nothing, because materially I have next to nothing. I have no income. I have no job. I have no owned house, kids, pet, summer home and two holidays abroad a year. Without going into too much detail, I live in fear of not being able to afford food or rent, because thanks to my mental issues even the thought of applying for a job gets my feeling tight-chested and short of breath. And thanks to recent events (more on that bloody smegging later) I’m terrified I’m going to lose what little we’re able to have that help us live as we try to sort our psyches out. I want to work again, I’m just afraid of getting back into a toxic atmosphere and dealing with the public and falling to pieces all over again – it might be third time unlucky, and I might not come out of it alive this time.
And yet when asked by my parents if I need money, I’ve always said ‘I’m fine, thanks’. Because in reality, we do have enough to pay rent and eat right now. We just don’t have disposable cash or any real buffer. On a day-to-day basis, we don’t have to choose between eating and paying bills. We’re OK for now. But it’s not sustainable and it won’t last. If you read my last blog post, you’ll know I went to therapy. I won’t go over it all again, but it really helped me put some things in perspective and get some weighty emotions off my chest, baggage I’ve been carrying since I was a child. I came out of therapy with a spring in my step, confident that I could work on myself for a good few months and maybe think about going back to therapy some time near the end of next year.
Then my mum fell ill.
She’d struggled with emphysema (COPD to the white-coated and medically minded out there) for years and years, at first believing it to be just a tendency towards chest infections and bronchitis. As she got older, it got worse and worse. Her wheezing chest was a constant soundtrack to films watched with the family or books read while she watched Netflix on her laptop. A few years ago she had a stroke that severely limited her mobility and pretty much annihilated her appetite. She could speak and think fine (aside from a few memory issues, especially in recent months). She just barely went anywhere and barely had any exercise.
So when she got a bout of recurring chest infections she had to be hospitalised for muscle pains in her back. The hospital were alarmed at how frail she’d become – and so had I. It’s not until you see your mum tiny like a bird amongst the sheets and pillows on a hospital that it really hits you. She’d become hunched and weak and her breathing was so shallow. We basically lived in the hospital the first week, then managed our time and spent less time there for our own health. I got a cold, which limited the amount of time I could spend with her. I agonised over symptoms, second-guessing every day. “Sore throat but no coughing, is that OK, am I still infectious??”. She started to recover and they moved her to a small community hospital, and then she finally came home.
For about two days.
She had a massive relapse and went back into hospital. That day she came home was the last time I had a conversation with my mother, who could barely speak after being told to walk up the stairs by the paramedics, instead of using the chair specifically designed for stairs, which she said they talked her out of using because “it’s a faff”. She stopped eating. She stopped drinking. And, to make a long story short (too late), I was with her when she finally stopped breathing.
Remember how I said I wrote a film that’s being released next year? In it, a family is dealing with the loss of their wife and mother Nancy. After a year of silence and grieving, youngest daughter Eva finally opens up and says something that sums up pretty much exactly what it’s like to me. “It’s like there’s a hole,” she says, hand on chest. “And it’s just empty. And it’s never going to go away.”
That’s how I felt at the time I wrote the script, because I was I in mourning.
For my dog.
Yes, 2019 took my dog and my mum from me in the same year, and by cruel irony made me ascribe the pain I felt at the time to a fictional circumstance I’d be going through myself a few short months later. I lost my mum and my dog in the same year. If I’d lost a pickup truck too, then I could write a great country song.
Sorry. I’ve been getting darkly humorous intrusive thoughts for a while now. Things like “you can’t expect me to wash the pots, I’ve got a dead mum”. I’ve always processed my emotions with humour – but as Tonks is quick to point out, I deflect with humour too, so it’s damned hard to tell which one I’m doing at any given time. I like to keep her on her toes, you see.
So that was this year’s absolute low point for me (though not the last of them, more on that bloody smegging bollocking later). BUT there have been highs too. This year was my fifth wedding anniversary with Tonks. I credit our success to communication, compromise, empathy, love and me not swinging a massive masculine ego around every five minutes. I went to the Malt Cross pub quiz regularly with Panicky, Helen and Rachel, and once we even came THIRD. THIRD, people. SO CLOSE. And there are good things I can’t tell you about because they involve conversations and consent before I can reveal them, but one thing I’ve learned is that life is too short not to revel in the love you have.
I’m going to try not to vent my spleen too much at this, but I have a lot of pent-up anger that could well leak out into this here section. If you’re in a privileged enough position to be sick of politics or to think that nothing ever really changes anyway then A) I envy you and B) feel free to skip to the end bit now.
So things have been… hectic. This year. On the political front. Over the pond there’s the Orange Man and his cages full of children (which has been happening since LAST year). And now, in the final months of 2019, there’s a ray of hope as impeachment is going ahead.
But over here… well, Mrs Theresa May tried to get her Brexit deal through, and Parliament turned it down. She eventually, finally resigned, and we got Mr Boris Johnson. The first couple of months of his reign were littered with hilarious incompetency and failures, as he failed again and again to get his deal through parliament. He suspended Parliament to tie Parliament’s hands so he could try to force a No Deal Brexit, but it was ruled unlawful so it had to be re-opened.
Long story short (too late again), a General Election was declared. And a campaign of disinformation began. The other parties engaged in the usual mud-slinging, focusing on opponents’ weaknesses more than their own policies until the manifestos came out. But the Conservative Party was, again and again, caught out in lies and attempts at manipulation. 88% of their Facebook ads were deemed misleading (the other parties were not immune to this either).
They lied, cheated and showed the voting populace the utmost contempt, insulting our intelligence every step of the way. And we voted them in, in landslide numbers. All the candidates mentioned above got elected.
I was going to write a post about it yesterday, but I was shaking. I was shaking with fear but more so with anger. Because they got away with it. Just like the Trump campaign and, indeed, administration. They pissed on our heads, told us it was raining and sold us umbrellas. They got away with it, because we allowed them to. 9 years of austerity (proven to be ineffective and based on a mistake), 9 years of cuts and disabled people dying and homelessness & child poverty skyrocketing. And we voted them back in, seemingly because the biggest opposition party dared to suggest we should pay more to help the people who have the least.
I’m sure there are other reasons, and I’m sure I know a few people who voted for them. All I can say is your reasons for voting are your own, but just know that the party you’ve aligned yourself with doesn’t care about you. They’ve made it clear that they only care about making money for their friends. And the Brexit that they’ll bring about has the potential to be ruinous for the country. There’s already rumblings of Scottish independence, and with so much of the country voting SNP it’s not exactly unlikely.
It saddens and angers me that people across the country seem to have looked at the priorities of the Conservative Party (Brexit and making sure people with money keep making money) and looked at the priorities of the other parties (cancel or re-ask Brexit, make sure people with money pay their share to help people without it) and chose to look after themselves and those who have the most. To say nothing of climate change and the environment.
Perhaps the Labour manifesto couldn’t have been funded (or perhaps it could), but it could be adjusted and still provide the most help for the most people. The Conservatives as they are now will only ever care about themselves and anyone poorer than them can go hang.
More people are going to die. The most vulnerable among us are going to die. I might die. I depend on the NHS for my sanity, and if changes are made and we’re moved to an insurance-based system, I won’t qualify. Unemployed and pre-existing condition. I won’t be able to have my medication, and I’m not strong enough to keep working on myself without it.
2020 and Beyond
BUT. BUT. BUT that hasn’t happened. And I’ll do everything I can to ensure that it doesn’t. I’ve been surviving thus far, and I may not have the resources to do much living, but next year I’m going to fight. There will be marches and protests – I’ll be there. There will be people that need feeding – I’ll be there, even if only to staff tables because I can’t donate myself. I can’t give money, but right now I have the luxury of giving time. I’m going to look at local grassroots organisations and see what I can do to give my time to them and use it wisely.
And I’ll keep working with Beeston Film Festival, because I admire their globalist and inclusive values. Film tells unique stories, but all stories are ultimately human, and we all have a common ground. Basic human values and needs. People need to see stories through a different frame of reference than their own if they’re ever going to start thinking of other people as worth helping.
And I’ll write. My God, how I’ll write. No matter what 2020 and the next decade throw at me, I’m going to write if I have to scratch it out in the dirt of the irradiated wasteland that used to be the town centre. I’m going to write if I have to get one of those special pens that lets you write underwater. I’m going to write even if I have to do it in my head and tell my stories verbally around the fire.
I love the crackle of leaves underfoot, don’t you? Crunch crunch crunch. It’s such a satisfying sound, the crisp crinkling of dead leaves being pulverised to smithereens like city blocks under Godzilla’s heel. Very empowering. Next time you go to the park, I thoroughly recommend stomping around on them and going ‘RARGH’. It can be very cathartic.
Once again, it’s time to take stock and do a bit of introspection. The nights are drawing in and the days are ever cloudier, so fire up your SAD lamps and make sure you get plenty of vitamin D. I know that won’t cure my depression, but it can’t hurt. Unless I stub my toe on the SAD lamp, that is. It’s pretty hefty.
So where am I, right now? In my life, my career, my everything? Well, in terms of career and material considerations, I’m not much farther than I was last time I had a look at myself, though I’ve definitely been busy. Remember I submitted The Bride Wore Blood to the Screencraft Screenwriting Fellowship, the Finish Line Competition and the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Competition? No? I don’t blame you, it was ages ago, but scroll down and you’ll see that I did mention it. Anyway, I reached the Quarter Finals in the first two and didn’t place at all in the latter, nor in a couple of other competitions and opportunities, including the BBC Writers Room. It’s been a bit of a blow, to be honest, though I know it’s all part of the process. Failure isn’t the opposite of success, it’s just one of the steps you carry out in the process of succeeding. Do you like that? I made it up just now, didn’t get it out of a fortune cookie or anything.
Quarterfinalisting is pretty good, though, and I did manage to get a free read of ‘Bride’ from The Literary Consultancy, which was a big opportunity. The notes were great – and even better, I recently got notes from a great fellow writer (hullo Lucy Linger!) and her notes were in line with TLC’s. Thanks to that, I know exactly where to start on the next iteration of this script, starting with a change I’ve been thinking of for a while – from now on, The Bride Wore Blood will be titled Hen Party Massacre! I think it gets the gist across quite nicely. I also have a hook for the pitch: “It’s Bridesmaids meets Friday the 13th!” – succinct and fits the tone well, I reckon.
I’ve started a new podcast (don’t ask what happened to the old one for now) which I’m really quite excited about – a friend and I will each choose a film, we’ll watch them both and then talk about the differences and similarities and things we found interesting about them. My tastes are more mainstream and esoteric horror/scifi while hers are more classic an arthouse, so we’re finding common ground in this Mixed bag of Pictures; or we’re Mixing our Pictures; I dunno, tag lines are hard, it’s called Mixed Pictures, ok? Watch out for it early next year, I hope, as by then we’ll have recorded enough episodes to have a nice buffer for when we start.
I also had a huge breakthrough in that I’ve worked with a friend of mine to write her film school graduation short! This will be my first proper credit (though as it’s a film school one and it’s unpaid then I don’t think it counts as a Professional credit?) so I’m quite nervous about how it turns out. It’s called Nancy, and it’s about a young girl who may or may not be haunted by the spirit of her mother. I did 10 drafts, and then another writer was brought in for an 11th draft to change a few things for logistical reasons, but that’s how it goes! Filming has just wrapped this week and I’m really looking forward to seeing the final film and eventually sharing it with you all.
Also, I went to the ScreenSkills Open Doors event in Leicester recently and met some very nice and very talented fellow creatives who I was only mildly jealous of. It did drive home my biggest weakness right now: confidence and speech. I tried to pitch to someone there and flubbed it twice thanks to my shy nature and pressured speech. I hate the way I pause and stumble over words as my mouth tries to catch up with my brain, and I hate what years and years of low self-esteem and lack of support for my mental health have done to my confidence. If I’m going to make it in this business, I need to address that and fast. I also need to defeat my phone anxiety. And maybe defeat my nervousness about driving.
Essentially, as ever, the biggest thing that’s holding me back is myself. I always have to try harder because of the limitations of my brain/psyche/mind/abusive subconscious, and the things that come more easily to others always seem just out of reach for me. Once worked up, it can take me hours just to write a 300 word paragraph about myself. Just trying harder isn’t going to get me there, though. I need to do Actual Work on Myself. I need to Introspect. I need to Do a Self-Scrutiny.
I’m happy to say I can at least report positive progress on that front. Earlier this year, tired of suicidal ideation (no that is a word, Chrome dictionary, look it up) and deep depressive spirals, I finally self-referred to Trent PTS for talking therapy. This is a Big Deal for me, as asking for help doesn’t come easily; not because of bullshit toxic I-am-a-man-and-men-don’t-ask-for-help reasons, but for I-should-be-able-to-just-carry-on-and-I’m-not-worth-anyone’s-time-anyway reasons. But I did it, and I had 8 sessions with a lovely counsellor who listened and said ‘gosh’ a lot. And she validated me. She told me I’d been through a lot, and am going through a lot, and she acknowledged how hard it is. And to hear that from a stranger, a professional, someone with no emotional investment in me? It was like a soothing balm. It let me realise that yes, I have been through a lot. I moan about it, yes, but I always downplay it and insist to myself that I’ve got it easy and should just get on with things. I’ve internalised this idea that I’m lazy, and will moan about how lazy I am as I run around trying to get three things done at once. Stopping for a break isn’t allowed, because treading water is the same as drowning and standing still is a waste of time.
The counsellor helped me think of myself in terms of the person who’s driven by an impulse to push himself and punish himself if he doesn’t hit perfection. I talked about my past, beyond the traumatic incident towards the potential roots of my depression and my anxiety. It was a safe space to air grievances and express emotions I’ve been repressing for too long. Ultimately, it was an extremely helpful 8 sessions of deep thinking and prodding at my psyche.
Add to this the fact that when my wife was diagnosed with adult ADHD, I sat in on the assessment sessions and went ‘Oh. Oh dear.’ at about 90% of her answers – they match up suspiciously with my own experiences. So much so that I’ve decided to to seek assessment myself, just in case; it would certainly explain my craving for constant stimuli and my struggle to remain focused on any single task. No idea if anything will come of it, but we’ll see.
If you’ve read this far, thank you, you’re a trouper and I salute you. Let’s go for a drink sometime.
So that’s how I am. It always feels like one step forward and two steps back, but I know that that’s not the case at all. Even not placing in competitions is an achievement, merely because it means I still have the confidence to put myself out there. Garfunkel and Oates put it better than I could. I’m still here, I’m struggling but I’m stronger.
Let’s see, what’s been going on lately? Well, I set up a Letterboxd account – follow me as I try and remember what films I’ve already seen and fail to stick to a consistent rating metric!
Oh, and I finished my first feature script The Bride Wore Blood, got a few revisions deep and realised that there’s no use tweaking it any more. At this point in time, right here and right now, it’s the best script I can write for that story.
Do I expect to win any of these? No; I’m not delusional and I know there’s heaps upon heaps of talent out there. I know there’s also quite a lot of dreck out there too, and what I hope to accomplish here is introducing myself as a talent and not a dreck-peddler. Your first script is never good enough to be made, I’m told, but perhaps it’s good enough to get people to remember my name when my next script does the rounds.
Which reminds me, I’m slowly starting work on my next feature script. It’ll feature a non-binary teen who goes on holiday with their family and accidentally brings back a woodland spirit/creature/boggarty type thing. It’s early days yet, but I’m excited. I’ve applied to the BFI Network Feature Treatment Workshop at Broadway cinema, will hopefully find out soon if I got a place on it. And speaking of BFI Network, I’ve set myself up over there and uploaded The Tree. No idea what I’m doing or if anything will come of it, but whatever happens happens, right?
In other news, I finished a short comedy script about a young woman who moves into a haunted flat and refuses to leave no matter how hard the ghost tries to scare her. We’re taking tentative steps towards filming, but I’m rusty and frankly, scared. We’re going to be dipping our toe into crowdfunding, and it’s really quite overwhelming. I’ve been in a dark place mentally in the past week or so, but thanks to some much-needed love from close friends and the probably-all-too-brief return of the sunshine, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about things.
So this is Sam, checking in, letting you know things are moving and I’m not giving up.
It’s been a little while, so I thought I’d update all you lovely readers (both of you) on how my screen-writing is going.
If you follow me on any of my various social media accounts (I’m on Twitter, go click on the bird over on the right!) you’ll know that I submitted my short script The Tree to the HollyShorts Film Festival and Screenplay Competition and it did rather well. It was selected! It was a quarter-finalist! And then much to my astonishment it reached the semi-finals! I crossed my fingers and I crossed them hard – 2nd or 3rd place would net me a free copy of industry-standard writing program Final Draft, and 1st place? Well, if I won 1st place then a production company associated with the festival would film my script and screen it at next year’s festival!
Friends, I did not win the competition, nor did I come 2nd or 3rd. But I’m thrilled to have reached the semi-finals. A lot of competitions are bunk, will take your money and give you nothing but a warm glowy feeling if you win, but these guys have a very respectable festival and I’m honoured that they thought my script was good enough to reach the stage it did.
So what’s next? Well, I’m re-jigging my first feature screenplay (The Bride Wore Blood!) to get it to the right length and proper structure, then I’m working on adapting my spousal unit Rachel Tonks Hill’s book Novis (available now!) into a riproaring space opera movie. That’ll show I can write high budget, Bride will show I can write medium budget, and I’m tooling around with ideas for a low-budget feature. Once I’ve got those, combined with the shorts I’ve already written, I’ll have a portfolio strong enough to start shopping myself around.
My script-reading job is going well (touch wood) and I’m on the hunt for more clients, so for the moment everything is coming up Me!
Well, I suppose I should spruce the place up a bit, shouldn’t I?
After all, I’m working towards being a writer for a living and while I excel at the flighty flaky creative side of that particular profession, I do need to work harder on my online presence and the business side of things. So, some housekeeping is in order.
The site has undergone a complete overhaul, as I’m sure you can see if you remember what it looked like before. There’s now a home page, and a spruced up film page, and a link to my twitter and stuff and things. My Short Fiction page is still under construction, so just, er, don’t click on that link, ok?
Any suggestions, questions, comments, insults? Hit me up, I’d love to hear from you!
“The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
Since the attack, there have been a bunch of thinkpieces looking at incels (‘involuntary celibates’) and MRAs (‘Mens Rights Activists’) and there have been a lot of people wondering how this could have happened, how someone could be led to be so violently deluded. This isn’t your common-or-garden variety political terrorism, this is a much murkier ideology that’s being pushed here.
I was an awkward kid growing up mixed-race in Jordan, a country whose kids didn’t seem to like me very much. In their defence, I didn’t work hard to make myself likeable. I kept to myself, didn’t work hard at learning Arabic, made friends with books and Amiga games instead of with people. I was not good at socialising, is what I’m saying.
And then came puberty.
I noticed girls and girls didn’t notice me. I was scrawny and had weird hair and mumbled a lot because my confidence was through the basement. It didn’t really help that my mother had told me she’d cut my penis off if I so much as went on a date before I turned 18. She later pointed out that this was obviously a joke, but at 13 or 14 it really didn’t feel like one!
I remember that the only real conversation I had with my first crush was a mumbled ‘yeah I like him too’ when she noticed I was reading Stephen King and said she was a fan. Smooth, young me. Smooth. There were other crushes, and I was just as charming to them. Astonishingly, no girlfriends were forthcoming.
When I got to IB stage in Palestine (think A-levels, or last two years of high school in the US) I started learning how to actually get along with people. I had friends! And acquaintances! And some of them were girls. Not bad for a nerd in a war zone. I fell in love (but not really, you know) with a beautiful girl who made my heart do somersaults. And, being the lovesick fool I was, I wrote her a love letter.
She wrote a reply saying she was flattered and firmly hoping we’d be good friends. And I was happy she replied… until it wasn’t enough. I was a nice guy, there’s no reason I wouldn’t be able to woo her and win her affections. That’s what they do in the movies, right? And they get the girl, so why shouldn’t I?
I wrote two further letters, and she firmly but politely rebuffed my advances again. And I crossed a boundary by kissing her on the hand when that kind of relationship was firmly off the table. Like an idiot, I put a good friendship in danger through my lack of respect for her, and I’m astonished she’s still friends with me. If you’re reading this, you’re a saint and I’m sorry for my hormone-driven nonsense. But that’s how it starts, with hormone-driven nonsense. You overstep a boundary, are rejected and are hurt – and it’s natural to be hurt, even if you know you did wrong. But dwelling on it is unhealthy, and that’s a pattern I’d fallen into.
When I got to England in 2001 at the age of 17, my hormones went into overdrive. I found myself falling for each of my closest female friends, one after the another, pushing and pushing for them to enter a relationship with me. Each time I was… not rejected, per se. I don’t recall any ‘let’s go out’ ‘no let’s be friends’ conversations with them. But it was made increasingly clear that I was a friend and nothing ‘more’. As if being a friend to these women wasn’t an immense privilege already. Today we’re still close, though less so after we’ve drifted to different parts of the country, and I can only be grateful that they put up with my lovesick puppy routine each time it happened.
The ‘nice guy’ narrative was running around and around my head more and more. Nice guys finish last. Women like bastards. Why am I alone when that guy has a girlfriend? I’d have coffee with friends and sit and sulk because a couple was being couple-y at the next table. I’d say things like ‘I don’t want to see gay people kissing because I don’t want to see anyone kissing, it reminds me how alone I am’ (yay for underlying homophobia). I once even wrote a godawful couplet about skies vomiting something or other as I stew in my loneliness, or something. Vom.
I went to uni and almost immediately fell in love (again, not really, if it’s not mutual it’s not love) with someone who just seemed to click perfectly. We were almost inseparable and we seemed to understand each other perfectly. I wanted her badly (listen to that language, ‘I want you’, how possessive). And she didn’t want me back. Sorrow and self-pity and, yes, rage were swirling around inside me.
And that’s when I could have been lost.
The difference here is that the rage was directed inwards. It became a part of my depression, because depression isn’t always sadness, it’s anger and hopelessness. No woman would ever like me the way I like them, how could they, I’m disgusting, I’m a slob, I’m a loser. Because these feelings were internalised, they just fed on my insides and were quite happy wrecking my psyche.
If I’d found a community of people of men who’d felt the same way, I’d have felt accepted and understood. We would have shared jokes and memes about women who won’t give us a chance (the so-called ‘Stacy’) and the men they choose over us (the so-called ‘Chad’). I’d have felt like I found people who would care for me even if the women I fell for wouldn’t.
I’d be ripe for the red pill.
Instead, I threw myself into the community of nerds and geeks in the scifi society and tried to swallow my loneliness. In retrospect, it was silly to feel lonely when I was surrounded by friends and people who loved me – they just didn’t love me in the way I felt entitled to be loved.
And that’s the rub, isn’t it? Entitlement. No one is entitled to a partner. No one is owed love. But we’re flooded with imagery and messages that tell us that yes, we are entitled to it all. Rescue the damsel, bestow the kiss. Give her a diamond, get sex. Rub her feet, she’ll give you a blowjob. Put more favour tokens in, go on, she’ll pay out eventually. She dumped you? Stand outside her window with a boombox, that’ll convince her to take you back.
The incels and the MRAs and the Men Going Their Own Way and so on, they scare me. Because I can understand them. I understand the anger and the hatred, because I’ve felt them too. We just directed it in different directions. If I’d directed my anger outwards more often and lashed out at more people, who’s to say I wouldn’t be hailing Elliot Rodger and calling for the death of women who’d dare to choose not to fuck me. I’d like to think it’s not in my make-up, but I’m learning more and more that people change and the psyche is a strange dangerous thing.
This is not to say that I’m a saint for not going that direction. I’m not better than anyone, I’m just me. I’m still growing and I’m still unlearning those patterns. I do still overstep boundaries occasionally, and to any woman I’ve ever made feel uncomfortable: I’m so sorry. I will do better. I know that being sorry isn’t enough, you have to actually make good with action.
A while ago, I saw the trailer for a B-movie style flick called Extraterrestrial. It looked like it might be a fun diversion for a couple of hours, so I stored the title in my memory and got on with my life.
After discovering that you can buy BluRays from CeX from 50p (I’m a sucker for a bargain bin, I make no apologies), I thought I’d splurge on it and give it a try. I fired it up yesterday and decided I’d ‘treat’ Twitter to a running commentary of my thoughts on it.
Make no mistake, I enjoyed watching it. I like bad movies, movies that showed promise but failed to live up to it. This could have been a superb film, but there were several bum notes that just left me cold. There’s one moment when they enter a scene so late (for comedy ‘say-one-thing-then-cut-to-a-shot-of-the-opposite-thing-happening’ value) that it made no sense at all and I had to go back a scene and rewatch it to make sure I hadn’t sat in the controller and skipped ahead with my buttocks.
But for all its flaws, it had good moments, and it’s worth remembering just how difficult it is to make a movie, let alone a good one. They did well with what they had, and I might even watch it again one day.
I’ve included my tweets below for any who don’t follow me on Twitter and are interested in my thoughts (you weird buggers). Feel free to follow me over there if you like!
I was going to complain about Storify no longer being a thing, but it turns out WordPress has an ‘Insert Tweet’ function, so that’s all worked out then. It doesn’t seem to handle threaded tweets well, mind, unless I’m just an idiot who can’t work out how to use it properly. Either way, I apologise for the weird formatting in the tweets below.
It’s still better than what I did last night, which is embed every tweet individually, which ended up looking more like quotes than tweets. Blogging is hard, people. Blogging is hard.
Beware mild spoilers – I tried to keep it context-free as much as possible because someone may actually want to watch this, and there’s no need to be a dick.
One trailer, no special features. So plenty of space on the Blu Ray. Why no subtitles then, Extraterrestrial?
Less than two minutes in and the dialogue is muffled because people are talking through glass, over a phone or through panicked breaths. You know what would make this easier to follow? Fucking subtitles.
If you are taking your boyfriend to your dad's cabin in the woods for a romantic getaway and he invites a bunch of friends, especially if one's a douchebag partybro, dump him immediately. He's trying to get you all killed.
oh my GOD he proposed. He ruined the weekend by inviting these shitheads and his plan was to propose? Why would you do that when it would have been more romantic if it were the two of you and no partybros?!
Please don't kill the dog, off-screen alien, he's the only likeable character besides the protagonist. That might be because he can't speak, though. I bet if he could he'd be all 'YOLO, OMG, teenspeak-written-by-a-Gen-X-er, hashtag!'
Is it me, or have you protected your ex-girlfriend by trapping her in a closet? You put a bookcase in front of it. What if she can't get out when the aliens are gone? I just don't think you thought this through in the heat of this alien invasion.
That's the ending you're going with? Really? I mean it's your movie sonic you want to be 'ooooh gritty' then that's your call, but the hilarious X Files reference completely undermines it, so, yeah, ok edgelord.
Brittany Allen, who played the lead, was great – really sold it, only likeable character and I genuinely felt for her when her friends were gone. And the effects were sometimes really good, even the CGI was ok.
It’s been a while, so I thought I’d share a little something I wrote a while back. Remember, when opportunity knocks you have the option to hide behind the sofa and pretend no one’s home.
The Farmer’s Dream
William was sleeping when the angel came to him.
He had been dreaming of hard labour in the field, ploughing and sowing. It was a common dream of his, one he’d often pondered the meaning of. He thought it was probably something to do with rebirth, or renewal, or fertility. More likely it was just too much cheese before bed.
In this dream, as in every previous dream of its kind, his plough would strike something hard, twist and buck in his hand. The dream would usually end there, but not tonight. Tonight the plough wrested away from his grip and sped off, leaving a deep groove in the soil behind it, merrily ploughing the rest of the field on its own.
He looked down at the ground, searching for whatever it was his plough had struck. A sharp corner poked out of the dirt. He dug away at its edges with his fingers, freeing it from the earth. He pulled it out to examine it more closely.
It was a box, about the size of his head, made of granite and marble but lighter than it should be. He was suddenly overcome by a strange feeling he hadn’t had on previous nights – he knew that this was a dream. He could feel the soft earth beneath his feet, could feel the cold rough surface of the box, but something was off; he was certain that he was actually asleep and in his own bed in the farmhouse.
“How curious,” he said to himself.
He looked around. The field was just as he remembered it from his waking hours, as far as he could tell. He wondered what would happen if he attempted to take control of the dream, perhaps to take flight or to change his surroundings. He looked at the plough retreating into the distance and willed it to come back. It didn’t.
“Perhaps I need a bit more practice,” he thought. “Let’s start with something small. Like opening this box.”
He opened the box.
A burst of bright light spilled out, blinding him. A great booming voice rang out in such rumbling tones that he could feel the soles of his feet vibrating.
WILLIAM, said the voice. HARK, WILLIAM.
William dropped the box in shock.
He nudged it gently with one toe. What was it?
WILLIAM, the voice resumed. ARE YOU HARKING?
“Um, I think you mean harkening?” William suggested.
GOOD, YOU ARE HARKING. PICK THE BOX UP, AND GAZE INTO THE LIGHT.
William did as he was told, though his hands were shaking so much he thought he would drop the box again. The strange voice rattled his back teeth.
I AM THE ANGEL OF DIVINE INTERVENTION. I AM TASKED WITH INTERVENING, DIVINELY. DO YOU COMPREHEND?
“No,” William answered honestly. The voice sighed, blowing the farmer’s hair back.
THEN I SHALL ELABORATE. I AM TO SET YOU ON AN ADVENTURE TO SEEK A GREAT FORTUNE. THE JOURNEY WILL SEND YOU FAR FROM HENCE AT GREAT PERIL, BUT IT IS OF HUGE IMPORT.
“What will I be importing?”
WHAT? NO. NO, I MEAN IT WILL BE HUGELY IMPORTANT. BECAUSE YOU WILL BE RICH.
“Well why didn’t you say that, then?”
BECAUSE… BECAUSE… BECAUSE IT JUST SOUNDS BETTER.
“Seems to me that sounding good isn’t quite as important as making sure you’re understood, don’t you think? Especially if you’re meant to be sending people on important quests.”
LOOK, DO YOU WANT TO GO OR DON’T YOU? BECAUSE WE DON’T HAVE ALL NI-
“No, thank you.”
There was a moment of stunned silence.
I BEG YOUR PARDON?
“I said no, thank you. See, I’m asleep at the moment and I don’t really know how long I’m likely to be. I can’t go on a long quest and then have to oversleep in order to finish it. Who’ll feed the pigs?”
OH, AHAHAH, I CAN SEE THE CONFUSION. NO, SEE, THE QUEST IS FOR WHEN YOU ARE AWAKE.
“Eh? How’s that work, then?”
WELL, SEE, I TELL YOU ABOUT THE TREASURE AND WHERE IT IS, AND YOU WAKE UP THINKING IT’S A DREAM ONLY I’VE LEFT A SHEAF OF WHEAT OR SOMETHING UNDER YOUR PILLOW AS A SIGN AND SO YOU GO OFF AND SEEK YOUR FORTUNE, GROWING AND MATURING ALONG THE WAY UNTIL YOU RECEIVE YOUR FINAL REWARD OF A KINGDOM AND A BEAUTIFUL WIFE AND SO ON.
“Oh, so the quest is for after I wake up?”
“I see. Well, in that case… no, thank you.”
LOOK, WILLIAM, I DON’T THINK YOU’VE GRASPED THE BASIC CONCEPT OF-
“Oh, I have, it’s just that I don’t want to do it. I simply haven’t the time.”
There was no reply; the voice seemed to be pondering this. William felt more was needed.
“Like I said, who’d feed the pigs? And the cows would need milking, and if I don’t get the field ploughed in time for sowing then I’ll be buggered. I can’t just up sticks and travel off to foreign lands seeking my fortune and battling monsters and outsmarting evil viziers. It wouldn’t be fair on the livestock, or the people who’re counting on my crops. So thank you, but if it’s all the same to you, I’ll have to decline.”
He laid the box gently on the ground.
NOW SEE HERE-
“No, I don’t think so,” William replied firmly, slapping the lid shut. The voice continued, muffled and confused.
wait, what are you doing? william?
William placed the box back into the hole and started to shovel dirt back over it.
are you serious? this is ridiculous … stop, william. william.
William didn’t stop. He filled the hole and smoothed the dirt over until the spot was indistinguishable from the rest of the field. He patted his hands clean on his trousers.
“Now then,” he thought. “Let’s give flying a try.”
And with that, William flew off into the clouds.
The next morning there was a long white feather under his pillow. He threw it away.
I’m not going to apologise for the hiatus this time. It’s a new thing I’m trying called No Regrets. It is what it is.
I think my creativity and my drive come in waves. I get bit by the bug and have a brief brilliant burst of productivity, get complacent, get tripped up by something and stop trying. It’s the ‘stop trying’ step that I’m working on. No regrets.
My last post advised I was setting up Splendiferous Films so I could keep making short films and pushing myself. So far, I’ve made one and a half in nearly three years. Considering the pace I was cranking them out before, this can be considered to be Not Good.
But here’s the thing – circumstances change. Everything has to be taken within its context. I can’t judge myself now based on my actions then. A very specific set of circumstances were in play, to do with people and responsibilities and energy. Over time, things have changed. I’ve been punishing myself for not pushing harder, when really I just need to work out the right amount to push.
I’m proud of Going Down. It’s a funny little flick, and I’m proud of everyone who helped make it. Is it an amazing game-changer of a film? No, hardly. It was the best film we could make at that time. Was it worth submitting to festivals? Probably not, but it at least got it in front of people who are out of my social circle, even if those people didn’t pick it for inclusion in their festivals. And that’s quite right – it’s not quite at that quality yet. We’re getting better.
But we won’t get any better if we don’t make any more films.
Snapshots has been stuck in post-production for about a year now. We’ve got a rough cut and some ideas for where to go, but we haven’t been able to finish it. I don’t think it’s been looked at in 6 months or so.
There are personal reasons for this, partly to do with being a little too close to the subject matter and partly to do with a whole host of internal and external factors. I’m not going to go into them because they’re quite personal, but suffice to say I’m done beating myself up about it. I’m not the same person I was five or six years ago, and I’m not in the same position.
I didn’t work as hard as I could have to stay on top of creativity, and I can’t change that. But I can forgive myself and move on.
I’ve been kickstarting my creativity lately. I took an excellent screenwriting course and a fascinating body-casting workshop. I’ve been reading about creative people doing creative things and thinking about the creative process. It’s disheartening to realise that I can’t take many of the risks that creative people do to get themselves out there, but this is 2017. I have the internet and a functional body and a (mostly) capable brain. And I have friends.
We’ve been moving house and that’s taken a lot of energy, but that’s nearly over. We’re going to finish Snapshots, get it out there in front of the eyeballs of the world – and then we’re going to make another short film or sketch. And then another. And then another.
Can I get to the ‘3 projects in a year’ position I wanted to be in? Maybe. Maybe not. And if not, that’s fine. Life happens, and as long as we don’t give up altogether then all will be well.