Life's a pitch, and then you shoot

No, we didn't win the pitch. Am I disappointed? Actually, not at all. In fact, I even feel somewhat relieved. Why? Well, since all this started in January, I gradually came to realise my script was ... well, ambitious, to say the least, particularly taking into account the relatively limited budget available from GMAC - about eight grand, to be precise.

As those who read this blog frequently enough may recall, the same script previously got quite far up the ladder in the 'Tartan Shorts' project run by the BBC, similarly a means to allow filmmakers and writers the chance to collaborate - with a budget of about fifty grand.

Quite a difference, I'm sure you'll agree. Since the pitch, some research has taught me you only pitch scripts you haven't yet written, for the purpose of getting the funds to go and then write the damn thing: one thing you don't do is pitch a script - as we were required to do - that's not only already been written, but also developed and re-submitted along with supporting material, costs, synopses, character breakdowns etc etc.

Learning this, I rapidly came to the conclusion the decision of which projects to take on board had already been made prior to the day of pitching - perhaps greatly in advance.

Another reason I'm not particularly worried is I've read quite a few books about film-making in the past several weeks - particularly Robert Rodriguez's 'Rebel Without A Crew', in which he details the making of El Mariachi for about seven thousand dollars, in all, using friends for actors and himself as ... the entire crew, basically.

This is what I've learned: it's better to have a script that's achievable, in the sense that it's set somewhere you already know you can film, and it doesn't involve anything that might conceivably require the intervention of Industrial Light and Magic. In fact, one of the most useful pieces of advice I've picked up is this - first, find your location, then write your story around it.

Personally, it's my belief 'Personal Jesus' could have been filmed for eight grand - even, quite possibly, considerably less. GMAC teaches a form of default, industry-based film-making that can frequently spiral in terms of costs - paying tremendous sums to hire known locations for shoots, for one, not taking into account such matters as post-production and so forth.

This isn't the only way you can go about it. El Mariachi was filmed in and around places Rodriquez spent frequent time in. I know of a locally made short film called Scene, filmed in a car park. The first car park they asked to shoot in wanted to charge thousands for the privilege. The second car park they asked, I think, charged nothing. Guess where they shot the picture?

I'm going to follow up some more leads for the 'jesus' script, simply because it's got quite far already in two separate funding programs, and I feel rather better informed about the process than I did before I first went to GMAC, for which I am deeply indebted to them. However, in the meantime, I'm going to work on 'Arabesque' and see where I can go with it. It should be a rather more straightforward project.

Another conclusion I've come to in the past year or so, since I first started going along to the GFT screenwriter's group, is that there's a desperate need for quality scripts. I suspect - I could be wrong, but I suspect - that once many people have developed their skills in terms of learning how to make a film, they may subsequently fail to appreciate the tremendous amount of work involved in learning how to tell a good story. Because, after all, a film is nothing without a story; as Joe Eszterhas, the screenwriter has said (I paraphrase), much of Hollywood is geared towards preventing writers from learning just how desperately the whole industry relies on that one man or woman sitting in a room and coming up with good story ideas.

It has occurred to me, on this basis, that there really should be greater communication between Scotland's writers, and Scotland's film makers. Something really ought to be done.

In the meantime, I finally managed to get the edits on Stealing Light sorted out. Peter Lavery's been looking for it to be finished in time for the London Book Fair, in mid-April, and now I have to work on the outlines for the (potential) sequels. It's been a while since I had a look at the rough synopses I came up with, but that's on the cards for the next couple of days.

Weirdly enough, I sometimes come up with titles before I really come up with the fully-fleshed story itself. Stealing Light is almost a case in point - I had the very basic idea, rapidly followed by the title. And once I had a name for the book, it was like it suddenly leapt from being a vague notion to being a book I simply hadn't written yet.

It's like the title is sometimes my back-brain's way of trying to tell me what the story is going to be - as if it's trying to give me clues, Lassie-style. So, for some reason I haven't quite figured out yet, the title for the proposed sequel (and I've googled this, so I'm reasonably sure no one else has come up with it) is: 'The Secret Language of the Dead'. My unconscious mind demands it.

Now all I have to do is, is figure out what the hell that's about.


Hokay - that's the archives temporarily recovered. I'll worry about the layout and design of them later.
Some good news; my editor, Peter Lavery, down at Pan MacMillan, has swung me a hardback release for Stealing Light. Now I know he likes it. Mm, hardback.

Now the whole palaver with the screenplay is over, I can worry about finishing the edits on SL - maybe a hundred pages to go, despite a major systems crash last week that lost me three or four days worth of edits.


Things have finally started to get a little quieter the past couple of days after more weeks of fairly intense activity. We did the pitch for funding for the short movie on Monday morning, and I'm not sure it went startlingly well. We were actually previously given a workshop on how to pitch, at which the person speaking told us (and here I vaguely paraphrase from memory),that 'she knew nothing about pitching, and didn't feel qualified to discuss it, so wasn't going to.'

Despite which, she proceeded to tell us how to pitch, regardless. I figured she was winging it - I'll take a guess whoever was meant to be doing the workshop hadn't turned up, and she drew the short straw - so I didn't feel wildly reassured.

The whole concept of a pitch still doesn't entirely make sense to me. I spent more than a week trying to figure out, what do you say? Why do you say it? And even with extensive notes provided by Kolin Ferguson from the GFT screenwriting group, I still didn't understand it - unless you assumed the people to whom you were pitching knew nothing about your movie. Yet we'd supplied copies of the script, visual reference sheets, detailed breakdowns of cost, summaries, synopses and character analyses in triplicate prior to the pitch, and so I sat there, on Monday morning, thinking ... what the hell else do you want me to say that I haven't already said?

We struggled through, but it did seem a very odd state of affairs ... there were questions we thought might be asked, which we weren't, in the end. Typical questions might be:

Q: Why set this in Scotland?
A: Because if we don't, you might not give us the money.

Q: Why film this as a ten minute movie?
A: Because if it's a fifteen minute movie, you won't give us the money.

Q: Why do you want to make this film?
A: Why would I not want to make this film?


Fact is, the moment you open your mouth and say 'I've written a short drama about a girl escaping from a near-future religious community where the lives of the inhabitants are controlled by semi-autonomous two-foot tall robots disguised as soft toys' there's a part of you which believes - and not necessarily without justification - that whomever you're saying it to mentally and automatically imposes a pair of plastic Spock ears onto your head and a complete back catalogue DVD of Blake's Seven into your hand. When it comes down to it, the person to whom you're pitching is either going to be on your side on some level - through shared tastes - or they're not.

On the other hand, I ran into Morag McKinnon, a TV director with several series under her belt, while wandering around the West End. And what do you know, she loves her science fiction; particularly Dick and, what do you know, Heinlein. We ended up chatting about the weird, contradictory relationship the two men had with each other, despite their apparently radically opposed outlooks. So there you go.


The Queen IV: Mission to 'Nam

I've been watching the TV trailers for the Helen Mirren movie 'The Queen' - not exactly high on my viewing priorities, being a long-term anti-royalist (my views perhaps best expressed by various Sex Pistols songs), but the voice-over guy on the trailers has that gravelly, Hollywood voice you so often hear over action movies: 'Helen. Mirren. IS. The Queen."

Except in my head the next thing I hear is a shotgun being cocked with that classic 'click-clack sound, and the same voice continuing: 'And. She's Mad. As Hell."

Now that movie I would pay to see.


Oh. Great. Now the freaking archives have disappeared from my blog page. One more thing to have to fix.
So last night I wound up at the Centre of Contemporary Arts in town with H/al and Guitar Andy for the open-to-all launch for the Ballads of the Book cd, which puts together local bands with local writers. H/al in particular wrote the lyrics for a song by a band called Aerogramme. I'm aware of Aerogramme, though I hadn't really heard anything beyond the song H/al wrote with them. They were pleasingly ... hairy. In fact, there was one brief moment where I thought, 'why are The Magic Numbers here, and why are they talking to H/al?'

One of them muttered something about playing Xanadu in a Rush cover band, and my estimation of them went up immediately.

I'm back in the CCA later this afternoon, for a workshop on directing actors, another in the series of workshops provided gratis to members of the GMAC Talent Pool. Apparently it's intended to be 'interactive', which fills me with dread. I'm just a writer, can't I just ... sit in the back and take notes?

I'm struggling to do three things simultaneously right now: finish the edits on Stealing Light - two-thirds of the way there, and jumping onto it at every spare moment - trying to get some kind of day job sorted out - and also attempting to put together a complete pitch package for 'Personal Jesus'. So far myself and the director Shona (from STV) have:

• Taken pictures of Phil Raines dressed as a televangelist

• Contacted shitloads of producers in the hopes they're interested in helping us

• Contacted shitloads of actors in the hopes they're interested in helping us

• Hunted down possible locations for the shoot, if, if, if they give us the money (an old military barracks just outside of town, all Nissen huts, is looking favourable)

• Talked to a puppeteer who worked for ... Jim Henson, or something

• And a whole bunch of other stuff my fragile little mind is completely blanking on at the moment

And all this, for a cheap ten minute flick, shot on video and transferred to 35mm, that we don't even know we're going to get to make. Eh.


Things not quiet now. I've been insanely busy the past week, so busy I spent most of a party at Chris's on Saturday night slouched on a sofa with a stunned expression wondering why my body refused to obey simple orders like: go to kitchen, talk to people, eat free food. Mostly my body stared with a confused expression at anyone passing by who appeared to be attempting to engage me in conversation.

Mostly it's been the run-up to pitching the short film. For the moment, it's called 'Personal Jesus'. I've been thinking of another title, 'Machines of Loving Grace', given it's about a near-future community where the lives of children are ruled by semi-autonomous, sixteen-inch tall robots disguised as cuddly Jesus Christ soft toys, although it is the name of a band. On the other hand, it's also a line from a Richard Brautigan poem, so I'm still thinking about it.

I've met with the director pretty much every evening this week for some purpose or other, often meeting up with other people like Emily, the script development person, and Karen at the Glasgow Media Access Centre to explain exactly how the hell we think we're going to pull off knee-high robots on a budget of no more, probably, than eight grand.

But there are ways. And in fact, the robots might be the simplest part of the whole equation. The script - all two thousand words of it - has been through at least four drafts in the past six weeks. The latest is an ultra-el-cheapo version, aimed primarily at convincing a commission board we have a financially feasible project.

All this, and absolutely no guarantee we'll even get beyond the next stage. In the meantime, I've been taking advantage of various free workshops available to everyone invited into the GMAC talent pool, including a couple of direction workshops. Even if we don't get to make the movie, the amount I've learned about what you can or can't do, or what's feasible, is invaluable.

One of the best pieces of advice I've heard is this: find your location first, then write your story around it. There's another direction workshop next Saturday, I'm going to try and go to: this one is about dealing with actors.

Not surprisingly, I've not had much time to work on the Stealing Light edits. I'm still about halfway through the edits anyway, and I'm praying things loosen up the next week I can get back to them. And on top of that, I've got to come up with some outlines for possible sequels. Busy, busy, busy.