November Break

[I’m now keeping Keeping Track posts here.]

Screenplays

After only light further editing, I submitted The Secret Society to 4Screenwriting, and we’ll see what happens with that.

I had two other ideas for films over the weekend, so they get noted down in a notebook and mulled over for a while. I might try to move onto the next screenplay quite quickly, and that will be one of two – the action script I’ve been planning out with Coffee Break Screenwriter and a thing I started a while back, which I have 15 pages of skeletal structure planned out.

The exciting, fun bit of screenplay writing – for me – is first pass at dialogue scenes, where things can surprise and delight you. The planning stage is more ponderous and feels like procrastination – but actual hard work at this point can save you later down the line when the thing falls apart. The bit at the end, rewriting stuff and trying to make your first-pass nonsense make sense, that’s not much fun either.

So you have three parts – No Fun, Fun, No Fun.

And the problem with finishing a script – No Fun – is that the next bit is planning – No Fun.

That’s two No Funs in a row. So unfair.

Sitcoms

We had another meeting last night about our team-written radio sitcom, so that’s now broken into 16 scenes, and we each have six to write. After attempting to write an A plot, B plot, C plot each between the three writers, we’re this time trying out writing six sequential scenes. I have the final six to write, so will be wreaking havoc.

Also thinking again about a radio sitcom I started writing a while back. It’s a bit conceptual – there’s a topical element that makes it a bit tricky to write a pilot – but that might be fun too.

So maybe the sitcoms can be the Fun in a No Fun sandwich.

Other

After much recommendation by Kat Sommers, and then my wife Sarah telling me all the good bits, I read On Writing by Stephen King in about four days. Thrilling, cheeky and totally inspirational, I can only add my recommendation to everyone else.

It made me consider getting up early each day to do writing. That’s how good it is. I haven’t quite made the leap yet, but I am thinking I could take some time at the beginning of the day to write before work. That’s clearly the best bit of the day, the writing.

And the Stephen King book, combined with my friends doing NaNoWriMo have made me think about writing a novel. (I know, I know… I hate myself too.) I think at the moment, I don’t read enough novels. I watch films all the time, so am subconsciously sucking up structure and style, but not novels. Never really got the knack. But maybe at some point. Who knows.

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Keeping Track: Post 4

A weekly blog post was always a noble intention, wasn’t it?

Screenplays

Okay, big week. No Fun is complete. At least, I have a complete draft. It’s 99 pages long and it’s called The Secret Society. I’ve added it to my CV. It’s a thing now.

I now have to get a draft that I’m happy to send by Wednesday. In an ideal world, I’d like to hear it read out loud. I’m not going to have time. My wife Sarah has a copy and I might send it to a few other people for a basic sense check.

Getting other people to read stuff is a bit traumatic, as people rarely have time to sit and read other people’s scripts. Especially when they’re 99 pages long. That’s why a table read is much better. You get to drink wine and eat crisps, and spend an hour and a half larking about, rather than having to sit and focus. It’s pretty agonising for me, though. We did a table read of my first film in the living room of the flat I was living in, and all of the stupid and immature things that you write become huge and obvious. That’s why table reads are good for your script and bad for potential heart attacks.

Oh, and Tom has become Pete. That was strange. I’ll write about that some other time, I think. It was like your dad had been replaced by some guy who said all the same things, but was a bit tubbier.

Sitcoms

But wait! That’s not all! We had a meeting about our team-written radio sitcom on Tuesday. Myself, Sarah and Kate had all failed to do as much writing as we should, and that was basically because of bad notetaking on all of our parts at the last meeting. Plus, we always meet up after work, and generally have – at absolute maximum – about 90 minutes of productive brain-time before our heads melt.

So we spent our Tuesday 90 minutes doing a careful scene-by-scene breakdown of the first half of the script, and we’re planning to meet up again to do the second half. It’s feeling a bit clearer now.

Other stuff

Oh, and also, I went with the truly splendid Julie Bower to the book launch of The Creative Screenwriter at the BFI. The book is a fascinating collection of writing exercises to think more creatively about writing, rather than following the formulaic version of screenwriting espoused by other books. We did a couple of the exercises in the launch workshop, and then drank a glass of wine. I managed to spill quite a lot of wine on the shiny metal floor of the BFI. I was carrying too much stuff.

Review: Frank Ocean, “Channel Orange”

I’m an occasional contributor to Third Way Magazine, a magazine of Christian comment upon culture which is available by subscription.

Here’s a review of “Channel Orange”, the album by Frank Ocean, which originally appeared in the September 2012 issue. This was written whilst I had quite a heavy cold, so some of the logic is a bit muddled. Sorry about that.

Six days before the release of his debut album, Frank Ocean posted a letter on his blog in which he talked about falling in love as a 19-year-old, and that love being spurned because they were of the same gender. Previously known as a songwriter for Justin Bieber and Beyonce, and an occasional member of puerile rap clan Odd Future, in Frank Ocean we now had something quite special. Historic, even. A major new talent in the world of urban music had announced that they had had, if not a gay relationship, then certainly same-sex feelings – something simply shocking to the homophobic rap community.

The timing was impeccable. Six days for Frank Ocean to be roundly praised by the music press and villified by moronic hordes on Twitter, before the music came. A guaranteed way of building hype for an unknown act, or an artist pre-empting the babble and baring his soul?

The first reason to discredit the PR stunt angle is that the music is so good. Ocean has written songs for others and so – like Kanye West or the Neptunes – his first solo album is eccentric, boundary pushing and uniquely his. Rather than Pro-Tooled clinical perfection, he favours ‘70s-sounding electric piano, with washes of gurgling synths. The beats are minimal, restrained, and his vocals are impassioned and refreshingly autotune-free.

The album isn’t perfect – there are some scratchy radio skits, and some songs lack hooks, resting instead on scrappy surrealism – but, when it works, it’s reminiscent of Prince’s Sign O The Times in its ambition and range, with a little ‘70s Stevie Wonder thrown in.

Freed from making something for the charts, Ocean tells tales of hollow, neon-lit glamour. It’s the opposite of bling – the drugs aren’t fun, and riches bring only loneliness. When he namechecks brands – on Lost, he sings “Got on my buttercream silk shirt / And it’s Versace” – it’s with a sad-eyed resignation, a sense that he should know better.

The best example of Ocean’s approach to wealth is Super Rich Kids, a fascinating song about aimless, moneyed youths. Over a lolloping piano reminiscent of Benny & The Jets, Ocean’s Odd Future colleague Earl Sweatshirt raps “The maids come around too much / Parents ain’t around enough”, whilst Ocean sings of stocks and shares – and, bizarrely, shower-heads – before concluding “I’m searching for a real love”.

The album really becomes special, however, when it addresses Ocean’s pre-release revelations. Bad Religion places Ocean’s narrator in a taxi, where the taxi driver responds to the narrator asking him to “be my shrink for the hour” with “Boy, you need prayer”. The narrator says “If it brings me to my knees, it’s a bad religion”, before a masterful songwriting touch as he bends this concept back into his own situation, concluding that unrequited love isn’t much of a religion either: “Unrequited love / It’s nothing but a one-man cult… I could never make him love me”. Wrapped in swooping strings, it’s heartfelt and heartbreaking.

Similarly impressive is the deconstructed Motown strut of “Forrest Gump”, in which Ocean talks about his love, a boy “who wouldn’t hurt a beetle”, concluding “This is love, I know it’s true / I won’t forget you”. Ocean proves himself to be a writer of verve, equating the way the boy is “running on his mind” with the titular Tom Hanks movie. I mean, this isn’t your standard Usher joint.

It’s this eccentric openness that makes me feel this isn’t a PR stunt. Writing so movingly on unrequited love is a world away from the urban music of the clubs and the charts, and even further away from the violent and controversial imagery of Odd Future, and their de facto leader Tyler the Creator. Ocean is undoubtedly fond of using characters and narrative, often singing from different points of view (intriguingly, not all male), but it’s on tracks like Bad Religion, Forrest Gump and the opening track Thinkin Bout You, that the songs seem to drop the artifice a little. He’s singing from the heart.

Following the release of Channel Orange, Ocean has been opening for Coldplay in arenas, finding kinship in other acts famous for making emotive music for outsiders. The lines between genres have long been blurred, with Channel Orange similar in tone to Kanye’s work with Bon Iver – urban music taking cues from indie sensitivity. Frank Ocean has the urban grit thanks to Odd Future, and the songwriting chops thanks to his work with mainstream pop. How fitting that his coming-out should be the start of a creative blossoming into a dynamic, thrilling talent.