screenplays


I am writing a screenplay, Survival of the Coolest. I have been writing drafts of this strange creature for three years. It achieved something, some state of grace, over a year ago when it started to attract some serious talent as collaborators.

“What about your artistic integrity?” my painter sister asked when I told her how I bend to the winds of the “notes” I get from these far more experienced film-makers. But one of the many strange things about writing a screenplay is that it is essentially a collaborative venture made real by the solitary writer – he is the reed pipe for a group. Well, in my case he is.

The strangeness is compounded in this case by the fact that, though a “complete fiction”, my protagonist shares my name and much of my history and ancestry – it is fictional autobiography or autobiographical fiction. As long as I can maintain sufficient distance from fictional William, I’ll be OK, and the opportunities for auto-reflexive play are enormous. Are we not our own best works of art? A story we tell ourselves about the story we’re going to tell?

I have often found myself blind to the weaknesses, inconsistencies and lacks of the screenplay – I just can’t see how it could play better until one of my collaborators gives me a note. It’s not just that thing you get with other forms of writing – put it in the drawer for a week or so and you can come back and read it in much the way a stranger might and immediately spot its clumsinesses. No, because the screenplay is not a work of art in and of itself, but a manual for making one, it is much harder to “read”. It is hard to imagine the finished cinematic experience for which the script is a set of instructions. This is compounded by the frequent challenge to avoid exposition – the “telling” of the story – in favour of “showing” it.

And yet, and yet. How much do the mood, circumstance or experience of the note-givers inform their opinons? After all the movie industry is, according to William Goldman, one where no one knows anything. One has to learn to balance their wisdom against the remote possibility that there might be an agenda behind what they say. The very complexity and uncertainty of the marriage of commerce and creativity that is movie-making spawns a plethora of dogma and doctrine from film schools and self-appointed book-writing gurus. In case of doubt fall back on a nice bit of dogma.

And triple yet. My collaborators have much more experience of the process than I do and these particular guys are not given to dogma. Rarely does the expression “character arc” escape their lips. The blindness of the long distance scriptwriter is actually a kind UNconsciousness. When one of them points out a flaw, one I recognise as soon as they point it out, I often realise that I had seen it myself and subconsciously chosen to ignore the finger wagging at the back of my mind. I am beginning to see that a kind of consciousness, a screenwriting focus, is possible that doesn’t let such worries pass by.

The notes, the really good ones, are not criticisms, but creative ideas, prompts and suggestions. My collaborators are just that, co-creators, not mere whittlers away of the dross. The creative sight of this particular long distance scriptwriter will only be fully restored when the director, actors, designers, producers and all the others from best boy to dolly grip work together to make this blueprint into a living, breathing movie.

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wp6sm.jpgMy blog is filling with evidence. Science demands evidence at every turn to prove the hypotheses its practitioners make. Both workers in the addiction industry and theorisers as to its nature love the phrase “evidence based”, which somehow gives their ideas respectibility. The evidence in this blog could be used to prove that I have written, that I was once a junky, that I’m in love with language – but it is the evidence I chose to present to the blogosphere. It is evidence for an online impression.

Anyway, the evidence so far would say I am more of a writer than anything else, a writer with a thing about addiction. But that’s not true. I spend (interesting word in this context) more time (from my dwindling time account) on the organisation of Unhooked Thinking, the development of the movie Survival of the Coolest and increasingly the development of MediaStores, than I do writing.

The conference is coming along very nicely. Seeds sown at the first event last year are beginning to blossom. An increasing number of academics, treatment workers, users, psychologists, doctors and families of users are realising that the old ways of talking about addiction, drugs and government policy have completely failed. The RSA Commission on Illegal Drugs, Communities and Public Policy published its report this week.  What a tonic it is!  This eminent group of grown-ups agree with so much of what I’ve been waffling on about and with the guiding spirit behind Unhooked Thinking.  There’s a chance one or more of them will speak at the conference.

The movie has a prestigious British director, a producer and a couple of name actors “attached” as we navigate our way through the treacle that is sometimes described as Development Hell. Some producer recently described the process as having to get a room full of plates spinning on sticks before you can go into production – if one falls off its stick, you usually have to start again. But it’s looking good at the moment.

MediaStores has the completion of Version 2 of our platform within site – we’ll be launching some time in May.  Briefly, MediaStores is a true Web 2, Long Tail  ecommerce business that will democratise the selling of books, film and music. We will enable anyone to build their own online store – either free-standing with its own URL, or attached to an existing web or blog presence – and populate it with their own selection drawn from all books, film and music available in the UK.  The cracker is that they will earn 20% of the recommended retail price of everything sold through their store.  Version One was built last year to do this with only books.  It’s taught us a great deal.  Version Two is a brand new platform being built using the latest technology that is Ruby on Rails.

I’ll write more about all these projects in later blogs

I do actually do some work in my double-glazed log cabin. As well as the writing (see below) I am kept busy by a few other projects:

  • Unhooked Thinking, an annual conference about the nature of addiction to be held in Bath’s Guildhall May 9 to 11, 2007.
  • MediaStores, an e-commerce business set to revolutionise how media products are sold online – a veritable Long Tail, Web 2.0 business. The real deal, Version 2, launches in May, 2007, but you can look at the Version One Beta that only does books here.
  • 1904555136survivaltn.JPGThe Survival of the Coolest the memoir I wrote of the love-affair I had with chemicals – in particular heroin – that changed how I lived in my skin, starting in the sixties.
  • Survival of the Coolest, the movie. I am Associate Producer of the project, developing a film from the screenplay I wrote (with great help from Adele Simmons) based on my book of the same name. It has become a magical-realist fiction that is gathering the kind of interest it needs to get made into an actual movie: Gillies MacKinnon as Director, Carl Schoenfeld as Producer, Robert Carlyle and Natalie Press attached in two key roles.
  • Virginia Woolf and the Raverats 1904555020vwtrade.JPGI compiled and edited the complete correspondence between Virginia Woolf and my maternal grandparents, the Raverats, illustrated with my grandfather’s paintings and my grandmother’s wood engravings.

Here is my beginning. And in my beginning were words. And the words were good.

I am a many-headed monster and will divide this be-log accordingly into several parts:

1. I am a founder and the chairman of Eclector Ltd, a Web 2.0, Long Tail business par excellence that has soft-launched in August 2008. A revolution in e-commerce that will make us a nation of shopkeepers once more.

2. I am a poet and writer of numerous articles and essays, two books and a screenplay. Some of which I shall post here. More on that.

3. I am a founder and the director of Unhooked Thinking, the international, multi-disciplinary and iconoclastic conference that enquires into the very nature of addiction. The second, whose theme was Love and Baggage started on May 8th and ran til Friday, May 11th, 2007 in Bath’s Guildhall. And I write about addiction.

4. I was a beat poet in sixties Cambridge, London and Paris and here’s some photos to prove it.

anitaparis7.jpghaunted in Paris, 1964writing at my bidet, Paris, 1964

anitaparis83.jpganitaparis6.jpg

click a photo to see a big version