In Defence Of Plot Holes

There’s been a lot of chatter online regarding a certain new space opera movie. I forget what it’s called. Flash Starkiller and The Laser Sword of Doom or something. In amongst all the manbaby cries of “You ruined my childhood by making it for girls!” there is a common criticism that actually carries some heft. Here’s when one reply I got when I blogged about how much I liked the film…

It can’t be denied that the film has plot holes. One occured to me only this morning: if Luke flew his X-Wing to Ach-To, how did he do it without Artoo? I didn’t think you could fly an X-Wing without an astromech… okay, maybe you can, or because The Force, or whatever?

That’s just one of many little niggles in the story, but here’s the thing, and you might want to be sitting down for this one… Ready? You sure…?

ALL OF THOSE SPACE LASER SWORD MOVIES ARE FULL OF PLOT HOLES!

All of ’em. Here’s a few that come to mind…

  • Just how long was Luke traning on Dagobah? The weeks/months/years it takes to become a Jedi, or the few hours it took the Falcon to fly to Bespin?
  • Why would Obi Wan take a baby Skywalker to the planet where his dad was born and not bother to change the kid’s name?
  • Why did the Death Star come out of hyperspace so far away from Yavin and give the Rebels so much time to prepare?
  • Who did Leia’s hair and makeup in the Ewok village?

And that beloved saga isn’t the only one suffering from holy story syndrome:

  • How did Andy’s poster get back on the wall in his cell in The Shawshank Redemption?
  • Who heard Charles Foster Kane say “Rosebud”?
  • What was Bruce Willis doing in his downtime when he wasn’t hanging out with the kid on the Sixth Sense?
  • Almost all of the finale of Ocean’s 11
  • Every Bond film ever made
  • Just how did Tom Hagen cut that horse’s head off in the Godfather without waking anyone? And I’ll buy lunch for anyone who can explain the plot of The Godfather II to me without hesitation, repetition or deviation.

Most, if not all, stories have plot holes in them. I would go so far as to say that life itself is full of plot holes, but this isn’t a post-Brexit therapy group so let’s move on.

We’re willing to gloss over plot holes because WE RESPOND TO STORIES ON AN EMOTIONAL LEVEL. And boy do we get emotional when we talk about beloved series and characters. And because they’re so beloved they’re put under far more scrutiny than those lesser movies we might watch once and then forget.

As a writer, this doesn’t mean you now have licence to fill your script with gaping plot holes. We all vary in our tolerance of plot holes, and you need to work hard to ensure that your story makes sense. When you spot a hole you need to fix it, and don’t just paper over the cracks hoping we won’t notice.

Always work under the supposition that your audience is smarter than you are.However, it’s inevitable that one or two might slip through, no matter how rigorous you are, especially if you’re writing science fiction and fantasy where you’re working with magic and hyperspace and other wonders that don’t exist.

But ask yourself what’s more important: a watertight logic puzzle, or a fairytale that punches you in the gut? I know it’s not an either/or situation, but I know which end of the spectrum I veer towards.

May The Force Be With You and Toto’s still going to be put down by Mrs. Gulch when Dorothy wakes…

Until next time, happy writing!

Mark

PS. Don’t get me started on people who think they’re clever pointing out petty continuity errors in movies.

PPS. That novel I wrote with Mark Desvaux doesn’t have a single plot hole in it. Not one. I dare you to find one. Grab your copy here and prove me wrong.

PPPS. Oh, and if you want to support our work on the podcast, we now have a Patreon. Do please support us and we can keep this train rolling.

Subscribers to my newsletter get this kind of stuff before anyone else, the lucky things. You can join their ranks by signing up here (and you can choose a free eBook while you’re at it!)

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How Rian Johnson just saved Star Wars

This blog post has MASSIVE SPOILERS for Star Wars The Last Jedi, so if you haven’t seen it yet, please scroll no further than the porg of spoilderdom…

porg

Ready for spoilery thoughts? Here we go…

“You have to kill the past,’ says Kylo Ren in Rian Johnson’s take on the Star Wars saga. To say that this film has been divisive would be an understatement, but the film wears its themes on its sleeve, and the viewer soon discovers that this will be no ordinary Star Wars story. It opens with a comedy sketch co-starring Adrian Edmonson, followed by Luke tossing his lightsaber over a cliff, then the Resistance fleet is all but wiped out, General Leia is ejected into space, Admiral Ackbar discovers that even he can’t repel scripts of this magnitude, and no one says “I have a very bad feeling about this,” or any of its variants, which might be a first for the series.

This is an irreverent movie, and thank the Maker for that. I enjoyed The Force Awakens and Rogue One very much, though both were quick to doff the cap to tradition and tiptoed very carefully through the minefield of fan expectation. Johnson’s film streaks gleefully through the minefield, flipping the bird at any man-baby fanboy appalled at the liberties he takes (and it does seem to be all men complaining… We really have to stop getting so petulant about stuff like this, guys).

As I watched, I kept thinking; “I didn’t know the Force could do that,” and “Ooh, that’s new!” and it engaged me in a way that a Star Wars film hasn’t done since Return of the Jedi, and it’s given me a fun quote that I’ll be using on my kids for years to come: “Congratulations. Everything you just said in that sentence is wrong.”

It’s not perfect. The middle is pretty baggy, Snoke is still uninteresting as a villain. and threads are set-up and resolved a little too quickly – mainly the excursion to Canto Bight and Poe Dameron’s mini-mutiny – though one has to wonder if the latter of these was affected by the sudden passing of Carrie Fisher. (Pauses to sniff and make excuses about something in my eye)

Fisher is heartbreakingly good in the few scenes she’s conscious in, and it makes you wonder how great she would have been had she lived to complete the role. Hamill shines, giving a career-best send-off to a character that started as a callow youth, and ends a grizzled, regretful war veteran in hiding. His final vision of two suns setting is a wonderful bookend to his story, and a genuine lump-in-the-throat moment.

For me, the most thrilling part of this film is its message that anyone can be the hero now. You don’t have to be a Skywalker, or even a distant second cousin, or a collection of immaculate midichlorians, as many thought Rey to be. You can be Rose, or her sister Paige, or that stable boy and his friends at the very end. Heroism doesn’t require a special lineage, you don’t need to come from a renowned family, or be in the top percentage of society. In a time when we’re seeing the powers-that-be on their worst behaviour, that’s a very important message for any yoot watching this film. And this is a film for the young fans; giving them ownership of the series with a range of diverse and interesting new characters. Maybe that’s why the older fanboys are so distressed…? Someone else is playing with their toys and they’re not playing by the rules…

Curiously, and refreshingly, the film doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. Rian Johnson has cleared the decks and JJ Abrams now has a free reign to wind-up the trilogy any way he pleases. I hope he has as much fun with his new film as Rian did with his, and takes advantage of how Rian Johnson just saved Star Wars saga from disappearing up its own continuity. The fact that none of us has the first clue where this is going next is really exciting and I can’t wait for Episode IX.

Rogue One – the fanboys have taken over the asylum (spoilers agogo!)

Be ye warned, I have all the spoilers in the article below and we can only proceed on the assumption that you’ve seen Rogue One: A Star Wars story and stayed awake to the very end.

 

Are we cool…?

 

Very well.

 

Let us begin with a trailer showing a ton of shots that did not make it to the finished film…

I’ve seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story twice now, and I enjoyed it very much.

There has been chatter, some negative, about the stream of in-jokes and easter-eggs in the film, and no one has summarised this better than Adam Roberts in this article. But, despite all the scaremongering news of reshoots and rewrites (like this was the first film ever to suffer this), we have been gifted a very enjoyable film.

 

I’ve seen plenty of rave reviews, some saying it’s the best Star Wars film for thirty-odd years, though I wouldn’t go that far. When watching it for the second time its flaws became more apparent, and it got me wondering about the future of this series, which is very close to my heart, and the future of this kind of shared-universe storytelling.

But let’s start with the movie itself. It has a finale to rival any other in the series, and it’s full of incredible moments, but second time around I found the journey to reach that epic climax was slow and stodgy.

My biggest problem is our leads. Felicity Jones and Diego Luna are fine actors, but they’re both saddled with dour characters with downturned mouths. They’re very earnest and sober and lack any of the verve of Finn or Rey, let alone the swagger of Han Solo, or the infectious energy of Luke and Leia. They feel very one-note all the way through, and it’s hard work to care for them.

star-wars-rogue-one-jyn-erso-cassian-andor
Cheer up, guys… might never happen. Oh, wait…

I blub at the drop of a hat at the movies, but I felt curiously unmoved by their sacrifice at the end. It was as if they knew they were doomed from the start and allowed their story to play out with a defeatist tone. How many kids will want to be Jyn or Cassian when acting out their adventures in the playground? I suspect Rey and Finn will remain the top ‘bagsy’ for some time.

The story is a patchwork of rewrites and you can still see some of the stitching. There are visual clues of discarded story threads, such as the unexplained wreckage of a still-smoking X-Wing on Jedha, but that stuff just adds to the intrigue of a bigger story, and can make for fun speculation.

More problematic are some of the character beats: Bodhi Rook is interrogated by the big jelly-Cthulu-like creature which, Saw Gerrera assures him, will make him lose his mind. Yet, one quick chat with charisma vacuum Cassian Andor and suddenly Bodhi is tickety-boo. Wouldn’t it have been more fun to rely on a defective defecting pilot who is one sandwich short of a picnic? And what should be a perfectly simple plan by Bodhi to hook-up a cable during the final battle needs explaining not once, but twice, and at great length… it feels like a cut-n-shut script solution to a bigger story problem.

And why did Saw Gerrera need to die when he does? Okay, he might have had to stop to oil his legs, or take a fresh puff from his oxygen mask, but he was perfectly capable of getting to a ship with the others. It makes absolutely no sense, other than that’s where Joseph Campbell says the mentor should die if you’ve been studying The Hero’s Journey. I suspect there was more to this story thread, but it was lost somewhere in the rewrites.

And speaking of ships, why do space ships in science fiction movies land so far away from their final destination? You travel halfway across the galaxy to your quarry’s farm in Iceland, and park two miles from his house. Why??

rogue-one-03
“Sir, this is a really long walk, shouldn’t we have parked maybe a little closer to the–?” “SHUT UP!”

We also have an utterly pointless excursion by Krennick to see Vader’s compact and bijoux residence with hot and cold running lava, which feels like an awful lot of unnecessary shoe leather for such a short conversation. Wouldn’t a quick holo-call have done? Then Vader could have at least stayed in the bath…

But, much of this is nitpicking. Overall, the film was a blast. One for the fans, made by the fans. I think this film marks a turning point in the Star Wars canon, and how these kinds of films will be made. This is where the fanboys have taken over the franchise. Yes, The Force Awakens was made with affection and nostalgia, but, crucially, it was written by the man who wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi. Not a fanboy.

With these stand-alone stories we’re now seeing a progression to a different kind of storytelling, where men (and it is all men writing and directing these films) of a certain age, who grew up playing with their Star Wars action figures, are now getting to play in the sandbox of the Star Wars movie universe. When I first saw the trailers for this film, it reminded me of the games I would play with my toys as a child. Stories that focused away from the main saga, and were free to dabble in corners of the universe that we’ve not seen before. And it is play: watching the end sequence of this film – a triumphant, crowd-pleasing finale – it played out like a live-action version of the game Star Wars: Battlefront, each problem they were presented with felt like the next level of a platform game. Even Vader’s thrilling moment scything through rebel soldiers was seemingly taken straight from the Battlefront Hoth map…

Don’t get me wrong; this is all fun stuff, but these adventures are feeling less like iconic movies, and more like serial TV. We have a very capable show runner in the redoubtable Kathleen Kennedy, and we have the Lucasfilm Story Group (mostly comprising of women, which is encouraging), to keep everything on track. I don’t envy them. This must be like a game of Jenga, where writers have to make extremely delicate manoeuvres to ensure that the whole edifice doesn’t come tumbling down.

The Star Wars universe is no longer the vision of just one man, it’s a big business that will be squeezed for all its worth for at least the next two decades, in movies, TV, games, theme park attractions, books, toys, food and clothes. Along with Marvel, Disney, DC, Harry Potter and Bond, this is industrialised storytelling and it’s here to stay.

There was a time in the late ’80s where I felt like I was the only Star Wars fan in the world. The films were done with, they had stopped making the toys, and a fan could almost know everything there was to know about the saga. And then, when something new came along, like the Timothy Zahn books, it was a thrilling event, but an isolated incident. Those days are gone, and eventually we’ll reach a saturation point where I fear I’ll be sick to the tits with anything Star Wars. I’m guessing this is what fuels a lot of the impotent male rage you see online; the idea that something that was once special to them is now cherished by the masses, and – heaven forbid – girls. But to complain about this is to reveal a thin skin. I love that my kids are enjoying a golden age of Star Wars, that they can enjoy exciting stories with a cast of characters as diverse as those in The Force Awakens and Rogue One, but already I can see a day when the bubble bursts. All it takes is a disappointing opening weekend and the franchise will begin to die. And, with each new iteration of an increasingly-complex storyline, the odds of a disappointment will increase and the Jenga tower will fall, and the masses will suddenly be interested in a new shiny thing to decorate their bedrooms with. So, let’s enjoy it while we can. Just because a thing doesn’t last, it doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. The fanboys and fangirls are running the show, and they’re off to a pretty good start.

 

 

 

 

Film London Microschool, My Writing Diary, Ten Years On, Thursday 12th & Friday 13th October, 2006

Ten years ago, my script Waiting For Eddie had a producera director and had been chosen for the first ever Film London Microwave scheme, which was designed to produce at least two debut films with a budget of £100k.

After three days of intense workshopping (see previous blog entries), we were given a day away to prepare our pitches for the real thing on Friday…

Thursday 12th October, 2006

A blissful day at home working on the pitch and the script for Eddie. Got lots done. Had a conference call with Dean and Jon. I was confident then, but nerves are starting already.

Friday 13th October, 2006

Dean, Jon and I pitched to Film London this morning. As pitches go, it was textbook stuff and we covered everything. However, Dean called a little after to nine to say that we didn’t get the green light. No reason was offered and he didn’t ask. The positive spin is that we can now go and raise a proper budget instead rather than be constrained by the strict £100k that Film London insisted on. Dean’s right: at least this way we get to make it on our terms. Still, I can’t help but feel really disappointed. The green light from Film London could have meant that the film would be in cinemas next year and would have got us all some quick recognition.

Dean also reminded me that Film London’s remit is to support independent/arthouse film, and our script is very much mainstream and commercial and much more likely to get funding elsewhere than some of the other projects on the Microwave scheme. There’s no news yet on who actually did get through. Apparently an announcement will be made in the next ten days.

Aah, can you hear it? The post-disappointment rationalisation? There is some truth in our reasoning: the script is a ghost story, with a far more substantial VFX budget than any other script on the scheme (a habit I can’t seem to shake!), and it would have been nigh-on impossible to make effectively on such a small budget. All that fluff about arthouse versus commercial is balls, though. Looking back at my script ten years on, it’s far too idiosyncratic to be commercial, and the films that were selected by Film London were both eminently marketable and, while not runaway box offices successes, earned their money back, were highly acclaimed, and successfully launched careers.

The first I saw was Eran Creevy’s Shifty, which is a fantastic debut with terrific performances from Riz Ahmed and Daniel Mays. The second was Mum and Dad, a nicely twisted horror directed by Steven Shiel.

We eventually learned that we were ultimately rejected because my script was “too TV”, which burned at the time (and felt a bit of a flannely excuse), though now it’s got my cogs whirring and wondering if there’s mileage in a London-set TV series about a haunted house and guy called Eddie trying to figure out who murdered him. TV execs: you know where to find me!

Film London Microschool: Day Three. My Writing Diary, Ten Years On, Wednesday 11th October, 2006

Ten years ago, my script Waiting For Eddie had a producera director and had been chosen for the first ever Film London Microwave scheme, which was designed to produce at least two debut films with a budget of £100k.

Wednesday 11th October, 2006

Last full day of Microschool. First of all, I have to tip my hat to our fellow filmmakers… a thoroughly nice bunch. An awful word was coined by a producer (who shall remain anonymous): “co-opetition”. A mash of co-operation and competition that he felt summed-up the spirit in which he wanted us to work. We ignored his banal wittering and just got on with each other anyway. Special mention should go to Rani Creevy, writer/director of Shifty, and Carol Morley, writer/director of Hotel Deadly – she was a straight-talking breath of fresh air, as was her producer Cairo Cannon.

Producer Christine Alderson was really helpful, too. She basically guided our group through the sessions with plenty of wise and practical advice. Judy Counihan, co-writer of the excellent Faber book The Pitch, came along to talk for an hour on pitching and I made nearly three pages of notes.

Dean (Fisher) is still wary of the restrictions on the budget, but Jon (Wright) is still confident that we can pull it off. I’ll work on our pitch script at home tomorrow and Friday is the day we pitch to the Film London panel!

What’s fascinating about looking back on this entry is the wealth of talent at this first Microschool. I didn’t know it at the time, but Eran (Rani) Creevy would win the first Microwave and go on to make Shifty, and then Welcome To The Punch, and Carol Morley, who, like us, would not win, but went on to make some of my favourite films of the last decade including Dreams Of Life and The Falling. What’s doubly fascinating is I recall their passion and no-nonsense approach to their filmmaking. No “co-opetition” for them, they just wanted to get their fucking films made…

Oh, and Faber books have somehow let The Pitch go out of print! Boo, Faber, boo! Simply the best book on pitching your film ever written. Totally essential, and grab a copy if you can.

More on how turned out soon (though I guess if you’ve been paying attention you already know the ending)…

Film London Microschool: Day Two. My Writing Diary, Ten Years On, Tuesday 10th October, 2006

Ten years ago, my horror-comedy script Waiting For Eddie had a producera director and had been chosen for the first ever Film London Microwave scheme, which was designed to produce at least two debut films with a budget of £100k. And day two saw the script get some serious interrogation from some industry professionals. Would it be knocked out in the first round, or would it pick itself up, battered and bruised, and ask for more…?

Tuesday 10th October, 2006

Day two of Microschool. Jon (Wright) and I had a meeting with script editor Toby Rushton that was so good it gave me goosebumps. He started by saying some very nice things about the script, we then all agreed on some of the problems. He liked the suggestion in the script that the house has something to do with its murderous history. Jon and I were initially wary: we didn’t want to go down the Amityville Horror route, but then I latched on to the slaughtered Victorian family in the Fleetwood sequence and we now have a new character called Cassandra and an ending that is ten times better.

Poor Dean (Fisher) was stuck in the basement at the Institute Francais, poring over the budget with all the other producers. He’s still wary of making of making Eddie for £100k, but Jon is more optimistic.

This was the first time the script had been read by anyone not directly associated with the film, and it was something of a relief to be told that it wasn’t a steaming turd, and how dare I call myself a writer? I remember the goosebumps came when Toby took a tiny part of the script — a throwaway line about previous murders in this haunted house — and started talking about how we could extrapolate that into something bigger, and by the time our session was over we had a new character and a better ending (and I had a ton of revisions ahead of me… years of them, in fact).

Getting feedback and notes can be a traumatic experience, but this was such a thrill to be given permission almost to dig deeper and explore these characters and situations all the more. At the end of day two I was certain of one thing: our film would get the £100k and would be made within the year (spoiler alert: nah).

For more on Day Three of Microschool, tune in tomorrow!

Film London Microschool, My Writing Diary, Ten Years On, Monday 9th October, 2006

My script Waiting For Eddie had a producer, a director and had been chosen for the first ever Film London Microwave scheme, which was designed to produce at least two debut films with a budget of £100k. But we weren’t the only ones, of course, and first had to survive a week of Microschool: a kind of Bake Off for filmmakers. Jon and I were treated to masterclasses from producers, writers and sales agents, while our poor producer Dean was sent to a dark basement for a week of budget school (some people get all the luck). Reading this ten years on I feel like I come across as a cocky little know-it-all. Don’t worry, dear reader, the next ten years of trying to get scripts off the ground will knock that out of me…

Monday 9th October, 2006

Day one of Microschool. An up and down sort of day. It started with some sales agents telling us exactly what sort of things they were looking for in a film. A lot of what they said could be filed under “The Bleeding Obvious”, but it was surprising just how few of our fellow filmmakers have twigged to the basic tenets of writing for a market. Some just want to experiment at the artistic end of the spectrum and that’s great, but I think Film London are looking for a hit to come out of this scheme and, as far as the comedy films are concerned, we’re the only one of this scheme that comes close. That said, there’s a lot of work to do this week: budgets need a rethink and the script will need to be knocked into a practical shape. Dean is torn: he’s still totally convinced that he can get £400k for Eddie, but Jon and I feel that we should really get our teeth into this week and go for a win!

This was my first time surrounded by other filmmakers in a hotbed of talent and competition, and it was pretty intimidating at first, but you soon discover that they’re just as terrified (or as full of shit) as you are, and you start to realise that you might actually deserve a place at the table here.

You hear people talking about breaking into the film industry like you just need to kick down one door and suddenly you’re a filmmaker. It’s nothing like that at all. More a series of incremental inch-like shuffles in a never-ending post office queue, but while you’re in the queue you get talking to others who have just as far to go as you and before you know it you have a peer group and a sense of belonging. I’ll always be grateful to the Microwave scheme and Dean and Jon for getting me a place at the back of the line, and I’ll stop now before this metaphor completely exhausts itself.

More on day two of Microwave tomorrow!

 

 

Meeting Your Mentor – My Writing Diary, Ten Years On, September 1st, 2006

Summer 2006 suddenly went very quiet on the writing diary front. Producer Dean Fisher was pitching my script Waiting For Eddie around town, and then everyone goes on holiday in August. These are always worrying times for a writer. The phone stops ringing, emails don’t ping in your inbox, and you begin to wonder if all the enthusiasm for your project has just evaporated… Then summer ended and it all started kicking off again. September 2006 began with a fortuitous meeting with someone who was to change the course of my writing career, film director Jon Wright

 

Friday, 1st September, 2006

I jumped on a train to London for the really important meeting of the week. Dean, Jon Wright and I headed off to a meeting with Film London (to pitch Waiting For Eddie for the first ever Microwave Scheme).

Jon and I hit it off immediately. Quite literally: we bumped heads as we both sat down. Jon had some notes on the script, which were excellent. He definitely gets the script and it’s hugely gratifying to hear someone enthuse about it who will hopefully be in a position to make it a reality.

The Film London meeting went really well. Both Maggie Ellis and Sol Gatti-Pascual were friendly and encouraging and I have to say that Dean, Jon and I certainly held our own (I was a bag of nerves). I got the feeling that Sol really wants to work with Jon, so this could definitely work in our favour. We’ll hear if we get through to the next stage on Tuesday, but both Jon and Dean said they wouldn’t be despondent if we didn’t get through as they’re confident we can raise the budget elsewhere.

So, yes, in the kind of meet-cute you could only find on the corniest romcom, Jon and I met by head-butting each other. To put it in some kind of context, he was the first proper film director that I had ever had a meeting with, and I started by giving him a Glasgow Kiss. For a second I seriously thought I had completely ruined any chance I ever had of working in film ever, but fortunately he laughed it off and we got down to business.

The real boost was getting his very insightful and thoughtful notes. Like I said, he really understood the tone of my warped ghost story and it became clear that we shared many sensibilities, which would definitely pay off in the future, as he would eventually become Obi-Wan to my… Jar Jar…? Stay tuned for more…

Old Ideas Never Die – My Writing Diary, Ten Years On, Friday 23rd June, 2006

One of the most fascinating things about looking back at an old diary is the sheer tonnage of stuff that I would otherwise have completely forgotten: people I’ve met, places I’ve been, and ideas for stories that never got beyond the scribble-on-a-scrap-of-paper stage. Some turn out to be complete duffers, but some still linger, and that includes an idea for a story that occurred to me exactly ten years ago today.

It started with an exercise where I jotted down various movie sub-genres on a page and drew random lines between them. The world isn’t quite ready for my superhero-slapstick-kung-fu musical, but there might be something in a Western Ghost Story…

Friday 23rd June, 2006

I’ve been scribbling ideas down for a Western Ghost story. I’ve talked to Steve, who can’t recall seeing that combination before, and he knows more about westerns than anyone I know. I sent him an email asking if he wants to work on this one with me.

Spent most of the afternoon researching ghost towns on the net. Got some great stuff, including the story of Henry Plummer. History still hasn’t decided if he was a fine, upstanding lawman or the worst kind of lowlife, but he was once the sheriff of Bannack, Montana, most of which is still standing, even though it’s totally deserted. How does a town get like that?

Monday 26th June, 2006

Did some work on the Western Ghost Story. Synopsis coming along nicely.

Wednesday 28th June, 2006

Found plenty of time to finish the Western Ghost Story synopsis, which Steve likes, so hopefully we can work on it together.

Thursday 29th June, 2006

Steve’s given me Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy to read. He says I’ll find inspiration in its pages.

I did indeed. Lordy, that’s one hell of a book. Relentless and truly shocking.

The Western Ghost Story idea became something called The Ghost of Little Shiloh, which never really got beyond the treatment stage. One reason is that my friend Steve Mayhew started his doctorate in John Ford movies and that combined with a full-time job didn’t give him much spare time to write. And, as you’ll see in future diary entries, I was about to become quite busy myself.

But I still have a folder on my laptop labelled ‘Western’ (it was last modified 17th September, 2006), and every now and then the idea gives me a nudge and wonders why I don’t call anymore, and I entertain the notion. However, the sad truth is I’ve learned a lot about the business in the last ten years, and no one’s looking for original Western ghost stories these days (or superhero-slapstick-kung-fu musicals). Plus, Doctor Steve’s busy with his own books and sharing his substantial knowledge with the world. But you never know… old story ideas never die, but they might just become ghosts.

When the Ideas Pixies steal one of yours… My Writing Diary – Ten Years On: 25th April 2006

There are times when a writer will have a fantastic idea for a story, only for the Ideas Pixies — mischievous sprites in the pay of big Hollywood studios — to come in the middle of the night, pluck it from your brain and give it to someone like, I dunno, Tom Cruise, who can have the whole thing packaged and announced in Variety before you can even sharpen your pencils.

The first time this happened to me was when I was still acting. I had watched a documentary on two rival snipers during the siege of Stalingrad in WWII, and I made a note to start researching it, as it was a fantastic idea for a movie.

The next morning – the VERY NEXT MORNING! – I received a casting report for a film called ENEMY AT THE GATES, based on the true story of two rival snipers during the siege of Stalingrad in WWII.

The Ideas Pixies had struck!

Looking back at my diary, I find that they returned ten years ago today. I had been working on an epic science fiction time travel script called THE LAST TIME MACHINE (LTM in the diaries). It had started with an idea called THE LOCAL LOONEY, about a man babbling in the High Street about travelling through time, and it evolved into a much more mainstream idea about a girl who befriends this poor fellow, realises it’s her supposedly dead father who’s travelled back through time and is trying to stop his rival from activating the machine and destroying the universe. A rip opens in time and modern London is deluged with dinosaurs, Roman Legions, and the Luftwaffe, and there’s a neat side plot about a Hyde Park gig with legendary dead musicians including Jimi Hendrix. It was big and ambitious and would never get made, but I was hoping that it would be my calling card and a gateway to getting paid work on an actual movie. Then, getting home from a long day flying to and from Edinburgh for the day job, this happened…

TUESDAY 25TH APRIL, 2006

The evening ended depressingly when reading SFX on the loo – there’s a new TV series being filmed with Douglas Henshall called PRIMEVAL – it’s about people fighting dinosaurs coming through tears in the fabric of the universe… Basically, a major part of LTM. Initially, I thought it was a year’s work down the Swanee, but on reflection it just means another rewrite. I’ll send my agent an email…

Yes, there’s no better place to receive bad news than on the crapper. Later that night…

Had a text conversation with my agent. She’s going to look at the SFX article and call me tomorrow. She read LTM and loved it, so there’s hope yet.

Spoke to (fellow writer) Steve. His reply, “May I suggest the word bollocks?”

WEDNESDAY 26TH APRIL, 2006

Spoke to my agent about LTM. We agreed that the dinosaurs will probably have to go, but the main thrust of the story will not be affected. She really enjoyed it and felt I should make more of the parallel universes. I’m going to email her some dates and we’ll meet soon.

So, there we have it. Firm evidence that Ideas Pixies are real… Or, it could be that every now and then writers will have vaguely similar ideas, especially so in science fiction where the same tropes crop up again and again. I continued writing LTM, but other events happened later in the year that meant I would put it to one side. There’s a draft in a folder somewhere, and maybe one day I’ll dust it off? Primeval has been and gone in the meantime (a show we loved, by the way – great family viewing!).

What should a writer do when you discover that someone else is developing an idea similar to yours? If you’re starting out and writing a sample then maybe you’ll say screw ’em and carry on anyway. Why not? Sometimes you’ll find that your take is sufficiently different. After all, there have been rival asteroid movies, Robin Hood adventures, volcano disaster epics and Jungle Books, and whose to say that yours isn’t the better version?

Sometimes you’re just screwed, particularly if you’re writing for a producer; the idea really might be just too close to the bone for them, and your rivals may already in pre-production and you haven’t even finished your second draft. You have to shrug, put it down to experience and move on. Not easy, but it’s happened to me a couple of times, and I’m sure it’s happened to plenty of others.

Oh, and whatever you do, don’t try and sue them for stealing your idea. They didn’t. And the Ideas Pixies have better lawyers than you anyhow.

Stay tuned for another revealing diary entry soon…