Outlining And The Inner Five-Year-Old

Two days in an empty house, one of which spent beating my head against the wall of exhaustion masking as writer’s block, four colours of Sharpie, 107 index cards and a pot of goulash. That’s what it took to completely re-outline Underworld Calling, my supernatural thriller, from scratch. Into that rewrite went notes from members of the London Writers’ Circle, friends on Twitter and excellent paid feedback from Drew Hilton, the Screenplay Mechanic.

As much as I loved the ideas and characters, and the last draft and story as a whole, I knew it had major issues: Dangling plotlines, insufficient visual and commercial appeal, redundant characters and poor structure. Most of it was due to not outlining from the get-go, then re-tinkering with it over and over, rather than just biting the bullet and outlining it all over again. My key tool to ensure the story was nice and tight this time around was to enquire of my inner five-year old. Every index card was greeted with a plaintive ‘But whyyyy?!’. And if I couldn’t answer it simply on the index card, it got shuffled off until I had either an answer or a better plot point. And by that method, many darlings were murdered, sometimes literally, always brutally.

I’m a long way from done, of course. There are currently oodles of index cards on the floor, in columns by sequence. I’ve taken photos, but I need to write them up, and then turn them into a treatment. And when all that’s done, then starts the actual writing wherein there’s a decent chance the plot and characters and outline will shift a little. But I have a solid starting point, an outline that has managed to survive my most brutal self-criticism, and the relentless enquiries of said inner five-year old. And that’s no bad thing at all.

2014’s Favourite Things

We often hear about the decline in cinema, the cultural decline, how everything is eternally somehow worse than before. I’m sure even I’ve been responsible for some of that on occasion. And so, I present you with this list of some of the my favourite things in 2014:

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Forget what anyone says, I think it was a bumper year for movies and there were loads that I saw that I really liked. An early highlight at the beginning of the year was Under The Skin which, while not to everyone’s taste, I really enjoyed. I loved the minimalistic feel of it, a narrative sparsity that never overburdened what was happening on screen. I also got to see the wonderful Laputa – Castle in the Sky at the BFI, which was a wonderful experience. Laputa is my favourite Miyazaki movie, so it was wonderful to see it on the big screen. It was also the year of Tom Hardy; as well as a scenery chewing performance in Peaky Blinders, I loved Tom Hardy in Locke and The Drop. The former, again, was wonderfully sparse; just Tom Hardy, in a car, talking himself and others through the repercussions of his decision. I thought it was wonderfully executed. The Drop didn’t make much of an impact, a lot of people hadn’t even heard of it, which surprised me. But it was a really nice slow burn of a movie and Tom Hardy is excellent again. One film I wasn’t expecting to enjoy as much as I did was Gone Girl. I’d never read the book, nor heard much about it before seeing it, so it was great to be taken through the films twists and turns. And finally, it would be churlish not to mention Guardians of the Galaxy. Silly, flawed, slightly ridiculous? Sure. But in my view the best of film of the Marvel Universe so far; joyous fun that doesn’t diminish on rewatching and as close to a musical as we’ll likely ever see in big budget superhero blockbusters.

Icon-TV-150 I had a good run reviewing Peaky Blinders this year, but lets face it: 2014 was all about True Detective. The combination of Nic Pizzolatto’s script, Cary Fukunaga’s directing, Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography and Matthew McConaughey’s acting made this must-watch TV. Utterly compelling in its visuals and narrative, I know I’m not alone in being incredibly excited for what season 2 has to offer. A new cast, a new location, a new crime and overall feel, we’re all hoping the creative team can pull another piece of genius out of the bag.

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It would be impossible not to mention London Screenwriters’ Festival 2014, which involved meeting, and re-meeting so many wonderful people. The people, fellow creatives all, was more important than even the tentative nibbles from production companies for Underworld Calling or the excellent feedback from the Actor’s Table Read. These people continue to be friends, critics, supporters and cheerleaders, in a community I’m proud to be part of.

Transition Deferred

So, the transition is to be postponed, set aside for a period of time for the pursuit of ignominious yet necessary financial return. So, for now, a return to squeezing in as much writing as possible in the windows that life provides. It’ll be necessary to balance out writing commitments to others, such as my reviews for The Digital Fix, and meeting the deadlines for my own writing. Not only is it now less than four weeks until London Screenwriters Festival, it’s just over two weeks until the deadline for the BlueCat Screenplay Competition.

So, in between the misery-fest that is The Leftovers, and my gushing love for Peaky Blinders, my primary focus will be Underworld Calling.

Draft Zero of Underworld Calling Completed

So, after a year of work, several wrong turns and distractions, I finally have a completed draft of a feature film. It’s incredibly rough, a little short, an unpolished draft zero, and flawed all to hell. But I do have a completed feature film script and some good ideas of how to improve it.

Currently the first 10 pages or so are in quite a good state, considering I’ve been hawking this project around, even though it wasn’t finished. (Top tip: Don’t do this) But the rest of it, there are a great many pages that I haven’t even read myself since the words flowed out of my fingers and into the screen writing software. Lots of characterisation, lots of foreshadowing and cleaning up of dialogue… There’s a lot of work to do for the next draft.

But I do have a completed draft screenplay of a feature film.  😀

But first, I think I need a palate cleanser, something totally different that will allow me to come back to Underworld Calling fresh and ready for a new edit.

Maybe it’s time to get back to Broken Gears.