Katie Mccullough Talks and Writes

Words will get written here and some videoblogs will appear. You don't have to look but it would be nice if you did.

Firehouse Films – The Result! July 6, 2013

Here’s the resulting film from the Firehouse Film Creative inaugural film challenge I was invited to do. Six writers, six directors, one room. We’re all paired off after being picked at random from a hat and we’re all played the same stimulus. It’s a recording of a woman talking about how she remembers her grandmother being the life and soul of the party, a real chatterbox. But as age takes over she slowly begins to talk less and less, a former shadow of herself.

 


 

So there was our stimulus which we could take anyway we wanted. I was paired with director/producer-duo Dave Thomas and Nell Garfath-Cox who were living in Worthing when we started the project together. I’ve mentioned before how I like to have imposed restrictions as it gets the ideas flowing thick and fast, so this was no different. Although I’d never had to do something so restrictive over a prolonged period of time. A month. One month to write, shoot, edit and finalise a short film with no budget. I was worried that the initial adrenaline rush would drop once we were out of that room and as the days ticked over. But I knuckled down to the script and vomited something down as soon as I could so the momentum would tide us over. And collaboratively myself and Dave worked great together – we’d email the drafts with notes and work out where we both wanted to go, and it worked. People seem to avoid particular areas of collaboration because they feel exposed, or that they feel they have to bend to somebody else’s whim. That’s definitely not the case. You discuss points and open them up. You never have to take on every note, but you’ve got to have a good reason for going against it. And if you can articulate that reason well, then there’s nothing to worry about.
 
Anyways. Script done.
 
Then we had an issue with a location. I’d written the script for one location, but it was proving difficult. So much so that the script that was written so soon after our initial meeting… Was actually shot on the last weekend of the month. It was so close to not happening at all. But then the lovely Beatrice Curnew stepped in and saved the day by letting us take over her house (and cook a whole roast meal) for the short. Thank you Bea!
 
Here are some shots of the filming in action.
 

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I thoroughly enjoyed watching Ingvild Deila, Ian Houghton, Dorothy Lawrence, Oliver Malam, Dave Thomas, Nell Garfath-Cox and Sarita Tam all work. I know that I’ve made some friends from this, and there’s more delights to come.

 

Writer Collider with M.J. Starling February 16, 2013

Back sometime last year, the writer M.J. Starling approached and asked me to be involved with his podcast about inspiration and be the first creative to launch it. Of course I do love to gabble about writing to anyone who will listen, so I said yes. Writer Collider is all about the generation of concepts, where ideas come from. From a few randomly selected prompts thrown on the table by other people, narratives are formed on the spot and a discussion is opened about the process.
 
#writercollider
 
The particular writing prompt I plumped for was the following: “a boxer crying alone in his car on an overpass
 
#writercollider notes
 
What I found refreshing about this idea of talking about the process, was the freedom to be able to sprawl across all decisions. Play, film, novel, you name it. And I am always telling people that it’s great to vocalise ideas or narratives out loud because you can hear them. Our brains are very clever and will disregard things before the mental sentence is even finished.
 
So here is the podcast with me murmuring about boxers and film: Katie McCullough on Writer Collider.
 
Keep an eye on M.J. Starling and the #writercollider series on his Twitter, website and on iTunes too. 
 

 

Firehouse Films – Writing For Film (Again) January 31, 2013

I’ve been invited by Firehouse Creative Productions to be involved in their inaugural launch for the Firehouse Films project, with the first writer-director workshop happening on this Saturday. I’m quite excited about flexing my film muscles again, I’ve been aching to do it for a while… But I’m also excited because I’m going to be meeting new folks AND I like the challenge of crafting a short film in a short space of time – but not limited to a 48hr film challenge this time. The idea of there being a definite finished article at the end of it is always appealing.
 
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The plan will go like this…
 
Every month Firehouse Film will invite a group of filmmakers to collaborate with them. They’ll provide a creative spark and at least one London location. They’ll put potential cast and crew at your disposal and the filmmakers will then face the challenge of producing a short film to be screened one month later.
 
The “creative spark” will be provided by real life stories from people in London through Firehouse’s Story-Station installation (see photographs above). They already have an extensive back catalogue of real-life stories and will collect more as this project goes on.
 
On the first Saturday of every month, they will hold a workshop during which 5 writers and 5 directors (or writer-directors) will collaborate to choose which stories they want to adapt into short films. Firehouse will help partner the writers and directors with actors and crew as necessary. 5 teams will then undertake to produce 5 short films.
 
On the first Friday of the following month, all 5 films will be screened at a high profile venue. With the filmmakers’ permission, these films will then be screened on http://www.firehousecreativeproductions.com and partners’ websites.

 
So I’ll let you know how it goes on Saturday and keep you in the loop. It’ll be great to meet the lovely people behind the project – through a combination of film festivals, Twitter and friends of friends we’ll finally get to meet face-to-face and more importantly, get creating. 

 

The Next Big Thing (of sorts) December 24, 2012

My illustrious and regular theatre-friend Julie Mayhew has tagged me in a meme thing going round which isn’t as horrific as it might sound (it isn’t the novotastic flu thing). The idea is that you can let folks know about what you’re up to and I’ve slightly altered the questions so I can respond to them as a playwright. I feel a little bit of a fraud calling it The Next Big Thing, so humour me for a gentle blog post. I for one know this particular script needs a lot of work. But here they are…
 
1) What is the working title of your next play?

Thursday’s Child – that’s been the working title for quite some time now that I think I’m going to stick with it.

 

2) Where did the idea come from for the play?

I work visually so the scene that I saw clear as day and ended up bring the springboard for this play was stark. It was a man pissing in the corner of a run down dated bedroom and a little girl rushing to stop him.

 

3) What genre does your play fall under?

Hmmm. I think putting plays into genres is a toughy in that I don’t think they’re so strict as in film. At a push I’d say a State Of The Nation play but not as polemic. Maybe a State Of The Nation/Slice Of Life mash-up. Basically it’s a story and it’s a play. A journey through a brother and sister’s life through a lower class situation dealing with the care system, job seeker’s allowance and relationships.

 

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Right. I’ve got four parts in this play…

Sandy (12) Feisty yet naive – Ilana Kneafsey
Terry (29) Bit of a drinker and outspoken – Rupert Friend
Charlotte (29) Bold but bored with life – Olivia Poulet
Wayne (15) Frustrated and spiky – Jamie Borthwick
 

Ilana Kneafsey

Ilana Kneafsey

Rupert Friend

Rupert Friend

Olivia Poulet

Olivia Poulet

Jamie Borthwick

Jamie Borthwick

5) What is the one sentence synopsis of your play?

5) What is the one sentence synopsis of your play?
Two siblings discover what it means to grow up and get real in amongst the comic books and issues in their life.
 

6) Will your play be self-published or represented by an agency?

As a playwright I’m the first cog of the development. So as soon as it’s done and finished proper like, it’ll do the usual rounds of literary departments and then see what happens. If I had the money to hand, I’d put it on myself tomorrow. Well, maybe after I’ve finished it proper like.

 

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the play?

I did a very condensed vomit draft of it back in 2008 which took me 48 hours. After cringing every time I tried to re-read it since, I took a day or two to do a massive redraft to it a month or so ago. I say massive as in it was set in the 80s and is now current day, was set in the midlands and now set in Luton.

 

8) What other plays would you compare this story to within your genre?

Hmmm. There’s the danger of sounding a bit too pretentious here isn’t there? I’ll tread carefully and speak widely… In terms of story there are elements of Mike Bartlett’s, ‘Love, Love, Love‘ as in the social impact of desires and money through the years. Character wise my male lead is a bit like Jimmy from ‘Look Back In Anger‘ by John Osborne. But I like to think it echoes the childlike innocence yet naively informative tones of Charlotte Keatley’s, ‘My Mother Said I Never Should‘.

 

9) Who or what inspired you to write this play?

Elements of my childhood, but I’d like to stress that it isn’t drawn from my personal experiences. Aside from that I’d say Leo Butler. He’s been a mentor every time I’ve been at the Royal Court for the writing groups and this was the result of the first one. He told me to be bold, hit the audience on the temple, then see what happens.

 

10) What else about your play might pique the reader’s interest?

 

Hmmm. Again, I’d say this is hard when talking about plays. I want to say my play would pique an audience member’s interest because my protagonist is a 12 year old girl who escapes her life through old comics. But then that could be seen as sensationalist because it’s a young girl. Tricky. But it does have a 12 year old girl who escapes her life through old comics and in the process strikes up a relationship with a fifteen year old boy. Yes, it does sound like one of those plays. But I promise you it’s not all doom and gloom, their friendship is beautiful and makes the adults present pale in comparison.
 
So they’re my answers about one of the plays that I’m redrafting. And in the spirit of things I’m going to tag the following folks: Gerry Hayes, a charming funny man who I’m currently collaborating on a project with and who writes, and Stephanie Ressort, another charming funny lady who I lovingly nicknamed Theatre Devil Incarnate who also writes. Both of these people don’t write enough so I’m being the metaphorical fire under their butt cheeks.

 

St. Albans Film Festival Is Coming… Are You? December 20, 2012

Looks like St. Albans is going to get its first film festival next year from 8th – 10th March, conveniently called the St Albans Film Festival. And if you’re a filmmaker, then you still have time to submit.
 
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The regular deadline is 28th December so if you’ve got withoutabox then pootle on over to there and click the buttons. The next deadlines (will obviously be a bit more expensive) are in January so GET A MOVE ON!

 

And the reason I’m excited about the festival? Because:
 
a) It’s on my doorstep
b) There are some amazing things in the pipeline for the festival
 
and
 
c) I’m a judge

 
St Albans has been a popular location with the film industry not only because of its close proximity to some of the leading film studios such as Pinewood (Superman, James Bond); Elstree (Star Wars, Indiana Jones); and also Leavesden (Harry Potter). But also because it’s relatively close to London, a 20min train trip (if you get the right train).
 
It’s been featured on TV (Life Begins, The Inbetweeners), film (The Birthday Girl, Johnny English) and Arthur Melbourne-Cooper – the pioneer of moving pictures – was born in the City. Stanley Kubrick came to settle in the area and remained, crafting his prolific works. The Shining was finished there, and Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut were started and completed there. He also used to only leave the place to buy his bottled ink from Ryman, y’know, the very shop I used to work in.
 
So checkout the website: www.stalbansfilmfestival.com
 
Look at the Facebook page: StAlbansFilmFestival on Facebook
 
Peek at the Twitters too: StAlbansFF

 

Interview With A Playwright (Part Two) December 7, 2012

Regular readers (if there are such a thing) of this blog will remember that I was interviewed by a lovely French lady called Vanessa Jaunet back in August. The first part can be read here: Interview With A Playwright (Part One)
 
Maybe because it’s the translation of the French to English, but I find Vanessa’s questions really pure and quite probing. Their simplistic nature catches me off guard, like when you think you know how to get to somewhere but then as you start off your map unravels…
 
Vanessa has kindly said I could post the second part of the interview up here.
 
Do you believe that the main character of a story is always connected with the writer’s personality?

Good question. My response is that I rarely put all of my personality into my characters as that can be extremely painful (or at least odd) to hear aloud or see. What I will say is that I thread in elements of my being more than I realise, but I don’t do it purposefully. At a post show Q&A for my play, “I Still Get Excited When I See A Ladybird” I was asked if there were any bits of me in it. And there were – fragments of my life or my thoughts or those close to me. But I’d never flag them up as to what they are because that’s not what a play should be about. It should be about what it reflects onto the audience and what they take away from it. I think the main purpose of writing is to excavate ourselves as humans – we’re unfurling an idea of how we’re trying to understand the world. So to a point you do write with a connection, but it could possibly be the disconnection of yourself to those around you and we’re seeing the exploration.
 
 
And do you think we write to speak about something hidden inside us as a therapy?

I think I personally write to understand myself a bit more, to understand myself as a human and the effect we can have on each other. Other playwrights will disagree, but I don’t think you can rely on writing as a therapy. Even if you were to write nonsense you’re still confining yourself to sentences, punctuation, grammar and the urge for a structure. I do, however, feel that you unlock different caveats of innermost thoughts when you write… But it could be that you never use them but the journey was there to inform your writing.
 
 
What do you find more fulfilling writing plays or seeing your plays on stage?

Writing plays is a long stint of anything I do and seeing them on stage is the goal obviously. But that doesn’t always happen so you become mother to these piles of pages that you desperately want to morph into real movements on a stage… So I’d say, for me, it’s a strange concoction of the two. I realise the ultimate goal of any script is seeing it on its feet on a stage in front of an audience… But there’s also a perverse notion of whittling down your idea in your head on to the page and the motion you take as a writer to do so.
 
 
What do you feel when an actor acts your words?

My brain is always looking to work on the next project so as soon as I’ve finished one script, I’m on to another. What this means is that I more than often don’t remember what I’ve written. Actors could fluff whole paragraphs of text and I may get the notion that they’re saying it wrong, but I wouldn’t be able to tell them what is correct. It is an alien sensation to watch something that you have pinned to the page, as a two-dimensional act of printing words on paper, suddenly unfurl into real living human beings. I feel extremely grateful whenever I’m in that position because the theatre industry is a busy one, and when you get the opportunity to truly see your work come alive, you realise why you still do it. No matter how many times it happens, the first time I watch a piece of my work with an audience my heart sits at the back of my throat and beats loudly, my ears feel like they’re breathing. You’re an unidentified speck in among a crowd and no one knows you’re the one responsible. You try and not make any sudden movements, breathe too loudly to not draw attention to yourself. But at the same time you’re trying to read your audience – are they focused on the action? Are they laughing? Are they crying? You find yourself trying to decipher different types of silences. Your body becomes this sensor and overrides your ability to sit and receive it like the rest of an audience. That’s what it feels like to me and I crave all of that.
 

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Zimmy Ryan in ‘mph’ at Battersea Arts Centre


 
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Josh Darcy and Geraldine Alexander in ’18+’ at The Miniaturists


 
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Dan Abelson reading ‘The Thump You Feel When You Fall’ for Soup To Nuts Theatre Company


 

If you could choose any actor for your plays who would you choose?

I’ve always wanted to work with Eddie Marsan. I think he’s got such an intricate way of expressing his character, his face especially. He’s a really physical actor I think. I’ve seen him play fragile and also gut-wrenchingly disgusting and his range is superb. I’d be very happy if I got to work with him, I’d be ecstatic!
 
Peter Capaldi is another actor who I have huge respect for because of his range, his eyes are so expressive. Alfred Molina is someone who I would openly beg to be in one of my plays, his voice is brilliant. Philip Seymour Hoffman is another actor that I would do anything to get to work with. I’m being cheeky here and listing more than one!
 
Female wise I’d really like to collaborate with Laura Linney, I adored her in The Savages (a film I wish I had written, Philip Seymour Hoffman plays her brother) and she is phenomenal in You Can Count On Me (also a phenomenal film). I’d jump at the chance to write specifically for Julia Davis, she inspires me with her approach to writing when she merges the dark with the tragicomedy of life. Tilda Swinton, now there’s a lady I would sell what little I have to put on a stage with my words, she’s powerful. And who wouldn’t want to work with Olivia Colman? She is superb.
 
 
Would you been interested to write a movie? Or even to direct one of your plays on big screen or TV?

I initially trained in writing for film and television at Bournemouth University and would love the opportunity to write for the screen. I’ve dabbled with short films as they’re cheaper to do and more flexible, but I haven’t put my heart and soul into anything larger as my heart is truly in theatre. If someone where to give me the opportunity though I would definitely jump on it. As for directing, I have done some in my time but I would never take on that role right now. Not whilst I’m still trying to make a name for myself with my writing. There are plenty of other people who do that job well and sometimes having a fresh set of eyes on a piece can raise it higher than you realised.
 
 
Have you ever considered writing a book using photographs you have taken because I understand you are a keen photographer?

When I write I’m always thinking of the visual impact on an audience, what they will see and always aim for striking images. So I suppose I’m very visually led and I often get distracted by colours or naturally framed objects when I’m travelling around. I’m a very spontaneous photographer. If I tried to go back to using proper cameras and plan things I wouldn’t get what I’m after. I use my iPhone and nothing more. It’s handy because I always have it and I can take pictures of people without them realising too. And if I’m honest I take photographs for my own pleasure, things that catch my eye, and then share them online (Facebook/Twitter) if they’re interesting or representative of where I am. People seem to enjoy them, but they’re just moments that I’ve seen and tried to capture. A bit like holiday photographs really, for some people it’s interesting and for others it’s boring.
 
I like taking photographs when I’m out and about. I live in a rural village so there’s lots of natural beauty, but I would never call myself a photographer as such. When I was at school I studied it as an A Level topic and the frivolous nature of it all appealed to me. I could wander with a camera and just see what stories unfurled before me. Occasionally I’ll look at a situation that’s going on around me and I’ll reference photographers in my head, “oh that’s very Martin Parr” or “that reminds me of Bresson”. Aside from that I’ve forgotten all knowledge of the darkroom, the chemicals, the lenses. It’s sad really, I’ve forgotten a lot of the things that I used to do when I was younger. I miss painting but my attempts now would seem idiotic, painfully naive. I also miss dance, that too would be a horror to see me do.
 
 
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If you could be collaborated with another playwright who would you choose?

Good question! I have a feeling that it fluctuates every time I see or read something. But I’ve always wanted to melt my brain with Martin Crimp’s and see what came out. I’m pretty sure I could write a raucous collaboration with Simon Stephens too. 

 

48 Hour Film Challenge… London! September 23, 2012

I was kindly asked by new collaborator theatre director Ahmed El Alfy to be his designated scriptwriter for the 48 Hour Film Challenge in London. And of course I took him up on the offer. All the actors involved were Mountview graduates and from a theatre background, some had even graduated that same day. We met at Alfy’s flat.
 

 
FRIDAY 9:30pm – We’d been given the following elements to complete for our entry:
 
GENRE – Drama
PROP – Cream
LINE – “Let me tell you a secret”
CHARACTER – Charlie Cipriani (a minor celebrity)
 
Faced with 6 actors we then set about meandering our way to a story. I got everyone to take a few moments and think of something that had happened to them that day which they considered a drama, no matter how large or small they were. This opened up discussion from each story and then it was rapidly approaching midnight.
 
SATURDAY 12:00am – Straight into an improvised ensemble scene. I wrote down an intention for each actor to have in their pocket that only they would know and got them to interact in small groups. It was interesting to watch (I only knew one of the actors) and to grasp people’s abilities and strengths. I sat at the sidelines and scribbled anything that caught my eye and ear.
 
1:30am – We sent the actors home to return at 7am. Then it was up to me. The more I thought about it the more I realised I didn’t actually have that long. With such an early call time for the actors I needed to get a move on and fast. I definitely decided that it would be a collection of vignettes rather than a standard narrative. With 6 actors to juggle I wanted everyone to have a balanced story and I was never going to get that with everyone and keep it under 7 minutes.
 
2:30am – I sketched down ideas. I listened to Spiritualized (Let It Come Down). I listened to Nick Cave (Abattoir Blues). I listened to PJ Harvey (Is This Desire?). I didn’t know the password to the Internet connection at that point which was probably for the best. I had grasped a rough template of what I wanted to achieve and I nudged Alfy who was tweaking his first short film next to me. We discussed it and he asked me questions about the moments I had chosen to explore. Then I went back and fleshed out the story. The sky is an odd colour.
 
5:30am – Sitting at the computer I tapped, typed, took my time but ended up finishing a script. I woke Alfy from his slumber and we were both happy with the end product. I tentatively point out that I’ve written two exterior scenes, I ask what the weather’s going to be like later today.
 

 
7:00am – People start arriving and trickling into the living room. I’ve still not slept but don’t feel tired. I’d gone to bed late Thursday night and slept in till Friday lunchtime to conquer this.
 
7:40am – First read through of the script. It was a real treat seeing people notice some of the moments and dialogue they’d crafted from the improvisation seep into the script. Everyone seems happy with what we’re going to be working with.
 
8:30am – Actors are tasked with being off book asap. Most of them, if not all, do this within half an hour.
 
9:00am – Some folks have the brilliant idea of cooking sausages and fried eggs with bread rolls en masse. We are beginning to not be so concerned about the mammoth task ahead. Eggs and sausages make everything alright. This fuels us to chat more about individual scenes and character motivations and collectively scout for locations. I’ve written one pub scene, one park scene and one street scene. People soon realise they will be multitasking throughout the shoot.
 
10:45am – We arrive at the pub where scene two (and a small scene three) are set. The landlady’s been nice enough to let us in before the pub opens for business and this is through one of the actors who works there (and is also in this scene).
 

 
12:15pm – The pub opens for the general public and there’s football on. The locals are inquisitive and accommodating and surprise us all. They creep around like mice and watch the actors work. This amuses me greatly and I smile knowing there are nice folks. Things are taking time because the pub is next to a main road which meant lots of excess noise. We sit outside in the sun. It is sunny, my interior monologue high fives Ra.
 
3:15pm – Second location for us to find – a park with a free bench. We stroll to one near the pub… Which is small and filled with children. We walk to the other one close by and find a football match happening and a free bench just past them. We walk. Someone asks about the props for this scene… No one’s bought them. Off someone goes to the shop. People are beginning to feel more tired. I’m surprisingly awake still. I wasn’t even going to stick around the filming but I’m glad I did. We start shooting scene four, the last scene of the film.
 

 
4:00pm – One elderly jogger runs around us several times making sure to avoid the camera. Another younger jogger runs straight through shot each time on every lap. He does stupid arm exercises each time he gets to our patch. I laugh as I say that Alfy and Jack look like French auteurs as they smoke whilst working – they clamp the cigarettes between their teeth.
 
4:45pm – The squirty cream used as a prop has no squirt left in it. The strawberries look mushed to fuck. I buy Red Bull for myself and Alfy.
 
5:30pm – We head off to the last location to film the opening scene for the film. A dodgy street to film a mugging where in real life it’s known as a mugging hotspot. Great, authenticity. At one point we have to wait for two policemen to walk past before rolling.
 

 
6:30pm – It’s cold and I wish I had a coat. Still not slept, but still not feeling the need to. Everyone is so lovely and there’s no tension at all. One actor has to ‘mug’ the other actor many times and be shot from different angles each time. The last take he stacks it and falls to the ground, rolls it out and pegs it down the street as planned. The scene carries on and he jogs back. We don’t shoot that segment anymore (we don’t need to.)
 

 
7:00pm – It’s a wrap. We head back to one of the actor’s for well earned cups of tea and congratulate ourselves for the hardwork. Alfy looks like death and it’s only then that I feel my body stiffening with something that can only be described as reluctance to move.
 
9:30pm – I’m still at Alfy’s because I can’t be bothered to make the trek home. My gait has slowed and my eyes look like I’ve been crying for days. Still not slept.
 
10:00pm – I leave Alfy and Jack to start the long process of logging everything and syncing sound to start the mammoth intense session of editing. I’m on a bus heading to St. Pancras and sleep and nonsense are beginning to invade my limbs.
 
10:20pm – I stand at the ticket machine for a good 5 minutes before realising I was trying to buy a ticket to St. Pancras and the reason that wasn’t happening was because I was standing in St. Pancras. I buy a single journey ticket for St. Albans.
 
11:00pm – Dad comes to collect me from the station. I warn him that if he keeps the car this hot that I will fall asleep.
 
SUNDAY 12:01am – I’m emailing Alfy and Jack (producer) some music to be considered for the film and clambering into bed. I’m finally tired.
 
We then get word Sunday afternoon that there’s been technical difficulties. We won’t be able to hand in a version of the film to be considered for the competition because there’s no time to amend and edit before the cut off time. No one is angry, we’re all respectful of the hardwork we’ve all put in and are still excited by what we created. We’re all happy to have been involved in something great in a short amount of time and even though it won’t be part of the competition, we made a film and had a brilliant time doing it. A film is still a film and once it’s done and ready for folks to see, you’ll see it. I loved every second, shot, film roll, sound roll, and sleepless hour I got. 36 hours with no sleep and a bunch of new friends and a film. That’s not bad going considering we were all doing it for the experience… I think we’ll have to credit the sausages and the eggs. 

 

Interview With A Playwright (Part One) August 9, 2012

 
I recently received a request from a lovely French lady called Vanessa Jaunet. She asked if she could interview me for an article as part of her studies which would include translating my English into French. Vanessa’s questions were interesting and she’s allowed me to post the first part of our exchange here for you to read if you fancy it…
 
 
For how long have you been writing plays ?
 
I’ve been writing since I can remember to be honest. I have a peculiar memory where I remember smells, moments and feelings rather than huge swathes of my childhood. So I can remember very clearly the moment I spelled the word, ‘holiday’ all by myself. When I was at primary school we were very oversubscribed with students so our teachers didn’t have enough time to spend with us on the subjects we found difficult. They would tell us to go and do something we enjoyed so I always ended up writing or painting. I would end up writing the stories that the teacher would read to us in the afternoons. So I’ve been writing since I was very young, but I suppose I’ve been writing theatre seriously since 2008.
 
 
What inspired you to write plays?
 
For me the idea of a story being performed in front of you live is thrilling. My university degree was three years of Scriptwriting For Film and Television and to be honest I was fed up with writing screen. It felt very limited and I wanted to have a more freeing experience of bringing it to an audience. I wanted to be in the rehearsal room to see what was working and what wasn’t and to help untangle the story and shape it with others.
 
Also I wanted, and still do, to bring in a different audience to the theatre. It still has the ‘middle-class’ stigma attached to it and it’s something that I want to dispel. We can learn a lot from theatre like we can from any media. But the power of theatre is that it is in front of you, anything can go wrong. There are no multiple attempts to get the scene right, no pause button – it’s all there for you to experience and I think that is admirable. I also think it can have more of an effect because it is immediate and as an audience member you can see another human being portraying a story with all the guts and glory that you cannot hide from.
 

 
I saw on your website that you use boards. I would like to know how you use them. For example do you use them just when you have got an idea or do you develop you plays?
 
Ah, my whiteboards! I love them. I’m a firm believer in writing down and talking about ideas. Our brains are very clever in quashing an idea before it’s fully formed so by writing it down (even if it doesn’t work) we’re narrowing the chances of figuring out what does work. It’s a simple case of elimination. With whiteboards you can erase things quickly so it doesn’t hang heavy on you if you’re struggling with an idea. Also the physical act of writing does wake up the brain even if you write absolute rubbish. It’s a bit like breaking down the barrier, brushing off the cobwebs, before you then hit your stride and before you know it you’re writing your idea and you wonder why it took so long to get on with it.
 
I have four large whiteboards hanging on my walls. I usually have at least one with fragments of ideas or snippets of dialogue that I’ve either heard or thought. I’m writing a play at the moment which needed a lot of research so I used all the whiteboards including a fifth one that I have resting against my desk. I think it helps to be able to see everything at the same time so you can tell if you’ve missed something or if a part of the plot doesn’t work, or maybe doesn’t resurface again.
 
 
How would you describe your method of working? Are you a ‘‘junkie writer’’ or an organized writer? For example are you someone who sticks to 9-5 routine or do you write when an idea comes to you even if it’s a middle of the night?
 
I used to write in the middle of the night when it was quiet and no one would disturb me. I would write from 12am till about 5am. But then that would ruin me for the next day. I also needed to be awake for work so I had to stop doing that when I got a full time job. Finding time to write can be hard, but essential. Some writers work from 9-5 but I find it depends on what you’re working on. If I’m writing a commission for someone else then I schedule time because someone is expecting a draft for a particular date. If I’m writing my own ideas then I tend to be more relaxed about it and organise it around my work. I work freelance as a Film Festival Distributor so every week is different. Some weeks I’ll be working on a script for a few hours in the evening and sometimes just a weekend. The important thing for me is that I’m enjoying what I’m writing. If I’m really enjoying a script and I have a busy week then I will wake up at 5am to do some writing before work. If you enforce a strict writing method it can sometimes backfire and you don’t get any work done.
 
I’m definitely more level-headed than I used to be. I’d start several projects in one go and spend weeks getting very little sleep. But now I have to consider my sleep for my work which earns me my living. I’m much happier now than when I was writing at university and I think that’s because I’m allowing ideas to formulate rather than forcing them.
 
 
What do you feel when you write?
 
I feel knackered from having all these new, and sometimes not particularly nice, people in my head. But I also feel like I’m a problem solver and that rejuvenates me. Because you’re using your brain to separate different characters and travelling through time, in a literary sense obviously, it can be quite disorientating. You can get so engaged with what you’re writing that hours can fly by and you don’t realise. That’s when you know you’re on to something good. When you’re counting the minutes until you can do something else, that’s when you have to worry.
 
 
Which kind of emotions do you experience?
 
It can be quite emotional finishing a play, and sometimes even a draft. You do become very aware that these people you’ve pinned to the page would not have existed if it hadn’t been for all your hard work. As a writer you’re conjuring people from thin air and adding layers to their life so they are real, so the world they exist in is as real as you can make it. So of course it’s tiring always having to think and second guess what they’re going to do and how to get them through the story. You often hear writers say, “I’ve become too close to the story” and it’s easy to see why. You’re having to drop yourself in the middle of lives and explore and mine for the story. It can play on your mind when you’re out shopping or talking on the telephone and sometimes cloud your judgement. All the thinking you do away from the page is just as important as the words you order on the page.
 
 
What do you need to write? Which kind of atmosphere?
 
I can drown out any noise by being focused. I come from a very noisy house so have become good at tuning it all out. But what can cause my attention to waver is if the television is on or if someone is talking to me. I think it’s a visual thing. I think if I’m staring at the computer screen then I still acknowledge I’m doing work. The moment I start watching a film or television then it completely takes my attention off what I’m trying to do. Which is probably why I don’t watch television and for me, to watch a film is a treat. I don’t always use my laptop. At the beginning of my writing career I wrote everything by hand and typed it up. If it’s a sunny day or I need a change of scenery I’ll resort back to my trusty pen and paper. I listen to music sometimes – I like putting on an album that I know like the back of my hand because if it gets to the end and I’ve noticed I’ve hardly listened to it, I know I’ve been working hard. It’s a good gauge of how invested in the project I am.
 
As much as I would love to be more focused on my work I also need stimulus in other areas to get me motivated. Twitter is a good one for me because I can dip in and catch up with folks and also moan about having to write. It’s a typical writer thing to do, moan about having to write. I know a lot of other playwrights and authors on there so it’s good to have a chat and a laugh. Making tea is always a good stimulus for me too, I use it as a goal. ‘If I can just finish this scene then I can have a cup of tea…’ that kind of thing. And most of the time it’s a good excuse to step away from a play and sit with my dog for a bit or bake. I do a lot of baking because it’s something I can do on autopilot and allow my mind to wander. You’ll find that just as you think you’re relaxing and taking your mind of your play, the answer you’ve been searching for tumbles into view.
 

 

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Deadlines May 29, 2012

My freelance job has increased over the last few months which I won’t complain about because a) I love it and b) this means more people are paying me. Niceness. But what this means is that I suddenly have to approach the time I dedicate to writing differently. And by differently I mean more structured. And by more structured I mean actually having a plan. Some weeks I have a whole day to attack the different projects I’m juggling, other weeks I have a sparse few hours each evening to select the most important script to work on.
 

This is what I do and so far I’ve beaten every deadline with loads of time to spare. Sizeable chunks my friend. Simple as that. I’m not breaking new ground here, I’d like to think that most people do this. But this is the method that I use to juggle and it’s the most effective approach so far. I used to dedicate whole weeks to different projects but that was when I was writing to my own time scale. Now I’ve got people asking for work I’ve had to change and refine it. My most cherished writing tool, the humble whiteboard, becomes littered with the week ahead broken down into the days with corresponding items on the agenda to do. And they’re achievable things. A day’s breakdown recently was as follows:
 
* Sketch down some ideas for that person
* Re-read draft 3 of that film script
* Research that particular myth
* Print out the map for that recce
* Think about a title for this play

 

 
But the important thing is I write down small chunks of stuff to do for each day that I know are possible for me to actually do. The point of this exercise is having the foresight to know you can achieve them. What will happen is that the chunks will be so small in comparison to tackling your project as a whole, that you’ll more than often end up doing the next chunk because you’re motivated and focused. And that next chunk you might’ve planned it for in a few days time or the following week, but it doesn’t matter, this is a good thing. If you’re ahead of yourself things can only get better and your morale will be lifted. If you’re falling behind it’s because your chunks are cut too big or you suck at actually writing something that interests the author: you.
 
We all need a deadline whether it be self-imposed or if someone else is banging a desk demanding it by five o’clock. I’ve never actually had someone banging a desk but I’ve had someone sending me an email asking for the latest draft… I’d say that’s the modern day equivalent. The best thing to do is embrace that deadline and treat it as your deity. Take it out for a spin, show it the sights, buy it a drink and take it to bed because it’s going to fuck you either way. It’s just up to you whether it’ll be good or bad and if you’ll come back for more.
 

[I look pretty vacant in the photo, I had just planned a whole narrative over five whiteboards…]

 

Kids Say The Most Important Things April 26, 2012

I’ve been teaching scriptwriting to children this week and they’ve also taught me a lot even though they were eight years old. Even from a young age we know when a story sucks. If it’s boring. If it’s not finished. If we’ve forgotten characters. If we’ve skipped a big chunk of the action. Somewhere along the line as we get older, we can forget it’s as simple as that. One of the exercises I did with the children was to collectively create a story. And they knew their stuff. Each of them added another twist to this story and racked up the tension, they knew they had to keep people interested and excited or scared by the story. I was amazed at their dedication to a plot that was still unfurling as we talked about it. I was also pleasantly surprised by their maturity and knowledge of how a story works.
 
Your audience are more important than you realise. Obvious I know. They’re the ones sitting through your words and if they have to wade they’ll get bored. Again, obvious but something to keep focused on. They’re also more clever than you remember. Bingo! The one that still escapes some people’s grasp. Let me put this into context with the beauty of children – they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms when you’re not doing the story justice. A vocabulary that is blunt as it is bold. Their silence on the other hand shows their engagement with the story at hand.
 
It’s reminded me that writing is not so much formulaic, it’s something simple that we try our best to make hard because we’re scared of being formulaic. Sometimes knowing exactly what happens at the beginning, middle and end of your story is just as exciting as writing it. It’s the most rewarding jigsaw puzzle ever.
 

 

A mentor of mine used Where The Wild Things Are to explore a character’s wants and needs. The Gruffalo (of which I’ve also been doing a workshop on this week) is perfect for igniting the imagination with it’s adjectives and rhyme. I’m a sucker for children’s books regardless, but a narrative that is meant for a child to enjoy is also the best blueprint of the basics. Go back to your childhood favourites and see where you learned about story. They have a beginning, middle and end. Does yours?