Write: different

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A bunch of barely connected thoughts on writing for different media. Warning: broad terms.

When I write for screen, I use Final Draft. When I write for the stage or performance, I write in Word. Why do I do that?

When I write for the screen, I write for a frame. When I write for the stage, I write for an amount of time.

Time is different on screen, different in live performance.

In writing of any kind there’s one rule, just one: don’t be boring (sometimes you even stumble upon a good reason to break that rule.)

I write in linear narrative order for screen, beginning to end. I write a ‘play’ the same way.

I write a piece of performance in whatever way necessary. Cut and paste / too much of it / too little / poetic / technical / the end of it first, the middle of it first / anything.

A feature film is an album. A 30 minute TV show is an EP. A short film is a song.

Stage or screen, image drives both. Not words. Dialogue is an illumination.

For radio, I hear the sound image first, before the words.

Interactive = unfinished. I finish the writing itself but I don’t finish what it contains – because the audience choose whether or not to do that.

Sometimes theatre is unfinished.

It’s more difficult to make the screen unfinished, to make its aims unfinished. It’s a frame, wherever it appears.

Music is always unfinished.

When I write music, there’s always a story. And it’s always unfinished.

Radio drama: a peculiar type of finished music.

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Grammar is important to me, especially in an unfamiliar language.

How do you tell someone the sentence you’ve begun isn’t going to end? What’s the best way? Is it even possible?

Many pop songs used to fade out at the end. Not as often now.

When I write, I hope to be transported.

When I’m in an audience, I need to be transported.

I used to write as a promise. Now I write as an invitation.

An announcement isn’t an invitation.

Sometimes when I play a musical instrument, I do so knowing that later, a digital plug-in or process will make it sound older or further away or angrier, etc. It’s the same feeling when writing for stage or screen.

The text for a stage play, especially, is like a set of stems for remixers.

In a process, there’s the seeds of the visible result. So I never expect producers to treat my writing with ‘respect’ by default. Because ‘respectful’ is just one possible result.

Audiences, especially, have no obligation to be respectful of the writer’s intentions. That’s academic.

Every new show or film or experience is an invitation to an audience, to pick up and play a new kind of instrument. Sometimes slightly unfamiliar. Sometimes completely alien.

What can you do with this instrument? What tunes can it play? The writer’s, the readers’, the makers’, the audiences’.

Give an audience a fish. Etc.

Increasingly I have to write in the world. I’m falling out of love with romantic writerly seclusion. Why isolate yourself? Pull focus.

If you’re writing for unfinished, maybe you have to write it in an unfinished place.

Cities are good for unfinished.

Journeys are good for unfinished.

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Pictures:

1. Scripts on set during performance of The Morpeth Carol, December 2011. By Paul Blakemore. 2. Index cards from the depths of time. Can't remember what most of them were for. 3. Lyrics to a song by angeltech. Written on a train.

Collaborate: or die

Herewith, a blogburp about collaboration, and being cross-disciplinary an’ that. In the last year or so I’ve been involved in screenwriting, making music, theatre, audio drama, film and pervasive media. So this is a wander around all of those, and the alleyways in between.

If you’re enough of a glutton for punishment to read the whole thing, I suggest you make a cup of tea first.

Angel Tech Bedminster

Probably the longest and most involved collaboration of my creative life has been with the band Angel Tech. We formed in 1995, influenced by Warp Records, The Cure, Bjork, New Order, Seefeel, Talk Talk and Stina Nordenstam. We played gigs, recorded an (unreleased) first album in Germany, composed film soundtracks, got signed to a major label, recorded another (unreleased) first album at Real World studios, toured relentlessly, got unsigned to a major label, made performances with a theatre company, formed our own indie label and self-released a debut album some 10 years after we first got together. We’ve toured all over the world, won awards, hung out with the stars and played gigs with every kind of band from Sparklehorse to Right Said Fred (long story, promoter in Austin TX, “British Bands” theme night.) I once met an A-level art student in Germany who told me that, as a final-year project, she’d painted the lyrics to our song Freiburg in massive seven-foot high letters across the facade of her school.

Anyway, you won’t have heard of us.

Or at least, no, maybe that’s not fair – I’m always very surprised when people actually have heard of us. Let’s put it this way: we’ve always made music we believe to be accessible, yet at the same time we’ve only ever followed our curiosity, our instinct, our desire to hear something different. If I think back on all my creative collaborations over the years I reckon the ones that worked best were with people who, given the option, would rather be confused for 10 minutes than bored for 10 seconds. At any rate, that’s certainly true of my bandmates Neil and Doug.

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Magdalene: wires

Some pictures from rehearsals for The Freelance Magdalene, my contribution to Bristol Old Vic’s Short Fuses programme last month…

Freelance Magdalene rehearsals 1

Short Fuses was performed in the round (with yours truly surrounded ON ALL SIDES by an audience hungry for TASTY STORY and FINE THEATRE.) I haven’t done a show in that configuration for a while, and never as a solo performer. Lessons? Even though it’s just you, sole focus of attention, alone on stage, you don’t necessarily need to turn constantly, like a pig on a spit. Freelance Magdalene is performed in conversational mode, acknowledging the spectators rather than shoving an imaginary fourth wall (or, indeed, a fifth wall in this case) up between stage and audience. The resulting instinct for the actor is to try and make ‘contact’ with as many people as possible, all the time, and you just ain’t gonna do it.

I imagine if I were an owl, able to rotate my neck 360 degrees at whim, then director Tanuja Amarasuriya and I wouldn’t have had to carefully choreograph every step I took whilst telling my weirdy tale. But, let’s face facts – I’m not an owl. So we had to. And we did.

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2010: Move ‘em out

Curtis Eller at the Cube

I’ve loved Curtis Eller since I heard his lament for old-school Hollywood, “Buster Keaton,” at the sadly missed Seymour’s Family Club, way back in the day. So it’s tip-top-notch to be supporting the mustachioed one come mid-March. I might even try to dredge up a new song of my own. An album by The Heath Robinson is hopefully not too far off; I’ve certainly got the songs, but I’ve also got a madman’s dream of recording particular tunes on particular pianos that “suit them”… which, in some cases, requires travelling to stupid places like Bishop Middleham in County Durham. Or being really nice to bearded troubadour Stanton Delaplane and asking to make use of his beautiful Knight upright piano for an afternoon. Am I boring you by talking about pianos? Really? Oh, right. I hate you. Go away.

Speaking of El Orchestro Dos Hombres Beardo, here’s me assisting Stanton with some serious “Old Men In Pub Singing” action at St George’s in Bristol, mid-January:

Stanton Delaplane at St Georges

You can see I’m barely using the mic. That’s because St George’s has an acoustic you could practically ride out of the room and down the hill on. I’ve never played there before, but once up on stage I understood in seconds why musi-people drone on and on about the gorgeous reflections and tones you get in the place. Am I boring you, talking about acoustics? Yeah? Yeah, well. Shut up. Shut up, wake up and SMELL THE RESONANCE.

So, if we’re not going to talk about lovely pianos, or acoustics, what ARE we going to discuss, you and I? I dunno. What do you like? Do you like sitting in the dark and looking at things? You DO? Oh, marvellous. So do I. We have so much in common.
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Unwanted water: lazy wizards

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Hey hey. Above, a photo from the production of and the line goes dead at Battersea Arts Centre. Apologies if you were in the audience either night, and were unlucky enough to get ‘rained’ on. The NY-based artist Ann Liv Young was taking a post-show shower upstairs, and… what can I say? — apparently the sealant wasn’t up to much.

A shame, as I got the feeling that much like Astronaut, my show last year at Burst Festival, this was a story which you had to watch uninterrupted. It’s a quiet, ominous sort of piece and I can’t imagine that the pitter patter of someone’s ill-sluiced ablutions did much for the atmosphere. Given that rehearsals had been extensive and emotionally draining, I spent a few hours immediately after the show feeling pissed off and / or upset in a sort of see-saw motion. Then I went back to Bristol and calmed the fuck down. Hooray!

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Week goes: phones, birds, speaks, tunes, scribbles, listens

This is the first image from The Dead Phone, a stageplay I’m writing for the Inbetween Time Festival 2010.

Deadphone

It’s been a scattershot week. Good and productive for it. But to give you a picture, woven in and around the day job, I’ve had -

Thursday: Writing the first drafts of The Dead Phone. It’s a series of conversations, conducted on a stage, empty and blank but for 1) a table 2) a succession of performers and 3) a telephone connected to the afterlife. Currently drafting an extremely upsetting and foul-mouthed exchange, full of violence and regret.

Friday: reviewing Forced Entertainment‘s Spectacular for Venue Magazine. An amazing show – succinct, unexpectedly affecting, totally focussed. Remarkable in that it even survived constant interruptions from a self-obsessed tosspot of the highest order (the link is for Ed Rapley’s description of the event — I have to stress, Mr Rapley is by no means the tosspot in question.)

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Piano: story

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I spent most of last Thursday in a state of giddy bliss, playing a gorgeous Broadwood grand piano at the Angel Tech studios. The ‘studio’ is actually a soundproofed room in the basement of Doug’s house, a grotto of techy toys and blinking lights; the grand piano, meanwhile, is one he inherited from a Great Aunt. A condition of the inheritance is that a portrait of his esteemed ancestor should hang, at all times, overlooking the keyboard. And here she is:

Doug’s_great_aunt

Normally I’m a foul-mouthed, slouching and generally uncouth individual in recording situations. But as you can imagine – with Doug’s Materera Magna looming over my shoulder I tend more towards zipping my lip and sitting up straight.

The piano itself has led a life best described as ‘cinematic’. It was originally shipped to Jersey, installed in a home which was commandeered by the occupying German Army during WWII. Upon retreating from the Channel Islands the Nazis destroyed most of what they left behind as a matter of course; and sure enough, they kicked the crap out of Doug’s ancestors’ house, even going so far as to take a chainsaw to the staircase. However – they didn’t so much as scratch the piano.

Which then leads us to a few years ago, and Doug is examining the condition of the instrument before undertaking the complex task of shifting it from his Aunt’s home in Surrey, down the M4 to Bristol. He clambers beneath with a torch to check out the underside of the woodwork; it brings back feelings of nostalgia, because as a child he would use this sheltered space to play in. And what does he find in the torchlight, hiding beneath there for decades?

German soldiers.

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Time Out: interview

Questions, questions, questions.

So here’s my emailinterview (einterview?) with Time Out, all about DVD addiction (Deevadeection?)

PDF of the actual item here: Time Out DVD interview

And below, the full unexpurgated version of the original Q&A, unedited due to reasons of space.

How many DVDs have you got? And how do you organise them?
This question is blatantly an aide for potential burglars. I’m not answering it. Plus: I don’t organise them.

What do you tell people your favourite DVD is? What is it really?
The films of Yuri Norstein, animation genius.

Tale of Tales

If I lost it I’d scream like a toddler. Wanky but true.

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Astronaut: descent pattern

How to fake an astronomical image with 1) a profile spotlight and 2) my big bald heed:

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Little. Furry. Planet.

Yeah, so, Astronaut at Battersea Arts Centre? It all went very well, thanks for asking. The BAC is an immensely pleasant place to perform in, lovely people, great vibe… even with the rather spooky remnants of Punchdrunk‘s production of The Masque Of The Red Death hanging around here and there, prompting the feeling that Vincent Price might be stalking the corridors, just around the corner, about to glide towards you with his HAUNTED EYES.

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