Wednesday, 11 September 2013

What does Voodoo do?

Zombie Girl Racer for the inaugural Hastings 1066 Walk of the Dead, November 2012

There's something very pleasing about a wardrobe full of fancy dress costumes. Costume party gear, not red carpet dress. Although that can be pleasing too, I imagine.

When I'm not being a ranting Voodoo, or writing - and I've recently rediscovered the joy of drawing - autumn is my favourite time of year, as it features Halloween. Even if I'm not involved in anything, it always feels a bit special. My best friend from school and I used to rent 'The Lost Boys' every Halloween. And it was Halloween when we got in one night and her mum told us that River Phoenix had died. That felt like the end of our childhood to me.

My first novel, written over 23 years ago now, revolved around Halloween, in a reality about five degrees askew from our own. So that's what I'm currently looking forward to.

But what else does Voodoo do, nobody is asking? Amid the multitude of internet rant-bots blogging away into the void, what does this one do, when not cultivating her own brand of attitude problem with the rest of the media world and its endearing, fear-mongering, attention-seeking foibles?

Well, I'm self-employed. I work for a number of clients who shall remain anonymous, all with high-profile professional careers. Some have been household names, and you'd certainly recognise their work. However, they're only just starting to grasp the idea of social media and having to do their own promotion, now that they're expected to. So that's what I do, for five minutes and two pennies to rub together. I set up the platforms and do the tutorials. Sometimes a bit of formatting and editing, and general I.T. support. A bit of film clip and showreel editing here and there, to enhance their profile content. It's an evolving business, so there's always more to add.

I've been asked interesting and thought-provoking things in my job. Such as 'How do I make all these other people on Google with the same name as me disappear?' and 'Why is this horror movie appearing in my Youtube (this list of Youtube search matches for my name) and can we report it to them?' and 'why aren't any of these people clicking on my Amazon widget?'

All I can say is, if you'd tried to make sense of any of this 30 years ago, people not clicking on your Amazon widget would be the least of your worries. But for people who didn't grow up with computers, and are only just discovering the blunders of technology, there are techno monkeys like me who just assume everyone can do it. Until I find myself consulted to troubleshoot everything from failed Paypal orders to failed ebook conversions.

Occasionally work gets more interesting, and I get to proofread and edit something different, like a feature screenplay about to go out on spec. Film is something else I've studied, and it's an entirely different kind of writing to books. So recently I was handed a screenplay that needed a bit of a rewrite and edit, based on a true story. It had been through group planning meetings several times in the past before being consigned to a cupboard for a while. I'd read it about three years ago when the writer was showing it to me as an example of earlier writing that she planned to rewrite as a book, but when this year some outlets for the screenplay emerged, it was dusted off for another round. So I read it more thoroughly.

Now, there are writers out there who obviously just sequester themselves away and write. They don't watch Family Guy or The Simpsons, they don't read Viz and they've never sat through a night of QI and Mock the Week, or The Big Bang Theory and CSI. They've never seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Star Wars, and definitely not The Hangover. Whether this is for artistic reasons, or religious reasons, or generational reasons, they voluntarily miss out on those things.

However, their potential audience won't have missed out so much. So when you're writing your blockbuster historical epic, and the last big movie you saw was Titanic, it's probably safest to get a more general consumer of popular culture to give it a quick once-over.

First of all, the Looming Great Mountain.

  • You set your movie in the vicinity of a famous mountain. One or two scenes are placed in proximity to the mountain. This is enough reference to the mountain that a true story needs. Any further mention of the mountain 'looming' or characters who pause to stare at it in mid-scene every five pages or so, suggests that by the end of the movie, aliens are expected to fly out of it. All good if your movie features aliens, or is to be directed by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Avoid attaching misleading significance to the scenery, unless it is going to monumentally explode at some point.

Secondly, the female romantic lead whose lines of dialogue begin repeatedly with 'Oh *insert male romantic lead name here*'

  • Try not to make your heroine unimaginatively irritating. Give her something original to say. But make sure, when you do give her a line, it's not something that Quagmire on Family Guy or Chef on South Park would say. Forbidden fruit, mmmm. Giggety giggety.

Thirdly, ethnic minorities who, once their familial relationships are established, continually address each other as 'My father', 'my brother', 'my son' etc...

  • Also, try to avoid conversations between ethnic minorities in which they remind each other constantly about 'our ways' and 'our culture'. There is a little thing called 'show, don't tell'. It applies even more so to screenwriting than novel writing. Do not treat your ethnic minorities in the same way that Vulcans are treated in Star Trek. If the line 'Greetings, Earthling!' would fit in with the others you've written, you are in Star Trek dialogue territory. Equally, if they also speak to one another in flashback, out-of-vision, Obi-Wan Kenobi style. I scribbled Use the Force *insert name here*! at least once on my copy.

Fourthly, do not play fast and loose with various ethnicities' perceived grasp of English (copied from 'Allo 'Allo and Dad's Army).

  • The screenplay very nearly had a full cup of tea spilled on it when I read the line 'Are you with us for long time Colonel?' spoken by a Japanese officer, followed by much repetition of 'Yes yes, very good, yes'. My annotation in black pen was Ooohh Me Love You Long Time Colonel! Yes Yes! :)

Fifth, over-use of 'Come' as an entire line of dialogue from the romantic male lead.

  • Does he own a dog? In which case, 'come' may be acceptable once or twice, if the dog is also in a leading role (pun intended). However, if his romantic counterpart is female and human, over 17 years old, the audience is over 17 years old, and he is not a Bohemian vampire or a monosyllabic heroin addict, 'come' is the least romantic word I can think of, due to its over-use in the last thirty years or so of teenage vampire movies and soft porn. My annotation here, following a page of notes saying Enough 'yes yes!' and Enough looming great mountain! and Enough 'Ohhh *insert name here*' was Enough 'come'! 

Sixth point - make sure your characters stay in character. And your timeline stays characteristically true to time.

  • For example, a police officer who calmly states what constitutes illegal activity in an opening scene should not suddenly become a superstitious mess in the middle without due cause, just to get a certain piece of info-dump across. And do not have small children impersonating aircraft at the turn of the 19th Century, unless their surname is Wright.

And seventh, the info dump.

  • Make sure that if your characters in the early 20th Century feel the need to engage in lively historical exposition about events going on in the world at the time, it isn't verbatim information taken from Wikipedia. Unless they are still alive, and revered contributors to the Wiki community...

Anyway, it was all taken in good humour by the writer, and the edits were done and it's already being rejected by grumpy agents, from what I hear. They don't know what they're missing out on. I spent a whole six and a half hours on it! In my own bedtime! :)

I've heard funny things about higher profile first drafts recently (postmen driving mail vans and mobile phones in houseboats set in 1929), so I'm starting to wonder if the affliction of screenwriting is more common than we know.

Maybe that's why second anticipated movies are never as good as first hit movies. The writer/director has been told they're a brilliant writer, so they stop asking for second opinions or for proofreading from their friends and family. You never know...

...So that's what Voodoo does, when not hanging out on here, or slinging words around elsewhere in a cavalier fashion, making books out of them. Just in case you ever wondered what a rant-bot does in real life :)

L xxxxx

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