Friday, 18 April 2014

Five projects: why I'm only now writing my second blog post of 2014

Where does this lead?
I never have enough time to do everything, but so far this year, I’ve used all my spare time to do the things I want to do. I’m balancing several projects at different stages of development. It’s mid-April, though, and my first blog post was this week – about spoilers and Shakespeare and “Game of Thrones”.

And though I’ve been to see some amazing theatre this year – so far the highlights have been “Neighbourhood Watch” at Melbourne Theatre Company and The Rabble’s “Frankenstein” at the Malthouse – 2014 has been mostly focused on writing. My writing and collaborations. Productions and pre-production. Applications and workshops and improvisation.

I’ve never really believed in writers’ block. I always have more projects that I’d like to work on than time in the day, week or year. Ideas that have bubbled away in the back of my mind for months and years before I’ve committed words to a page. Sometimes I can’t make the small things work. Lines or dialogue or scenes. But I tend to always have ideas waiting to be realised.

And the list of projects I want to get to next grows ever-longer. For example, there’s a new play I want to write – but I don’t think I’ll find the time this year. Uncharacteristically, I wrote the first few pages of (working title) “Asylum” just to get those first few images and ideas onto the page, before putting it on the back-back-back burner. And turned to all the projects that are in full swing.

The Dead End

A feature film script that is still in its very early development stages. I’ve been working on this project with a director and a producer since last year, but after beating out a very rough first draft last year, we’ve decided to step back and take a different approach to the material. There are elements of that script we want to keep, but we want to devise a different story altogether.

For a long time, I put off writing a feature film script. There are two or three in the bottom drawer, that shall never see the light of day. But they feel like training, while The Dead End will be the marathon.

The House of Goodbyes

I’ve been playing with this idea with actor/producer Wallis Murphy-Munn for a while and this is the year we decided to get the ball rolling. Though we’re keeping the details of this project close to our chest, we do have some really great actors on board to help us workshop ideas and characters around our central conceit and concept.

A couple of weekends ago we spent a full day with six actors and lots of improvisations based around the premise I gave them and some vague character outlines. Then I let them go and they worked magic. Excited to have finally kickstarted this one.

Sonnigsburg

A six part TV series I’m developing with writer/producer Fiona Bulle and Alex Scott and Meaghan Bell. Channel 31 are interested in looking at the pilot, which is scheduled for filming in July. But for the first four months of the year so far, the four of us have developed the characters and story in a “writers room” model – which is a new way or working for all of us.

Film and theatre are all very collaborative, but plotting a TV series around a table with three other writers – pushing each other to make it the best it can be, is really exhilarating. If I was working on a project like this by myself, I expect it would have taken a lot longer to get to this point – and be nowhere near the shape it’s in now.

Casting is soon and then I can talk more about what the show is about – and maybe give you a sneak peek at some footage we’ve already shot.

A Modern Superwoman

2013 saw two readings of this work – one in Melbourne and one in Adelaide. This year will see a third research reading much further afield, and plans are afoot for a full weeks’ workshop later in the year. The team that’s been assembled for this project is amazing, but there’s not much more I can say about what will happen next. But it’s been at the forefront of my mind for much of the past twelve months and will continue to be for the next twelve months.

Who Are You Supposed To Be?

After its debut at Edinburgh Fringe last year to great reviews and solid audiences – and a short successful run in London a few months later, this show will have its Australian premiere at Melbourne Fringe in September/October. We’re currently searching for a venue and planning marketing strategies. And I’m going to settle in sometime this weekend to do a little bit of a re-write, having learned things from the two previous seasons – and knowing that some pop culture references are very well dated a year later.

I’m really excited about bringing this show to Melbourne, with Edinburgh/London star Jennifer Lusk being joined by the wonderfully nerdy Rob Lloyd.

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I could talk about a short play, another full-length play, a short film and another TV series idea I’ve had. But these are all mere figments, compared to the five projects above.

As always, thanks to my collaborators, who keep me passionate about projects, even when the work seems difficult and the future still hazy.

It’s nice to be busy, but boy am I glad for this four-day weekend. Which, sure, will be filled with writing and re-writing and a Sonnigsburg meeting – but at least I’ve got time to sleep in and make my second blog post for the year.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

SPOILER ALERT: George RR Martin is not Shakespeare



Note: there will be no spoilers in here for “Game of Thrones” but there will be for some of Shakespeare’s work, specifically Romeo & Juliet.

Romeo & Juliet: not yet dead in this picture
Something happened on last night’s episode of “Game of Thrones”. A momentous twist in the make-up of the show. I haven’t seen the episode yet, but I have already been spoiled. Though Twitter blew up with spoilers yesterday, it was mainstream media outlets that let the cat out of the bag for me. Not so much because of what they said, but what their headlines implied. I get subtext, guys. I can read between the lines.

This led not to a discussion about the storytelling in the show, which can be a minefield at the best of times, but to the subject of spoilers: who should reveal them and when. And are spoilers from a fourteen-year-old novel really spoilers? Once they’ve aired on television, in one market, are they fair game?

Because Twitter is instantaneous, it’s only the East Coast of the US than can watch the episode without fear of spoilers. A few hours later on the West Coast can be too late, if you’re not careful. In Australia, there’s a couple more hours to wait if you can watch it live on a Monday afternoon. Or a few more hours if you have to wait until after work.

By that time yesterday, mainstream press was alluding to the plot twists. Mashable spoiled it in a headline. Stephen King had tweeted the spoiler. I hadn’t watched the first episode of the season, let alone the second – plus I was distracted by the “Mad Men” premiere. No spoilers for that here, either.

Sometimes plot twists seep into the culture. Some of the great works of literature and film cannot really be appreciated in the same way as they once were because we know the major reveals of the plot. That said, if a story is really good, it’s the detail of the story that should make it worth watching. Knowing what happened in last night’s episode of “Game of Thrones” shouldn’t ruin the experience of watching it – if it’s done well.

Someone I follow on Twitter said that reacting to a spoiler in a fourteen-year-old book is like saying that you’re surprised that Romeo & Juliet die. There’s a lot of things wrong with this, I think.

“Game of Thrones” is a different kind of story. Romeo & Juliet is a literal tragedy. We are waiting for that ending to come. Let’s not forget that Shakespeare spoils the ending of Romeo & Juliet in the prologue:

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life

He wants you to know it’s coming. He wants you to watch his characters meet their inevitable fate. “Game of Thrones” is on one-hand about political machinations. It’s about characters wanting to ascend to the Iron Throne. And there are dozens of characters vying for that position. We know the end game, but we don’t know who will be left to play it.

Cersei, not yet dead - as far as I know!
Cersei says in the first season of the series, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” George RR Martin is sticking to that promise – several characters playing the game have died. Often in shocking ways at surprising times. But because the narrative isn’t over – on screen or on the page – we can’t yet know which losses will impact the end of the story. The journey is barely half done.

“Game of Thrones” is not a tragedy, it’s more of a melodrama. It seems epic in the Shakespearean sense of the word – lots of characters, political and court intrigue – but it’s hard to judge a story on the revelations of one chapter. Yes, I’ve had last night’s episode spoiled for me, but will that ruin the experience of watching the series? Probably not.

Should people who haven’t read the books expect to remain unspoiled? I think so. Not everyone can read everything ever. And there are more people watching the series now than have ever read the books. And, in fact, it’s not the book readers who have been doing the spoiling over the last couple of days – it’s been TV viewers hell-bent on revealing that they’ve seen it first, everyone else be damned.

I try my best to avoid social media on days when I know it will be difficult to miss spoilers, but I’d appreciate it if mainstream media kept a lid on some of the reveals – at the very least until the episode has aired in each market. And don’t be too clever with your vague headlines, allusions can spoil as much as outright declarations.