Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Screenwriting # 1 – As simple as I can make it.

Screenwriting often seems to be made more confusing than it needs to be because very knowledgeable people so confidently declare one thing over another. The problem is everyone does things differently and unlike mathematics where the laws can't be broken - there are almost no rules in the structuring of a story that can’t be contradicted or clouded with exceptions. Writing is fluid and it's hard to grasp what is essential when those fluid exceptions keep confusing things. 

But which language is more powerful? That's easy...
"Maths is the one language that has irrefutable laws that can’t be broken. For instance - two positives can never, under any circumstances, result in a negative," said the mathematician. 
"Yeah, yeah," said the writer, with a roll of her eyes.   

My overriding principle to everything I believe and use to guide others is - this is how it works for me. This is how I understand and make sense of things and the things that help me get results, to explain, to de-construct, to analyze or create.

Other people may and do have different processes that are particular to them. Some methods may work, in part or whole for a huge number of people – but part of being a writer is to find out what works for you. That is why there are no wrong ways. There are only the wrong or right ways for you. And the only way you can work out which is which is by doing. You can study all you want, analyze until you're blue in the face - but until you get off your anal and start doing - all you've learnt is what works for someone else.

And that is, in my opinion, why so many people find becoming fluent in the structural aspects of storytelling, such a difficult and long road to hoe. 

Often the people who set things in stone are more analysts than practitioners. They are academics and can de-construct story structure and know, from years of studying it, all the nuances and genre anomalies from every great, and many bad films. I don't want anyone to think or accuse me of being against what these experts teach. They are invaluable. 

When a screenplay needs fixing or strengthening or a screenwriter needs schooling in how intricate structure works, they are the ones we turn to – but what do they have to say about the blank page? Honestly - not much.

That’s why I’ve decided to put online the process I taught writers in the trenches and then later taught in classes. I may get lambasted for it - but if it helps anyone, it’s worth it. Certainly many, many online sources have helped me over the last few years, so why not contribute?

The main problem for me, as I was and am still learning to be a better writer, was how to transpose the expert's advice to my work in progress. It so often didn't fit. It didn't help me when I was half way through writing a story. 

I have been frustrated many times when I finish a project and a professional reader de-constructs my months of work, detailing all the faults. Worse still is when a bad reader then reconstructs ‘their’ story on my foundation. I end up confronted with suggestions on how to conform to the structural paradigm by telling their Frankenstein version of my story.

I have heard many disgruntled writer's lament at his stage - "Where were you when the page was blank?"

 What I wanted, when I started out, and for years after that, were simple tools to be able to tell my story, my way. And I wanted them presented in a way I could grasp quickly so I could learn as much by doing as by studying. I remember back to the beginning of my first writer's course where we began with an incredibly detailed model of the three act structure. I was confused by the intricate sub-plots and terminology that made it sound far more complicated than it needed to be.

Of course it's complicated in its entirety – even more so if you go from zero to 60 in one step. Learning to write a well structured story is like learning a new language and you don't begin learning a language by launching into a sophisticated dialogue with a local.  

To write a screenplay, most will find an idea for a story and then work it until it fits a structural formula that tells the story with the greatest impact. But how many times have you seen the promo to a film and known instantly what journey that film will take? You can guess straight away the emotional beats the film will take to get you to that final scene where they make up, kiss, win, or reach the end of their harrowing journey.

In these cases the structural formula has waited down a dark alley and mugged the story idea - resulting in a well known structure being more prominent than the story.

So how do you tell YOUR story, YOUR way, and end up with a screenplay that feels organic and is still original? I believe it comes from understanding the structure so well, that you can craft your treatment of the story to it without having to slow down and consciously plot to that structure. To do this the structure has to be made simple – not complicated. You need to truly understand it, not sort of almost know it. You have to know it so well that no new variable or wrinkle in the story will throw you. 

The same way you can’t speak fluently until you begin to think in a language; you can’t touch type until your fingers can find the keys without thought; you can't tell great stories that feel organic until you can follow the parameters of storytelling as automatically as your body knows how to breath.

And I am not talking about dumbing the structure to a simple - beginning, middle and end. I am talking about understanding the entire structural paradigm in simple terms that cannot be confused.

I will go through what I taught to my staff in my next post – ‘The three act structure – fast and simple.”

But I cannot stress enough that, even if you find this ‘fast tracking’ helpful – make it your task to learn more. Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals! There are many who teach these aspects, in extraordinary detail, far better than I ever can or will. But I found, if the basics were really clear and simple - then the more complicated layers applied on top would be far easier to understand.  

As I said, my next entry will go through the basics of the structure. 

How is what I teach different? I believe a certain portion of the structure relates to almost all stories. But then things get messy and certain parts of the structure become unique or left out of stories, depending on genre, style, tone and many other aspects. 

That's why I think the study of story structure, screenwriting or writing for TV becomes so complicated. Because people try to fit everything into the model and not everything fits the way it's supposed to, and the result is confusion. Teachers then resort speak ‘fluffy’ speak to try and prove the complete model still stands up, even though a clear and obvious exception has just walked through the door.

When I was a student it was these moments that continually confused me as to what was a hard and fast rule and what wasn’t. And as the writer struggling to find solutions to tell my story in the best way, how was I supposed to know when to make those 'allowable' choices?

So that’s why I began to teach what I teach - what are the foundations of the story structure and what were the areas that could be altered by the architect?

I know this augmented fast tracking method works because, in most cases, while setting up shows overseas and needing to get staff from 'never having written' to 'broadcast quality professional writers' in 4 months, I cut corners – I had no choice, but along the way I learnt which corners you could cut. 

It's also true we were writing fairly simple serial dramas - but they were still produced and scrutinized by actors, directors, network executives and finally by the viewing audience - and the show I formulated this process on began at 22% share in its opening week and is still on air ten years later.
Here is my must read list: (And again, everyone will have their favorites depending on what works for them – but if I had to choose, I’d choose these.)  And don’t stop at these – keep reading. I regularly buy books on the subject that promise a new wrinkle and I am still learning. 

1.     Screenplay - Sid Fields – Considered the bible of screenwriting. Clear. Lays out the basics of structure and the pages they should fall on, amongst much, much more.

2.     Story – Robert McKee – If you take one thing away from this book, let it be this, a professional writer does the work on story structure before they write. (We’ll discuss this in detail because for me it is the key)

3.     Making a Good Script Great – Linda Seger – Clear, simple and cuts to the chase. It may not say a lot new – but it says it in no nonsense ways and gives clear examples.

4.     Save the Cat – Blake Snyder – The title relates to making characters, even villains, likeable, but the bold new step is in genre re-classifications. A huge leap forward, in my opinion.

I also like to mention Joseph Campbell and his study of myths and the hero’s journey.

So that’s the homework – now to the 'cut to the chase' practical advice. 
Like Robert McKee’s advice that the most important work is done before you begin, the same is true with writer’s careers.

And usually any study of writing begins with the writing, the structure, how to find ideas etc… I think there are far more important lessons to cover first.

Avoid the biggest mistakes and you'll save yourself a lot of grief and time. If someone had told me these things on day one I would have saved years of frustration and not made the many errors I made in my career.  

NEVER send a script out before it's ready.

This is so hard to do – because the moment, as writer’s we finish a script we want to unleash it on the world.

It's so hard to get a professional to read anything and most producers, development executives or agents, directors or managers will give you one shot. If your material is ‘ready’ but ‘not what they’re looking for’ – you haven’t done yourself any damage.

If your submission is not ready, at best you’ll be forgotten, at worst you’ll be noted as a talentless writer and any further submissions you send to that person will get a two line response from the most junior staffer in the office and it will fail to mention the sad truth. PS. Your script is in the bin.

So how do you know? Here’s a good rule of thumb - If only you have read it – it’s not ready.

NEVER send anything out without feedback from A/ Someone you trust, or B/ someone you don’t know. 

And no, you’re mother doesn’t count! She’s going to plead your case as a genius and a saint right up until they trigger that lethal injection.

ALWAYS be objective, open to criticism and honest with yourself.

All of us have stories that we feel should be told and most of those stories are about us, or people we know or the histories of our families. Sometimes they’re about ideas we’ve come across in the news or a friend’s story, others are total fictions that just popped into our heads as we travelled life.

You are never going to be objective about your own story. Accept that. As you get more experienced you’ll learn how to distance yourself, but all of us, to some degree, will become attached to the tale we tell. If it’s a personal story about us or people we know and love, then this lack of objectivity becomes even greater. Understand this from the very start. Don’t fight it. If someone gives you criticism - don’t immediately dismiss it with your own defense. Mull it over. Dig deep and challenge yourself as to whether they have a point. Take a few days or a week doing this. If you still feel strongly you are right and they are wrong – go with your gut. But if more than one person gives you the same criticism – go see a script doctor because there’s a problem with your gut.

There are two types of objective blindness – one is the writer’s blindness. You wrote it – you believe in it and you want it to be good. You wouldn’t have written it if you didn’t think it was good. But you’re also obsessed with it – not in an unhealthy way – just because that’s the nature of writing. It’s you and that manuscript alone in a room for months on end – no other influences. Sometimes that’s why it goes off centre and skews. It’s a gradual progression for you, justified and understood. You know the history and qualifying arguments that explain where you ended up. No one else does.

Have you ever been with someone who suddenly throws in a non-sequitur.
“Oh, look, an elephant!” is one of my favorites. The person who blurted that out had failed to warn everyone they’d been staring at clouds and trying to make out shapes. Then they were startled by a shape that genuinely looked like an elephant. In the middle of Australia – the statement took us by surprise.

To her, it was a logical progression. To the rest of us… we laugh about it to this day.

As writers – no one else can know how we got to where we ended. All they know is what they read, so learn to read with that objectivity – towards plot points, character traits and individual lines. Learn to look at your piece as a whole and in its many parts. And even when you have done this and feel you’re getting good at it – get someone else to read it and give you feedback.

The other objective blindness is being emotionally or personally connected to the story or the people or both. If it’s the story about your struggle to raise a family – you will have some brilliant insights and some you may assume everyone will relate to, understand or believe – if they’re part of a character, great – they make that character unique – but if they pertain to the wider world – regardless of how you saw it, others may find it unbelievable. And the same is true with dramatic structure – it may have happened just as you’re telling it – that doesn’t make it a clear or compelling story or the right way to tell it. The phrase, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’, is a saying based on the many real examples where facts would never be believed if retold.

The bottom line is every writer needs feedback from people they trust as storytellers, or readers of stories who they can trust and who will give them objective feedback.

You can leave the idea in a drawer once it’s written and come back to it – that’s one way to gain more objectivity, but even then your ‘brilliance’ will pull you back in as you convince yourself a logic problem doesn’t exist or won’t be noticed by anyone else. It will be noticed – so will the other five problems you missed. Accept it – and get outside opinions.

If you’re at a loss for how to find people you can trust – join a peer review site online. Talentville, Scriptshark – there are more, so find one that you like. Get to know people and read their scripts and you will quickly learn to judge whether to give that person's reviews a lot of attention or a wide birth.

Study, do a course, a short course – join online discussion groups – build up a network. Once you’ve found ‘your people’ you can trade feedback and make your journey to a decent draft much quicker and do some networking along the way.

Also read other scripts. An amateur is someone who writes more than they read. And a gentle word to be positive whenever positive with any peer reviews you give. Be honest, but if the script stinks – at least find a few positive things and stick them up front. We writers are notoriously insular and insecure!

Learn how to format. Look it up online if you don't know or buy Final Draft – a screenwriting software that will format film, TV or play scripts for you. It's important because it makes your script LOOK professional and no-one will read a script that doesn't at least look the goods.

And remember a TV half hour comedy, one hour drama, a serial, a screenplay and a play are all formatted differently.

Learn to proof read. Producers et al. are receiving thousands of scripts per year, so any excuse is enough to dismiss a writer as not ready. I am a terrible proof reader of my own work. I have blogged about this before. With someone else's work I can pick up almost everything, but not my own – and I beat myself up about it constantly – I think I get too involved in what I’m writing, so here’s a few tricks that this bad proof reader uses to overcome the problem.

First – do what you can with a standard proof read. Then read each paragraph through, starting at the back of the script and read paragraph by paragraph from last paragraph to first. It makes it impossible to get swept up and distracted in the story.

Read the script aloud – it’s amazing how often the unconscious process and concentration to read out loud, as opposed to reading inside your head, will have you speaking what is written and not what should be written.

Print a copy out and read through the hard copy. For some reason, on a computer screen my mind is more likely to read what should be there and ignore what actually is there.

Know your strengths AND your weaknesses as a writer and write to your strengths.

This one is a little tougher. It is said that every artist wants to be a different type of artist. It may be true - I’ve met many screen writers who want to be novelists. TV writers who want to be screen writers, crime writers who want to write romance etc etc etc.

The truth is, you will have areas you write well in and some you don’t. You may write well in all, but better in some. It may be extreme in difference or it may be subtle. The only way to know for sure is to try a style or genre and see what you come up with. A good place to start is on what you like most. It stands to reason you will have absorbed the style, structures and tones of the content you spend time watching or reading yourself.

Not knowing a genre's form may create something brilliant and new, but it is more likely to show up your naivety.

Wes Craven’s Scream is a wonderful example of someone who knew the genre so well they could take it apart and use the known and expected structure as part of their story. A similar style was used for Galaxy Quest, a film that used the fan’s obsessive love and ownership of sci-fi to deliver a commentary of, and a fan letter to, every one of those adoring fans.

Get some credibility.

Nothing hits the bin faster than a script from a writer who sends out a signal they have no idea what they’re doing. This could easily be a comment on formatting, on structure, on dialogue on genre or sending something out too early – but it is most important on that first point of contact.

You're script is written. It is professional in appearance, your story hangs together and hits all the right beats and it falls within the page range required.

Page range equates to one minute to one page of standard formatted script. A comedy should be 90-100 pages. All other films should be 95 – 115 pages. 120-122 is pushing it, but acceptable, but you’d want to have something different, exciting and fresh to say to justify that length. 85 is too short and flags that structurally something is amiss.

There are of course many exceptions – perhaps an extremely complicated, time consuming sequence – but it would be hard to find an example given you should be visually describing every moment.

I would suggest you enter competitions before ever sending something to a professional and, if you can afford it, pay for feedback. The advantage of this is by making the finals or even semi finals of a really well known competition, you are more likely to get a professional to read your script.

For everyone on the journey – good luck!

Coming up:

Screenwriting - The 3 act story structure – fast and simple.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Screenwriting - put up or shut up.

Between 2008 and 2010 I taught screenwriting over a number of courses. I began teaching an introductory course for those wanting to know the basics. My background is a drama course at University and then 3 years full time to gain a fine arts diploma in writing from a creative arts college.

I've headed script departments on 5 different TV shows, three of them for Fremantlemedia, overseas in foreign countries where I set up the shows and had to hire either bilingual writers who could translate or I worked directly through translators. My main role and objective became to ensure the structure and content of stories, but I had to find and trust a local writer who could oversee and ensure the dialogue was sounding natural in the local language.

The result was that for almost 6 years, on a daily basis, I became a better storyteller. I became extremely confident about structure and how to use it in traditional or familiar stories  as well as, how and when it worked equally as well, if not better, to warp or subvert those traditional structures. I learnt by doing - not by studying and theorizing and not by assuming an audience would react in a certain way. I got to test what we did, not in theory, but by creating daily drama that was produced and broadcast. What we got right rated, what we didn't get right drew the wrath of the network and the critics. It was a steep, brutal and fast learning curve.

After I'd set up my first show overseas, I was asked to set up my second show alone in Poland, with only a line producer for support, but no second writer. I was then told, due to contractual issues, we had 6 weeks less than was needed to do a standard or adequate set up. It was the end of August, the show was due to go to air on January 1st. I was alone in an office, in a country strange to me, about to place ads in a paper to hire a writing department and I'd just discovered the country already had 5 dramas locally produced that were rating through the roof and in or around our timeslot. But the tight schedule forced me to do some things I would never have done if time constraints hadn't made it necessary.

Some of the things I tried dealt with how I structured and planned or plotted my stories to fast track us through; what would traditionally be known as creating a treatment for the stories. Most of what I did differently dealt with how to teach others, many of whom had very little experience as storytellers, to accelerate them to a point where they could write to a professional, broadcast level.

I was amazed, pleasantly so, to find a lot of what was done worked. I also tried things that I quickly threw away as useless - and often these were practises that had helped me learn or were considered the norms of how to walk someone through learning structure and the fundamentals of storytelling. I found out what REALLY worked and what was a great sounding theoretical doctrine - that in reality had little practical use.

The result is that many of the people I trained have gone on to be award winning writers. Joko Anwar, Priesnanda Dwisatria, Wotjek Nerkowski and Inez Kruk to name a few. Some of them, like Joko Anwar of Indonesia - had a great deal of natural talent and a love of films coming into the position - so I am not claiming the experience of what we achieved together is why he's where he is today. He was a reviewer in the Jakarta post when he came to work for me and is now a world recognised writer director. I quickly promoted him to head writer on the show as I discovered early that he had more natural ability and understanding for storytelling than anyone I'd ever met. But I like to think he also learnt something from me.

The result was I was confident I had something to say, to contribute to the growing tomes of screen writing theory. When I was offered an opportunity to teach I sat with the administrator of the institution and outlined these ideas and he allowed me free reign to create a course. We quickly went into an intermediate course and then advanced - even creating a TV concept development course that resulted in the students working together to create a concept and first pilot episode for a half hour comedy that was then commissioned by a local channel. By anyone's measure that has to be considered a success.

Somewhere in my third year of teaching, a student burst into tears and accused me of being too tough. It was an extraordinary moment for me because I went home and thought long and hard about the one niggling doubt I had about teaching a course on screenwriting - I'd never had a screenplay produced.

I have had plays produced and published - even wining the Writer's Guild Theatre award for best produced play. I've had a short film produced and while I've written over 50 hours of produced TV, set up and run the script departments to 3 shows and run script departments to another two - overseeing around 500 hours of produced TV drama - writing for the screen is a very different thing.

It was something I had to address. I had tried writing novels some years ago, (Inner City & The Law Of Happiness and Divorce), seeing if my stories would hold up, but, as much as I wish it were different, my prose writing isn't nearly as strong as my dialogue writing - although from the novels I wrote I was convinced my storytelling, or structuring abilities were strong. I wish I was more of a poet - but you get what you're given. But then, I've always felt it's often the average person who makes a great teacher - my theory being that someone like Joko who has so much natural ability assumes everyone shares that ability. But someone who has to grind it out, to learn slowly and literally drag themselves up to a level where they can play with the big guys - that person understands how and what to teach the people who share that incredible passion - but don't come ready prepared with all the tools.

So I put my head down two years ago and chose my strongest stories and wrote my heart out.

Within the last two months I have placed a screenplay with a production company and have had one option taken out on a screenplay before this. This year I was a finalist in the Final Draft big break competition and pitched to international distributors who treated me very differently on the back of these achievements. Rather than being polite and looking less than excited, they were now listening, giving me story suggestions and their cards, as well as asking for a first read.

I am certainly a long way from where I want to be - but it feels like I'm at least heading in the right direction.

And that brings me to the point of this post - I've decided to put my theories on screenwriting, what I've learnt from others and what I've taught myself - online... that's what's coming next. I also hope to be offering a script assessment/feedback service at a price that is considerably less than anywhere else. Get in touch if you're interested - or wait to read my screenwriting posts and decide for yourself if I'm the right person to give you feedback.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

We Get it, You Don't Like Smoking!

Australia is like most countries around the world who have decided her citizens need to be protected from themselves. Smoking bad - must stop. I am one of the reformed former smokers, but it annoys me by how far and how hard the push to force people to stop smoking has gone.

It seems enough's already been done and maybe there are better things still going unregulated that could use some of your time?

Preservatives in food, mislabelling of additives, fast food costing less than the raw ingredients, the country being raped by huge mining giants, vital utilities being privatized and then going unregulated on the billing of essential power, water, gas, private healthcare and insurance that has hidden costs that were never explained upfront, the huge propaganda campaigns from any large company to sell to us that, although we are paying far more for services, although these companies, both resource and retail, are growing enormously huge and becoming unstoppable mono or duopolies - and all the time we receive less and pay more - it's all because all these companies share one common trait - all their time, effort and practises are in an effort to help us.

That's what the ads say. Oil companies, mining companies, electricity and retail giants are only in business to help us and serve the community. The ads make that clear. The fact that they make money from their activities along the way is just a coincidence. These companies certainly don't need anyone imposing any restrictions on them or have their behaviour changed in any way. Perish the thought. After all - how and who could a multinational juggernauts - miners, retailers or drug companies - who could they possibly hurt in any large numbers?

Individuals on the other hands - individuals who can harm themselves - they need lots of help and supervision.

Take smoking as a case in point... here in Australia this is the current history of anti smoking campaign.

  • 1973 - Direct cigarette advertising on radio and television begins to be phased out over three years.
  • 1983 - Federal excise and customs duty on cigarettes linked to the Australian consumer price index.
  • 1990 - Cigarette advertising banned in locally produced newspapers and magazines.
  • 1995 - Most forms of tobacco sponsorship phased out, however exemptions granted to international events that couldn't exist without it.
  • 1996 - Billboards, outdoor and illuminated signs advertising cigarettes banned.
  • 2000 - Laws passed removing sponsorship exemptions.
  • 2006 - Tobacco industry sponsorship completely phased out. New, graphic anti-smoking ads go to air.
  • 2007 - Indoor smoking bans begin to be introduced.
  • 2008 - States start banning smoking in cars carrying children.
  • 2009 - Local councils move to make alfresco areas smoke-free.

  • 2010 - Smoking inside pubs and clubs banned in every Australian state. Tobacco excise increased by 25 per cent.
  • 2012 - Dec 1 All cigarette packets must be plain, displaying only pictures of graphic ailments caused by smoking related illnesses.
  • 2012 - current packet of 20 cigarettes costs $16 Australian or $16.50 USD. 
Who is it who has decided they know best regarding smoking? Where are they on alcohol, on obesity caused by fast food, on riding motorcycles, doing many of the extreme sports and past times that are now so common place.

Who's the uptight A-hole who simply will not let this one go? You've done enough - stop it! Some people want to smoke and are prepared to risk an early demise - so leave them alone to smoke - away from others, where they harm no-one but themselves.

"But it means they cost the rest of us when we have to pay for their health care!"
Then what about alcohol? How can you argue the health costs in old age for one and not the other?
I'll be interested to see what's next from the anti smoking fanatics lobby. They've banned all of the above and my guess is they will not rest until smoking is illegal.

Great! Then I can go out, find a dealer and smoke, if I choose, in peace - the same way all my dope and pill popping friends have been doing for years.

UPDATE: One day after I wrote this - the news breaks of new bans on smokers. The Article
But the media didn't focus as much on the woman in Australia turning 110 who smoked and drank but said her secret to a long life was to do both in moderation. Just saying....

Sunday, 18 November 2012

How many blades is enough?

My dream job is to be in disposable razor research and development. Once a year I'll say - "How about another blade?"

Tweet Tweet!


Monkeys shown to suffer from mid-life crisis - that explains why I saw one at the circus driving a convertible!


Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Ricky Gervais is Dialled in on Funny

When I was a kid I fell in love with comedy and bought every record I could find. The Goons and Monty Python, Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart, Lenny Bruce, Not the Nine O'Clock News team, The Goodies, Kenny Everit and so many more.

When records went out of fashion and everyone was virtually throwing them away I found comedy gold in the old BBC format shows - That Was The Week That Was and Golden years of Radio - the list of well known and obscure comedy was endless. I discovered Shelley Berman extending Bob Newhart's phone calls and Mort Sahl melding politics and humour the way John Stewart and others do today.

A lot of people over a long time have made me laugh and I've enjoyed the evolution of comedy and the genres of comedy that continually get renewed, reborn and reinvented.

The politically correct revolution of comedy came along in the eighties when I was at university with what was called the new age comedy, but was really just comedy with a conscience and an underlying comment or point. From politics to war, from superpowers to household relationships - everything could be commented on in comedy without ever resorting to the old racial or social stereotypes that picked on types like the big kid picks on the smaller kids in a playground. Comedy is capable of doing so much if used well.

But in the past decade a transition has swept through comedy that I'm still trying to reconcile - the second hand politically incorrect humour. The Archie Bunker affect - where a character that is being held up for examination as undesirable gets to say, do and act in a way that no-one in the real world would tolerate.

It's the grandparent phenomenon that causes us all to hide our heads and change the subject when Grandma or Grandpa declares the shopping centre is starting to resemble downtown Vietnam.

Barry Humphries' Dame Edna has been doing it for years, along with Les Patterson. Little Britain and Catherine Tait have had great success with it more recently, as have others - but then came Ricky.

I don't know why Ricky Gervais makes me laugh so much and so hard - it may be as simple as he shares my sense of humour - but I doubt it. It's far more likely thousands, or by now more like hundreds of thousands if not millions feel the same way and we can't all find the exact same things funny.

I think it's more likely Ricky Gervais just has a great sense of what most of the world finds funny and is an extremely good editor of ideas. My guess is he is a story generator creative type - with a constant flow of ideas - and then he ruthlessly discards the ones he decides don't appeal to a wide enough demographic - and his genius is most likely in that selection. The comedy is unquestionably good - but avoiding the flops is what makes someone a star.

There's no question he likes to shock and he certainly pushes the boundaries with his humour as he hides within loveable losers and insults all and sundry. David Brent was a favourite until Andy Millman came along and left Brent as a shadow when he delivered the brilliant celebrity speech in the Xmas special from extras.

Gervais then stepped up to do live standup - something he'd never done before and to many of his fellow comedians credit, when they were interviewed about Ricky, they own up to wanting him to fail miserably at standup. They assumed it would bring him undone. Standup's hard - I've tried it. I was forced to get up and learn how to deliver a routine because few comics are willing to do someone else's material. Working out a set and getting up and doing it proves far harder than anyone could imagine - especially in front of drunk foreign backpackers. God help you if the room is full of Germans.

Ricky not only succeeded, he blew the doors off with the fastest ever sell out tour - I can't remember how fast it sold out - ask Ricky - he's told people often enough.

Flannimals bolted out the door. Ghost Town may not have hit big but it was successful and more importantly  enjoyable. The only wobble on the track was The Invention of Lying - a brilliant premis that didn't quite come together - but still an enjoyable film with great moments and a thoroughly original idea. But writing a screenplay that not only works structurally but attracts a big enough audience away from the rest of life for 2 hours and $30 from their pocket - is a big ask. The Invention of Lying did this well enough and if not for characters not sharing the same weird loveable loser qualities that make his other character 'inventions' so likeable, it may have fared better.

But it is the podcasts that went on to become the animated 'Ricky Gervais' show that worried me most. I couldn't help feeling Ricky with Steven Merchant's help, was picking on Karl. I Googled forums and found a lot of people shared my concern. I watched an idiot abroad and, even though I laughed, the same thought niggled at me as Karl was kidnapped in the Middle East and bundled into the back of a van under hood and bound hands. It felt mean spirited.

Then I watched the new podcast - Learning English.

Ricky, sits with Karl and helps non English speakers learn English. Bless him. We've seen these shows around the world and on our government channels for decades. The way the presenters talk to you like you're two years old - with that patronising teacher's voice and they always choose the most ridiculous phrases.

"The LADDER is leaning AGAINST the wall" - "The LADDER. AGAINST"

If you've ever felt Ricky and Steve pick on Karl then watch this quickly. It suddenly becomes all too clear. In everything else, Karl's true self has been carefully guarded and let out in small manageable quantities. I debated with people whether he was being serious or if he was, like Gervais, some new comic genius who could turn anything into - not just funny, but incredibly biting, shocking and provocative all at once.

Ricky's Anne Frank bit is a classic example. "No second book - Lazy." But Karl reducing the holocaust and the underlying theme from Sophie's Choice to a comparison with Deal or No Deal tops it. It's comedy gold. The moment those two things are brought together - you instantly laugh and feel the person who thought of it should be locked up. That's great comedy - so funny you have to laugh and so shocking you do a nasal spit take - the highest compliment in all of comedy. Karl delivers these moments more than anyone currently working in entertainment. The hysteria is because he doesn't mean to and doesn't seem to understand why what he's said is funny.

In Learning English with Ricky Gervais - Karl's personality is the joke. Sure Ricky niggles and purposely steers Karl to where he knows he'll get a rise - but what comes across is that Karl is an 85 year old curmudgeony man, locked in a middle aged man's body. This is not an act - when Ricky pretends to be a foreigner coming into Karl's fish shop to buy a fish - Karl is genuinely annoyed to be interrupted to serve the customer. It doesn't make sense, as Ricky laments - "This is a fiction, Karl." Karl doesn't care - in his mind he was reading the paper and now he's been interrupted by Ricky's imaginary customer. That mismatch within Karl's head about what is real and what is a fiction is madly funny.

"What's a kipper?" Ricky asks.
"It's a fish!" Karl spits back with a look that indicates he's annoyed to be dealing with an idiot.

Ricky could steer the session anywhere and Karl would react equally insanely to whatever scenario was proposed. Has he forgotten the purpose - to teach English? It seems far from forgetting he's simply failed to grasp the concept at all from the very beginning.

"Chinese would know about fish," he says, shutting down yet another effort from Ricky.

If you've seen the Liam Neeson improv comedy interview within 'Life's Too Short' then Liam's continual shutting down of the improvised setups is similar to Karl in this. Liam's bit was well thought out, clearly worked with a knowledge of improvisation and how to derail it at every opportunity.

Look at the Neeson out takes and you'll see just how well crafted and hard to pull off the whole thing was.

Karl tops it. Neeson was using all his mastered skill to portray an annoying prat as he failed miserably to grasp the basic elements of improv, but to Karl it comes like running water from a spring.

It didn't need Ricky to push Karl's buttons by setting him as a hair waxing salon employee to wax Ricky's back, sack and crack - but Karl's inability to work in a fiction or his long running refusal to accept the fundamental aspects of the human condition we all share, instantly causes more problems for him. His mind, unable to separate an imagined scenario from filling out tax forms and actually enduring every minute detail of such a job, clash and produce real pain on his face. He suffers real embarrassment, frustration and annoyance at having to perform an imaginary job, in an imaginary salon on an imaginary Ricky who is never contemplating letting Karl anywhere near him with wax.

It's painfully funny and I finally get why Karl is the world's best straight man. He's genuinely an idiot. A loveable, good natured, inoffensive idiot - but a huge idiot all the same. His only real concern in the world seems to be to go unbothered by the other 7 billion of us. He's happiest 'pottering' around his home with a cupboard full of snacks, but his opinions are as real as they are funny.

It's as if Ricky has found a universal Grandpa and is finally asking him all the things the rest of the world's family have been too embarrassed to ask all these years because of the fear about what might come from his mouth. Ricky has no such fear.

Karl's xenophobic, sexist, and antiquated views are straight out of a few generations ago. He is less informed, less understanding of society and its differences and less willing to ever change than a statue. There's no denying Grandpa is funny - provided he's not our grandpa.

Learning English with Ricky Gervaise is the new Podcast offering and more than the pilot can be found on Itunes.

It is comedy at the nasal spit take level - high praise indeed!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Best and Worst Camouflage Ever Seen!

Scott Norton Taylor - Inner City - Ebook for Kindle, Epub Sony, Palm or online!

Reviews: From Amazon

5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome read May 27, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
This book was so intriguing I hardly put it down. Wonderfully written it does not linger on any 
one event nor does it speed through scenes making it a poor read. The characters were well 
thought out and the inner turmoils they all face are far from dull.

5.0 out of 5 stars Spectacular April 5, 2013
By Jack
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
The book was simply amazing it had action romance and just enough drama to make me happy 
one of the best books I have ever read

From Barnes and Noble - Nook Books:

Posted December 1, 2012

 Great read.

A story filled with with love, hate, violence, peace and so much more. 538 pages of wondering what will happen 
next. A FULL story from start to finish. Thanks to the author for sharing a great work with the readers.

Posted July 8, 2012
 Couldn't put it down...
For this to have been a free book, it was wonderful. The author keeps you on the edge of your seat. I couldn't 
put this down. I think this would make a great movie!

Posted April 20, 2012


Perfectly written with great detail it was thought provoking and asked the fundemental question of would you 
stick up for what you believed was right even if you would be killed for doing so.

Posted April 5, 2012

 This book is AWESOME! it keeps you wanting to read the entire ti

This book is AWESOME! it keeps you wanting to read the entire time. It tells of 2 worlds, and both are 
extremely unique. One of the best books I've ever read!