Tag Archives: screenwriting

Up and away

Caught Pixar’s Up with the kids on Fathers’ Day. Liked it better than Wall-E and Cars but nowhere near as much as The Incredibles or Monsters Inc.

The kids liked it but didn’t love it. I wonder if that’s because they didn’t really see themselves in any of the main characters – a grieving curmudgeon, a lonely boy scout and a misfit talking dog. I know, I’ve blogged previously that my daughter sometimes plays at being a Grandma so she should connect with the movie. Looks like I was wrong.

I know the Pixar crew are graduates of the Robert McKee screenwriting courses. It felt to me that they’d gone with some real McKee angles in Up – writing stories/scripts that address universal truths such as loneliness, shattered dreams, grief and old age. Indeed, the first five minutes of the film told a story that almost moved me to tears. After that bit of magic, it was sound the trumpets and bring in the action and gags.

Some of the best gags involved a) old age and b) dogs chasing squirrels. The kids obviously didn’t get the former. As for the latter, we don’t have squirrels Down Under so the joke lost a little impact (though we still laughed). I was also surprised by how Pixar handled some of the later fights scenes (no spoilers from me) and how scary some of the hunting dogs were. The Little Monkey (5yo) found it all a bit tough once the villain arrived on the scene. Interestingly, her cousin the Little Engineer (4yo), had no such qualms.

So, it lacked the wow factor we’d hoped for. And I’m a tad worried that I identified somewhat with the old guy Carl…

I’m now hoping Ponyo might be a better fit for the Little Dragon and I.

Update: I just spent a night making Up mobiles to hang in the kids’ rooms so they must be at least slightly under the Pixar spell.

Setting dialogue in time and place

When I do writing workshops with students, one of the topics I cover is how to set stories in a particular time and place. Time is worth some serious consideration because it determines the way your characters think, act, dress, speak, drive, communicate and much, much more. In researching Game as Ned, I (helped by my wife) tracked down a speech expert to get a seal of authenticity on some of the phrases I wanted my characters to use in a 1970s rural Australian setting. In other words, would people really speak this way, in this time and place?

Which brings me to one of my favourite TV characters, Life on Mars‘ dodgy detective Gene Hunt. Detective Chief Inspector Hunt is offensive and flawed in too many ways to list. He’s also loyal and indomitable … and he gets all the best lines.

The BBC version of Life on Mars is set in London in the ’70s. The scriptwriters delight in giving Hunt and his colleagues cracking dialogue that would be unthinkable in any contemporary cop show. Hunt’s dialogue is very much a product of his times, contrasting him with his sensitive, time-travelling off-sider DI Sam Tyler. (The new series Ashes to Ashes is set in the ’80s so it will be interesting whether 10 years have softened or enlightened Hunt in any way.)

Here are some ’70s Hunt-isms, hunted down online:

Hunt to a gaggle of kids staring at his beloved Ford Cortina: “Anything happens to this motor, I’ll come ’round your houses and stomp on all your toys. Got it? Good kids.”

– Hunt bantering with Tyler: Hunt: “I think you forgot who you’re talking to.” Tyler: “An overweight, over the hill, tobacco-stained, borderline alcoholic homophobe with a superiority complex and an unhealthy obsession with male bonding.” Hunt: “You make that sound like a bad thing.”

– Tyler: “I think we need to explore whether this attempted murder was a hate crime.” Hunt: “What as opposed to one of those I-really-really-like-you sort of murders?”

– Hunt: “If a villain farts in this city, our snout should be able to find the arse responsible.”

– Tyler speaking about an injured colleague: “He shouldn’t be here. He’s got PTSD.” Hunt: “The man’s a bloody hero and you’re accusing him of having the clap?”

– Hunt: “I want this man caught before he kills again. This is my city and it will be a safe place for my wife and my mum to walk around, is that understood?” Others: “Yes, guv.” Hunt: “Right, find out who that dead woman was, find out who killed her. Do it now.” (Checks his watch) Hunt: “Hold on, hold on. Do it tomorrow morning first thing. Beer o’clock, gentlemen.”

Turning to books 2

Further to my previous post, here’s what the doyen of screenwriting teachers, Robert McKee, says in his book, Story:
“Imagine in one global day, the pages of prose turned, plays performed, films screened, the unending stream of television comedy and drama, 24-hour print and broadcast news, bedtime tales told to children, barroom bragging, back-fence internet gossip, humankind’s insatiable appetite for stories. Story is not only our most prolific art form but rivals all activities – work, play, eating, exercise – for our waking hours. We tell and take in stories as much as we sleep – and even then we dream. Why? Why is so much of our life spent inside stories? Because, as critic Kenneth Burke tells us, stories are equipment for living.”

McKee goes on to say: “Story isn’t a flight from reality but a vehicle that carries us on our search for reality, our best effort to make sense out of the anarchy of existence”.

I was fortunate enough to attend an intense three-day course with McKee a few years ago. Here’s what he wrote in my copy of his book: “To Tim, Write the truth.” I take this to be part of McKee’s crusade for stories with meaning and universal relevance – as opposed to the soulless material excreted from major film studios with an eye on revenue rather than story.