In an age of smartphones and tablets, there’s never really a valid excuse for not writing. Those minutes waiting for the next train during your daily commute can be used to develop an idea, edit a scene or even play with the structure of your story.
As the saying goes, there’s an app for that, with writers well catered for. Many such apps feature access to file hosting services such as Dropbox, making it easy to synchronise content on the move between all your devices and home computer.
Here’s a list of some of my favourites currently sitting on the front screen of my devices.
HANX WRITER iOS, iPad only. FREE
A new kid on the block, but with a classic touch. Hanx Writer is a word processing app from self confessed typewriter enthusiast Tom Hanks (yes, THAT Tom Hanks), which replicates the experience of using a typewriter on your iPad.
After a few hours of using the app, it’s already replaced Write Room as my simple go-to space for developing ideas and defacing the ever ominous blank page. As might be experienced from a typewriter emulator, you can expect to hear the sound of clicks, bells and carriage returns as you hammer out your words on the page, all in glorious Courier font.
The real magic, as Hanks points out, lies in hearing the rhythm of your words as you type them. It’s hypnotic, reassuring and makes all other word processing apps seem quiet, clinical and impersonal. For true disciplinarians, there’s the option to omit the delete key so that any mistakes appear as they would with a real typewriter.
Hanx Writer is free, featuring in-app purchases for different typewriter models with a ‘try before you buy’ option to see which suits your taste. All models feature a generously sized keyboard for ease of use, offering ample opportunity to build up a satisfying speed of keystrokes and accompanying sound effects.
What remains to be seen is how Hanx Writer works in an environment such as a coffee shop, where other customers may have less of an appreciation for the sound of synthetic typing. But then as far as writing in coffee shops go, I’ve never been a fan of cliches.
In summary, an enjoyable and fun way of exploring ideas and one certain to engage writers looking for a retrospective experience to working.
We’ve all had the drill about the importance of outlining your story before getting lost in your work. In my case, this translates to generating a collection of work sheets and index cards that sit gathering dust by my laptop.
Headspace is a more engaging way of organising your thoughts in one place. It’s a gorgeously animated workspace that allows you to create 3D hierarchical lists which can be linked to each other to provide an at-a-glance view of your latest project.
Fans of the BBC television series Sherlock will revel in using this mapping tool, which bears a similarity to the ‘mind palace’ sequences where the sleuth dips into his memory to link clues in order to crack the case.
By dragging two fingers across the screen, your story map rotates to give you a preview of items tucked away under each menu. Tapping the menu expands the view to see all items listed, with the option to create more detailed notes should you wish.
There’s something satisfying about being able to literally hold your story in your hands, watching it grow and getting a world view of characters, scenes and structure. Outlining has never been so entertainingly visual.
The Headspace app is available as a free ‘Lite’ version, allowing you to try its features for yourself with the creation of a single file. The paid version allows greater freedom with the opportunity to create multiple maps for all the stories and projects you want to work on. Chances are once you’ve tried Headspace for yourself, you’ll have no qualms in paying the small premium for unlimited use.
Those looking for a more traditional form of outlining are spoilt for choice when it comes to seeking out index card based apps. My opinion is that DenVog’s Index Card app is a pleasure to work with, at least in terms for iPad users.
This app is available as two separate paid apps for both phone and tablet. Naturally owing to space issues, the phone app offers a pared down experience compared to the tablet edition. The latter wins hands down in terms of aesthetics and functionality with a beautiful cork tile background and option to divide cards into stacks, which is handy for breaking down story elements into their respective acts.
As you might expect from an app based on the index card system, there’s a section on each card to enter a title and a brief description of the scene in question. Tap an individual card and it flips over, offering greater space for in depth notes if you really need to break down those scenes.
Anyone who’s ever used an index card system for outlining will tell you of the advantage of being able to play with structure by swapping cards around. Here is no exception, with the advantage of having your cards in a compact and manageable space. Swap them around, tear them up, add new ones. No need to hit the stationers and shell out for a new set, everything you need is here.
Admittedly, I haven’t used this app since Headspace came on the scene, but am reluctant to delete this app on the grounds of its simplicity and functionality.
You’ve written notes and an outline, now comes the time to commit your idea to paper for all to see. When it comes to screenwriting, Celtx Script is the script formatting software to rival the legendary Final Draft, the latter of which made its debut in app form last year.
Offering much of Final Draft‘s functionality at a fraction of the price, Celtx Script has proven its worth for screenwriters the world over for a number of years. Early adopters using the iOS system enjoyed it for free, as do today’s Android users, but the small premium is worth paying for a decent script formatting function on your mobile device.
Celtx Script integrates well with the desktop version, allowing you to write and make changes to your screenplay on the hoof, synchronising with all other editions of the program you may have on your devices and desktop at the touch of a button. This is all done using Celtx’s secure cloud technology, for which you’ll need to set up an account.
All the formatting functions you’ll need are here, including sluglines, description, character cues and dialogue. You can even opt for page numbering and CONT’D cues to be added automatically, exactly where they should be. The upshot is that you can devote more time to telling the story, with Celtx offering a helping hand with the presentation.
There’s the option to e-mail as a PDF or print should you be eager to see how your words play out on the printed page, although from experience, you’ll need to use the desktop version in order to create a cover page for your latest work.
Eagle-eyed readers will note that these app reviews are geared towards iOS compatible apps. Apologies! Such is the peril of subscribing to a single tech ecosystem. If you’re an Android user, it would be great to hear what writing and planning apps you make use of. Suggestions are welcome, please leave a comment below.
Something we can all enjoy next time – podcasts. Thanks for reading.
“Writing brings its own rewards. Enjoy them.”
It was a sad start to the week with news of the passing of Syd Field, the renowned script consultant and teacher, at the age of 77.
Field died at his home in Beverly Hills of haemolytic anaemia on Sunday 17th November, surrounded by family and friends. He remained active to the end, although a scheduled appearance in London last week was cancelled due to ill health. His last public engagement was at the Story Expo in September, where he delivered the festival’s keynote address and received a standing ovation.
Syd Field’s name was synonymous with screenwriting. His first book Screenplay: The Foundations Of Screenwriting, published in 1979, blew away the veil of mystery in writing for film for many readers. Such was its influence that the theories covered within are still adhered to by the film and television industry in evaluating scripts.
Chiefly among these is the Paradigm, a model which divides the story into three separate parts, connected by plot points which move the story onwards and in a new direction. In essence – chase your character up a tree, throw stones at them and watch how they come down. Field’s Paradigm found its place within the film-making vernacular as Three Act Structure, a form which continues as the cornerstone of screenwriting and storytelling technique across the world.
The success of Screenplay was followed by a series of books over the years which expanded on the original theory while encompassing modern storytelling techniques. Ever receptive to the development of technology, Field made his theories available to students via the instructional video Screenwriting Workshop and Getting Started online courses. Recent years saw him introduce the Scriptor app for smartphones, an interactive workshop that would allow budding writers to dabble with projects on the go.
This aside, Field’s passion for face-to-face teaching and consulting remained his strong point. A jovial figure, he served as a lecturer at the University of Southern California and earned himself an impressive roll call of appointments and accolades.
To the untold score of budding and established screenwriters across the world, perhaps the greatest accolade of all. Field will always be known as ‘the screenwriter’s guru,’ a tribute that will endure as long as there are those who act on their dreams and find his work.
Field is survived by his wife Aviva and daughter Lisa.
Charitable donations in Syd Field’s name can be made to the following organisations:
Tower Hematology Oncology Medical Group; www.toweroncology.com
The PRASAD Project; www.prasad.org
SYDA Foundation; www.siddhayoga.org
With a lack of activity in recent months, you’d be forgiven for thinking this blog was dead.
Not so. I’ve been taking advantage of an unseasonably good summer (by British standards) to take time away from the computer and spend it much of it outdoors. Rest assured I’ve been mentally toying with some new script ideas to get stuck into as the nights grow longer, as well as immersing myself in the work of others.
You could call it being alive, which is ironic because the subject matter of this entry involves the dead. Or rather, the kind that get up and walk around. Yep, it’s zombies. But don’t start yawning yet, because as the output of the last 12 months show, there’s still some life in this oft-used cultural metaphor yet.
LES REVENANTS (THE RETURNED)
A surprise hit of this summer’s television schedule, The Returned caused quite a stir in the waters, if you’ll excuse the pun. This stylish and haunting French thriller takes its cue from the 2004 film Les Revenants, which translated means ‘they came back.’ It’s a different spin on the genre with the dead inexplicably returning some years later, fresh faced and willing to carry on from where they left off.
Naturally, this causes a certain amount of consternation for their families – as in the case of Camille, who trots back through the door of the family home as if a day hasn’t passed. It’s actually been four years since her coach careened off the edge of the picturesque Alpine town’s dam. Parents Claire and Jérôme have separated, while twin sister Lena has developed in both years and drinking habits.
Camille isn’t the only old face back in town. Simon soon follows, hoping to rekindle things with bride-to-be Adéle. A serial killer from seven years past returns to his favourite haunt and grisly pastime, while mysterious and spooky child Victor latches onto nervous nurse Julie, who’s under constant siege from a nosey neighbour. What can it all mean?
Who cares. The strength of the series comes from its willingness to explore the tribulations of the dead as much as the living, as well as the sumptuous setting and cinematography. It’s an ensemble piece with twists, turns and great character exposition – and a suitably fitting and evocative soundtrack from Scottish rock band Mogwai. Like the oft-compared Twin Peaks, this is something sexy that will marvel and mystify viewers. It’s short on answers but heavy on mood, truly cult television viewing.
A second series is promised for 2014. Please don’t do a Heroes…
The Returned Series 1 is currently available for download on iTunes and will be available on DVD / Blu-ray release from September 9 2013.
THE WALKING DEAD GAME
A more traditional take on the zombie genre can be found in The Walking Dead Game which as the title hints, brings Robert Kirkman’s popular franchise to the gaming world. Episodic and engrossing in nature, this award-winning series owes more to the comic book than the television show in both look and feel.
As fans of The Walking Dead will know, Kirkman’s vision of the survival horror genre focuses on what it means to be part of the living scratching for sustenance in a world overrun by the voracious appetite of the dead. Safety isn’t necessarily found in numbers, with threats coming from within as survivors band together and struggle to cling to the last vestiges of their humanity.
With both the comic book and television series, characters are called upon to make some pretty tough choices. This time however, it’s you who has to call the shots and it’s not as easy as it looks. Your decisions are going to affect how the story plays out and no two games are the same. Whether it’s deciding who to save in a zombie attack or choosing whether or not to tell a little white lie – whatever you go with, that’s the choice you have to live by. This is no shoot-’em-up, but it will put some pretty hefty slugs in your morality.
This time round there’s no Rick Grimes, but a protagonist on the other side of the law. Lee Everett is on his way to start a stretch in prison when the intervention of the dead offers him the chance of unofficial parole. From there, the ball is in your court. Are you going to be a bad-ass or a peacemaker?
The beauty of this game is that despite containing fixed events that must happen, it holds up to repeat plays so you can test the waters by making different choices. However, this is an emotionally involving game and to see decisions play out with different results than that experienced first time round may not be of comfort. Case in point being Lee’s relationship with archetypical trailer park persona Kenny – as one of the first of your group and being more accepting of your character than others, it’s easy to be inclined favourably towards him and gear your choices accordingly. On second play, a slight difference of opinion may result in Kenny adopting a less warm disposition towards Lee than previously experienced. Believe it or not, that can smart – which demonstrates the power this game has over the player.
Driving the heart of the game’s emotional engine is Lee’s relationship with youngster Clementine, who Lee finds abandoned while seeking help with an injury sustained during his escape to freedom. The stakes – and story goal – are soon established within minutes of starting, with Lee assuming the role of some post-apocalyptic Jean Valjean…
Of all the decisions you can make, those involving Clementine are key to the story. It soon becomes apparent that your mission lies with whether or not to keep the spirit of hope kindled within her, while preparing her to deal with things no child should ever face. Striking a balance between the two is no picnic, as the multitude of videos posted online of player reactions to the story’s finale demonstrates.
A second season is soon to follow, with mini-episode 400 Days providing a taster of things to come and a set of new characters to invest in. As with Les Revenants, this is another series with some serious questions to answer – and hopefully one worth the wait.
Until then, dead men tell no tales.
The Walking Dead Game and 400 Days is currently available for PlayStation, Xbox, PC, Mac and iOS.
Today’s screenwriter is well catered for in terms of a choice of podcasts to inspire them as they work at their craft. But a radio station? Really?
You’d better believe it. May 2013 sees the launch of Radio LSF, the world’s first internet radio station devoted solely to screenwriting. With a tagline of ‘experience, inspire and connect,’ the station promises round-the-clock screenwriting education on tap for listeners across the world, whether it be during regular working hours or the small hours of the morning.
The station takes its name from the ever-growing London Screenwriters Festival and is the brainchild of Chris Jones – creative director of the festival, film-maker and co-author of The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook.
“I had the idea a couple of months ago,” says Jones. “I wanted to share as much of the great sessions from the London Screenwriters Festival as I could. It seemed a great way to help writers.”
Expanding on the idea, Jones outlines how he believes writers will benefit from tuning in. “You can have it on in the background and get contacts, conversations about screenwriting, gems of wisdom and practical help.”
Jones’s appraisal of the project is one that resonates with the working practice of many writers, accustomed to some kind of background accompaniment as they work on their scripts, be it visual or audio. “It’s like television. You’ll watch a movie if it’s on, because it’s there. But you might never consciously reach for a DVD and watch it. It’s the same here,” he muses. “Because it’s always on, you can’t restart or replay, one tends to just tune in.”
Aside from acting as a voice of encouragement for writers, the intention of Radio LSF will prove of benefit to musicians too, with musical interludes highlighting the talents of upcoming film and instrumental score composers. Jones is actively encouraging musicians to contribute to Radio LSF’s programming, offering them a chance for greater exposure to a wider audience. “When the station goes live the majority of the programming will be screenwriting related, with short musical breaks,” he says. “That’s where composers come in.”
Radio LSF’s initiative for musicians is a parallel that of the recent 50 Kisses film-making project, offering exposure for authors to emerging film-makers. Composers will retain the rights to their work and will be credited for use. The station’s website already hosts samples of work that prove inspiring from a writer’s perspective, so the challenge for participating composers is laid bare from the outset.
As for the main meat of programming content, Jones offers a clue to what listeners will experience. “You can expect to hear from the biggest names in screenwriting, alongside newer voices,” he says. “Right now, its all pulled from the sessions at the festival, but we have plans to expand on that. The first stage is to get the station up and running, then start to think about expanding the content.”
Could listeners expect live content when the festival comes around? As Jones states it’s early days, but watch this space. “We might, but there are enormous technical hurdles. Broadcasting from a live event is much harder than you would imagine, especially something as large as the London Screenwriters Festival.”
Regardless of which, one thing that can be certain is that Radio LSF will prove itself of worth to writers as being a voice in the now urging them to press on with their creations. In what is an often isolating experience filled with expectation and uncertainty, every guiding voice can only be of hope.
Radio LSF launches Friday 10th May, 2013. For further details, visit the Radio LSF website.
There’s a moment at the end of watching a film when you can’t help but make some kind of verbal response, an initial gut reaction. Not so much in words, but more of a mumble.
For example, there’s the ‘hmmm’ which depending on how high or low the sound tails off, might be a good or bad thing. Silence is another option, usually reserved for a film that’s either jaw-droppingly awesome or pants-droppingly arse.
In watching Dredd, my reaction spilled out as an explosive ‘ha!’ that took me by surprise. Quite an active response by any measure, but anything less than after 90-odd minutes of action would indicate a letdown. You see, this is a Judge Dredd film and one done particularly well.
Which is kind of funny because storywise, there’s nothing special here that would make for compelling viewing. Simply put, a drug baron with an over-inflated sense of self importance literally throws down a challenge to anyone daring to question her authority. In return, a lawman with an over-zealous approach to peacekeeping accepts it. What follows is much like watching a computer game, level after level of bone-crunching violence until the final showdown with the big boss.
But then, that’s the beauty of Dredd – it’s a faithful rendition of a comic book franchise that doesn’t betray its roots. The character of Dredd was born during the punk era of the 1970s and preserved in print within the pages of 2000AD, the UK’s long-running science-fiction anthology comic. As such, his take on law and order was equally as anarchic as the target audience of youths the comic strip was aimed at. The thing is, Judge Dredd has always been a bit of a bastard. But he’s our bastard, and we like him that way.
I guess you could call Dredd a cerebral film if you count the amount of cranium related violence featured here. Heads are cooked, smushed, squished and blown away on a frequent basis as Dredd and sidekick Anderson work their way through the tower block of gang members. It’s a guilty pleasure but finely rendered, especially when compared to the big-budget 1995 Stallone vehicle, Judge Dredd.
Here, the setting is gritty and authentic. Gone is the shiny futuristic city depicted in the first film, and you won’t find a flying car in sight. Now it’s all shanty towns, with mammoth tower blocks peppered across the landscape. It’s a used and dirt engrained future, where criminals tear around in beaten-up Volkswagen camper vans. In all, there’s something a bit more low budget about this interpretation that works all the more better for it.
Perhaps the reason for the film’s recent success in the home release market is that it evokes the spirit of the classic Walter Hill and John Carpenter flicks, The Warriors and Assault On Precinct 13. Paul Leonard-Morgan’s thumping synth score even sounds like it was lifted from one of John Carpenter’s movies. Something like this isn’t meant for cinema success, but at home with friends and a few beers. It’s a pure unbridled seventies-style survival thriller, given a 21st century kick. And punch. And headbutt.
That’s not to say that character development goes out of the window. Surprisingly, there are good choices made here. The problem in bringing Judge Dredd to screen is that he’s always been an uncompromising, faceless character – the embodiment of law poured into a human vessel. Stallone’s decision in 1995 to take off the helmet opened up a can of worms, not least family-related and comical sidekick issues.
Playing Judge Dredd was never going to be an actor-friendly role but Karl Urban pulls it out of the hat easily with deadpan perfection, never once unmasking. There’s not much shift in character other than a play on dialogue from his initial opinion of the rookie Judge he’s been assigned to assess. For Dredd, it’s a case of unstoppable force meeting immovable object, namely character and story arc, which demands that a character changes over the course of a movie – and neither are budging.
The real development is left to Judge Anderson, the rookie in question. Her stakes being that if she fails her assessment, she’ll never get to fulfil her ambition as a Judge. Anderson’s ability to read the thoughts of people make her a valuable asset to the city’s Justice Department, but only if Dredd decides she’s right for the job.
Anderson is well known to fans of the comic book as the flip-side to Dredd’s stern take on justice. Wisecracking and empathic, but once she’s in your head… Safe to say, director Pete Travis and writer Alex Garland stick close to the source material – Anderson’s interrogation technique is lifted straight from the comic. Being a more adult-orientated film than its predecessor, the game of cat and mouse as she delves into a suspect’s mind is quite graphic and anything but family friendly.
Olivia Thirlby offers a compelling portrayal of Anderson, breaking tradition by eschewing the comic book character’s easy-going confidence and playing her as a nervous raw recruit, prone to stalling when the bullets start flying. She represents the brains to Dredd’s brawn, cracking the case while he cracks heads. When the time comes for her to cross over fully into Dredd’s world and stand on her own feet, she proves equally as adept as her examiner in taking names. The question is, whether or not she’s too late…
Also putting in a good turn is British actress Lena Headey, as the film’s big bad, Ma-Ma. It’s a far cry from her early days as the demure window dresser from Inside-Out, playing the role of a ruthless crime lord with absolute brooding menace. No better is this demonstrated than how she interacts with the tech flunkie who gains control of the tower block on her behalf. You soon come to realise that everything’s a power play for Ma-Ma, boosted by the legend of her rise to power and control over the city’s newest drug, Slo-Mo, which makes the brain feel that time is passing at a fraction of normal speed.
Admittedly, it was this Max Payne style gimmick as expressed in the trailer that made me pass on the film’s initial cinematic release. Rest assured, it’s well handled and used sparingly to show perspective of events from a Slo-Mo user’s point of view, which when coupled with some of the more serene moments of Leonard-Morgan’s score, provides some respite from the fast-paced violence present throughout most of the film.
Dredd isn’t without it’s comical moments, but these are spread thinly across the film and might go unnoticed with the first viewing. The most obvious moments are riffs lifted straight from Robocop, specifically the famed ’20 seconds to comply’ line. But then, a Judge Dredd film was all but ready to roll before Robocop stole the thunder. Naturally, there’s some bitterness there that wasn’t addressed first time round.
It’s easy to imagine a post-The Expendables Stallone watching this film at home, with a furrowed brow buried firmly in the palm of his hand. This is a Judge Dredd movie as it should’ve been done, without the gloss and with all the grittiness you’d expect. If anything, the selling point should have been that it’s a bit of a paradox, a no-brainer movie with brains and depth. But then, these things can’t be told from the outset, but only discovered. Dredd is a great standalone movie that’s pure entertainment, and one with potential for a follow-up should sales demand it.
Dredd is now available on DVD /Blu-ray / download release.
As an iPad owner, I’ve never quite known what to do with that damned Newsstand application.
I can’t find anything of interest that might fill that empty virtual rack, and I certainly can’t delete it. So there it sits, taking up space that I might otherwise put to good use.
Until recently, that is. I’d never expected to have seen a screenwriting magazine appear on Newsstand, least of all following the recent folding of two major print titles – Creative Screenwriting and Script magazine (although the latter still exists as a website).
Which is why aside from the excellent Logline e-zine, Backstory is proving to be a welcome breath of fresh air for those starved of inspiration in magazine form. Now in its third edition, this bi-monthly publication is shaping up to be a smart read. It’s published by Jeff Goldsmith, whose acclaim in film circles is renowned via the informative podcasts he put together for Creative Screenwriting, along with those produced under his own name.
Flicking through Backstory, you get the impression that this is the kind of magazine Goldsmith really wanted to produce under his tenure as senior editor of Creative Screenwriting. It reaches beyond the film industry to encompass playwriting too, making it a publication devoted to ‘the art and business of storytelling.’ The result is a richer and broader canvas that keeps readers engaged and creatively focused.
Where Backstory triumphs is in its use of the digital format to maximum effect. Articles are often accompanied by active links to script samples, audio excerpts and videos on the page, meaning that everything is all in one place rather than having to jump between magazine and web browser.
With no print costs to speak of and a publisher who’s proven his dedication and worth to the world of storytelling, it’s hoped that Backstory will enjoy greater longevity and growth than that experienced by its predecessors. The fact that it’s currently only available on iPad might irk potential readers who’ll miss out otherwise, but the publishers promise that an online edition will be available soon.
Backstory is currently available for Newsstand on iPad at $4.99 per issue, subscriptions available. For a limited period, the first edition is available for free download. Visit backstory.net for further details.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we shall remember them.”
Laurence Binyon (1869 – 1943)
It’s a tradition of mine at this time of year to attend a local wreath-laying ceremony on Remembrance Sunday. Of all the events taking place in the area, the informal gathering at Forbury Gardens in Reading provided the ideal opportunity for a contemplative walk following the ceremony. Not least because of the town’s simple memorial to Trooper Frederick William Owen Potts.
I’ll make no bones in saying that the principle reason I wear a poppy is due to the First World War. It’s not to say that the Second World War or any conflict since is any less important, but I can easily trace memories of those times to the living. As far as the First World War goes, the last of the lights that burned during that period have all but gone out.
That’s something that scares me. Yet in so far as time is concerned, the natural scheme of things. It was only yesterday, but so long ago. The voices of that time whisper on the wind, but the memories of the loved ones I knew from that time still resonate strongly.
But what really scares me is that we might forget. A seemingly outlandish opinion, but one strong enough to make me write Dispossessed and keep refining it. A recent poll suggests that many young people don’t know when the First World War took place. Some of the results are startling to say the least, placing the conflict some 100 years before its time.
If we can forget dates, then it’s possible we can forget the motivation of those who took part. Many at the time thought that the conflict would be short and over within a few months. Many of those who signed up did so because of friends, or some sense of patriotism. Many of those who participated were but just out of childhood, minds filled with adventure and glory. Some found it, many didn’t. No-one at the time could have predicted that over 40 million casualties – military and civilian – would result from that which we vow never to be forgotten, yet sadly repeated.
My intention is to bridge the gap between where we’ve been and where we’re going. For that to happen, we need to see it from the eyes of someone who was there and who is very much of our time.
And with that, I’d like to introduce you to Peter. Just one of the 40 million, but never forgotten. This isn’t his story, but ultimately concerns him and explains why it is we do the things we do.
Lest we forget.