Tuesday, February 18, 2020


Shwmae from the banks of the river Lleidi!

Sorry there wasn’t a post last week, I had a few family commitments and I tried writing one massive post about the pilot script so that I could just break that into four parts but it sort of got away from me. This last two weeks have gone really fast. Suspiciously fast, I suspect the interference of time travellers.

This last week I have mostly been doing job search related activities, editing my CV and master template cover letter to include my new Google certification as well as just to freshen it up a bit.

Sticking with the employment theme, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to setting something up. While in my last but one job I wrote a project proposal for a digital skills education project aimed at non-profits. It was well received but ultimately couldn’t find funding as most digital skills funding is aimed at either getting older people onto Facebook or helping people job search and access benefits online. What’s available for non-profits is extremely limited and usually requires them to pay, which they often can’t afford. So I took the proposal I wrote and stripped out about two thirds of it and reduced it down to a smaller project where I would mentor a few organisations for three months. Still working out details but I know first-hand that there’s a massive deficit when it comes to digital skills, particularly those more creative aspects relating to communications. It’s something I’m really interested in doing so I’m going to spend some of this week doing a bit more research. Maybe jot down a new proposal and see how it looks.

Elsewhen I managed to get a bit of gardening done before the storm moved in and made being outside of my warm bed horrific. But I managed to get a ton of weeding done. I’ve got some shallots and over-winter onions out there at the minute and they have taken a battering with all the rain this winter. They won’t get harvested until June/July so I’m hoping that if as the weather improves they’ll pick up.

Also spent some time doing a deep dive in my gardening spreadsheet – yes, I have a gardening spreadsheet, so what! – And checking what needs to be seeded this month. So far the list is: Spring onions, Sicily radishes, Wild Garlic and Savoury. I’ve also got some Habanero seeds that I need to find out when I can plant. This week will involve getting a few bags of soil and then sacrificing an assortment of soft meats to the gods for a few days of dry weather.

Going to the gym has been an on/off affair these last two weeks which has annoyed me but in my defence I pulled a muscle in my lower back. It started just before I started doing weights two weeks ago which I think just aggravated it, so I took a week to rest and do some stretching exercises. I’ve got back to the gym last week and so far so good. I’ve also improved my protein shake; it’s almost nice to drink now. I found that I was putting a wee bit too much cacao powder in which made it taste bitter, now I’ve reduced that it’s palatable, this has involved making my own oat milk. Yeah, that’s where I’m at in my life, unemployed and making oat milk. The concoction I’m currently working with:

  • 400ml Home-made oat milk.
  • 1 small teaspoon of cacao powder.
  • 1 tablespoon of plant protein powder.
  • 1 tablespoon of caramel coffee syrup.
  • 3 Stevia sweeteners.

Okay. That’s the personal update done now the scriptwriting bit.

So back in 2017 I wrote a pilot script called Kingdom Cwm (I do love my bilingual puns). You can get the first 15 pages here (well, 15 and a bit). I submitted it to the 2017/18 BBC Writer’s Room Drama but was unsuccessful. It’s intended to be a multilingual story primarily in Welsh but the script is in English. (Dw i’n llonydd dysgu Cymraeg araf iawn) It’s not quite the first draft but it isn’t the second draft. It’s probably Version 1.3 of the script.

I can’t quite remember the original log line I wrote for it, but it was something along the lines of: “Years after a series of natural disasters has turned the world upside down, a woman returns home to a coastal village looking for revenge.”

It’s short and to the point and I hope leaves someone with the kind of questions where they want to read the whole script.

So initially this started when I was thinking about how there aren’t really any Welsh language genre pieces about, when we have the perfect array of landscapes for so many types of stories. So I started churning through ideas that would be interesting, then I saw a photo on Instagram of someone on horseback somewhere in the North that looked like Cwm Idwal but it didn’t say. I immediately decided I should write a western set in Wales. Which initially might sound ridiculous, but as I brainstormed it very quickly evolved into a sort of post-disaster western. I still hadn’t settled on a story, I think I went through a good few: Family farm surviving post-disaster, bounty hunter, smugglers, post-disaster political drama, I even had a short outline for a story about a hospital on a train that travels the post-disaster country. I liked all of them but wasn’t 100% that any of them were strong enough to be an actual show. I can’t remember what sparked it but I thought a revenge story would work well. 

So now I had my story, which was pretty much just the log line above, I needed to figure out what happens. Usually when get to that bit I look at other similar stories while borrowing from Kurt Vonnegut and thinking about the shape of the story. I then use that as a kind of scaffolding for what I’m writing. In this case I pulled from the classic revenge story The Count of Monte Cristo.

I put together a list of the conflicts and obstacles for each character as well as thematically for the overall story. I’m really interested by the generational conflict in the story. This being seventeen years in the future all the middle aged characters are my generation of fringe millennials. And for the most part they’re the characters that are clinging to the past. And as we move on through the script, we’ll see they think that everything will go back to how it used to be but without actively doing anything about it. While younger generations lean into the world as we find it in the script. This wasn’t originally a conscious decision but one that evolved in the face of world events.

Then I broke the pilot story into three acts and each act into three further acts, trying to give each act its own shape while building the shape of the script as a whole.

And because this is intended to be a TV show I also had to balance taking add breaks into account against the need to tell a viewer what the story was within the first ten minutes. I say need; it’s a general rule of thumb that I found useful for this. It helped get to the point and keep the script as tight as possible. If you look at the script by the end of page ten (top of page eleven) you understand the world that the story is set in and what the protagonist’s “mission” is. Then by the last page, which would be around the fifteen minute mark, you get a clean cut with the end of the scene. Hopefully by that point you’re a little more curious to find out what happens and who the antagonists are.

I’ll probably keep coming back to this with each section I upload but I do worry that the script as a whole is too by the numbers, maybe that’s just me being paranoid. And as I said using the ten page rule and taking ad breaks into account for every fifteen minutes helped I think; with the pacing, with not letting scenes get too flabby. And I think for a pilot from a rookie, having a good story that’s structurally well told is probably best.

In terms of world building I didn’t want it to feel too Mad Max, maybe more rooted towards Children of Men territory. All the elements of the world we know are there but it’s crumbling and in the cracks people are finding ways to survive. I did some research by reading The Knowledge: How To Rebuild Our World After An Apocalypse by Lewis Dartnell. There’s some really interesting stuff about societal reasons for certain technological advancements, how events such as the World Wars led some to have to go through the process of rebuilding various technologies in response to limited resources as well as how cities would start to decay without enough people to maintain them.

Okay, so the characters. It’s only Eris and Meredith we really get to see in any significant way in these first few pages. I tried to make Eris very much in the mould of spaghetti western protagonists; intimidating, doesn’t say a lot, lethal. When I was putting together the outline for her character I wanted her to be as flawed as possible with a streak of hidden madness. Between the time she left the town and returns she’s gone through these horrific set of circumstances, all of which I wanted to leave as vague as possible to add to her mythology, and I liked the idea that Eris is essentially a villain with a justified vendetta. But also when her mask slips you see that she’s this sort of feral psychopath masquerading as human.

With Meredith I’m not 100% with her scene. It does its job of introducing Meredith and giving us some more exposition about the world but I think I can make it better. The original version of the scene was much longer and focused on Meredith’s inexperience as well as featuring a lot more exposition. When I was writing up the notes for Meredith she had the biggest transformative arc. I sort of saw her potentially as a mirror to Eris but not quite to the same extent. As Eris has been shaped by the brutal feudal world that’s emerged from the disasters, Meredith has been shaped by the remnant of the old world.

So regarding dialogue, it always takes me a good few passes to get it anywhere near alright. I really wish I could tackle dialogue with Sorkin-esque enthusiasm but the more I write, the more I become morally opposed to dialogue as a concept. Silent films from here on out I think.

The first few pages it’s all short one liners. Then we get to the Street Preacher and a lot of exposition gets quickly dumped. When I do the re-write I’m going to see if there’s a better way to achieve that. I thought it was better than newspapers or TV news reports laying out the world, plus I had a few potential uses for the character.

I quite like the exchange between Eris and Emyr.  I was worried that Emyrs waffling was me not tightening up his dialogue enough but after a few versions I felt like that’s part of his voice, it made him come across more as a good natured person, he doesn’t need to guard his intentions and verbally parry with everyone he meets.

Then with Meredith and Potter, as I said I’m not 100% on the whole scene. It does what I needed it to do. I also want to adjust some of the exposition elements so some parts are clearer, when they’re talking about the WDG and Lovell it all sounds very immediate, in a previous version there’s a bit more of a slow burn to it. If I keep the scene in the same setting then I want to get closer to that version.

With the last scene it I liked the idea of two people conversing in two different languages and both understanding each other, although I’ve just noticed that there’s a typo; I haven’t put a ‘Welsh’ parentheses on the Raid Leaders ‘We’ll be there’ line. Which kind of changes the tone a bit.  

Okay, I’m going to leave it there. Obviously with each part I post I’ll come back to and expand on a lot of this.

I hope you enjoy reading the script and as well as some of the lunatic thinking behind it. Let me know what you think and if you’re writing anything, how you approach it. I’m interested to know.

Brave heart, dear friends and don’t let the bastards grind you down.

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