Déja vue again and again…

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We’ve all had our hearts warmed by the YouTube clip of 80 year old Alzheimer’s sufferer,Ted Mc Dermott , singing “Quando” in his son’s car and now being given a record deal.  I was particularly moved by this story, as my own father, who died from Alzheimers two years ago, had been quite the chanteur in his time and ” Raindrops Are  Falling on my Head” had with him a similar affect. That and Oklahoma!

Back to the record deal, and the single chosen for Ted was Sinatra’s “You make me Feel so Young”. My heart sank. I don’t mind telling you the reason : all this was part of my current ( as yet unfinished) screenplay. The elderly Dementia patient, being driven back to the care home, sings along to that very song. All this was conceived at least a year ago.

I’m not the first to feel like this,nor will I be the last. How must David Chase have felt when, having worked on the Sopranos for years, the De Niro/Crystal vehicle Analyse This hits the screens? “No problem “, as Tony would say.The Sopranos went on to win 106 awards from 257 nominations ( with many for original writing).

This must happen to loads of us (not the awards/noms bit) but the sudden emergence of a play/TV series/film that is so like yours it isn’t funny. A friend, on finishing an early draft of a northern snooker play, ends up in Sheffield watching Richard Bean’s The Nap, a northern snooker play.

Another friend pens what he thinks will be a great hit – a play about the affair between Scott Thorson and Liberace – and up pops Michael Douglas from Behind the Candleabra.

I can only attribute it to the Z word – zeitgeist. It’s almost like there are ideas floating around in the ether and they find their way to writers all over the place, a bit like Santa being able to give a bike to a boy in Oz, while at the same time delivering a doll to some girl in Sweden. Ideas and inspiration are like Christmas gifts and we shouldn’t moan when others have the great good fortune to receive, just make sure when we get ours we are grateful, use it wisely and don’t let the batteries run dry.

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Always be Closing…

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Yesterday I was asked to “pitch” my Playwriting Club to a group of nine and ten year olds in front of the whole school. Were they the least bit interested? Who knows? I guess I’ll find out next week when they either do/don’t show up.

Why does the idea of pitching fill us with dread and nerves; give us dry mouths and sweaty palms? I bumped into an old friend just afterwards, über- confident and socially successful, who finds the idea of “the pitch” just mortifying. Is it because we think we’ll be no good,fail miserably, stutter over our words, bore the assembled?

I don’t think so. For me, it’s the fear of not saying everything your best self had prepared in their head, forgetting exciting points and in short not living up to the captivating character on that stage at the TEDx event. It’s that feeling when leaving the interview where you left out a crucial, impressive project which you later feel would have swung all in your favour.

Who are life’s great pitchers? Anyone who has wowed the crowds at a TEDx – I’m thinking Andrew Stanton of Pixar who began his talk with the risque goat joke ( begin with a funny – great strategy) and Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat,Pray,Love fame. The late Steve Jobs was always pictured at the annual Apple meeting introducing the latest iWotsit – charismatic guy with great material but his greatest pitch must surely have been the fabled Toy Story/Pixar one. Politicians are forced to excel in the eloquence stakes, but the current race for the White House has turned that one on it’s head.

Nature’s greatest pitchers? Children. They pitch for the right to finish the last cornflakes, where they get to sit at school or in the car, an extension to their bedtime or the prospect of a sleepover. They need to – they are not in a position of power and their only hope is in their powers of persuasion.

I’m now off to get a cup of tea to moisten my parched mouth, for, as the Alec Baldwin character from Glengarry Glen Ross says, “Coffee is for closers”

 

Lana del Rey said it all…

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Not to be a Debbie Downer, but it’s September. The end of summer. The end of all those dreams of what are summer was going to be – our ‘head summer’ if you like; the books we were ‘gonna’ read, the exercise we were ‘gonna’ do. Some people don’t subscribe to ‘head summer’, I know because they tell me. On Facebook. Not for them the self-deprecating “didn’t do much” or “awful – can’t wait to be back”. I tell a lie. We actually went on an’extreme staycation’ as ‘the Donald ‘might say. Not only did we not holiday abroad,we didn’t holiday at all.

This summer I holidayed vicariously. First of all via my World Service sports journalist friend covering the Rio Olympics – pics of the Olympic Village and his performance on the beam in the gym.An energetic actor friend who had just landed a role in The Libertine in the West End, resplendent in French peasant garb and another actor travelling to glamorous spots in southern Europe whilst starring in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Then there were the general holidays to Spain/France/Greece et al. accompanied by pics of lobster/paella and enormous cocktails. You can see I’m not bitter.

Everyone has their own life story and maybe they now have a short chapter on the Côte d’Azur or the Costas.

This would work fine for a book (description of bougainvilleas and jellyfish,etc), but not theatre,film or TV. Trips to the beach, market or cafe are not in themselves stage worthy. There has to be more.A happening. And it is how one puts flesh on this happening that determines how it is received.

Robert McKie in the iconic, oft quoted and oft mentioned ironically,  calls it “Story Talent”.In his book he gives the example of a mom telling how she got her kids to school in the morning – full of highs, lows,twists and turns. The dad next to her tells a far less trivial story and bores the assembled group to death. Story talent is essential – it is an itch to tell a good story. Couple this with technique,craft and the ability to wring all possible creativity from the bare elements and you’re on to a winner.