FCBD ©

Four years and he had to die on the day of our first ever meeting.

My writings on the war pictures, as he liked to call them, had intrigued him. It had taken me some time to convince my family that I simply had to come all this way to meet a man called Charles Leroy Nutt. This would be reason enough for many in my native land to be cautious if not hostile but this was not all. I did not say this was not what he called himself now. I dared not even tell the man himself that I knew his other name. This was a source of shame. Initially, the sole reason for our correspondence was my admiration for the work behind that other name.

The final terminus of my journey proved too much. I was ushered into a line for looking too closely at the door. Too many people were inside his room. I looked at his desk, then down. I saw the paper. I instantly recognised the scribble. It was unmistakably his handwriting. Instinct dared me not to pick up the paper. Strange to speak to him this way. I could not give anything other than a cursory glance to the clots of sticky red. Some part of me realised I had to see, smell and sense what had happened to him. That was, if I was ever going to be a writer.

Someone pushed me. My knuckles had frozen in an enraged anger and I could not hear anything. The heavyhanded shaking of me released my knuckles from their grip. He kept repeating: “How long have you known each other”. “FOUR YEARS”, I said. “Are you deaf or something?” he asked. ‘FOUR YEARS”. Another officer held me down as if somehow this would contain the shrilled volume in my voice. A tightly wrapped woman in a red coat with a large handbag and shiny black hair appeared. She apologised on my behalf. I had read what to do in such circumstances but just omitted to conduct myself in this way. Sometimes there was truth in writing. Deference even if false and it mostly is false, is and always will be a necessity of pointless authority. “I thanked her”. I wondered if she was Charles’ girl? He never mentioned a girl. She was a woman.

But the heavyhanded baboon had not finished. He simply did not realise I was distracted by this event and now this woman. I was trying to understand how to deal with losing something I had never had. I have another question. “What did you do for him? “I did not do anything for him. We corresponded. Of course, we wrote to each other” I said. Luckily, my sarcasm was covered by my rambling. “What about?” he asked. “The war”. Relieved at his momentary silence, I quickly filled the gap with “writing”. “Where did you meet?” Baboon began to poke me. I played the deference card. I was not from these parts. Red coat had helped me but my luck was running out quicker than my fellow Charles. “We never met physically, in person I mean”. Baboon was slightly taken aback but then suddenly showed no interest in me whatsoever. I wondered about testing the reaction. “I am a writer too”, I said but no one, not even the oversized uniformed baboon was interested in either me or my beloved fellow Charles Beaumont. There were hundreds of writers in these kind of places, dead ones, live ones, forgotten ones, you name it, they had every kind. It was hard to tell stony faced oaf that this particular fellow, Charles Beaumont, now dead, deceased, departed, who I had come all this way to meet, was actually my hero.

Red coat was back. “I’m Sandra Cheever” she said. “I am a writer”, Why did I say that? I felt stupid but things had a habit of coming out the wrong way. “Do you have any idea what happened?”, she asked. “I’ve just arrived” I said. “Your Roger”, she said. “You really a writer” she enquired. Yes, she was right, a name like Roger was a guarantee that I would never be a writer. “Yes”. She had that kind of face where involuntary talk takes over. “I corresponded with Charles but this was to be our first meeting. His last letter he had said he no longer felt alive”. An ominous statement perhaps indicating his impending death”… “Let’s walk” she said. I thought she meant run away but she just meant walk. She grabbed my arm and walked out with me. I was terrified but baboon did not care and neither did the others. Perhaps, I was harsh, a real baboon would be much more sensitive than this specimen. “Of course, people like me try to think up murders but these are in the comforts of our imagination. Some may feel visceral but they are not physical acts.” She hushed me into immediate silence. Did anyone understand that Charles was dead. I did not understand any of this. I had not even seen death, not in real life, not until today. It was no wonder murders were rampant if this was how crimes in this Niu Yawk were investigated.

“Can you think of anything?” she asked. “I feel blank, clueless on what to think. Charles is dead” I said. “Well we need a little more than that. What we need right now is for you to find the clue on what happened to Charles” she said. “The number” I said urgently. “The paper on the floor, it was a code, simple and disappointing and the purpose is unclear. But that crumpled bit of paper lay bare the code behind 6324. I rarely see numbers…” “Look Roger, get on with it” she insisted. “Charles said I was the only person to say this to him”. “What?” she asked. “FCB. That’s the code. The first three are obvious. He knew I was coming to meet him. I always referred to him as my fellow. He once told me this made him chuckle like a schoolgirl. I cannot imagine the sound of his voice. I’ll never hear his… Yes. The next two refer to his real name, Charles Beaumont. I am uncertain about the D?” She had began to thump her feet. “D’s got to be for disclosure. That policeman knows about the racket. Nutt’s dead because of him, he knows it and I know it but I can’t prove it” she said. “Are you trying to tell me, a policeman killed Charles” I felt bewildered. “Yes, don’t you know anything?” she said. She pulled out a pile of papers from her bag. I stole it, from Nutt. Nutt says you’re the only man to think like him”. “Did he really?” I asked. “Now I need you to make those weird connections and tell me how we end this.”

I lost myself and embraced Sandra. I soon realised this was not the kind of attention she wanted. I stopped. I felt so awake. I had never felt so close to my hero fellow Charles Beaumont, dead or alive. 863241

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Writers choices©

As writers we make choices – I am weary of ever claiming or thinking there is a right or wrong way of writing. There is only one way of writing – the individual writer’s way. This is something it took me a long time to realise. This is why the one size fits all books must be considered as aids not the biographical works of how to write. Successful screenwriters have found a myriad of roads to get it on the page.

Here are just a few pointers I found useful when learning about my own craft – again, only use what’s useful for your work. Some of my suggestions evolved after the first draft – that’s the draft where first you get all that stuff on the inside – out. Then the work is edited to what you want to show on screen.

characters – how well we know our characters or get to know them? Do you know the character’s reaction in any given situation? This is the reality of knowing a character. Once you know this, you know the character is real. When they surprise you, that’s development. Is their reaction consistent with a shift or change in their own character?

dialogue – every person speaks with an inflection which is often more of an indication of their character than the person – hence why we love actors who find the essence of a character and bring them to life not just with the voice but the entire persona

story – does your story add up? if a story has holes, we could say our story does not matter. Plot rich consistency matters if you write and care for an audience. It was useful for me to understand my relationship with my audience whether I have one or not. I believe a creative work of art only comes to life with the audience otherwise it lives in the bubble of the artist’s creation. This is the impetus for my work.

beats – what and where are the changes in the drama? Do they change and move the plot and character forward and are the beats noticeable by the audience? Rising tension for instance. Todd Click has written a book on beats. He also wrote an article giving examples of beats showing similarities between the plays of Shakespeare and Spielberg/Lucas film Raiders of the Lost Ark written by Lawrence Kasdan. Please see tiny.cc/ai9n0w

act – emotions must be felt in screenwriting. Go on some acting courses, understand the ease and difficulties of expressing emotion in the character’s world. Acting helped Callie Khouri, Quentin Tarantino, Moliere, Shakespeare (read Hamlet) and countless others. It is also what puts off writers. Sometimes it is unpleasant but keep going.

theme – does your theme have meaning and resonance? A theme is in your entire story and sometimes in every detail not in an obvious way though. Theme is vital – consider the various stages in life, school, work, home – when your life has no meaning, you absolutely have to do something and a film is no different. The great myth is films tell people how to live, no writers simply show how this character found a way to live or die. Music in the words of the great Schopenhauer already has theme – art including great screenwriting work hard so emotion and logic can meet creatively to create depth

truth – to paraphrase Robert Mckee in Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, phew!, you may lie in life but not in your art – So as writers it is vital we know our work and the intention of our work. I was forced to expand this point because I could not edit it.

prejudices – I am not a fan of negativity in my blog (remember I want to nurture and inspire) but please avoid negative stereotyping because it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. As an example. I study movies and sometimes I cannot believe the number of times where male characters get oral sex from disposable girls (also apply to the depiction of race, colour, countries etc). Sometimes the oral sex is supposed to make the boy/men look cool and other times funny. It just makes me think something else. This is the writer’s wishful thinking and this is what they think of girls and worse still, is this their revenge for being unpopular? If you need a sex scene, why is it there? why is it funny? why is it part of the drama? Think best British comedy The Full Monty by Simon Beaufoy (sexual stereotypes are reversed for full comic and social impact), American Pie by Adam Herz (the audience and the girl characters get a chance to make fun out of the boys who stereotype girls and the guys in the audience who actually think this stuff is cool think this movie is for them) and Pretty Woman by Jonathan Frederick Lawton (theme – how true love overcomes prejudices about identity).

I believe it is our job as writers to root out internal and external prejudices and shine a light on them comically or dramatically especially if we are putting them in our work. Not to feel bad? Feelings uncomfortable or otherwise is often just conditioning and it does not define who any of us really are. It is not our job to judge emotional responses but to understand these ways of thinking and the impact on the world of our characters. The sad thing is we do not always understand the sophistication of an audience. They know the writer’s intentions from the work. Know that your audience will be left with the feeling of the identity of the work produced. The audience has gone to be entertained not to do the hard work of trying to understand why our work came out like this or that. Know that and let your characters evolve to much more than the first thing that came out on the page. If there are prejudices, do not fear being controversial but find out why because it will help improve your work and may even help the audience to understand the world. If you do not believe me, screenwriter Paul Schrader says screenwriting improved him as a person. I came to it as a form of self-therapy, I came to it because I had no choice, I came to it because I needed to do this to save myself. Gustave Flaubert said: “The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” Perhaps this is why some great writers say writing makes them better people.

Last but not least, read your work out aloud, sit upright with your spine, if you feel emotion going up or down your spine when you read your characters, I believe you have arrived in nirvana. Your work speaks. Not sure where you’ve arrived but it’s some place cool in the writing pantheon.

Here comes the nurturing bit – I want a story with meaning and characters and theme that resonate. Discover what you want and nurture that goal forever?

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Hidden Tools of Comedy by Steve Kaplan

I finished reading Steve Kaplan’s book on comedy The Hidden Tools of Comedy and now those pesky little comedy tools have nowhere to hide!

As a summary. The Hidden Tools of Comedy shows you how comedy writers write from the viewpoints of authentic characters in ordinary conflict situations that amuse and embarrass the audience and other characters watching them. The strength of good scriptwriting books is that they try to tell us all the great factors which help to create highly watchable comedy and drama. By showing us what isn’t comedy, Steve also teaches drama and he also delves into the history of comedy and archetypal comedy characters. He uses real scripts from funny and not so funny movies – ie drama. Steve also reveals a little of what goes on in his classes. The most important aspect for me is that this book is written for actors, writers and directors without any distinction. Great films live on because everyone not just the writer/s, actors and director/s are working to make the story and the characters who fire up the story believable. Steve Kaplan places a great emphasis on how all characters including secondary characters must feel and be authentic as they respond to real situations. He gives examples of how authenticity is what adds real value to a story. The characters in these ordinary but amusing or conflict-led situations are the ones we talk about. I believe it is only when we see real characters that we start to see how human beings on film and stage feed off each other as much as they do in life. Perhaps it helps us to see beyond the mundane situations and instead look at how people respond to each other. Steve shows how comedy finds ways to make terrible situations better by helping us to laugh at the things that we sometimes find yucky or hard to stomach. The book is a must for comedy writers/actors/directors. Don’t just believe me, there are a lot of funny writers/performers/animators, yes animators who have worked with Steve including David Crane, Ellen Sandler, David Fury, Disney. The list goes on…and on…and on…

Some of Steve Kaplan’s book was tough for me. No more bad puns he insists especially those that have nothing to do with the story. Oh alright then! Instead let the character and the story lead. Anything negative – The very beginning felt a tiny bit repetitious. Did I say repetitious? He tells you to steal great work and pay homage. Didn’t someone else say that? On top of this, I had another hairy moment when the book reminded me of that one time when I wasn’t at band camp and I was asked to rewrite bits in my work. You know to add more funny even though it detracted from my story. The truth is my characters must be real otherwise neither me or any potential audience can engage and it is my work that will lose its authenticity. It is our job as writers/actors/directors to maintain the truth in our work. It is no good me saying it’s tough. It is what needs to be done.

Hidden Tools of Comedy is a great practical book that debunks the myths, suggests some other useful books but I believe any writer who sits down and runs through the films and exercises mentioned, will be on their way to writing funny that is real for them as well as other people.

I first learnt about some of Steve Kaplan’s comedy tools because I read an article by someone who had been lucky enough to have been to a Steve Kaplan seminar. I was hooked because they made so much sense. I still went off to watch the comedies suggested and discovered all of his tips added up. I became a fan. I know most writers never have money to go to writing seminars because we get paid nothing or very little for our craft but this book is a cheap way to test out if your comedy works.

In the meantime, if your a rich writer or just want to know more from the man himself, the link to his page is: – http://kaplancomedy.com

Dancing Around Duchamp at London’s Barbican

Photograph of Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain&...

Photograph of Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain”. (Urinal “readymade” signed with joke name; early example of “Dada” art). A paradigmatic example of found-art. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The free thinking that took shape when MarcEl Duchamp met composer JOhn Cage met choreographer MErce Cunningham, visual artists RobErt Rauschenberg and Jasper JOhns from the 1950s till the modern art inventor’s death, informs the multi-media exhibition Dancing Around Duchamp.

The two-floor exhibition is a serious endeavour, more so, when it seeks to unite works that spanned art, theatre, dance, film and music with Duchamp’s inexorable pursuit of experimentation. It captures the thought processes, techniques and experimentation of chance and collaboration which takes this philosophical and intellectually led exhibition beyond the ordinary. The ambitious piecemeal curation is a meditative collection documenting the experimental processes of these artists who contributed to the Dada movement born out of negative reaction to the brutal horrors of World War I.

The exhibition is designed so that selected works of art can be viewed alongside timed sequences of John Cage’s compositions. Designed for Cunningham’s dance choreographies, Cage’s set pieces interfere with and enrich the visual experience. Unfortunately, the Barbican’s ‘Dancing Around Duchamp’ only has the dancers operating on selected days. A fact that is not made clear, if like me, you have made the journey to see the exhibition on the wrong day. The lack of dancers at ‘Dancing Around Duchamp’ does however, afford other opportunities.

John Cage’s timed pieces weaved in and out of the art and my internal thought processes. Timed interventions, visceral samples that reference their way into the musical art of today be it silence, the sounds of life, ordered notes, poetry and the natural world. The compositions linger.

Upon entering, the impact of the Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, commonly known as the Large Glass, looms large in size and shadows. It is however compromised. I first experienced feelings of being short by the positioning of the ‘Large Glass’ downstairs because the shadows seemed an important part of the whole. The top section including the bride was obscured. My feelings were confirmed upstairs. The space afforded to The Bride is not extended to the ‘Large Glass’ even though the installation’s artistic expression needs space in order to be fully realised. The power of the bride’s shadows are diminished, blurred remnants dumped underneath a stairwell to give room to Duchamp’s paintings. Confirmation, if it is needed, is found in one of Jasper Johns’ paper works upstairs. This work itself is inspired by Duchamp’s use of shadows and perspectives for the ‘Large Glass’.

The exhibition is a triumph of perspectives, inspirations, processes and selected themes upstairs. Chess is the metaphorical representation of the players playing with interventions by chance and purposeful collaboration. Documents of John Cage revival of the works of the then forgotten Erik Satie and Schoenberg reference the need to revise secondary opinions about art and artists. Jasper John’s NO references the abstract work of this period. No is also an imprint, a string a shadow that also makes room for an imprint of Duchamp’s bronze female fig leaf. John’s The Medallion dedicated to Duchamp’s wife Teeny on NYE 1976 is an iconic work casting a spiralling eye on the death of the liberal 70s.

I found myself in pursuit of more Jasper John pieces because of this exhibition. But John’s bronze figures confronted me with the problems of being a product of my time. The bronze painted tins and paintbrushes in a tin were now common images found in fashion and interior magazine photoshoots. I tried different perspectives but every which way I looked, I could not get past the feeling that these bronze figures were now nothing more than the art of selling images. This pop art was now a by-product of the ubiquitous consumption of great art. Advertising’s continual re-appropriation and misappropriation of art would leave me with nothing more than a metaphorical toilet but not Duchamp’s urinal.

A curator has a difficult job to not detract the viewer from the holistics of an artistic journey. An exhibition is expected to reference and contextualise the era in which it was created to find it’s resonance and influence in the present. The authorial voice of the curated exhibition has been lost to create space for art but none for contextualising its purpose. The exhibition does not lack intellectual breadth and nor did it seek to lead me by the hand but the exploration of rich ideas and ideals are to be found in the accompanying catalogue. For this, you must pay £35.

The collaborative efforts which released ideas from the tyranny of convention and instead laid bare the alter of free thinking are only suggested. But at least they are to be found at this exhibition. It is on this note, artists and free thinkers are invited to meditate on the creative breadth.