Archive for June, 2008

June 30

I resisted when someone suggested using Final Draft for my screenplays. I had worked out the formatting in word and couldn’t be bothered to learn newer software, no matter how much better it was.

That friend, may his screenplays always get made into award winning films, persisted. He gave me a CD, installed it and even imported the screenplay I was working on in it. Still I did nothing about it. Then one day I had some time. I didn’t particularly feel like writing so I decided to fool around with Final Draft.

Actually this urge was prompted in part by the realisation that I was guilty of the same syndrome that I had once famously accused my father of. I had very haughtily pronounced my dad a dinosaur when he refused to learn computing declaring that pen and paper had served him well thus far and it would too going forward as well.

Anyway I mastered Final Draft, and is wont to happen when any new software comes along, I can’t imagine how I had survived without it. My life was then divided into ante Final Draft and post Final Draft.

Till now.

Recently someone suggested and yWriter4. yWriter4 was rumoured to have been developed by a magician. It was credited with fixing scripts and manuscripts by itself. It was rumoured to do the writing by itself.

When I first heard about it, I thought the claims were fantastic. I no longer think so.  Though I haven’t explored it fully yet, I can safely say that I don’t think I’ll do any writing without it.

yWriter4 breaks down your manuscript chapter and scene wise. Each scene can be tagged according to characters and locations. You can also tag each scene according to motivations, goals, and conflict and rate them on a numerical scale. This can help you up or lower any ingredient.

yWriter4 also helps you find frequently  used words and phrases in the manuscript so you can figure out if you are ODing on the he grimaceds, or said wrylys, or she yelpeds, or she screecheds or he crieds.

yWriter4 also breaks down your MS according to the number of words in each chapter and scene which is very helpful in terms of cutting down on the skippers, i.e., the portions readers tend to skip. As you can imagine it helps with the pacing and keeping the MS tight.

Plus many more features which I haven’t explored yet. It can supposedly break down the MS according to different characters’ POVs. You can tag characters’ biographies and backstories. You can do the same with locations and scene and send link backs so you can tie loose ends.

Truly magical. Ante yWriter4 ends, post yWriter4 begins.

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No time for a long post today as I am off to two meetings shortly. The first one is to discuss the money and the creatives (in that order) for a new detective show and the second one is to discuss the money and the creatives (again in that order).

I don’t know why I’m going to these meetings. God knows I don’t have the time to take on a new show.

If my creative director on my current show read this she would have an apoplexy. After killing me, of course. M, if you’re reading this, remember that I love you. More importantly, remember that you love me.

Actually I do know why I’m going to these meetings. And that’s because the respective creative directors guilt-tripped me heavily. Did you know creative directors are more proficient at guilt-tripping than the ’60s celluloid mother?

As if all entreaties of, “I was there for you at such and such time…you have to help me,” weren’t enough, they threw in promises of untold riches as the final clincher. Now I’ve heard all this before and asked them to talk figures, just in case a difference of opinion about what constituted riches between us.

But the fish had been hooked and they prepared to reel the catch in. “Come to the meeting,” they said enticingly.

Sigh! I prepare to go for my meetings.

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At some point every author gets asked about her muse, the one author who inspires her to write. Normally this is a difficult question to answer as there are so many great writers out there. But a little introspection usually throws up one clear favorite.

In my case the clear answer has to be Mario Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian author, or rather, one book of his – Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (Spanish: La tía Julia y el escribidor), translated brilliantly into English by Helen R. Lane.  The book was first published in Spanish 1977. The first English imprint arrived in 1983.

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is a story about Mario, an 18 year old boy who falls in love with his 32 year old divorcee aunt-in-law, Julia. The semi autobiographical novel is based upon a fictional period in the author’s life when he, an aspiring writer, was working part-time at a radio station that broadcast soap operas.

The radio station where Mario works hires a Bolivian scriptwriter, Pedro Camacho, to write the serials. Camacho, a writer of prodigious output and unbridled imagination, imbues the soaps liberally with his own prejudices – all villains are pug-faced Argentines and all heroes have a broad forehead, clear penetrating gaze, aquiline nose and are the very soul of goodness and moral rectitude.

Each chapter in Mario’s tumultuous romantic life (he and his aunt are forced to keep their liaison discreet on account of it being a scandalous one) is followed by a riotous radio novella penned by Camacho.

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is as much Camacho’s story as it is Mario’s. The soaring trajectory of Mario’s romance with his aunt – initial wooing while Aunt Julia plays the coquette, her surrender, their secret trysts and their marriage  – is mirrored in reverse with Camacho’s – his rise to fame, hysterical adulation and downfall.

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is one of the most brilliantly written novels I have read and my own book, Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions, while a completely different genre (chicklit-meets-crime), is an open tribute to it.

Read the full article in Asian Age. And ignore the misleading headline. Not my doing!!

Warning: For casual readers, do not attempt Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter without a comprehensive dictionary.

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I managed a decent output of a 1000 good words on my second novel yesterday. I was a little apprehensive about writing anything worthwhile since I haven’t been in touch with it over the past few weeks, other commitments (TV, promotion for Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions) having taken priority. And it is always harder when you go back to a novel after a hiatus because you have to reacquaint yourself with the story and the characters. And then I had a very good run clocking a 5 second improvement. All in all a very satisfying day.

I also caught Get Smart yesterday and enjoyed it immensely. But I must add a disclosure lest anyone take my recommendation seriously and curse me later. And the disclosure is, I love Steve Carell. So I’m bound to be a little lenient. Still, I wished I hadn’t spent 200 bucks on the ticket and waited to watch it on DVD.

By now I guess most people have either seen the movie or at least read the reviews. So I’m not going to dwell on the story. In a nutshell, Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) is an analyst (read: boring desk job) at a secret agency whose field agents’ covers are blown. Ergo, Maxwell Smart gets a chance to live his dream and becomes a field agent. An infinitely more experienced and disparaging of Smart Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) is assigned as his partner.

The main criticism is that I couldn’t figure out what Maxwell Smart was? Was he a stupid and bumbling idiot like Johnny English or Jacques Clouseau? If he was, then why the moments of rare acuity and stunning acrobatics? Was he a prissy paper pusher with a penchant for rules, i.e., ideal bureaucrat material? Then why show him as an idiot at times? I couldn’t get Smart’s character down so I couldn’t anticipate what he would do in a situation – mess up the situation further with his stupidity or resolve the situation with an astonishing display of physical and mental prowess.

If anyone has figured it out, please enlighten me.


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I’m so happy and grateful that fellow bloggers are spreading the love as far as Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions is concerned. Three bloggers – Quirky Indian, BlogJamun and S have taken the trouble to read and write reviews.


Also all the readers, who have liked the book and taken the trouble to comment on my blog, thank you so much and keep the suggestions coming.
I have time, after many, many days to get back to my second book. No interviews to answer, no screenplay to write, nothing but a long, empty, rainy day ahead with just the prospect of a 10K run in the evening ahead. Just Perfect.





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It’s always a good idea to develop related skills. People who’ve been following my blog know that I’ve done my fair share of bouncing around, from Investment banking to publishing to adventure sports to multimedia to writing, I’ve done it all (you can read all about it here).

Okay, so you don’t have to be all that adventurous but if you want to be in the fiercely competitive media industry, it is essential to experiment a little, at least with other media. So photographers might want to fool around with a DV Cam; singers might want to have a crack at composing; writers may want to experiment with print media and if you’re a production person, it may be a good idea to have a look at the creative side as well.

I’ve known singers who struggled for years, unsuccessfully I might add, to make a mark for themselves as singers only to get a stray break composing for the title track of a show. And now there’s no looking back for them. They are not known names (they are certainly not Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s of the world), nevertheless, they make a very comfortable living.

You never know when a door may shut in your face and another one opens. You have to be nimble and have to have the necessary skill to be able to capitalise.

Now, I’m not an expert on all the aspects of TV production/film-making so I’ll just stick to what I know best – writing. For instance, did you know that regional pulp fiction is huge business? I certainly didn’t, till read this article. I mean I knew it was big but not big. The point I’m making is, if you’re a screenwriter – fluent in a regional language and struggling to find work, you might want to contact those publications.

On a separate note, I watched the Incredible Hulk over the weekend. It’s just another superhero story. Edward Norton is good, Liv Tyler is soporific and the visual FX good. Total timepass stuff.

On a yet more different note, had an interview with the Pioneer and the Indian Express, Delhi. These articles have some more tips on writing for TV. You can read them here and here. They are there on the Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions website as well.

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An average half hour TV show has a budget of around 5 lakh (Rs. 5,00,000) per episode. Out of which writing (story, screenplay and dialogue) budget is about Rs 15,000. In rare cases, very rare cases, maybe Rs. 30,000, if they’re really desperate. Thrilling, right?

It gets better in a film. In an average small budget production (Rs. 3 crores/Rs. 30 million), writers are lucky if they get paid Rs. 5 lakh while actors, the director, even the cameraman get paid several times that amount. Come to think of it, almost every technician, except the writer does. The only people who are paid less than the writer are assistant directors but then they are paid even lesser than spot boys, so go figure.

I mean they go on and on about how important a good script is but when it comes to putting money where their mouth is, and it’s not that important.

And everyone knows you can’t really begin a production without a script.

Earlier this used to rankle me, till I realised one thing. A script is not a literary document. It is at best a functional document committed to putting ideas (descriptions, action) across in a succinct and a verbally economical manner. You have to since you cannot run the risk of your script exceeding 100-110 pages. The only place where you can really show off your literary genius is in the dialogue.

It is only a blueprint, a take off point. It’s a plan which the engineers, contractors, electricians and plumbers use to construct a building. Film is a collaborative project which begins with a script. Based upon the script, your team – the director, the production designer, the cameraman, the executive producer, the line producer, actors etc. gets together. All of them work damn hard, if not harder, than you the writer, to make the project a success.

Still, I believe writers deserve to be paid more than they are currently. But I’ve learned to live with it. And it wasn’t exactly hard reconciling to it. Rs. 15,000 may be less than 5 per cent of the overall production budget but it is still damn good money.

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All you screenwriters out there, Baiscope Entertainment, a Mumbai-based non profit organisation is organising a script fest, Sankalan – an ideas to screen workshop.

The idea is to source and nurture new writing talent.

The workshop is being mentored by Anurag Kahsyap (Black Friday, No Smoking, Paanch), Anjum Rajabali (Ghulam, The Legend of Bhagat Singh) and Sriram Raghavan (Ek haseena Thi, Johnny Gaddar).

The best scripts that emerge from the workshop will be made into films by Mahindra. The good news is that the workshop, which has an element of competition to it, complete with elimination rounds etc., will provide stipends to winners.

The last date for entries is July 19, 2008.

For more information visit their site or call Anupama Bose at +91 9833255171 or Rabia Chopra at +91 9820962559

Okay, time for a disclaimer. I just got this in the mail yesterday. By now, people who’ve been reading my blog know that I never throw out anything unread. So I opened the letter and read it. It said pretty much what I’ve outlined above and ended with, “If you are a senior writer, be a responsible member of the writing community and encourage young and new writers to participate.”

I am just responding to the implicit reprimand in the mailer and doing my duty by spreading the word. Please do your own research and background checks before participating. And if anything goes wrong, or you’re cheated out of a script, don’t write me!

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You must believe in yourself and in your work. When our first “Batman” movie broke all those box-office records, I received a phone call from that United Artists exec who, years before, had told me about “Robin and Marian” and let me know I was out of my mind. Now he said, “Michael, I’m just calling to congratulate you on the success of “Batman.” I always said you were a visionary.” You see the point here— don’t believe them when they tell you how bad you are or how terrible your ideas are, but also, don’t believe them when they tell you how wonderful you are and how great your ideas are. Just believe in yourself and you’ll do just fine. And, oh yes, don’t then forget to market yourself and your ideas. Use both sides of your brain. You must have a high threshold for frustration. Take it from the guy who was turned down by every studio in Hollywood.

You must knock on doors until your knuckles bleed. Doors will slam in your face. You must pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and knock again. It’s the only way to achieve your goals in life.

Michael Uslan – Producer (Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, Batman Begins)

Wonder why I’m philosophizing today? And that too on borrowed wisdom? You know, I had written several film scripts before Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions. All the producers bounced it saying it’s a good work but didn’t meet their requirements, the market isn’t ready etc. etc. I got a call from one of the same producers, who, in a complete 180 degree volte face, said that they are ‘interested’ in film rights for my book and other ideas.

“But,” I argued, “you’ve already got a script of mine.” I didn’t mention that they’d bounced it. Why give him ideas?

I could see him blink, clueless. “We do?”

I know exactly what had happened with the film script I had submitted. The script had been logged in and put away in a bank from where, a junior exec, in charge of screening scripts had given it a cursory glance. The junior exec, all of 21 years old and probably totally devoid of imagination and experience, had not understood the concept and stamped it REJECTED.

To give him credit he made a fantastic comeback with, “That’s even better. Sell the film rights to us and we’ll do a two film deal.”

That’s how it happens sometimes. You just have to catch the right guy’s attention. If one way doesn’t work, try another.

For more on famous producers’ take on filmmaking click here. It’s illuminating and heartening.

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Saw Man Bites Dog, a French ‘realistic’ cinema. Shot like a documentary, the film is about a TV crew recording the life of a ruthless killer who murders people for money. In parts hilarious and in parts gruesome, it is like Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange without the creative production design.

I’m not sure what the film talks about – whether it is society’s sure degeneration into violence and anarchy or modern society and its obsession with media, or both.  It sure is a mindfuck film. A must watch for bizzarros.

Also watched Stardust, a 2007 Matthew Vaughn film based on a graphic novel. I must admit when I sat down to watch it, I didn’t expect to like it. Sin City has spoiled me for other films in the genre. But I was pleasantly surprised. The story, a fantasy, is novel and so are the FX. Though, I have to admit, these days I am easily seduced in both these department while watching a fantasy.

These days, anything that does not ape the Lord of the Rings in the FX or the story department is good (Eragon, Narnia, Prince Caspian anyone?).

Stardust in a nutshell, is the story of a young boy, Tristan (Charlie Cox) and his search for his true love. The story is set in an imaginary English village, The Wall. The Village is so called because it is bordered on one side by a Wall, beyond which lies the kingdom of Stormhold, then undergoing a violent succession struggle.

The story begins with Tristan’s dad, Dunstan crossing over the Wall and meeting and falling in love with a beautiful girl who’s been enslaved by a witch. Ergo, nine months later, Tristan’s born. Eighteen years after that, Tristan himself crosses the Wall to catch a fallen star to present it to his one true love, Victoria (Sienna Miller), on her birthday, a week thence.

Tristan finds the fallen star which has assumed human form, Yvaine (Claire Danes). Initially bickering, the two fall in love as they journey back to the Wall in time for Victoria’s birthday. On the way, many adventures befall them as they wrestle witches, ruthless princes, lightening capturing storm pirates and more.

Though it could’ve been shorter by about 30 minutes, nevertheless, a fun film with great performances by Michelle Pfeiffer as the evil witch Lamia and Robert de Niro as the soft-as-a-pussycat-masquerading-as-fearsome cross-dressing pirate, Shakespeare.

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