Wednesday 26 August 2009

Musical Madeleines

Whether you're a budding creative bursting with a flood of ideas, or a seasoned pro' juggling a couple of paying gigs with that great screenplay/novel/operetta, there are often times when you've got two, three or twenty-five projects all on the go at once, often at various stages from pitch to final draft. If you're working in serial drama, you might even find yourself working on two episodes of the same show that are actually due to air several weeks apart. I vividly remember a dark winter freezing morning, three hours from a 9 AM deadline and suddenly and frantically deleting three scenes because I'd realised that even though I'd written several great scenes for a character on the previous day in one script, he hadn't actually joined the cast at the time of the one that I was writing.

So how do you make that mental switch from that quirky kids' comedy ghost story that's had you chuckling all morning and that you've happily just finished, to that key scene where the rape victim is about to enter the abortion clinic, still unsure if her unborn child is her husband's or her attackers, and whether indeed if the two are one and the same?

Well, a long walk somewhere that will change your mood is an option, as is a good soak in the bath to shift your focus (and since my dishwasher croaked, I've rediscovered the joys of the wonderful blanking effects of staring out of the window while doing the dishes). Changing the lighting in your workspace might help, and as an ugly burly northern git, I'm slightly embarassed to admit I've experimented with different aromatherapy oils*.

For me though, the surefire technique is soundtracking your projects. Find an album that will generally chime emotionally with the mood of whatever it is you're working on and whack it on 'repeat play', even if that means listening to it for ten hours at a time.

When you shift to another project choose something radically different that matches the mood of the new piece of work. I've found that even when returning to a project after several months, once I key up the page and the opening bars of the associated soundtrack kick in, I'm back in the zone within minutes.

For personal preference I always use instrumental music - I find lyrics can be distracting, leading to unneccessary high volume karaoke or worse, your characters quoting Frank Zappa in the most inappropriate moments. It could be Beethoven, Sigur Ros, Spiritualised or the swing of Tubby Hayes as long as its something that resonates emotionally with what you want from your script. You'll be amazed how quickly it becomes embedded in your psyche like some pavlovian trigger - it makes sense after all; movie-makers have been doing it to audiences for years, so play the same trick on yourself.

NB: The author of this blog is not responsible for any divorce actions or eviction notices brought by partners, flatmates or neighbours driven insane by the constant repetition of cheap mambo (imagine how Carol's Reed's neighbours would have felt if he'd done this while working on Third Man at home?).

* Geranium oil usually works for me.


  1. Si,
    this is a very interesting blog and I'll certainly be visiting it…

  2. I churned out an entire play in ten days listening endlessly to the soundtrack to Daredevil. Industrial angst fit the mood of the script to a T. And thanks to the laptop and a good pair of headphones, I could visit with my folks to watch endless bad television, and still get on with the work.

  3. Thanks Joel. It's primary intent of course is to dazzle budding talent with my insight and genius in order to encoyrage them to avail themselves of my script consultation service, so feel free to forward this or my facebook page to anyone who might be in need of my skills... that's my mad skills, incidentally

  4. though not my spelling when hungover, obviously

  5. And how's that for tempting fate. I post this blog, go to the pub to do some work and get my ipod stolen

  6. Read my script, Geeze, or your ipod gets it, yeah!

    Love this blog Si, will visit often.