This series of posts depicts the epic journey I’ve taken across the land of student filmmaking. From the deep-rooted plains of the 4:3 aspect ratio to the wonderous tundra of half-decent modern indie cinema, you’ll read about the trials I endured throughout my years of learning.     

The wonderful adventure of non-compulsory education continues…

Okay, so this wasn’t strictly a college assignment that contributed to my college education but I did end up using all the equipment at my disposal, provided by the college. At the time, Doritos launched a Super Bowl ad competition targeted towards budding filmmakers and a huge cash prize of about £300,000 for the winning ad they picked. Now, the dormant cynical side of my brain should have seen this as more of an opportunity for the favoured crisp brand, rather than some dude in his late teens thinking he’s surely going to win more money than he’d know what to do with. 

It was quite a genius business strategy by Doritos, one I believe they peddled for about 10 years. They literally own the rights to every entry including those that were not picked (mine) but it wasn’t like it we were all unaware. By now they must have decade’s worth of ideas that in the grand scheme of things, cost them hardly anything. You need only search YouTube for the copious amounts of diverse videos made by all sorts of filmmaking talents across the spectrum and a lot of them are true masterpieces. Comedy was the general consensus as far as genre was concerned and aptly so, because it’s quite difficult to paint junk food in any other light.   

Obviously, I thought I had the best idea going and thought for sure I was going to win that money, just like now I’m sure I’ve purchased the winning lotto ticket. It’s hard not to dream but sometimes harder to accept the fact that it is just that, a dream. Anyway, I began to throw ideas around and eventually had something tangible. 

They offered a really cool media package with logos, music and sound effects that could all be used to the creator’s advantage. There was a lot of variety to put it mildly and I was grateful for it considering I was a one-man crew. Honestly, the only real production value came from this package, other than the premises if I do say so myself.

If memory serves me, I shot it on a Canon XM2 Mini DV camcorder with onboard microphone. Didn’t have time to faff about with a boom pole wielding sound person because I was greedy and wanted that sweet, sweet prize moolah to myself. In a way this was my first solo project not mentioning the performers, which as per usual, were my reluctant buddies. An old friend of mine from school, Keval, between him and his family ran a newspaper shop in Chertsey called Chandlers at the time and it wasn’t the first occasion he had offered the place as an authentic backdrop. There was a student film production held there called Jimmy about a psychotic curly redhead axe murderer and his overzealous father. The film was given the Sin City treatment I way of grading but the only colour shown on the spectrum was orange. I actually assisted a bit on this production as we all come from the same friend group, even to this day just about.   

The initial idea for the ad actually came quite quick to me but the final product was an evolution of that first spark. I wanted the ad to be about the Chilli Heatwave flavour to begin with, mainly because it’s my personal seasoning of choice. Anything hot and tangy is usually my jam when it comes to snack food so naturally, I wanted to pay homage to this beloved flavour. Throwing concepts around regarding hot stuff, red stuff and tasty stuff I originally thought of the jolt you get when you take a bite out of that first nacho. A jolt lead to a kick and then a kick lead to a punch. Boxers punch, and boxers wear boxing gloves… 

Sooner or later I narrowed this mess of ideas down. It started with a man purchasing a 230g shareable pack of Chilli Heatwave Doritos, to later stepping out into a bright and cheerfully lit high street, opening the packet, taking that delightful first bite while basking in the sunlight, then BAM! A boxing glove erupts from within the packet and punches our unsuspecting crisp muncher in the teeth. Sprawled out on the pavement with crumbs and God knows what else on his chest. The image of a night out well spent. Some might say.  

Not only was this a bit violent I thought, I tested it at home and no matter how small the glove was, it just wouldn’t pass through the bag’s opening. Luckily a couple of my housemates were into their taekwondo so I had a surplus of gloves to requisition. I had some crappy catchphrase put aside like ‘They pack quite a punch’ but it just wasn’t meant to be in the end. 

It later occurred to me that not everyone likes the spice and perhaps a broader appeal was needed to win the hearts of the judges. So, I picked the cheese flavour instead but it meant changing my approach to the idea. I still wanted to take the comedy angle and I was still adamant to involve the packet in some way. Much like a boxing glove, it hit me, and the answer was obvious.

The story is simple. A young gentleman (my old mate Aaron) goes to his local corner shop, purchases a packet of Tangy Cheese Doritos and heads home to sit in front of the box. What’s he watching? Who cares?! He’s got a big bag of Doritos to keep him company and that’s all that matters to him. Those tasty triangles of powdered delight, the vibrant orange glow of the foil packet, a small moment of personal bliss…

But it’s ruined by a swift and unforeseen enemy in the form of the dude’s flatmate. Like magic this predatory guy (my old mate Matt) appears beneath our hero and snatches his prize, quite literally from under him. There are no more snacks left to snack upon, he is defeated and left hungry. ‘Settle the Craving’ felt like a natural slogan to superimpose over the end. It was a quick and quirky ad that I enjoyed making if anything.   

Most people I’ve screened this to laughed at it and got the message and I stick by the concept like cheese dust on fingertips.                





This series of posts depicts the epic journey I’ve taken across the land of student filmmaking. From the deep-rooted plains of the 4:3 aspect ratio to the wonderous tundra of half-decent modern indie cinema, you’ll read about the trials I endured throughout my years of learning.     

The wonderful adventure of non-compulsory education continues…

I’ve always felt that producing a zombie movie is a certain rite of passage into independent filmmaking. Either that or a film about teenage depression that always begins with the monotonous wakeup ritual of getting out of bed and eating a bowl of cereal.

What started as an overly ambitious short film of around 30 minutes in length, ended up a trailer for a non-existing feature length film. This was going to be epic! More epic than anything we had ever attempted in our short introduction to filmmaking and boy did it hit us hard when we discovered our limitations. Of all the low budget shorts I’ve gotten involved in over the years, this one failed to meet our unrealistic expectations the most. ‘Unrealistic’ being the operative word we obviously ignored at the time. Dead Nation was supposed to be a thought-provoking zombie film set in a near future United Kingdom half way through World War Three. Several years before our story begins, an unknown nation had dropped nukes of some description on this former Land of Hope & Glory. The film intended to explore a team of military and civilian personnel, tasked with entering the restricted fallout zone (now apparently safe to enter with no scientific explanation at all) to relieve a previous team who set out to survey the areas. Like true horror movies that begin this way, the previous team had stopped responding to all communication and nobody knows why they’ve gone dark.

I might add that we only wrote half of this epic short and planned to wing the rest. The main protagonist was a wildlife photographer who was supposed to document the birds and the bees of the fallout zone while leaving his two young girls behind in the safety of civilisation. That was pretty much all we had in terms of character development and you could tell he had children because of a conveniently placed story mechanism in way of a polaroid picture he kept close to his heart. Cheesy like Red Leicester but we weren’t to know better until it was too late. It was set in the near-future so god only knows why he’d have such a retro print on him.

There was also a campfire scene which introduced the zombies and ended with our dysfunctional group half getting eaten and half splitting up in different directions. We had a sequence in mind which sent our fleeing characters into a maze of apocalyptic buildings whilst being hunted by the hoard. We actually took a long time and much effort to research locations for said sequence and really came up trumps. We discovered so many listed/abandoned Pripyat like buildings that were all too perfect as a backdrop but for a lot of them, it meant we would have to film guerrilla style. Trespassing to be more exact and although we were committed visionaries, we weren’t ready to commit to a criminal act and involve several cast and crew members in the process. Although abandoned buildings have a certain aesthetic appeal to them, most of them were fenced off with added guard dog security. Filming there (if we made it in to begin with) would surely lead to a prison sentence if we were caught. 

These buildings are also extremely unsafe. Just because they are listed, doesn’t mean they aren’t dilapidated. Though we might have been willing to shoot at these places illegally, we’d have to try and wear safety gear at least. The urban exploration appeal wore off eventually and sadly we were simply too unprepared and poor to pull it off. The closest place to fit the description was actually right around the corner from one of our houses and if I recall, it was a former football club house that burnt down some time ago. Lots of rubble and lots of burnt wood! We shot a sequence there for the trailer in the end so it wasn’t a totally wasted venture.  

Speaking of illegal acts, we also had a bunch of plastic toy replica guns at our disposal that in hindsight, we really shouldn’t have used in public forests. Those zombies aint gunna shoot themselves though, so we asked around and found quite a few willing enthusiasts that didn’t mind volunteering their guns for a cheeky props credit. Everything we scrounged looked pretty real to me, hence the potentially illegal part but it was so varied that I came up with the idea that the war has pushed the country back a bit progressively and like us, the military would have to use whatever weapons they could get their itchy trigger finger hands on. One of our performers actually tripped up during a running segment and landed barrel first into the dirty forest floor. He was holding an AK47 replica that broke coincidently. We managed to fix it but to this day I don’t think the owner new what we did.

You can’t have a zombie film without blood and for what we wanted; we would need a lot. We first looked into buying it in bulk from a theatrical prop company but considering we had no money for this epic, it wasn’t very economical. So, we thought we’d make it ourselves from a funky recipe we found on the tinterwebs! Lots of corn syrup and red food colouring was about all I remember for the gruesome concoction but I remember the delivery mechanism for the fake blood very well. This was from an equally helpful website illustrating how to make a DIY blood cannon for gunshot exit wounds. I was so excited for this as it involved general gardening tools that everyone seemed to own already. Some sponge, a length of hose, a pesticide pressure sprayer and some duct tape were all we needed and luckily, we had.

Before we committed entirely to this cowboy method of practical special effects, we wanted to test it. Our cameraman Matt had a young model friend who said he was more than willing to help us out in this endeavour and quite frankly I was amazed that anybody would volunteer at all. There were zero complaints from me, I just wanted to see how this thing looked through a lens and needless to say, I was far from disappointed. We figured we’d shoot the test in the woods surrounding the college on a quiet day when we wouldn’t be disturbed. Last thing we wanted was to frighten the shit out of any passers-by so this spot in particular was great for privacy. As the camera was being set up, the co-director, Chad, proceeded to hook up our volunteer with the blood cannon by feeding the hose up his trouser leg to his chest. The guy was wearing a cheap t-shirt we bought with a cross cut out where the hose ended. This was so the blood had someplace to go and not build up underneath. The other end of the pipe was attached to the nozzle of the pesticide sprayer which was cleaned out and full of fake blood. The American gentleman on the tutorial video said that to really pull off a convincing gunshot blast of crimson mist, we needed to pump the sprayer about 50-100 times. Chad did this without effort but the more he pumped the greater the resistance and all were worried it might go off by itself.

The moment came and everyone was on standby waiting for Matt to press REC. The camera was rolling and Chad counted down before pressing the release button. What happened next, I can only describe as unrelenting. The effect I had in mind might have been similar to that of an average pistol shot. What we achieved was more in relation to somebody getting shot point blank range with a 50-calibre sniper rifle. It was like the guy was exploded in half, even more so when we played the footage back in slow motion. You know that sound when it just begins to rain and you’re surrounded by foliage? The pitter-patter of water droplets on leaves? Well, that’s the sound that came immediately after we pulled the trigger on our dismayed performer. It was quite literally raining fake blood on the trees around us. Chalk it up to a miscalculation on the hose length or the viscosity of the blood concoction. Either way, we messed up and it was brilliant. 

That test footage actually ended up in the final product eventually because it was so absurd. It was just as well because weeks later when principal photography began, we discovered the tubes were clogged and created a dribble and spurt rather than the desired red haze. You had to laugh at the whole situation, it was doomed from the moment we formed any expectation. 

What we ended up presenting to our lecturers was a pretty shoddy trailer, a couple of minutes in length starring half the students in my class acting like cheap zombies to the piece of music Lux Aeterna by Clint Mansell, which was featured in Requiem for a Dream and completely overused for heroic advertising appeal ever since. So, I can’t even show it to anybody on the internet, out of fear of receiving a copyright takedown notice.

Why write in a coffee shop?

Three years ago, I imposed a question on the popular social media site, Reddit. What is the appeal of a coffee shop?

For context, I posted this on the screenwriting sub-reddit where lots of aspiring and professional screenwriters come for a chat about writing resources, feedback on their work, advice and general questions about the industry. The question I threw in was in relation to why writers often decide to write in a coffee shop. At the time I had never given it a try and at best, the only public establishment I had written in was a library which isn’t really a fair comparison on account of the hush, hush enforcement.

It’s hard not to conjure up the thought of a conventional hipster, barefoot, wearing a pair of thick empty frameless glasses and a beanie on his head at the peak of summer, beard down to his bollocks, sitting on his MacBook, sipping a soy latte. Ah, who am I to judge? I love me a soy latte. But at least this guy’s trying his best to write that next big thing and for some reason chose to do it in this popular public establishment.

You can follow the link for the complete discussion and accreditation but here is a breakdown of what I discovered…


In this day and age, you have to travel pretty far and wide to avoid the internet and let’s be honest with ourselves, it might as well be the number 1 source of all global procrastination. Say for a minute you don’t have your phone on you but just a laptop. If that laptop’s only hope of reaching the glorious Elysium fields of the internet is via a decent wi-fi connection, then try and pick a café that doesn’t provide one. If you are prone to reaching for that monolithic device in your pocket or clicking on those social media shortcuts lingering around your search bar, avoid the Internet altogether. That one is pretty simple to understand, which kind of seeps into the next point.


If you have little to no will power when it comes to deviating from the task at hand, there’s an app for that! For Apple users there is an open source application which will allow you to tailor a suspension of internet functions. For a limited time of your choosing, you can have the app prevent you from using anything on your internet fuelled device that might harm your efficiency. If you are hard pressed to find a café a million miles from modern civilisation, maybe this is just the ticket.   


There is a truly fascinating study which in summary suggests that our brain is capable of processing distracting sounds, channelling the energy into creativity. Or at least that is my thin paraphrasing of the concept. When I was a wee lad, I often watched the old man manage to read a book in a room full of people talking with the television on full blast and seemingly ignore everything but the page. I suppose reading is a little different from writing in that respect but it is similar. I can’t make the assumption that this works on everyone but it is an interesting notion. YouTube offers an oddly varied range of background coffee shop ambient videos, that you can listen to on whatever platform supports it. So, you don’t even have to leave the safety of your own home to experience the pandemonium of chatter, clanging and steam wands whistling. Might be worth trialling it this way first before committing to braving the sunlight.


Distractions are everywhere but you may find that there are more distractions at home than at a coffee shop. No matter how similar distractions may be in form, whether it’s sight, sound, smell or touch or anything that tweaks the senses, there is always a more personal bond with home distractions that can appear absent in a public place. If a relative is present at home, you could easily engage in conversation with them but if an espresso enthusiast speaks at a café you don’t even need to acknowledge their existence. It’s not rude, you’re a stranger to them! Plus, there are some things you can get away with at home that might be frowned upon out in the open. Don’t think I need to mention what that might be. Think about it as preventative treatment.


Nobody is going to scrutinise you for being nosey or eavesdropping on conversations people are having around you. If what they are discussing is private, they shouldn’t have chosen to conduct their business in a place full of members of the public. People are a great source of inspiration and you might be amazed what observing them will spur on creatively. Got a touch of the ol’ writers block? Watch and listen.


This one is particularly relevant to aspiring screenwriters living in Los Angeles but I guess it could apply to anyone anywhere, given the right circumstances. If you’re watching people, people are likely watching you and if you’re there sitting on your laptop going ham on that keyboard, you’ll likely turn a few heads. I live in the outskirts of London so this is completely out of my personal experience but the theory is sound. Hollywood is filled with creatives in the Film and TV industry and although the obvious sight of you working on your project isn’t uncommon, there is great opportunity to network and perhaps one day you’ll connect with the right person who’ll offer you that big break.   


Lastly, if you like coffee and writing, a café is probably the place to be. There is nothing quite like a professionally crafted mug of artisan coffee brought over to your table with a smile. It sure beats instant made with water from a limescale-ridden kettle of eight years.   

Why do you write in a coffee shop? Leave a comment and let’s find out.


You’ve probably already guessed what gave me the inspiration for this short script. It’s been on my mind ever since I saw The Force Awakens and I often express this theory to anyone who shares a love for the universe George Lucas sparked off those many years ago. For the uninitiated, this little story is part of my Anecdotes of an Extra series where I completely make up the lives of screen extras both in character and actor form, from popular television and cinema. An industry standard format of the script written in Fade In can be found below, with correct spacing and margins and such. Or you can just scroll past that and read it here. Enjoy!


It’s a quiet Thursday and the night is young with only a few patrons present.

A young couple (early 30’s) sit close to each other at a high bar table. The man, TREVOR, a tall square shouldered gentleman, rests his arm on the shoulders of his girlfriend BETH, who is contented in his embrace.

They’ve come straight from work and remain mostly in their office attire. Both have a pint of local ale nestled between them, Trevor’s is almost empty and Beth isn’t far behind.

A what? -You mean from Star, Trek? -No.

(shakes head)
The other one. Spooky white plastic armour.

Yeah… No way you played a storm trooper.

I bloody did, the Force Awakens. I was a storm trooper, man! It must have been… two years before I asked you out I reckon. I’d just been made redundant right, from that long printing stint I did-

-You worked in print?

… Yeah. You knew that?

I thought you said you worked for a newspaper, assisting columnists weren’t it?

I did, they ain’t gonna print their work are they.

That’s not the same thing.

That’s not important – let me finish what I was saying.

Beth gives a cheeky grin before taking a sip of her ale.

So, I got a nice payout because of how many years I worked there. I was an apprentice straight out of school more or less so they owed me big. I made more than enough money to mooch about for a few months, and it happened just when my cousin Jim mentioned he was gonna have a go at film extra work. You know Jim, you met him at the wedding.


Well Jim ain’t got a theatrical bone in his body, so I’m thinking I can do one better because I learned guitar an-that.

I do go weak at the knees when you break out the Yamaha.

It’s in my genetics, I love to entertain babe. Stop taking the mick. Anyway, I join this agency he recommends, and who at the time were looking for tall blokes. Told them I was interested and available to work straight away, on anything they had to offer -proper get stuck in. When they eventually tell me more about the gig, I hear it’s a job on the new Star Wars, playing a military role. I’m beside myself at the prospect of being the most iconic goon in cinema history.

Beth takes a second to process this new fact about her boyfriend.

You were one of, like hundreds though right? And you never see their faces, they always keep their helmets on don’t they? Like a unified faceless terror.

That’s not the point. It was all about the experience of living a childhood dream… To begin with anyway.

You enjoyed yourself then?

I did. It was the maddest thing I’ve ever done. And I must have been half decent at it because I was picked to say a couple of lines.
Beth raises her eyebrows in bemusement, turning to face Trevor proper.

A load of us were asked if we were comfortable and capable enough to speak on camera. I put my hand up along with like eight other troopers, and one by one Mr. Abrams tells us in our best American accents -all storm troopers are yanks for some reason, don’t ask me why -to repeat the sentence…
(with an American accent)
‘I’ll tighten those restraints, scavenger scum’.
(back to British)
Wicked line, did not have a clue what it meant but still wicked. When he gets to me, I smash it don’t I? The director loves it and I get a chance to up my rate a bit, everyone’s happy… So it’s all very secretive, I’m not told a lot until the day of this scene I’m in, quite on the hush hush -I don’t even know who, if any, is gonna be in the scene with me. They bring me to the sound stage, this is the first time I’ve seen this awesome set that looks like a space interrogation room -hearts racing, shitting myself but never been more excited. The AD blocks the scene out with me, showing me where to stand and that.


Like one of the assistants to the big boss director. Shares some of the work. Real nice person, makes me feel right at home while we rehearse the sequence before the top talent are ready for us.

Trevor leans closer to Beth.

Now from behind the camera I can hear a crew member say double O seven is in the building. There are celebs all over the place at Pinewood and if it really is the gentlemen in question, he probably wondered over from the Bond sound stage they got over there -which actually burnt done once I might add. But I digress. There’s me trying not to get distracted but now I’m thinking of Daniel bloody Craig as well as the epic sci-fi I so happen to be a small part of. At this moment I’m just waiting around and trying to stop my brain from melting. Then, from behind one of these mental backdrops or whatever, I hear more talking. It’s the big boss himself having a conversation with…
(opens his hands)
Daniel Craig. There’s loads of people chatting among themselves but I can still hear what they’re talking about. I could even see them both just about, through a gap in the partition wall like a real creeper. It’s the usual stuff I’d reckon film-stars spurt about to each other, but just when I’m thinking this could be some big break for me, J.J. shouts ‘Hey Dan, I’ve got an amazing idea’-

-Then you got replaced.

They fucking replaced me.

Trevor smiles and shakes his head, a self-deprecating charm.

…How’d you guess?

Saw it on a top ten twenty celeb cameos vid.

Bloody-hell. Feel like an arse now, thought you might have liked that one.

I did. A near claim to fame.

…Who was only I kidding really? Probably would have dubbed over my voice anyway. Least I took home a few quid more. For-ma troubles.
Trevor looks down at his pint glass that he hasn’t touched during the whole anecdote. The golden liquid is near spent and the thin layer of foam sitting on top, somewhat depicts the Mickey Mouse symbol.
Beth notices her boyfriends light somber mood, a sympathetic grin on her. She steps up off the stool behind him, wrapping her arms around his neck.

I still love ya.

She plants an audible cartoon kiss on Trevor’s cheek, picks up the glasses, then heads over to the bar.


What did you think? Drop a comment and if you’re interested in short films or screenwriting or whatever, share your work!




This series of posts depicts the epic journey I’ve taken across the land of student filmmaking. From the deep-rooted plains of the 4:3 aspect ratio to the wonderous tundra of half-decent modern indie cinema, you’ll read about the trials I endured throughout my education.     

College was a great time for me, perhaps even the best time of my life so far. I met my first proper girlfriend, learnt how to drive, got my first car handed down to me by family friends and grew to the legal drinking age not that the law had ever prevented me prior.

It was my first experience living away from family and creating some semblance of independence for myself. It’s true I was living with an old school friend and his family but I had lived in Wales for a good few years before that and now I was back on home turf, so to speak, reacquainting myself with friends long past. College is a little different here in the UK when compared to other educational structures of the world, for starters you begin your venture straight out of school. It was over ten years ago for me now and I had already endured a year of Sixth Form College in the land where sheep are in abundance, so I was a bit older than some of my peers. 

Anyway, I studied a BTEC in Moving Images which pretty much covered filmmaking at an introductory level. It was the first time I studied anything remotely close to my interests and I loved every minute of the two years of making rubbish student films. But in the gentle words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “By seeking and blundering we learn.”

Dusting off some of my old DV tapes recently was like taking a big gulp of nostalgia juice. I’m at that moment in life where I would like to declutter and get rid of all the shit that I haven’t used or even looked at for about a decade, only to fill the empty void with more dust worthy crap. But before I do, I want to reminisce a bit. The majority of these student films have been lost to the cosmos unfortunately and the tapes only contain unedited footage mostly. So, this is a good time I feel to write about them while the memory is fresh. The process, the end result and how I felt making it. 

This was really the first time I had the opportunity to write a short film, at least in part. From the get go the whole production was a shamble with most of us not really having any hold on what our roles entailed. For whatever reason, I wasn’t actually present for the majority of principal photography or any of the photography really. Not saying that my physical involvement would have contributed positively in any way but I may have been able to communicate the script better in person to the people actually shooting the thing. This goes to show how bad the writing was to begin with. Basically, the story follows a young woman who finds an odd-looking mobile phone while out for a jog. The phone wasn’t really that odd looking, more the manner in which it was found. If my memory serves me, it was just somebody’s old Nokia (no devil horns attached).

We never quite explained the origin of the strange properties the phone possessed but what we did show, and in ridiculous fashion, was how the phone killed the last person who answered a call from it. An outrageous premise I know. So, it set out to be a horror but ended up a comedy and not for the right reasons. If it was made of cheese it would be stilton, mouldy veins aplenty!

I remember it being credited by our lecturer for having a specifically well-lit scene that gave the illusion of a sunrise bursting through a window onto the set. A happy accident but that’s more or less all he had to say on it. All of the talent were film students who had extremely little to no acting experience and that only added to the cringe worthy humour. The evil antagonist eventually gets defeated by way of being thrown in the river from ‘near’ whence it came. When the hero eventually figures out the connection between her outgoing calls and the ridiculous deaths of her friends, she figures the best solution is to give it what I called the Jumanji treatment. The original Jumanji featured the protagonists throwing the board game that had plagued them the whole movie, into the river in the hope it would be gone forever but inevitably it washes up on a beach to claim its next victims. We more or less went with that ending only instead of the infamous drums beating their way into the credits, we had a ringtone. The audio levels were so high at this point it burst the eardrums of anyone watching it and it is the last thing you remember about the film, which is probably a good thing. 

Overall it was a delightful mess of things that didn’t quite make a lot of sense but a real joy to watch, if only for its trashiness. Everyone put in a lot of effort and lots had been learned. For example, I have just been informed that the title of the film is actually ‘No Signal’. Much better.

This was an extremely fun project of mine where the brief was to design a controversial ad campaign for an existing product of our choosing. I felt that condoms were a pretty taboo subject between teens and teachers so it felt logical to pick Durex as my fictitious client. I really wanted to freak people out, make them laugh but also inform them about the dependable specifics of their Extra Safe condom brand. Lots of ideas presented themselves, most of which were too difficult or too expensive for us for poor students to make. And so the Extra Strong campaign came to be.

Picture a young sexually active couple the morning after the night before, in bed together looking way too smart and orderly for what we presume was a passionate night of lovemaking. They gaze at each other longingly like all young couples do before they grow up and realise life ain’t ever going to get sweeter than what they are experiencing right now. But they’ve not long been awake and the dude in this heterosexual relationship needs to pee. For all we know he was out on the lash all evening and now that bladder is full to the brim baby! So, he gets out of bed, trying to maintain a hint of sex appeal towards his lover. In a successful attempt at decorum, he gets dressed and gracefully slides on his denim jeans with a seductive grin, only something clings to his belt buckle. Unbeknownst to this self-assured stud the belt buckle holds a rogue used condom that managed to escape the trash! The woman is stunned at the sight but she is in such a state of paralysis that she cannot bring herself to tell the man.

He exits the room, turns to show his lover a seductive grin and inadvertently closes the condom in the door. This is where the idea entered the realm of ridiculous satire that so many adverts seem to exist in. Where wacky scenarios exist and none of the inhabitants seem to bat an eyelash, so long as the product or service is the monolithic centre of attention.       

So, our gormless virile male makes his way down the hallway, sure of himself and full of positivity after ‘doing the deed’. Everywhere he goes the trapped condom follows him. Stretched and elongated like a leash, from the doorframe to his waistline and he is completely none the wiser because of fantasy advertising rules. I originally had the idea of him walking around the entire house creating a spaghetti junction of cloudy latex in his wake and even a little dog looking curiously at the potential choo toy. but these ideas were quite ambitious for a zero-budget student project so we ended up with the watered-down version instead. Plus, I didn’t know anybody with a pug at the time and they seem like nature’s clown canine and perfect for the role. Alas our man only makes it to the bathroom in the final rendition but we managed to make the condom look as though it stretched at least several meters, through the power of forced perspective and editing!    

He walks over to the sink, runs the tap and smiles at himself in the mirror. What a champion he must feel. By this stage the lady in this story snaps out of her statuesque form and proceeds to open the bedroom door. It’s pretty obvious what happens next and I regret to write that we shot several takes of the sequence. The rubber was released, contracting down the corridor and with such a crisp snapping sound to boot! The actor, whom I’ll name Dan was such a good sport for taking a brutal force to nether region, time and time again, looks directly through the camera lens via the mirrors reflection and we freeze frame for dramatic effect. Fade to black and run the supers, Extra strong? Extra safe. Then fade to the durex logo. It’s worth mentioning that the whole ad was accompanied by a really cheesy, really smooth jazz track that was simply the cherry on top of this metaphorical condom draped bowl of ice cream.

I might add that I also made a poster to coincide with this TV ad which was a little more controversial than comical. To put it simply, it was a BB-Gun pistol with a condom over the barrel and essentially the same slogan. Now the realist might think that a rubber-johnny would never stop a bullet but not before asking why someone would have intercourse with a gun in the first place. The message was meant to convey that unprotected sex might lead to a plethora of unwanted lifechanging events that may or may not be comparable to being shot and the latex shield might just save you. I know it was an outrageous notion but it got me a good grade for boldness… I think.     

Writing with a Partner

When a would-be screenwriter and a self-published novelist collaborate.

So, for a bit of context, this year my brother Chris Sergi and I wrote and self-published a book together called Adam and the Goat. A dark comedy about a young bachelor from London who eats a dodgy kebab only later to become supernaturally tethered to a sentient goat, who only he can see I might add. That’s the wild setup at least but this blog post is more about the collaborative process between brothers in different aspiring fields, who despite the ancient code of sibling rivalry, endeavoured to make a thing together. I doubt many would agree writing a book is as easy as pie by oneself but that’s not to say writing with a partner is any simpler. Rather than offer too much advice on the collaborative development, I’ll simply describe what our experience was like and it might just help others get a flavour for their own cooperative. I’m not a lecturer or certified educator of any kind, just a dude who likes to tell stories and if that helps someone in any shape or form then that’s just gravy!

About a year ago, my brother had just completed and self-published his first science fiction adventure novel titled Everscape: The Wings of Embra. It was a totally new experience for him as a completely self-taught writer with no prior qualifications or education but for the past decade had been slogging away at the keyboard, making an acquaintance with the expanding principles and trying realities of being a writer. I don’t like to give him too much credit, being brothers and all but I really do admire his tenacity and commitment to this world he is so eager to be a part of. Anyway, he caught the bug so to speak and it wasn’t too long before he threw the idea of a collaboration at me. I’ve always been a slow writer even in the short story/short film format and I personally felt this venture would do me wonders. I had never written to the extent he had and most of what I had written was more for the screen. Notwithstanding I saw this as an awesome challenge for the both of us but especially me because I’d never been involved in such a large undertaking.

I reckon it’s significant to note that throughout the whole progression of our book, my brother and I were living under the same roof. Now this comes with an exceptional number of pros and cons who anyone with brothers or sisters will understand. It helps that you and your writing partner have similar things in common but being blood related isn’t necessarily something that can help your project. Jokes aside, we are quite similar people in terms of interests, sense of humour and our general outlook on the universe and I truly believe this to be a positive. That isn’t to say two completely different people cannot bond or creatively join forces, this might even turn out better depending on your disposition. We both argued to almost no end at times but on occasions a grand idea rose from the scorched earth we left behind. One thing I would recommend if someone plans to write with a relative, is to act professional around them as much as you can, as if they are more of a colleague or associate. It’s good to be passionate and fight your corner like two adolescents with a belly full of blue smarties circa 1995 but never forget the endgame, the product you both strive towards. Now if you plan to partner up with perhaps an additional sibling, well, I can’t help you there I’m afraid. That potential conflict is your own to discover.

Chris and me… Not the Mitchell Brothers in their junior years.
Dad might have had a bald inferiority complex.

Communication, as in most aspects of life, is of paramount importance. Learn how to talk to each other, what to say and sometimes not what to say, but at least say something and often. Having known one another our whole lives gave us an advantage here but people have been known to meet up with complete strangers online for greater collaborations. Reddit.com is a perfect facilitator for specific online groups and societies and proposes a great way of finding likeminded individuals with the same passion. You’ll have to build up that rapport but with luck it’ll become fruitful in time and who knows, could lead to further prospects for the both of you.

Find and establish roles in the relationship. In my experience, it’s no good two people performing the same task. Once we both spent a few weeks bouncing around ideas, mapping out the plot and establishing the emotional journeys of our characters, we decided who would actually undergo the writing. Since he had already written one book from start to finish, my brother was more than capable and happy to take on this mammoth task, much to my relief. It isn’t that I didn’t want to carry it out, I just felt more confident giving him the honour of the first draft. If there was one thing I contributed to the most, it was the ideas department. Every union is going to be different obviously but we found a happy medium and stuck with it.

My background, if you can call it that comprises mostly of indie filmmaking and freelance videography and I’ve also worked a couple of entry level jobs in TV. Right now, I work in distribution for one of the biggest department stores in the UK, essentially grafting for a living but with a bit of training video production on the side to scratch that creative itch. The job is far from ground breaking but I do get a lot of freedom over the projects. The land of film and television is a colossal industry that I still don’t fully understand, yet still find myself wanting to get involved in the imaginative chaos. Screenwriting, as I mentioned earlier, is a potential career path I always think about and have done since compulsory education. Picture a fifteen-year-old kid, early hours of the morning, sitting at his desk under dim lamplight so not to irritate the rest of the household. He’s writing what he thinks is going to be the next Academy Award winning blockbuster only for his future self to read that same material and wonder what the fuck was he thinking. This is and has probably been the likely scenario for a lot of wishful or now successful writers I’m sure. A lot can be said for overconfidence at a young age as I truly believe growing from your mistakes is the best way to learn that your writing sucks. But we must persevere, eventually it might not suck as much.       

Now that I’ve waffled on about how my writing partner and I differ in experience, I have to add a bit about our professional chemistry. Throughout the duration, there were often times where I might overdo it in the dialogue department for example. My ideas for dramatic quips wouldn’t always translate well to the novel format. I could never seem to get the hang of the ‘third person limited’ rules and this would always irritate Chris. I can’t help but picture every scene like a movie sequence. I never thought it mattered whose point of view we focused on, or which character can see what at any given time. Visualising the book in a rectangular frame, jumping from scene to scene and showing the reader whatever I wanted them to see regardless of the protagonist’s perspective, was a difficult habit to shake admittedly. The rules took me a while to figure out but ultimately the healthy balance of filmmaking and literature was realised. And so, the rough draft was forged!  

On the set of ‘Whole’
A short horror I wrote and codirected

From this point we had a pretty solid idea of the objectives, obstacles, emotional arcs, stakes and effects on plot for each scene. The book was mapped as best we could and ready for fleshing out on the hard trek ahead. As my brother would write each chapter, I would review it, make annotations, reluctantly offer my opinion on the form and then try my absolute best to inject some adult humour into the mix. It is a dark comedy after all. I used to perform this mission after I dragged myself to the gym. I figured my head would be clear after I killed myself on the treadmill for a bit and working on the book might take my mind off the exhaustion. Most of the time, this worked for me.

Chris has always been quick and mostly efficient when getting words down on paper and that’s a quality that I would recommend at least one member of the duo possess. Even if the text is gibberish, you’ll have something to move around, play with and mould into something palpable eventually. This system of ours took about six months in total to complete and this was with a coarse schedule that we stuck to for the most part. When you both work actual full-time jobs for a living, time management is a necessity if you seriously want to get anywhere.    

By the end of draft one, we had booked a critique with a novel editor named Ellen Brock. This type of edit covered an array of advice on our style, plot, characterisation, arcs, marketability and age appropriateness. Not to mention the crappy stuff like plot holes, inconsistencies, point of view issues and ‘anything else that could hurt your odds of publishing success, of which thankfully there wasn’t a lot of in our case. We ended up with a really comprehensive document that ultimately led to the final draft but If you really want to fork out the cash, most editors will offer an even thorough report. It’s not a cheap luxury, to have an expert dissect your work to this extent but for a first-time writer like me I could not recommend it enough. We ended up paying roughly £400 but with two of us fitting the bill, it put less strain on our wallets. Just another benefit of partnering up.       

Once we took Ellen’s advice for near gospel, the next draft was underway. Same process as before, we discussed the story beats, arc and underlying message etc. Chris would commence writing each newly drafted chapter followed by my editorial. Rinse and repeat until unanimous content between both parties is accomplished! The redrafting process took about three months and the next laborious task on the list was to go over every sentence with a fine-tooth comb. A thorough table read, together and with lots of time given to do it. This didn’t take as long because the book had already gone through a vigorous refining process.  Now I would be terrible remiss if I did not mention that often my spelling is worth shit (that is perhaps a subject for another post) and so is my brother’s, I’m sure he’ll love me telling. Perhaps I exaggerate a little but it is a shame because I love words and if the English dictionary has anything to say about it, there is an absolute plethora of words to choose from these days. Chalk it down to self-diagnosed dyslexia, dependency on computers or just plain laziness, I don’t care to find out which. Regardless of this quality we retain, asking a close friend or relative (who is not completely inept at spelling and grammar) to check errors for you, is so very important and if you can get a few of them to do it, then that’s even better.

At this stage we focussed on the book’s illustrations and cover art while we waited for the checks. Other than glancing over the all but final draft for mistakes yourself, this was a constructive way to kill time. My brother has created his own little digital art style which wasn’t totally necessary for the chapter headings but we think worked wonders for the cover. If you are willing to put the effort in yourself, this is the best way to not commission a professional artist.   

All that was left to do, was compile all the elements into a complete, crisp and ironed draft ready to get out there. We decided to go with Amazon Books as our launching platform as quite frankly it’s the best means to promote a first-time self-published novelist. Plus, Chris had his first book already on the platform. They take a big cut of the sales but every book is printed to order. Paying a printing firm for a bulk order, only to find it pretty difficult to sell each unit later on, was a thought that weighed on me in the early days of ignorance. A lot of people prefer Kindle these days and that’s obviously something else Amazon accommodate. Lastly, you have to promote the bloody thing and that’s a whole other beast I’ve yet to slay.

If anybody can take any one chunk of advice away from this, it’s to identify and manage your resources. Self-publishing can be fickle even as a solo act and it is so important to obtain assets wherever possible, whether it is time based, favour based or money based. Snatch up those opportunities together and try not to kill each other in the process! Because after all, the only way from the bottom is up.

What would you do in this delicate situation? Would you try a different strategy when writing with a partner? Maybe you’ve had terrible experiences, maybe you’ve had great ones or at least know people who have, and if there is any vital info I might have missed in hindsight let’s talk about it.

Drop a comment!