The Writer’s Guide to Mobile Phone Calls!

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s funny how mobile phones have literally changed the world. In fact it’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t have them. Off the top of my head I really don’t know what the last mobile free year was and to find out I’ve had to do a google search. The first mobile phone service started in 1983 in, well, where else? The USA. It wasn’t until 1992 that the UK had consumer mobile phones on sale. I remember buying one of the very first ones round about then, it was a motorola personal phone which was a pretty big device and seemed to use its charge up pretty quickly.
The first text message was sent in 1992 and the first camera phone appeared in 2000 with picture messaging available from 2002.

I love my mobile. It isn’t a smart phone but it does everything I need it to do. It has wi-fi which I hardly ever use. It has a camera which is a must for me as I’m always taking snapshots with it. My mobile also has a little memory card with some of my favourite music tracks so I can just plug in my headphones and it’s ideal for whiling away the time on that long train journey. Certain things about mobiles are annoying though and here are a couple of the main ones.

MobileQueuing up at a supermarket till and the woman in front is just about to pay then she decides to answer the mobile phone ringing in her pocket. Is it a vital call? Is it of major importance? No, it’s her mate calling up for a chit chat but all of us in the queue have to wait while she carries on chatting as if she has all the time in the world. I’m at the point of saying “We’re all wanting to pay and get off home!” when someone behind me shouts “We’re all wanting to pay and get off home! Put that f***ing phone down!” The lady appears shocked to hear this but we are all highly fed up of her, including the supermarket till lady.

Why is it that when a vital call is required in a TV soap, the soap star in question has left their mobile behind or is out of battery or even just doesn’t bother to answer? Soap writers just can’t get their heads round mobiles! They are just a plot busting device so what do they do? Characters leave them behind, run out of battery or just plain ignore their phones. Sorry, that just doesn’t happen in real life. Take a look around you in any public place. People are glued to their mobiles!
The other day my phone was ringing and when I looked it was an unknown number. Now, and this is another great thing about mobile phones, you can see who’s calling you! Great stuff! Don’t want to deal with a call from the ex – just don’t answer her!
Called a sickie in to work and your boss rings you in the pub? Leg it into the toilet, put on a croaky voice and say to the boss, “Can’t talk at the moment, I’m really poorly!”

Now normally I wouldn’t necessarily answer an unknown caller after all, it’s bound to be some plonker trying to sell you double glazing but; and here’s the thing about writing and trying to get stuff published, I’ve currently got quite a bit of product ‘out there’ sent to publishers, magazines, and producers, all with my name, address and mobile number displayed prominently so I could not afford to miss that call. I was particularly hoping to hear from a radio drama producer who had looked at a radio play I’d written and had not rejected it out of hand but liked it and wanted to look at the next draft. Well, I wasn’t really contemplating a next draft; I thought the piece was pretty much ok as it was, in fact, I was pretty pleased with it. Here’s what I’d done, I’d taken all my nerdy knowledge as a self-confessed conspiracy theorist, written something about –not the JFK assassination but the RFK shooting, re-invented it as the shooting of a British MP, set it in Manchester and thrown in a lot of speculation about organised crime and MI5 and stuff and thought I’d arrived with something pretty good.
Anyway, you can imagine my feeling when my mobile was ringing. I very briefly imagined a scenario where the radio producer was offering me a lot of money, asking me about who I wanted to play the main characters; did I need a car to pick me up for the rehearsals and what about the recording day? Was the 20th a suitable date? Well, I’m sure you’ve got the picture, anyway, so I pressed the answer button on the phone and here’s what happened; I thought I’d put it in script format just so you can really get a feeling for the scene:

(INTERIOR DAY, STEVE HIGGINS IS AT HOME, WATCHING TV.)
(FX: MOBILE RINGING.)
STEVE: Hello.
CALLER: Is that Steve Higgins?
STEVE: Yes, speaking.
CALLER: Steve, have you ever considered replacing the windows of your house?
STEVE: (APPREHENSIVELY) Well, actually, no I haven’t. .
CALLER: Well here at the Acme window company we have chosen you exclusively to receive a very special discount offer of 45 percent when you replace the window frames of your house with our fully guaranteed hi tech replacement double glazed windows and frames made from hyper glass, our new and exclusive new-
(CLOSE UP OF MOBILE AS STEVE ENDS THE CALL. CUT TO DISAPPOINTED LOOK ON STEVE’S FACE; FADE OUT)

Writing isn’t particularly easy but it’s something I’ve always done and have always loved. The end product is usually its own reward but like any writer it’s great to have your work get somewhere and be read by others. That’s why I so love the digital age. Every time I publish something on wordpress and get some tiny comment back or even just the odd ’like’ it’s a great feeling.
Just going back to the radio producer and his request for another draft it just reminded me about screenwriter William Goldman’s book, Adventures in the Screen Trade. Goldman tells how it’s fine to get your script finished but then the producer always wants another draft and then the star steps in, he wants a new draft and he doesn’t like it when his character does this, he thinks the character should do that so can we have another draft and then he drops out and the new star likes the script only he doesn’t think that should happen so, can we have another draft please . .The day I actually get to hear my characters on the radio investigating the shooting of my fictional MP I’ll be overjoyed but I have a feeling that if the script ever gets produced, someone other than myself will have had a hand in the proceedings.

Anyway, just to finish, here’s my favourite mobile story. Many years ago when I was working as a bus driver in Warrington, I was at the wheel of my bus but had got stuck in a queue of traffic just as we were approaching Warrington bus station. I picked up one of my fellow drivers who had nipped out on his break and popped into the shops. We were talking about a nutter who travelled on our buses and chatted to all the drivers. Now some nutters are pretty nice people when you get to know them but some are the bane of a bus driver’s life! I didn’t really care for this particular guy so I tended not to let him on my bus if I could help it. By coincidence we saw the same guy just then, walking along towards the bus station and my friend said, “go on, pick him up.” Well we were stuck in a traffic queue going nowhere so I opened the doors and let him on. I don’t quite remember how this nutter looked but he did have a kind of Lara Croft thing strapped to his leg.
“What is that?” I asked him.
“That’s me mobile phone,” he said and pulled out a big 1990s style mobile. “I love it,” he said. “You can have loads of fun with it.”
“Fun? In what way?”
“Well,” he said, “watch this.”
Now in the next lane there was a tatty old builders van with a mobile number painted on the rear doors and behind it was a very smart Jaguar driven by a very posh chap wearing a suit and tie.
The nutter dialled the builder’s number and when the call was answered said something like this;
“That bloody van of yours is a disgrace! I’m sat behind you in the traffic and your engine fumes are bloody choking me! Get that great heap off the bloody road!” Then he cut the builder off.
Nothing happened for a moment then the builder, a man with a physique not unlike that of the incredible hulk, squeezed himself out of his van and walked back to the Jaguar.
Just then the lights changed and we drove off. I’ve always wondered what happened next but if you ever get a phone call like that in Warrington check that there isn’t a guy with a mobile phone strapped to his leg in something like Lara Croft’s dagger sheath nearby!


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Floating in Space

Dynamic People and the Movie Business.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI always used to the think the TV and movie business was full of creative people. It isn’t. Sure, there are creative people, people who write and direct and act but for the main part, the industry is full of dynamic people, people who get things done, people who make things happen.

I am many things, some good, some bad, but not by any stretch of the imagination can I be called dynamic.

A long time ago, fresh from my encounter with channel four (read about my Taxi project here) I was determined to break into film and TV. I had a friend called John (once again, names may have been changed to protect the innocent) who was interested in video and we made some video movies together on a pretty amateur level. We lost contact for a while but we both saw an advert in the ‘Manchester Evening News’ advertising Manchester’s new film office. Neither of us knew what the film office was so we both went down to see what it was, to see if we could maybe get a job there or make some contacts or even if we could get someone to listen to us for a few minutes. It turned out the film office was just that, an office for film makers who wanted to film on the streets of Manchester and the office would facilitate that. Anyway, because of that we met up again and John  and I started to chat about our ambitions. John had found a comedy script written by an old friend and wanted to make it into a comedy TV show. It was about a Yorkshire yokel and the silly things that happened to him so we put together a ‘treatment’ as they say in the business and took it to channel 4.

“Great,” they said, “we like it!”

“Great,” we answered, “can we have the money to make a pilot?”

“No,” they said, but if we made one they’d look at it. Well that was it I thought but John went away and came back to me a few days later. He had placed adverts in the press looking for actors and needed me to help him with the first rehearsal!

image courtesy wikipedia

image courtesy wikipedia

I have to say I was surprised and a little and shocked but I looked at John, dynamic John, with new found awe and respect. Numerous people turned up at John’s place and John gave out parts and we had our first read through. Afterwards John cooked a meal; basic stuff, beans, toast and so on, but he cooked a meal for the assembled company. Most of them were students so perhaps John thought that was a good way to keep them coming back! The one problem was that our star actor, and here my memory has failed me a little, I can’t remember if the star actor was a friend of John’s or the writer or John’s mate’s friend or whatever but the star actor lived in Huddersfield. He played the leading part but he was too busy to come over to Greater Manchester and mix with his fellow TV actors and crew. In fact he felt we should all go over to Huddersfield!

Anyway, rehearsals continued without our lead and we chose an actor from our new troupe to stand in for the lead. The lead’s mother was played by a lady from Stockport amateur rep and she seemed to feel that perhaps we were more amateur than her and resigned. Her place was taken by a young black girl who did a great Yorkshire accent and generally played the part pretty well.

A week later she astounded us by playing the part in a Caribbean accent.

“What are you doing?” I asked, and she explained that her mother was a Caribbean immigrant and therefore a black woman of that age in Yorkshire must have been an immigrant also. Her logic was clear and she was playing a good part, bringing her own background and experience to the role so we said, “great. Carry on.”

A few weeks later the guy playing the yokel’s father left and our Caribbean girl suggested a replacement. It was another black actor so we gave him a shot and he worked well with the ‘mother’, also playing things from a Caribbean perspective. Now about this time I was concentrating on the video side and I was busy trying to get Panasonic to lend me a broadcast standard video camera so we could shoot our pilot. When I returned to our ‘set’ a few weeks later we had lost control of the shoot. Our Yorkshire yokel project had become a sort of Afro-Caribbean meets Yorkshire project and on top of that, John, and it is probably an understatement to describe him here as a fellow who liked the ladies,  John had lost no time in using his new ‘producer’ status to attract more young ladies. Various females appeared ‘on set’ and he took pictures of them or videoed them reading from the script. They were clearly thankful to their producer for giving them this chance!

One day we were shooting out in Didsbury when a girl I had never seen before called out “CUT! Set up for retake!”

“Who are you?” I asked only for John to shoot over and calm me down.

“Can’t we give her just a bit of a chance at being director?” he asked. John, like many a producer before and since had lost his soul to the power of the movie business.

Anyway, I thought the time had come to return the project to its humble beginnings. It wasn’t a show about Caribbean immigrants. It had morphed into something I didn’t know anything at all about but John felt things had evolved naturally and it was important to follow that course to the end. Sadly, John and I went our separate ways. I went back to bus driving for a short while then I later became a cigarette salesman and today, apart from being an amateur writer and blogger I work for the Highways Agency.

And John? Did I mention what John does? No?

He’s a film producer.

Anyway, not to worry, has he got a blog as good as this one? Doubt it but if you enjoyed this post you might want to read my book. Click the icon below!

 

Unknown Numbers and Taking That Call.

The other day my phone was ringing and when I looked it was an unknown number. MobileNow, normally I wouldn’t necessarily answer an unknown caller but, and here’s the thing about writing and trying to get stuff published, I’ve currently got quite a bit of product ‘out there’ sent to publishers, magazines, and producers, all with my name, address and mobile number displayed prominently so I could not afford to miss that call. I was particularly hoping to hear from a radio drama producer who had looked at a radio play I’d written and had not rejected it out of hand but liked it and wanted to look at the next draft. Well, I wasn’t really contemplating a next draft, I thought the piece was pretty much ok as it was, in fact, I was pretty pleased with it. Here’s what I’d done, I’d taken all my nerdy knowledge as a self-confessed conspiracy theorist, written something about –not the JFK assassination but the RFK shooting, re-invented it as the shooting of a British MP, set it in Manchester and thrown in a lot of speculation about organised crime and MI5 and stuff and thought I’d arrived with something pretty good.

Anyway, you can imagine my feeling when my mobile was ringing. I very briefly imagined a scenario where the radio producer was offering me a lot of money, asking about who I wanted to play the main characters, did I need a car to pick me up for the rehearsals and the recording day? Was the 20th a suitable date? Well, I’m sure you’ve got the picture, anyway, so I pressed the answer button on the phone and here’s what happened; I thought I’d put it in script format just so you can really get the feeling.

(INTERIOR DAY, STEVE HIGGINS IS AT HOME, WATCHING TV.)

(FX: MOBILE RINGING.)

STEVE

Hello.

CALLER

Is that Steve Higgins?

STEVE

Yes, speaking.

CALLER

Are you the same Steve Higgins that has just registered the domain name stevehigginslive.com ?

STEVE

(APPREHENSIVELY)Yes . . .

CALLER

Well I represent a new web design company and for a small fee we can completely re design your site and actively promote it and-

 

(CUT TO DISAPPOINTED LOOK ON STEVE’S FACE; FADE OUT)

 

Writing isn’t particularly easy but it’s something I’ve always done and have always loved. The end product is usually its own reward but like any writer it’s great to have your work get somewhere and be read by others. That’s why I so love the digital age. Every time I publish something on wordpress and get some tiny comment back or even just the odd ’like’ it’s a great feeling.

Just going back to the radio producer and his request for another draft it just reminded me about screenwriter William Goldman’s book, Adventures in the Screen Trade. Goldman tells how it’s fine to get your script finished but then the producer always wants another draft and then the star steps in, he wants a new draft and he doesn’t like it when his character does this, he thinks the character should do that so can we have another draft and then he drops out and the new star likes the script only he doesn’t think that should happen so, can we have another draft please . .

The day I actually get to hear my characters on the radio investigating the shooting of my fictional MP I’ll be overjoyed.