Moving on

A new blog post has been written, just not here. It’s on our new hosted website:

Go there. Read, comment, enjoy.

This blog will no longer be updated.

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I’m Writing A What Now?

Greetings all. I’m PJ Montgomery, and for unknown reasons, Mark has entrusted me with not one, but two episodes of Supermarket Matters. Oh, God, I’m a hack! They’re going to find me out, and run me out of the country, then get a good writer in to completely rewrite my episodes! Maybe Tom Stoppard? I’ll never work again!

Um…. Sorry about that. Kinda went off on one there.

In all seriousness, I think Supermarket Matters is a wonderful project, and I’m immensely proud that Mark agreed to let me write for it. At first, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure if it was something I’d be up to. This kind of sitcom is a little out of my comfort zone for a few reasons. One, it’s for a podcast. I’m another writer who tends to think visually, and trying to switch that off and think in terms of radio has been a challenge, but one I’ve enjoyed. In the end, on my first episode anyway (episode 2, tentatively titled Divine Comedy), I actually found it quite liberating. It meant that, more than I ever have before, I was able to focus on character and dialogue, two things I particularly enjoy working on. A couple of the characters in particular are a blast to write for, and I think I found their voices relatively easily. It helps that Mark had fully realised this world and these characters beforehand, so a lot of the credit has to go to him for that.

But that’s actually the second thing which I found daunting. I’ve never written for another writers world before. Everything I’ve ever written prior to this has either been something I’ve created, or at the very least, something I’ve helped build with another writer. This is the first time someone else has let me play in their sandbox, and I found it to be a fascinating experience. I have to keep in mind that I’m not the only writer on this, but rather, I’m just a small cog in a larger machine. I can’t go nuts and blow up the  Grab ‘N’ Go in my second episode, something which would be a very real possibility were I writing for myself alone. These aren’t my characters (though I take full credit for Mad Jasper and can’t wait for you to meet him), and I have to stick to Mark’s vision of his world and the people who populate it. I think, were I working for a lesser writer, then I wouldn’t enjoy it nearly so much. Thankfully, Mark is a gifted writer who has created a world that it’s a lot of fun to work in.

That said, I do enjoy shaking things up a little bit and playing with the format, which is why in my second episode (episode 3, titled The New Guy), we get to see the Grab ‘N’ Go through a different set of eyes, as most of the main characters take a back seat to someone we haven’t met before. Hopefully, if I’ve done my job properly, it’ll be a fun episode.

Finally, the third reason working on Supermarket Matters has been a bit different for me, is a simple one. There are absolutely no zombies, superheroes, aliens or atomic monsters in it. What’s up with that? Unless…. Hmmmm… Hey, Mark, I think I’ve had an idea for the second series!

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Ryan Heeger – On writing

Anyone with the yarbles to start something project-wise in the world of writing gets my backing. That’s why, when Mark sent the email around looking for contributors to Supermarket Matters, I wanted to be involved. I was lucky enough to land the editor’s job at Buzz magazine two months after graduating from Glamorgan, but just prior to that and in the absence of any kind of local opportunities for a writer, I was developing a fanzine for the Cardiff band, Sicknote. Unfortunately, the editorship of Buzz meant I had to put that project on permanent hiatus, but I’m a staunch believer in starting something yourself if there is nothing forthcoming in your area of expertise.

I studied Scriptwriting for Film as part of my creative writing degree, and received some great feedback for the first short film I wrote, The Tree Hugger, which I later adapted for stage as an entry to Scriptslam at the Sherman Theatre. But I was at a disadvantage when transferring those skills to an episode of Supermarket Matters, as I found (and as Mark quite rightly highlighted) my synopsis becoming heavily reliant on visuals, which isn’t the most podcast-friendly approach.

For my episode – episode 7: Reduced Stock – I had a think back to my days of working as a casual in Gateway in Canton as a 17-year-old. I looked after the washing powder and cleaning products aisle, spending my Saturdays breathing in all sorts of soapy shit as I individually priced bottles of Lenor. I’d piss my £17.50 earnings straight up the wall the same night, via some great times in GW’s metal bar and the original Bogiez rock club. But I also recall there were enough characters coming through the aisles on those Saturdays to trigger my imagination as to what the episode could entail.

One regular customer was an elderly lady who would wander the aisles reeking of stale cat urine and demanding Golden Shred marmalade. She would also bash tins on the shelves and ask for them to be reduced. We were all armed with price guns and would reduce whatever she asked to get away from the smell as quickly as possible.

Although Miss Haywood has been spared the wee odour, Reduced Stock focuses on her sudden turn of behaviour from Grab’n’Go protester to apparent customer. As she roams the aisles denting tins and ripping cereal boxes, she’s unaware that there is a new eye-in-the-sky watching her. But will she be caught, and what will be her explanation?

Ryan Heeger is the current National Editor of CLIConline. If you want to know more about him personally you can follow him on Twitter.


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Jaque Thay – On writing

Hi everybody, this is Jaque Thay and I’m hijacking the Supermarket Matters blog for the day. I was fortunate to get involved with this project after a friend of mine put me in touch with Mark. After reading through his idea and having a brief discussion via email Mark asked if I would be able to write an episode for him. It’s proved a little tricky fitting it in as I have a generally busy schedule – see this post on my blog for more information about that – but things are finally quietening down now and I’ve got some time to breathe.

So what am I going to discuss? There are a number of topics that I could talk about, and time permitting I will write a series of follow up posts to address some of those. For today though I want to talk about some scripting issues I’ve faced.

Usually when I work on a project I am either the sole author, or I am working to improve an existing idea. In other words, I have full control of the creative process (within reason when working on other people’s documents) and I am aware of all the parameters involved. This is not so for Supermarket Matters. At last count there were five writers actively involved in scripting for this drama, each of whom is working on their own separate episodes.

Mark has managed to maintain control and stop us from diverging too far from his ideas by giving us freedom to invent our own plots for each episode as long as they fall within his rough guidelines for the arc of the first season (yes, first, not THE. We hope given time that there may be several seasons of Supermarket Matters). In that role he has been fantastic, approving plot ideas that fitted with his grand plan, tweaking those that didn’t, and allowing us to suggest plot hooks for episodes that aren’t ours to write in order to set up our own events. For example: as part of my episode’s setting Llanmorgan, the town where Supermarket Matters takes place, must have been caught in a heat-wave for a number of weeks. Now if I just announced that at the start of my episode then it would break continuity with other episodes if they featured people complaining of cold and wet weather; because of my suggestion a plot hook has been planted that prior to my episode people should mention how hot it is becoming.

Where the scripting process can really come unstuck though is writing to a certain style and tone. All of the writers have access to some background material detailing the common characters and their speech patterns. What we don’t know is the specific details that other writers have envisioned. For example as I’m writing an early draft of my episode, I know that there will be a phone conversation. If there are other similar situations in different episodes, how have the writers approached this? Have they written a monologue where one person recaps information so that only one speaker is needed, or have they written a true dialogue?

Another issue I’ve encountered involves introducing key elements; in my first draft I have opted not to use a narrator – but this could change once I read through the scripts for other episodes. If a narrator has been used then it will be easier to incorporate that element into my own script by removing exposition from the speech of other characters than it would be to add that exposition to another person’s speech.

The final point that I’ll cover today will be the existence of secondary characters. As part of Mark’s initial work he detailed a number of important personas that exist within Llanmorgan. Those primary characters are people who will have important roles within the soap; among them are store workers at the Grab’n’Go and their nemesis. These characters will be covered in more depth in a later post. While the characters that Mark conceived work well as the core of the soap there are not enough of them to allow for an extended variety of interactions required for a continuing drama – to make up for that many from the team of writers have written secondary characters to fulfil specific roles within their episodes. Until our initial drafts have been completed and the writers are able to see each other’s efforts none of us will know what roles these secondary characters play – we may find that some are duplicated and can be amalgamated while others might be strong enough to become core characters in future episodes.

I suppose to sum up, working as part of a team where no one individual has total control requires a level of trust and interaction not normally found in a solo project, but it also opens up a number of possibilities for expanded thought and possibilities that could not otherwise have been conceived. I have no idea what others have written but when we do share notes we will likely found things we could never have come up with on our own – and that is one of the strengths of this project; a reason why I am excited to be a part of it.

Now, I’d better give Mark his blog back – I have a script to complete!

If you want to know more about Jaque Thay you can:

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Weekend writing

Writing and showrunning isn’t my full time job. I would love it to be, but currently it isn’t. As such, I have to fit all of the organising and writing for Supermarket Matters into my down time – lunch breaks, evenings and weekends.

The same is true, I believe, for everyone involved with this project. We are all busy full time workers, then we come home and work some more.

But sometimes I find that just working on things in my spare time isn’t enough. It becomes ‘bitty’ and disjointed. Which is why I have used some of my annual leave as Supermarket Matters time.

For the past couple of days, I have been working on this project ‘full time’. I have:

  • Provided feedback to one of the writers who has sent in a draft version of their script – It was very good.
  • Written the second draft of one of the episodes that I am responsible for.
  • Contacted someone about the possibility of getting some recording space.
  • Followed up a few of the potential voice actors on their views.
  • Invited all of the writers to this blog so they can write some posts about what it is like from their point of view.

It’s been busy. And it still continues. But this is what I love.

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