Author Archives: Simon Jones

This Day and Age – Colchester 60 Hour Film Festival 2015

Over the weekend I worked on a short film for the Colchester 60 Hour Film Festival. It’s called This Day And Age and you can watch it here:

Aside from a single VFX shot I contributed to The Splinter Cell last year (some BTS on that here), this is pretty much the first film project I’ve been part of since my son was born three years ago. Which is fine – I’ve had far too much fun helping him grow into something awesome to dilly-dally with making films.

That said. Getting back in the saddle was fricking great.

Which isn’t to say it was easy. In fact, I was very quickly reminded of why I dislike 48/60/whatever hour timed competitions. They are massively over-briefed. We had to fit three elements into our piece:

  1. Title: This Day and Age
  2. Line: A little knowledge can be a bad thing.
  3. Action: Write 5 letters on forearm.

Now, I’ve had worse briefs and none of those three on their own are terrible. But trying to combine them into something decent which is still producible within 60 hours was not easy.

The story team (me,Kirstie, Josh, Andrea, Ryan) sat down at 8pm on the Friday to brainstorm. We wren’t short of ideas. Ideas were everywhere. Practical ideas which all 100% fit the brief…that was trickier. I’d had a grand plan of 1 hour of brainstorming with the whole team, then an intensive 45 minute development session with Kirstie on two of our favourite ideas, then another couple of hours of actually writing the script.

At about half midnight we fixed on an idea that was going to work. Painful. We finished the script at about 2am, and I got home about 2.30am.

Now, the time limit of these challenges is great. That limits the project, means that everybody knows precisely what they’re getting into, and focuses the mind. But I do wish they’d prescribe only a single briefing element. That way you’re given a direction, but no annoying and kinda daft restrictions – the time limit should really be restriction enough.

On the previous two 48 hours I’ve done (Orphan Factory and Temporary Status) I was mainly in a production role – co-directing, shooting, editing, VFX…etc. I was involved throughout the entire weekend on those, and it was intensive. On both of those projects I was working with scripts from Chris Burdett and Wayne Bolt – both of which were decent scripts which gave us lots to play with (possibly too much!).

This time round, I was scriptwriting. Reality is, I don’t quite have the time to dedicate an entire weekend to a project like this at such short notice (Saturday I was off to a 3rd birthday party, Sunday I was taking my son swimming…you get the picture). Combine that time element with my focus this year on writing and it just made sense.

The odd thing about scriptwriting for one of these, as I discovered, is that you’re basically trying to come up with something that is worth the time of everybody else on the project. The production and post team are going to be working on something based in the script for the next 48 hours, so you really hope the script is going to be worthwhile. It’s an odd situation – normally you obviously wouldn’t go into production on a script unless you already liked it; with timed contests, you’re in production whether you like it or not.

As you can see from the finished film, the script was sparse, but it needed to be very precise. There was a story to tell here, in a very short amount of time (both running and production time). Taking a leaf from Atomic Productions’ award-winning 48 hour films, we decided very early to go for a non-linear narrative, jumping around the timeline. As well as turning a relatively simple tale into something that feels more complex, it also adds a level of anxiety and tension to the storytelling and imbues the film with an inherent sense of style before even factoring in actor/cinematography/music/etc.

That’s something which is especially hard in timed contests – getting any sense of style into them. You’re often in such a hurry just to get through the project that you don’t have time to think about doing anything especially clever with the visuals, or editing, etc.

Something I’m super thrilled about with This Day and Age is that the production team, led by Josh Davies, has given the whole thing a great sense of style hitting the tone that I was aiming for in the script just perfectly. Tommy’s wonderful score doesn’t hurt, managing to be epic without tipping into bombast or melodrama.

Special props also to Joe Gould, playing the lead scientist guy (unceremoniously titled ‘MAN’ in the script – sorry, Joe, we didn’t have time for names!). With basically no prep and presumably no real rehearsal, he gives the character a verisimilitude and depth, capturing both the ambition and the creeping fear without overplaying either. There’s something terribly sad leaking out of his performance and it works brilliantly.

I co-wrote the script with Kirstie Tostevin, someone I’ve collaborated with a lot both in and out of work. She’s given me great feedback on A Day of Faces and Millennium Surfing, so it was excellent to finally get to properly collaborate on something. It definitely helped at 1am to have a second writer to bounce ideas around, and the end result is absolutely a combination of both our efforts.

So, good stuff. Well done, all.

ADoF writing notes: ‘Interlude #3’

After this one, there’s only two planned chapters left in Arc 2. That may change a bit depending on how things go – an extra episode wouldn’t be unexpected, as there’s a fair bit to fit in still. That would bring Arc 2 in 3 episodes shy of Arc 1’s count, but that’s primarily because Arc 1 ended up being a touch longer than I’d intended.

Interlude #3 is pretty much the first time we’ve gone back to Wynton’s World with most of the information at hand. As I’ve talked about before, ADoF was never meant to be about the mystery – that was just build-up. As we move towards the end of Arc 2 things are going to start building towards crisis point, before we dive into Arc 3.

Funnily enough, I received an email from a reader back in July which included this line:

“Got various thoughts on what could be going on, including maybe the whole thing is a giant experiment by some overarching controlling race/organisation, however I’ll wait and find out.”

I remember JMS, writer of Babylon 5 back in the 90s, recounting how at a sci-fi convention a fan had wandered up to him, said “I’ve got a theory”, and then basically detailed the exact B5 story that nobody outside of JMS’ brain new about. He’d stood there dumbfounded, and the fan had wandered off, not realising that he’d hit the jackpot. Now I know how he felt.

Thing is, though, because mystery is a means to an end, rather than the end, even if you guess at what’s happening early in the story it doesn’t cause the whole thing to come tumbling down. I hope it doesn’t, at least. The character still legitimately are in the dark, and their discovery should be every bit as interesting as the reader’s, whichever happens to come first.

Thanks for reading this far. I’ve never had my fiction be read outside of my immediate social circles, so it’s been hugely rewarding.

Soundtrack: Fight Club by the Dust Brothers, because it has a unique mix of mundanity (Wynton’s life) with the subversive (Wynton’s ideals).

ADoF writing notes: ‘Gradualism’

This chapter came out a tad long, at 2,012 words. That’s the first ADoF chapter to break 2k, with chapters usually nestling above or below 1500 words. I considered slicing it into two separate chapters but, really, the tension and pacing works best as a single piece. Although most chapters have culminated in some kind of cliffhanger or revelation, I don’t want to shoehorn in dramatic peaks just for the sake of it.

‘Gradualism’ is a chapter which starts to pull aside the Curtain Of Mystery (technical term). If you’ve been paying attention so far, by the end of this chapter you should have a pretty solid idea of what’s going on, even if you’re not yet sure of the motivations. When you have a story that begins with mystery elements it’s a bit of a juggling act to figure out when to reveal the truth.

I have a few reference points for this, primarily from television. TV is an appropriate comparison medium because it starts to air before the story is complete. Novels and films are a very different form of storytelling, for all kinds of reasons, but specifically because they are completed prior to publishing. Unless they’re by Ridley Scott, I guess.

So, to take an example that doesn’t work for me: LOST. The first season is a big barrel o’ mystery, and I loved it. So many questions, a ton of weirdness, but wrapped around compelling characters and action. Season 2 onwards, however, continued to layer on mystery and obfuscation, without clearing anything up, at which point my attention waned. A mystery is only as good as the revelation, and if you wait too long people simply stop caring about the truth.

On the flipside you have Babylon 5, a science fiction show from the 90s. It starts as one thing – the UN in space, basically – then unexpectedly introduces mythic elements of ancient alien beings and time travel, refusing to fully explain what the hell is going on. Season 1 ends with these mysteries entirely unresolved. You’re not even sure what the mystery is exactly – you just know there’s more going on than you initially thought.

Season 2 then rapidly defines those mysteries, answering just enough to keep the audience engaged but leaving key elements unsaid for later revelations. The characters uncover the answers at the same pace as the audience, and the story isn’t kept vague for the sake of it. By the end of season 2 it’s very clear exactly what’s going on, and what the stakes are. Season 3 therefore becomes one of the most thrilling TV experiences as it acts on all the build-up.

That B5 structure and pace is what I’m aiming for with ADoF. There’s mystery in ADoF’s setup, but mystery is not the point of the story.

The First Annual Story Fair took place just before this chapter went out, which brought a bunch of new readers in. Exciting stuff, especially watching new comments pop up on early chapters as new readers discovered Kay, Cal and co for the first time.

Wattpad continues to be an immensely satisfying platform and writing incentive.

ADoF writing notes: ‘Environmental Factors’

So, the weird thing about this chapter is that the original plan was for them to leave Marv on Locque 2. That’s what was in the plan for Arc 2 all along – Marv would essentially disappear from the story, leaving it to be the Cal and Kay Show.

That was before I decided Marv was great. The risk here is that I’m keeping a character in play purely because I enjoy writing them. Purists might argue that I’m betraying the original vision of the story, or some such. Really, though, A Day of Faces is all about improvising and thinking on my feet (fingers?).

The three-person dynamic of Kay, Marv and Cal is far more engaging than just two of them, and Marv’s particular ability plays well into various plot beats down the line.

In terms of the impact on the long-term story, Marv becoming a main character does shake things up a bit, but the general direction remains the same. The plan has been loose from the start, constantly shifting about while retaining the core values and themes. Getting from A to B to C is just as important as ever, but exactly how we get there is up for discussion.

The terrifying thing of publishing weekly as I go is that with every new chapter I’m locking myself more and more into a particular direction. Keeping Marv along for the ride was a big decision, and I can’t just change my mind if it turns out to be a bad move. That essential flexibility isn’t something I’ve had to deal with before, when I normally complete an entire story prior to publishing, and thus have plenty of time to tweak and edit.

We’re starting into the second half of Arc 2 now, so things are gonna start hotting up.

Soundtrack: The original TRON score.

I was part of The First Annual Story Fair


Yesterday I took part in The First Annual Story Fair, an event bringing together a bunch of Wattpad writers to promote their works via an online event hosted on Facebook.

I had no idea what to expect.

StoryFair2015Since I started using Wattpad I’ve had only positive experiences but this was my first foray into a full-on networking event. It could have been anything from a super-lame wash0ut to something entirely overwhelming.

It ended up being neither, instead serving as an extremely fun way to highlight your work in the company of other Wattpad writers, with an eager crowd of readers jumping from one showpiece to another. Over 100 writers (and, therefore, stories) were highlighted throughout the 24 hour event, with each writer having their own dedicated post on the Facebook event page.

Once my book was posted the comments started coming thick and fast. This was A Day of Faces‘ first promotion outside of my own low-key efforts, so I was very curious to find out how a new audience would react to the concept.


So, that was the first few minutes. A good start! I ended up with 50 likes and 25 comments, all positive and sounding intrigued. That was a result I was very happy with, especially considering that the event appeared to be heavily weighted towards romance fiction (as is Wattpad generally) with A Day of Faces being something of an anomaly (which is appropriate, really).

I have no doubt that Wattpad is still a largely untapped resource for me in terms of reaching an audience. I’m already super happy with how A Day of Faces has been received but I sense it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Digging into the wider community and networking aspects is essential.

Huge thanks to all the readers who showed up and commented, as well as to the organisers. It’s always fascinating to encounter an online subculture – turns out Wattpad readers are passionate, enthusiastic and very willing to give their time.

You can see the entire conversation on Facebook over here.

ADoF writing notes: Divergent evolution

The previous chapter, Interlude #2, was deliberately timed to hold the cliffhangerish ending of Cladogenesis for a little longer, before mostly resolving it here.

This chapter has a lot of heavy lifting to do in terms of clarifying the multiverse aspect of the story and pointing out the implications of the parallel theory. It’s the kind of thing that could get really bogged down in pseudo-science and expository dialogue.

In an attempt to sidestep that spiky pit, I structured the chapter in a disjointed, non-linear manner, opening with Kay at the front door of her old house before flashing back to the library. The exposition is handled with the newspaper headlines, breaking the usual flow and delivering the plot twists in a hopefully fresh manner, before then catching back up with the opening paragraph. The result is that the chapter hinges on whether Kay is going to ring the doorbell. Even while explaining the ins-and-outs of the Sci-Fi Stuff, that’s the main driving force of the chapter. The aim is to keep it all character-driven, rather than plot/technobabble-driven.

An interesting thing cropped up in the comments over on Wattpad. It was noted that Kay’s full name – Kaysaleen Rodata – hadn’t been fully established, slightly reducing the impact of the newspaper cutting because the name doesn’t have instant familiarity.

It’s a curious comment because the name was explicitly mentioned in the previous chapter. But the weekly publishing schedule means that namedrop was a whole week ago – which is quite a long time given the short length of these chapters.

What I felt was needed was an additional mention much earlier in the story. Therefore if you head over to chapter 2 ‘Survival of the fittest’ from now on you’ll find the very first mention of Kay’s full name. By establishing it early on, before all the crazy stuff really kicks in, hopefully it’ll stick in the reader’s mind more solidly, with the Interlude #2 mention acting as a reminder before the newspaper cutting in this chapter.

That’s the idea, anyway.

Soundtrack: The quirky Sword & Sworcery LP by Jim Guthrie.

First 5 Minutes: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

I played Brothers just after my son was born, as I recall. Everything is a bit of a blur around that time. Without wanting to play the father card too heavily, that timing definitely informed my experience with the game (just as playing The Walking Dead just before he was born helped me examine my fears of becoming a father).

Brothers is an honest, heartfelt tale of two kids – one slightly older than the other, on the verge of adulthood, the other still very much a child but who is forced into accepting a heavy responsibility.

The game is entirely unique in the way it uses its control mechanism to create characters and empathy. Every puzzle and challenge is fun but is also informing the characters of the two boys.

It’s brilliant. The video above takes a look at the first five minutes.