Lucid Dreaming

As dreaming’s been coming up a lot recently in blogs I read, I thought it might be a good idea to teach you all how to lucid dream.

Lucid dreaming is when you know that you’re dreaming, and can control the dream. I seem to recall reading a few years back that the most popular things to do are

a) have sex
b) fly

Both of which are great fun, whether dreaming or awake.

If you’re prone to nightmares and don’t enjoy them, it’s also a good way to jump tracks, and dream about something more fun instead.

It’s actually quite easy to lucid dream, and just takes a few weeks to learn. The technique’s actually very simple: you just have to learn to be aware whether you’re asleep or awake.

The way you do this is by cueing yourself up to ask the question, until it becomes a force of habit. You can do it by time (once every three hours, say), or by stimulus (every time you see a door, or the sky, or any other common object).

It works like this:

You see a door.
You think to yourself: Ooh. It’s a door. Am I dreaming?
You think to yourself: No, I’m not.

So, there you have it: Door / Dreaming? / No

Just get into the habit of checking every time you see a door. After a couple of weeks of this, your subconscious will now be in the habit of checking whether you’re dreaming or not on a regular basis.

The next thing that will happen is this:

You see a door.
You think to yourself: Ooh. It’s a door. Am I dreaming?
You think to yourself: Bloody hell, I am!

That’s the first stage. Now you know you’re dreaming.

You might be able to influence the dream already at this point. In this case: Off you go. Have fun.

If you find you can’t influence the dream yet, not to worry. You just need to create a break in the dream – changing it from a dream you can’t influence, to one where you can. And the easiest way to do that is to just change the setting.

So walk through the door. You could use anything, really: a change of landscape, a change of time, the next time you meet someone or something in the dream, all you really need to do is decide that the next change will give you control of the dream.

But, given that you’ve got a door there anyway, just choose what you want to be on the other side, and step through.

At this point, you’ll be able to control what happens in the dream. Meet anyone you like, do anything you want, really.

I recommend flying, and sex.

A Little Knowledge

A while back I re-watched Firefly on DVD.

It’s a Western. With Spaceships.

It’s also bloody marvellous, and if you can’t cope with the collision of those two genres I’m sorry – but you’re missing out on a fantastically well-made TV show.

(This has no relevance at all to the content of this post. I just wanted to get it off my chest before we got onto the important stuff.)

So I’m watching the episode “Out of Gas”, and something’s bugging me about the picture. There’s a lot of strange colour in there, and more to the point, the grain on the picture – especially in the flashback sequences – is enormous.

And I’m thinking – was this shot on 16mm? I know the first two seasons of Buffy were, and that grain is so strong…

So I looked it up.

And it turns out that there are several pages on how the look-and-feel of the show was created at The American Society of Cinematographers website.

Turns out that most of the episode was shot on cross-processed Fuji 50D – basically they use processing chemicals to develop the film stock that weren’t designed for it – which gives it that lovely grainy, colour-shifted look.

Another of life’s little mysteries solved. Happiness ensues.

Here’s why this is important for writers:

Assuming you want to become a showrunner in the long-term (and why wouldn’t you?) you need to know a little about what all the department heads can do.

You’re not expected to know about the details of cinematography. The DP will handle all that. But you need to know what’s possible, and what’s easy, and what’s hard, and maybe be able to point to some examples of the-sort-of-thing you want.

A little knowledge, they say, is a dangerous thing.

But you don’t have to know about the details of the process. You do need to be able to have a conversation with your cinematographer about the basics, so that they can then deliver what you want.

I always try to know enough to be dangerous.

10,000 hours

That’s how long it takes to get to be a world-class expert at something.

Or 8,000 if you merely want to be good.

There’s an extract from Malcolm Gladwell’s new book over at The Guardian today, which backs up my earlier post on the irrelevance of talent.

My thesis there, backed up by Gladwell, is that hard work is it. There’s no magic spark, no such thing as god-given genius. Just bloody hard work over a period of years.

To quote from the article:

“This idea – that excellence at a complex task requires a critical, minimum level of practice – surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is a magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours.”

The number comes up again and again, in studies across all fields. 10,000 hours of practice will make you a world-beater.

K Anders Ericsson and his colleagues studied violinists at Berlin’s music academy. In addition to the fact that the world-class violinists had 10,000 hours under their belts, they found this important information:

There were no outliers.

No naturals who could beat everyone else while practising for less time. And no grinders, who worked harder than everyone else but didn’t make it to the top.

Talent equals hard work.
Hard work equals talent.

So how long is ten thousand hours?

That’s twenty hours of practice each week for ten years, with two weeks off each year for holidays.

I know how hard I’m working on my scripts.

How about you?

Letters from America: How to Write for Television

originally sent 14 Feb 2004

Well, the first script is finished, so I thought I’d update everyone on what I’ve discovered about how the TV & Film business works in LA.

Over here they just call it “The Industry”.

I’m concentrating on TV, so I need a minimum of two spec scripts for current TV series, preferably three. My completed spec is for a show called “The Dead Zone”, based on the Stephen King novel.

Spec stands for speculative – no-one’s going to pay me for these, they’re simply a sample of my writing ability. Proof that I can string words together in an effective and entertaining way. I need as many scripts as possible to show my range.

You never send a spec script to the show it’s for. There are a couple of reasons for this.

1) The showrunner and writing staff know their own show inside out. They’re more likely to pick up on any minor inconsistencies in plotting or characterisation.
2) Mostly, they’re not allowed to.

Let me expand on 2) for a moment. America’s quite a litigious place. Let’s say that I’ve sent in a script to someone and they reject it because it’s written on toilet paper in crayon, doesn’t feature any of the main characters, and is a crossover with EastEnders. Later on another writer sends in a script with a similar plot (but without the rubbish bits). This one, they make. If I then sue the company saying “They stole my idea!”, they’ve got – at the least – an expensive court action.

So no-one reads scripts for their own shows that aren’t pre-vetted by an agent (which proves at least that the writer is a professional) in order to prevent the litigation question ever arising.

What you do is this: you write your spec scripts, then send them to other shows in the same genre. So my “Enterprise” spec can be sent to the producers of “Battlestar Galactica” or “Stargate”. But not to “Enterprise”.

Once I have several spec scripts, I can start sending them out to various shows.

*If* they like the writing, then I’ll be invited to pitch them ideas for stories that I think would make good episodes for their show.
*If* they like a story idea (and they don’t already have a similar show in the works), then I’ll get commissioned to write a story outline.
*If* they like the story outline then I get a chance to write a script for the show (also for money).
*If* they like the script, and they like me, I may be offered a job on the show.
*If* they have the cash. And all the writers’ slots for the year haven’t already been filled.

That’s a lot of ifs.

Staffing season here runs from March to June. Which is quite handy, because that’s when my money runs out.

So I need to get another two scripts done by the end of March, at which point I start marketing the hell out of myself to shows I want to write for.

So it’s still a journey of a thousand miles. But I’ve taken the first step.