My first assignment as full-time staff writer at Cinefex magazine is (nearly) complete. On Friday, I submitted the final draft of my Spectre article … and received the edited version back on the very same day. How that’s for efficiency? All that remains is for me to go through a rigorous review and fact-checking process, after which I’ll label the draft as “final” and hand it over to the production department.
My assignment began a couple of weeks ago with a moment of blind panic as I stared at a blank white page and wondered how the hell I was going to mould 50,000 words of interview transcript into an 8,000-word analysis of the special and visual effects of the new Bond movie. If you’re a writer, you’ll know that the longer you gaze at that damn page, the more it – like Nietzsche’s abyss – gazes back.
I’ve discovered that this fight-or-flight response is common to many – perhaps most – creative professionals. Years ago, I worked with an amazingly talented concept designer who produced the most gorgeous artwork seemingly without breaking sweat. Seriously, I was in awe of this guy. One day he confessed to me that, for all his years of experience, every time he sat in front of a blank sheet of paper he experienced the sudden conviction that all his abilities had abandoned him, and that this time he was certain to screw everything up and be exposed as the fraud he undoubtedly was.
One way to break through the fear is to have a process. I established mine when I wrote my first magazine article for Cinefex – on Ron Howard’s Rush. Working in Scrivener, I import all my interview transcripts as discrete files, then start lifting quotes from them, creating a separate text document for each different subject area and pasting the relevant quotes into it. With the Rush article, I gave these documents titles like “Practical Car Construction”, “CG Car Construction”, “Fire Simulation” and so on.
Spectre was slightly different. Due to the episodic form of the film’s narrative, and the way the effects work was divided between a number of different companies, it soon became apparent that this article would benefit from a more linear structure than the one I used for Rush. Therefore, I used document titles based on location and sequence, such as “Mexico City – Helicopter” or “Rome – Car Chase”. Each of these documents then developed its own sub-categories based on the details of the effects work relating specifically to the sequence under discussion, such as … hmm, well, that would be telling, right?
Working this way, I eventually ended up with a big bundle of individual files that worked like index cards. They were bulging with quotes and notes, but were a very long way from resembling anything like coherent prose. That came next, during the much more complex and time-consuming process of weaving all those juicy facts together into a coherent, accurate and engaging look behind the scenes of secret agent 007’s latest adventure.
Was my mission successful? You can decide for yourself in February, when my Spectre article is published in Cinefex 145. Meanwhile, my next two assignments have already landed in my in-tray, so if you’ll forgive me, I’m off to the movies again.