If you design enough books on a school of therapy that seems to work, you’ll find that the incorporated ideas would be useful for anyone. You don’t need to be a ‘client’ (the current name for patient) of a therapist to learn from the ideas of solution-focused brief therapy or occupational therapy.

One of the great things about occupational therapy is that it doesn’t let the client’s past get in the way of providing useful help.

The problem is that it takes a long time for an initial assessment. In a book that I designed, a measure is proposed to aid the conversation between therapist and client. The Solution Focused Measure of Occupational Function. Instead of spending a few days finding out useful things, it takes a single session, going through these questions with the client:


How many questions would you answer with ‘definitely’? Possibly there are some tips here for New Year’s resolutions.

To read the introduction of the book as a PDF, visit its page at the publisher. If you want to learn more about brief therapy, check out the books (with more PDF samples) at BT Press or visit Brief’s website.

From a user interface point of view, the authors specifically designed the possible answers so that there was no middle option – only four answers: definitely, mostly, sometimes, not at all. They found that if clients didn’t want to take a position on a question, they would choose a neutral answer.


You can find ideas that could be explored in screenplays in odd places.

The following quote comes from an article on the search for a new manager for England’s football team:

One can only truly love someone if they exist to some degree outside the sphere of your control; if in a relationship you can dominate someone completely how can they offer salvation? How can they place their self between you and death?

To see the rest of the article (with no further thematic material) visit The Guardian’s website – you may need to register for free to read more. Alternatively, you can read the Google cached version while it lasts.

As I passed a local shop yesterday morning, I saw that it had been gutted. I was away in France last week, so I didn’t notice that the shop had closed down.

A local shop -2007

I have lived on the same block on and off for over thirty years. The launderette had been there all that time. Suddenly it’s gone. When I was living at home with my parents, we never had a washing machine. We had to go to our local launderette. I have many memories of that shop. A neighbour gave me a washing machine a few years ago. Since then I visited the launderette much less often. I’m sad that it has gone. We mourn the things that pass – they remind us of our own impermanence. The alternative is to celebrate change – at all scales of experience.

This sudden change in my environment reminds me that I should treasure the everyday. The nearby shops. The street where I live. I know the most valuable pictures and videos I have taken over the years have been the ones that capture elements of my day to day life. It is not difficult to remember the special events, the occasions and world travels. The slow evolution of the rest of our lives deserves to be captured.

I suggest you do something soon to capture the quotidian.

Why do most remakes not work? Why were the recent versions of ‘The Italian Job’ and ‘Alfie’ flops? Will the new version of ‘The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3′ surpass the original?

Screenwriters hit the big time if their script is on the zeitgeist. The zeitgeist is the dominant cultural perspective. To be ‘on the zeitgeist’ is to mark the change in this perspective. Rock and Roll occurred when the increase in disposable income in children created the concept of ‘the teenager.’ Punk happened when idealistic people realised that the hippies weren’t going to change anything that mattered.

The cultural consensus shapes and is shaped by cultural artefacts: art, drama, music, writing and film. Films that are part of an old cultural consensus cannot rely on the same philosophical identification when remade for a new audience.

That means the ideas that will be the biggest hit in a couple of years time will be ones that predict the cultural consensus at that time. Luckily most new movements come from the same place. What is underground today will challenge the conservative mainstream of tomorrow. That means you might have to listen to new music, seek out new writing, indulge what you might consider superficial – the fashionable and the cool.

They don’t all sound the same!

…on my way back to London – back in March.”

A good way of dealing with day-to-day irritations is to realise how unlikely it would be for you to tell the tale of your frustration to a loved one a few days or even hours later. The late train, the mislaid keys, the burnt toast. In the moment they happen, you take it so personally: “Why is this happening to me?” As time passes, you realise that these events say nothing about you personally – they are not part of the story of your life. They aren’t usually important enough to tell anyone – unless you are giving an excuse.

To be good storytellers, we need to know what to leave out. A good number of people understand the editing job to be ‘put the film together – leaving out the bits that didn’t work’. That’s not far off what the writer needs to do as well.

We tell our stories with the irrelevant parts absent: we don’t hear about the valiant prince pitching a tent each night on his month-long journey to Repunzel’s tower. Why do our heroes never eat or drink, have problems hailing a cab or finding a parking place? Because how they do these things doesn’t make the story any better. We only show what is needed to tell the story. To make our point. That doesn’t mean only the actions of the people involved. We also show things that add atmosphere, build tension and build irony.

One of the tasks that writers and editors share is to ‘cut the boring bits out.’ They need to choose which version of a moment to use, and in what proportion and rhythm. It’s just that writers have every possible thought to choose from, whereas editors have to deal with the pictures shot and the sounds recorded by the rest of the film making team.

Which set of ingredients are you most happy to work with?

As editing is about storytelling, we can learn from what we leave out from the stories we tell. The moments that aren’t directly required to relate our tales are left out. Dreams are stories that our unconscious mind tells us so that we learn the lessons from the experiences of the day. When I wake up still remembering my dreams, I write them down. What I write down ends up being an ultra-distilled story. A story that is sometimes difficult to understand. It’s the distillation that is interesting for editors.

In our day-to-day lives we don’t experience jump cuts from home to work, or from starting a job to sharing in the results. On the other hand, that is the way we remember our lives. This is why picture editors can splice two scenes together and make the join invisible. ‘Training montages’ work for audiences because we summarise hours and hours of practice and effort in the same way – the way they are summarised in a montage.

Ingmar Bergman:

“No form of art goes beyond ordinary consciousness as film does, straight to our emotions, deep into the twilight room of the soul”

It may be that you have a plot that suggests a theme, or a theme you need to find a plot for, but choosing a compelling theme is very useful when developing your screenplay.

Some people see screenplays as arguments on a given theme. All the characters take positions on the theme. Minor characters’ single lines state a position on the theme. Subplots explore unintended consequences of the theme. Major characters can debate the theme directly. Some can even present the argument in monologues. If you need a subject for minor characters to be talking about, turn to the theme.

The better themes can be argued more than one way. If everyone can agree on the point of the story, there’s not much point in debating it. In most cases you’ll be able to guess at the majority opinion, but great debating comes from being able to present the opposite point of view from what you believe yourself.

Themes can usually be presented as questions as well as statements:

Ambition leads to destruction OR Does ambition lead to destruction?

Themes can be presented as opposites

Ambition leads to destruction OR Indolence leads to destruction

In the first act the protagonist is unaware of the theme – their actions illustrate the negative aspects of disagreeing with the theme. In the second act the antagonist’s plans force the protagonist to react by acting as if they agreed with the theme without realising or agreeing with the statement of the theme. At the start of the third act the protagonist realises what lessons they have learned, come to an understanding of the theme and then make a choice to act in such a way that demonstrates the statement of the theme is correct.

If your cop movie’s theme is “Ambition leads to destruction”, the protagonist acts according to the theme throughout the story. In the first act we are introduced to a cop whose ambition leads her into many frustrations: she’s come to believe that whatever she does, the entrenched system will stop her from getting the position that she deserves in the force. We are also introduced to the antagonist: a corrupt cop who believes that no rules should stop them from getting to the top – ambition works for him.

In the second act, the antagonist’s plans come up against the protagonist. During a series of dilemmas, the protagonist has to choose to act as if ambition is the wrong choice – for example, she takes the blame for the antagonist’s corrupt action. In the second act the actions of the antagonist seem to demonstrate that “ambition leads to success.”

In the end of the second act, the protagonist sees the results of actions she has taken. They have led her to the darkest possible place, but she realises that she has been making the right choices (possibly for the wrong reasons – she discovers that what she wanted wasn’t enough, she realises what she needs). In the third act, she uses the tools and ‘anti-theme’ against the antagonist to demonstrate that she is in agreement with the theme and to illustrate the perils in disagreeing.

Here are some debates that you might find fun in debating:

Integrity is rewarded
Free will is possible
Know your place
Love survives beyond death
Forgiveness is weakness
You can never lose at a game you don’t play
Dedication leads to success
Technology solves all problems
There is not fate but what we make
Faith leads to conflict
Tradition is more important than love
Freedom is more important than responsibility
Greed is good!

Have a look at some of the ideas you’ve been coming up with recently. If you look for the debates within the stories, you might see the themes that you want to debate at this point in your life. If you write a journal, the topic that you are most unsure of is the theme you need to write about.

Even if your target market is far from your personal ‘demographic’ you’ll be most comfortable writing about something that matters to you. The important thing to do is to make your theme so universal that the debate is relevant to your audience, even if you aren’t a member of that audience. This is how women in their fifties write comedies for teenagers…

For the last few years I have been exploring screenwriting. I think that the more an editor understands screenplay structure and methods, the better the editor.

Part of understanding screenwriting is coming up with ideas for films. You can start with a character and work out an ironic situation they could find themselves in. You can come up with a ‘what-if’ high concept first, and find a character that illustrates the concept the best. Another method is to come up with a political or philosophical theme that you think an audience would like to see explored. Most good screenplays have all these elements, it’s just a question of at which point you start to come up with your idea.

Where the writer pokes their nose into the picture is when they realise what stories they feel they want to tell the the current point in their life. I’ve been looking at the film ideas I’ve been having recently and been trying to see if I can determine what stories I want to be telling right now. Knowing that will help me persue the most apposite idea.

I’ve been thinking about the dichotomy between freedom and love. You want freedom for yourself. On the other hand, you want to give up some of that freedom for those you love. The irony is that you do this so that the people you love can be free to do what they want.

I went to see Pirates 3 last night. The film was very odd: the screenwriters seemed to think that people will watch the film many times, and that it is OK for a film to only be fully understood once you have watched it more than four times. Wanting to understand their thinking about this, I found a (spoiler-filled) interview with them at Box Office Mojo . What should I find but the following quote:

…the rest of the story really is about Sartre’s [idea of] freedom—that if you enter into a relationship, you take on these obligations and limit your own freedom willingly and, if you objectify the [other] person, that can lead to sadism, whereas if you try to ensure that other person’s freedom as well as your own, that’s really the nature of love. To me, it’s such an inspiring concept.

Looks like I should have taken the time to do a little philosophy course…

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