Summer Breaks Are Not Just About Rest

So the end of the year got away from me. School reports happened and I also assessed Year 12 exams in my subject for the first time. My son turned one. He also learned to walk and has begun the process of making being cute while destroying the house his full time occupation. There was Christmas and all that jazz. Between all this and the usual kind of stuff, November and December in particular evaporated. But I don’t need to tell you that right? It seems to happen to us all.

But then you come out the other side, take a few deep breaths and you get to relax. And whatever I might have said previously about how taxing teaching can be and how much it takes away from my creative time it does have one great advantage: I get almost the entirety of January off.

So with all that time, what’s been happening?

In a word: Filming.

So I had a little sketch-based web series I wanted to do. Those of you following along at home will know this one, it’s the one I challenged myself to write ten scripts for in ten days during July. The premise for those wondering is this: Two identical twins sharing a house together. One is a long-suffering teacher (yeah, not autobiographical at all, right?) and the other is the evil twin. Like as in the literal evil twin, wants to take over the world and rule it (if he can get off the couch long enough).

The sketches cover a few different things. Some of them are about the Evil Twin’s schemes and attempts to develop his supervillain brand, with the Good Twin often pointing out the holes in them, in particular the various supervillain tropes that his brother can’t help but ape. Others are about the Evil Twin needling his brother in some way. Some take a look at the various villains of movies and TV, and there’s another set I want to do where the brothers answer questions and give advice to the viewers from their very different perspectives.

Essentially it’s an odd couple dynamic with both acting as a kind of foil for the other. One has always done the right thing and been part of the general system of our society, but hasn’t exactly won any prizes for it. The other is trying to blow that system up (sometimes literally) because he sees its flaws, but can’t see the flaws in himself. It’s not intended to be as deep as all that, mostly it’s about poking fun at evil genius tropes and the like, but I like to think that there is a little bit more to the characters than their mutual snark at the failings each sees in the other.

So since the year ended this has been my creative focus. There are currently 12 episodes that I have slated to shoot. And it has amazed me how much prep work I’ve had to do. You see, I play both twins. This means that there needs to be a lot of planning around how things will be shot, because in order to get both twins in at least some of the shots I have to do the split-screen thing, acting each side of the conversation and then stitching them together. So this has meant doing a pretty comprehensive shot list to pre-plan the thing before I do it. Then there’s the other parts. Costume, props, set dressing. Learning lines. All of that was two weeks work.

All of this before I even turned the camera on.

But I’ve enjoyed the challenge. Being (quite literally) a one-man show takes a lot of energy, but I am learning a lot. So far I’ve shot four of the twelve episodes and I hope to do at least one more before I am back at work, then do my best to knock off some more in the evenings in the first few weeks. I’ve set the goal of being able to submit the series for consideration to Melbourne Web Fest this year, which means having at least 2 episodes fully complete and available by March 31st. Obviously that is on paper quite achievable, but assumes that I can get all post production ducks in a row, launch the channel and all the rest of it. I am quietly confident, and it gives me some additional incentive to keep moving and work to that deadline. But ultimately I would rather not make the deadline than put something that still needs to be worked on up in the public sphere.

And, as has been noted elsewhere on this site, time is still a precious resource, even while on holidays. There’s only so much that can be done. After all, the kids are on holidays too and they need to be entertained and looked after. My one year old boy is at a stage where while he’s awake he tends to need someone with him, either because he is clingy or because he needs to be prevented from turning the house into a smoking ruin (I love him so much, but am not entirely sure that he isn’t Gozer The Destroyer in an even cuter form than the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man). My partner needs the support and relief from the solo parenting that she has to put up with during my working year. And she has her own writing and career building work to do. Her career is further along than mine and so we try to focus on giving her as much time as we can.

So as always, it’s really all about making best use of the time available. Creating in the pockets that can be found. The boy goes down for two naps a day (sometimes he even sleeps on the second one) and that gives us both 2-3 hours of working time. We can usually alternate as the on-call parent for several other stints during the day, but for obvious reasons no filming can occur until the kids are in bed. So while I would like to have been further along in the filming process at this point, I was always realistic about my chances.

And hey, there have been other important things to take care of. One part has been exercise. I didn’t take the best care of myself physically in 2016 and I’ve tried to use this month to get a start on getting back into shape. Then there have been a few other house projects. My favourite was the sand pit I dug out for the kids. Took a few mornings of work before the heat of the day set in, but we now have a great little pit for the kids to use. The little fella seems intent on eating all the sand we put in there, but I’m sure he’s just getting his essential roughage and silicates.

So moving forward, it’s all about the web series at the moment. Although I do have some plans to carve out some space and time to start noodling round with that novel I talked about previously…

Challenge Outcome

No doubt the entire internet has been hanging on tenterhooks, on the edge of their seats and generally losing sleep over one question: “Did Christopher Magilton, Writer Ordinaire, Part-time Classical Dance Teacher and All-Round Good Guy complete the challenge he set himself, to write ten sketches in ten days despite his demanding work and home life?”

First let me answer your question with a question: If you’re simultaneously hanging on a tenterhook and sitting on the edge of your seat, are you at all surprised that you’re losing sleep? I mean that sounds uncomfortable. And difficult. And also, I don’t teach dance. But I digress. Let me now properly answer your question.

Yes. Yes I did.

I struggled some days to find the time. I had to do four and a half of them in the final weekend. But I got them done. There were one or two work related things that needed attention that I had to make myself put aside (not really an arm-twist, it’s not like I wanted to do them, I just have to) and I paid a bit of a price for that. But I got them done.

In total the sketches amount to about 52 script pages. For some perspective on that, a feature film would probably be somewhere from 90-120. So about half a film’s worth of material in 10 days. I can live with that.

And that’s not to say that it’s all gold. It’s first draft stuff. Finding my way through aspects of character and ideas and gags. There’s still work to be done. Changes and tightening. Comedy is tricky in this regard, because you want to make sure you work in as many jokes as possible, but sometimes if you have to stray too far from the essence of the story to work a gag in, even if it’s the funniest bit in the whole piece, it often has to go. There’s a line you have to walk.

But it was exactly what I needed. A short, targeted burst that moved me forward. Gave some substance to the series. Helped me find the dynamic between the characters that I hope will be compelling to watch. Got me a little bit invigorated.

So, what now? Well there’s about five weeks to go in the school term, so I’d like to find time to write some more material. One a week would be perfect, as that would bring the total number of written episodes up to 20. Then over the holidays I want to focus on second drafts and working out which episodes will be produced first so I can start some pre-production. The aim would then be to be ready to shoot over the summer break.

Of course, to imperfectly borrow a line from Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat, when I take two steps forward, I take two steps back. Two days after completing my personal writing challenge, I sat down to start recording some demos for my partner’s audiobooks (another one of the projects on my list) only to find that my audio recorder had died. Completely failed to boot up, and none of the various troubleshooting or software reinstall attempts did more than vary the background while I stared at a spinning loading icon that was happy to continue spinning until the day of judgment.

Now this is not a minor thing. It’s the device that is going to be used for recording audio for my web series, Devin Madson’s audiobooks and her writing vlogs (and if we ever get back to it, our podcast). And while this isn’t high-end professional gear, it’s still the sort of thing that costs a pretty penny (and a number of its ugly mates) to replace.

After a bunch of online searching and emails the recorder went off in the post to the distributor of the brand in this country who will hopefully be able to fix it for about a fifth of the ugly pennies we would otherwise need to replace it. Fingers crossed.

Finally, a shout out to my partner Devin Madson. She is sitting next to me as I type this, working through the last ten or so pages of edits of the third and final novel in her Vengeance Trilogy. Finishing is tough, especially dealing with all the little last minute things that we all put off, and also the act of letting go of something out into the world. She is inspiring for how hard she works to get her story as near to perfect as human fallibility will allow and for not accepting anything less than her absolute best.

Melbourne Web Fest

Over the first weekend in July I went to Melbourne Web Fest. It’s a festival dedicated to all things online video that’s been running now for four years. There were screenings of episodes from 55 web series, professional development workshops for content creators (and aspiring ones like yours truly), a pitching competition, panels on funding and a fantastic keynote speech from John Cabrera (formerly of the cast of Gilmore Girls and creator of the web series H+). Oh yeah, and awards. Can’t have a film festival without awards right?

That was the festival on paper. And it was fantastic from start to finish. But there was an even better festival than what was written in the official program. At that festival I met a heap of fantastic people, had some great conversations about film, web series, VR and just a lot of other random stuff besides. There were some very late nights and yet people were still there in the morning for the start of the next screening block.

Everyone was great. I’ve been to similar events and I have found that once the person you’re talking to finds out that I’m either not involved in things or only aspiring to making stuff their eyes start to glaze. In other words, once they’ve determined that you’re not a connection that they can use to further their own profile or projects they’re done with you.

Not so here. Everyone was amazingly unaffected and welcoming and eager to engage. Who you were didn’t matter. One of the first questions I was asked was always “Do you have a series in the festival?” But there was no one looking for the door when the answer was no.

Perhaps it’s because of the medium. I mean web series are amazing, but they’re not the most glamourous end of the entertainment business. But I think it’s more than that. It’s the notion of community.

John Cabrera summed it up in his keynote speech. He talked about the relative value of content. In and of itself content is worth very little. What matters is the community you build. I think on this the people organising and attending Melbourne Web Fest are well ahead. I am glad to be but a small part of that community, and the festival reaffirmed my desire to contribute to it concretely. As Dog is my witness, I will have a series to submit for consideration for next year’s festival. I have my doubts as to whether what I create will make the official selection, but that’s beside the point.

Speaking of the official selection, the quality was amazingly high. I attended the first festival in 2013, and there were plenty of series in that year’s selection with below average production values and sound. Not so this time around. The humble web series has come a long way. Some of my personal favourites/highlights:

AFK – A NZ series about players of an MMORPG who find themselves inside the world of the game trying to survive (and in some cases cope with being gender swapped). High quality and done on an absolute shoestring, I will definitely be checking out all 12 episodes available thus far (once we get some decent internet at our place, though that’s another matter).

Dafuq? – Aussie comedy presented as a mock newscast by three young hipsters. Commissioned by the ABC and available on iView.

Der Lack ist Ab (The Glory is Gone) – German comedy about a married couple whose marriage and family life have lost their shine. Crisp dialogue, perfectly executed by a great cast that got some of the biggest laughs of anything at any of the screenings. Won Best International Comedy. Unfortunately the link I put up is to the YouTube channel. You can get to the website where the episodes are from there, but there don’t appear to be any subtitles on episodes that are publicly available.

Greenfield – Aussie drama set in country WA. Artistically shot and directed, it pulls no punches. Only the second episode was screened, and in case you are planning on checking it out I should mention that that episode at least should come with a trigger warning for rape. It won Best Australian Drama.

Il Sonnambulo – A dark US series about a photographer famous for his shots of the victims of a serial killer. The killer calls him after each kill to tell him where to find them. Not an easy series to watch I’m sure, but one I am intrigued to know more about.

Ren: The Girl with the Mark – This UK series won the Grand Jury Prize for the whole festival. Fantasy series with incredibly high production values on a meagre budget. From what I’ve seen so far there also seems to have been some impressive world building that’s gone into this.

The Justice Lease: Dorm of Justice – Aussie series that sees Superman, Batman, Aquaman and The Hulk (yeah, I know he’s Marvel, but trust me it works) sharing a house together. Lots of comedy, particularly as each of the heroes complain about how they’re being depicted by Hollywood in the movies. This won Crowd Favourite and Best Director.

The Shapes – Aussie animation. Film clips from a band made up of shapes. As funny as it sounds. Funnier than it sounds if you are confused by my description.

The Wizards of Aus – Jack the wizard decides to migrate from his fantasy realm to Melbourne. This does not appear to go well, and the results are pretty funny. This one won a couple of technical awards (and indeed, the VFX quality is incredible) as well as Best Supporting Actor for Mark Bonanno who is hilariously over the top as Jack’s wizardly nemesis.

Zozo “The Fugitive of The Space” – French animation about a little alien on the run in space, battling his way through. Think somewhere between Futurama and Happy Tree Friends and you’re probably in the ballpark.

This is not to say that there were no other series worthy of attention. There are close to 20 more on my list that I will check out further and there were none that seemed lucky to be there. But the 10 mentioned above for various reasons stood out to me.

Other highlights of the festival included a pitching competition where finalists got two minutes to convince a panel of judges and the crowd that theirs was the best idea for a web series going around. I did submit three entries but alas failed to secure a berth. There was a real mix of interesting ideas that ranged from the sounds-good-but-I’ve-seen-something-similar-on-TV to That-is-batshit-insane-but-awesome and all points in between. Apart from being thoroughly entertaining, the most satisfying part was the fact that the eventual winner wasn’t a film school grad with a network of friends who could probably find a way to start making their series tomorrow. It was a mum of three who was new to the game and armed with a good idea and a target audience.

And that’s fantastic considering the prize: Cash to go towards a trip to Marseille to attend their web series festival and participate in a week long writing residency in order to hone the pitch and bring it back to Australia to pitch to ABC iView.

Which brings me to another thing that came up at the festival, the fact that funding bodies and the like are beginning to take the medium of web series more seriously. ABC are looking to commission web series for iView in an attempt to create content for the 18-35s. Screen Australia now has a couple of initiatives relating to web content. Yes, it is still hard to turn a profit from this type of thing, but at least there is more and more opportunity to make these things on something other than friends, favours and free food. I may never reach this level, but the fact that there are people out there looking to fund this kind of content gives me hope.

There are plenty of other things I could talk about from those amazing three days. I haven’t touched on the workshops from the professional development day or the amount of discussions I got into about how VR could/couldn’t would/wouldn’t be a thing, but I think that’s the best place to leave it, on the idea that the humble web series is growing up, and that there is hope for filmmakers to do something amazing with it as it does.

Project Updates

In the first blog I mentioned four projects that I was tinkering with in some form or other. Here are some specific updates on each:

Audiobook Recordings of Devin Madson’s Two (Soon to Be Three) Novels.

This one is all about the homework. I’ve done a lot of research and prep on the technical side, learning the little things to try and get the best raw recording and to edit it to standard. While I’m not a complete novice at this sort of thing, I’ve found some handy advice out there on the internet from a number of sources, particularly on editing the finished product for the best quality for a listener.

I’ve also done some homework on the performance side of things. While I am an actor and performer there are subtle differences between the way you use your voice when acting for stage or camera, when doing voiceover work or voice acting, and when narrating an audiobook. Audiobooks sit somewhere in the middle. It’s not quite acting and it’s not quite public speaking. It’s a little of both.

Then there’s the homework on the books themselves. I read The Blood of Whisperers over two years ago now and am currently re-reading it, making notes and developing character voices. This is obviously the most crucial of all the prep work, but also the most fun. The book has three first person narrators (unusual I know, but trust me it works) and the major and supporting cast probably brings the total of unique voices up to something like twenty. It’s quite a challenge, especially the need to transition smoothly from voice to voice, but I’m hoping the preparation will pay off in the long run.

Lastly, I’m taking advantage of some shifting around we’ve been doing at home. My son is now seven months old, and while that’s still a bit young to be in his own room, we decided to shift things around and set up his room anyway. Since it’s free, I have about three or four months to exploit it as a recording room where I can leave everything ready to go at the drop of a hat. It should save a bucket of time as well as keeping the recording sessions more consistent.

I think I’ll be ready to start recording in about three weeks. I’m really looking forward to it.

Military Horror Novel Based Around Roman Legionaries

This is something I’ve been developing from a short story I did a couple of years ago. I’m still working on expanding my ideas and the scope of the world. I’ve continued to add to my notes, particularly thinking about the characters in more depth now that they’re playing on the bigger stage of a novel.

I’ve also been interested in looking at how other authors have tackled stories set in the same period. To that end I’ve been using my commute to listen to a bunch of audio books (from Simon Scarrow and Conn Iggulden) that are set in roughly the same period of Roman history as mine. While their books are more historical/military/adventure type books and mine is a military horror, immersing myself in the atmosphere of that world (or at least the two authors’ interpretations) does help keep my thinking on track. There is also the added benefit of the little bits of historical detail that you pick up on the way.

Right now the plan is to let this one gestate a little bit, but I wouldn’t mind starting some writing towards year’s end.

Fictional Podcast

Like many, I have thoroughly enjoyed Welcome to Night Vale (as well as Alice Isn’t Dead, a new podcast from some of the same creative team). So a while back Devin and I began to throw around ideas for one of our own, this one in more of a space opera vein.

However we haven’t gotten too far down the track with this one, and with Devin finishing the final major edit of her third novel, it’ll be on the backburner for a while. But hey, four projects on the go is almost certainly one too many, and something had to give.

Comedy Web Series

I’ve been doing a little writing on this one in recent months, but not as much as I’d like. I’ve partly been stymied by the restriction factor again. I want to keep this down to the fewest possible number of people required to make it work, but some of the episodes I’ve been writing have been calling for a larger cast and more locations and complications than I want to try and manage at this early stage.

So, I’ve decided to use restriction to my advantage and also set myself a challenge. Two cast members only, the simplest possible version of things (even simpler given that I will play both characters). Get moving, get making and get creative. There’ll be a phase two where I try and tell bigger stories, but right now I want to be doing what I can rather than wasting time trying to manage the logistics of something bigger. I had in mind four episode “types” when I developed this idea originally. This reduced version still allows me to do three of them. I think the trade-off is worth it to have something done this year rather than next. Or never.

And the challenge? Starting Friday next week I’m going to write ten episodes in ten days applying this new plan of a minimalist approach. This is in part informed by a workshop I did at Melbourne Web Fest run by Kylie Eddy from Lean Filmmaking on the idea of…well, lean filmmaking.

The episodes I will write don’t have to be perfect. They don’t all have to be ready to shoot. They don’t have to be anything more than raw, first draft level stuff. They just need to be done. That’s the challenge. I’ll report back in a few weeks to let you know how things go.


Bless me Internet for I have sinned. It has been over three months since my last confession. When last I came before you I confessed to a desire to make more time in my life for my creative projects. It would seem that now is as good a time as any to check in.

So how’s progress?

Honestly, not amazing. But there are positives.

I have struggled to find the time to really work at things. I will admit that some of that is my own personal blocks which I have fought against and probably always will. And family life, a newborn and teacher homework (trust me, we have more than the kids) are still there.

On the other hand, those things aren’t going anywhere, so I can’t give myself the excuse.

What I would like to discuss are the positives. Because when you’re trying to achieve momentum from a stationary start, any forward movement is still something.

Positive number 1: My Commute

I mentioned in my previous post that I now spend about three hours a day behind the wheel going to and from work. That’s a restriction on my time but I’ve said I want to use restriction as fuel, not as excuse. I’ve hunted down podcasts and audiobooks that are relevant to my various projects (more on this in another post). More than that, I’ve used the space and time to think, mulling over ideas and problems as I’ve driven (while still maintaining a vigilant watch for suicidal kangaroos). By the time I’ve reached the other end of the journey, I’ve often had more than a few notes to scribble down.

Positive number 2: Feeding My Muse

No one creates in a bubble. We need stimulation in the form of viewing the creative work of others and engaging in dialogue with them (literal and metaphorical). Luck has been with me and I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity.

My partner, an independent author, attended Continuum (Melbourne speculative fiction convention) to speak on panels, meet other authors and sell some books in the dealers’ room. I came along as general support crew for the books and bub, but also took advantage of the opportunity to speak on a few of panels (of the fan discussion variety, but I was still plenty nervous about whether or not I had anything worthwhile to say) and met a great bunch of writers and fans of all things fantasy, sci-fi and geeky.

I also went to Melbourne Web Fest, a festival dedicated to the web series. This was incredible (so much so that I will be posting a separate blog about it)

Finally, this year I decided to be an assessor of the VCE Theatre Studies exam. Since students can write on any two of ten approved plays, it’s necessary for an assessor to see them all. So far I’ve been to six and they have also been amazing and stimulating experiences.

So on the whole that’s been a pretty incredible few months. Certainly a wider variety of creative experiences than I’ve had for some years. And it’s been really good for cementing my desire to flex my creative muscles again. Now comes the next bit. Actually getting stuff done. I have a particular challenge for myself in mind. More on this soon, along with some specific updates on the various projects I talked about in my last blog.

On Reclaiming Creativity


First off, I take great comfort in the fact that this will not be read by anyone. Or at least, not for a long time. Sure at some future point once I actually start to produce something that people take notice of I imagine someone will get curious and want to look me up (and if that’s you then let me just say a quick “hey, thanks for stopping by”). But until then these words are kind of just whispers in the dark, marked for internal use only.

Which is handy because the second point of this blog post is a personal kick up the butt. Let’s not think too much about the anatomical logistics required to pull this kind of manoeuvre off (or that it took two goes for me to correctly spell manoeuvre), let’s just take the metaphor as read.

See it’s like this: I set out some years ago to live what I would describe as a creative life. And there have been times when I would say I have been living one. I’ve written or directed or produced or appeared in shows at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Melbourne Fringe Festival. I’ve worked on various short film projects. I’ve worked with high school students to create and put on plays that deal with the issues that affect them, as well as getting my Broadway on directing high school musicals (though not High School Musical). I am proud of all these things.

However, they haven’t been quite enough. Just like when you read through someone’s social media postings you get the edited highlights of their life, my reality is much more mundane. And worse, many of the projects and ideas that excite me or mean the most to me are the ones that still lie largely incomplete or unrealised.

Like all of us when we procrastinate, I have the usual array of excuses. As a teacher, I have the kind of job that I don’t leave behind when the day is done. I have a family (a partner, two stepdaughters and a newborn son). I also recently moved further away from where I work, meaning I spend about three hours a day in the car. These and other demands over the years have restricted and at times outright stopped my various creative pursuits. Often times I would find myself shaking my head, wistfully sighing and putting a project aside with a lament of “One Day.”

I’ve decided that doesn’t work for me anymore. Partly because of the obvious, that life is too short, and eventually “One Day” if left unattended in a loading zone for too long gets towed away to “Never”.

But it’s also because of a realisation: Restriction does not stop creativity. It hones and unleashes it.

When working on independent productions, the restriction is usually money. There’s never enough to get the best quality equipment or expertise on board. It’s forced us to be creative, getting more out of less, finding another way to tell the story without elaborate effects or fancy camera dollies or cranes.

When working in a high school setting, the restriction is usually experience. The kids don’t have the training or worldliness to completely understand and pull off a performance in the way that a professional cast might. It’s forced me to learn how to cast creatively, re-imagine scenes to play to kids’ strengths and ultimately led to much tighter and interesting finished products.

When writing, the restriction is usually the limits of form or genre or perhaps the limitations of historical events that a story is linked to. The challenge in creativity comes in making those work for you in such a way that a 14-line sonnet can say as much as a full-length novel or that a play set in one room can somehow feel like it is still a critical fulcrum in world-shaping events that are happening somewhere offstage. These are ongoing challenges, but I’ve relished each of them.

So if restrictions don’t actually restrict creativity (instead forcing creativity down new and more interesting pathways) then why should this be any different if the restriction in question is time?

That is the question I am going to attempt to answer as I start the quest to reclaim my creative self. Finding ways to use time more creatively and effectively within the time limitations of everyday life. I plan on blogging about it too, both in terms of what I’m working on as well as in terms of how I am finding ways to work with the time I am given.

Work stuff

So what am I working on? Well at the moment there is a comedy web series that I am working towards and a military horror novel set in Roman times. Recently I’ve also been floating a fictional podcast idea and a new technical challenge in the form of performing and producing audiobook versions of my partner Devin Madson’s novels.

How will I go? You may already know the answer by the time you read this. But I’m going to be writing about it here whether you’re reading it or not. Think of it as motivation. Whispers in the dark, echoing my own thoughts back to me to keep me moving. For internal use only.