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THE TRANSGRESSIONS CYCLE
3-book series of supernatural gothic horror. Published by Simon & Schuster.

Friday
Apr292016

Storytelling in VR - Babies and Bathwaters

The question of how to tell a story in VR has become a hot topic. But the answers some are drawing to that question seem to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater…  

In the article here, Meghan Neal from Vice media site Motherboard tackles this thorny issue leading off with the provocative statement; ‘How Traditional Storytelling Is Ruining Virtual Reality Film’. In the meat of this piece, the writer makes very sound observations about the biases of VR as a narrative medium - most notably that it is Spatially driven by an audience’s own curiosity and exploration motivated Agency, which fundamentally separates it from the linearity of cinema as we know it.  

The VR showcase at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. Photo by Meg NealHowever, where my alarm bells go off is in regard to the the broad brush use of terminology and blunt misunderstanding of what a Story is. In essence I think the article confuses ‘Traditional Storytelling’ with ‘Cinematic Storytelling’, equating them to the same thing, and in doing so draws the conclusion that; “VR necessitates breaking the traditional construct of a linear story that hits certain beats: this happens, then this, then this….” 

The reason I pick this up is to point out a truth - Every story Ever told on ANY medium - from campfire tale, to book, to cinema, to game console - is based on ‘this happened, then that happened, then that happened.” It’s called Cause-and-Effect and without it you don’t have a ‘Story’ (you might have an experience, an emotion, a feeling, but you do not have a Story). BUT, this fundamental bedrock story principle of cause-and-effect should not be confused with Cinematic Sequential Image Storytelling where the audience are Shown this and then Shown that and then Shown something else in order to Tell that story. This is the core difference between Plot and Narration - What Happens vs How it is Told (the word Narration itself from the Greek origin meaning ’to tell’).   

What we might call Traditional Storytelling is, in many ways, platform agnostic; and, moreover, what people expect from a story doesn’t (and hasn’t ever) changed from medium to medium - suspense, dramatic questions, tension, action, character wants and needs, transformation, reversals, escalations, climax, catharsis - these are all universal to what a story does and how audiences expect it to make us feel. A good VR story should have all of these, and the ‘plot’ of a VR story will look more or less like any other plot in any other medium - B happened because A happened and C wont happen until A and B happen. And through the accumulation of those events the audience experience a Story… 

So…. the Real challenge for VR is HOW the audience ‘accumulate’ those events..? Cinema ’shows’ them to an audience one by one, But VR (because of audience agency and 360 immersion) cant do that. Instead VR compels us to find them, explore them, collect, assemble, uncover or construct them. The underlying traditional story principles are absolutely still there - a VR Story that doesn’t have cause and effect between events, doesn’t escalate, or provide emotional catharsis, is no story at all. In other words, VR doesn’t change what a story is, nor does it in any way break or dismantle what a story has always been (no medium ever has). What VR does do is force us to use a different kind of story-telling grammar. All the traditional principles of a story are still there and absolutely essential, BUT the audience must be compelled to be an active participant in the story, they cannot be ‘shown’ the story as cinema does, they must be motivated to engage with, and be a part of, the cause-and-effect chain of the story’s telling. 

And in this regard I find myself wondering if those who are writing about the ‘challenges of VR Storytelling’, have been sleeping under a rock only watching auteur cinema for the past 25 years? Because, in truth, there is Nothing in this regard for VR that hasn’t already been front and centre of Video Game Storytelling for nearly 3 decades! The first-person video game has been very successfully telling rich, complex and compelling stories in immersive 360 environments for many years; stories told by spatial player/audience exploration and gathering, rather than simply being shown sequential images. I fear many articles like this seem to ignore that history and approach VR as if it is the first medium to face these challenges. If you’ve played Half Life, Bioshock, Myst, Special Ops: The Line, Call of Duty MW, Gone Home, Dear Ester, Amnesia, Everyone’s Gone To Rapture, or Portal, you have already seen immersive, spatial 360 storytelling of the highest calibre; stories that are profound, dramatic, engaging and poetic. And they all pre-date VR headsets. 

There’s no doubt I am personally excited about VR - my first VR narrative project, VRNoir, will premiere at this year’s Vivid Sydney festival and I have a stack more in the production pipeline. But I come to writing for VR very much aware of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Whilst we will no doubt spend the next decade grappling with what exactly is the grammar of VR storytelling, what remains true is that VR Does Not break the traditional principles of storytelling. It, like all mediums before it, embraces and builds upon them. Moreover, VR is far from being the first medium to tell a story in a 360 spatial environment and we would do well to remember that…. Else the baby goes out with the bathwater. 

Monday
Apr252016

Special Jury prize for Australian Mystery Drama

Mystery drama series, The Kettering Incident, has taken out the Special Jury Prize at this year’s Series Mania Festival in Paris!

Festival Séries Mania is the Cannes of ‪‎TV‬ festivals, celebrating and showcasing the best in drama series from around the world with a jury overseen by none other than David Chase, creator of the Sopranos. The festival featured screenings of high-end international dramas such as Midnight, Sun, Mammas Angel, El Marginal, Mr Robot, The Man in the High Castle and Marin Scorsese’s Vinyl. 

The Kettering Incident was the only Australian series screening in-competition and was up against amazing competition. But the production, filmed entirely in Tasmania, has triumphed. 

Created By Vicki Madden and Vincent Sheehan as a co-production between Sweet Potato Films Pty Ltd and Porchlight Films, The Kettering Incident had it’s international premiere at MONA - Museum of Old and New Art - Dark Mofo festival last year and will be broadcast in Australia on the 4th of July on Foxtel.

It was an honour and privilege beyond measure to work with Vicki and the writing team on creating the world TKI; such a wildly ambitious, big-thinking, high-concept genre series as this is kind of TV I’ve spent my life wishing Australia would have the guts to make…

Vicki is currently in LA at a high-end script lab with our exciting new drama series collaboration we’ve been crafting this past year, but she is no doubt being shouted drinks at the bar by her new LA friends. 

Set your diary reminders for the 4th of July to catch the broadcast premiere of The Kettering Incident - you wont regret it - how could David Chase be wrong!!?

 

Monday
Apr252016

2016 Australian Shadows Awards

Congratulations to all the winners in this year’s Australian Shadows Awards. I didn’t get to take home a win but absolutely stoked none the less to have not one but two nominations among such a great company of peers. Well done everyone.

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The Australian Horror Writers Association is pleased to announce the winners for the 2015 Australian Shadows Awards. These works represent the very best in horror works produced by Australian and New Zealand writers in the calendar year of 2015 and are the embodiment of those stories that linger long after the final page.

Our winners are: 

Best Collected Works:Peripheral Visions: The Collected Ghost Stories - Rob Hood

Best Edited Works: Blurring the Line - Marty Young

Rocky Wood Award for Non-Fiction and Criticism: The Literary Gothic by Marija Elektra Rodriguez 

Best Novel: The Catacombs - Jeremy Bates

The Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction: In Vaulted Halls Entombed - Alan Baxter

Best Written Works in a Comic/Graphic Novel: The Road to Golgotha - G.N. Braun & Amanda J Spedding

Best Short Story: Mine Intercom - Kaaron Warren


Wednesday
Apr062016

VRNoir. A Day Before the Night 

VRNoir has wrapped. Our little detective thriller created with Sydney-based VR company START-VR, has finished shooting and now heads into the long dark, complicated, tunnel of post-production piloted by the extraordinary team at Frame Set Match. It’s been an extraordinary process in the truest sense of the word - wrangling not just the ordinary complexity of filmmaking, but also the near infinite unknowns about the new visual grammar and technical demands of shooting live-action VR. But our team dove into that challenge with enthusiasm and passion.

Sincere thanks to all the crew who worked so hard, and the great cast who took to the performance challenges of VR with good grace. Particular thanks so much to my comrades at StartVR, producers Nathan Anderson and Martin Taylor, and to DoP Kim, director Robert Klenner and FirstAD Dimitri Ellerington. Also much gratitude to the Australian Film Television and Radio School for backing the project as an exploration of genuine innovation in the screen industries, Neil Peplow, Martin Brown and all the great AFTRS team.

Stay tuned for regular updates and the launch premiere at this year’s Vivid Sydney Festival 

 

Tuesday
Mar292016

VRNoir - Detective Thriller for VR

VR NOIR: A DAY BEFORE THE NIGHT is the immersive detective-thriller virtual reality project I’ve written with Start VR and with support from the AFTRS, and it will have it’s launch at this years Vivid Sydney festival.

Below is a little behind-the-scenes from the tests shoots and principle shooting starts tomorrow. This is a bold experiment combining live action, CG, first and third person perspectives and interactive mechanics wrapped up in a classic Noir style with a Sydney twist.

Getting then to show off VRNoir at Vivid is just icing on the cake. The lineup of guests and events for Vivid is nothing short of extraordinary including appearances and works by Spike Jonze, NewOrder, Bjork, and Beau Willimon (showrunner of House of Cards). Being part of that program is definitely a thrill. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday
Jan272016

SkipAhead Script Development Lab

Very excited to be overseeing a new script development lab initiative from Screen Australia and Google Australia entitled SkipAhead; a program focused on taking YouTube creators into the world of long-form storytelling.

Leading the lab with producer Sam Jennings of Causeway Films, we will be taking participants through an intensive TV and Film writing bootcamp and then drilling down into the creator’s individual projects in a rigorous development process to create TV-pilots and feature scripts.

Sunday
Dec062015

Future Tense - Fan culture and co-creation  

“So, when does co-creation become labour exploitation? And how does a professional writer reshape the creative process to get the best out of his/her fans, while still maintaining a veneer of sanity?”

I was recently interviewed by Antony Funnell on ABC Radio National’s FUTURE TENSE discussing ideas of Fan-Culture, Co-Creation, writing across platforms and online audiences. 

“Take a healthy dose of obsessive fan culture, throw in a whole array of digital production tools, add a writer/producer who’s happy to share, mash it all together, and you’ve got the makings of a nice piece of co-creation. 

Fans have long had a role in influencing and in some cases helping to shape the works of popular culture they adore. But when they get restless in the modern age, they now have the resources to take a piece of fiction and make it their own.”

In the interview I discuss my new book series, The Transgressions Cycle, explore ideas of collaboration, testing stories with audiences, and developing stories in an adaptive way. 

In the interview I’m joined by other writers and commentators including Laura Miller from Slate.com It makes for a great listen and the full program episode is available online from the ABC.

Wednesday
Nov252015

A Night of Horror

Premiering on the 26th November is ‘A Night of Horror Vol 1’ an anthology collection of delectably scary horror shorts produced by my comrade Enzo Tedeschi of Deadhouse Films. 

“Zombies, demonic entities, self-surgery, cannibalism and more await in the dark corners of this terrifying offering from some of the most talented filmmakers working in the genre today. WYRMWOOD’S Bianca Bradey stars, and leads you through a pulse-charging night of cinematic horror.”
Monday
Oct262015

2016 National Screenwriters Conference

Registrations are now open for the Australian Writers’ Guild National ‪‎Screenwriters‬ Conference. This Event is COMPULSORY. Australian writers should not, under any circumstances, miss it!. I can quite literally trace 80% of all the work and collaborations I’ve had over the past 2 years to meetings and contacts I gained at the last NSC.

At the 2016 conference - 9-11 March - I’ll be leading a panel looking at writing for online digital series and running a craft session on multiplatform development. There is also the Micro-Mentorships the conference offers to emerging writers and so I’ll be taking meetings with newbies to offer some advice. The full program is now online with special international guests still to be announced.

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The eagerly anticipated National Screenwriters’ Conference is the must-attend, biennial, 3-day event for screenwriters, established and aspiring. Presented by the Australian Writers’ Guild, with our Principal Partner Film Victoria and Industry Partner Foxtel, this event brings together screenwriting talent from across Australia and around the world.

Wednesday
Oct212015

A good review: 'The Mothers'

The prestigious Newtown Review of Books reviewed my novel THE MOTHERS and said some nice things…

“a gripping, cinematically detailed horror story following a fearless 19th-century heroine… Ritualistic carnage, coupled with the ritualistic deception of history being rewritten, brings to a surreal climax the mystery of forgotten foundlings, mystical apparitions, and the grief of innocence lost.”

Read the full article from The Newtown Review of Books here.

It goes with the other nice things people have been saying.

“Jones has achieved something special in this book. Imagine a 19th century gothic novel but with the pace of a modern horror experience and that is ‘The Mothers’. The world he creates around the central character is seamless; you become immersed in her experience and root for her survival while glimpsing into the cracks in the dark.”
- Amazon UK

“Had us reading late into the night (and turning on the hall light) with his nail-biting tale, a creative blend of horror and historical fiction… Jones’ novel hooked us with its evocative imagery and skin-crawling suspense.
- iBooks Best Books of the Month List - Sept 2015.

“Beautifully written… It took me by surprise… Evokes the mind to experience just what’s on the page.”
- Australian Horror Fiction Podcast.

The second book in The Transgressions Cycle collection, THE SCRIMSHAW MARIONETTE, is out now and Halloween will see the release of the third and final book, THE REPARATION.