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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sophocles 2007 Version

The lovely people at Sophocles contacted me this morning to let me know the new version of their software is beta testing at the moment. I've never used Sophocles, having a copy of Final Draft, but I've heard consistently good things about Sophocles, perhaps because they are dedicated to finding out what their customers want? Plus Sophocles was my very favourite philosopher (Electra is the best!), so I'll definitely be having a look.

So, exercise your consumer power by finding the beta version here and leave them some feedback. You know you want to.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Keep Your Drafts Simplex

Am I alone in finding awards ceremonies deathly dull? It would seem so. I really couldn't give a toss who won what, who thanked God or who cried at the podium. I know that's dreadfully mean-spirited of me: after all, these are my (intended) colleagues one day but for me, the very idea that a film is "good enough" for an award means it invariably isn't in my view and I suddenly lose interest. I never watched CRASH or BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN: why? Because everyone raved about them. I suppose it's the sad, disaffected teen in me that I haven't yet grown out of: everyone else likes it, so I won't. I also always feel a certain gless whenever I'm proved right: I love CHILDREN OF MEN - did it win anything? No? Then it's TOO GOOD for it, hah! Why join the ranks of pap like MONSTERS BALL or GLADIATOR when you can be the IN THE BEDROOMs or even THE ICE STORMs? No, 'tis far, far better to be snubbed. Or at least it is in my tiny mind, so when I never even get nominated, let alone win anything, I can just tell myself it's because I'm TOO GOOD! :P

Okay, rant over.

Today children, I'm going to talk about story. Are you sitting comfortably? ; )

Simple, yet complex is the name of the game when it comes to feature film. I call this approach Simplex. Yes, it's a paradox, but it can be done. Let me explain.

When drafts come through BANG2WRITE the very first thing that is often wrong with them is story. In that, I don't know what it is. Now writers may be completely flummoxed by this assertion and I sympathise: I'm always reminded of a time I attempted to write a creature movie without a creature (I kid you not: I was so revolutionary! Naahht) and coverage came back from The First Film Foundation that said, basically, WHAT THE BLOODY HELL IS GOING ON HERE?? There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth by moi and I put the script aside for approximately six months while I concentrated on something else.

So I re-read the script later and you've guessed it, my first thought...

...WHAT THE BLOODY HELL IS GOING ON HERE??

It's perfectly possible to write a story of 90 even 120 pages that makes no sense. I've done it, you've probably done it, we'll all no doubt do it again: this is my coined phrase, the WTF? Draft. And let's face it, it's far better to write a WTF? Draft than one that's dull and predictable. There's a certain essence to WTF? drafts that are enthusiastic, alive, fun - as long as you can capture the seed of what makes them enthusiastic, alive and fun and make it coherent, you're laughing. Far harder to breathe life into something pedestrian. Yuk.

So, simple yet complex. Simplex. Let's look at a fave franchise of mine, The Terminator Trilogy (hah, you thought I'd say ALIEN! WRONG! Now a certain amount of you are beginning to realise why I hate awards ceremonies...Yes?!)

The story behind TERMINATOR is very simple. Cyber guy comes back from future to kill mother of the child before he's even born who will go on to save the human race.

Again, the story behind TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY is very simple: more advanced cyber guy comes back from future to kill mother of the child AND the child who will save the human race, only cyber guy from first movie helps them get away.

TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES: more of the same, except original cyber guy is now almost obselete, the mother is dead, the kid is grown up and the advanced cyber guy is a cyber woman and obsolete cyber guy has to save the pre-destined wife of original saviour kid as well. Phew.

As you can see, it gets more complicated, but that's okay: we have the original film as reference. There's something to be learned here - add mega detail as you go along, maybe? Or, if you want to introduce multiple strands - like kids, babies, wives, dead mothers - maybe you need multiple movies?

But anyway, I digress. The franchise is simple: Arnie comes back from the future three times, first to kill (by proxy in that first movie) and then to save, John Connor. Set up: he comes back, finds him. Conflict: he either tracks him or helps him get away. Resolution: they defeat the baddie, either Arnie or the other dudes depending which film it is, usually in some kind of factory or underground-type shelter. Woo hoo. Three for the price of one, yeah!

So what's complicated about it? In terms of structure, nothing. It's a very easy to understand set of chase movies, with plenty of explosions, shooting and the odd bit of stabbing with big metal spikes (gotta love those spikes).

No, what is complicated about it relates to the content. In other words, what we see in those pictures pictures PRODUCES QUESTIONS that are never fully answered and nor should they be. For example: is the future pre-destined? Can you change your fate? These ideas ride high in the story throughout all three films and though assertions are made - they "prevent" Judgement Day in T2 and realise they've "postponed" it in T3 for the sake of plotting - there is no definite conclusion. There are references to Chaos Theory throughout the whole franchise, but especially in T3 with the previous kiss in the den between Nick Stahl and Claire Danes' characters when they were kids ("If you hadn't come back then, I would have known her sooner!") which is the exact opposite to Pre-destination, yet still it works because there is no hard and fast ideology to what is being said here: is it pre-destination or chaos theory? Who the hell knows? Who cares? It ADDS to the experience.

So, Simplex: make your basic plot as simple as possible. Bring your complicated notions through character interreaction, dialogue, arena, motivations.

Easier said than done...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Bluecat Q&A

We all know that screenplay contests are just a way for industry fatcats to make loads of moolah out of aspiring screenwriters: there you are, beavering away on your baby (oo er), you pay your fifty quid and submit it in the hope of winning and getting your big deal, along with an agent attached, some big stars and the obligatory trophy spouse...

...Except that doesn't happen. You send off your screenplay and then: NOTHING. Nada. Nitch (is that a word? I kind of like it.) You never hear again. Boo. Hiss. Down with screenplay contests! You say, Where is my beautiful wife? Where is my amazing house? And where is George Clooney and Jim Carrey attached instead of TO MY SPEC??

Except, with these guys, The Bluecat Screenplay Competition, it's all different. Yes, I know I'm a little late off the ball with just SIX DAYS TO GO but think of it as a wake up call. SIX DAYS TO BLUE CAT! I don't like the phrase "everyone's a winner" usually, but you really ARE if you enter the contest. Even if you don't place, you get good quality feedback. Here's mine from last year if you don't believe me. These notes even formed the base of my rewrite - that I duly re-entered back into Bluecat THIS year. Bang2write never reccommends contests I haven't entered myself and been pleased with. But, if that's not enough, I thought I'd talk to the chap himself, Mr. Gordy Hoffman about the contest...

1. How many scripts were submitted to Bluecat in its first year - and how many last year? If a vast difference, what do you believe is different about Bluecat when there are so many screenplay competitions now? We received 388 entries in the first year, and we got 1786 last year. I think people know we care. We don't charge a lot, our prizes are big, the industry respects us and we give notes to every one who enters. Our actions speak loudly.

2. We hear alot about "not" writing WE SEE, adverbs etc... Are there any format inconsistencies/errors/etc that really bug you? Why? I don't care about format too much, but I think if we took out the CON'T's, we'd have a lot more room for story. All in all, spell stuff correctly and format isn't gonna get you at BlueCat.

3. You had a competition for the best screenplay title recently in early Bluecat entries. What do you look for in a title when looking at your reading pile? Original, bold, risky, witty and artful. Easier said than done!!

4. From your own reading experience, are there any genres/stories etc that you feel make "better" spec screenplays? Which make the worst, in your opinion? I really don't want to answer this, because I don't want people to redirect themselves towards what they think might be a better spec idea. Read the trades and have fun.

5. Of the previous Bluecat winners, does a particular favourite spring to mind immediately? If so, why? Do any other scripts - maybe ones that didn't place - have a place in your heart (even for a goofy reason)? I love my finalists every year, often more than the winner, but they break down in some way, buckling en route to the loot. I am haunted by an abstract screenplay a few years back with mannequins. I should've made it the winner. I learned.

6. How do you choose the Bluecat winner - is it structure? Story? Characterisation? Or is that Top Secret?? ; ) Heather, my partner in BlueCat, puts chicken in the pile of scripts and whatever screenplay her dog, Joplin, destroys first, wins. It's worked for years. Seriously, I know the winner when I read it. What a relief, right?? I either laugh or cry profusely.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I'm Baaaaack

Now who peed in the pot plant while I was gone? Eh? EH?!?!

Take my eye off the ball for ONE SECOND and you ungrateful lot are taking liberties. Well I got your number...So watch it. That's all I'm saying.

The jaunt to Bournemouth was very nice, exactly what I needed. We ate fish and chips and chinese takeaway and bits and bobs from Spar every night, especially cadbury's creme eggs (though not actually on the same night at the same time neccessarily) and the grown ups drank beer and I EVEN WENT TO A BAR. This is particularly exciting because I have not been to a bar in nine months or so and not a) met a client or b) talked about scriptwriting! AMAZING!!!!

We saw some sharks (at Bournemouth's Oceanarium), walked on the beach, visited friends, went up Bournemouth's impossibly hilly high street whilst dragging a buggy and my son ("My legs, my beautiful legs!" he wails) and went to the rather marvellous Monkey World and saw some...well, monkeys. And apes, because there were chimpanzees too and Orangutans. I know my...biology, or whatever that bloody is.

Oh and the boy managed to fall in the only thorn bush in the whole of suburbia, so his little friend Jack had to pull a thorn out of his butt. Apparently this was a particular highlight. Boys will be boys.

What have you been doing?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Please Hold...

...No, not that, you dirty little man!

Oh, I've come across all unneccessary. Where was I? Oh yes: I'm off. I haven't had a holiday since June 2005 (and that was my honeymoon, so doesn't count: who gets out of bed on honeymoon?? Why do people spend so much on them when all you need is a travel lodge and a tube of...okay, you get the picture).

So: that's right, you heard correctly, I'm actually taking time off! Is it a miracle? No, just burn out. Am I going to Thailand? The Seychelles? Chaverife? No, no, no...

...Bournemouth.

We're broke. *Sigh*. We ARE going away later in the year though and I just HAVE to get away from poxy Devon and the poxy flat before someone very near me dies: possibly the Chav and Chavette who live at number 22 who have the fecking NERVE to play their telly at huge decibel levels, yet bang on our wall when Lilirose is crying! FASCISTS! So, for the safety of all concerned in the immediate area, we are visiting some friends for a long overdue mini-break dah-link. And it's only for a couple of days, so DON'T PANIC if your script is on my pile. It's bloody going with me. You know who you are, you slave-driving bastards (love you really, MWAH!).

My three cats already know something is up: they're eyeing me suspiciously. What they don't know is MY MOTHER is coming to look after them. She LOVES CATS and MAKES THEM HER BABIES which would be great for normal cats, except mine all have severe behavioural difficulties just like Mr. Tinkle in CATS AND DOGS. *Evil laugh*. Now we'll see who's sorry for ruining my new sofa!!!

So: please hold. Normal service will be resumed by the end of the week. Until then: ciao suckers. You know the drill: write fast, read slow, pick up all typos and questionable character motivations. I thank you.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Choosing Character Names

How do you choose them? There are many ways. Here are some of mine:

NAME THE ANTAGONIST AFTER SOMEONE WHO HAS PISSED YOU OFF. Speaks for itself, this one. Alot of my characters are called Dave when I'm not speaking to my husband. I (usually) change it later.

THE NAME IS THE TITLE METHOD. Sometimes naming the piece after the character in some way is a really good way of summing up the piece - sometimes it just leaves
Readers baffled. It can be hit and miss, but if you hit, it can be great.

THE PHONEBOOK METHOD. Open the phonebook and pick an initial, then brainstorm possible names. More creative and sometimes you can come across some great surnames that also give you ideas. I also found an A. Ventura living in Exeter once, though whether he or she is a pet detective is unconfirmed.

THE LITERARY ALLUSION METHOD. Got a backstabbing evil twin in your screenplay? Why not call him Edmund (King Lear)! I think this is the biggest offender I read whilst script reading, though Holden comes up ALOT, especially in American screenplays - Catcher in The Rye, apparently, though I've never read this book. Another fave is Harper, as in To Kill A Mockingbird, which I have read. However, those three are overused, this can be an effective tool - a little "short cut" to telling the a
udience what this character is really about. Just choose wisely.

THE "GRAB A DVD" METHOD. Look at the listings on a DVD or imdb.com or whatever and just nick the most interesting ones. We've had enough of heroes called John by the way!!!

THE IRONIC NAME METHOD. I always look on this website for these. You can search meanings here as well as celebrity favourites and most popular in the country where you live. I used an ironic name in THY WILL BE DONE for example: discovering the name "Rebecca" means "noose" in Hebrew (really!), I gave the character who was the downfall of another this name - give a man a rope and he hangs himself, in effect.

THE "GIVE ME A NAME, ANY NAME!" METHOD. Ask people standing near you. Never a good idea, since this is closely linked to the "OM" Method (see below) and you get the same ones suggested. If I hear Catherine or James one more time, I'll go mad.

THE "OM" METHOD. As in, "This character is named....ommmmmm....aaaahhhh....SUSAN!" (What?) The advantages of this method is the right name "comes" to you; the disadvantage is you often use the same ones. At the moment I am stuck on Rob and Jack for boys and Melissa and Jenny for girls. BORING.

What do you do to name YOUR characters?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Meeting

Well, I made it to Bath and back...Just. It was fine getting there (though I did arrive an hour early!), but on the way back I fell off my chair on the platform at Bristol Temple Meads perilously close to the 17.21 to Paddington and then I tried to get on a train to Great Malvern of all places instead of Devon. Weirdly, I lived near Malvern as a child so all I can think is that my brain rewound, independently of itself. There is no other explanation. Unless of course I was just on the wrong platform out of chance! ; )

The meeting *seemed* to go well. They were very positive about my script and were all round pleasant. They told me they were "seriously interested", but were yet to draw up a short list for this scheme. So I guess it could go either way. Still, in the very least the meeting gave me some ideas for the direction of the script which is always good.

In other news, I've entered The Bluecat Screenplay Comp for the second year running - this time with THREE of my more polished screenplays: THY WILL BE DONE (aka Divine Rites), ECLIPSE (aka Wish) and HUSBAND AND FATHER (aka Near to Darkness). I don't suppose I'll place, but $45 is actually approximately £23, so for the princely sum of £69 I'll have good quality feedback for these three from an American point of view, which is always handy.

What are you up to?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Rewrite Right

I have a rule when writing first-first drafts (as opposed to second-first drafts, third-first drafts, etc: is there REALLY anyone out there who submits a REAL "first" draft anymore??): walk away for a minimum of THREE DAYS. During these three days one must not even so much as THINK about your first draft, let alone call it up on the desktop and have another quick read-through. No sirreee. Do this and all is lost.

Why? Well, you don't notice the BLOODY OBVIOUS for a start. Maryan has a great post on this and I second her idea. If you keep going back and looking, you're too familiar. Be too familiar and the BLOODY OBVIOUS gets right past you, just like the fact your kid went to school this morning with toothpaste all over his jumper (guilty as charged).

I finished a first-first draft last week in-between Lilirose's naps over a two week period. Because my time was disjointed in writing the draft, the story came out a bit wonky. But that's okay, 'cos I knew that would happen: hell, my life is wonky at the moment; it can't be anything but with a nine month old in the house. My life is perpetual nappy changes, peekaboo and searching for Flat Eric, her favourite Houdini toy. The joys of motherhood.

So, reading through it yesterday then, I found STUFF is wrong with the draft: it's peppered full of typos, there's adverbs (SHOCK! HORROR!), even some NCI. The structure is a bit lumpy. All things I KNEW would happen.

But what about those things that surprised me?

Here goes:

*First off, there's a character who asks people if they want a cup of tea. ALL THE TIME. What happened there? It's a bloke too: in my experience, no fella has ever asked me if I want a cup of tea. Is this some kind of twisted wish fulfilment?

*The profanity in my script is OTT, even in survival situations.

*Considering my character gets beaten up around the end of Act One and everyone says, "Oh, your face!" and "What happened?" BY THE VERY NEXT DAY no one appears to notice: even when she meets new people. Weird.

*A policeman puts his hand THROUGH THE WINDSCREEN to shake someone's hand. Now, I can't drive, but even I know you put your hand through the car side window.

*My protagonist says "Thanks" what feels like every five seconds. Shut up, love!

I could have read through and read through until the cows come home and I wouldn't have noticed these five very obvious things that another, unconnected Reader would have picked up on on the very first time they set eyes on the page. It's like one can be "too close" to one's drafts: whilst coverage is always an idea, sometimes one can pick up things alone. Fresh eyes are what you need - it's the only way to pick up the BLOODY OBVIOUS.

And first-first drafts ALWAYS have BLOODY OBVIOUS mistakes in. Readers can smell first-first drafts like anacondas smell rats. Readers are those fearsome predators, ready to strike and squeeze the life out of your screenplay... Actually, Readers are more likely to roll their eyes, switch the kettle on for another cup of coffee or tea, sigh theatrically and maybe get a biscuit as well, then write PASS.

Don't let them pass. Not on a first-first draft, in the very least. Rewrite right: it's no accident that "draft" rhymes with "graft", I always say. I usually write between five and seven versions of my first drafts, though one once made it to sixteen. Now, I think it's "ready" - but only in the sense that it's ready for development, not shooting. Scripts are blueprints, people.

How many do you write?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Stressy-Stress-Stress

As me a question. Any question. I guarantee, 100%, the answer will be $@&£ *"!

Really.

The dreaded Ofsted Inspection is tomorrow. TOMORROW. All my students did badly last year so they're going to be all over me (I was the cover AND heavily pregnant to be fair, plus the guy I was covering for had had a nervous breakdown AND not taught them ONE DAMN THING meaning I had to cram 9 mths' syllabus into 4.5 mths!!). Add to that the fact the drama teacher pisses me off: "I'm GLAD they're coming, I'VE got nothing to hide..." AND the fact I like to put pressure on myself: "I've never got lower than a level 1!!!" and you can see how boiled my brain is right now.

Oh, and just for fun, the meeting at Touch Films is THIS THURSDAY.

P.S. The baby's just ripped up my Scheme of Work. Little bitch.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Storytelling Unplugged

I've been working so hard lately I've been feeling like my head is going to EXPLODE, so many thanks to Shell for pointing me in the direction of this website and indeed, this article in particular. It's quite a revelation for those of you out there yet to get any of your writing on-screen, DVD or web: the Director's Choice bit in the article is particularly enlightening.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Off Outline

So I write an outline. I'm pretty pleased with it - it's detailed, it makes sense, it's dramatic. Check, check, check. Start Act One: goes according to plan. Check. Act Two, First Half: no problems. Check. Then we hit the midpoint...

...And my character comes alive and kills someone he shouldn't. Someone who was in the outline, who was supposed to have a bigger role, but he just killed her! Bastard.

Is this a good or a bad thing I wonder?

Montage

I've had an absolute plethora of clients through recently wanting to know my thoughts on montage - in particular, layout - so thought it might be an idea to dig this article up out of the archive on the old blog. I'd be particularly interested to hear from people who lay out montages any other way than those I outline below. The last way I deem "correct" in the article I learned from a director/producer -"they" taught me differently at uni, but it always came back in coverage as "incorrect", whereas now everyone is SILENT about my montages... Hopefully that means they're correct now and not dull! What do you think about montage?
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Many thanks to David over at Vicious Imagery for letting me indulge my John August fantasy once again with this question:

How do you feel about montages? Are they good, bad or ugly? Overused and amateurish, or a useful device to communicate a story without dialogue? Also, what's the best way to present a montage in a screenplay?

A great question...s. Well, there's quite a few there actually. So, here we go!

First off, I love a good montage. They're economic and can be extremely useful. Like flashbacks and non-linearity and just about every other screenwriting device however, they receive a bad press. This is not, I think, because montages are good, bad, ugly, amatuer or overused, but because lots of new writers use them without knowing a) exactly what they are and b) how to lay them out properly.

So, what is a montage? Well, as David says, it's a device to communicate a story without dialogue. Generally. Now and again, you'll find directors or writers who'll mix in a bit of (usually) non-diegetic dialogue to add to the mood. We can see an example of this in THE CROW when Eric Draven remembers a series of shots about him and his girlfriend when they were still alive. It goes beyond a flashback in that it tells a complete tale: them cooking together, their engagement, them making love, even running through a cornfied together (ick! and who actually does that, by the way?). But anyway, this story then feeds into his resentment at their deaths and the vengeance Draven wreaks on their murderers. Nice one.

So a montage is a series of shots that tells a story or (this is the one that is used more regularly) gives the viewers a notion of time passing. These latter montages are the ones that give them all a bad name I think: often writers want to show a story has moved from say, Christmas to Summer and think "Great! Stick in a montage." Don't do this, unless it adds directly to the story and pushes it forward. Remember: you want to get your action in as short a time frame as possible. Eking it out over months via montage is not a good idea. Equally, don't stick in a montage 'cos you can't think of anything else to do in that space. Everything in a film must add to the narrative. Fancy images with a cool soundtrack doesn't do that, it just makes readers write on their reports: "Is this neccessary?" (Besides, what music is chosen is a production decision and not the writer's generally anyway.)

So, the "rule" I always bang on about is this: always have a good reason for a montage and make sure it advances your story and/or reveals character.

But what way to set out a montage? There are many incorrect ways. The one I most often see is this:

SERIES OF SHOTS

A - Lucy types at the keyboard

B - Lucy stops, takes a swig of coffee

C - Lucy resumes typing

D - Lucy stops, picks up the baby

E - Lucy falls down exhausted

You'll notice the "series of shots". Big no-no as far as a straw poll of producers and agents I've emailed this morning are concerned. They say it references production - something to be avoided in spec scripts. The letters are sometimes numbers and aren't incorrect, but I hate seeing both. Why? I'm a finnicky cow probably, but there are a lot of us out there. Is it worth it when you can take them out?

What I dislike most about this montage though is the fact it could be one scene. Also, nothing really happens in it. Montages should have things in that need to be "summed up" quickly - big events, story exposition, motivations, that kind of thing. That's why montage gets a bad name - it's too often used with no drama behind it. Think again of Eric Draven's reminsicing about his girlfriend. It is a little drama all of its own. It makes the viewer, in the context of Eric's thirst for vengeance, say "They were so happy together! Damn them! Get the bastards!" Or words to that effect, at least.

The second most common layout error I see is this one:

INT/EXT. LOCATIONS - VARIOUS. DAY/NIGHT.

We see a montage of THE COUPLE, happy together - cooking, eating out, with their children, etc.

Oi, writers, no! ; )

It's the writer's job to PAINT A PICTURE, not remind the reader THIS IS A SCRIPT that will ultimately BE A MOVIE (well, hopefully). You want to keep the reader in the world of the script, not give them a rude awakening. If the montage calls for the Happy Couple showing how happy they are, you have to signify it and render it as images, not an IOU - as in, "IOU one montage to come later, courtesy of the director and the cameramen, etc." Tsk!

The good news is, the slugline's fine. So here's the layout as I've learned it:

INT/EXT. LOCATIONS - VARIOUS. DAY/NIGHT

(MONTAGE)

Here you put your actions

One after the other, avoiding letters or whatever in front of each one

Don't take more than one or two lines for each

Make them dramatic and ensure they tell a story

And generally try to avoid more than about five or six lines

And don't use more than two in a 90-pager, one in less

(END OF MONTAGE)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Ideas Fairy and The WTF? Draft

In Ancient Greece, it was thought, most notably by Plato, that ideas were universals: in other words, they existed OUTSIDE of the human mind, independently. So, if you were a playwright (for movies were not to be invented don't forget for approximately 2000 years, duh), you were not the "true" author of your work: that idea, floating around in space or time or wherever, would literally come to you, plant itself inside your brain and make a little play tree.

This notion is called Idealism in philosophy and I kind of like it, since it takes away responsibility for all the times you look in your portfolio of screenplays and say, "What the hell was I thinking when I wrote THIS SHITE?!" Every time a screenplay comes back with a rejection slip, one can say: "It wasn't me. It was the idea. I was clearly in the wrong place in the time-space continuum to be able to receive anything good." I can almost see myself with a radio antenna on my head, tuned to SCREENWRITING IDEAS PLEASE. Now I know why I haven't made three million pounds and don't have my own series on cable! Bill Martell is in my way and interrupting my frequency! DAMN HIM!

But of course, it is just fantasy. There is no Ideas Fairy out there, shooting out ideas to creative people from a little pea shooter. Sadly. If your idea sucks, it sucks. AND IT'S YOUR FAULT.

But just because something is a bad, confused or unoriginal idea does not mean it can't be rescued. When I first had a go at this screenwriting lark, my ideas were so bad it was frightening. They didn't even make sense half the time. Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know my notion of The WTF? Draft, coined by accident by a friend of mine: "Read your script...Like it, I think: gotta ask though, what the fuck is it about?!"

I read a lot of similar drafts and I read a lot of similar problems in those drafts. Does this mean the authors should abandon all hope? Of course not. Writing is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. It's all in the rewriting. You gotta be in it to win it. Cue a million other cliches, but they're all true. You want it? You don't neccessarily get it. But wanting it, and wanting it bad, so bad you'll do ANYTHING to get your craft honed is part of the battle.

The other part, then? It's your idea.

Can you pinpoint what the seed of your story is, what the controlling idea is behind it? Can you listen to feedback and take it well? Can you accept changes to your narrative thrust, say yes: "I had perceived it turning out this way, but others think it might be better this way"? You can? Then, great. You're on your way.

But if you answered "No" to any of the above, then YOU HAVE A PROBLEM. Not because it makes any difference to me - it doesn't. I'm always shocked by the few who pay me to read their screenplays and then tell me I'm talking bullshit when I give them what they pay for: my experience via my training and reading lots of scripts, but also my opinion. However, like I said - they're only a minority and I got paid, which means I paid the bills that week or for my son's frighteningly huge Munch Bunch Drinky+ addiction.

It makes a difference to you.

Yes, there are the Readers to beat. Yes there are the Producers to impress. Yes there are those people who may or may not develop you, fund you, get back to you, slag you off, big you up or represent you. There will always be good people, but there will always be the 24 carat wankers.

The only person who ultimately stands in your way is you.

You've got to listen.

People will tell you good stuff. Honest. But you gotta sort the wheat from the chaff in a non-confrontational, good-natured way. That way people will tell you even more good stuff. But you gotta be patient - don't demand it. One day, maybe people will ask you the same things, so you have to remember how you'd like to be treated. It's like a massive spider web: complex, but delicate. Tread carefully, and your weight will be supported. If you don't, you'll get eaten alive.

So you want it? Go get it. And don't give up...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Only At The Movies

It's your duty to recycle...right?!
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In this increasingly media-literate age, we're encouraged to think of films in particular as a representation of real life, when in actual fact there are often "truths" particular only to the movies. Whilst most of us are not paranoid about body-stealing aliens or the likelihood of our neighbours becoming werewolves or vampires, there are still conventions and moments we have become used to seeing within certain films.

Yet, without these conventions, would it be a lesser experience? Here's my short guide to the bits we love to see AND love to hate:

*John Wayne might have been good ol' Uncy Ethan in "The Searchers" but in the last thirty years or so Cowboys have become hell-bent on revenge (just about ALL Clint's movies in the Western years right up to Unforgiven), psychopathic vampires (Near Dark) or metaphors for Death Himself (The Big Empty). "This is the return of the Space Cowboy", indeed!

*If a hero goes to jail in a period movie, he always has a friend/associate who handily dies so he can swap places with him in the body bag (Count of Monte Cristo, Mask of Zorro)

* In the future, everyone wears leather (The Matrix, I Robot). Ditto people back from the grave and out for revenge (The Crow) and Vampires and Werewolves (Underworld, Angel, Buffy et al). Those undead sure do have style...

*Gangsters can kill people and bury them under swimming pools etc with no fear of DNA testing, witnesses squealing or the victim's family ever coming looking for them (Sexy Beast, Lock, Stock)

*Serial Killers are invariably cultured individuals (like Michael Wincott in Metro or Kevin Spacey in Se7en) who listen to classical music and read the classics, including The Bible (of course).

*If a hero is hanged in a movie his neck never breaks, giving his girlfriend or friends time to haggle with the executioner (The Mummy) or Robin Hood et al to cut the rope with an arrow from afar (Prince Of Thieves).

* Despite being clever enough to pick off nearly EVERY person within a climbing party/village/starship or cruise liner crew, big scary monsters can ALWAYS be fooled into swallowing dynamite (Tremors) or being made to stand still long enough to be blown up (Deep Rising) or chucked out of space ships (Alien and Aliens). Alternatively, a fatal encounter with a hero/ine and a flare or grenade (The Cave) can do the trick too.

* If someone admires/loves someone else openly within a thriller, that's because they're secretly obsessed with them and want to kill them and/or take their place (Copy Cat, Fatal Attraction). The same goes for women hired as nannies (The Hand That Rocks The Cradle) or destitute young females taken in by happy families (this has its own genre on cable!). If antagonists are concerned at all for the protagonist and offer to help them, that's because they've got one of their relatives under surveillance by a hired hitman (Red Eye).

* If a woman is perfect, that's because she is a mermaid (Splash), a fairy (The Dark Crystal), possessed by evil spirits (Ghostbusters) or secretly obsessed with you and wants to kill you (see above!)

* If a man is perfect, that's usually because he is the devil incarnate (Dust Devil, Witches Of Eastwick... We already knew that one, right girls?!?)

* If someone in an eighties' thriller is supposed to "double bluff" someone else, they're always exactly who they're bluffing to be, like a Russian Spy (No Way Out)

*When coming face-to-face with an antagonist, it's usually in the pouring rain (Se7en, Matrix Revolutions). Did your Mum ever tell you you'd catch your death?!?

*If someone says "You'll be fine, just hang on", "I can make it!" or "We'll get out of here", they never do. Equally, if someone says, "It can't get any worse", it always does. (The Alien Quadrilogy, Predator, AVP)

*If Tom Cruise is in it, he will invariable change and/or save the world in some way whilst yelling a lot and crying. In contrast, Arnie will not cry but quip throughout and undertake a huge variety of activities, including fighting with invisible space-age creatures or crocodiles (Predator, Eraser), get taken over by evil spirits (End of Days), have half his face torn off and save the world (Terminator 2 - still didn't cry!), give birth to a baby (Junior) or fight little old ladies for the latest toy modelled on Buzz Lightyear (Jingle All TheWay). Oh, he might also almost get blown up by Islamic Extremists (True Lies). Was this some kind of prompt for him, I wonder? Kidding!

* If a hero's best friend does not die, that's because secretly he is BEHIND IT ALL (The Fugitive, The Art Of War)

* Torrents of blood are always all over the victims of sixties, seventies and eighties war movies but never over the doctors treating them (Any Oliver Stone Vietnam movie you care to mention).

And my own personal favourite:

* If in the midst of a medieval-style sword fight, the hero's best friend will die and even though there is sharp metal everywhere, the hero will have time to gather him up in his arms and yell, "NOOOOOOOO!" (Willow, LOTR) In contrast, if the movie is not medieval and in the future, (and especially if the best friend is also a love interest like in Starship Troopers & Matrix Revolutions), she'll be able to miraculously reminisce rather than scream in agony before gargling in blood and THEN carking it. Who said women were the weaker sex? ; )

Any I've missed?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Touched - Again

Well, it would seem Touch Films like the five pages of the script I sent them the other week for The Writer Development Programme in association with SW Screen; they've just called and asked me to go in for a chat next week. Informal apparently, but of course I. Am. Freaking. I mean, what do I wear that shows my screenwriterly prowess...??

Saturday, February 03, 2007

50 Things

Since everyone's having a go at this, I thought I'd jump on the band wagon too!

1. When I was 8, I was so in love with Prince I wrote him a letter asking him to wait until I grew up so he could marry me. The irony was, he DID get married when I was over the legal age, just not to me.

2. I went to a convent school for two terms when I was eleven and got sent to the headmistress' office for being "subversive" (I'd dyed my hair).

3. I'm the eldest of five children, four girls and one boy. When I was growing up, it was like The Waltons: Extreme only all of us were as annoying as John Boy.

4. When I was 13, I watched ALIENS every single day.

5. When I was a child I wanted to be a cartoonist and sent my pictures into my favourite comics, the now defunct (I think) Buster and Whizzer & Chips. They printed them!

6. I went to three secondarie schools as my parents moved around a lot.

7. People think I'm from The North of England as I have short vowel sounds in all my words and I was born there, but I've only ever lived there for approx 15 months.

8. One of The Red Arrows went over my house once when I was a kid and flew so low I could see the pilot inside. I waved to him and he waved back.

9. I originally wanted to be a journalist, but did the training and hated every minute of poking my nose into everyone else's business. I quit when I had to interview the grief-struck mother of a boy who had died during a rugby match.

10. I've been sacked from only one job, and that was as a telephonist. I didn't know what I was doing so kept cutting everyone off.

11. I met my husband when I was 15, but didn't go out with him until I was 24.

12. I've only had three serious boyfriends including my husband and one was a complete nutter.

13. In the summer of 2002 I went on 22 dates as I was writing a magazine feature series called - you guessed it - 22 Dates. I met 16 normal guys, 4 geeks and 2 freaks. One of the freaks still emails me now. But still, 16 normals is a good score, even for an internet dating site, so all you single gals should take heart!

14. My son's uncle is in this band and has a major deal with EMI. If you're into underground ska, you probably like them. I'm looking at you, James Moran!

15. When I was working at a literary agent, I once wrote a report for the playwright Angela Meredith that she did not like AT ALL.

16. Despite the fact I go to London infrequently, I nearly always see someone famous.

17. I once got stuck in a lift with Roddy Doyle, but I'd never seen his picture at the time and didn't realise until about three months later.

18. I can't drive and have twice not been allowed to take my driving test when I got to the test centre because I was shaking so much I was "a hazard". I have now officially given up trying.

19. Despite the fact I am not actually religious, I read The Bible a lot for ideas (or maybe divine intervention??).

20. I'm obsessed with all things eighties - music, films, but NOT fashion. Wow, that was a debacle.

21. I think Batman is the best superhero: he looks good in a rubber suit, is dark and moody (just the way I like my men) and is not genetically-modified with superpowers in any way - he CHOSE to be a hero, infinitely cooler in my book.

22. I absolutely hate reggae. Cannot abide it.

23. I once got stalked by a woman. She said I was "the one". It lasted three weeks.

24. I absolutely hate puzzles and will never, ever do them. Not even a wordsearch and especially not those stupid bits of metal that you have to prise apart. Argh!

25. Though I email people constantly and am on the phone pretty much all day, I actually have very little contact with people in real life in general. This isn't because I can't socially interreact, I just don't like it much - I only do solicited cyber-contact, not random politeness/conversation.

26. I am never going to teach again once this academic year is over - I started because I thought it would be good for me to "get out" (see above) but have come to the conclusion that actually it's just going to give me an ulcer. I don't "do" out in the real world, dah-link!

27.My husband works with ASBO kids, is hard as nails and is an insomniac. Which means I don't need a burglar alarm.

28. If there is an apocalypse, my husband has everything we would need to survive in the boot of our car, ready to go. Really.

29.I've always wanted to be a writer and wrote my first "book" when I was eight. It was called DUSTCART GEORGE and lasted for ten pages of my maths homework book. I went to a posh school, so was in a lot of trouble,

30. I have never won any awards for swimming, gymnastics, netball, rounders... I refused to do all of them at school and spent a lot of time outside the headmistress' office.

31. I spend a lot of time on Exmoor. It's the one thing about Devon I really love.

32. I once stole an ex's car and parked it round the corner from his house even though I can't drive. It took ages. He reported it as stolen.

33. I can speak no language well except English, but from my TEFL teaching days have picked up some wicked insults in Spanish, Italian, French, Czech, Hungarian, Slovak and Afrikaans. Hepa Lo Bepa Lo Inja!*

34. When I was a teenager, I was a Goth.

35. I met my husband when we were both working at an attraction on the north coast of Devon called Watermouth Castle. There's a good chance you've been there - everyone seems to have at least once. He operated the swingboats and I was Bubbles The Bear Who Danced. Really.

36. I went on a date once with a guy who had been mauled by a panther. He had some amazing scars but unfortunately loved himself too much for me to want to go on a second date.

37. We have an entire arsenal in the house, so again there is no need for a burglar alarm.

38. My husband is a triplet, not IVF-induced (he's too old), which I always like to tell people and he gets embarrassed about. He gets especially annoyed when people ask if he has a psychic link to his brother and sister. He doesn't.

39. I have never watched the film THE BODYGUARD. And never will.

40. When I was training to be a journalist, I did some really cool work placements at The Guardian, The Mirror and The Voice. I met Harry Harris and Julie Burchill.

41. I actually like ALIEN 3 the best (love that Charles S. Dutton funeral speech) and think the original cut was diabolical: let's put the creature in the lead mill, then oooh - let's just let it out?!?1 Puh-lease! Deus Ex Machinas alert!! Much more exciting when the convicts are running around with the doors.

42. I don't like biscuits and never buy them, much to the chagrin of the males in the house.

43. Whenever I read scripts, I scroll through them first on-screen or flick through them if they're in hard copy, and then write first impressions down from the "look" of them - just like I was taught at the very first literary agent I worked. Old habits die hard...

44. I eat houmous most days and especially when reading scripts.

45. Every now and again I read a script I really enjoy - and phone people to tell them (not the story, just the fact I really enjoyed it).

46. I get LOTS of emails every day from blog readers asking me about what makes the "perfect" script and how to "beat the reader". My reply is always the same: 1) no such thing as the perfect script and 2) SEND MONEY AND/OR SWEETS!

47. Cadbury's Creme Eggs are the perfect confectionary and should be available ALL YEAR ROUND. I gnash my teeth when they disappear and have been known to buy loads and horde them for the summer creme egg draught.

48. Despite the fact I say I am not houseproud, I actually am (sssh).

49. If I had a dog, I'd call him Clive Barker. But I hate dogs, so this would never happen.

50. My children are my absolute highest priority and I would die for them, no question. I know it's the same for my husband too, which is why I married him.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Breaking News

Well what do you know. I entered Divine Rites (now called THY WILL BE DONE) in the American Zoetrope Screenwriting Contest eight million years ago and forgot about it. Just received an email - I didn't win - but I did make it into the Quarter Finals. Which is nice.

Dear Writer

Because it's February and February sucks. Because it's been a hard week. Because I've just submitted a trial report for a new script reading gig with super deluxe company I really want to work for and just found a bloody typo in it. C'est La Vie...
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Dear Writer,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read your work. Mixing genre, dialogue and characterisation in such a fashion without a discernible sense of structure or narrative logic had never occurred to me before, so it was quite a revelation.

Thanks also for your insightful emails following my coverage of your work. Though script reading and writing is pretty much all I do, I would never have been able to recognise your evident enthusiasm without the guidance you showed me. Equally, your use of profane language and personal insults regarding my age/gender/work and production history* (*delete as appropriate) meant I was suddenly able to comprehend your previously incomprehensible story.

Though I have read probably in excess of five thousand scripts over the years and written what feels like as many drafts of my own projects, I was unaware that proper formatting was, in fact, superfluous to the industry; equally, I did not realise you can use Times New Roman or Comic Sans in comparison to everyone else and "still get read". I did not know that "not enough white on the page" only applied to other writers and not yourself. Equally, I was unaware that a scene direction with no clear image was up for dispute: now I realise that characters "thinking", "realising" or "reminiscing" all have immediately obvious external actions, despite their being internal thought processes.

I am sympathetic that you "don't trust supposed script gurus" like Syd Field, Linda Seger, Bill Martell or indeed any other source, even though you are not familiar with their work to make a judgement on whether they have anything useful to say or not. Conventions like structure are clearly useless anyway, and writing symbolic or arthouse narratives mean you are exempt from worrying about them, since if no one understands, "that's the point".

I also realise now it is possible to write a screenplayjust by instinct, relying solely on watching "hundreds of hours" of movies, never having read ANY actual screenplays. Similarly, I now realise that though a script with no discernible plot, protagonist, antagonist, secondary characters or arena would disbar most writers from getting optioned, this does not apply to your good self. Also, I now recognise my error in pulling up your flagrant and offensive use of stereotypes: just because your mother/sister/boyfriend/lover/next door neighbour was like this, obviously ALL others can be tarred with the same brush and generalisations employed with abandon.

Also, many, many thanks for your repeated attempts to "make me understand" your story by sending repeated emails telling me to "look back" at your screenplay as you re-explain your plot line or characters' motivations. Evidently my lack of understanding is my fault and by emailing me and answering the questions I raise in the coverage, miraculously the draft will work! Besides, script readers are well known as people who like to ask questions of screenplays just for the sake of it, after all. Of course, a writer can always get work made regardless of holes in the plot, questionable character motivations, lack of arena or story: producers are only "money men" after all and don't notice such "minor details". Also, in the long run, writers can stand in cinemas and answer the questions their screenplays raise for audiences, or better still, forward the email they sent the script reader...What was I thinking?

Lastly, thank you for asking my advice on where you "go from here" and then telling me I am "plain wrong"; thanks also for being worried enough about your draft to ask me questions, yet not have enough time to email me back and thank me for taking the time to reply, which I always do. It's only my job: I don't put any personal thought into this, after all.

I do hope I'll be reading your work again!

Yours, Lucy x

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Do Not Adjust Your Blog...

...It's not deja vous or anything supernatural. But the old AOL blog IS dead (I'm looking at you, Phil) so I'm moving all my old (useful) posts over here from the Bang2write Archive. Please bear with me, normal service will be resolved soon. Until then, you are on hold *cue annoying muzak*. However, you can rest assured I'll probably have something to moan about in my personal life at some point to keep you voyeurs happy so standby. Also, got some kick-ass Q&A's coming up. Until then, enjoy some year-old thoughts on Adaptation below...

Show Me The Money: Adaptation

I've always been interested in adapting a novel for the screen, but am constantly frustrated by movie-goers' moan: "It's not as good as the book!"

Argh! A movie is not a book and a book is not a movie. Durr. Everyone knows the difference - you'd have to be half mad, surely, to think a visual medium and a psychological medium are one and the same? However, yet again and again you hear people say "Well that wasn't in the book", "They changed this or that or the other" or my absolute pet-hate, "It's just not the same, the atmosphere's changed"!!!!

It seems, to be deemed "successful", an adaptation must follow the same events as the book these days - yet we've seen again and again that these so-called "transpositional" adaptations are not the best kind of movie. Take Harry Potter for example. I'm not a fan of the books, they're too reminiscent of "The Worst Witch" for me as an eighties' kid, however, hats off to JK Rowling: she's got her market well and truly pinned down and movies of her books was the next logical step. However, the pace of the movies are long and arduous, the dialogue highly expositional with Deus Ex Machinas all over the place and nearly every single one finishes at the end of term Mallory-Towers-style. Yuk! For me, it's the ultimate screenwriting nightmare.

There are two other kinds of adaptation that are largely ignored by screenwriters at present in favour of the "transpositional" style and these are the "Commentary" adaptation (where the story is taken from the book, but a "new slant" is spun on it, so new audiences of a different generation and/or original readers might enjoy a different interpretation) and the the hardly-ever-seen "Analogical" adaptation, where only the "seed of the story" is taken - its inner theme and meaning/essence, so that entire characters, scenes, events etc can be rewritten or even dispensed with altogether.

Both involve risks (will an audience like it?), so of course there is no wonder - most movies after all are adaptations; why risk money on an original screenplay when you have a "trial run" as a novel first? (That's just my own twisted and cynical view, but I have no doubt it's true. So there.)

Audience goers are not passive; anyone who says the only choice cinema-goers have is buying a ticket or not is mental in my book - not least because males aged 15-25 years are still the main target audience for theatres. What about the women, the children? I've lost count of the number of children's movies I've HAD to take my children to because I've promised - and then spent two hours biting the back of my hand to suppress a scream (Harry Potter a case in point). As well as this "rabbit in the headlights" approach on whether you're a good parent or not due to your ability to not die whilst watching such drivel, market research in the form of past DVD and video rentals, novels bought, web forums and sites visited, movie books like Halliwell's film guide consulted, even children's games seen or people overheard talking in the street by potential and established screenwriters all have a part to play in whether a movie is written, optioned and/or sold.

So... If I obtained the rights to a novel for its adaptation, or was commissioned to write one on behalf of a production company, would I stick to my guns and say "Well, ONLY if it's a commentary or analogical adaptation, give me some artistic license, please".

Yeah, right - I'd probably be shown the door.

I think it would be more a case of "Show Me The Money", Jerry Maguire style. Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right? Works for JK Rowling ; )

What's YOUR favourite adaptation and why?