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Friday, June 29, 2007

News Just In

I did not make it onto the shortlist for The BBC Writers' Academy.

Still, least I don't have to wonder all weekend.

Expose Yourself

Well, it would seem the sisters are doing it for themselves... Of the eleven people who have entered our alternative Fever Pitch so far (one of them being me and one other twice!), only three are fellas! Come on guys!

Yes, yes, the deadline's tomorrow, I know - you need to tweak, I get it.

For those of you who have just dropped by and think I've gone mad, I'm running my own version of Fever Pitch for all you lovely rejectees (all 590 of us! Power to the peeps!) and those of you who didn't make the deadline. Same rules apply:

1. 25 word pitch, 150 word synopsis
2. You may make multiple entries (3 max)
3. Deadline - midnight tomorrow (June 30th)

Remember, you need to post up your entry on your own blog, a friend's blog or website, MySpace page or get a webhosting page like Google Pages and put it up there, THEN you need to email me the link by midnight tomorrow. I'll then put all the loglines with links to your synopses out on July 4th so we can pitch at the same time as those Fever Pitch Finalists.

As a very last resort, if you're completely non-technical, send me your pitch and synopsis and I'll do it - but it needs to be BEFORE midnight tmw 'cos I'll be way too busy beginning of next week.

Before I sign off - just a word to those few people who've expressed concern about pitching via the internet. If you don't show your work to people, no one will make it: do yourself a favour and TELL THE WORLD! And for a certain chap who believes that pitching his idea may make others write scripts with the same idea and get in on his action, they're in on your action already baby! There are so many specs doing the rounds with similar ideas, the trick is to do yours THE BEST and GET IN THERE FIRST! You know I'm right... ; )

Hard Scrambled: A Review

Many thanks to James P. Mercurio for sending me a copy of the drama he produced last year Hard Scrambled. I can only apologise for the delay; unfortunately my one year old has an obsession with remote controls and thanks to my husband's thriftiness, he found a "bargain of the century" DVD player - which, you guessed it, only operates via the remote control... Which has spent the last month down the back of the fridge. Still, we found it at last and sat down to watch this movie last night.

Hard Scrambled's title made me think at first it could be some kind of action movie, until my husband pointed out I was probably thinking of John Woo's Hard Boiled: perhaps it's an American phrase I am unfamiliar with. Adapted from the play of the same name, by previously uncredited director David Scott Hay and produced by James and Creative Screenwriting's Erik Bauer, Hard Scrambled was winner of "Best Drama" at 2006's Garden State Festival. It's fair to say then I had high hopes for this movie.

I wasn't disappointed, either. Regular Readers of this blog know I love dramas in the vein of Secrets and Lies and Night People and following in the tradition of other great American dramas like You Can Count On Me, Hard Scrambled proves it's not just the British who have this genre nailed down. Hard Scrambled follows the fates of those employed by Alice's Diner: it's the diner's 25th anniversary, but there hasn't been much trade and Alice is having to start to let people go. That night however, Alice suffers an injury - her arm in the fryer, ouch - which may or may not have been an accident, putting restaurant crew Benno (Kurtwood Smith) and Scotty (Eyal Podell) and delivery man Joe (Richard Edson) at loggerheads with some surprising results. Though its roots are firmly planted in its play source material, Hard Scrambled is a powerful piece, exploring not only human relationships - a staple of drama - but also motivation and what makes people tick. On top of that, it's genuinely funny at times as well as poignant and yes, most surprising - violent!

However, even if you're not keen on drama, I still would recommend this DVD set. Why? Well, in comparison to most bonus material which limits itself to a few deleted scenes or a teaser trailer or two, Hard Scrambled has over two hours of film-making tutorials to it. Regular readers of this blog will know that Jim Mercurio makes a substantial input to our List of Wonder and he does not disappoint in these tutorials. There's some really in-depth stuff here and because it is directly related to the writing, development and production of the movie you have just watched, it really resonates. There are tips and instruction on directing, editing, development and producing. From such considerations as props and visuals, through to mise-en-scene, finding the killer ending and financing your feature, it's all there.

Funnily enough, though the script bonuses were great, my actual favourite of the bonus material was the "Directing" section. On it, the motifs of Hard Scrambled are explored, such as Benno's obsession with fixing machines and suchlike in the diner, as well as working with actors and what a "line reading" means (ie. A director telling an actor HOW to say a line). This was particularly interesting to me since parentheticals in screenplays tell an actor how to say a line as well - something Readers are told is a "no-no" - and there, on screen are actors confirming this very vociferously! Equally, James Mercurio made the great point that writers should "think more like actors", something I had never really considered before. He says that throwaway characters should be more "rounded", real people will be playing them, with real emotions and real problems. That actor isn't just a prop who turns up for perhaps thirty seconds of screentime and then disappears into a cupboard somewhere. He or she is a real person who wants to get the most out of their character - so give them something to work with. I was reminded here of PHONE BOOTH: in it there are some prostitutes who threaten Colin Farrell's character in the booth just before their pimp is murdered in front of them and whilst I didn't like the movie that much, these women playing the prostitutes really left an impression. I could literally see them acting their hearts out. In a similar fashion then, the peripheral characters of Hard Scrambled make this same effort, due to good writing - and it's really effective.

Best of all though in this section is "Anatomy of a Flawed Scene". An analysis of the moments just after Alice has had her horrible accident and the confrontation between Scotty and Benno as to how it happened, the Hard Scrambled team show what went wrong with this particular aspect of production. It's so rare for a production team to have this kind of humility, to say that what they planned didn't work out as they hoped, yet it also gives the wannabe filmmaker and writer a really valuable insight into the contraints and problems of this collaborative medium. And you get a great movie to watch too. Pretty bargainous I'd say!

Anyone else watch it out in www.land? Let us know...


LINKS


Try before you buy: download samples of the Filmmaking tutorials.

Interview with Hard Scrambled's lead, Kurtwood Smith here.

Click here to watch a teaser trailer, read cast bios, Director's statement etc.

For James P. Mercurio's Script Consultation Services, click here.

Buy Hard Scrambled here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Anything They Can Do...

...We can do better!!!

That's right. Been rejected from Fever Pitch?? Worry not.

We're having our own pitching session. Right here, on er... Write Now.

Anyone can enter! That includes my lovely American Readers and those people who've been reading my blog in Turkish last week. Anyone!

Here's the deal:

1) Post your logline and pitch on your own blog and send me the link or, if you have no blog, put it on a google/webhosting page and email its link to me OR if you have no knowledge of how to do this, send me your pitch/synopsis and I'll put it on a google page and link it here (but pls only as a last resort! Hopefully we're going to get a lot of pitches!)

2) I will post the full list of links on Wednesday, July 4th so we can pitch worldwide at the same time as those Fever Pitch Finalists.

DON'T FORGET - tell me your full (real) name, your location, the title of the script and its genre when you email me. I will post a full list of the loglines on this blog, providing a link to your 150 word synopsis on your own blog/google page. I will also put a poll here and peeps can vote whose they like best.

There are no prizes except our undying respect to the winner, sadly - but online pitching is better than putting your prized idea back in some folder on your desktop ladeez and gents. And if you didn't enter, here is your chance to wow us with your faberoonie idea and *maybe* attract the eye of some rogue surfer producer... Could happen!

Same rules apply as Fever Pitch: 25 words for the pitch, 150 words for the synopsis.

DEADLINE FOR ARRIVAL OF LINKS/PITCHES: Midnight, Saturday June 30th.

Go on - you know you want to!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Rejected

Only one word for it: nut wranglers.

Ok, two. At least I won't have to kill Andy though, since I won't be seeing him there... There is a silver lining after all.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Royal Tapes: Power of 3 Alert

Hi Peeps, it's that time again where you have the opportunity to extract your revenge and tear MY work to bits. It's a radio play for The Royal Tapes, something I've never attempted before, so anyone who has written for this medium (in the so-called real world, or at uni) is especially welcome, but to be honest anyone can read it since I have no idea what I'm doing here. Only stipulation: gotta have it back ASAP please, since it's gotta be in next Friday at the latest. As always, email or leave a comment and I'll get back to you.

While we're waiting, here are some more Google searches. Since writing about Naked Men and Talking Dirty (in the most innocent of ways! That's my story and I'm sticking to it), I've shot myself in the foot it would seem and opened up this blog to every cyber-perv going. Bring it on.

Ten naked men
Naked men with gloves on
Adrian naked
(though whether the Googler was looking for Adrian Mead in the buff is unconfirmed)
Examples of talking dirty to men
Scripts for talking dirty

Max and Lucy stationary
Q&A for the Blackpool Tower
Werewolf sex


And my personal fave:

Witch book of Hex

Friday, June 22, 2007

THE ROYAL TAPES, Writing For Radio

I carted myself off to Bristol last night for the workshop for the BBC Royal Tapes, an opportunity from The Writers' Room in conjunction with BBC Radio Five Live. It proved an interesting night, though disappointingly no one in the crowd seemed "up" for networking. I spoke to a few people outside, but inside the actual room there was a sombre and intent air of the thirty or so present. Though most took copious notes, so I guess I'm going to have some mean competition - not least because there were other workshops that week in places like Newcastle and London too.

So, for those of you who couldn't make it to your nearest workshop (and you better have had a good reason, they were FREE!), here are my notes. Hope you like them (if you do, send chocolate! Need it - my flat's buyer has just pulled out of the sale citing "financial difficulties" and the whole chain is in danger of collapse, meaning we might just lose that nice place with the wendy house... More later on this if I can stop gnashing my teeth and swearing at random passersby with the frustration of it all).

Present on the panel was Paul Ashton, development manager at the Writers' Room (harangued him mercilessly, obviously) and two radio writers, Paul Dodgson and Hattie Naylor whom I harangued separately before they pointed out they were actually partners. Whoops. Anyway. Next!

This competition follows a series of successful competitions between The Writers' Room and the Radio Departments at the BBC: Sports Shorts on R5 (view a winning script here) and last year's Imagine Competition for R2. The Royal Tapes, Paul explained, is about the themed notion of monarchy: what it means to people today, how people really feel about it using drama as the platform instead of studio debate. Submissions must be 3 minutes long (at 45 secs a page in radio then, instead of 1 min per page as with screenwriting, that's approximately 4.5 pages); the scripts should ideally focus on two charcaters; they should be about YOUR perspective: what do you see? Feel? Think about The Monarchy? The scripts can be almost sketches, but they need to do something unusual, something never seen before. DEADLINE: twelve noon, Friday June 29th.

June 29th!!! That's just a week away from today! So how to go about it?

Paul asked the audience what they thought of when they thought of the monarchy and I tried to scribble down as many as possible. Here goes:

- Tourism
- Soap Opera
- Conspiracy
- Class
- Stability/Instability
- Horses and Dogs
- Revolution and Anarchy
- Cursed (particularly the women)

Paul stressed that the dramas needn't actually contain the Royal Family as characters: it could be the "knock on" effect they may create. A good example: Harry's been told he can't go to war, so what about the soldier who goes in his place?

Paul Ashton asked Hattie and the other Paul to provide new radio writers with some nuggets of wisdom and they told us:

Hattie: Allow yourself to write a load of rubbish for the first draft - something good will come out of it.
Paul: Be conscious of trying to "grab" an audience, use a hook. Don't try and warm them up, start the story straight away. The first 30 secs of a drama makes an audience stay - or switch off.
Hattie: Enjoy the writing, have as much fun as possible: the Reader will pick up on that.
Paul: Make it rounded - a really good story just WORKS, don't try and tailor-make it to "fit", chances are it won't.

A Gentleman in the audience asked Paul Ashton if monologues were acceptable. Paul replied they were, but to be aware that monologues are not easier to write than two-handers. He asserted that there must be a dramatic voice behind a monologue, there must be that sense of personality so there can be real drama in the telling. too often monologues feel flat. Also ask yourself: is this the BEST way to tell this story?

Paul Ashton made another point that I would not have considered - music is cheap on the radio. It's what they play all day, they've got all the relevant licenses already. So unlike a screenplay where rights need to be obtained, etc, music is a good "short cut" in radio. Music can be a character. Just as surprising: there are no real hang-ups about format in radio. They have many writers formatting in many different ways. You just need to indicate sound, effects, specific music etc and differentiate between that and dialogue, scene description, etc accordingly. In other words - there are not going to be any penalties for "incorrect" format.

So to round up, seems to me - as long as you stick within some loose perimeters, anything goes as long as the monarchy is involved somewhere down the line. As someone who's wanted to explore the notion of writing radio drama for some time but just never getting round to it, this is the perfect excuse - and deadline - to knuckle down to. I just may not come up for air a week so don't panic if I disappear. If you're entering and/or went to any of the other workshops round the country, let us know!

If you're going to have a go at this comp, check out these links:

For everything you need to write your own radio drama, including points on characters, dialogue and formatting, click here.

Here is another sample radio script so you can make a comparison with the Writers' Room version.

And another - though this one is rather green. I had a bathroom like it actually.

And if you have time, this article is rather splendid:

Bringing A Radio Script To Life by Bert Coules, here.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Homicidal Tendencies

This morning I woke up and found I was in Stereotype World. My children bounced out of bed like little lambs in spring, my husband made coffee whilst whistling, even the kitten was playing with a ball of string. I was filled with an enormous sense of well-being, Park Life-style.

Something was definitely wrong.

However I decided I might as well take the smooth with the rough, so went and opened my emails: on the Shooting People Screenwriters' List I discovered this blog gets a mention in the lovely Andy's editorial. Again I was pleased until I saw:

"I'm glad Lucy Vee's butted in today..."

WTF?!?!? I'll KILL him!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ah: that's better. Everything's returned to normal.

Be afraid, Andy. Be very afraid.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bits and Bobs

Right, I have 1401 things to do before the end of the week (really), so here's a random mess of stuff that has or will be happening in the next 24 to 48 hours.

Starting with the "has happened" first then:

The writer, producer and director JK Amalou has launched himself as a script reader and editor as well as mentor and wants me to tell all you lot. He's a quality guy and has worked for the likes of Polygram, Studio Canal, Ridley Scott and Martin Scorsese. He's also a lot of fun and I've had a great time working with him on a variety of my specs including the incredibly gory WISH (now called Eclipse). You can check out his web page with more details here.

Talking of Eclipse, I've been writing this as my proposal for Fever Pitch (many thanks to Jason Arnopp for his help with this, not to mention the abundance of double entendres, always a pleasure). I would LOVE to get into the final ten with this, since it's the only way I can go to The Screenwriters' Fest this year. The conversation in my house went a little like this:

Me: Husband, I'm going to The Screenwriters' Festival.
Husband: What!? You f***** off to Edinburgh the other day, how can you abandon our children AGAIN?
Me: I'm not abandoning them. You're a wonderful father and never put the baby's nappies on backwards or feed the boy chips the whole time I'm away.
Husband (glowing with pride): That's right. I am. Oh, but wait... It's during the week!
Me: So?
Husband: Well I have to go to work, don't I? And your Mum is on Holiday that week so she can't look after the baby.
Me: Damn. You're right. What a selfish cow! And I can't believe you have to go to work: you'll actually stand in the way of my screenwriting career?
Husband: Yes. If it means putting food on the table.

So, with much arm-wrestling and many rounds of strip poker, I managed to get him to agree: I won't BUY a ticket to The Screenwriters' Fest, but if I win Fever Pitch I can go and he'll tell his Boss...Something. Lucky for him the odds are so out there, but marriage is about compromise, blah blah blah. SO going next year!

Next! Last night I dreamt about The Potdoll. She and I were going to a funeral in Belfast, but had to take the M25 to get there (isn't that the wrong way??). Halfway up the motorway I remembered I can't actually drive, so we had to swap places at the steering wheel with calamitous results in that we drove through that steel middle-thing in the centre of the motorway and ended up in bloody York. Which was odd. Even odder, to get out of York we had to walk through a ghost train where Dale Winton of all people asked you questions at the door. If you got them right, you could go. If you didn't, you had to become part of the ghost train. I got my question right since it was easy: "What are the names of your children?" but poor Potdoll got asked the equation-thingy for magnesium, which I thought was unneccessarily difficult. I think that Dale just wanted to keep her in his ghost train, the swine. This isn't the first time I've dreamt about a blogger either: I once dreamt that Danny Stack turned evil with a chainsaw a la Jason X and also, despite never having clapped eyes on Scott The Reader, I dreamt he was writing in a moleskin in his trailer on a movie set whilst Kate Moss and Kylie Minogue snorted lines of coke at his feet whilst completely nude. Weirder, Glenn close was also present, dressed as Elizabeth I...

Finally, in this section: WE HAVE HAD AN OFFER ACCEPTED! Third time lucky. Looks like it's all systems go for our move to Bournemouth, hallelujah. Best of all, this place has a WENDY HOUSE IN THE GARDEN! SQUEAL! I think I'm going to like it more than the kids. In fact, this is probably why I write horror - a knee jerk reaction to my parents' cruel refusal to ever get me one. Well, revenge is mine now.

So, onto the future stuff:

Thanks to everyone who's emailed or left comments about Scriptwriting Courses. Still collating all the info, but have noticed we have LOADS on short courses and not much on MAs, BAs etc. I will be writing these articles in the next month or so, so I'm particularly keen to hear from anyone who's been on or is on courses at places like Royal Holloway, Bournemouth, De Montfort, Westminster -- anywhere! Let me know what you think here or email.

The lovely Gavin has suggested we go for July 21st, not the 14th as a meet for the Scribosocial since it'll mean shortlisted applicants for the BBC Writers Academy who will have attended the workshops can come too if they're from out of town. I think this is a great idea, since if I don't get on the shortlist I can pick any of these people's brains, or even abduct them and pose in their place (but don't tell anyone).

I will be attending the BBC's workshop for The Royal Tapes in Bristol between 6pm and 7.30pm tomorrow, so if you're there too come up and say hello. I'm the short brunette lass with a bob and the long skirt. Or email me. I will of course write full and comprehensive notes on the class for all you peeps.

Finally then, because I've had so many great ones of late, here are some more mental Google searches that have brought people to my blog in the last 2 weeks:

People fire naked
David Suchet hairy chest
Is my dog sick because of Round Up?
quack quack oops!
I wasn't interested in boys until I was
boa constrictor pet poo
How do you spell racket?
fucking machinas test
confess to the literary agent
the night porter naked


And perhaps most worrying:

Lucie in the bedroom

I thank you.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Arena, Part 2: Resonance

Some interesting comments and questions were raised yesterday, proving that what constitutes an Arena is not only a little controversial, but touched with a soupcon of subjectivity.

I made Shell's brain melt yesterday (Hi Shell) by suggesting that Arena goes beyond the "world in which your story operates". To recap, I suggested that Arena can not only go beyond your actual story and become a reflection of the theme and/or message behind it, it can also become a character in its own right, suitably freaking our Jason out to boot.

Before I begin, I should point out that perhaps I view Arena in this convoluted way because my background is in English Literature and Philosophy. In short, I like to complicate things. For some of you, Arena will just be the world in which your story operates and you'll think I'm just a complicated wench. However, in my opinion, the Arenas that are the best, the most interesting, the most poignant, touching or even horrifying are those that I outlined above and one way a writer can achieve this is through metaphor.

Metaphor is defined in the dictionary as "something used, or regarded as being used, to represent something else; emblem; symbol." I don't see enough use of this symbolism in the scripts I read or the movies I see on DVD or at the cinemea (hah, cinema: I wonder what one of those look like...). WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET is a mantra used in film and whilst it's definitely preferable to referencing characters' thought patterns and suchlike, often there is not that deeper "layer" that could hint at so much more, which I feel is a shame as it is an opportunity lost in my view.

Let me give you an example but first, here's a ***MINI SPOILER ALERT FOR NIGHT PEOPLE, STARTING NOW***. Regular Readers of Bang2write know that I saw Mead Kerr's Night People last week. My take? I loved it. One of the stories focused on a teenage boy who finds himself at Edinburgh Bus Station, preparing to run away to London with nothing in his bag but a pair of footie boots from a time he tried out for some team. He gets chatting to a Rent Boy plying his trade at the bus station toilets, who attempts to make him see sense and go home, but the younger boy is having none of it. The Rent Boy makes a number of phone calls on his mobile to whom we assume is his pimp: he's grooming this boy, going to take him with him, we assume. Finally a car pulls up at the bus station and the rent boy tells the younger boy to get in, that he'll "be okay". Except it's not a pimp. It's a social worker. The Rent Boy has saved the younger boy from the life he's had to have.

So that's the plot there, but it's not over yet: the boy gives the Rent Boy his footie boots before getting in the car and going with the social worker. The Rent Boy seems touched... Yet when he walks back into the station, another Punter is waiting for him. There's a moment where he looks at the footie boots and then the Punter... And he throws the footie boots in the bin and follows the Punter into the toilets. *** SPOILERS OVER NOW ***

Now, those footie boots could have been cut from that plot and nothing would have been lost. Nothing, that is, except symbolism. Those footie boots became symbolic of the hopes and innocence of youth and when The Rent Boy threw them away, symbolic of those hopes and innocence lost. This use of symbolism or metaphor can be really effective and form part of your Arena, what I call "the feel of the piece". Watching that moment, as The Rent Boy looks first at the Punter, then at the football boots, I was willing this character to make the change, to follow his own advice, get out of the game. When he doesn't then, I was devastated! I did actually wipe a tear from my eye (though I had to make sure Adrian and Clare weren't looking for fear of them thinking I was a suck-up and/or saddo! But oh, heart-breaking). So, cut the footie boots? You can still understand, those footie boots were an "add-on" to the story if you like, an extra. The Rent Boy could have sidled back in to the bus station, gone into the toilets after the Punter and we could have still thought "It's too late for him". But add the footie boots and it resonates. Which is one of Arena's main abilities: resonance.

Films which use this notion of symbolism to resonate with the Viewer and reflect the theme and/or message of the piece are varied; comedies, horrors, science fiction, supernatural thrillers, dramas - name a genre, they all can do it. It's up to the individual writer and often forms part of his or her voice and the Re/presentation they choose. Sigourney Weaver's character in A MAP OF THE WORLD presses her hand over her mouth like a small girl every time she does something she thinks is "bad", yet when her best friend's child dies in her care, she just stands and stares. They don't just have to be visual symbols either. A film like MURIEL'S WEDDING used Abba Music to convey the hopes and dreams of Muriel/Mariel and the realisation that she should be herself. These "extras" could have been changed or written out altogether and no one would have known the difference. However, the fact they're there add to that all-important "feel of the piece", going beyond the perimeters of the story and into our own interpretations of what that film is trying to get across.

So, how can Arena be a character in its own right? Well, the answer to this is quite simple. Ever seen a film where you get the "feeling" that someone or something else is present, yet that elusive final character is not "there"? Science Fictions and Horrors do this particularly well. Consider a film like ALIEN and the on-board computer MOTHER. She never speaks (unless you count the "T-Minus Ten minutes" countdown to the ship blowing up, though I always think of that being an alarm system, rather than Mother herself). Commands come through ostensibly from The Company, not Mother, yet the whole crew talk about her not only as if she is alive, but as their matriach: "Why did Mother wake us up?"/"What does Mother say?" right through to Ripley's tantrum-like "You BITCH!" at the end when Mother does not reverse the countdown.

Mother is not their Guardian, she is mere chips and circuit boards, a watchful eye; a spy if you like, connected to Ash and Ash alone. In some way, she is an extension of him. Her name is ironic: a Mother would not sacrifice her real children even for her own benefit, yet Mother does this readily with the message from The Company (one could argue a malevolent aunt or uncle perhaps?), CREW EXPENDABLE. She is first the crew's protector from the hostility of space, but then a prison, as none of them can escape and the creature picks them off, one by one - essentially with her blessing.

Mother is a character, but really, she is the Arena, as surely as the countryside is an idyll, then prison in slasher-horrors as people in log cabins have nowhere to run from psychos with hockey masks. Mother is an Arena as surely as the haven of the bus is in JEEPERS CREEPERS from the freaky flying thing, or the ship in EVENT HORIZON. Mother is The Nostromo and The Nostromo IS Mother. Even the crew act like her children - in the extended version, Ripley and Lambert even fight like adolescents schoolgirls and have to be dragged off each other by their elder "brothers". It's symbolic, it's an added layer and it's all very definitely "there".

This device has of course been copied: Moya in FARSCAPE was similar, though rather than being an on-board computer, she was the actual ship, a kind of organic Leviathon. I enjoyed the episodes where Moya was pregnant and things would go wrong like the lights; giving Moya human-like foibles like this gave it an added "extra" - again it could have been taken away, no one will have noticed, but that "extra" was fun and added to the "feel of the piece".

For an Arena to be a character in its own right though, it does not neccessarily need to be given a name or afforded a personality in this overt manner. Thinking again of SEVEN, the city there is a character in its own right, yet all we ever hear about its own malevolent intent (rather than John Doe's) is Gwyneth Paltrow and Morgan Freeman's conversation in the diner where she fears for her unborn child in such a godawful place. At that moment, it was as if the City has ears and delivers her fate through its medium of John Doe, her head ending up in that box. Again symbolic, but highly effective. Others that follow this more covert method of Arena-as-Character (as it focuses on other, more overt Antagonists too) include the infamous Overlook Hotel in THE SHINING, various houses of horror in films like THIRTEEN GHOSTS and hostile landscapes like those in RED PLANET, PITCH BLACK, THE MISSING and THE DESCENT. These are the films where the Arena can be the antagonist, can even cause more problems than the REAL antagonist, even force the antagonist and protagonist to work together at times, like in THE DESCENT or to some extent, LOST HIGHWAY.

Any thoughts?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Arena, Part 1

Many thanks to David, who asked I blog about Arena. Arena is a term I use with abandon, since until quite recently, I thought it was universal in that "everyone" knew what it was. I learnt it first at university and it was then reinforced for me through working for both literary agents and writing initiatives, where it often comes as part of the actual report templates: How does the writer reveal/use arena in this script? etc etc.

So Arena is important. People are looking for how you use it in your script. But what is it? Well, the dictionary defines the noun "arena" as:

1. An enclosed area for the presentation of sports events and spectacles.
2. A building housing such an area.
3. A place or scene where forces contend or events unfold: withdrew from the political arena; the world as an arena of moral conflict.
4. The area in the centre of an ancient Roman amphitheater where contests and other spectacles were held.

So not much use, then.

Or is it?

Let's look again: presentation... events... spectacles... building... forces... contend... unfold... political...moral... conflict... centre... contests.

A good Arena presents not only a series of events for an audience or Reader, but makes it a spectacle, a visual feast. This does not mean Arena is *just* explosions, car wrecks and all those "big" things: even the smallest budget script should have an Arena. Arena does not just refer to location either. I talked of your script being a house the other day: Arena then is the bricks and mortar that help it stand up, along with structure, just like that building in the definition. The characters and story is the imagination that conceived that building: if those are the architect, then the Arena is the builder (though preferably without its arse crack hanging over the top of its jeans).

A good Arena presents forces of good/evil, right/wrong, black/white, male/female and so on - all these juxtapositions are revealed not just in the story or its characters, but in the Arena too. They contend with each other not only overtly through characters, dialogue, plot etc but covertly too and that's via the Arena. The world they live in says a lot about them, without the need to explore it in every minute detail - this would be "on the nose". In YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, Laura Linney's brother moves all the way to Alaska, then returns out of the blue. He's a fish out of water, an Outsider, connected only to the small town he and his sister grew up in by his shared history with her. Nothing else. And there are reminders of this everywhere he goes. The fact too he moved to Alaska - what we might imagine is a cold, unforgiving place - says a lot about his reasons for leaving the supposed idyll of his home town, too. Drama is conflict: they should contend with these events and problems, whether political, moral, major, minor - but the Arena, though secondary to character, storyline etc, should be central in how they do this. Scripts are, in essence, contests. Someone needs to win, someone needs to lose - if only symbolically rather than literally.

I read a lot of scripts that feel like they're "floating in space": the dialogue might be good, the characters interesting, yet I get no sense where they are in the world. Do they live in a towerblock or palace? Are they from deprived backgrounds, do they have dysfunctional families, idyllic childhoods? Are they moral people or seedy as hell? Do they know where they're going in the world, or are they crashing from one disaster to the next?

Arena helps a writer with these types of question. It's often said in "real life" that people are products of their environment. This may be true or untrue in reality - that's a philosophical debate for another time - but in films, environments are a product of the character. You don't write a detective story set in a sunny field, unless you want to make some kind of statement - like Kevin Andrew Walker does in SEVEN in that toe-curling finale when Brad Pitt discovers his wife's head is in that cardboard box. Up until that moment, the city was alive, almost a character in its own right, a threat to the protagonist - which was ultimately carried out - and friend to the antagonist, who ultimately won. Yet John Doe wanted death not in the dark city that had sheltered his grim activities: rather he wanted it out in the open, before the eyes of Nature or God, in bright sunshine. A fitting comment on that character's complex state of mind - and his need for revenge on Brad Pitt who had made John Doe envious, breaking one of those Seven Deadly Sins he had previously put so much stock in.

So Arena is the "feel of the piece": it's not just location, it's the philosophy, the feelings, the places, the "what" and "why" of your script, if you will. Just like the Romans stuck Gladiators in an arena and made them fight to the death, in a way we do the same with our characters - and not just in thrillers or horrors either, where the stakes are their lives. Drama is conflict. Our characters should be fighting - maybe not literally: perhaps they're striving for acceptance like Jess in BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM; or understanding, like Philip Seymour Hoffman's character in FLAWLESS or identity, like Hortense in SECRETS AND LIES.

Tomorrow: Part 2, The Nature of Metaphor and Arena...

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Scribosocial: Date?

Okay, so I've had a completely underwhelming response in terms of dates, places to go etc on comments and email. And yet an overwhelming one in terms of threats, accusations, double entendres and puns. Nothing unusual there, then.

So I'm going to go out on a limb in terms of a date: how about July 14th? It's a saturday my little pretties, which it needs to be if I'm organising it 'cos I'm going to be abandoning the kids to Him Indoors. Hopefully they won't turn to wild savages in my absence and run riot on the moors, but you never know.

I'm up for drinking and banter, like Jason, but suggestions still open on that one. So far we've had only Camden too as a possible place. Any other ideas??? You're supposed to be THE CREATIVE, ARTY TYPES!!! Come on...

Friday, June 15, 2007

Scrib - O - Meet

Okay, both Jason and Piers have been cyber-bullying me into organising another Scribosocial, despite the plain fact they both live in bloody London and I'm the Outsider. But we all know women are better at organising stuff than men - and let's face it fellas, better all round! ; ) - so here we go, three things for ya.

1.Tell me when's a good date for you.
2. Tell me where you want to meet.
3. Tell me what it is you want to do - meal, drinking, debauchery, poking gerbils with sticks etc. I'm sure we can cater for all tastes.

Also, someone give me a place to stay please as I'm way too broke with this stupid house move for even a sodding travelodge. Two conditions: you have to be non-perverted and not an axe murderer. I know I'm asking a lot of you reprobates, but surely someone amongst you doesn't have homicide or nudie stuff in mind. Life's too stressful at the moment for waking up to find rood pictures of me and the goldfish on the internet. Some other time, maybe. But now? Bit much for my schedule.

So: I'll review all the comments/emails I get and make a decision based solely on democracy ie. where I want to go...

P.S. Ever wondered how shit movies make it to the screen? I think this article provides a pretty good insight! Night, night.

Your Script Is A House

So the vendors didn't accept our offer. I thought I would be disappointed, but the vendors were such 24 carat WANKERS that I'm just mad as hell. The price they wanted for a house that needed that much work was totally unrealistic; I went off it in seconds. I don't watch Kirsty and Phil and Sarah Beeny for nowt you know, you can't pull the wool over my eyes punks! They're the ones that lost out, not us: we can find something a hell of a lot better than that with more potential and less work. It had salt and pepper mill pictures on the tiles in the Kitchen for Christ's sake, plus there was anaglypta - 80s alert! - throughout, the garden was rubble and the bathroom was a VOID - ie. NOT THERE. Hah. Get. LOST.

Still, the whole experience gave me the idea for this post, so that's something. No one may be able to answer the question "Why is a raven like a writing desk?", but I can answer the question, "Why is your script like a house?" (Stay with me, don't go towards the light Carol Ann!!!). Here's the rundown in making your script like a (good) house.

1. Making it stand up. We all know scripts are *supposed* to have structures, many don't, but then so don't many houses. I'm always reminded of a house my parents bought when I was about eleven. They had a survey done, but the surveyor couldn't be arsed to look in the roof and it started to fall off. Really. It was most upsetting, obviously. My parents sued the surveyor, won and got their roof stuck back on. However, structure seems to be completely neglected in all the "How To Write" classes I've been on. It's often referred to as just "the three acts", as if somehow even novices just know what it is - just like that. And what about the alternative versions? Blake Snyder. Chris Soth. John Truby and many more. Doesn't it all warrant particular attention? A script hinges on this! One lecturer of mine many moons ago used to go on about "page 22" as if it was some magical fix: when someone finally asked what significance "page 22" actually had, he spluttered something about "turning points"; when someone asked what THEY were, he said, "Haven't you READ about it?" No. Just paid a £1000+ a term for HIM to teach it to us. Which he didn't, a bit like that surveyor who didn't go into my parents' roof.

So, many scripts out there doing the rounds don't have a discernible structure and those writers in question haven't got a clue what it is exactly or how to go about correcting the problem. And if your script comes back unread because of it, there's no one to sue like my parents did (I can just imagine THAT thread of dialogue on Shooting People, can't you??). And as it's always said, you only have one chance. Though you *may* find an agent, prodco or initiative that takes multiple submissions from the same writer as a result of liking their "style", often they won't take a redraft of the script they've seen already.

2. Knowing it's a Buyer's Market. I could walk away from the house I made an offer on yesterday without so much as a backward glance: why? Because I know there are plenty out there that are cheaper, require less work and their vendors aren't snotty bastards. Now this is not a call on writers to work for less than their industry rate; far from it. Rather what I'm saying is: how much work does your script need? How precious are you about your work, or are you open to ideas for further development? It can make all the difference. No one wants a rigid writer. It can be fun, too. I was invited for a meeting at one prodco, they didn't take my script in the end, but one of the questions they asked me was: "Have you thought about introducing a supernatural element to this narrative?" I replied no, I hadn't, but actually - that's a great idea. So I didn't get an option - but I got an idea for a new draft and that's almost as good, plus hopefully a reputation as one of those writers who are not defensive about their work.

3. Being minimalist. When selling a house, one is encouraged to be as "minimalist" as possible, so the buyer can see a blank canvas to envisage their own stuff in your space. And it works. I did this and sold my flat in three days. Nothing was out: not a single toy, not even the draining board next to the sink or any shampoo bottles in the bathroom. It was weird, felt unlived in - and my cupboards bulged with all the crap I'd hidden. Yet the viewer came in, was barely across the threshold and she was saying, "This is perfect. Exactly what I want."

We all hear about Readers "knowing" a good script from the first page. First impressions count. Think of your scene description in particular - that infamous "black on the page" - as being like all the random crap you have round your house. Looking at my desk right now, there's a ton of jewellery on it, a mobile phone, a stapler, a stack of DVDs, keys, a can of Vanish carpet foam for some reason, a pen, some DVD-Rs, a picture of the children, my glasses (hah, didn't know that, did you?) and a Peg person with disco hair my son made for me whom is called Clare Dinsdale. None of this was on here last week when I sold the flat. The trappings of my life - hidden away, as if I have a tidy home every day (yeah right).

A spec then should be similar: minimalist on the scene description. Leave the bulging stuff in your brain to tell the producer/director/script editor etc when it gets optioned. Until then, make them imagine how THEY could make your script without too much input from the pesky writer. Everyone knows we're crazy, most likely have criminal records and drink problems and issues with our father/mother/siblings/neighbours/satan* (delete as appropriate). So try not to put them off with massive chunks of scene description, otherwise it's a bit like opening the front door of a house you're about to view and finding the hall is bright orange and the dog's been sick on the carpet. Niiiiice. Not. Next!

4. Don't give yourself away. When showing a viewer roud your home when you want to sell it, you may not lie, but you won't give yourself away. Now there's nothing wrong with my current flat, it's lovely, but I lived in a flat about eighteen months ago that was rented and the landlords were selling it. I had had a row with these particular landlords (they were the DEVIL INCARNATE!), so every viewer that came round, I gave them the full spiel: there was nowhere to park, the woman selling the flat lied to us when we moved in and we'd got four parking tickets; the pub over the road was NOT quiet, it was open seven days a week until 1am and full to the brim with loud chavs; the weird-looking patch in the second bedroom was NOT a "spill", it was damp. You get the picture (all of it was true by the way). Had I been selling the flat myself however, it would have been a different story: I would have been far more economical with the truth. In a similar fashion, your spec's dialogue should be more economical. Don't tell the story through it. Don't have conversations that go on for three, four, five pages as your characters sit stock still. Have a little subtext, allude to stuff. Use irony. Don't hand it all to the Reader on the plate, make them work for it in the same way a house buyer has to work for the truth, employing surveyors; a Reader then should have to employ his or her analytical skills in reading your spec.

5. A house is a home because of the people who live in it. A viewer will feel predisposed to a house if the family or people inside seem happy. People trying to sell houses because they're splitting up for example will fare less well on the market than those people who've loved their house, yet have to move on for whatever reason. Conversely, vacant houses sell better than houses where the occupants are getting divorced, psychologists have apparently found. It's as if viewers can pick up on the distress and it taints the fabric of the house.

That doesn't mean a writer should write only HAPPY characters though. Dramas in particular can take depressing subject matter, yet still get optioned. But give your characters a HOME and don't taint it. I read a lot of scripts with what I call "soap box moments": in other words, characters rant about something which is clearly the writer's view, not the character - they've become a mere mouthpiece. Similarly, I've had scripts through where characters seem to do particular things because another, usually successful film, has done it. Copying in effect, in the hope this will make the spec "salesworthy". Make the world they inhabit original and plausible. Notice I didn't say "believable" there. Believability, if that is a word (don't think so), has no place in an unreal world in my view. A piece has to be plausible in that it has narrative logic: events don't just come out of nowhere, they are coherent, hanging together in a logical chain - regardless of whether your story is set on a far away planet or the next street.

Equally, those characters have to have colour and dimension; they have to light up the page, be recalled easily, if not by name then by what they do. I don't remember Timothy Spall's character's name in SECRETS AND LIES or exactly what he says, but I remember his frustrations, his empathy, his understanding and his magnificent speech at the end - in the same way I recall a house I liked by its garden or kitchen more than any other room.

So: your script is a house. Make it as shiny and "viewable" as possible. It's a buyers' market, some luck is involved, but there are things you can do to turn people's heads your way. So do it! What are you waiting for...?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Long Distance Screenwriter Wrap Up and General Stuff

Many thanks to Lucie, Barry, Anya and the presumably Bart Simpson-obsessed Eat My Shorts for pointing out that I didn't give you my thoughts on the panellists on The Long Distance Screenwriter Course. When promising a further update "tomorrow" (which has now become yesterday), I had forgotten I was going to Bournemouth to search for a house. Which I found, thanks, but more of that in a min.

So, Adrian handled the morning sesh before handing over to Marc Pye, Louise Ironside, Rob Fraser and Peter Hynes. All looked remarkably sane and not drunk, which was a plus since I've been led to believe that TV writers are often strung out individuals who need a top up of whiskey just to get them through the door of Wood Lane, Granada et al. ; )

So anyway: regular Bang2write Readers of Bang2write will know Marc from this post of the old blog, but also from such shows as Jimmy McGovern's The Street, The Bill, The Royal and countless others. He's now "well in" with the man Tony Jordan, so we'll be seeing much more of him, yay. Louise Ironside is that lucky so-and-so who's way too busy to find an agent (get her!!!) and has completed a whopping 19 episodes of River City to date and still found the time to have two small children. Peter Hynes has proved Kids' TV needn't make you go mad and cross-eyed and has written for the likes of Fimbles, Wombles and Balamory amongst others. Then there's Rob Fraser, whom those of you at Adrian's London class in March may remember Adrian calling the "hooorer" in that he'll write anything, anything at all - and frequently does. Damn him!

So, petty jealousies and the urge to kill them all for their disgustingly huge successes aside, all four panellists presented a very interesting, human perspective of what it is like to write for TV. I was interested to hear Louise Ironside practices the same kind of childcare I do whilst script reading: "Watch CBeebies, Mummy's working!" When asked how she can detach herself by a single Mum in the audience, Louise's reply was "Fuck-off big earphones, the kind air traffic controllers have. You can buy 'em on eBay." Quite a tip!

Marc Pye echoed Louise, talking about how he would take his many children out in the buggy round and round and round the block before racing back to write when they eventually fell asleep (I know how that goes!). He also talked about how he was once a manager in the photo shop at Boots the chemist and how he mows the lawn to get over Writers' Block, much to the chagrin of his wife as he often treads grass through the house on his way back to the PC.

Peter Hynes regaled everyone with the fact he sacked four agents before realising the emphasis was on HIM to get his own work, not the other way round, which proved quite a revelation with the audience - many seemed to think that getting an agent equalled automatic work. Rob Fraser interjected here and said that though he agreed with Peter, he had been introduced to certain jobs that he would never have known about without his agent. There seemed to be a particular insight here: don't rest on your laurels just because you have an agent, it's still up to you to get "out there", but it's also a definite advantage still to have one rather than none.

All of the panellists, just like Adrian and Clare were very approachable and though I didn't get to talk to Rob Fraser (just the way it worked out), I talked to both Peter Hynes and Louise Ironside afterwards and in the pub managed to buy Marc Pye the pint I've been promising to buy for about a year as he helped me with a lead about nine months ago. This is what I love about Mead Kerr classes: you needn't skulk about, thinking you're less important than anyone else (even if they've had a squillion hours of TV produced). There's an atmosphere of understanding and encouragement, so rare in a lot of short courses where you can pay four times as much to get barked at by some guy you've never heard of.

So, that's it for The Long Distance Screenwriter: definitely worth going to if you get the chance - and even if you live in London! There were plenty of Londoners there, though just I and the lovely Will (Hi Will!) had gone to the March class as far as I could see... Though if you did too, let us know what you thought about this one in comparison.

Waiting on a phone call this morning, so I have to go: put an offer in on another house. It's the one I wanted all along (so glad the others fell through, since otherwise I would have had to confess to my hubby that his choice sucked! Whoops, now he knows), but of course this means I'm panic-struck at the thought of losing it because all though it's got graffiti on the front of the house, the garden is a bomb site, the students who used to live there have left knickers and shoes behind (no shame I tell you!), it is PERFECT. You gotta have a little vision, but a year from us moving in, it would be an abject palace, the kind of house I've always wanted. So if we don't get it, I will be gutted. I'll keep you posted.

Oh - and one last thing: we found Lilirose a new Lamb of Love! Yay. Still feel guilty about the lost one, out in the world on his own, but feel sure he would have found his way to the WORLD OF LOST TOYS that my Mum told me about when I was a little girl when I lost my fave Herbie Hare: there are water slides, rollercoasters and cream buns for all...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Long Distance Screenwriter, Part Two

As promised, part two of my notes. Hey boy, hey girl, Superstar DJ... Here we go!

Skillset. Adrian recommended in the first instance that all writers familiarise themselves with the work and opportunities available through Skillset. Knowing what one can get funding for and how helps writers make decisions and book training, courses etc that *could* make all the difference to their career. However, it's surprising how few writers know exactly how Skillset works or what they fund. So go check it out!

Film Festivals. Film Festivals can be a great place to network and get new leads from, even if you're not actually showing anything (a film that is, eeeugh, I heard that at the back!). Everyone knows about Cannes and all the other "biggies", but there's a fair few out there that may surprise you. Heard or gone to any of these?

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic. Practically impossible to pronounce, this festival hosts over 220 features and documentaries and is expecting Renee Zellwegger this year to present her new film.
Austin, Texas, US. The only one on this list I had actually heard of, but only because James Moran went last year and ate much meat and shot guns during the showcase there of his movie Severance!
Dinard, France. Though hosted in France, this festival is dedicated to British Cinema! Check it out.
Galway Festival, Ireland. Around for a whopping nineteen years, The Galway Film Festival "promotes and showcases the very best in new and classic Irish and World cinema."
Tribeca, NY, US. I knew De Niro had his own prodco, Tribeca, but not that he hosted a Film Festival in Manhattan as well. When does this fella have time to star in movies?

And of course there is the lovely Edinburgh Film Festival.

Film festivals offer a great opportunity not only to get your face and work "out there", but in helping you know what's going on too. That's why it's worth checking out those smaller festivals too. Whilst I was in Edinburgh at the weekend, there was a film festival in nearby Leith, where there was a free showing of Mead Kerr's Night People and a Q&A with Adrian and Clare afterwards, giving my friend Elinor and I even more time to grill them! Smaller film festivals also give new filmmakers and writers a great opportunity to show their shorts, Brief Encounters in Bristol the most obvious that springs to mind. Genre-related film festivals, like The Compass of Horror or The World of Comedy may enable writers to find likeminded filmmakers or writing partners for collaboration. Equally, writers wanting to try something new could find all the information they need at a festival like Animated Exeter, The Radio Academy's Radio Festival or The Harrogate Crime Writers' Festival. Let's not forget the Screenwriters' Festival,Cheltenham, now in its second year either. There's so much out there. Whilst many of these fests are expensive, there is the old saying, "you have to speculate to accumulate." Writing alone in your bedroom just doesn't cut it. Remember there are bursaries and funding to be had from your local screen agency and if you're really broke, target those smaller fests first. When I participated inThe Compass of Horror last year, most events were about £3 each if you didn't want/have time to go to all of them. There were opportunities to see Nigerian horror cinema, a commentary on GINGER SNAPS by a real psychologist, even a Q&A with director Richard Stanley on his fabulous DUST DEVIL. You can't grumble - and that's before you use the event as a platform to pimp yourself out! ; )

Short Films, Screen Agencies And Opportunities. Adrian recommended all writers get short films made. You can do this by targeting your local screen agencies; most run schemes that will enable you to get both training and your work made, including Digital Departures, Digital Shorts and Microwave. The usual lament came up: "But you have to live in the area to access the scheme!" but Adrian made the point that if a writer wanted to access a particular screen agency, all they need do is find a Producer who lives in the area they want to access. Writers should contact Producers through The New Producers' Alliance: it's a fact of life that an organisation like the UK Film Council will pay more heed to your application to the Development Fund if you have a Producer attached, so find one - they want credits as badly as you, remember.

Adrian went on to say that Northern Ireland Screen admits it has stacks of cash ("twelve million squid!" I have written in my notes with a big ring around it, I hope it's the right amount, can't remember!) it needs to get rid of and though Scottish Screen have since cancelled running all their own courses, they still have people providing the training for them, so might be worth checking out. Equally, Scottish Screen in conjunction with BBC Scotland are on the lookout for 60 minute Single Dramas; the proposals are in this september, you need to have a producer attached and the budget for your drama must be $450,000 or less. Scottish Screen are also working in conjunction with GMAC, Glasgow Media Arts Access Centre, which is running a shorts film festival and calling for submissions right now. Finally, Initialize Films will be running a VERY interesting course for writers very soon; rumour is, it will be for writers who need that little "push" into professional writing. Ten will be selected for the writers' course and ten Producers and Directors will be selected for their prospective courses in a big attempt for all thirty to "bridge that gap to market". I'm definitely intrigued about this and you can find the Initialize Films website here.

Right! That's the last of my written notes, but I will back tomorrow with some thoughts on the afternoon panellists at the course. Ciao...

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Long Distance Screenwriter, Part One

First off, hello to everyone I met at the weekend! I had a brilliant time as always, though many apologies both to Elinor (I threw coleslaw over her) and MA David for the coughing fit. Whoops.

So: onto my notes since that's why everyone's really here...

Stand Out Scripts. In no particular order then, largely because my notes are in chaos: Adrian took the morning session and talked about three main points that make out "stand out" TV scripts. These were

- Originality
- Controversy
- "New Realisation"
- High Concept

Originality is straight forward: it's that elusive quality all us writers face - just how original is our latest original idea? How many times have we had a flash of inspiration, only to find it's central to the latest blockbuster/soap opera/whatever. Nuts. Controversy is an interesting one; something often overlooked in my opinion by writers. Issues are issues because people want to talk about them, explore them, get right into the heart of them. Putting an issue then at the heart of your script can only be a good thing. I wrote a script about child abuse and yes, some readers hated it, but only one out of the many, many Readers who read it didn't understand what it was about. Controversy is a good thing.

New Realisation was the one I hadn't thought of before; Adrian explained this might be to do with arena, the philosophy behind the script or issue, structure (in terms of the "story telling format"), the ability to change minds or give viewers an insight into something or someone they have never seen or thought of before. If you can tap into this special *something* you could be on to something. For example: I read a script about what it means to be a Working Single Mother recently. Nothing too remarkable about that you might think, until you factor in the point this particular writer is male. Reading the script, I was blown away by his insight - because I experienced everything this man wrote about! The guilt, the struggle, the juggling. It was all there. And you know what? I recommended the screenplay.

High Concept is interesting, since it was traditionally thought of as movie fare. Movies were all-singing, all-dancing; TV was gritty, realist and DEADLY SERIOUS. There's been a blurring of the lines though in recent years; high concepts are now behind much of British TV drama - LIFELINE a recent, good example. The supernatural in particular has crossed the line from the movie world and into TV; mini series are not all about murder mysteries and health scares any more. You needn't stick to writing your ninety minute features just because you like to explore the more "out there" concepts in any case.

Goal Setting. Adrian insists that writers who get made make goals and I agree with him. This does not mean making goals along the lines of "Well, I'll give it fice years and if I've made no progress, that's it for me." Rather it means working out what you want and making a series of smaller goals in the short term that will help you achieve that goal in the long term. No one gets anything handed to them on a plate in this game. You have to work for it and this takes time. For me, my goal is getting my own TV Series, so I have to decide just what route I need to take to achieve this. Getting short films made would perhaps gain me some attention, but it possibly isn't quite the right road for me at this juncture in my career since I already have an agent. So I need to really buckle down, polish up my specs and get my agent to target all those existing shows in the hope I can gain some work on an existing series. No one will give an untried, untested writer their own drama series, out of the blue, no matter how great their spec is. We're talking hundreds of thousands of pounds of development money. Why risk it? You have to be patient, but equally you must be realistic too.

Agents. Having an agent is not a 100% must in TV - one of the afternoon panelists, Louise Ironside confessed she hasn't got one since she's "too busy" to find one (what a nice problem to have!); however, I get the impression one is hampered without one. Adrian talked us through the "Big 5" agents and how they like to be approached:

The Agency. These guys like Adrian's "agent pack" idea.
Curtis Brown. They like writers to be pro-active and well-researched, contacting the relevant agent best suited to that writers' style.
PFD. They prefer recommendations from producers and/or course tutors and have recently taken on an MA Screenwriting Graduate, not only because of his fabulous writing, but his great personality and motivation! So it's not just what's on the page, remember.
Tessa Sayle Agency. They like the agent packs, but also invites to screenings, readings or personal recommendations are good too.
Dench Arnold. This agency is "always looking for the next masterpiece" so welcome the agent packs Adrian has designed.

For a comprehensive list of literary agents, click here.

Agents liaise alot with TV people and Adrian told us about the "favourite" agents TV people like to work with:

At ICM, Cathy King, Michelle McCoy, Jessica Sykes and Josh Varney all came highly recommended; favourites from The Agency included Faye Webber, Norman North and Bethanne Evan; Curtis Brown's TV champions are Tally Garner, Nick Marsden and Ben Hall. Smaller agencies that have also proved popular with TV people include MBA, Cecily West, Val Hoskins and London Management.

Agents told Adrian that when they are approached by potential clients, they not only like scripts to "reek of polished prowess", but the candidate to as well! They ask that the potential client put themselves in the Assistant's position and appreciate it takes time to read scripts (often this work is undertaken out of hours!). They also mentioned that there was nothing wrong with phoning, but that there is nothing more annoying that writers outstaying their welcome or asking for advice about their career! So you've been told...

Tomorrow: Part Two where I detail the many opportunities and websites Adrian recommended. See you then!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Planes, Adrian Mead, Naked Men and Fire Drills...

...Doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it? :P

What a weird and wonderful weekend I've had. I simply must tell you all the gory details, since if I hadn't lived it and seen it all through my own eyes, I would have thought it was one of those Steve Martin 80s comedies. Maybe it was. Perhaps, somewhere near Bristol is a Being John Malkovich-style-portal that I slipped through, since my adventures began when I got to the airport.

Everything was fine until I checked in. So actually, crap from the start. Some little Hitler not only threw away all my hair products, he got rid of my hairdryer and tried to confiscate my make-up AND birth control pills. I went mental. I started accusing him of all sorts, including getting me pregnant by proxy ("Everything will be out of kilter for fuck's sake!"). He obviously thought I was out of kilter and soon was replaced by a woman bag checker who seemed more sympathetic, gave me my make-up back, made soothing noises and literally pushed me forwards towards the departures lounge. Phew.

I sat down, tried to read, but spent the next hour counting sixty minutes down until I died - sorry, got on the plane. Eight minutes from boarding, guess what: the plane's failed its MOT. Sorry people. You're waiting until nine o'clock. At. The. Earliest. There was much gnashing of teeth by many of the people around me - I discovered around me that a large amount of people work in Bristol for the week and actually live in Edinburgh, which surprised me: haven't they heard about carbon footprints?? - so I tried to go to the bar for whiskey. My heroes in the crime novels I love always drink whiskey in airports, so I thought I'd take a leaf out of their book. No can do, cos the bastards have run out of whiskey. Shit! So I went in search of something to eat. Only paninis left. Now, I'm fond of paninis, but not all the time. What's with our obsession with Italian sandwiches? It's like the red squirrel, driven out by its grey neighbour - you can't get a bacon and egg buttie any more. Damn this culinary hell!

So anyway. I eventually got on the plane and sat next to a lovely man who reminded me that LOST is not a documentary and was skilled enough to draw me into a conversation about education, one of my soap boxes as you know, for the duration of the entire flight. We didn't die, which was refreshing since I had already worked through various scenarios from places as varied as CASTAWAY and even NEIGHBOURS. I got to my hotel just before midnight, checked in, discovered it was Fawlty Towers' evil twin, but I just didn't care, I was that knackered. Fell into bed. Snore, snore 'til morning.

Except not. My hotel housed several stag parties and a faulty fire alarm system. Naked men ran up and down my corridor leaving vapours of booze behind them: had I had a lighter, I could have set fire to them all. 2 am came around and the fire alarm goes off: we all bundle outside, Fire Birgade arrives, checks the place, we go back in. 3am. Fire alarm goes off again. We all go back down again - The Duty Manager tells us it's a false alarm, to go back. Except we're a little bit scared we could burn to death in our sleep, so we question how he knows it's DEFINITELY a false alarm. "Because this happens all the time." He says calmly. Anyway, there's a full scale mutiny amongst the 87 guests, the fire alarm won't go back off, the Brigade are called back out, the Duty Manager reveals he's not the manager at all and is actually the night porter and some guy from Harrogate who happens to be a buildings inspector decides to close the hotel down. At 4 in the morning. Luckily he rescinds this, since he's off-duty, but I would imagine he is still plotting its downfall with glee. He and his wife were mad as hell. I would have been had I not had to hold my eyelids open with matchsticks, but you can't jump on every opportunity for a ruck I say. Anyway, I had to translate for some very scared Spanish ladies what the hell was going on. It worked out well for one guy though: a French teacher took the opportunity to regale his charges with "This is how the British do it, they walk around and wait, sensibly, when there is a fire alarm - even when they have no information! They do not go mad like us French!" It was shortly after this that relations went downhill with the Duty Manger/Night Porter, so I guess you could call it the French Revolution, especially when one of the French students was blamed with setting the alarm off in the first place: "This is fraud! I do not believe it! This is BULLSHEEEEEEEEET!"

So I saw feck all of Edinburgh 'til the morning, but it was worth waiting for. What a beautiful city. The architecture is amazing, the castle truly breathtaking. The standard of graffiti is pretty good too. Only this morning I saw THE LAW IS A SERIES OF COMMANDS SANCTIONED BY THREATS. I was thinking how philosophical this was, but for the fact someone wrote WHAT PISH over the top of it. Always one.

So we'll fastforward over Adrian's class - more on this tomorrow - and I even managed to take in a showing of his great NIGHT PEOPLE - again, more tomorrow - and then flew home this morning. No delays, no crazy checker people though one of the Feeler Ladies by the metal detector made a very big show of scanning my rosary beads with an iron cross. When I explained they could not go in my bag as they would save my life in the event of crash, she tutted very loudly, gave them back and raised her eyes at me like I was a small child. She knows nothing!

So the flight home was uneventful but for the small child who yelled, "I hope we don't crash, Mummy!" as we took off and I was home again by 1pm as if I had never gone. The wonders of air travel. Still effing scary. Not as scary though as the fact that my husband *claims* the reason my temporary internet files were all wiped clean in my absence was because he was looking for that bloody toy Lilirose lost on google. Apparently he typed in, "fluffy little lamb" and all kinds of images that made his eyes burn were called up. A likely story. When the cat's away and all that...

Friday, June 08, 2007

Disaster

Well, we saw a very nice house yesterday, put an offer in, waiting to hear. However that's not the important bit, nor is the fact I am going on a BLOODY PLANE just hours from now.

Lilirose has lost her Lamb of Love.

She left it in one of the many houses we viewed yesterday. We think we may have narrowed it down to the particular house, the estate agent has promised to look for it, but if he can't find it, we. are. screwed. She can't sleep without it. Last night was a nightmare. Best part? The lamb's makers, Woolworths, say the lamb is not "currently available"!!! They must have one lying around a warehouse somewhere. I'm not proud, I'll beg. However, now I feel guilty trying to replace it since all I can think of is Woody's lament at the petrol station when he and Buzz fall out the car: "I'm a LOST TOY!" Damn that Toy Story.

I'll keep you posted but in the mean time, if you live in the Winton area of Bournemouth keep an eye out for the little chap. Cheers.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Focus, Focus

Consider this an "away" message... Tomorrow I am going to Bournemouth at SIX in the morning. I have to look for a house. Well, actually I'm looking at nine houses. But I'm sure they all have merits. I have to weigh up the pros and cons like Kirsty and Phil, whilst making sound, practical and pragmatic decisions based on vacancy, decor and development potential Sarah Beeny style. I even have an itinery. They are Gods, people: ignore their housing advice at your peril!

In addition, I'm hoping to find a house that is 5 mins' walk from an off licence, kebab shop, school, nursery, supermarket, play park and library. By my calculations, this will mean I will save approximately seven million hours' of my time a year in extra walking. If I could also live near Danny Stack that would also be helpful, since I intend to suck up his success next Rogue-style now I have sucked James Moran dry*. Yes, that's right people. You heard it here first: I've had to step in to write James' Dr. Who. It was very sad, some say he couldn't take the pressure or excitement, but I don't believe it - however he just couldn't stop clawing at his face: they say it'll be nine grafts to get him looking like his old self... Get better soon Jimbo. And don't worry: it's the least I could do. I know you've converted to Buddhism and won't want the money anyway.

So nine houses, two schools, one day. It's going to be a bitch. Just gotta focus. **Circle of Light to the power of a million!**

So... Talk amongst yourselves. Anyone going to Adrian Mead's seminar, let me know. I will be going with no less than 15 Bang2write Goodie Bags! (Well I say that, they're actually done up with cling film: tried to order some little party bags and the company said I had to have 1000!!) But anyway, if you see me there, stop me and get one. A goodie bag that is. You dirty buggers.

* I also have my eye on Dom Carver... He needn't think he's getting into that BBC Writers' Academy without me, even if I have to murder him and wear his skin to get in!

The Edge

No, this isn't a post about how close I am to the edge of sanity, though you'll notice my flat has sold already, despite being on the market only three days so I suppose you could make an argument for it, especially as we now have approximately five minutes (really) to find a new place to live as well as a school for my son.

Wow, that was a long sentence. Anyway.

We've had all the posts about finding your voice, practice makes perfect, etc etc - but now, I'm thinking of those writers who have gone beyond the beginners' market, have touched the *very real* possibility or got optioned, representation or commissioned. It's often thought, especially by new writers on their first or second script, that once you have an agent/your first option/your first commission/all three* (delete as appropriate), the work will come flooding in. Voicemail messages will have to be left since you're on the phone all the time or doing lunch with High Profile Media People. They will flatter you, beg you to work on their show/series/feature/etc and you will smile politely, make interested noises, but have to check your diary just to see you're not double-booked...And oh, if they add an extra "zero", then the deal might *just* be clinched.

Dream on.

I once met a writer whom I had actually heard of at a book fayre: I was mildy excited, wanted his autograph and was baffled that he was baffled I would want it. Anyway, he wrote on my programme "Keep writing...the more stuff you write, the harder it becomes". I remember thinking he was slightly mad and possibly drunk on success, if not the fourteen margueritas he'd bound to have had since 3 o'clock that afternoon because there was a free bar and everyone knows writers never turn down free booze (what?).

So anyway, fast forward two years and I find my programme stuck in the back of a chest of drawers. I know who this chap's agent is, so I write a letter and ask the agent to forward it to him. He does. After six months, he answers my question which was, "Why does it become harder, the more you keep writing?!"

He sent one line back in response, via email. It was: "Because they know you have The Edge but so do half a million others."

The Edge. I figured at the time he meant Craft, maybe the maturity to deal with rejection, half a dozen other things that could mean you're "better" than say, a newbie. I was "better" than I was when I first started, it figured then that I would be better in another six months, then another, then another...

And to some extent, that was true. My rejection letters went beyond pre-printed cards "Thanks for your submission but...", up the scale to "We're unsure of a market for this..." to "It's very nice but it needs a lot of work..." And then suddenly, something changed. People began to compliment my work. They liked my characterisation, they thought my arena was evocative, they "admired" the stand I had taken on a particular issue in the story, they'd thought my dialogue was funny.

This was a heady time and I enjoyed it a great deal. Rejections still stung of course, but it was alright: I was on the right track, I had The Edge. Except I didn't. People were still encouraging me. They'd might have enjoyed various stuff, but I still lacked that "cetain something" that would have taken my work through, so whilst I *thought* I was in with a definite chance, in the real world, probably not.

Then something strange happened. The tone of my rejection letters changed substantially. The same people who had "liked" my work six months' earlier suddenly seemed to not like further drafts. They questioned more, seemed to want more, demand more of me. No longer was my dialogue just "engaging" or "funny" - they wondered why this scene seemed to "stick out" in comparison to the others. No longer were some of my female characters "headstrong" and "capricious", they needed more "fibre" (I'm guessing the Reader in question here means motivation and/or substance here, not All-Bran!). After about the seventh letter in which the very same things were questioned, I emailed my Writer Friend and asked him what the hell he thought might be going on: had I just suddenly got incredibly crap and not realised it? Another one line email in response:

Congratulations. You have The Edge.

I got rejected again on Monday. The Company phoned me, never a good idea since I am a highly emotional person (can you tell?), so I always stand in front of the mirror and smile like a madwoman for fear of tears (it works!). Anyway, I was unsurprised they went with the "other guy" (I was in a "poor me" state of mind), I was more surprised by their admission when I asked what I could do to the script to interest another company, or possibly them in the future: "Nothing." Blokey said, "It's a great script."

So this is what I think my Writer Friend means when he talks about The Edge: people appreciate the effort you put in as you hone your craft and whilst you're still a new writer, will tell you so. However, when you've been round the block a few times, maybe had a couple of commissions or options, or a bunch of corporate work, they expect more. They work you harder, want you to justify the story-telling devices you use, expect you to have more finesse with various craft techniques.

Do I have The Edge? Well, it would be nice, sure - though applying a label to anything means the danger people can think they know everything there is to know, which I think is never the case in life, never mind screenwriting. But hopefully, maybe I'm getting nearer. Though not so near I fall off The Precipice, obviously. Who knows what's down there...

Monday, June 04, 2007

Genre Crisis

Genre. Defined by screenwriters' salvation Answers.com as "a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, marked by a distinctive style, form or content."

The operative words here then?

1. Category.

2. Style.

3. Form.

4. Content.

Category is pretty self-explanatory; it's the label we afford the types of film that we write. Sci Fi (sorry Good Dog, SF); horror; comedy; romance; drama; thriller; supernatural and countless others. Then there are the genre hybrids - favourites being romantic-comedy, supernatural thriller/horror, horror-comedy. In addition, there are what I call "splinter genres": examples include the slasher-pic (loner kills everyone, preferably in the woods whilst wearing a mask for an indiscernible reason, yawn, we don't care, let's see some guts ripped out with fish hooks); Frat Pack comedies (Ben Stiller and Vince Vaugn in the same movie for the same reasons with some fart jokes and maybe a gross-out sex scene) and maybe the slapstick Rom-Com which has someone like the yummy Ryan Reynolds in, for no other reason than he has good cominc timing and great pecs). Then there are genres that have created themselves over time, because audiences seem to demand it: the teen "body swap" movie is an obvious example, but then parody is another for things like SCARY MOVIE, EPIC MOVIE et al which *possibly* seem more funny to those people who aren't screenwriters.

Style then is the point of your script. Whilst a film gets the thumbs-down if it copies everything that's gone before it, there ARE certain things an audience expects when it goes to see, say, a horror movie. You don't expect fluffy bunnies on a picnic, let's just put it that way. You want vampires, big monsters, women screaming and/or with big guns (possibly scantily clad? I'm looking at YOU James Moran), excessive blood and yes, guts pulled out with fish hooks. Why not? If you can't kill a few people on a beer-infested saturday night via the medium of DVD or Cinema, it's a poor do!

Defining Form and Content is when it starts to get tricky then. According to Wikipedia, "Form is supposed to cover the shape and structure of the work; content its substance, meaning, ideas, or expressive effects." This is an interesting definition: does it always work out this way? The very fact the word "supposed" is included, even in a Wikipedia definition, suggests that this is not 100% concrete. After all, many genres *appear* to mistake Form for Content in my opinion - and that's just the produced movies. Considering a film like UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION, I am loathe to think there is a real sense of content; for me, it was more Category, Style and Form, almost as if someone woke up one day and said: "You know what would be cool? A Werewolf/Vampire hybrid" to which someone else replies: "That would be cool. What's the story?"..."Pardon?" The other screenwriter replies, confused...

Before you Werewolf/Vampire lovers lynch me like the dog I am then, I should point out: I love the idea of a Werewolf/Vampire hybrid. Yet UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION just does not do it for me. Sure there's the story of those two brothers, one bitten by bat, the other by wolf and then there's that cool Vampire Librarian with the werewolf watchdogs and yes, there was even a sex scene, always a bonus in my book, but something about that Content just didn't work for me. It looked cool. I got a little bit excited about all the fighting and the leather. Kate Beckinsale is hot. Ticks all the boxes there, hell yeah. But that content (its story in essence), does not engage me.

Form and Content are often overlooked in my opinion not just by those "big" produced movies, but new writers too. Sometimes a writer is so taken up by the "feel" of their piece, their arena, the audience expectations and so on, that concept is assigned barely any house room. Yet therein lies the problem. Form and Content can turn an idea around. Take 28 DAYS LATER and compare it with RESIDENT EVIL. Both are about mutated-style viruses that turn its victims into vicious monsters. Both its protagonists' groups are trapped - one lot underground, the other on The British Isles. Both have to deal with far worse than just Zombies: one an apocalypse of mankind, the other (it already having happened), the degeneration of humankind into barbarism and rape. They could, still, be the same the movie. Yet it's their Form and Content that differ. Resident Evil is packed to the rafters with cool-sounding marines with attitude; they have huge firepower and a big computer, the spookily-named Red Queen, is involved. 28 Days Later follows the fates of a bunch of stragglers, holding on to their wits and their lives by a mix of chance and sheer bloody-mindedness. At the end of the day: one is typical Hollywood: big gore and effects, the other a typical Brit Film - focusing on the minutaie of life and those human moments behind the big, apocalyptic big events: no saving the world or even Private Ryan here... Save yourself and piss off. Sir!

Content is important, but so is Form. I see a lot of ideas that are great, yet its Form is under-developed; similarly, I read a lot of scripts where the Form is fabulous, yet I've seen its content before. I can say this with some authority, because this past week, I've managed to practice BOTH ends of the scale with rubbish results. My first idea for 25 WOL was crap, but its Form was fine; the exact opposite can be said for the second idea.

It's harder than it sounds, writing a genre you've never attempted before. Whilst I know what goes into SF (I like SF even!), for some reason I cannot summon the enthusiasm to create that "magic 4" of Category, Style, Form and Content. Something always falls down and undermines my story. I've come to the conclusion that I just don't do SF dah-link. I'm no good at it. I recognise my short-comings: I feel free, I can go into my circle of light, blah-blah-blah. I've re-written my 25 WOL as the other brief, The Teen Hitchcock, with its "thematic concerns of suspense and voyeurism". And you know what? I feel so much better.

Which genre is hardest for you to write? Spill...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

P.S - Buy My Flat!

I've had a lot of people ask me recently about my inspirations, how I became a script reader, etc and there's one perfect way to soak up all my wisdom and that's by buying my flat.

This is, after all, the very building in which I have slaved over script reports, written countless acres of coverage and written a stack of rewrites in the past year. If you believe in all that hippie-stuff, hoepfully some of it's gone into the walls and you can literally suck it out through the concrete. Mmmmm.

If that sorta thing's not your bag, then you may like to know this flat is in small town just outside Exeter called Tiverton. It's your usual Factory town with plenty of skilled and unskilled work on the go and the residents are pretty easy-going. It has some excellent primary schools, an okay (but small) high school, a college of FE and all the usual high street shops (including an M&S Food: we are going up in the world). In addition, a 24 Hr Tesco is literally around the corner from my flat for those essential midnight beer and crisp jaunts. As far as the apartment block goes, it's in a very quiet area with nice views out the back across some fields. My cats love it.

So, please buy it ASAP, because we're moving to Bournemouth: Him Indoors has a new high-powered job working with ASBO kids. Lucky him. Sometimes I wonder if he married me because I have behavioural difficulties. It's a great price. Check it out here. Or, snoop on where I live. I know I would.

Back To The Drawing Board

It's been a funny few days. A small monkey has been flushed down the toilet courtesy of Lilirose (don't call the RSPCA folks, it was made of plastic); my husband and I had a row about Cheerios of all things (How? I don't even know); my son has been offered a "cool ride home from school" in a Black Thunder (mind boggles) on wednesday next week courtesy of local radio station Gemini FM and I'm pretty sure I sent a rather amorous text message to one of the other Bloggers by accident yesterday. You know who you are. Soz about that: your name is next to my husband's in my mobile phone book, nothing funny is going on. Honest.

So, what else? Well, it would seem my 25 WOL package sucks. Which is a shame, since I worked a trillion hours on it, but you win some, you lose some. Rewrites are funny things: they can be exhaustive, exhilarating and ultimately deflating. My first Power of 3 liked it, but I should have known they're all insane and need lobotomies. Only kidding. That first Power of 3 were all girlies like myself, not really interested in sci-fi. The next Power of 3 (well, 7) were made up of blokes who all adore sci-fi: the problem with mine then? Mine is a big fat cliche.

So how do you write a genre you're just not that "into"? I mean, why would you bother? Well, I'm looking at it as an exercise - one day I hope to be commissioned on a movie that actually gets made and there's a fair chance I'm going to look at the brief and go: WTF? We all know producers are mad and escapees from Broadmoor (really, it's true, ask anyone - but not the Producers themselves 'cos they'll bite your cheek off like Robert De Niro in Cape Fear), so it makes sense to me to get a little bit of practice in on something I wouldn't normally write. Plus there's this part of me that says, "Sci-Fi COULD be interesting to women and I'm just the one to revamp the entire genre for the UK public!" I know. But you gotta have a big ego in this biz to cope with the knockbacks. At least, that's what I keep telling myself anyway.

So, I found out the hard way this week that it's no good coming up with stuff you think OTHERS will like: you'll be second guessing and the Genre Geeks (sorry boys) will smell it a mile off and bay for your blood. Really. It won't matter what your characters, dialogue, arena, whatever is like, even if they're good! They. Will. See. None. Of. This. All they see is THE IDEA. If that idea is a cliche then, all you need is a taxi for one to REJECTIONSVILLE, proving that concept is all at the end of the day.

You have to believe in what you write - but that doesn't mean you CAN'T write genres you're not keen on. You absolutely can. It's finding that "in" that's the problem: you need to access the genre through your own interests. I don't like sci-fi... But I like philosophy. Hmmm. A lot of sci-fis have some quite deep stuff behind them if you choose to view them that way. Suddenly I'm getting a lot more ideas and I'm not second guessing anyone. I'm even enthusiastic about my new storyline - something I wasn't particularly before.

You live and learn...