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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Year In Review

An interesting year for me, 08. I started with high hopes: I did a trial for a well-known TV show last November and was told in January I was successful. This is it! I thought - Now the commissions will roll in. Then... Nothing happened. Still, nothing has happened. But apparently something *will* happen eventually, so watch this space. Talking to one chap who's done much of the TV circuit "off-Beeb" as he calls it (ie. any channel except Aunty), he's had to wait two years or more before now. Two years! Yikes. Still, done one I guess. What's a bit longer? And if nothing else, it was an invaluable experience that taught me a lot about the realities of TV writing and what is expected of writers.

Contest and initiative-wise, 08 was a complete wash out: for the first year ever I managed to not place or get an interview for a single one. I wasn't too concerned however; I had plenty to occupy me, though not getting an interview for the BBC Writers' Academy for the third year running really stung. However, an action plan for this year's application has been hatched and put in place. Whether they take me in 09 or some other year, they WILL TAKE ME WHETHER THEY LIKE IT OR NOT. ; )

I got commissioned on an internet series which never got made, though apparently that one's not dead in the water quite yet. Collaborated with three producers on two features and another internet series. Progress is slow because of our other commitments, but heartening. Got called in for a pitching session with Eon Screenwriters: they eventually passed on my idea, but I learned a lot in the course of one day and the subsequent rewrites they asked of me before that.

I managed to miss the SWF for the third year in a row due to too much work and not enough time to sort out the necessary life and family stuff, though the festival's move to the much more sensible October means I WILL be there in 09. I started a novel and fell at the first hurdle, just fifteen thousand words in. I did my first full read-through of one of my specs with professional actors. Wrote a couple of virals and a plethora of magazine and website copy, including New Me TV and Moviescope.

Two prodcos came sniffing around a spec and a treatment of mine, but both eventually passed. I got rejected twice from Digital Shorts this year because there was a "last chance" call for 07 as well as the actual 08 round and I didn't make it through either. I did however find someone to make one of my applications instead - and that's first on the list for the new year ahead: we should be meeting Friday this week to discuss casting, logistics, etc.

Another spec of mine got picked up by a producer with a view to revamping it and entering it for the Microwave initiative next year. Had a scrap with another outfit who should have known how to treat their writers better: have put a hex on them forever. Entered for this, got through the first round - still waiting to hear if I'm successful or not.

Portfolio-wise, this year I did some spring cleaning of my specs. I wrote a new feature spec for the first time in just two years this year and initial feedback is good. I also revisited my very first feature script in its TWENTIETH DRAFT and initial feedback is not so good, though some illuminating advice has meant I have already rewritten 19 pages since yesterday. My second ever feature got a new beginning and now works much better. My sixty minute drama series I entered for Red Planet has been canned for the time being due to very confusing feedback: some love it, some hate it. At the moment, I hate it, though there is a niggling feeling its tone is wrong for the audience I'm targetting a re-alignment of its central idea may just be what it needs, so I suspect I will revisit it sooner rather than later.

Script reading/editing wise, my career this year has gone from strength to strength. I started the year script editing for Act of Grace and ended it with more on Trail of Evil, which had its initial table reading last week (though I expect it's no longer called "Trail of Evil" anymore after a, shall we say, discussion by the two leads!). The credit crunch has unfortunately claimed Metlab for the time being, but I got some other new regular script reading jobs including Initialize Films and met plenty more interesting clients and people, reading for more individuals than ever before.

My best year ever? It seems strange writing that, especially given at the beginning of December I was living in total rejection city and literally climbing the walls in disappointment. But it actually was: Best. Year. Ever.

But here's to 09 being even better.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmouse

Just a short note to say good day to you all - I'm off now for the Christmas Hols, have a good one - no, stop crying, this isn't "goodbye", just "au revoir": PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER. Sheesh. Right, where was I? Oh yes, MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

If you want your stuff read in January, remember it's first come, first served as always. Bang2write reads scripts in the order they come in - here are all the details if you want me to put you on my list for the new year. I will be checking emails from time to time, but don't panic if you don't hear from me rightaway, just doing, well... Christmas stuff - like opening presents, drinking too much beer, starting family feuds and generally complaining there's a load of shite on telly again this year. You know the drill, people!

Here's to 2009 being *the* year for all of us. And let's hope that pesky James Moran doesn't nick all the work again - that's *clearly* why I got no television commissions in 08... That's my story and I'm sticking to it! (Love you really James, MWAH).

I bid you all adieu, see you in the new year: remember, start as you mean to go on and all that... So only get paralytic drunk and arrested for running through the town square in the nude if that's what you intend to do every day of 09. There's some good advice in there (somewhere). Ciao pretties, miss you xxx

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Festive Favourites

Here's some Christmas clips to feast your eyes on...

The Muppets' Christmas Carol - Marley & Marley

Gremlins - "Get Out Of My Kitchen!"

American Psycho - "Have A Holly, Jolly Christmas"

The Grinch - "I'm Booked!"

And finally - perhaps one of the craziest, daftest movies ever, yet I somehow can't resist it... I first watched it the day after I had had Lilirose and nearly had a haemorrhage from laughing so much (I thought the brothers' fights were particularly true to life, or maybe I just grew up in a war zone??). Enjoy!

Just Friends - All the best bits, "Truce!/You Walking Void!/Dinkelman's Going Down!/Would you care to join us in a Christmas Carol To Celebrate The Birth of our Lord?!"

It's only now I'm beginning to realise my vision of Christmas *may* just be a teensy bit WARPED. What about your faves? Over to you...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ghost of Christmas Presents

As everyone knows, I'm drowning with scripts at the mo, but I don't feel ready to sign off on the blogging for the hols *just* now (it's an addiction, alright??), so here's a question for you:

What was your fave Christmas present EVER and why?

Mine's a charm bracelet my other half gave me. I wear it all the time - and every birthday and Christmas he gives me a charm to go on it. So far I have a church (to commemorate our marriage); a holy Bible (to commemorate the script that got me an agent, THY WILL BE DONE); a baby in a pram (to commemorate Lilirose's birth); a video camera with a nude lady in it (the official line is it commemorates my love of films, but in actual fact it commemorates the fact I'm a perv, more likely); and a cat (because we um... like cats??). However if that's too cheesy for you and makes you want to puke I got one of these when I was about eight and it made a GREAT noise when I hit my brother on the head with it... But then my Mum took it off me. Fascist!

Answers in the comments section please...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Another Course For Screenwriters

Initialize Films would like everyone to know they're running a course in the new year for those of you who want to get your first feature script written. It's really good value - just £195 (+ VAT) for eight sessions over eight weeks. Don't forget Skillset does bursaries for this sorta thing too, but if you don't ask you don't get!!
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PROJECT DEVELOPMENT - FEATURE SCREENPLAY DEVELOPMENT (FIRST DRAFT)

"I had never written a script before but after taking this course I now have a feature script with an established producer. I can't rate it highly enough!"
Pavel Barter, Screenwriter

Who is it for?

The course is for screenwriters, filmmakers, development executives and producers who who are working on a feature film and who want personalised tuition as they develop their outline into a first-draft script.

How does it work?

The course consists of 8 x 2 hour seminars held over an 8-week period.

Writers start with a one-page synopsis. Each week they are given a project-related writing task after each seminar to develop their story and to help them put it down on paper. By the end of the course writers are expected to have written a 10-page treatment / step outline which will form the basis of their first draft.

Rather than just explaining screenwriting principles, the seminars workshop writer's ideas under the following headings:

- Introduction: how ideas are developed into feature scripts

- Character: external and internal conflict

- Structure - establishing lines of tension and building towards jeopardy

- Project identity - the influence of genre and tone

- Charting the progression of character arcs and character development

- Sub-plots and secondary characters

- Scene writing (1) - building scenes, heightening tension

- Scene writing (2) - dialogue.

Film and script excerpts are selected with the participants' projects in mind to give greater focus.

The course is limited to 8 participants.

Price : The course fee is £ 195 + VAT. The fee includes all materials and light refreshments.

When and where?

Start date: Wednesday 14 January 2009; time: 19.00 - 21.00. Then every Wednesday evening until 4 March

The next course will be held at:

Initialize Films, Studio 2, Imex House, 42 Theobalds Road, London, WC1X 8NW

Registration

To book, please download the registration form from our website www.initialize-films.co.uk and submit to the address given on the form. For further information see our website or call 0207 404 7020.

Feedback examples

"As an ex-development executive at American Zoetrope I found the Project Development - Feature Screenplay course to meet a high standard of professionalism. Regular homework, individual feedback, class discussions and deadlines encouraged me to write on a regular basis. The small peer group of writers were very inspiring and we found our instructor, Ian Davies, to give quality feedback on each of our works in progress. Overall I found the experience very rewarding."
Finley Glaize, Writer / development exec. Finley was a participant on the Project Development - Feature Screenplay course

"The course completely revolutionised how I thought about my screenplay. For example, after we did a session on characterisation, suddenly I could create characters with depth, and I could show the complexity of my characters visually. Even though I have read lots of books on the art of scriptwriting and tried to apply what they say to my writing, this course gave me far more than all of them put together, it made my writing vibrant!"
Kothai Kanthan, Writer-Director - participant on Project Development - Feature Screenplay course. Kothai was recently selected as one of 25 new talents by Screen International.

Bang2write Christmas Break

On account of my brain feeling like this from the plethora of reading and writing, I've resolved to have TWO weeks off this Chrimbo 'cos frankly, I never have. And it's not like Christmas is entirely stress-free, especially with two mentalist children in the house who are already VERY EXCITED.

So this is to announce Bang2write closes for business next week on Tuesday, Dec 23rd and will not open again until Tuesday January 6th, 2009.

HOWEVER: Please note I am already working my way through a huge backlog to ensure I can finish by next week, so I am NOT accepting any more submissions this side of the new year.

INSTEAD: feel free to book a slot with me for January. No need to send your script or any money now either. My lists fill up pretty fast, especially in January when I find there's a LOT of new year resolutions to get that pesky feature finished or that TV series idea polished. Just let me know what you want doing (oo er), I'll quote you and arrange a time for me to read for you.

Don't forget I read ANYTHING too - novels, TV, shorts, sitcoms, serials, treatments, short stories, even one page pitches. I've also read magazine articles, poetry and essays and dissertations for students (NOTE: NOT to help people CHEAT, I'd never condone that - just as a "dry run", particularly on grammar and structure!!!).

So if you want to set yourself a deadline, now's the time to get in touch with yours truly. If you need a recommendation, here's some.

Look forward to reading your work!

FREE Screenwriters' Course For Scottish Writers

The Scribefather Adrian Mead wants to let all Scottish-based Bang2writers know he's running a FREE Screenwriters' Course in February 2009! It's not *just* another "how to write course" either, anyone who's ever been to an Adrian Mead course will tell you he also covers industry stuff like pitching, promoting your work and payment too. And best of all, it's FREE (did I mention that???). This is like, a well-good offer man, innit so get your skates on and sign up, pronto. Here's the website with full details.

Oh - and before anyone starts whining about how unfair it is this opportunity is only available to Scottish-based writers, think again (not that any discerning Bang2writer would, natch). But if you want a similar opportunities like this one in YOUR area, write to your screen agency!!!! The more they have people ASKING for specific courses and training opportunities, the more likely they are to do it, simple as. And to make it easier for you, here's a list of contact details for all screen agencies. Just make sure you ask NICELY. Sorted.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Reptiles, Naked Chicks, Flesh Eating Beasties

Well I've been living in rejection city for some time now, but I'm reliably informed this is what happens when you're a *real writer*. In fact, according to one of my contacts, I should be so lucky I get the opportunity in the first place to GET rejected. I had been too busy feeling sorry for myself regarding FIVE REJECTIONS IN FIVE DAYS ON FIVE PROJECTS I REALLY WANTED to think about it like that, so cheers. (You know who you are: one day... When you're least expecting it... BLAM!!! ; ).

The good news is I am WELL busy man, innit. In fact, I'm reading so many supernatural projects at the moment I think I may have fallen into a parallell universe whilst fighting vampires and having an alien baby simultaneously. In fact, the inside of my head is so scrambled with other people's stories of the paranormal, I accidentally wrote an extra terrestriel into my serial killer treatment only last night (maybe the producer won't notice?? Watch this space).

So anyway, way too busy too talk. Instead feast your eyes upon this array of reptiles, naked chicks and flesh eating beasties. True story: the hole that devours stuff in the video was modelled on my brain. I had to have sittings and everything, like for a portrait artist... I'm really going now. Talk amongst yourselves!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Top 5 Reasons Why Parentheticals Are Useless

5. The Director and Actors need room to make THEIR interpretation. This is the most-oft quoted case AGAINST parentheticals: if loads of lines of your dialogue tells the actors HOW to say lines "(condescendingly)", "(pleadingly)", "(wryly)" or whatever, then how is the Director going to direct? Personally, when it comes to specs and samples I don't think a writer should worry too much about this since the likelihood of the script ever getting made is slim, HOWEVER I think writers should avoid isolating the reader by being too prescriptive like this. It's very wearing to read HOW lines should be said all the time - I think it gives the impression a reader can't actually read any colour or subtext into what's being said. The exceptions to this rule of course should be ambiguous lines - bits of dialogue where the meaning may not be obvious, so "(sarcastic)" or "(deadpan" is obvious, but I think "(whispers)" is okay too, especially when you have a character speaking at the same time as a speech going on or whatever, since otherwise it *could* be confusing.

4. A writer needs to show when a character is laughing, smiling, winking, etc. Yes, sometimes a writer needs to do this - but why not just put it in your scene description? Besides, reserving a parenthetical for something like "(smiles)" just takes up unneccessary space on the page IMHO.

3. A writer needs to show a character on the phone. Do you need to put "(phone)" under every single line of dialogue? Really? I'm unconvinced it's needed for anywhere other than the first time they answer. In fact, I don't put "(phone)" at all in my dialogue, since I make it part of scene description. When it comes to parfentheticals and phone conversations, the only time I use them is when a character is on the phone AND talking to someone in the same room as them at the same time, like this:

VICTOR: (on phone) Hang on a sec... (to Jade) ... Will you shut up??

It's a trick I picked up from some scripts I read - and I think it works well. Try it.

2. A writer needs to mention a character is singing a line. This is a toughie and for years I too put "(sings)" before lines such as these. Then a reader said they didn't like it, so I tried italics instead, but that didn't work either. Then, because I watch television with the subtitles on because my kids are foghorns, I noticed subtitles indicate singing like this:

MOLLY: # I can see clearly now, the rain is gone #

Those little hash marks work: when I did a read-through recently with some actors I purposefully didn't mention the singing to see what would happen. Not only did the actress actually sing, she sang with gusto!

AND FINALLY, THE NUMBER ONE REASON WHY I THINK PARENTHETICALS ARE USELESS:

1. A writer needs to indicate a character's accent and way of talking. Noooooooooooooooooooo! I hate to see "(Scottish accent)" or whatever under characters' names and before they speak. what's the point? You can indicate as a writer what region they're from:

LUCY: Any road, pass me salt, will you?

TOM: Aye, Lass.

Same goes for dialects or ways of speaking according to age - if your character is seventeen, they might say something like this:

JAKE: Shut up, you emo - it's well-good!

Again, it's worth remembering that a writer should use such regional words sparingly: there's nothing worse than reading a script where you have no clue what the hell they're saying because you've never been to that area. A classic example here is Movern Callar, when she says, "Then the greeting began..." I was like, WTF? She's just found her boyfriend dead and she's greeting people??? In the end I had to do a Google search to find out that "greet" in colloquial Scottish actually means "cry". I just didn't know.

I don't mind parentheticals that say stuff like "(In Chinese)" or "(in Russian)", since English keyboards would have a hard time typing these sort of characters anyway, even if the writer in question actually new the language since we don't have the same alphabet. However, if writing a European language, I think it's a writer's duty to at least have a go at the language their character speaks - there's Free Translation if you want to do it the easy way, or if you happen to know anyone Spanish, French, etc, let them cast an eye over your dialogue.

The important thing to remember with this however is to NOT overdo it: you don't want whole chunks of Spanish, French, etc - just a smattering here and there. Times of stress are good - people are renowned to revert to their Mother Tongue when they're angry, excited or in other states of high emotion. I got a phone call the other day from an ex-Student of mine, a Spanish lady, who was trying to tell me she was getting married: the only English words that came out were "Guess what... Excellent!" The rest was garbled Spanglish.

But if languages really aren't your bag, try using a traditional name from that country (another hint) and representing how a character might speak in BROKEN English. Germans for example often speak in the present continuous when they are not fluent English speakers:

PIETER: I am thinking we are making fun here.

(Lots of languages don't have the same type of perfective aspect English has (perfective being the notion of "to have"), so if you want to show a character is NOT English, then substituting "have" for "make" is an obvious choice since it's a very clear mistake).

Spanish people don't have the notion of "picking up" in their language (as in, "I will pick you up at eight"). Instead they *might* say:

MARIA: I will catch you at your door at eight.

Lots of other languages have no concept of the word, "will" and "shall", meaning they can't give a *sense* of the future of what they INTEND to do (though their own language might have a future tense instead):

RUTH: Today I go to town (instead of "Today I WILL go to town.")

Even American and Australian English has difficulties. Say "chav" to an American, they have no idea what you're going on about. Equally, "poorly" generally means nothing to an Australian. Similarly, they have words us Brits have no concept of. You can use these to your advantage, don't worry about translation - as long as you don't go overboard, it will be fine.

Whilst we're on the subject, any funny 'lost in translation' issues you've come across? Over to you...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Research or Die # 7: Writing Plays And New Writing Competitions & Initiatives

Another addition to this occasional series because I'm feeling in need of a new challenge and direction for the new year... Enjoy!
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WRITING PLAYS

Tips For Writing A Great Play By Troy M. Hughes

Playwriting 101: In-depth Tutorial on Writing A Play by Playwright Jon Dorf

Resources on Writing Plays - fantastic list of links, including "Why Writing Plays Will Make You A Better Screenwriter"

Brief Intro To Greek Theatre

Database of Modern American Plays and Playwrights

Brief Intro to Roman Theatre

Small Online Archive of full-length plays, one act plays, ten minute plays & monologues

Help, Am I Writing A Play? Interesting POV from The Guardian Theatre Blog

Writing A Play [PDF] - Fantastic Teachers' Resource for helping students write a play, so particularly good for beginners attempting a play


COMPETITIONS AND NEW WRITING INITIATIVES

The Bruntwood Playwriting Competition - contains lots of tips for writing plays too

The Courtyard's King's Cross Award

Drama Association of Wales' One Act Play Competition - open to all! Here's a pdf of the application form.

SCDA One Act Playwriting Competition

Royal Court Theatre

Hampstead Theatre

Soho Theatre

North West Playwrights

New Plays - got a good directory of festivals etc that show new plays
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If you have any good links for this list, email me or leave 'em in the comments~. Thanks!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

No Sex Please, We're British! (And American)


One thing which always perplexes me as a script reader is the lack of juicy sex scenes about. Whilst many of my European and repatrioted clients give their characters a rocking good time in the bedroom (and just about everywhere else - I'm particularly looking at you, JK Amalou!), as do my openly gay clients of any nationality. Yet it seems to me as if your average straight British and American screenwriters just *don't want* to write sex into their screenplays - they'll go out of their way to NOT write it in fact. Instead, there will be all sorts of sentences to allude to the idea sex has JUST HAPPENED, like:

"Steve and Molly lie back in bed, spent."

Or

"Steve and Molly bask in the afterglow."

Sometimes a scriptwriter can't even bear to think about it so much they end up writing something like "Steve and Molly have sex" as a one line scene before moving on. Once, I even saw "Obligatory gratuitous sex scene now follows... Moving on."

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Obviously a writer doesn't want to write hardcore sex into movies where it would be completely out of place: a kids' movie is not the place you want your characters swinging from the chandeliers. However, I've had conversations with many a screenwriter, both British and American, that sex is "not needed" in the average ADULT movie. Apparently it doesn't push the story forward.

WTF?

There are so many ways of using sex to push the story forward in your screenplay. For one thing, it progresses the relationship between your protagonist and love interest in your romance, period drama, historical epic or rom-com. Also, not many people save sex for after marriage these days - and it's said that in times of stress, people jump into bed even quicker than they do when everything's peachy: this means sex in your thriller or war story can add to your script, even in your bloodthirsty horror.

Then there's the fact sex can add to character. If you have a protagonist who never normally would go home with someone they barely know, but does, you can explore their motivation for that. Similarly, if your character is a slut but there's one person they *can't* have and it pains them, there's a whole plethora of character motivation you can explore.

Sex can feed into your plot, too - particularly when it comes to surprising your reader or audience. What if: your character is pulled into industrial espionage, simply 'cos she gets drunk, goes home with a guy - and wakes up to find him dead next to her, shot in the head? You could really play with expectation - make it seem like this is going to be a one night stand... Only for it to turn into a moment that totally turns your character's life upside down.

Readers don't get many thrills in this job, but reading a good sex scene (note: NOT rape) is definitely a perk. My French, Spanish and even German clients - and I've had a few of 'em, oo er! - delight in sex scenes that ADD to the story and/or character. Gay scripts too usually have lots of this type of "good", story-relevant sex too. And thank God for that! Else I'd have a complete dearth on my pile.

So next time you feel tempted to write a boring word like "spent" or worse, the dreaded "afterglow", PLEASE - think of your poor reader. Let's have some nice action words - THRUST is a good one. Arf.

Any fave sex scenes in produced movies while we're on the subject? One of mine is probably BETTY BLUE - wow! Worst: TERMINATOR. They so look like they're going through the motions considering they're creating the new Messiah! Come on...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

NEWSFLASH: Men Are Crap

Having had the type of Dad my mother needed to plant a bomb under to get any attention, I'm therefore not one of those wives who imagines her fella will notice anything much at all. I don't *do* hints, I paint huge great banners in bright red (metaphorically of course, though on occasion I have been known to leave notes spelling out my problem blatantly, like "DEAR HUSBAND, I HATE YOUR GUTS. IF YOU DON'T WANT ME TO LEAVE YOU, SORT [BLAH] OUT BY THIS DATE OR ELSE." (I'm thinking of having stationary printed with these messages already on, with just a space for the problem or issue that needs sorting - reckon I could make a killing! Any takers, laydeez?)

So anyway: yesterday, I had my hair done. Very nice it is too. My hair was looking a bit mental as if it might join some kind of witches' union, so I had a trim and whilst I was there I thought it might be fun to have a colour slice. Despite this sounding like some kind of rainbow-induced torture, it actually involves having streaks of colour through your hair. I opted for violet and blue since I thought it would be nice to have something a bit racy for Christmas.

PLEASE NOTE: violet and blue are obvious colours! I had also TOLD MY HUSBAND IN ADVANCE I was having my hair done, even reminded him that morning, so he could automatically tell me how fabulous I look when he comes home and I can live in the blatant fantasy that he remembers this type of thing.

Did he? Nooooooooo.

Not even when my son pipes up the moment he comes through the door: "Wow Mum, your hair looks great!"

I taught him well.

The Husband however is in my dungeon I prepared earlier for such occasions.

In other news, my little girl has developed a rather embarrassing habit of making up songs in supermarkets. This morning's went like this:

"One, two, three
What the hell is that
Upon your knee??"

I suppose I should be grateful she appreciates the importance of good metering and it wasn't "WTF is that upon your knee?" Sigh.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Rejection: Get Over It

When you train as a teacher on a BEd or a PGCE, you're encouraged to start looking for jobs between April and May of the year you graduate. This is apparently the time most already-employed teachers give notice, so that September's positions are up for grabs for the newbies.

The newbie teachers then will have to do very long interviews - these usually last the whole day and there is no pay. You will usually do a tour of the school or college you're applying to; you may have to talk to the other applicants whilst someone from the school is watching (so they can get a "feel" for your personality!); you usually have to do what is known as a "microteach" - a short lesson you have to prepare in advance on THEIR specifications, with hand-picked students who may or may not be willing). All this AS WELL AS the actual scary interview with the people in charge. (This is not a post by the way about how hard teachers have it: whilst I don't think they get the support they deserve from senior management and kids literally rule the school in this cult of "self" and supposed individuality the media promotes, I also think teachers whine a helluva lot. A £1000 pay rise every September until you break £28,000? NINE WEEKS of PAID holidays? Promotions ahoy if you want them? No year long contracts, but a 9 to 5 job? SIX MONTHS of paid sick leave if you need it??? Come on...!! And remember, I was a teacher, so I can say this: I've lived it).

This IS a post however to point out writers are not the only people who have to lay out speculative work to get jobs and still get rejected. How many hours of lesson plans and interview preparation have I done only to not get the job? Dunno. Lots. Hell, I even went to one REALLY ROUGH school having done acres of work, only to withdraw from the interview in the mid-morning when I saw Lord of The Flies was going on in there. Happens. I got over it a lot quicker than if I had got the job, I would think.

Another correlation between teaching and writing rejections: usually between five and six teachers (sometimes as many as eight) are invited for interview on these selection days - yet for most teaching jobs, you can expect hundreds of applicants. I went to one place near Bristol and was told, along with the other five applicants, that we should all be very pleased with ourselves because they had had "six hundred and thirty applicants"!! Six hundred and thirty!!! Suddenly we're in screenwriting competition territory - the BBC Sharps scheme back in the summer had a similar number. Yet what happened to the other six hundred and twenty four applicants? Well I can only hazard a guess, but I daresay they heard nothing, because usually on a teaching application form it will say something like "If you have not heard by [such and such a date] unfortunately you have been unsuccessful at this time." (And don't go thinking a rejected teacher doesn't have to do any work like those who get invited to the selection days - not only can these application forms take AGES to fill in, sometimes they will ask you for something extra in which to assess your suitability for the job: a sample lesson plan or handout for example, a personal statement, a vision statement. Sometimes all of these.)

The argument regarding rejection in screenwriting goes something like this: if you're rejected, you should know about it. Preferably some feedback should be given, but if that's not possible, some words of encouragement, commiseration and/or a POV of what the contest, initiative or prodco was looking for or received, like when I was rejected by Northern Lights.

Now don't get me wrong: courtesy is always preferable. Certainly when I have been rejected and the person or place in question has taken the time to tell me, it's taken the sting out of it a little: at least I can draw a line under it, not wonder if it went astray in the post or via cyberspace.

But here's a thought for you: whether a rejection is polite or not, it's still a rejection. Barring those rejections that give feedback, they're not very useful. They're simply saying, "Hard luck". Whilst that's all well and good, it doesn't tell you how to NOT get rejected next time around, does it? It doesn't actually reassure you that you're NOT a shit writer either - even if it goes to the trouble of trying to encourage you - since you're intent on telling yourself you *must be* since they didn't take you!

If you're a teacher who simply cannot get a job ANYWHERE IN THE UK, yes you're probably not a very good teacher. There are so many posts up for grabs (not to mention supply teaching, TEFL teaching, teaching in prisons and detention centres, etc) all over the country; staff turnover is very, very high - especially in secondary school which resemble Dante's Inferno even on a good day. Example: my husband couldn't get a job in the department he wanted in Devon because everyone there seems to stay in their job until they bloody die: so what did he have to do? Moves the family to Dorset - where he had the pick of three jobs. Nice. Sometimes in teaching you have to move sideways to get the opportunities, BUT if no one in the entire country in whatever field of teaching wants to take you, you have to ask yourself why.

When it comes to screenwriting however, there are very few opportunities in comparison - particularly in television. Is it any wonder you will be unsuccessful MOST of the time? You can work on your craft all you like. You can make loads of contacts. You can do everything the Gurus and blogs recommend. If you're lucky and proactive, it will come together for you. If you're not lucky (but STILL proactive), you may still end up falling on your arse. Hopefully this will not end up to any of us, but we do have to accept it's just the way of it. This whole notion of "rejection = a shit writer" is not only misguided, it's plain ridiculous. I know professional writers who've never even PLACED in a contest once, yet they've won shedloads of very lucrative commissions in television, film and literature. To illustrate, The Red Planet Prize chucked out several I know of last year in the very first round. In contrast, I know several non-professional writers who have placed or won lots of contests, yet still can't get that elusive paid commission on anything much at all. It's the way of the screenwriting world.

So don't channel your hatred into the person who rejects you just because they never replied. Better still, don't channel your hatred into YOURSELF either. Your script or idea wasn't taken. Does this mean it is bad? Unless you're writing something horribly racist or misogynous, probably not. Maybe it needs more work - maybe it doesn't. Be disappointed it's not champagne time yet, sure: you're only human. But otherwise - get over it. We all have to, professional and amateur alike.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Scripts I've Seen # 5: TRAIL OF EVIL by JK Amalou

You may have seen JK Amalou's name on the SP Screenwriters' list - like me, he offers a script reading service for you lot out in www.land, but unlike me, he's written, produced and directed his own films, not to mention worked in the US as a writer and consultant for all sorts of Hollywood Tinsel types, including Martin Scorsese and Richard Gladstein.

JK is a trusted reader and contact of mine and I'm pleased to say over time he's trusted me with all his scripts too. I've been quite privileged to see such a body of work (oo er) from one professional writer, 'cos it means I have a unique insight into what he believes works not only scriptwriting-wise, but industry-style too; there have been common elements that I have picked up on over the last two years or so that have shown me what it takes to be a professional writer. In short, reading JK's scripts has taught me a helluva lot.

Choosing a title from JK's extensive back catalogue of scripts therefore is a hard task: there are so many I've read and I've enjoyed most of them. There's one which tells the horrendous ordeal of two young men in the wilds of Exmoor at the hands of a crazed yokel; another in which a rapist and murderer kidnaps his victim who testified against him ten years' previously when he manages to escape from Broadmoor; another which tells the story of an ostracised man who witnesses a murder - yet ends up the main suspect himself; another where two mixed-up young kids challenge the local dealer and end up worse off than they could ever have imagined and then one of my ultimate faves recently - I affectionately call it "DIE HARD... in a fishing village in Cornwall". (Yes, JK does flirt with the macabre, violent and likes to make comments on the state of society. Are you seeing why we get on? Lol).

However, of all the scripts of JK's I've read, it's his most recent TRAIL OF EVIL, I've decided to talk about on here (with his permission, of course). TRAIL OF EVIL follows the fates of LOWE, a CIA agent who returns to London after a twelve year absence in search of the infamous DUNKEL, a renegade agent and Lowe's old partner in crime, who was last seen in Afghanistan. Lowe's contacts insist Dunkel was killed in a car bomb over there, but Lowe knows his old friend and adversary too well to let it go - not least because Dunkel's widow, DONNA, is Lowe's own ex-wife and she's been acting very suspiciously...

TRAIL OF EVIL is an affecting script with fantastically disturbing imagery and a story which leaves a sour taste in your mouth. Despite the risk of being a complete downer however, instead one is left with the feeling there just is no other way this story could turn out: there's a certain inevitability to the plotting that somehow does not take away any nasty surprises it has in store for you. In fact, as we depart from Lowe at the very end after all that happens to him, one is left with a certain sense of optimism at the same time: a paradox of course, but somehow true -but this is the kind of thing JK does really well. He never lets go of the plot from the offset, reminding us throughout why each scene is there whether we like it or not. His structure is nearly always faultless, never straying from the beaten track for one moment.

However, because his plotting is really good, one thing that he needs to work on throughout the drafting process is character. Often his protagonists will be dead on the button, their wants and needs obvious - but then that's because that feeds into the plotting and structure. Similarly, his antagonist will often work as the protagonist's antihesis in a similar way, working against their motivation in the story. Instead then, I find it will be the secondary characters who will need work as JK drafts.

When I first read TRAIL OF EVIL as a treatment, Donna really bothered me. For someone caught up in such a huge, international espionage affair, she seemed kind of a sap. She was hanging on to her husband's memory, on to Lowe's old relationship with her; she'd become an escort and an alcoholic. In essence, she pissed me off and I told JK so. Where was the strong woman in this story? What can Donna give to or take from Lowe's mission? Also, I was unsure of her place IN the mission - if she was going to hang about crying for her lost men, why *could* she be useful, why did Lowe even go to her in the first place?

But what's great about JK is you can say this to him and he doesn't say, "Ah, but if I changed Donna, it would be a different story" as SO MANY writers do. He realises that if a reader has grave concerns about a character's motivations, *usually* it has some grounding, especially if it infringes on something as important as structure. So he absorbed my feedback, decided he agreed with it (he rang me to tell me!) and he came back with another draft - approximately 24 bloody hours later! But that's the thing with him - he'll work tirelessly until a situation in a script is resolved, so much so that on one occasion he sent me a draft I couldn't read right away, so he continued working... And sent an email telling me NOT to read the previous draft since he had a new one, all in the space about 48 hours! What's more, the difference in Donna was HUGE, it wasn't a case of tweaking here and there. The man's a machine. But then, that's the difference between the professional writer and the amateur in my opinion: the professional rewrites, rewrites, REWRITES. There is no such thing as "perfect" in script terms, sure, but if it's as perfect as you can possibly get it before you show it to your producer - THAT'S the kind of dedication you need.

And one last thing lieutenant: despite being a non-native English speaker (JK's French - boo! Kidding, I really, really love the French - DOUBLE KIDDING! You know I love you JK, MWAH), JK actually writes better English than many of my NATIVE SPEAKERS. I've NEVER seen any apostrophe misuse, mixed tense or even mega spelling errors in his work - just the odd extra article here and there (as is customary with Europeans). If non-native English speakers are using better grammar in their scripts than actual English people, I'm sure you'll agree it's a VERY good idea to brush up on the ol' spelling and grammar. Check out BBC Skillswise for anything you need help with. What are you waiting for!!!
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TRAIL OF EVIL is a commissioned work and goes into production next year. If you want to use JK's script reading/mentoring service, email jksc"at"msn"dot"com.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Money Talks: Film Budgets

Following a comments thread over at Michelle's about budgets and then Potdoll's about Commercial vs. Mainstream film recently, I thought I'd give my thoughts on money stuff in film an airing. I should mention first it's not something I've ever been specifically taught; more picked up on from various conversations, meetings, articles and books I've read, talks I've attended. Also, on many script reports including Scottish Screen's, they will ask about budgetary considerations/restraints, so it's something I've had to learn a little about "on the job" so to speak, but I'm certainly no expert. As with all things scriptwriting and filmmaking however, it should be remembered there are no hard and fast rules.
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There apparently once was a time a million pound budget was considered quite low, even for Brit film. Now it appears you're a bit of a hotshot if you can get this much: £300 - £500K seems *about* the maximum you can bid for through funding initiatives, especially if you're a first time filmmaker. In addition to this, these funding agencies will often want you to already have half the funding before they will commit to you. So for example: you need £500K and want to bid for £250K? The agency you go to may well want evidence you have secured that other £250K before granting you funding. Sometimes they want it in cold, hard cash - other times, they will settle for that £250K being "in kind" - equipment, people's skills, labour, etc; more often than not apparently they will want both. (I suspect this is why the amount of filmmakers appealing for people to put small stakes in their film has exploded on the internet thanks to Facebook and the like).

However, if you find yourself a nice Sugar Daddy to just give you a million quid to fund your masterpiece, the problems don't end there: even a lot of money like that does not stretch as far as you might think. Whilst crew members, actors and even writers (!) *can* be found for free (whether they should or not is a debate for another time, thanks), there are all sorts of other budgetary considerations.

Permits. If you want to film in a public place, there are all sorts of legal hoops you need to jump through. By "public place", I don't necessarily mean reconisable landmarks like Leicester Square or Tower Bridge either - but just in the actual street. There's also the point filmmakers are *supposed* to obtain the permission of each and every person who passes through their shot too. This isn't always possible, particularly in crowd scenes, but if you end up seeing yourself (especially close up) in a film where they haven't asked your permission, apparently this can lead to trouble legally. On top of that, obtaining permits can take ages - and time is money. I know of at least one filmmaker whose funding has fallen through on the back of a single permit not going through at the right time. Noooooo!

Children. Got a kid in your script? TAKE IT OUT if you want to keep your script ultra low budget. In contrast to adults, child actors MUST be paid and are only allowed to work certain hours a day and everyone on set under 16 needs a dedicated chaperone. On top of that, what hours they can work depends on the council of the area where you're filming: some councils very helpfully assert children under 7 cannot work when it is dark for example. Plus the more kids you have in your script, the more complicated it gets. To put this in perspective, Hollyoaks only places their original child actor for the character Tom in nine scenes maximum. Not nine minutes - NINE SCENES. Hollyoaks goes out five nights a week, so this is a tiny amount. It's no accident that since they've introduced a new child actor, the character Holly, Tom appears to have taken a backseat. Of course, this is a problem a writer can usually solve very easily: make your child character a teenager, preferably around fifteen or sixteen in the script - and have someone over eighteen play them: there are lots of baby-faced actors around and they of course don't need a chaperone and have no limit to their working hours outside of the usual union requirements. Here is some interesting legal facts about children in film, plus other elements.

Animals. Another problem for the low budget filmmaker. Like children, animals must be accompanied by their trainer (thus doubling costs like the chaperone) and dependent on how dangerous they are, must be kept away from other cast members. Dogs are used most frequently in film apparently, followed by birds of prey. There are also rules that animals shouldn't be scared unneccessarily - in contrast, I have been able to find nothing online of this privilege being extended to children as well, though I could be wrong. Certainly a decent filmmaker would never scare a child on purpose, which can make children in horror a bit of a hassle. But ever notice Newt never looks once at the creatures in Aliens? There's that one that comes up behind her in the water and when the Alien Queen is chasing her under the floor and pulling up the grilles, we only ever see a hand, not the whole creature. Getting a kid into a horror without frightening the life out of it is a case of "thinking outside the box", perhaps - and careful planning and shot construction.

Costuming and Makeup. Many very low budget films will simply ask their actors to wear their own clothes, but of course if part of the script is their clothes are made wet, ripped, covered in paint or slime or whatever, understandably an actor won't be very keen on this idea - especially if receiving low or no pay for the part in the first place. Even buying clothes on eBay or charity shops can add significantly to your budget. If you have a specific costuming element to your script - ie. vampires, werewolves, monsters; characters wear fancy dress to a party or have specific makeup requirements; a character needs a ballgown or this is a period drama, suddenly costs can totally SHOOT up.

Catering. Whilst it's often accepted that crew and actors won't get any pay for their efforts, try and get them to bring their own sarnies too and you might just have a full-on mutiny! There are ways of doing catering cheaply however - one filmmaker I heard of has his wife producing giant cauldrons of soup! But it is another cost to write up, regardless of how you do it.

Music and copyright. Use any track and you HAVE to pay for it - unless you're using something that's out of copyright, of course. Classical such as Mozart, Beethoven, Bach etc are up for grabs; Fatboy Slim et al are not. Similarly, by all means use poems and extracts from Shakespeare, Chaucer, Austen or Dickens but for God's sake leave "Happy Birthday" alone: the two sisters who wrote that rake it in. Similarly, using newspaper banners or magazine covers for products that exist is problematic; as are photos of celebrities or websites like Google or Facebook - hence so many characters in film using search engines or social networking sites that don't exist, unless they've been prepared to cough up.

Locations. Shooting on location is apparently nearly always less expensive than building a set, though this can depend. Some stately home owners make a very comfortable living hiring out their homes for films. Churches and cathedrals too often ask for donations when filmmakers shoot there. There are also places where filming just is not permitted, making a set the only possibility. Other times, certain places are happy to allow filmmakers the run of their town if it means good publicity or will help their economy by bring people into the area to actually make the film: tourist areas are particularly receptive for this. I was hired as a writer on a film about three years ago (never actually made, unfortunately) that was going to allow the filmmakers to do this (even though it was a hardcore horror!), because the town, like many seaside resorts, is all but closed down in the winter.

Stunt choreography. By stunts, I don't even mean jumping off roofs Jason Bourne-style either: just running up and down stairs very fast can be considered a hazard, so a stunt co-ordinator may need to be called in to ensure actors don't hurt themselves. Similarly, anything that involves driving or roads needs consideration via a risk assessment too, especially moments where cars have to do an emergency stop. I learnt this when a producer friend of mine looked at my "low budget" screenplay and whacked a MODERATE on risk assessment for these very reasons!

Explosives, fire, guns. Just because you're low budget doesn't mean your characters *can't* be tooled up. BIG explosions are just about off the low budget scale, but dependant on what you need, there are such things as "distraction devices" that produce lots of smoke and fake debris and "sound" like they're blowing up. These are still expensive, but can produce some good-looking action if you just wanted a small explosion that's not in close up. Fires are about over, full stop: even a lone petrol bomb will send your budget considerations sky high, particularly with reference to health and safety and risk assessment. As for guns you can always use replicas that don't fire and add the sound later - HOWEVER it is worth remembering that if you're using these in a public place you could end up in HUGE TROUBLE with the police if you don't clear it with them first - and then we're back at permit-trouble again. Also, it's still expensive to use guns with firing packs - ie. the ones with triggers that set off those blood/explosive bags on the actors the bullet is supposed to hit. Using such things can also be dangerous, since it was a similar malfunctioning explosive that killed Brandon Lee in the filming of The Crow, meaning health and safety is again once an issue for the filmmaker - thus putting up the budget.
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End of the day, OF COURSE story should be king - you shouldn't be thinking about ANY of this whilst writing your spec. Do it whichever way the story demands.

However, if you find yourself lucky enough to be optioned and made, don't be surprised if you're asked to rewrite an element or even a huge chunk, directly because of something on this list. Money talks.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

NEW BLOG ALERT: Check Out Mediaville

There's a new blog on the block and it's all about the industry! Called Mediaville, it's run by publishing Gods Emap and well worth a look. Yours truly may even be contributing an article or two as well, so add it to your faves today.

Announcement: Bang2write On Board With Initialize Films

If you're on Twitter or one of my Facebook buddies you will have heard by now - but if not, or you weren't paying attention (FOR SHAME!), then you should know I am now a reader for the marvellous training outfit, Initialize Films.

Initialize's script reading service only launched officially on Monday Dec 1st, so to celebrate, during December 2008 anyone submitting a script for a report can take advantage of their special introductory offer of 2 reports for £80 (plus 15% VAT - so £92 inclusive: normal price is £70 excl. VAT, so this is a superb offer). Please note the offer only applies to reports from UK readers, though Initialize has an impressive array of international readers for international writers.

For those of you who use Bang2write and wonder what you could get from Initialize that you couldn't from me (oo er), it's worth remembering that Bang2write's remit focuses on a more "informal", supportive dialogue between the writer and reader, so the writer can achieve a more polished draft, especially in terms of structure and characterisation. In contrast then, Initialize offers the kind of script report that puts your script under the kind of professional scrutiny a writer can expect from screen agencies like Scottish Screen, taking in ALL elements of your screenplay and how it works holistically. In short, if you already have a polished draft and find yourself wanting to send it to producers, agents and the like, then a script report from Initialize would be a VERY good idea as "dry run". Check out the report template and what you can get for your money here. UPDATE: If you would like me specifically to read your script, then just ask Karen at Initialize when you complete your submission form for your report.

I have to admit I've never been on one of Initialize's courses, but I've been impressed by the number of Bang2writers who rate them highly, including the Scribefather Adrian Mead. In fact, I've literally never heard a bad word said about them from Bang2writers, particularly laydeez who've taken their Athena course, designed specifically for women screenwriters. But don't take my hearsay for it, check out their recommendations page, accessible from the website.

So what are you waiting for? Two for the price of (almost) one is credit crunching madness! Go get 'em...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Specs I've Seen # 4: IN GOD'S NAME by John Killeen

It's been a while since my last confession... I mean post, in this series. There are so many great specs doing the rounds, but IN GOD'S NAME by Bang2writer John Killeen has placed not only as a Quarter Finalist in Bluecat and Silver Screenwriting, it made the top fifteen per cent of the Nicholl AND the semi-finals of Big Break! That's quite a feat by anyone's standards, so I thought I'd take a look at what makes this big budget action-thriller such a hit with readers over the pond, since I've read it too.

IN GOD'S NAME might sound like it *could* be a hardcore, life-affirming foreign language drama or one of those 1960s epics starring Elizabeth Taylor, but in actual fact it has much more in common with Die Hard and Daylight. Set in New York, IN GOD'S NAME finds a cop hero having to fight his way through a network of underground tunnels to rescue a missing girl from a crazed antagonist - who just so happens to have created a bunch of booby traps in those tunnels based on the infamous Biblical Plagues of Egypt. Of course, our hero is not rescuing this girl from *just* the goodness of his heart -his own family is in danger, too.

There is some superb gore and high octane excitement, not to mention a high body count as our hero is not the only one to make it into the tunnel: I would imagine if this was produced, it would be an 18 (that's an "R" to our American cousins). This is the type of big budget fare producers get all hot and sweaty over, so it has been no surprise to me to me it's done so well on the contest circuit. When I read it approximately a year ago, the draft had its problems, but it oozed with potential. In short, as a premise, IN GOD'S NAME is genre movie gold: you want blood, guts, excitement? And you want it UNDERGROUND? You can have it with both barrels, baby!

The first issue was a relatively minor one, but one that made quite a large impact. John's arena was great, but it FELT like an arena: in short, the New York I saw in IN GOD'S NAME felt like it had more in common with movies than a "real" NY. Of course, that sounds crazy - I've never been to New York, after all. Yet the arenas writers create have so much to do with personal interpretation: can a writer create an authentic arena from somewhere they're not really familiar with? John ummed and aaahed about relocating the script to an English location and certainly, there's no reason he couldn't have. After all, we have massive tunnel systems under many great British cities, London the most obvious, not to mention the tube - plus Liverpool, which has an intricate system of tunnels underneath thanks to bizarre philanthropist Joseph Williamson in the 1800s. In the end, John opted for keeping the script in New York, but decided to find that *certain something* that would set it apart in terms of arena from other NYs we had seen before. It might seem trifling, but given audiences all around the world are familiar with America thanks to the Global Village, an America arena still needs YOUR stamp on it.

Its second issue was structure. John had written a top heavy draft in which characters were set up meticulously - too much. We were given an insight into their mindsets brilliantly, because character is one of John's strong points; this meant we could empathise with them really well, yet we were waiting for the story to really get going. I suggested John explore other ways of introducing not only this excellent characterisation, but the scenario at the same time - much like its obvious predecessor DIE HARD: John McClane is introduced not only as *just* a cop, but a husband and father who might be a nightmare, yet would be prepared to die for his family. After all, when the Nokatomi building is taken over, he could have escaped - yet he *chose* to fight, since his wife was inside. He might have been a crappy husband up until that point, but I think I would probably forgive him too!

Its biggest issue when I saw it was the fact it just wasn't simple enough. There were two potential antagonists in the original draft and inevitably, rather than adding to the tension, one took away from the other. It gave the draft a convoluted feel - especially when it came to the cop's kidnapped family - and made the feel of jeopardy suffer in my opinion. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as too MUCH of a bad thing in the genre movie: whilst it's always encouraged that writers heap misfortune upon their protagonist, sometimes it *can* become overkill. John realised very quickly that he needed to strip his story back to its simple, genre roots, remove that convoluted element and gain a stronger script for it.

But all of this was made possible by the fact John was so receptive to feedback. A script reader never should want a writer to "agree" with them - I made many suggestions on the ins and outs of story, particularly with reference to the girl in the tunnel, which John never took up. Instead however he used my notes to produce the best draft he could of a very exciting, high adrenaline chase/quest movie. Nice one, Mr. Killeen! I'll be booking my ticket for the big Hollywood premiere with red carpet, champagne on ice and Ryan Reynolds on standby... Kthxbye! ; )
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If you're a producer or filmmaker who would like to read IN GOD'S NAME, please email John at john.killeen"at"gmail"dot"com. Thanks!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

I am a terrible liar. I read about these people who have mistresses and male bits on the side (misters??) FOR YEARS and wonder how they manage it. Even if I wanted to have an affair (I don't, in case you're reading my lovely husband, lol), I don't think I would just on the basis of how stressful it must be. Accounting for where you've been; making sure you don't smell of the "other one" or even just *looking* guilty. Yikes. I'd sooner just concentrate on the one relationship - hell, I don't have time for another one, anyway. Too busy! (JOKE, honest! What do you mean you're going to your parents'?!?!)

Yet, remove me from people I know (even slightly) and plonk me in front of a complete stranger and I tell the most enormous whoppers. It's a compulsion; I can't help myself. It seems to only happen on trains too - as if just getting off the platform turns me into some kind of big fat fibber with her pants on fire. I suppose it's 'cos I get bored on trains - and reading really is a busman's holiday for me, obviously and I've never been one for iPods and the like. I've posted before that I'm the weirdo your mother warned you not to talk to on trains, but until quite recently I'd always been truthful. It's an interesting turn of events that I've started to lie - maybe it's the talking equivalent of drugs: the soft stuff is no longer satisfying, so I've had to move on to something harder (oo er).

So far, I've managed to have long fake conversations about my fake life, which include:

- I am Take That's Personal assistant. (The two dancing ones are lovely, but that Gary Barlow - you have to watch out for him, he can be fierce, he likes his tea done a certain way!)

- I got down to the final twelve of the Sugababes audition when I was 15, but had to drop out at the last hurdle because of a sprained ankle (I couldn't dance, you see - I was gutted)

- My grandfather is the playwright Alan Bennett (he gives amazing garden parties, apparently)

- I have four adopted children and am in the process of adopting another - Angelina Jolie is my absolute hero; in fact, my third daughter is CALLED Angelina

- Robbie Williams' sister is godmother to my sister's baby (my sister has no baby and I don't even know if Robbie Williams has a sister either)

- I wrote well-known Hollywood film The Golden Compass. (I don't know why The Golden Compass incidentally, I haven't even seen it: just popped into my head! "Really?" The bloke opposite me says, "I thought that was written by a guy, Chris somebody." "Oh, Hollywood's so sexist they rename just about every female screenwriter." I say: wow - almost busted.)

- Taking my lead from other fake BBC workers I've met on the train before, I now work for the BBC too... I work for BBC Wales and regularly have lunch with RTD and his cronies. What a shame I came across someone who really DOES lunch with RTD who declared she'd never seen me anywhere near BBC Wales, but wondered very loudly "if I was a writer." When I confirmed I was, her stern expression vanished and a big smile spread across her face: "Knew it." She said. "How?" I enquired. "'Cosy you dress funny and lie, writers do that." She declares. Question is, was she a big fat fibber too and calling MY bluff?? Lol.

So what's the biggest, pointless, whopper you've told - on or off a train?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Note To Reader: IOU One Action Sequence

There once was a time the spec pile only ever involved two or three genres, especially from the "newer", Brit writers: the reader would be treated to the uber-low budget social drama, the horror where everyone is stuck in one place and the low budget rom com where everyone hangs out in two or three locations. There were obviously exceptions, but when I first started reading, Brit spec writers *generally* seemed to stay away from the likes of period drama, the supernatural (barring vampires and their lack of make-up) and of course, the big explosion-style action movie.

I'm pleased to say that Brit spec writers are branching out more now. No longer do I hear cries of "But it's too expensive!" on a daily basis. Writers seem to have realised, finally, their scripts ARE speculative; they can do what they want. What's more, they're realising the more ambitious they can be, the more they can show off what they can do. After all, as good as your spec is, it's unlikely to be made EVEN IF it gets optioned. That's just the way of it. Write what you want, show what you can do. If that so happens to be low budget - brilliant. But if not, don't be afraid of writing it; don't think it's worthless. Use it as a sample. Stick your writing in *somebody's* head, get yourself remembered.

However, one thing I do see with some regularity is a lack of good action sequences -even in action movies. Very often, an action sequence will say *something* like:

"The building blows up.

LATER: carnage."

Or

"Dianne gets in her car, races through the streets. Jack follows. Dianne crashes."

YAWN.

Doin't give your reader an "IOU" like this: you're essentially saying, "When this is a REAL MOVIE, you can see the rest of it." Noooooooo! I can't speak for other readers because they're not me, but this really winds me up since a) the writer is reminding me THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A MOVIE and b) there's a big space where the story should be!! Obviously, you want to be lean on the scene description - and that's cool. But that doesn't mean you can just LEAVE IT OUT altogether.

A really good, well-written action sequence not only adds to your story, it can reveal character too. If your character is willing to grab a bomb and run with it through the streets to shove it somewhere AWAY from pedestrians, that says a lot about them. Equally, if they run AWAY from the bomb and let the pedestrians take their chances, you have character there too.

Whilst no one wants to see explosions, deaths and car chases in there for pages and pages AND FOR NO REASON in the story, equally you don't want to go too far the other way too and skimp on the action. What's more - you should note there is no "right way" to write an action sequence beyond going overboard or skimping on it; I've seen sequences that are half a page and really exciting, just as I've seen ones that go on for several pages that are fantastic. As long as it works within the context of your story and what your characters want/need, it's all good.

So next time you find yourself wanting to write an action sequence, don't skimp. Make it part of your story, reveal some character if you can, take us along for the ride.

Friday, November 28, 2008

It's Official: I Am A Red Planet Reject

This just popped into my inbox:

Dear Lucy,

Unfortunately, your submission “Miss Conception” has not been shortlisted for this year’s Red Planet Prize. Take heart from the fact that there was a huge response and the quality of work has been outstanding.

We will be running the competition again next year so keep writing and good luck.

Best Wishes

Red Planet Pictures


Ah, the delightful FOFE as a friend calls them - the "Fuck off on Friday Email", lol. No really: good they they notify the losers as well AND make it personal for each by addressing the unlucky recipient by name and their project, too. Makes you feel as if they're not brushing over your entry, which is cool. They don't have to do that.

But don't feel sorry for me. Like I said before, you have to take stock - and in actual fact, turns out those same ten pages I sent to Red Planet have got me to the second round of this, proving my original point what doesn't work for one place does for another.

Also, the fact that I DIDN'T get through on Red Planet speaks volumes about a nagging feeling I've had at the back of my mind for some time now regarding this script's central idea. I know the writing is good - but is the story at its heart 100% truthful? I've been unconvinced for a while (since my ICA Lab on this script in October, in fact). MISS CONCEPTION is to be my Writer's Academy application script next year: RP was a "dry run". The fact then that it was pipped at the first post is now a good thing, for it tells me what I need to do next - and several conversations with readers familiar with MC since Tuesday this week (when I realised I was almost certainly out of the running) have provided me with much food for thought about where this script is heading... Not least a re-alignment regarding its target audience.

So... You live and learn. You really do.

Link Me Up, Baby

For all you internet procrastinators out there who spend all day and all night on blogs, filmmaking and social networking sites (I know I do), Bang2write can now be found on the following sites:

Icewhole

Linked In

Twitter

As well as

Shooting People, Facebook, MySpace and Inktip. There have never been more ways to get in touch with Bang2write or find out what is going on here... Until the next site, of course. See you there!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Red Planet Commiserations (Or How Danny Stack Was Saved)

Congratulations to everyone who got through on Red Planet - you all know who you are and I'm VERY pleased so many Bang2writers got through again. There's some talented scribes out there.

Commiserations though to everyone who DIDN'T make the cut. Remember, it's easy to denigrate your efforts on the basis of this result, but please don't. Just because you didn't doesn't mean you're shit, your script is just not what RP is looking for. I'm not saying this from a lofty position of "I've got through, loo-hoo-ser-huh" either, 'cos I didn't. Again. I won't lie either: it smarts, especially when I have a draft ready to go. But you know what? Happens. Get over it. We all have to.

It sounds cheesy, but at times like these you have to take stock and assess what you DO have. I have plenty of other opportunities and irons in the fire, but even if I didn't, I DO have a good script. I know this, because I have shown it to loads of people - that's the beauty of feedback: you get to know if you are kidding yourself or not. If I had hidden my script away on my desktop, showing it only to Red Planet, then I would probably be deleting it right now. Remember - what works at one place, doesn't always at another. So always make sure you show your script to as many people as possible, you never know when you will need that feedback to verify your own sense of self esteem, if nothing else! Whatever it takes to keep going, I say.

Also, one very good thing about being a script reader and blogger is of course I have either read or heard about what others are doing. Many, many of the scripts that have got through are either period or supernatural, or both. My script is neither: it's a present day medical drama. Perhaps it's not high concept enough? In that case, that's absolutely nothing to do with my writing. However good it is, if it's high concept they want - I'm just not ticking the right box.

But you live and learn. What's more, I've had an acre of a feedback, a learning curve, lots of ideas and know EXACTLY where I'm going next with my draft. Peace of mind. Aaaaaah.

So DON'T PANIC if you didn't get through. You might be tuning into the blogs thinking everyone did and you didn't, I know I felt like that last night and almost ordered a hit on Danny Stack (you got lucky, boy). But hey: you're not alone. Most of us are out. All is not lost. So chill, have a coffee, go back to your draft - send it somewhere else. I know I will be.

So if any producers out there wants a modern day medical drama with llamas in it, you know where I am.

12 Character Journeys We Can Learn From (No Real Spoilers)

We hear lots about films that get Oscar-Nominated; lots about films with mega stars in. Yet every now and again a film comes out that is simply excellent - yet does not seem to get the mentions it deserves. It might appear on a critics' list of faves or there might be a short flurry of attention - then it might seem to sink without a trace or get forgotten with the passage of years. Other times, you will be completely unaware of the film until it turns up in the DVD bargain bin. Yet I find often it's these forgotten or ignored gems that can teach us the most in terms of screenwriting. Here, in no particular order, are some of my favourites - and if you haven't seen them, what are you waiting for?
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My House in Umbria, 2003. I picked this film up for £2.99 in a sale; it stars Maggie Smith who is always excellent and from the title and box I figured it would be a nice, feel-good film for a Sunday afternoon. It is in fact, a journey of raw emotion: in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, a woman opens her Italian home to several survivors who have nowhere to go, including an orphaned child. When the uncle of that child arrives to collect her, the owner of the house finds herself pulled in several directions - not only towards the child, but the difficult, tortured uncle who's trying to do the right thing but also towards her own, painful past. Brilliantly written, wonderfully acted, this drama shows us the minutaie of daily life is often more powerful than the explosive Hollywood blockbuster.

When Was The Last Time You Saw Your Father?, 2006. I saw this on a free showing when the lovely Martin managed to get us tickets; I probably wouldn't have bothered otherwise, since it had Colin Firth in it. I had to eat my words though, since he was really good. Firth stars as the author and poet Blake Morrison: it's an adaptation of his own autobiography where he unravels the difficult relationship he has with his own father. It's an uncompromisingly honest, sometimes unflattering piece; I wonder what Morrison's family might have had to say about the book and movie. But good drama can be uncomfortable and Morrison shows his own mistakes and regrets with good grace.

The Brave One, 2007. Just because you're writing a genre film - especially one as tired as revenge - does not mean you need skimp on character. The Brave One shows us that it's possible to empathise with a character who does shocking things; we understand Erica's actions without condoning them. What's more, it has one of the best twists at the end I've seen in decades - simply because I never saw it coming, despite being the worst twist-spoiler to watch films with as the Hubster often laments (I predicted the "twist" on Sixth Sense immediately after the prologue, comes with being a script reader). 'Nuff respect to The Brave One: read my review here.

Once Were Warriors, 1994. I watched this on video when I was still at sixth form; I had do an essay about a non-hollywood film and an older friend of mine gave me this from her own stash. Until that point I hadn't even been aware New Zealand had its own film industry, so I figured this would be some dire diatribe about how unfair life is. Instead, I was blown away. The story of a family blown apart by domestic and sexual abuse, what really makes this film is the powerhouse performance by Rena Owen as Beth. The mother in the family, she discovers one of her children dead - and if you've ever had the misfortune of hearing a mother's hysterical wail for a lost child, then you know just how realistic her screams of total loss and grief are. Brings tears to your eyes and a lump to your throat.

Harsh Times, 2005. I've written before on this blog just how great the structure of this movie is, but I haven't mentioned how fabulous the character of Jim is, played by Christian Bale. Best known for Batman and other bad guy parts like in Shaft and American Psycho, this is Bale's best work as an antagonist in my eyes, no question. A brilliantly written part, Jim is his own worst enemy, driving all the action in Harsh Times, leaving the otherwise passive protagonist with one single, devastating choice at the end of the movie.

You Can Count On Me, 2000. This movie is a really traditional "fish out of water" concept - two siblings are reunited when a single mother's brother suddenly reappears after years away in Alaska - yet it works, probably because of its simplicity. What really marks this film out I thought was the child's developing relationship with his "instant" uncle; the dialogue between them was particularly realistic.

Notes On A Scandal, 2006. A masterly adaptation, with an excellent cast. I don't normally like Judy Dench much as I feel she is largely the same in everything - yet she was a perfect choice for the dastardly Barbara Covett. What is particularly interesting here is that Barbara is completely unsympathetic as our protagonist, yet we find ourselves completely captivated by her. Read my case study on the book versus the film here.

Badlands, 1973. This is a real favourite of mine. I first watched it when I was fourteen: it was accidental; I couldn't sleep and it was on BBC2 really late. I got into massive trouble for waking up one of my younger siblings when all the gunshots went off in the field bit. Like Bonnie and Clyde, the two main characters have a real chemistry and even though the Martin Sheen character is a total psycho and they're horrible murderers, we can still see *how* this all happened, even if we don't condone it. Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers seemed a pale comparison when I got hold of a (then-banned) copy at school, from my video "pusher" Weird John (that was his real name, honest).

A Map Of The World, 1999. I've never knowingly met anyone who has seen this film, yet I got it out on video one lonely saturday when I was still a single Mum and my kid was off visiting his Dad and was completely amazed by it. Julianne Moore and Sigourney Weaver are best friends, but when Julianne Moore's child dies in an accident when at Sigourney Weaver's house, all their lives all torn apart - and Sigourney Weaver's character must face some unpleasant truths about herself.

Bonnie And Clyde 1967. Like most people of my generation, movie-making starts approximately in the late seventies around "Jaws" time as far as I'm concerned... NOT because I don't like movies before this time, but because when I was a kid and had plenty of spare time, there was not thge access to movies on video bar the big blockbusters and of course classics like Alfred Hitchcock: if it didn't get on to TV then at a time I was watching, I didn't get to watch it. My father always raved about this film though, so I went looking for it online a couple of years' back and found a copy on eBay. What I love about this film is the chemistry between Bonnie and Clyde - they seem completely devoted to each other and even though it's a biopic and we know *how* it will end, it still comes as a surpise *when* it does.

Clay Pigeons, 1998. Vince Vaughn is best known for his Frat pack movies and generally playing a nice guy who gets out of control or taken for a ride in some way, so it's a real departure to see him playing a full-on serial killer - and a cowboy at that. Joachim Phoenix too puts in a brilliant performance as the protagonist of the piece, Clay, who must prove he has nothing to do with the murders in their small backwater town - but again, the writing has provided them with gifts of parts.

The Ice Storm, 1997. Like Once Were Warriors, there are some powerhouse performances here as the writing explores death and betrayal; the families are knit together not only by their infidelity and secrets - and again, Sigourney Weaver brings to life a damaged, bitter female character that is both complex, yet easy to comprehend.

Lantana, 2001. I think it's the women who make Lantana so great: the lost psychologist and the wife of the main suspect Nick, though essentially peripheral, really bring forth the meaning of this complex and involving drama. Peripheral and secondary parts, particularly those for women, are so often skimmed over - so this is not only a refreshing change, it shows how it can *really* be done.
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Which less-known films are favourites of yours - and why?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

FILM PRODUCTION COURSE - Don't miss out, it's FREE!

Mahua Productions have been in touch to tell all Bang2writers about its FREE training course (my fave price) in Film Production. Apparently it covers all aspects of producing, including budgeting and scheduling, fund raising and sales and distribution. If you're a budding producer or want to understand more about how the film industry works, this sounds a great opportunity. Unfortunately I won't be able to go as I'm busy on the dates below already, but if you do go, let us know and write a report about it! If you don't have a blog of your own, I'll gladly post your report here.

UPDATE: The lovely Michelle Lipton has discovered that under "Train to Gain's" requirements, to get this funding for the course in order to make it free you need to be part of a registered limited company, so it's not the same as for Skillset and individual freelancers. However, it's still a great opportunity if you ARE part of a registered ltd company, so let us know if you go.
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Phil Morris is inviting you to attend this amazing FREE PRODUCTION COURSE in partnership with the UK Government-backed 'TRAIN TO GAIN' programme.

It is a DOUBLE OPPORTUNITY with 2 dates:

10/11 of December and week-end: 13/14 of December.

Phil is a veteran producer with more than 20 years' experience in the industry in the UK and abroad (Poland, US, Hungary,. ..). Phil has worked his way up from first assistant director to Location manager, Line Producer and Executive Producer on many feature films. His impressive list of credits include, among others, Frederick Forsythe Presents (TV), Hercule Poirot (TV), MIKE BASSET ENGLAND MANAGER (Feature), BEING JULIA (Feature), LABYRINTH (Feature - Tristar/Columbia), SUPERMAN IV (Feature), as well as working on live recording with Liza Minelli and on Michael Jackson's infamous 'History' tour.

Phil currently supervises an 8 picture slate films in development, most of them being pan-european co-production and is eager to pass his knowledge to younger generations to strengthen our industry which lacks first-class producing skills.

Phil is also BBC Health & Safety checked.

Interested?

Please, GET IN TOUCH ASAP:

sarah"at"mahuaproductions"dot"co"dot"uk

T: 0207 9878 746


NOTE: The course will take place in London. Call or email for location and further details.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

URGENT: Don't Make Me Write My Own Scripts!!!

So, I'm almost to the bottom of *that* script-pile that's been forcing its way through my letterbox and onto my desktop CONSTANTLY for the last few months. By my calculations, I may even have - gasp! - NOTHING TO READ by Tuesday this week!!! WTF??

I know most of you will be counting the pennies this close to Chrstmas, so here's an incentive for you... Book a slot with me (oo er) before December 1st* (*you needn't take up the slot BEFORE Dec 1st, though I'm happy to proceed ASAP!) and you can get:

- The Overview Report: Your short analysed in an Overview report for £15 (15 page limit - normally at £2 a page)

- Development Notes: Get development notes on your feature or TV series for £35 (normally £45, 100 page limit)

- The Combo: Development Notes AND an Overview report on your feature or TV series for £50 (normally £60, 120 page limit please)

- Nanowrimo Special: I know a lot of you budding novelists out there are coming to the end of Nanowrimo, so get Development Notes on your novel!! I'll read all 50,000 for £100 and give you mega notes on them. (If you've done substantially less for Nanowrimo but still want notes, email me with a wordcount and I'll quote you less, don't worry). EMAIL NOW TO RESERVE A PLACE before Dec 1st for this offer, I'm expecting quite a few enquiries on this one.

For those of you who haven't used my services before, here's some more details:

The Overview Report. This is roughly a 3 page report that gives an Overview (d'oh!) as I see it of your Story, Characters, Arena, Dialogue and "Misc" (stuff like format, spelling issues, random stuff, etc). Good for those of you who want a "dry run" on a polished work before sending your script out to agents, producers, contests, etc.

Development Notes. These run for between 6 and 8 pages and focus on those areas that need most development in your script in my opinion, with detailed suggestions on how you *might* want to approach it.

The Combo. Unsurprisingly, The Combo service does both of the above for your script and you end up with roughly 10 pages of feedback.

Nanowrimo Novelist Special. I will read your chapters and your synopsis and feed back on structure, character, arena, spelling, grammar, etc - everything you'd expect in development notes, but for novels instead of screenplays! You can expect roughly ten pages of feedback.

Need a recommendation? Check these out, I've read for all of these recently:

"Wow! Amazing turnaround, and thanks for taking the time to read it, and get back to me with such insightful comments." Tom Bainton, Screenwriter and Filmmaker

"Thanks, Lucy. You were very, very helpful... Thanks again for your advice." Solomon Harrison, Screenwriter

"WHEN I get published (fingers crossed, touching wood and all that!) consider yourself the recipient of signed first edition and you'll definitely be in the credits too, cos if an agent/publisher does pick me up it will be thanks in no small part to you. Will recommend you to anyone that asks as well! Keep up the fantastic work." Becky Rawnsley, Novelist.

I won't tell you HOW to write your script or try and get you to "agree" with me; that's not what I'm about. I won't be didactic, I will make suggestions only - you can take them into your work or better still, use them as a springboard to develop your own ideas. Paypal and scripts via email is preferred, please.

Email me on Bang2write"at"aol"dot"com for more details - remember, if nothing in this list grabs your fancy, just email your requirements and I'll be happy to talk it through with you... In a "scripty" way of course: what was that at the back?!? DIRTY BOY! ; )

So come on... don't make me WRITE MY OWN STUFF!