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Monday, March 31, 2008

Last Chance For Bluecat

Many thanks to Gordy Hoffman, founder of The Bluecat Screenplay Competition, who answered my queries regarding The Bluecat Screenplay contest for the blog. If you have a feature script hanging around, don't let it languish on your desktop! Get it into a contest where you get feedback. What have you got to lose?

And if this Q&A doesn't sway you, check out the quality feedback I got for one of my scripts last year next to the little cartoon cat. I didn't place, but I'm still very happy with what I got - It even helped form the basis of the latest draft that I'm finally sending out tp producers, sans Tansy and that "troublesome plot point" they pull me up on. So give it a go!

DEADLINE: Midnight, April 1st.
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When there are so many script competitions out there, why should a writer choose Bluecat?

BlueCat has had more success launching careers and has provided more analysis to more writers than any other stand-alone screenplay contest in the world. Please visit our site, www.bluecatscreenplay.com, for a complete list of how our achievements.

What can a writer expect in Bluecat feedback about his or her script?

Every writer who enters BlueCat receives over 600 words of written analysis. They should expect an objective, thoughtful, courteous and intelligent response on what the reader felt was working about the screenplay and where they have suggestions.

Tell us more about the Bluecat screenwriting labs. What goes on there?

We are bringing three writers to Los Angeles this May and we plan to provide them with a personalized workshop that addresses their individual needs of their project. We are so excited about this process and we look forward to having more workshops in the future.

Though Bluecat is an international contest, lots of people believe Americans have more chance of placing or winning... Is this true?

Well, we've had screenplays written in Farsi, Korean and Chinese (all translated into English) win BlueCat. We welcome stories from all corners of our planet.

What have past Bluecat winners gone on to do?

SONY PICTURES is releasing BlueCat's 2005 winner, BALLS OUT: THE GARY HOUSE MAN STORY, this summer. Andy Stock and Rick Stempson (2005 Winners) recently wrapped their second script, THE GOODS: THE DON READY STORY, produced by Will Farrell and starring Jeremy Piven and Ving Rhames.

Lance Hammer (2004 Finalist) recently won the 2008 Sundance Directing Award for his latest script, BALLAST.

Andy Pagana (2004 Winner) is directing television for DIE HARD producer Arnold Rifkin. His BlueCat winning script, THE MAN IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR, is in pre-production after winning the 2006 Austin Film Festival.

Young Kim's (2006 Winner) script HYUNG'S OVERTURE attached to HITCH producer Teddy Zee after development in Pusan, Korea.

Ana Lily Amirpour's (2007 Winner) THE STONES slated for production this year.

How are entries judged in the contest?

We accept entries electronically and they are farmed out to a reader, personally selected by me. This reader than reads the entry, writes up analysis and issues a score. We sort the scripts according to scores, and I look at the top scripts, narrowing them down until I determine the quarter-finalists, the semi-finalists, the finalists and ultimately the winner.
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What did you like about this script?

It was a fast-paced story and a quick read. From the first few pages, it was quickly established what kind of ride we were in for and the dark atmosphere was conveyed easily. Working within the genre, the story moved ahead nicely and provided solid twists. Setting the story in 1940s London with bombings that could claim anyone's life in a moment underscored just how quickly anyone's life could be over and that lent an additional uncertainty as to who would live and who would die in the story.

Descriptions were done well and vividly evoked the appropriate kind of atmosphere and tension. The choice to use snappy and short sentences added to a sense of smoothly advancing through the story at a quick pace. And choice British terms also enhanced the sense of time and place. The action scenes were strong and easy to follow and was without extraneous details cluttering what was happening with the main characters, or with the many secondary characters.

Dialogue was crisp and to the point. Exposition, when it arose, was buried in the dialogue without slowing the pace of the story and did not draw an inordinate amount of attention to itself.

Characters had different motives, and had sufficiently distinct voices. There were significant changes in the character arcs for Brae and Jake, especially. It was planted well that Brae's complacency was what led him to overlook the probability that Rose and not Jake was the one he should have been looking for.

Subplots were effectively managed, even the smallest ones like with the mother and her twin children, or the guards at the city limits. Aramanta and Tyrell's desire to break free of Brae effectively setup their betrayal subplot; the stymied romance between Jake and Rose was a good subplot that made the ending have more of a twist. Even the smallest pieces, like the mother with the twin daughters, were written with attention to buttressing the rest of the story.

There was a solid use of various storytelling techniques. Flashbacks were minimal and used at the most effective moments, like the revelation of Jake seeing Rose's birthmark, or how Rose first appeared in the bathtub. The parallel between Aramanta's conversion at the hand of Brae matched up nicely with her bringing Jake to her side.

What do you think needs work?

The sudden conversion of Brae from a murderous force with no conscience into someone looking to end the cycle of violence was abruptly introduced near the end of the story. It made it difficult to buy completely into the fundamental shift in his attitude. On page 79 we see Jake's and Brae's character arcs crossing, and yet it is only Jake's trajectory that feels genuine. Throughout the story, Jake was always steadfast in his pursuit of vengeance and in the end that is what turned his heart completely dark and allowed him to join up at the very end with Aramanta. For Brae, though, nothing seemed to be leading up to the possibility that he would change this way. Even the death of Tansy didn't seem like it would irrevocably change him, not with all of the carnage that he was responsible for up until that point, including the murder of his own followers, like Ivor.

A plot point that was potentially troublesome was on page 18 when Brae essentially let Jake go until the next crescent moon. It did set up the ticking clock device to create tension with that deadline, but why let Jake go? The need for the next crescent moon was never specified, and it did not seem needed later in the story when Rose received the blood of Brae. And that also brought into mind the question: why did Rose require Brae's blood to begin with? As far as the story indicated, Brae did not receive blood from another to become who he was, so it was not apparent why Rose, as the moon and as Brae's equal, would require that.

Looking back at the story, what was interesting to note was that Tansy was rather forgettable. Jake, Rose, Brae, Aramanta and Tyrell were all remembered, but Tansy did not stand out. She may be the character that you can tie in more firmly with Brae's character arc.
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Enter the contest online here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Adaptation, Pt 5: 22 Steps To Adapting For Screen

Now for the last of my posts from The Art And Business of Adaptation: here's Adrian Mead's thoughts on how to approach writing an adaptation. Obviously everyone's different and when you approach your own, you may find your working method/thoughts on this is entirely the opposite, but I still think it's an interesting insight on how to go about it. I'd be interested to hear from any screenwriters who have adapted stuff what they think of this too - did you do something similar? Not at all? Let us know and enjoy!
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BOOK INTO FILM - A CHECKLIST

STAGE ONE: The Book As A Whole

1) First off: what is the central theme of the book? Can you isolate it?

2) How does the plot work as an investigation of that theme?

3) Who are the characters? Does the protagonist make the decisions, drive the story forwards? (Though they nearly always do in films, they don't always in novels). The story is usually as good as the antagonist: what obstacles do they present for the protagonist/theme?

4) What is the narrative flow? How does the plot move forward? Where are the turning points? What are the main plot lines of the book (remember not to get bogged down in those incidental moments that novels invariably have).

5) Where are the settings (time and place)? What visual riches do they display? What do they tell us about the world of that story?

6) What is the formal structure of the story (time-wise)?

7) Where is the authorial voice of this narrative and how does it function?


STAGE TWO: The Breakdown

8) Look at the book PAGE BY PAGE to create a plot summary of the novel.

9) Now look at the novel again and create a scene summary (one sentence per scene) for the entire work.

10) Now, with reference to the protagonist list all the scenes that do not specifically advance their story. Get rid of all incidental or tangental stuff.

11) Now list all the scenes that do not involve the protagonist directly.

12) Make a third list of all the scenes that do not advance the main plot directly (sub plot stuff, etc).

13) List which of the scenes to keep and WHY.

14) Repeat all the above steps with regard to the antagonist.

15) Now create a character list: who is not needed? Who will you keep? Which characters advance or inform the protagonist's journey? What is their function?

16) What scenes will you now need to create to "plug the gaps" of what you have? (much of this will be instinctive at this point).

17) Go back to the original material, re-read the book; put it away again. Do NOT look at it again.


STAGE THREE: The Writing

18) Write a rough script of the scenes you remember best now in the order they come to you (n.b. not an actual draft; don't look at your notes or the source material in order to do this either).

19) Looking at those rough scenes, think about what attracted you to them - are you driven to write any new scenes now?

20) Use writing exercises to help you "break free" of the source material, like automatic writing. Don't be chained to it, even if you are writing a reconstruction.

21) Write your in-depth scene breakdown of your draft.

22) Write the draft. Adrian pointed out your first draft will undubitably be a disappointment to you; it will feel flat or hollow or perhaps chaotic - but don't forget that's the case with all first drafts. Just because you're adapting doesn't make it "easier", it doesn't just fall into place.
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So... 22 potential steps between us and adapting! And the small case of finding rights to something. Otherwise, we should all be raring to go... Anyone up for it? Or does adapting sound like your worst nightmare? Why? Over to you!

Matthew Graham & Ashley Pharaoh Talk

Robin Kelly flags up this BBC Writersroom event on Monday April 14th with Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharaoh, creators of Ashes to Ashes and general screenwriting Gods. Tickets are free. I'll be there - will you?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Adaptation, Pt 4: Bye-Child And The Butterfly Tattoo

We've heard about what an adaptation entails, adapting true stories and what publishers think of the process, so now is the right time I think to take a look at two specific adaptations. Watch out for spoilers.

First up is Bernard MacLaverty's Bye-Child (2003). An award winning short film (part funded by long term Bang2writer Scottish Screen), Bye-Child is taken from the poem by Seamus Heaney. This was of particular interest, since adapting from poetry - bar the usual suspects like Homer -had not really occurred to me. But why not? Poems are just as rich in visuals and offer up all kinds of opportunities for adaptation story and character-wise, whether it's a reconstruction or a reimagination you're wanting to do.

Bye-Child was very much a reconstruction. Telling the story of a child kept in the henhouse by his mother, the poem hints at why - but MacLaverty then goes much futher, offering a backdrop that includes incest and an abusive father, forcing the woman to keep the child in the henhouse to conceal it when the father attempts to murder it. This was a clever embellishment, for immediately we're asked to empathise with the woman and her extraordinary action, even feeling sorry for her when the local priest discovers what she has done, taking the child away from her. Set in the 1960s, Maclaverty juxtaposes the discovery of the child against Armstrong's moon landings, begging the question HOW we can fly to the moon, yet not ensure children at home are looked after properly. It's easy to see why this work has been adopted by the educational sector in particular: schools use this work as part of their poetry curriculum and and the Teacher DVD resource pack can be bought online.

MacLaverty wanted to talk more about the background of his work and his adaptation rather than the machanics of getting it from the page to the screen, but he did mention that Heaney had said "do what you like with it". This unnerved Maclaverty, especially given the embellishments he had made and he said his heart was in his mouth when he sent a VHS copy to Seamus Heaney, as he feared he wouldn't like it - he "would have been gutted" if he didn't. Happily for Maclaverty, Heaney gave the work a big thumbs-up and it's even received a BAFTA nomination.

The second look at adaptations came in the form of Stephen Potts, responsible for the writing of the upcoming The Butterfly Tattoo, a lesser-known book by none other than Phillip Pullman (it was apparently previously called "The White Mercedes"). Stephen did not obtain the rights himself; instead a small Dutch production company called Dynamic Entertainment did - Stephen replied to an ad they posted on Shooting People (damn his hide, must've missed that one!). Dynamic Entertainment spent quite a bit of time negotiating with Pullman and had the "brass neck" to ask Pullman for a low-priced option on his book so they might make a low budget film of it - and he said yes! [This just goes to show what Birlinn said is true: always worth asking.]

As with any script commission, competition was high in getting the script gig for adapting The Butterfly Tattoo. Whilst Stephen was waiting to hear from Dynamic he read the book - something that was to pay dividends, since they asked for a a twelve page treatment in the next stage from him and three other writers on the shortlist. He got through that stage and it was narrowed down between him and one other writer, but Dynamic Entertainment couldn't decide between the two! They said they wanted "more" but were very vague, only that they wanted that something "more" in the next nine days... Stephen was unsure what to do next, so took the week off work and wrote a draft and submitted that! He called this draft "draft zero", it wasn't long enough and the kind of "emetic draft" Peter Broughan spoke of, but it was enough to get him the gig.

After that, it appears the project took off at rocket-like speed. Stephen signed the contract last March and he did a draft a month, the project going through four total before being shot last August. Though a seven month turnaround, editing took a further six months - but even so, this is a suprisingly short amount of time to knock out a feature film. It looks quality too - we were shown a clip of the beginning and you can view a clip online too. It's been submitted to Edinburgh and Cannes and they're looking for a distributor at present; just like they attracted investors on the basis of the Pullman name, they're hopeful a distributor will feel the same.

It's worth noting that Stephen is a published author himself of five children's novels: given the Pullman novel is aimed at a teenage market, perhaps Stephen had a natural bias towards not only the material, but what was best for the story in adapting it? Certainly Pullman apparently liked the script and was supportive of the project, though again this was more of a reconstruction - Stephen said he couldn't have done anything that Pullman was against either. I hope the project does find a distriubutor - would be great to see an indie filmmaker triumph with an adaptation and hopefully open the gates to many more. Best of luck!

NEXT: My final post on this course - How Do You Adapt? Adrian's Adaptation Checklist.

LINKS

BYE-CHILD

An excellent teacher's resource on Bye-Child, including the full poem text can be found here [PDF].

An analysis of the poem can be viewed here.

Bye-Child on IMDB

Read about the making of Bye-Child, including how it was developed and funded, here.

THE BUTTERFLY TATTOO

View a teaser trailer for The Butterfly Tattoo here.

Click here to read a synopsis of Phillip Pullman's book (warning: spoilers).

Stephen Potts' Shooting People Card.

An interview with Stephen Potts about his own books, here plus a list of his books.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Wishing You All A Very...

Oh and if you want to know what The Easter Bunny is doing the other 364 days of the year, check this out:


You have been warned...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Blatant Pimping: Need Me to Read Your Script?

Well it's the Easter Holidays down here in ol' Dorset and since he's got rid of his pupils at school (he hasn't dispatched with them, they've merely gone home) it's about time Him Indoors had our OWN kidz all day leaving me free to read your lovely script. That's right: now is a very good time if you need my services. And for those of you who quote PIMP HAT AD, you can have 15% off Development Notes. They're normally £45, but this means you get 'em for £38.25.

Need a recommendation first? What about this one from the marvellous David Anderson:

Thank you... For the best, the most encouraging, the most intelligent and the most downright useful coverage I’ve ever had. Your development notes for [my script] show you to be a thorough-going professional – fast and highly conscientious.

I’ve had scripts covered in the past by [other places] and I have never had anything as finely detailed or as helpful as this. You’ve done more than give me your impressions and pointed out the faults... You’ve actually shown me how to write a better script. It’s like having a smarter collaborator! And you can quote me on that.


If that's not enough, check out all these. I promise I will treat your script with care! Unless you want me to behead and bury it in the garden, Bang2write aims to please my friends.

Don't forget either that I read novels, treatments, even short scripts - with the BSSC coming up, some feedback is always a good idea! I also do Overview reports for those more polished drafts, so treat yourself to a "trial run" before sending off that script to contests, agents, prodcos, etc. Email me and I'll do you a good deal.

Come on people... If I don't get something to read next week I might actually end up writing something OF MY OWN. And no one wants that on their conscience, surely?

Adaptation, Pt 3: What A Publisher Says

Apologies for the delay on this article, an MTC (that's a Minor Tidying Calamity) occurred and my notebook with my course notes in somehow ended up in the outhouse with the washing machine and freezer. I blame The Husband...
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A recent conversation thread on the Shooting People Screenwriters' List revealed that it is considered pretty bad form to adapt material without having the rights to it. This is not a problem when certain stories are already in the public domain, but what if it is protected by copyright? We hear a lot about producers acquiring the rights to certain books and certainly it would seem they are the main people looking out for such deals. But what about writers? Can't we do this too? With the bigger production companies reported to have "first look" deals with many of the bigger publishing houses, it would seem a writer [or smaller, "starting out" producer] getting hold of good material to adapt is pretty hopeless.

Not so. Jan Rutherford and Hugh Andrew of Birlinn Publishing came into speak to us about this and it proved very enlightening to say the least. Like many writers, I had thought trying to gain rights would be a fruitless exercise - as many Bangwriters seem to, since the only adaptations I ever seem to get are those texts that are well out of copyright. (Alice In Wonderland, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks seem to be particular favourites). Copyright now runs for the writer's lifetime plus seventy years.

So how does a writer or smaller producer approach a publisher? Well, the answer may just be in approaching a small publisher, rather than one of the giants: Birlinn has had about 8 projects adapted, but they've actually published over 1000 projects: "The phones are not exactly hot." They said. Working up a relationship with a publisher is absolutely paramount in gaining the rights to a project. Whilst most enquiries come from producers, writers are welcome too; Jan and Hugh explained they are ONLY TOO DELIGHTED to receive approaches. Apparently the best thing to do is find out who a publisher's rights person is, then email your CV -remember, they don't know who YOU are. This of course lends the belief that a writer is *more likely* to obtain the rights to a project if they already have a proven track record but - nothing ventured, nothing gained!

But how much is an option on a novel? This really depends on the status of the author and/or project: apparently rights can go for as little as a few hundred pounds or many thousands and are always up for discussion at smaller publishers where there is not as much comnpetition. Renewal is usually two years; part of the deal can sometimes be a more substantial renewal deal based on the notion that by then things should have moved on - you may have talent attached to the project for example or have secured development money. Basically all an option does is buy you TIME to develop the project sufficiently.

Other interesting titbits came to light too. Though certain texts might be out of copyright, it's worth remembering that certain VERSIONS might have forewords or introductions that are still in copyright, so those would not be able to form part of your adaptation. In addition, copyright can change country to country, so it's always worth doing your homework.

Birlinn published Graeme Obree's book I mentioned in the previous post (also called The Flying Scotsman), but also poignantly Alexander McCall Smith's The Number One Ladies Detective Agency: we were shown a clip of Anthony Minghella's upcoming film that will be broadcast here in the UK this Easter Weekend (and it looked, as expected, excellent - I will be tuning in). Jan and Hugh explained how hard it is to tie books in with the film adaptations: for example, publishers like to reprint books with the same cover as the film poster, but bad communications between the two can mean this sometimes isn't possible.
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Some great stuff there I think - suddenly I feel like getting out there and optioning a book! I think I might have a coffee first though. If you were going to option a novel and money was no object, which would you go for and why?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Anthony Minghella Has Died

Terrible news.

Anthony Minghella wrote and directed two of my ultimate faves, Truly Madly Deeply and The Talented Mr. Ripley and was only 54.

Obviously our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time.

Glory! # 2

Last week I broke the exciting news that I was cited as a reference in Wikipedia.

This week I have discovered I have made it (in the same way) into the Wiktionary too!!!

The word?

Kitchen-sinky.

My people will call your people. MWAH.

Adaptation, Pt 2: "Telling Lies To Tell The Truth", Peter Broughan

When we think of adaptation, where does the so-called true story fit in? It would seem to occupy both ends of the scale: on this very blog I lambast Wolf Creek and its supposedly true origins and this website provides ONLY films that are based on true stories. Peter Broughan of Flying Scotsman Films was charged with talking us through the specifics and miscellany of producing a film based on a true story. I hadn't expected to find this element particularly interesting, since I have never been one to watch biopics or be interested in autobiography. I was surprised then to discover this was actually my favourite aspect of the course: Peter was frank and honest about his films, Rob Roy and The Flying Scotsman (for those of you who don't know, this is a biopic of the record-breaking cyclist Graeme Obree: I didn't).

So, why adapt from real life? Peter confessed that he had just left the BBC as a producer to become an independent, was making no money and basically freaking out. He said he was thinking, "There must be something really big, really Scottish, that no one has done before." The answer was of course Rob Roy: Peter got a book out and was knocked out by the extraordinary story of this larger-than-life figure. There were no rights to buy, since it was already all in the public domain either.

Yet how much fidelity should one have to the person whose story it is? Well in the case of Rob Roy, Peter told us he "immersed" himself in research - then "picked out his truth", his interpretation of the life. The writer of Rob Roy, Alan Sharp, produced what Peter called an "emetic draft" where he flushed out all these details and story elements of Rob Roy's life... Before structuring a more focused, less chaotic draft. They didn't want to tell a story that would let Rob Roy down, but equally they didn't want to tell a story that would sanitise him too much either. Rob Roy's main competitor that year, Braveheart, has been criticised for being too "free" with the truth - Peter mused that perhaps this was because true Scots were not behind the film? He was also at pains however to point out that there is no such thing as "an absolute truth".

With Graeme Obree's story then, it was quite a different affair: for one thing, Graeme Obree is still very much alive. I was unaware that it is not possible to libel a dead person, so libel would never have been an issue in the case of Rob Roy as it *could* have been with Obree. In fact, "Errors and Omissions Insurance" is issued in the case of true story films, where you have to demonstrate you have done everything you can to show that you won't be libellous if that person is still alive (similar I would think with the journalistic notion of "due care" when it comes to libel in newspapers and magazines). In comparison then to Rob Roy where the passage of time makes it difficult to know how accurate one is in the representation, they knew they were manipulating certain elements for the sake of drama: for instance, Obree is shown at the beginning of the film as being a cycle courier, a job he never had. However it "pigeon holes" his vocation nicely and adds to the story. Certainly Obree did not object to be being represented like this, anyway.

From the sound of it however, Peter Broughan was fortunate to have Obree very much on side: Obree was concerned about committing the "sin of omission" and actively wanted his depression and suicide attempts included in the film, though he worried about being too graphic on account of his own children watching it. Obree wrote a book at the same time as the film being made, an interesting reversal of the book-to-film notion I thought. Peter too speculated that perhaps the main cause of Obree's personal problems - low self esteem - could be improved by the movie and the fact people are now so interested in his struggle? Let's hope so.

PART THREE: What Do Publishers Say?

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Art & Business of Adaptation: Adrian's Sessions, Pt 1

Here are my notes on Adrian's sessions (oo er) from the Mead Kerr course "The Art & Business of Adaptation" that I attended this past weekend in Edinburgh. There will be other notes on the many quality guest speakers coming soon. Enjoy!

Someone said to me recently they would sooner put pins in their eyes than adapt material for the screen. "It's all original stuff as far as I'm concerned," she said, "I mean, that's where the real imagination and skill is, right? In making it up from scratch." (You've known me a while now, I'm sure you can imagine what my response was).

Adaptation is big business: I don't think anyone can deny it. Yet you do hear this notion that somehow adaptations are not as creative as original works. Perhaps it's because it's considered easier somehow - after all, if you have the source material, you haven't had to slave at that original idea that kicks it all off? How hard can an adaptation be anyway... You just open the book, take the best bits out and render them as a screenplay. Easy! ; ) Joking aside, it would seem that adapters don't always get the same kudos as those original writers.

So why do we adapt material?

Well, it does save time. If a book or play is already in existence, it's true there's none of the uphill struggle of convincing a producer of your own fabulous idea: if a story is good enough to already by a novel, play, magazine article, blog, poem or renowned true story, then it's already had an audience, so there is a sense of assumed quality. In addition, because of its existence, there is a ready-made audience. If people liked the book (or whatever), chances are they will like the film - or at least want to see it. Roughly 75% of Oscar winners and celebrated films are adaptations, proving this idea quite categorically. Adaptations work. People want to see them. Adaptations make good financial sense.

But adaptations are not just about money: a writer or producer may love a particular story, feel it DESERVES a wider audience. That novel, poem, blog, radio script etc may have a strong descriptive style, strong narrative drive or great characters, the type of thing any good script SHOULD have. Adaptations are not easy to achieve: perhaps writers who feel adaptations are "inferior" in some way just don't know where to start? After all, you have to know your craft inside out to get one written with any degree of success, whether that means attracting funding or in some cases just getting it passed for production. Many a great writer has tried - and failed - to get a draft approved on a production. Adaptation can be a messy business: Michael Crichton was apparently supposed to adapt his own novel "Jurassic Park", but two drafts in things were not working. Another writer, the curiously named Scotch Marmo, delivered a character-based work that she had created from Crichton's old drafts, only to be rejected. By the time David Koepp arrived and kicked Jurassic Park into the plot-driven blockbuster it was *supposed* to be (I mean, "obviously", right? ;), hinged on 5 or 6 big set pieces, literally millions of dollars and huge swathes of time had been wasted. Yet the production team were hardly beginners - this was SPIELBERG.

Adrian said that any adaptation should be viewed in the same way as writing an original script: you might have source material, but that is all it is - a starting point. There are many questions involved in approaching adaptations, the most obvious being "How faithful should we be to that source material - or not?" The answer is not simple either it seems, for Adrian says it DEPENDS on the type of adaptation you are attempting. He broke it down into two useful ideas here:

RECONSTRUCTION. Think of films like The Harry Potter franchise or the LOTR trilogy. An audience who has read these books will have intimate knowledge of the source material and there will be certain "non-negotiables" and expectations of any adaptation. If you change things willy-nilly, those audiences will invariably feel disappointed and reject your adaptation.

To be a reconstructor: You need to be into structure. Chances are you need to be into the notion of the mythic or hero's journey and you will usually be working at how to make characters more active, than the actual characters themselves. You're working to compress the work, you're condensing events whilst keeping all the major expectations. You are not writing an entirely new film, but working to make a cinematic vision of what is on the page. The theme of the source material will undoubtedly be the same in the film.

REIMAGINATION
. These adaptations are not faithful to the structure of the source material so much as the "spirit" or "essence" of it. The adaptor may decide to reinterpret the theme of the source material, it will be rejigged when the adaptor looks at the work and says, "What is POWERFUL about this?" Sometimes the film will work as a metaphor of what the source material stood for. Harold Pinter was brought in on The French Lieutenant's Woman and has a his draft approved on this basis after Dennis Potter and Richard Lester had already had drafts rejected.

To be a Reimaginer: You need to really appreciate what the ESSENCE of the story is, but be able to work out what benefits there will be from the changes you make. These might be changes for particular audiences or commentaries you want to make on older or "accepted" views of stories. With this in mind then, something like The Company of Wolves is a good case in point: Angela Carter's original poem was itself an adaptation of Red Riding Hood, but updated for adults and a dark tale of female sexuality and feminism. It then was adapted as a film on this basis. Another adaptation of Red Riding Hood, Hoodwinked, produced a reimagined tale, this time for children, but in the style of an adult show like CSI with a non-linear storyline.

PART TWO: Adapting true stories for the screen - Peter Broughan for Flying Scotsmen Films.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Apostrophes Explained

Since "grammar" and "correct uses of apostrophes" are two of the most searched for terms on this site, I thought I would draw your attention to this rather fabulous resource courtesy of The University of Melbourne.

Consistent apostrophe misuse is one of the most common errors I see in spec scripts and it's a real shame, since it's easy to put right if you know how. The reason this resource is so cool is because it's concise and to the point - plus it's a pdf so you can download it and go back to it later. It also has some handy links too, including one to the brilliant BBC Skillswise website, where you can get all manner of games and worksheets to help you improve with things like grammar. Click here to go direct to Skillswise.

So save it to your desktop now and banish this troublesome and pesky error from your scripts forever: click here for the apostrophes pdf. Enjoy!

UPDATE: Here's another good link about apostrophes from the marvellous Rich... Thanks Rich!

Consequence: A Chain Reaction

Oedipus is someone you might have heard of. The basic gist: he was the foundling child who grew up to be the Greek king who found he'd killed his own Dad and married his Mum. The result: Oedipus poked out his own eyes and his wife/Mum hanged herself. Bummer. Even worse, it only all happened 'cos his Mum and Dad heard a prophecy that said their child would...Guess what: kill the Dad and marry the Mum, so they had a midwife put the baby out on a mountain to be exposed. Which she did and the child was found (or in some versions, the midwife raised the baby herself): the child then grew up not knowing his Mum and Dad were King and Queen of Greece... And the rest you know. How's that for dramatic irony, eh?

What makes the writer of Oedipus, Sophocles, great is the nature of consequence in his work. One event happens because of another: it is the very essence of drama, not only because of this "chain reaction" effect, but because so many of Sophocles' characters start with an URGE to do something that leads to their downfall. These are not passive protagonists who simply take what is thrown at them: they start off with something they need to do or find out and make decision upon decision that seal their fate. For Oedipus, he wanted to know who had killed his father. For another of Sophocle's protagonists, Antigone, she wanted to bury her brother against the wishes of her evil stepfather Creon. Orestes in Sophocles' Electra wanted to kill his mother and her lover for their murder of his own father Agamemnon, yet at the same time recognises that his half brothers and sisters (the children of Orestes' murderous mother and her lover) would in turn want to kill HIM someday for his own crime in killing THEIR parents.

It's this chain reaction effect however that makes Sophocles the king of reversals in my opinion. Of course screenwriting and the term "reversals" had not been invented back then, but Greeks had what they called "peripateia" which roughly translates to the same *sort of* thing, which is, also roughly:

Something that takes us from security to insecurity.

We're talking about Gwyneth Paltrow's character in Sliding Doors and everyone else in 90s rom-com land when they get sacked and find their partner in bed with someone else on the same day. We're talking about the big hero who is the big man - until he discovers he's out of his depth, whether it's John McClane stranded on the top of tower in Die Hard or Arnie in the middle of the jungle with an invisible alien in Predator. We're talking about those horrors or murder mysteries where we're asked to believe a certain someone is the threat or killer and it turns out it is actually someone/something else.

A reversal is, in essence, a plot twist that provides an obstacle that the protagonist needs to overcome.

One of my favourites? Has to be John McClane's lack of shoes in Die Hard. He's the barefoot warrior, but they're also his Achilles' Heel, for nasty Alan Rickman (can't remember the character's name) has the window glass shot out. You might say that "Ha! John McClane doesn't overcome his lack of shoes..." but he DOES for he is PREPARED TO WALK ON FREAKING GLASS BAREFOOT than concede defeat, showing us what mettle he really has.

All movies should have reversals I think... And those movies that keep us guessing as to what is going to happen next right to the very end have plenty of them. This doesn't mean that what is going to happen is a mystery, but rather the narrative is not pedestrian; instead it moves in ways we can't guess easily. They are simply not predictable, but narratives that are exciting, thought-provoking and/or challenging. All stuff we should want in our specs, natch.

Yet reversals do not work on their own. A plot twist becomes curious, out of sync, irrelevant, or just plain to dull compared with the rest of the action if it is not set up or paid off properly. Oedipus' discovery that he had killed his father would have lacked impact had he simply retraced his steps and said, "Oh Damn! You know what I've gone and done?" Instead, this successful, happy king decides to lay his one last curiosity to rest and asks a prophet instead who killed his father. When told it is he who is the criminal, Oedipus is deeply troubled and sets out to prove this prophecy wrong... Only to discover it was ANOTHER prophecy that is not only at the root of it all, but that if that prophecy had never been uttered, he would not be in the position he is now!

In other words then, a good reversal is related to good structure: you must set up in order to pay it off. You must promote the notion of that chain reaction; one event must happen because of another. Everything must relate to that "controlling idea" or central theme. You mustn't meander. Stakes must be high [whatever that means, not just literal life and death], the ante must be upped.

But a good reversal is also linked to good characterisation: you must have that active protagonist who will not rest until their mission is complete - even if that means their doom (literal or metaphorical). Other characters must give to that mission or risk obfuscating the protagonist's journey.

Easy, huh? I'll get my coat...

LINKS

Oedipus Rex Synopsis

Glossary of Theatrical Terms [including "Peripateia"]

Useful Glossary of Screenwriting Terms [including "Reversal]

How To Write A Movie With An Unexpected Reversal

Review of An Unproduced Action Movie And How It Compares to Aramageddon In Terms of Reversals
[phew]

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Glory!

An announcement people... Silence please! Perhaps Oscarworthy is a tad overstepping the mark, but this is very exciting:

I have finally made it into the wonderous online tome that is Wikipedia.

Well, my Q&A with Mark Greig on Ashes to Ashes vs. Life on Mars has.

As a reference: see it here.

But it's there! Now you may search "Lucy Vee" there and an actual link will come up instead of "no results found." I actually have a tear in my (now healed) left eye.

I'm expecting calls from all other encyclopedias on and off line, so though I know you must be very excited as well, please keep the lines free people. I thank you.

UPDATE: It was nice while it lasted, but it would seem I have already been outdone. Well done Tim!

Crew & Short Script Call

Thought some of you peeps into filmmaking might be interested in this - check out the short script call at the end of the message too. As ever, let us know how you get on if you decide to go for it!
-------------------------------------------------
Hi, My name is Heon Irving-Black. I'm working on my 1st feature film called Shottas Paradise. We are looking to commence shooting August/September 08 and we are looking for hard working and talented crew.

As most of you know, budget restraints are what's holding most (if not all!) of us back... Well we are a new production company with some kit (i.e. lights, cameras, dolly, tracks, steadicam etc. We would like to crew up to 25 people max that could come on board our project for a back end deal of some sort till we sell our feature film and of course make something from our film.

We are looking to schedule the film for 5 weeks so we are looking for strong minded individuals to come on board and execute this project. Please check out our film website and join up the fan club and campaign for Shottas Paradise as its a moral story and very current into today's society struggle of the youth. (N.B THIS IS A EXTREMELY LOW BUDGET PRODUCTION WITH A HIGH END LOOK SO ONLY EXPENSES CAN BE PAID.)

CREW REQUIRED: STEADICAM OP + ASSISTANT (NO RIG REQUIRED) 2ND AD, 3RD AD, GRIP, HAIR + MAKE UP, WARDROBE, LOCATION ASSISTANT,NURSE, GAFFER, 2 SPARKS, BEST BOY, CARPENTER, PRODUCTION MANAGER, PROD CO-ORDINATOR, PROD ASSISTANT X2

Also we are interested in shooting your short films and stories as we would like to churned out short films every 4-6 weeks, so if you have material but no means of making this happen contact us either by email or post:

unusualsuspectsltd@hotmail.com

or

Unusual Suspects Ltd, Lexus House, Rosslyn Crescent, Harrow, Middlsex, HA1 2RZ

Thank you for all for your time and stay focused.

Heon Irving-Black
Unusual Suspects Ltd
Shottas Paradise Website

Monday, March 10, 2008

Fat Eyelid

There are many strange things in the world. Like alien abduction. Aurora Borealis. Geysers. Children's odd ability to say exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time, right at some toe-curling moment.

Strangest however, is the fact that for no apparent reason at all this evening I seem to have a fat eyelid. I'm not kidding. The difference between them is quite obvious. I've had it narrowed down to two things by my ex-biologist hubby: I'm allergic to my sexy new silver eyeshadow or I've somehow sprained it.

WTF? How can you SPRAIN your eyelid? Unless of course I have somehow blinked 50% more with ONE EYE and not noticed. Which is always possible.

Have a lovely evening. Looking out of both your eyes, you lucky buggers.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The First Person: Your Thoughts, Please...

So I thought I could do with a new challenge, so I've decided to write a novel. I've written one before (even though it was many years ago, long story what happened to it, move along now), but I figured it would be like riding a bike in that "you never forget" and all that.

It so isn't.

Do you know how long the average spec is? I'm not talking page count. That's 90 - 100 pages if you're sensible, any more makes script readers want to stab themselves in the leg with a fork (honestly). That extra twenty or so pages really *can* be the difference between a PASS and a CONSIDER on that report, if only on the basis of the fact that reader *could* have had an extra espresso and a doughnut (and walked to the local cafe for both) IF the writer hadn't written an extra twenty pages. Okay I'm exaggerating. A little.

No, the average spec is approximately 18-30,000 words maximum: that's everything - scene description, dialogue, the works. Note these are screenplays without black on the page. The irony is, I find the "better" writer you are (as a screenwriter, in any case), the LESS you write. (The only reason I know this by the way is because I am an anorak who keeps lists and runs word counts on my fave scripts. Oh, I also play a new game these days now I have a laptop: I call it WRITE THE SCRIPT REPORT BEFORE YOUR BATTERY DIES, but that's just a working title, feel free to suggest a new one.)

So getting into this novel writing thing is proving strange. I've spent the last few years trying to figure how to strip stuff OUT, not put stuff in (oo er). Writing in the past tense seems alien and focusing on other characters' ins and outs (double oo er) and not just the protagonist's arc seems even weirder.

I find I've become hung up on the third person, the "s/he". This does not normally concern me; I write scripts in the third person (and the present tense), so perhaps it would help me if I thought about this story from the first person - the "I" of the story? Maybe if I were to look through one character's POV, tell it how he or she sees it, then I would feel more comfortable? It would fool my resisting brain into believing I was writing say a treatment instead of an actual novel?

I'm reliably informed that most of the top ten adult crime novels at Tesco this week are written in the first person (thanks Mum). My son says all the novels he's read recently have been in the third person however. My novel is *supposed* to be for the so-called tween audience - that's apparently 8-12s, your classic Harry Potter/Lord Loss/Eragon/Stormrider readers, like my boy.

What do you reckon?

Should I go with the flow and battle on with the third person and hope I get into it, or go with the first person which I *feel* I could get on with better?

Any thoughts appreciated...

Friday, March 07, 2008

10 On TV Drama: Mark Greig, Ashes To Ashes Vs. Life On Mars

It's no surprise that the sequel/spin off to the celebrated Life On Mars has caused quite a stir: it was kind of inevitable that Ashes To Ashes would be considered not quite as good by critics. All manner of negatives have been chucked its way: it lacks the ambiguity of LoM. It takes inspiration from stuff like Dempsey And Makepeace instead of The Sweeney. Even Gene Hunt has been accused of being more like a "horrible dirty old man" than in the original where he was apparently infinitely cooler.

This hasn't stopped ATA being a big hit of course: myself, I prefer AtA to LoM. I have to admit I was somewhat underwhelmed by the leviathon that was Life on Mars. It wasn't that I thought it was bad, far from it: there was some fantastic talent attached both acting and writing-wise and I can't say I wasn't entertained when I watched it. I suppose it lacked resonance for me. I wasn't alive in the 70s (bar just under four months of 1979); I never liked The Sweeney which was on repeat by the time I watched it; I wasn't keen on the supposed ambiguity. As far as I was concerned, it was OBVIOUS Sam Tyler was in a coma; not only did the phones give it away I thought, I was raised on an 80s/90s diet of Thomas Covenant, Labyrinth, Quantum Leap etc where people would enter other worlds thanks to accidents, invitations from goblin kings, time portals and so it goes on.

But hey, what do I know? I didn't write on either show - more's the pity. So I asked a man who has, the lovely Mark Greig who incidentally has written the last TWO episodes of Ashes to Ashes as well as an episode of the second series of LoM, but we won't hold that jealously against him. Much! Over to you Mark...

Who would win in a fight, Alex Drake or Sam Tyler?

Alex. Not only is she smarter, she'd smack Sam senseless whilst he was still discussing what the rules of engagement should be, and does Gene really have to be the referee?

I like ATA more than LoM: does this mean I should be smeared in honey and left for the ants?

Not to rob ants of a hard-earned meal, but no - that is not a bad thing. I think I'm with you. Though I reckon LoM was more consistent in tone, the period in which ATA is set is more personally meaningful (I lived it! That soundtrack is that of my teenage years, whilst LoM's was that of the dreary Radio ruddy Two I was forced to listen to on long car journeys. Bloody Stewpot Stewart). I find its protagonist much more interesting than LoM's. Alex feels more complex and recognisably human to me than Sam, and better reflects 21st century attitudes and conflicts.

I get the sense that for people who engaged with LoM so much that the very idea of ATA drives them into a frenzy of loathing, what they responded to was a nostalgia for the certainty and clarity of issues in the 70s. Wouldn't it be great if life was so simple that Gene could solve every problem with a swift knee to the goolies? Well maybe, but Britain changed. A lot. And has continued to change at an accelerating pace. ATA reflects the insecurities, paradoxes, and complexities that change brings. I hope.

While I have the opportunity, I'll stand up for Keeley, who I think has been a revelation in this part; a real career maker, I hope. Keeley as Alex got a bit of a pasting early on from some critics who were, typically, confusing the female actor with the female character - I reckon what they really objected to was the image of a professional woman who is smart, articulate, funny, confident enough to take on anyone - and who binge drinks and likes sex. Would a male actor have been criticised in the same way? I suspect not.

And Ashes is more fun.

Some critics say they can't invest in Alex's journey like they could Sam's because ATA lacks the ambiguity of LoM: it's apparent from the outset that it's make believe. What's your take on this?

Whereas LoM wasn't? There are other reasons for not investing in Alex that I could understand, but that? Dimwits.

There was some confusion re: Sam's demise in LoM - so much so that his case file had SUICIDE stamped on it in ATA, just to clear it up. Why do you think People weren't sure what had happened to Sam?

Because they didn't want his story to end, they would create a tangled logic web that would somehow allow him to carry on living both in a 'real' 1973 and a 'real' 2008. Whatever - he'll always be alive in their hearts.

In isolation, which are you more proud of: your LoM episode or one of your ATA episodes? Why?

Ep 4 of Ashes - it's got so many levels. It (more or less) works as a conspiracy thriller whilst being a pastiche of the same, it's got a meaty mother/daughter betrayal element that helps illuminates Alex's motivations, it's an affectionate satire of socialist politics of the early 80s, particularly feminism (the woman converting Chris to the cause in the 'wimmin in the cop shop' sequence? That was me, that was. God help me), it's an extended homage to one of my favourite tv series of all time, 'Edge of Darkness' (not only does the ep reference it on numerous occasions, the structure itself is an homage. It's even got a dead daughter putting in an appearance!), I thought Catherine did a great job and paced it brilliantly (often a bugbear in stuff I've had on), it makes me laugh, and I wrote it very fast to an unexpectedly tight deadline. And I got Philip and Keeley in their underwear. Sometimes stuff just works, and this one did.

One review I read accuses ATA of "stalking" Gene Hunt, like we've become fixated on him. what do you think of this comment? If we are "fixated" on Gene Hunt, why do you think this is?

If we are - and I hope we're not - it's because Gene makes things simple. There's a bad man. I will hit him, and then I will put him in jail, and he will go away, and life will be safe and simple, and you can leave your front door open all day, and neighbours will talk to each other, and children will walk to school instead of being driven in urban tanks, and we will be a community rather than a group of individuals living in the same place.

See what I mean? Of course it's a fantasy...
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Thanks Mark!

UPDATE: Any Keeley Hawes fans out there, check out her unofficial fansite here...The marvellous Cubbie has also provided a link to this site and Mark's Q&A as well. Thanks Cubbie!

So, which show do you prefer and why? Over to you and have a fab weekend...

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Scriptwriting Degrees, pt 1: University

Whilst it's a given that talent can't be taught - you have it or you don't - a scriptwriting degree seems to be the latest "must have" if you're going to get *anywhere* in this biz. This of course is total pants - some of the most successful writers I know of or have met have no piece of paper that SAYS they're "trained", yet still people sign up in their droves:

I have a BA (Hons) Scriptwriting for Film and TV from Bournemouth University for example, as does Dom and Lianne. I believe Pillock is going for the MA version of the same course and plenty of other bloggers have MAs in Scriptwriting: Elinor originally went to Birbeck; David Bishop, MJ and Miss Read to Napier; Mr. Jon Peacey went to Leeds Met. You'll find Bloggers teaching on University courses too: I can be found at London Met on its Metlab course, where Elinor, Chip and Martin are currently enrolled. Danny Stack used to work at Leeds Met. I'm sure there are loads of others I've forgotten too.

In short, university scriptwriting courses are big business. The question I have for you is should they be?

I enjoy working on Metlab for one reason: it's all about the market, making that script as "saleable" as possible, not only in terms of story but commercial viability with a specific business model. Elinor, Chip and Martin had to compete to get on this course (as well as the blogless Grant btw) and they are creating a genre film they will actively pitch to some big industry players at the end of their course. It gives them a focus and thus there is a very tangible "point" (for want of a better word) to the course.

As a reader for private clients, I get MANY students and graduates of MAs through my doors. Almost all have something bad to say about their course if the subject comes up. Some say they get too many guest speakers, they don't get enough time on the "basics" of story, structure, character, dialogue, arena. Some say all they do is the basics - when are they going to get some guest speakers? Others complain of power play between their lecturers or say their lecturers' information is "out of date" - especially when it comes to stuff like format and how to write good scene description. Others say they devote too much time to features and not enough to television or vice versa.

Bournemouth was a good course I think in that it struck the right balance between the basics and other stuff (like guest speakers). It was also exactly what I needed at the time: a safe environment to practice and find stuff out. There were no blogs then and information was scarce. There was a few books, but most were American and I didn't know script reading existed. I don't think I even had an email account. This was only 1999. I wonder now how writers "back in the day" started with so little information, but I suppose they learned on the job, quite literally. A baptism of fire, if you like. Did it make them better at their jobs? It's hard to tell. Just as there is crap TV now and brilliant TV twenty-thirty years ago, the same is true in reverse. Same goes for film.

So do you NEED a university course to become a successful writer? Especially nowadays, when there is such a plethora of information ready at your fingertips?

Certainly I've heard producers and agents say stuff along the lines of, "Well s/he must be serious, they've gone to ________" when looking at CVs. You definitely get the practice - but if they teach you the "wrong" stuff, is it useless? And most of all - if three billion other people sign up, pay the money and do the same course as you, are you REALLY differentiating yourself enough anyway?

I learned a lot about myself when I was at university and I learned a lot about script reading thanks to several work placements I garnered as a student. I learned that scripts are not the same as plays and that 22 espressos and 27 cigarettes with no food in the space of fourteen hours is a very, very BAD idea.

But what I did I learn about the reality of writing?

Not enough.

I came out of university with the same mistaken belief as hundreds of other scriptwriting stuidents every year, possibly even thousands: now I can sell a script! And it will be made! And it will make money! And everything's great!

Five years after graduating, I'm still plugging away. I've had commissions so I've been paid to write, but on my tax return it reads SCRIPT READER, not writer (actually weirdly my accountant wrote "Reviewer and Critic" on my last one and I had to cross it out.) It feels good to be in a job I don't hate, where I can set my own hours, do my own thing and get a certain amount of my own writing done too. I also love the people for the most part and I get to be nosy (always a bonus!) since I know or hear about what a decent proportion of writers are up to, since it's funny how all the same names come up, even non-famous ones.

I've actually learned way more outside my university degree. That's not to say I regret doing it, I'm very glad I did. But a piece of paper does not equal success, any more than getting an agent does as we covered last week.

What do you think?
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For those wanting to see some opinions and a conversation thread on specific university courses, check out this post from the old blog.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Story Of My Blog... Told in Bizarre Keywords

All these are 100% GENUINE: what's scarier: the fact Searchers find these words on my blog or the fact that I've collected all of these SINCE ONLY LAST WEDNESDAY? [Nb. Actual keyword searches are in italics.] Enjoy...
----------------------------------------------------------
Mistress Vee

A dominatrix

Tell us like it is


Because

I'm f***ing Matt Damon

and

Mrs. McClusky

while taking

another bubble bath with my pants on.

I must

Kill Dave

Because I'm a

Triad Manchester Chinese

And if

Monster movies reflect current social fears

then

what a travel agent might say at work

suddenly becomes

super sexual dialogue

for

talking dirty scripts

and

werewolf sex

is always

chitty chi

whereas

naked firemen

are

notes on the nose

and not to mention

apostrophe d'oh.
--------------------------------------------
I'm thinking of entering this post into The Bridport Prize. Think I can win? ; )

Yves Lavandier, "Writing Drama": DISCOUNT

If you have read both parts of my Q & A with Yves Lavandier and want to buy his book, then here's an offer for you!

The lovely people at Clown Enfant, Yves' Publisher, have agreed to the following for Bang2writers:

- 25 % off + free shipping and handling to EEC members
- 15 % off + free shipping and handling to the rest of the world

Offer available for two months, as of today's date.

Interested parties: please email Colette on contact@clown-enfant.com stating "Bang2write" and ask for a discount code to enter on the online shop.

Thanks Clown Enfant!

Q&A, pt2: Yves Lavandier on Script Reading, Gurus & Philosophy

In the book you reference Claude Berri who asks “How many producers know how to read?” What is the “proper” way to read a script in your view and why do you suppose so many scripts are not read this way by producers?

Imagine that to create a symphony, you need an awful lot of money. Imagine that composers send their music sheets to decision-makers in order to raise funding. Can you imagine that the “readers” don’t know how to decipher a score? That they don’t know how to read music notes? That they don’t hear music when they read a score? It would be unbelievable. Well, that’s basically what happens in cinema, especially in continental Europe. “Script readers” think they can read a script because they can read their mother tongue. When you read a script you should not only be able to decipher the signs you should also be able to perceive what’s behind the words. I’m not only talking about sights and sounds. I’m also talking about the feelings created (or not) by the characterisation and the structure. It’s a trade that should not be left to friends and cousins. The “proper” way to read a script is first to learn how to do it. And one of the necessary ways to learn is to know writing from the inside. You don’t need to be a great writer but at least know what it is. See the best sport coaches. They all have been players themselves. That said, I devoted a whole chapter to the issue of reading drama. I think it can be of some help to the decision-makers. It’s like all human activities: it can be taught and there are a few rules to consider.

What is your opinion of so-called “Gurus” like Robert McKee and Syd Field? Why do you suppose their works are so often celebrated AND despised?

That’s a tricky question. I would not want to appear to place myself above the scrimmage. I’d rather talk about the authors who inspired me. Such as Edward Mabley (with “Dramatic construction”), George Bernard Shaw (with his prefaces), Walter Kerr (with “Tragedy and comedy” and “The silent clowns”) and Bruno Bettelheim (with “The Uses of Enchantment”).

If I insist.

If you insist, Syd Field is much too simplistic and dogmatic to my taste. As I explain in my book, I don’t understand his definition of the three acts. I’ve never been to one of Robert McKee’s lecture. It’s too expensive and I’m not big on shows. But I’ve read his book “Story”. There are excellent insights in it. I may not agree with everything, I may find that it’s not rigorous enough here and there (on dramatic irony, for instance) but basically, McKee is a great believer in story well told. We are fellow theorists. I just wish Field, Seger and McKee were also fellow scriptwriters. If they had written a lot of screenplays themselves, it would show in their books.

Do you know who make the most money during gold rush eras? The people who sell pickaxes. If Syd Field had digged a bit, he would know that a 30-minute long third act does not work. Field’s theory on the three acts works so poorly that people felt obliged to invent a fourth act called the “epilogue”.

I’m not afraid of rules. But I love rules as much as I love exceptions. I think rules should be supple enough. The exceptions are there to enrich the rules.

Screenwriting gurus are celebrated because people crave for rules, even sometimes recipes. They are despised because they are too influential. Syd Field’s theory on the three acts is too clumsily obvious in too many American movies since 1979. It’s a bore. I think people should read scriptwriting treatises, including mine, with some distance. Take what rings a bell, leave the rest. And read more than one. And write, write, write. And have your work read by all kind of people. And read again scriptwriting treatises. And write, write, write.

You make many references to philosophical works like Antigone in the book. How useful is a philosophical education to writing a script in your view?

When I quote “Antigone” I refer to Sophocles’ play, not to the myth. The play itself has a philosophical flavor because it deals with important issues such as personal and divine law versus state law.

Maybe a philosophical education is not necessary to write a script. But I think a philosophical view is necessary to write a treatise like mine. I do not think it is enough simply to say that "such and such a phenomenon occurs in drama, therefore I consider it to be a rule." I prefer to say that "such and such a phenomenon occurs in drama, I wonder why, and if I find that there is a sound and logical reason for this, I consider it to be a rule." The stronger the justification, the more likely the mechanism is to be valid and useful. That is why I often question the principles and regularly refer to philosophical texts such as Howard Bloom’s “The Lucifer Principle”, Paul Watzlawick’s “How Real is Real” or Bruno Bettelheim’s “The Uses of Enchantment”.

Simplicity is often an issue for early drafts and for newer writers in particular, it seems simplicity of story is hard to achieve. Why do you think we pile so much into our drafts without realising we have “enough”?

I’d say it’s a lack of confidence. It’s very tough to be simple. It’s very tough to take only one cow and milk it to the maximum. Not only it demands creativity but also it has to do with facing your own self. When you’re facing a key scene of your work, a scene in which you bare your soul, it’s very tempting to beat the bush around and not get down to the task in hand. It’s even more tempting to go beating aroung other bushes, that is to create other characters, other subplots, other cows.

“Story is king”: how much do you agree or disagree with this statement and why?

Story is king to me and to many people in the world but not to everyone. Although I believe all human beings need narratives. Even Jean-Luc Godard admitted that he needs structured stories. "I like plots. I'm like anyone else, I need them,“ he said. The lives of even anti-narrative writers are aristotelian. Now I respect other people’s tastes. If a spectator tells me he enjoys Michael Snow’s or Patrick Bokanowski’s movies and I feel he’s authentic, it’s not a pose, I won’t argue. What bugs me is when a spectator does not understand that most of the pleasure and emotions he got from a narrative feature film comes from the script (particularly the structure and the characterisation) and not the camera techniques.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Q&A, pt 1: Yves Lavandier On Scriptwriting

Regular readers of this blog will remember this post where I reviewed the book "Writing Drama" by Yves Lavandier. As anyone who knows me knows, I usually have little time for scriptwriting books since their assertions and formulas largely do my nut, but I REALLY enjoyed Writing Drama because it takes away all the guff and explores the nature of what creates good DRAMA (not scripts!). Here's a Q&A I did with Yves last week. Enjoy!
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When does drama become melodrama in your view?

When it accumulates external obstacles and ill-fortune. I agree with George Bernard Shaw when he says that crime and disease are not interesting. What’s interesting is when obstacles are a matter of the protagonist’s personal responsibility. In real life, we all have to deal with obstacles. Every single day of our lives. Some are crime-related, some are diseases, but most lie in ourselves and not in our stars.

In your book you call dialogue an “over valued resource”: why do you suppose so many spec writers believe it is the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of a script?

I find it hard to believe that so many writers consider dialogue as the most important aspect of a script. Script readers and decision makers, yes, probably. But writers… People who know writing from the inside... You just need to write a couple of scripts by relying mainly on dialogue and you’ll soon discover it’s a failure. Even in the theater, it’s a huge mistake to think that plays tell a story through dialogue. Plays also, and primarily, rely on structure, characterisation and images. Let me remind that the word “theater” comes from the Greek word “theastai” which means “watch”. Anyhow, I can see two paramount reasons for cherishing dialogue. For one, dialogue is the most obvious part of drama. Humans tend to forget that the essantial is invisible to the eye and inaudible to the ear. Dialogue is the emerged part of the drama iceberg. For two, of all narrative tools, dialogue is the easiest one to produce. You just need to know how to talk.

If dialogue is over valued, then which element of a screenplay do you feel is undervalued? Why?

Structure. And when I say “structure”, I don’t only mean three acts, an inciting incident and a climax. I also mean more invisible but more effective tools. Mainly everything that deals with preparation. There is a tendancy to reduce preparation to planting and payoff. Preparation is much more than that. When you make your protagonist’s objective known to the audience, you do advertising. When you create cause-effect relationships, you structure your work. Unity, preparation and dramatic irony are great tools to structure a script. I love the following example from “Romeo and Juliet”.

In Act V, scene 3, Romeo commits suicide. This scene, taken independently of its context, conveys a certain volume of information, mainly that Romeo is killing himself next to Juliet's corpse in order to join her in death. If we now take the context into account, ie. if we give due consideration to what we have learned in Act IV, scene 3, where Juliet drinks a sleeping potion that will enable her to pretend to be dead, two additional pieces of information become apparent: the body beside Romeo is not a corpse, and his suicide is a tragic mistake. Obviously these major pieces of information are not conveyed by dialogue. They are not contained in V/3, and even less so in IV/3, but reside in the fact that one scene comes after the other. This is an example of important meaning created by structure. Try telling the same thing with dialogue.

There’s much snobbery when it comes to liking films and certain genres. In your book you reference all kinds of movies, from such classics as Some Like It Hot through to Die Hard 2. Some might say the latter there is automatically inferior to the former, being a sequel and being an action movie. What would you say to those people?

For a number of reasons, I enjoy “Some Like It Hot” much more than “Die Hard 2”. Still there is, in “Die Hard 2”, a great scene with probably one of the biggest physical obstacles ever. Everyone can learn from it, even those who’d rather write films like “Some Like It Hot”. Let’s take another example. When it comes to urgency, we all have images from action-packed Hollywood movies which start the clock more often than once. Well, the climax of a beautiful intimist Iranian film called “Where’s the Friend’s Home?” is a great urgency scene. Technically, the principles are exactly the same as in “Speed”, “Total Recall” or “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”.

In other words, don’t bother about the reputation of such and such work. Learn from its craftmanship and do what you feel with it. You can find gold nuggets in exploitative arts. And you can use Hollywoodish tools to make human stories. I often tell European intellectuals that sequels, cliffhangers, remakes, happy endings existed way before “Rocky”. They can be found in the Greek theater.

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Thanks Yves!

PART TWO: Yves Lavandier on Script Reading, Philosophy and "Gurus"

LINKS

My review of "Writing Drama"

Scott The Reader's Review.

Yves Lavandier on IMDB

Yves Lavandier on Wikipedia

Buy "Writing Drama" here.

Read sample chapters of the book here.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Super Shorts & Development Notes

Many thanks to the marvellous Caroline who prompted me to post this new contest for your scriptwriting delectation. Super Shorts has run a contest for MADE short films for about five years, but this year they're running a SCRIPTWRITING CONTEST for short film too! And at £15 per entry, it's substantially cheaper than its obvious rival The BSSC, so you can afford to enter both this year! As ever, let us know if you enter and how you get on...

SUPER SHORTS

NEW FOR 2008: We're excited to announce that this year sees the launch of two new competitions.

The 'Short Scriptwriting Competition' celebrates the art of writing a short script with a cash prize and is supported by some of London's top literary agents.

The 'Online Music Video Competition' is a chance for the online public to reward talent in the field of music videos.

And returning is our 'Short Film Competition' with a top prize of £1,000 cash.

Save money by applying before the Early Deadline of 8th March. The last deadline for scripts is 7th April and for short films and music videos it's 8th May.

For more information and to submit your short film, music video or short script please visit our website.
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With all these contests about, you might be thinking you need some Development Notes for that spec feature you've been neglecting... Please do! My brokeness thanks to the house move continues and I would be more than happy to read for you.

My Development Notes consist of 6-8 pages of notes plus a logline, breaking down any areas I identify as in need of development in further drafts, with references to other movies and articles to illustrate my points. Don't worry though - I'm NOT one of those vitriolic readers who will cold water on your ideas or tell you I AM THE QUEEN OF SCRIPTS. Everything's subjective and I will offer up SUGGESTIONS, not annoying assertions.

And people coming through the blog and quoting this article will get my special rate - £39.99 instead of the usual £45 (all I ask on this is that features are 100 pages or less: if yours is substantially more, let me know and I will work out a quote for you - will still be a great deal though!).

Need a recommendation first? Check these out.

Don't forget either Bang2write doesn't just read features - but shorts and all sorts too! Just email for a personal quote on this.

Looking forward to reading your work! ; )