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Monday, June 30, 2008

Because You Never Know When You Might Need Random Info

So I'm mega busy and most of you lot are off to the SWF (damn you), so now seems the perfect time to indulge my love of lists and links and random stuff.

I'm not a big fan of the whole "Write What You Know" thang: too much background info distracts from your story and it can be great to sacrifice facts for drama at times - but I'm always surprised by how crazy scripts can be - and it's usually the *small* details that can let the whole story down, like a slow puncture in a beach ball. The internet was INVENTED for writers (surely??), so there is no excuse!!!

But it's knowing where to find them. The old adage goes that the internet is like the biggest library in the world with all the books on the floor, uncatalogued. Well fear not! I read random things every day, it's actually fun for me, so I will do it for you. Don't thank me: your tears and weird twitching say more than words ever could. (Actually many of these are in my favourites already).

So I will be posting themed lists of links to sites and info about various things, events and subjects that may be useful in scripts or for inspiration. Starting today we have Politics and War (including How To Take Over The World! A personal, ahem, interest of mine), but in the coming posts I'm thinking that Language and Times, Serial Killers, Heroes and Villains, Classic Literature and Disasters would be good choices too. However if you have good links you want added or an idea for a topic for me to link up, then go ahead and email me on the usual address. the plan is to eventually have a RESEARCH OR DIE LIST under the fabled LIST OF WONDER so we can make this THE research blog on the 'net, so in other places we can enjoy our virtual coffee and throw virtual bagels at each other. Sounds like a plan. Enjoy!

Research Or Die # 1: Politics & War

How The UK Government Works

How The US Senate Works

How Elections Work In The UK

How Elections Work In The US

Intelligence Organisations In The UK [PDF]

British Police Acronyms, Rank & Phonetic Alphabet

How To Behave In Polite Society (Now, with an emphasis on Teens) and in Victorian Times

How To Take Over The World

The Northern Ireland "Troubles"

The War On Terror [PDF]

World War One: basic summary including dates and more in-depth research site

World War Two

Vietnam

The Falklands War (The UK vs. Argentina)

The American War For Independence

The Spanish War For Independence

The Cold War

The Gulf War (1)

The Iraq War (2)

The Crimean War

The Korean War

The Cuban Missile Crisis

The Miami Dade "Wet Foot, Dry Foot" Policy

Neo Nazism

The Spanish Inquisition
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Have other links, ideas for topics or see a link that is incorrect/no longer works? Let me know at the usual address.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Movie Mogul Screenwriting Comp - Round 2 Starts This Week!!

Many Bloggers and Shooters entered the Movie Mogul Fund Pitch Contest that ran recently - the idea is to create a user-generated and user-owned feature film, so it doesn't end there!

John Shackleton from Movie Mogul got in touch to remind us that the second round of this contest goes live this week on July 2nd:

The brief is formed from that winning 25 word pitch, as submitted and voted for by members of the website. Screenwriters are then invited to expand on the idea in the form of a two-page outline, with a view to winning a screenplay writing commission at the end of August. The film will go into production later this year with a great deal of press and industry support. More details here.

I saw on the website that "experienced" writers are asked to apply for The Writers' Brief, so asked John to expand on this:

Whilst the competition is open to anyone, applicants must have the skills and experience to be able to deliver a well structured screenplay to order. They needn't necessarily have had scripts produced, so long as they have previous experience
(shorts, spec scripts etc) then they are welcome to submit.


This looks a really fun opportunity, so if you go for it good luck and let us all know what happens next for you.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Feature Scripts Wanted

Thought these two might be of interest to some of you out in www.land... All you need to do is sign up for Inktip's FREE newsletter to access them too, there's no expenditure involved. Good luck!

MICRO BUDGET FEATURES SCRIPTS WANTED

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1) Tribe Digital Entertainment – Micro-Budget
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We are seeking feature-length screenplays that can be made on a micro-budget. Stories must mainly take place in one location. We are interested in dramas, comedies, suspense and/or political stories. No horror, no kids films, no animals, no period pieces. Smart writing, good characters, interesting premises are what we respond to. We particularly like compelling personal stories that play out against the backdrop of big social and political events.

Principles at Tribe Digital Entertainment have produced a range of projects; stage plays (recent production of "No Exit in Hollywood"), commercials (BMW, Coke), music videos (Rolling Stones), horror movies (SciFi Channel’s "Shapeshifter").

To submit to this lead, please go to:
http://www.inktippro.com/leads/

Enter your email address.

Copy/Paste this code:naf67ve371

SCRIPTS WANTED – DEALING WITH COGNITIVE SCIENCE/RESEARCH

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2) Lane Street Pictures - Cognitive Science
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We are looking for completed feature-length scripts with stories dealing with the world of cognitive science research. This is a really narrow field, so submissions may be in any genre provided they reflect an understanding of, and research in, the cognitive field (i.e. something in the vein of "Awakenings," a film based on a book by cognitive researcher Oliver Sach.

WGA and non-WGA writers may submit. Budget will be between $2 and $3 million. Our credits include "Half-Life."

TO SUBMIT:
1. Please go to www.InkTippro.com/leads
2. Enter your email address (you will be signing up for InkTip's newsletter - FREE!)
3. Copy/Paste this code: 45172mrvbm
4. You will be submitting a logline and synopsis only, and you will be contacted to submit the full script only if there is interest from the production company.

IMPORTANT: Please ONLY submit your work if it fits what the lead is looking for EXACTLY.

If you aren't sure if your submission fits, please ask InkTip first. Please mention you heard about this from Jeff Gund at INFOLIST.com and please email any questions to: jerrol"at"inktip"dot"com.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Writers Write: A Response To Adrian's Post

Still busy... But still got other people expelling wisdom on this blog's behalf! ("My people" will write this blog for me in fact, arf).

So here is an interesting response from the marvellous Dublin Dave to Adrian Mead's post yesterday in which he posed the analogy of hiring two architects:
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None of what Adrian's saying is incorrect. Every writer finds their own path, but let's be really clear about one thing: what matters is the work.

Since 1999, I've been making a living as a TV writer. That career began with a feature length script, my fifth. I didn't go to conferences, I didn't blog, I sat down and wrote - for years! That script got me an agent. Within two months I was on a show where I stayed for three and a half years and wrote just under thirty episodes. I got the agent by researching five or six agents, writing to them and then sending my script in. No gaming the market. No thank you notes. I finally wrote a script that worked.

Recently, I decided to take my career in a different direction by writing a novel. I have at least one major contact in the business, a NY and LA Times bestselling writer. Here's when I called on him for a favour - AFTER I'd written it and had three agents who wanted to represent it. He helped advise me who I should go with.

Again, I sat down and wrote the book (twice! - as I threw out an entire 80,000 word first draft). Then I emailed a handful of agents and asked if they wanted to read the opening chapters and a synopsis. They all said yes. Four requested the full book. Three wanted to rep it. THEN I called in my favour. But first of all I put in over a year of very, very hard graft; getting up many mornings at five o'clock to get in a good three hours before the school run.

Writers are brilliant at finding displacement activities. I've seen many writer friends of mine who go chasing this opportunity or going on that workshop. It drives me fucking BATSHIT! They could be using that time to develop their craft. They should be using that time to write. It's what economists call an opportunity cost.

Yes, there are writers out there who are master schmoozers and yes some of them build a career on the back of that. If you're a social animal it's a definite advantage. And it's also not necessarily an either/or strategy you have to adopt. But fundamentally, new writers break in because they WRITE something that really excites people. And, believe it or not, the market is in many ways easier for the new writer than it is for most established writers.

Dublin Dave
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Thanks DD!

Obviously there should be a healthy balance between developing your craft AND self promotion - I don't think anyone is mental enough to suggest either fella here is barking up the wrong tree.

However, we all have our strong points - and our sickly, starved weak points that are kept hidden in the cellar. Mine? I think my craft is pretty strong, but perhaps I spend too long justifying WHY I can't do various things, like that novel I'm SUPPOSED to be working on. Money still needs to be earned, the house and garden needs to be sorted, the kids need to be beaten (did I just type that "out loud"?? Whoops).

What about you, then?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Parker, Will You Listen To The Man?

As you know I've been mega busy this week AND the entire internet *just disappeared* for all of today (okay, maybe only on my computer... But it's mysteriously back now so I'm not going to complain). However our main man Adrian Mead has stepped into the breach to offer a few insights on the seemingly torturous process of "making it" as a writer. Ignore at your peril...
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Building a career is a frustrating process and it's easy to lose heart or blame other people for not being smart enough to recognise your genius. Sometimes looking at things from a different viewpoint can help.

For example, imagine you were planning to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on building a house as a future investment. Who would you hire? Anna Newbie, a brand new architect who has never had anything built, or Darwell Cain, a highly experienced professional with masses of successfully completed projects? Of course the answer is easy.

So what could possibly make you consider choosing Miss Newbie?

Well first you need to have heard about her. Perhaps she has won a recent design award; Newbie keeps creating very small but highly innovative designs and projects. She has just been mentioned as a hot new talent in the press.

But of course you want an experienced pair of hands. Darwell Cain is busy but has promised to get back to you very soon.

Then you meet Miss Newbie at an exhibition about building your own home. It's a very brief encounter but she seems pleasant and you swap cards.

Next day Miss Newbie sends an email stating how she was pleased to meet you.

When you look Miss Newbie up she is easy to find via her simple, clean and highly professional website/blog. It creates the impression of a positive and proactive person, especially the awards and shortlistings. All very interesting and you love her ideas. However, you are meeting the great Darwell Cain tomorrow.

Now you find that Cain is extremely busy and not available for months. So what to do? You start looking round for other safe, experienced types.

Then Miss Newbie gets in touch with you. You are impressed to learn she has heard through a variety of contacts that you are considering building a house. Could she take you for coffee and chat to you about it?

When you meet she is positive, friendly and keen to listen to your thoughts. She tells you a little about her career so far; her highly experienced mentors, the small, but fascinating project commission she has recently gained. It's clear to you that Miss Newbie is passionate and proactive.

Next day you get a handwritten card from Miss Newbie thanking you for taking the time to meet.

You take a further look at Newbie's work. It's clear that all her projects show potential to work on a much bigger scale.

Within days Miss Newbie sends you a short document outlining the concept you discussed. It's exciting, original and clearly shows she was listening to your thoughts. Suddenly Miss Newbie seems like she might just be the perfect choice.
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Thanks Adrian!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I've Got 99 Problems But A Script Ain't One

Hi Everyone, been a while since my last confess... I mean post. Alright, long for me. Got a fair few things at the moment, accounting for the exploding brain. I think the picture is an excellent likeness of yours truly, the artist in question has made a particularly good job of my luscious beard. Anyway, cheers for all the emails - I dunno, you don't blog for four days and people worry you're dead! Or giving up writing. Or boiling your children in a pot to make into meat paste. (None of the above are true, honest).

So, where was I? Yes the Beeb finally got back to me, they DID have my script after all. But I didn't get into the Sharps workshops, but yes I was still pleased with my effort... Okay it didn't get through but lots of people like my script, some of them even vaguely important, so you never know: it's an addition to my portfolio in the very least and I would never have got round to it had the Sharps deadline not loomed. So ta for that Aunty. Bad luck if you didn't get through, but if you did - let us know! I haven't heard a sausage and frankly my appetite for info must be sated forthwith.

And NO I know naaaaaaarthing, Manuel-style, about the BBC Writers' Academy - it's serious tumbleweed territory on that front and I think the only way we will find out is via the use of power drills on the delicious Academy 2007 graduate and fellow blogger Paul Campbell. Or we could just wait for our emails. July 14th is the latest apparently, so I may just stick with that, blood takes ages to get out. Obviously if you know something, feel free to divulge, we promise not to kill you.

What are you up to?

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Secret of Success... And if all else fails, watch Daffy Duck

Feast your eyes upon the wisdom of Geoff Thompson, a writer, teacher, martial artist and former nightclub bouncer. He has written this fab article that tells us the secret of success. Inspirational stuff. Thanks to another successful writer and former nightclub bouncer Adrian Mead for the link (are you seeing a pattern here? Maybe we should all become bouncers?? Something tells me a lot of shady characters would muscle their way into my club however).

Or you could decide that another opportunity is just what you need to get on with your plans of world domination. Here are some to throw scripts at:

The Peter Ustinov Television Writing Award. Write a 30 minute TV script for the chance to go to the Emmys, deadline July 15th.(Under 30s only)

The EIFF Fast Track. Apply to go to the EIFF, all expenses paid. Get a move on though - closes June 23rd. (Under 30s only again)

Radio Ha Ha Comedy writing opportunity for E4's new purple radio station - and even old crinklies like David Bishop can enter! (couldn't resist, he's been moaning to me about the plethora of Under 30s schemes! Soz, I'm immature and under 30, what can I say??)

Cheers to Robin Kelly, the aforementioned DB and The Scribefather Adrian Mead for the above links. If you have any more, let me know and I'll add 'em to the list.

Last but by no means least, Daffy Duck brings joy even to the blackest of hearts, surely. So if you're feeling down in the dumps about your *impending Sharps rejection* (and is it really impending??? As good a chance as any, repeat after me!!!), then watch this, my all-time fave Loony Tune masterpiece, Duck Amuck:



That's better. Now get on with it...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sharps Schenanigans, Part 2

Like many people out in www.land, I had a few issues with my script for the Sharps initiative. Thirty minutes' worth of quality, stand alone spec drama is harder to produce than one might initially think. Finding a story that "fits" is difficult: too small and you end up with an extended short (which *feels* somehow desperate); too big and you end up with a compressed feature which feels thwarted and cut off in its prime. Both are ultimately dissatisfying to read.

So I was quite pleased with my final effort, LINE UP. Ultimately a comedy drama, the first draft was a little top heavy structurally and contained several preachy scenes that needed to be excised with a sledgehammer. The second draft was met with a lukewarm response from one reader due to a "suspension of disbelief" problem and a couple of others who felt my gay character was a stereotype (though interestingly, an openly gay friend offering feedback felt the same character was "spot on"! Very confusing). The third draft however tied up several of these issues and was met with generally an enthusiastic response. Which was nice.

So I sent LINE UP off to Sharps on June 7th, sure I had as good as chance as any: after all, I had done my prep, had plenty of feedback (my original Po3 turned into about a Po12, with the feedback god that is David Bishop going waaaaaay beyond the call of duty, thanks mate) AND I had got the script in, in plenty of time BEFORE the deadline.

Except I haven't had a confirmation email.

Of course, this could mean two things other than my script never arriving at The Beeb: it may have been logged and my email sent, only AOL did not deliver it to me (wouldn't be the first time - and Chip, also an AOLer, very kindly points out he had the same problem on David's blog). It may also be that, because my script was early to arrive, it ended up on the bottom of the pile somewhere in the dark depths of the Writers' Room. I emailed Aunty yesterday and someone helpfully confirmed that there are still many scripts to log, so there is still a good chance it's in a pile still waiting. We'll have to wait and see, nothing else to do now at this late stage.

Of course, any disappointment on (possibly) missing out on this opportunity is based on the assumption I really DID have "as good a chance as any", lol. Maybe Line Up got to the Writers' Room and it's already been opened and discarded like the dog it *really* is... ; )

If you have any Sharps reflections you'd like to share, feel free...

UPDATE: Robin offers some really interesting thoughts about his rewriting process for Sharps here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Positive Conflict

SPOILERS: Witness, Sideways, Speed, The Ice Storm, Die Hard, Alien, Se7en.

There are a lot of scripts out there, but then we know that. I don't see every single script that does the rounds of course, but I do see an awful lot of them each year - and it's always surprising how many times one script reader might mention a title of a script they liked or remember and another chimes in, "I've read that!" Then of course we recommend or refer clients to one another, so it's not really surprising we often get to see the same work, albeit sometimes in different drafts.

What a non script reader might not realise is how many of those scripts have downbeat endings or are just downbeat in general. Now, I've nothing against the depressing and downbeat; I've written scripts like that myself. And sometimes the type of story you are writing lends itself to it. It's difficult to write, say, a cautionary tale if it "all comes good in the end" for example (though as with everything, not impossible).

Yet so often a script not only could go either way, it would actually be a more satisifying end to events had the ending been positive rather than negative. I'm not saying that each script should have the kind of "happy ever after" we allot to childhood fairy tales either (though occasionally that would be nice, particularly in many of the Rom Coms I read where everyone breaks up and sometimes even dies).

What I would like to see more often is what I call "positive conflict" that leads to a "more positive" rather than "entirely negative" ending. Is conflict an entirely negative act? I don't think so, from these varying definitions I've just rounded up on the 'net:

When the desires of two or more characters are opposed to each other.

Disagreement or opposition; as of interests or ideas of characters in a play or story, when these disagreements reach their maximum tension.

The struggle within the plot between opposing forces. The protagonist engages in the conflict with the antagonist, which may take the form of a character, society, nature, or an aspect of the protagonist's personality.

The struggle between opposing forces--eg, CHARACTERS, nations or ideas--that provides the central ACTION and interest in any literary PLOT. The struggle between the Capulet and Montague families in Romeo and Juliet is a classic example of conflict.

Of course, Romeo and Juliet may well be one of the major culprits for the downbeat ending: both teen lovers die and their families are devastated. Similarly, King Lear ends up in a similar state, losing his precious Cordelia, his kingdom and his sanity, not to mention a whole host of other protagonists in Shakespeare's back catalogue of tragedies. But that was then; this is now. Do we actually want to watch tragedy? On the stage, maybe - and certainly at The Globe. But in film or TV? I'm unconvinced.

Just because bad things happen in film or TV does not mean your protagonist needs to be downbeat - and the ending needn't depress us, even if there is no "way back" to where their lives once were. Characters can change because of bad experiences - and unlike real life where they would need counselling forever for many action adventures, thrillers and horrors, they can have a new appreciation for life instead, like Sandra Bullock's character in Speed. Just because a character must go through obstacle after obstacle does not mean their spirit will be crushed.

Consider John Book in one of my favourite thrillers Witness; he's a character and a half and some serious shit is thrown at him. His entire way of life is turned upside down, he must fight for the greater good and protect the innocent, particularly the child; he must live as a fish out of water in the Amish community, he's betrayed by his trusted colleagues, he's even shot by one and almost dies. Yet despite all this he keeps going - not in a passive way, not in an even "I suppose I better, I can't let the bastards win" way, but with good humour and resolve. In short, he is a true hero I think.

Obstacles need to be "bad" because a protagonist needs to overcome them - but the reason I put "bad" in brackets is because it depends on your genre and the type of story you're telling on how bad, "bad" gets. If it's a Rom Com, chances are your hero isn't going to literally die if they get jilted at the altar; for the thriller or horror characters however their fictional lives are on the line a lot of the time. However, just because life sucks or lives are at stake does not mean your character needs to be depressed about it. Sideways ends with Mile's hope for the future with Maya, even though he managed to thoroughly alienate her with his saracasm and insecurity. Mikey might die tragically in The Ice Storm, but his death is what finally brings the feuding families together. Consider John McLane's quips in the face of his own mortality in the Die Hard franchise. Ripley wasn't going to die, thank you very much; she was going to figure out how to survive - and take as many as she can with her, even if that only amounts to the ship's cat.

Positive conflict brings out an active protagonist - and their own actions bring them hope and keep the audience interested. A passive protagonist, depressed about their predicament and the plot then going on to end badly is a little like listening to the irritating friend everyone seems to have at some point: they *know* they should do something about their dead end job, life or partner, but they would just rather moan to you about it. There's only so much you can take before you snap tell them to do something.

So next time you're tempted by a downbeat ending, think: does your story need it? some do, but a downbeat ending *can* be indicative of a general downbeat script and/or protagonist. Is that the most dramatic thing you can do with this story? Can you increase your positive conflict? Can you present that story another way, are you just feeling downbeat and want to reflect how you're feeling about life? I don't think it's any accident that downbeat endings seemed to have increased with a perception via tabloids that life is more scary or difficult now, especially when it comes to this UK credit crunch. But films and TV are about escapism as well, they're only a representation of reality, not reality itself.

Having said all that though, sometimes a downbeat ending has a major impact and employed for that very reason as it goes against that *expected* ending - usually "good will overcome", though not always. The killer one for me has to be Se7en: Detective David Mills discovers his dead wife's head in the box and ruins his career and life by killing John Doe for it, just as the psycho wants. All is lost! I recall watching that as a teen and just being amazed Mills goes through with it, I was sure right until the very last second he would put the gun down and say "You're not worth it."

What about you?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Film Industry Bloggers - new site

Richard has been in touch with info about a site that may be of interest to you - Film Industry Bloggers:

"The site draws together professionals working throughout the film and television Industry to blog weekly about their experiences in making film, television, commercials and music videos.

Launching with over 20 Film Blogs, including top Hollywood Storyboard Artist Warren Drummond ('The Bourne Identity', 'Evan Almighty' and John Singleton's new movie 'The A-Team'), Production Assistant Brandie Posey ('Deal or No Deal', 'House M.D' and ’Jerry Springer’.) and Brian Trenchard-Smith (credited by Quentin Tarrantino as his 'favorite obscure director' and responsible for over 40 movies and 200 television episodes), the site plans to host over 90 movie maker professionals by September 2008 - covering all aspects of the motion picture industry."

Had a look myself - some interesting insights on there not only from directors and writers but other people working in such roles as documentary producer and production designer, there's even the POV of an "industry spouse"! This link will take you there.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

How To Banish Vashta Nerada (And Other Dr. Who Related Monsters)

Well, what do you know: turns out Vashta Nerada is gathering in huge quantities in Bournemouth, specifically, MY house! Thanks Steven Moffatt - just as the baby was beginning to sleep through the night, my nine year old is freaking out at every shadow. *Sigh*.

However, over the weekend I discovered that I can banish these little beasts, without the aid of a sonic screwdriver (with or without the red setting or dampers), or even a chicken leg. None of my children were eaten alive either (one in the eye for you, Dr. Who!).

1. Take one empty spray bottle.

2. Fill with two parts vinegar, one part washing up liquid (Vashta Nerada HATE acids - thanks ET, not alkalis).

3. Wearing rubber gloves and a snorkelling mask (where DID that come from?) enter child's room humming the Mission Impossible theme tune and spray all the shadows, paying particular attention to the corners,

4. Child is now safe.

5. Repeat on nightly basis.

PLEASE NOTE: This only protects children from Dr. Who-related monsters. Creatures from Marvel Comics and horror movies have their own sprays and theme tunes.

This public information was brought to you by Bang2write.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Musical Meme Madness

That monkey with a typewriter Sheikspear memed me yesterday and as everyone knows, not only can I not resist a meme, Friday is music day on this blog (when I can be bothered! Arf) so everyone's a winner.

The deal is this:

"List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to."

Only seven??? Okay, in no particular order, with some links for your delectation so you can hear how great these chooooons are too (WARNING - note the high 80s and general madness content, Bang2write is not liable for any personal injury as a result of clicking on said links!):

I Ran (So Far Away) By Flock of Seagulls. Okay, this bunch of ex-hairdressers should have known better than have their dos *like that* - yikes! - but this song is wick. Play it loud for full appreciation.

I'm Afraid of Americans by David Bowie featuring Nine Inch Nails. Needs no intro: Mr. Bowie I love you more each day, even in your dodgy Black Tie, White Noise days of the 90s.

Something Good by The Utah Saints. I can't help it, it's a compulsion, possibly an illness: it reminds me of school discos, alright? Prefer the original to the 2008 version. Though it also reminds me of my first snog, a dodgy young chap with wandering hands called Carl who would dance to Whigfield in a very strange manner. For shame.

Mr Roboto by Styx. I'm not even gonna bother defending myself. I like it. Deal with it. Move along now.

Everybody (Backstreet's Back) By Backstreet Boys. Oh my God they're back again... I defy you not to like this song, how can you not if you still have a soul??? This came out when I was a moody Goth teen, yet I STILL liked it. I'd forgotten about it until the other day when it was on the radio and it's now Lil's OFFICIAL fave song, we had to download it for her. Something tells me I may tire of it soon, but for now: yeah!

In Praise of Baachus by Type O Negative. I read a description of this band that said they had "the epic feel of Pink Floyd, the darkness of Black Sabbath and the musicality of The Beatles." Dunno if that's true meself but as one of my fave bands, this is one of my all-time faves from them so I play it all the time. When I was about fourteen, I had a crush on the singer of this band and wrote a love letter to the record company. I got a signed photo WITH A KISS ON IT, securing my undying devotion. If my husband ever screws up royally, he's out on his ear because I *know* this chap would have me in a second, I have it practically in writing!

It by Prince. The perfect screenwriting song: "I think about it all the time... Alright! Feels so good it must be a crime... Alright!" It IS about screenwriting, isn't it? What???

So, the magnificent 7 I tag are as follows: Fun Joel, Maryan, One Slack Martian, Robin Kelly, The Potdoll, David Bishop and Evil Twinz (even though you don't have a blog!).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Story Evolution

So a rejection yesterday left me with much wailing and gnashing of teeth - largely because I knew full well WHY my supposedly fantastic script had been binned. Don't you just hate it when that happens? (Though I suppose it's *marginally* better than NOT knowing why and thinking it's your best work ever, with knobs on).

It's the beginning. Not the script as a whole. I've had feedback coming out of my ears the last year or so on it; I know the story is generally soiund (though I'm willing to concede a good tweak of one particular story point later on may not go amiss). There is something about how the script begins that people don't like. It doesn't state its intent well enough. It's something I've struggled with since the beginning of this story - and I've tried many different incarnations, like the twisted woman trying lots of different outfits on so she looks fabulous at the wedding of her ex-boyfriend (anyone ever done that??).

But anyway. For my most recent beginning, my army of feedback people have told me all sorts - one guy "loved" the beginning (?); another told me "it reeked of exposition" (PLUCK OUT HIS EYES!). Another said it was a bit of a cliche (hmmm, fair); another reminded me of my school days: "Alright, but COULD DO BETTER." What's weird about this is I don't normally have an issue with beginnings of scripts. No doubt I sound vain when I say this, but I normally write pretty good beginnings - it's the middle my scripts usually sag a bit, just like three zillion other writers. Probably because I concentrate so much on hooking the reader in on Act One: guilty as charged, yer honour.

So imagine my surprise then when one of my reading peeps had a suggestion yesterday for my beginning. One that was SO BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS that I was stunned by both its simple brilliance and the fact that I BLATANTLY should have started the script that way in the first place! I mean, WTF?? I even bawled him out for not suggesting it sooner! (Sorry: what can I say?? I have Italian roots, rage is like a second language to me, You are a prince amongst men. MWAH).

But that's the thing. A good spec needs TIME. You might have all the ingredients for a good story, you might stir it all up and give it a decent seasoning of script coverage, but it needs to EVOLVE. There's shockers of scripts out there that shouldn't be doing the rounds - they're like the fish monsters that have barely crawled out the mud yet, we all know about those. But I'm actually seeing those less and less. I would hazrad your average spec is the monkey - some understanding of the craft, but not ready yet. Most of the time it's obvious: there will be a consistent, distracting format error; a structural issue; character problems; expositional dialogue. Sometimes all of these, but something sets it apart from the fish.

But even those scripts out there which are no longer walking on four legs does not mean they are the best they can be. sometimes I'll read a good script and think, "It's good, but it could be fabulous" and I won't necessarily know what the ingredient is it needs. Then it becomes trial and error. I reported on a script recently that I LOVED, it was exciting, brilliantly written - but there was an issue with a specific element that I could not put my finger on. I ended up reading five different drafts in the end.

But that's just it: stories evolve. It doesn't just take lots of effort to write a really decent spec script, it takes time - more importantly, reflection. Is what I am doing REALLY the best for my story? What if I did it another way? Does that add to my story - or take away from it?

Until you try it, your guess is as good as mine.

Getting "Results"... And Being Realistic

So a guy on the Shooting People Screenwriters' Bulletin wonders why he should use a "gimmicky" promotion service like My Visual Pitch and asks if such services should "put their money where their mouth is" and only extract payment on delivery - ie. they should only get paid if the pitch elicits some sort of response, like a meeting with a producer or at least an email response.

I have never met this guy, have never spoken to him - but since he posted these opinions on a public forum I figure his comments are fair game for a post of my own. I should stress at this juncture too that this post is not personal - hence my decision not to post his name here; instead I thought I would use this opportunity to address a scenario that I hear about again and again from (usually new) screenwriters.

Most screenwriters' efforts will come to nothing. I hate to say that, I'm a great believer in the ethos of "build it and they will come" Field of Dreams style, but let's face it: you CAN put the work in and get sod all in return. That's a fact. What's more, people far less talented than you can trample all over you and get the cream of the crop - and worse, you will see them do this. Argh.

But this is the very worst case scenario: for a lot of us, we can enjoy some modicum of "success", if only within our own heads. How? By doing all we can to promote ourselves. Leave no stone unturned and if it still comes to nothing, well: at least you tried.

I don't earn much money as a screenwriter. But I do earn money and I have done jobs that turned out to be fun. My favourite still has to be one of my first, working for the Lego company. Other times I've written treatments or pitches, website copy or articles for magazines. I've been commissioned on a feature (unmade, but I was still paid) and a couple of paid commissions for shorts. I've done virals and I've done text message alerts. I don't have any options on my specs and I've never won a script contest, but I get plenty of reads and plenty of meetings. I always have an interesting collaboration or two on the go with someone I respect. In short, I am a typical jobbing writer, the writing equivalent of that bloke your Gran might get to do odd jobs around the house. I hope one day to be more than that and hopefully work in TV, but if I don't get there, I can still say I did what I wanted to do, rather than have to work in a office on a job I didn't want to do. Not bad - in my eyes, anyway.

Yet time and time again I hear screenwriters say selling their spec is the be all and end all; that is the "result" for them, how they measure their success. My take, if you think this?

You are destined for disappointment.

I don't want to be a killjoy; everyone knows on here I applaud the philosophy of being "in it to win it", but sometimes you have to move sideways to get to where you want to be. Sometimes you end up staying there. This is just the way it is.

The only way to get ahead is to promote yourself. There are many ways to do this. Promotion companies are just one of them, but if you pay your money and they do the work they promise you, where is the problem there? Just imagine if all payment in the film industry was on the basis of "results": I would think that 99.9% of us would be destitute (instead of about 80%, lol). And how would these "results" be judged, anyway? There are so many factors to consider. A meeting with a producer or a read of a script guarantees nothing. Similarly, as far as the internet goes, testimonials seem to hold no weight with jaded people who say that testimonials are not detailed enough or that they have no idea who those people are.

You can get ahead - and that's by applying for every job, going for every opportunity, considering avenues that may not have occurred to you before. It's by making contacts, networking, creating your own circle of people all around you who will keep you "in the loop". It's not by being the lone writer who will get through no matter what - there's already thirteen billion of them. Discount nothing. Some things will work; most will not.

Screenwriting is the triumph of hope over experience I reckon; you keep going because you have to - otherwise what's the point?

Monday, June 09, 2008

3 Things: Moviescope, Short Stories and Flash Games Wanted!

The lovely Liz at Moviescope Magazine reminds us that their latest issue is out now! Devoted to the latest Indiana Jones movie, there's an interview with screenwriter David Koepp. I've yet to see the movie, but I will be particularly interested since I'm normally a big fan of Koepp, yet I'm reading conflicting reports of the movie's narrative success (see Scott the Reader's "B - recommendation" here and Billy Mernit's "What were they thinking??" disappointment here). In addition there is a look at Dramatic Decisions, the essence of theme and a case study on Frank Marshall's collaborations with Spielberg. Thanks Liz!
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STRANGE, WEIRD & WONDERFUL MAGAZINE, Short Fiction E-Quarterly

Thanks to SWW Magazine for contacting me with details of this opportunity... This could be good for those of you with short genre stories "hanging around" on your desktop... $25 might be a token fee, especially for those in the UK with the exchange rate the way it is, but it's better than a slap in the face with a wet herring and if you've written the story anyway, it's nice to see your name up online - something for the CV perhaps? Let me know if you submit and get accepted!

SUMMER 2008 ISSUE SUBMISSIONS ARE BEING TAKEN NOW FOR OUR JULY 1ST PUBLICATION.

Submission Guidelines

Submit to: swandwsubmission@aol.com with the name of your story in the subject heading.

Horror, Fantasy, & Sci Fi, and all things Paranormal. My personal editorial tastes tend to lean towards less hack and slash and more building of tension through good plotting and character development. I don’t want to see what’s been done a hundred times already. Be original at all cost. Everything, living or inanimate, has a story to tell, and if you tell your tale well, a reader will believe anything. A good story, no matter how “out there,” should always ring true.

Each submission must be 2500 to 15,000 words and must be submitted within the open submission period, via email, as a Word attachment. Any stories submitted after the open submission period will not be read. No exceptions will be made for word count or submission deadline.

No multiple or simultaneous submissions.

All contracts for accepted material must be signed and returned before publication date.

Not got anything ready for June 16th? Please note further submission deadlines:

Fall ’08 Submit Aug 16th – Sep 16th for October 1st Publication

Winter ’09 Submit Nov 16th – Dec 16th for January 1st Publication

Spring ’09 Submit Feb 16th – Mar 16th for April 1st Publication

Summer ’09 Submit May 16th - Jun 16th for July 1st Publication

Writers can submit artwork to accompany their short stories. All other artwork should be queried before being submitted please.

Strange, Weird, and Wonderful Magazine pays a flat rate of $25 per story for 1st electronic publication rights which will include, pdf. and web posting of any kind. Strange, Weird, and Wonderful Magazine also reserves the right to use purchased material in a print collection, with a generous portion of any proceeds being shared with the writer. Electronic publication rights shall be returned to the writer 1 year after publication date.
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DOOF.COM

I know a lot you out there in www.land are into gaming and even making your own games... Devang of Doof.com has emailed to tell us about his new venture:

Doof is all about playing online games, making friends and having fun. Fusing together casual gaming and social networking, Doof provides a true Web 2.0 Social Gaming Experience. We're a small team based in London. Click here for a brief but more in depth overview of what we do.

Flash game developers can also submit their work to us from our developers page.

Play games online
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As everyone knows here, I know NOTHING about games or making them - so if you go for this opportunity and get your game up on Doof, let us know all about it 'cos I'd love to hear more.

Q & A: My Visual Pitch - Promoting Your Work

Your spec has had as much coverage as it can take: it's polished, perfect - and ready for sending out there. One problem - you have no agent or manager, you have few contacts, you can't get yourself to Cannes or Cheltenham because you've got to work the dreaded day job. So what do you do? Well, My Visual Pitch may just be for you! I talked to big boss Pamela at MVP about the company's origins and what it does - and if you fancy another special Bang2write discount, don't forget to check out the bottom of this post! Enjoy...
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Can MVP promise me a million quid sale for my spec, a bling lifestyle, a trophy spouse, a stint in rehab and a comeback movie a decade later?

Are we talking British pounds sterling or US Dollars?? Okay, obviously, My Visual Pitch can't promise any such thing (though if you want to bypass the cash, bling and honies and just head right into rehab, we can refer you to the A-list hot spots at no extra charge). But we can promise you maximum exposure for your work.

Here's why: first, the very nature of a Visual Pitch means that you can increase your chances of getting noticed. That's because, according to a recent study cited by online marketing guru Mitch Myerson, a person's response to what you're selling is 55 percent visual, 38 percent vocal and seven percent verbal. Did you get that? 55 per cent visual. That's huge. And if you think about it, using a Visual Pitch to sell to a visual medium just makes sense. Second, because we are a subscription-based site, we attract only serious, relevant content, which makes every project on MVP visible and accessible to industry pros who are constantly on the lookout for the Next Big Thing.

Now, compare that to social networking sites, like YouTube or MySpace, where over 100million people have content available, over 14 million of whom register as artists. That means that, if you're relying on these sites to get discovered, you've got a 1 in 100 million chance of being seen. And I don't know where you live, but with odds such as these, I can guarantee you've got a better chance of winning the lottery in your country than being discovered on MySpace.

In my experience, artists who are serious about their careers tend to put their money where their mouths are, which means that subscription-based sites such as My Visual Pitch provide a natural barrier to entry that makes it a true marketplace for serious, career-minded buyers and project-hungry sellers looking to do business.

There are other websites online where scribes' work can be showcased including yours. Why should they choose MVP?

The visual aspect of using a Visual Pitch, as mentioned above, is one of the most compelling part of the My Visual Pitch.com story, but it's not the only one. In fact, uploading a Visual Pitch (or logline — we do take both), is just the beginning of the MVP experience. That's because we actively market our writers to our list of over 750 qualified industry professionals through our weekly newsletter, "In the Spotlight," showcasing scripts that we feel should be front and center on an industry pro's busy agenda.

I think this combination of using an engaging, memorable and compelling approach to bringing a screenplay alive to drop that Hollywood professional right into the center of the action and then promoting artists directly to the industry is absolute dynamite - and we've got the success stories to prove it. In fact, three of our artists are now in production on their films. Others have written in to say that they've landed an agent, and still others that they have received read requests from major studios and prodcos.

What's more, the best is yet to come. We are in the planning stages for the next iteration of MVP, which will give site visitors and artists even more control over the material on the site and which will further distinguish MVP as the go-to marketplace for buyers and sellers in the biz. I can't say much more because we'll be offering some first-to-market features, but invite me back in six months, and I'll give you the full scoop! Suffice to say that right now, artists who want to be at the cutting edge of the online pitching revolution would do well to get on board now.

There are some writers who feel jaded or daunted by the amount of screenwriting services online and some have even gone so far as to claim that such services are a waste of money or even a scam. What would you say to these people?

Two things: First, buyer beware. As with anything, you have to do your research. Don't just take a "scatter shot" approach to pitching, or jump on the online pitching band wagon just because everyone is doing it. Sure, it's probably the best use of your time and money (as compared to postal mailings, cold calling, or pitching in person), but not all services are created equal. I would argue that MVP works because our corporate team consists of people from both sides of aisle, including screenwriters and development executives, and we constantly solicit feedback from our artists and industry pros, so we know what works and what doesn't. But do your homework, and see what resonates with you and your project.

Second: if you're not pitching online, you're kinda missing a very big boat. Today more than every before, the tail is wagging the dog in this industry. What do I mean by that? 50 years ago, content was controlled here in the US by three networks (ABC, NBC, and CBS) and a handful of studios (I imagine the BBC channels were probably equivalent in reach and power). Then came cable, with first 50, then 1,000 channels, which radically shifted the way in which entertainment was consumed. Now, with the explosion of independently-produced television shows and movies, as well as user-generated content sites like YouTube, there's another revolution going on in which the artist and the consumer are determining what is being viewed, and how.

Content, which has always been king and which was once under the rule of a very few number of people, is now governed by writers, musicians, actors, and independent producers — and those they entertain. Online pitching has been around for about 10 years now, but Visual Pitching is the new kid on the Internet block, representing the convergence of social media, technology, and creativity.

What kind of stories (or elements of stories) do you think personally makes the best visual pitches?

We're creating a lot of Visual Pitches these days and have had to expand our internal talent pool to accommodate the demand for our services, so naturally we handle every genre imaginable. But I don't think you can categorically say that any one genre makes the best Visual Pitch (though some of our creatives prefer to work in certain genres). What makes a Visual Pitch work is that it evokes an emotional response. That's because, unlike loglines, Visual Pitches can use still and video imagery, animation, music, special effects, and voiceover to stir the imagination and take the viewer on a journey which, if the Visual Pitch is done correctly, ultimately results in a request to read the script.

I remember sitting in a meeting recently in which we played a Visual Pitch that caught the eye of an executive at Sony Pictures within 24 hours of it going up on our site. At one point in the pitch, which was for a thriller script, when we revealed the whole concept upon which the screenplay turns, one of the people in the room gasped out loud. It was perfect. Exactly what we wanted the pitch to do — and this was just for the screenplay!

Any Visual Pitch that can elicit that kind of response — whether it's for a comedy, or horror, or drama, or documentary — is the best Visual Pitch. The secret's in the sauce!

How did MVP begin?

How much time do we have? I have been a screenwriter for the past 10 years and have had great success so far with my career... Up until a point. I have had a script turned into a film for a historical museum, have optioned spec scripts, had material developed by A-list prod. co.s for the big screen, landed a fantastic manager, etc, etc... And then, always and without exception... hit the wall. Something always came along to throw a wrench in my progress and I seemed to end up back at square one.

About two years ago now, I seriously began considering hanging it all up. I was at the point where I had to ask myself: what else? What else could I do to feel as alive as I do when I write? What was my calling, if this wasn't it. It was a very dark day for me and probably the lowest I've ever gone in my life.

I think I must have scared the poop out of my husband (he likes it when I do things like shower, dress and feed myself. Also? Crying jags kind of throw him for a loop), who decided that I just needed technology to jump start my creativity and went out and purchased a Macbook Pro. You know, just to get me back on track. When he presented me with the computer, I didn't know whether to hug him or slug him. Because of course, it meant I couldn't give up. He was recommitting me to my passion, and was not about to let me off the hook.

So, after I showered, dressed and had something to eat, I circled the Mac, took it for a test drive, and eventually came across a little built-in program called iMovie, which was the answer to a question I'd been asking myself for a while now: how can I make my material rise above, stand out in a crowded marketplace, be noticed?

I began playing with the idea of doing a mini-trailer for one of my scripts, and was immediately hooked. iMovie is fun and easy, and a huge addiction, so it wasn't long till I had something to show. I sent my first Visual Pitch to my sister, who is now MVP's Senior VP of Creative and the talent behind the bulk of the Visual Pitches you now see on the site. Then, I sent it to my manager, and said, let's go. Get this out to everyone on your list. This Visual Pitch is gonna get us noticed. But my manager (and sister, and um, husband, too, if I'm giving credit) all saw the potential in the Visual Pitch, and the ways in which it could change the way the entertainment business does business, and encouraged me to take the time to build a service that artists everywhere could use to show — not tell — their story. And here we are today.

Right now, we have artists from across the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Europe uploading content or using our Visual Pitch creative service. We have been viewed by people every continent except Antarctica (but I'm working on that), have been featured in podcasts, blogs, magazines, etc., etc. It's very exciting, because we're providing access, which is creating a marketplace, which is putting artists in the driver's seat of their careers.
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Thanks Pamela!

Want to create your own Visual Pitch? It's easy, fast and free when you use stock photography and video found on the Internet and built-in editing software on your Mac or PC. MVP has listed all the resources you'll ever need here.

Don't want to do it yourself? The My Visual Pitch.com creative team can turn your script or movie idea into a brief, engaging, and memorable Visual Pitch in a couple of days. To learn more, go here.

If you're interested in My Visual Pitch and what it can do, check out these Bangwriters who have had the MVP treatment applied to their scripts:

My horror/action adventure, "Eclipse"

Ron Shears' animated script for Children, "The Adventures of Tae And Kwon"

Pete Spencer's political satire, "The Last British Execution"

Elinor's dark femme fatale style horror, "Penny Dreadful"

Update: Corey Hood's "The Pilot"

DON'T FORGET: If you prefer the "old fashioned" logline upload approach, My Visual Pitch deal with those too! Click here to get started.

ALSO: as a special offer to all Bang2writers who engage MVP to construct a pitch on their behalf, My Visual Pitch are offering a free six month subscription to their site - that's a freebie worth $59. Just mention you saw this offer on Write Here, Write Now.

BEST OF LUCK WITH THOSE PROJECTS! And as always, if you do get a Visual Pitch done, let me know and I'll add it to this list here.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Plot Construction # 4: Mini Series and Serials

**No Real Spoilers, though there is mention of Steven Moffatt's Dr. Who episodes**

I don't get many of these through my script reading; it would seem that spec scribes out there want to invest in features, shorts or TV drama series before they consider mini series or serials. I do read some though every year - probably between 5 and 7 typically - and like the spec TV drama series, they often set up too much and leave their structure "dangling".

But first off, what is a mini series or serial? Well, as far as mini series go, you may have watched Our Friends of The North, Elizabeth, Second Coming, Best Man, Jesus of Nazareth or Edge of Darkness (you can see IMDB's list of "best" mini series here).

Oh, but wait: lots of those same names appear in this article from The British Film Institute too when they talk about the best TV Drama serials, along with the likes of Boys From The Black Stuff, Queer As Folk and Clocking Off.

So is there not much difference between these two, or even TV drama series?? Perhaps this is why scribes are reticent to give them a go - because they're not sure exactly WHAT they are? A quick surf on the internet revealed lacklustre results in terms of really naiing it down officially, once and for all. So I thought I would have a go. Here goes... >GULP<.

I actually believe there is not as big a gap between a mini series, serial and TV drama series as one might think initially: I don't think it's a question so much of structure as perception. In lots of ways, they even overlap. I'll explain.

As I outlined in this post, the TV drama series has its "story of the week" and its serial element, combined in one of three ways: old school, US style (UK) or actual US series. The mini series or serial then is exactly the same then - but different.

It seems to me that the main story of the mini series - the whole point of why we watch - runs throughout both, much like the serial element of the TV drama series' plot construction. However, unlike the serial element of the TV drama series, that main story is not wholly subordinate: instead everything in the story returns to it, again and again. So rather than have a Plot A that is a story of the week, we end up with something like this:

PLOT A - "Focus" - each episode might have a focus that LEADS INTO

PLOT B - the whole point of why we are watching

but crucially "Focus 1" is resolved (at least in part) for it will in turn lead into the next episode as

PLOT A - "Focus 2" - a new focus, (as a result of "Focus 1")

PLOT B - Same as before, though more information will be added to make the bigger picture according to how many episodes there are, for that "bigger picture" will ultimately be the resolution of the last episode...

UPDATE: The lovely Anya makes the very good analogy in the comments section of this post that, in a sense, a serial or mini series is like "Hansel & Gretel" in that a each episode of a serial is like one of the breadcrumbs... We "focus" on the "breadcrumb" every week which leads us to the "gingerbread house" -that all-important FINAL EPISODE.

If we consider The State Within, a BBC serial last year about an English Diplomat in the USA, this *could* have been a TV series. There's loads of potential there, the running of the UK office in the US, the politics, back biting and sabotage, could have hours and hours in it, surely?

Yet it wasn't a TV series, it was a serial. Why? Because our English Diplomat had a specific mission that ran throughout the series; each episode's "focus" took him one step nearer to the mystery. One week there was a terrorist bombing; another week his girlfriend was kidnapped; another one of the people who could help him solve it was executed. Yet week on week, step by step, the serial focused on elements that brought him closer and closer to his goal.

A TV drama series in comparison then would have had a "story of the week" which may have had nothing much to do with the matter in hand, returning to the serial element LATER: if considering Ashes to Ashes, Alex never stopped looking for her parents' murderer, but she did other stuff in-between. Same goes for the likes of Sam Tyler or Mickey Briggs in Hustle, etc. Our English Diplomat then (what was his name?? Argh) only did stuff that was RELATED to the whole point of why we were watching in the first place - but crucially in two strands, not just the one since that would become dull.

Similarly to a serial then, a mini series will have these "focus points" - a kind of scaled down "story of the week" that comes hand-in-hand with the serial element. A mini series is effectively a condensed serial. A mini series is typically a two parter, though sometimes as many as four - less usually more. A serial then is typically six episodes, though sometimes they are as many as eight. Both rarely return for a second outing. It would seem that longevity is not the concern of the mini series or serial, which is probably why we see so few of them - and when we do, they're usually written by celebrated and/or award winning writers rather than "newcomers".

Sometimes TV drama series will have two parters within their run - we've just watched Steven Moffatt's two parter of Dr. Who, "Silence In The Library/Forest of The Dead". Waking The Dead typically has two parters every single week, so is a kind of hybrid of both the mini series and the TV drama series. If considering the last of WtD's run, "Pieta", the first episode focused on the discovery of the heroin in episode one, with the second focusing on how the child was saved (and why) in episode 2. In Steven Moffatt's Dr. Who episodes this can be seen too, since episode 1focused on what the Vashta Nerada was, with the second focusing on what CAL was.

Crucially however, I think what separates the TV drama series two parter from the stand alone mini series and serials is that notion of longevity: a TV drama knows it has to lay seeds down for future instalments and it will do that - in WtD we've had all kinds of serial elements set up for the future and Dr. Who is famous for it. A mini series or serial in comparison then is much more self contained, as if it knows there are no second chances; the dramatic satisfaction effectively comes in the fact that all its loose ends are tied, whereas with the TV drama we are champing at the bit to see what comes next. I think a mini series or serial is the ultimate in plot construction for everything pays off - which is perhaps is why it's so daunting for a scribe to think about writing one.

What do you think?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Friday Hysteria

Wow, this has been one long week. I know I promised you my thoughts on serials and mini series, but I'm afraid that'll have to be next week now; I've had misbehaving kids, several hysterical phone calls and a mountain of work. Oh, and Coco is dead! Don't worry, Coco is not one of my many cats, but Lilirose's favourite doll - it fell down the stairs. Lilirose spent many minutes wailing by the dead doll's side before stuffing Coco in the cupboard under the stairs. When I pointed out that dolls can't die, Lil was quite insistent: the doll stays under the stairs! Weird.

As an antidote to this week's madness then, here's some music from the uber-talented Jamie Lidell. Really digging this tune - plus the video is great: how many singers have you seen with a unicorn for a girlfriend after all???



Otherwise, this weekend I will be mostly catching up with - you guessed it - more work and the family will also be supporting my son in his qualifying round for the HSBC Wee Wonders Golf Tournament! Turns out my son is absolutely wicked at golf after he found a plastic club in a rented house we moved into a couple of years' back; now he goes to a golfing range and everything like a mini Toff. All he needs is a tweed jacket, Tally Ho! So think of him on Sunday and wish him luck, since I would love to see him get through to the next round as he's been working really hard for this.

What are you up to?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

BBC Writers' Academy News

Just got an email about the Academy from the Beeb as I'm sure many of you have... And just like many of you, I opened it with great trepidation - only to discover they haven't picked anyone yet! ARGH!

Apparently shortlisted candidates should know by Monday, July 14th. Can my nerves stand it??

Just in case, I'm off out to buy a small goat to sacrifice to the God of Writing Scribethar, plus blogging success James Moran and previous Academy pupil Paul Campbell - that should just about cover it by my reckoning in terms of my household gods.

Hope you like curry, fellas.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Madness of Scriptwriting

Here's interesting feedback I have received this week so far (and it's only Tuesday):

"What I like about this script is it's tightly structured and draws to a satisfying conclusion."

Compared with:

"I had no idea what was going on here, you need to decide on a path for your characters - and give them a destination too, there was no dramatic satisifaction to your ending."

These were both for the same script by the way.

This WAS going to be an inspirational post about not letting the bastards grind you down, not everyone will like your stuff even if you're good, etc etc, but sometimes it's MORE fun to consider the responses your friends and colleagues make when you forward them feedback on your scripts (though these are not about the feedback above by the way, but other ones - some recent, some not):

"And who is this guy? Let him hope that I never meet him... Not because I am actually any physical threat whatsoever, but because I'll definitely stare him out and make him feel weird, least I can do."

"This is why anonymous, bitter readers should be outlawed... Or at least rounded up and shot."

"I'm so angry on your behalf, I think I weed my pants a little."

"Don't sweat it. You needed this gig like you need a hole in the head - along with several rounds of dynamite and a crack pipe. Actually, I need the crack pipe just for reading that email. GIVE IT BACK."

"Really, I'm impressed how helpful they've been... If indeed being helpful means stabbing your eyes out with daggers."

My favourite bit of scriptwriting-related madness though has to be this one (though technically this wasn't actually about script feedback). I was having a beer with a friend of mine, another writer, who took a phone call whilst we were in a bar. It went something like this:

FRIEND ON PHONE: Right, right. I remember you.

(Mimes to me: who the fuck is this guy?)

FRIEND ON PHONE: Oh, right. Yeah. Sounds an interesting, erm, project.

(Mimes to me: yeah right!!!)

FRIEND ON PHONE: Yeah, sure, sure. Yeah. Well, let's set something up. My people will call your people. 'Bye.

(Puts phone down, grins at me)

FRIEND: I have no people. He will never hear from me again.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Plot Construction # 3: The "ComSit"

Just as I have had a surge in TV drama series at Bang2write, I've noticed an increase in spec sitcoms the last couple of years: ie. I got none until about eighteen months or so ago. Whilst I do not get as many as TV dramas, there is still a significant amount of spec sitcoms doing the rounds now it seems and they too appear to have a similar problem uniting them.

First off however, let's have a look at the situation comedy. Unlike the TV drama series where a profession, job or specific way of life often brings the characters together (CSI, House, Waking The Dead, etc), it seems the situation comedy is what I might term more "every day" in terms of the scenario that kicks everything off. For every Fawlty Towers or 'Allo 'Allo where the machinations of the plot revolve directly around the running of a business (or in the case of comedies like Green Wing or M*A*S*H, the running of a hospital or in Father Ted's case, a vicarage), there's many others (bad and good) like The Simpsons, Carrie and Barry, Family Guy, All About Me, Frasier, Roseanne, The Good Life, The Upper Hand, Will & Grace, Gimme Gimme Gimme, Game On, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Mad About Alice, One Foot In Grave, After You Were Gone, Keeping Up Appearances, The Cosby Show, Bottom, The Living Colour, Steptoe and Son, Men Behaving Badly, Rising Damp, Spaced, Peep Show, Even Stevens and My Family that revolve around well, families (or in some cases, relationships between husband and wife or flat/work mates) and how dysfunctional these relationships are.

In other words, the scenario that kicks off the plot is *usually* (not always) "ordinary", but the actual plot itself is EXTRAORDINARY. Even in those less family-orientated sitcoms, we can still relate to what's going on: who hasn't stayed in a crappy guest house like Fawlty Towers or worked in an Office and had a boss or colleague a bit like David Brent? Whilst there ARE sitcoms like 'Allo 'Allo, Goodnight Sweetheart or Red Dwarf that draw on the historical, supernatural or on science fiction, they still usually draw on things we have experience of yet again - relationships. It's the same with sitcoms like Cheers, Dear John, Porridge and Dad's Army where the characters aren't *technically* related, yet they are still a family (and again, a dysfunctional one at that).

So we have an "ordinary" premise, one we can relate to, to start - and then the "extraordinary" is injected and that's when the madness and comedy rears its head. Things that happen in sitcom DON'T generally happen in so-called "real life". We might all know a cantankerous old git like Victor Meldrew, but in real life all he is is a horrid old man who will occasionally leave his house and shout at your children when they play too close to his garden. In the sitcom however, he morphs from being a PASSIVE character into an ACTIVE one: he sets up what will happen to him. I always remember the episode of One Foot In The Grave for example where he tells the delivery man to put his wife's new yukka plant "in the downstairs toilet." Moments later, we're treated to his catchphrase "I don't believe it!" when he sees the delivery man has actually planted that yukka IN the actual toilet bowl.

It seems to me that plotting in the sitcom is all about set up and pay off: the character does one thing that means another thing happens - and the end result is nearly always something BAD (literal or metaphorical) that they REALLY didn't want to happen. Sometimes the comedy is farcical, other times ironic, slapstick, witty, or returns to childish word games, associations or the plain daft, "good for a laugh" moments like this:

MARGE: I'm not going to let you weasel out of this.
HOMER: But Marge! Weaselling out of stuff is what separates man from the beasts... Except maybe the weasel.

In the most skilful comedy, I think it's all these things, in a type of chain reaction: one thing after another happens because of something the protagonist has MADE happen in the offset - usually all bad - which ensures the climax of the episode spells relative doom (whatever that means) for all involved in whatever has happened that week (though crucially not so MUCH doom that the characters can't return to the status quo for the following week's episode). We laugh at those less fortunate than ourselves, as the ol' adage goes.

Looking at the structure of the sitcom then, whether US or UK (I'm afraid I haven't watched many from other countries, soz), they appear very similar in that most of the time they have the standard two story strands. There appears to be a PLOT A which incorporates that all-important "story of the week", a specific issue or problem usually, though sometimes it's a big event where it's said that everything has to GO PERFECTLY (though we know full well it won't).

From Plot A we usually are treated to a PLOT B - unsurprising you might think, though this is where it differs from the TV series it seems, for usually Plot B has no serial element AND usually it's a very small issue or problem that usually (not always) JOINS UP with Plot A at the end (or towards the end) of the episode for that "final laugh". Think My Family here, in the episode where Susan and Nick audition for parts in the nativity play (Plot A). Of course, the audition goes terribly and much hilarity ensues. In Plot B then, Ben, a dentist, has toothache. Rather than go to his own dentist, he decides he will extract the tooth himself. Of course it all goes horribly wrong and he ends up tying a string round his tooth and connecting it to the doorknob of the kitchen, which Susan and Nick duly open having returned home from their disastrous audition... Only for THAT to go wrong as well and they smack Ben in the face with the door - knocking out the WRONG tooth. Ouch. End of episode as Ben tries to throttle them both.

It's worth mentioning at this juncture the addition of the "slow burn narrative" element that US sitcoms can have and UK sitcoms generally don't - the will they/won't they of Ross and Rachel in Friends or Niles and Daphne in Frasier, etc - seem again to be down to those longer runs American shows have and the fact they need to effectively double content. Unless of course you count elements like pregnancies in UK shows which obviously have to run more than one episode (I don't). I'm not sure whether you would call these slow burn elements a strand in themselves since they so often form part of EITHER Plot A or or Plot B in any given week - the whole "We were on a break!" thing a case in point re: Ross' infidelity for example.

Anyway. The fact that Plot B is so wholly subordinate to Plot A in the sitcom and that Plot A & B *can* join up together means that sometimes a sitcom can *appear* to only have one story strand, when in fact it has two. It's this I think that is why so many spec sitcoms end up what I call "static". In other words, the protagonist is placed very firmly in the middle of whatever story in these specs, yet everyone else revolves around them. Very often this happens LITERALLY: a main character will be indisposed in some way (often a broken leg) and people will run in and out saying funny (or not so funny) lines. There won't be any real "story of the week" to speak of, so no real focus to the episode; other characters will seem quite two dimensional since they feel like set ups for the protagonist to say something amusing. It's like the scribes have considered the COMEDY first and the SITUATION second, whereas I think there's a reason why it's called A SITCOM and not a COMSIT.

So, if you're attempting a sitcom, it's not the comedy you need to really concentrate on in the first instance I reckon; there's lots of talented comedy writers out there who can write fantastic dialogue and amusing retorts. But there AREN'T so many talented comedy writers out there who can pull out the bag a SITUATION people can relate to AND the writer can make EXTRAORDINARY plot-wise, before adding the comedy itself.

Whatever you do though, make your sitcom about RELATIONSHIPS, not a professional case/mission/problem/dilemma - else you might as well write TV drama I think.

What about you?

NEXT: Mini Series and Serials