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Friday, November 28, 2008

It's Official: I Am A Red Planet Reject

This just popped into my inbox:

Dear Lucy,

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

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

Best Wishes

Red Planet Pictures


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

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

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

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

Link Me Up, Baby

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

Icewhole

Linked In

Twitter

As well as

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

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Red Planet Commiserations (Or How Danny Stack Was Saved)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

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

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

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

It is a DOUBLE OPPORTUNITY with 2 dates:

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

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

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

Phil is also BBC Health & Safety checked.

Interested?

Please, GET IN TOUCH ASAP:

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

T: 0207 9878 746


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

Sunday, November 23, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bang2write's Most Frequently Asked Questions

I get loads of emails from people and some get repeated quite frequently, from stuff about my reading services, to craft and even "agony aunt"-style advice, so I thought I would compose a list of my most frequently asked questions via email. Enjoy!
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Do you read novels?

Yes I do! Demand is not as high it seems for spec novels as spec scripts, that's all (features and shorts are especially popular, though TV series get a look-in too these days). I actually started BY reading novels at a literary agent's many moons ago: the agent in question got a few movies, but mostly novels, so I had a crash course in a three month work placement. It was fun. Most of the novels I read were about women killing their husbands or fathers, weirdly - though I haven't had another like that in five years! Funny how it goes. Most of the novels I get these days are either fantasy or science fiction, with historical/romance a firm second. If you want to submit YOUR novel to a literary agent, then it's best to include the first three chapters (*roughly* 15,000 words, though there's no cap on this: I've read longer AND shorter) plus a one page synopsis to get them interested, rather than sending the whole caboodle. On this basis then, I recommend to novelists that I read their first three chapters and help them with their synopsis. I usually do this on my "Development Notes Plus" package, but of course can quote writers on what they want based on wordcount. Email me for more info.

Do you read treatments, shorts and synopses?

Again, absolutely to all three. My tariff for this is loosely based on £2 a page for shorts (or treatments) with a cap on £25, though this can depend on what kind of feedback and/or support the writer is looking for. I recommend the one page pitch of course, so I will read a synopsis several times for a writer and we can bounce it back and forwards for a time and fee we agree between us. Of course, writers who submit several shorts, synopses or treatments (either at the same time or come back to me) get discounts too.

I'm a writer who absolutely hates writing treatments. If I tell you my story, can you write it for me so I can then go to script myself?

No, sorry. I don't have time to write this kind of preparatory work FOR writers, because it's inevitable I'm going to see your story completely differently to you and it would take forever.

I can't get the hang of synopses or one page pitches AT ALL, but I've got a script ready to go. Could you read it and write my synopsis for me?

Absolutely, I've done lots of these for people. If you email me your requirements and script we can agree to a quote that suits you.

How long will the turnaround be on my script if I send it to you?

You never have to wait longer than two weeks. It's usually a lot less than this. I can confirm ETA of your notes or report when you send it to me. If on the *unlikely* occasion I'm unable to undertake the work as I'm swamped, I will refer you to another reader - but always to one I've used (and paid for!) myself and been happy with.

Is format, spelling and grammar really that important?

Personally, I always think it's better to be safe than sorry - never let Nazi readers out there reject you for not "looking right" on the page or carelessness with spelling and grammar. However, I always the first to say it's the writer's prerogative. I also say to scribes: don't get "hung up" on format. If your script is REALLY good, it doesn't matter what it looks like. Also, I've never heard of a writer getting rejected for having just the one MONTAGE laid out incorrectly or a couple of words mispelt. I would however always recommend getting rid of the ultimate Reader Pet Peeve, the mixed tense.

Which contests are worth entering?

The big four for me for features has to be Final Draft Big Break, Bluecat, Scriptapolooza, American Zoetrope Screenwriting Contest. What I like about Bluecat above the others is you get written feedback and I've always found mine constructive. There's the British Feature Screenplay contest too now; I've never entered that, but I have entered their Short Screenplay Competition. Other short script competitions of note include Super Shorts and Virgin Media Shorts. There are plenty more worth looking at, however: just Google for others' experiences of these.

Is it worth doing a university course in screenwriting?

The market is flooded with MAs in screenwriting, so it's worth doing your research: ask people who have done the course how they rate it. It's also worth considering what you think you will get from it: if you think it offers a golden ticket into professional writing, forget it; it won't. If however you want to have a safe environment to hone your craft and have the money to pay for it, why not? If you don't have the money though, don't despair. I've actually learned far more from script reading than I ever did at university - plus there are loads of opportunities to add to your knowledge with short courses if necessary. Most importantly however you need to get yourself out there, making contacts, collaborating with people. No piece of paper can give you that, you do it yourself.

What screenwriting books, if any, would you recommend I read?

I've said it before and this is the last time! ; ) I can only tell you what I like, which are: Writing Drama by Yves Lavandier, Teach Yourself Screenwriting by Raymond Frensham, (he also has a blog, here) Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters (or get the old skool version for FREE, here). All the blogs too are invaluable. There's lots you can get from other screenwriting books and websites, but I'm personally a big fan of script reading: you can't go wrong with it AND it's free. Even a totally mad, rubbish script will teach you what NOT to do. For more info and links on this, read Danny Stack's great post about script reading here.

I don't know if I should send you my arty drama or rom-com since you like horror so much/ you've said you don't like SF much, you might not get mine.

Always send to a reader you feel comfortable with. I can tell you however I LOVE arty drama. Also I never go *against* a script on the basis of genre - in fact, I've read several rom-coms and SFs I've liked a lot in the last year. I've always thought it best to try and "turn" someone who isn't keen on a genre, which is why I always send my bloodthirsty horrors to a mate of mine who writes romance. If we like each others' stories, they must be okay!! Besides anything, you don't know who you'll get in the big, wide world. But as always, it's up to the writer.

Once you've read my script, can you let me know if I have any talent?

NO! I'm just a script reader, I'd hate to be the person who puts you off writing for life - it goes against everything I believe in. Whilst it's true I've read some terrible scripts over the years, I've never seen one completely devoid of anything good at all: even the most turgid narrative has a funny joke or interesting moment, however fleeting. Besides, when you start your scripts WILL probably be rubbish. I know mine were. You're learning, chill out. Besides anything, you should be your own biggest fan, there will be enough rejections without you rejecting YOURSELF as well!

I've got a meeting/pitch and am freaking out. What do I do??

Make sure you prepare. NEVER go into a meeting room knowing nothing about the agent or prodco you're meeting with. Also, make sure you remember what you sent them and if it's changed at all since sending it - nothing worse than talking about something and looking like a nutter 'cos it wasn't in their version. If you're pitching, do whatever it takes to feel comfortable: I always take index cards in case I forget what the HELL my story is about. It's okay to ask questions of people you're meeting with if you're not sure what they want - often a producer or whatever just wants to meet you to check you out. Let them buy you a coffee/pint/whatever - you're the impoverished writer. ; ) End of the day, just be yourself and know you're good - you wouldn't be there if you're not.

What's in the best scripts?

I wish I knew... But let's put it this way: in just under eight years of script reading, there have only ever been four scripts I've put on a pedestal as "the best". They were all by professional writers who've been honing their craft for many years and all quite brilliant in their way: one was a woman-in-peril thriller; another was a biopic; one was a Shakespeare adaptation and the other was a horror. The horror is responsible for a recurring nightmare I've had now since I read it, that's how good it was.

I feel rubbish about writing and get nothing but rejections or worse, complete radio silence. Am I crap?

You will get stacks of rejections and get ignored more times than you care to remember. I gave up counting when I got to one hundred. I must have got a hundred more since AT LEAST and will no doubt get hundreds more. The important thing to remember that everyone gets fed up about getting rejected - you'd be a right weirdo if you didn't! Another important thing to remember is that even professionals get rejected - it's not all dancing in the fields and fluffy bunnies once you get past a certain point. It's a tough life sometimes, but it can also be good: so to get the highs, you have to put up with the lows. Sometimes the lows seem to last forever, but the tide will turn. If you have consistent feedback on something that you need to change, it is a good idea to address it - but often it's just a question of preference. Don't try and change to suit anyone. Be yourself and trust yourself to get there. Harder than it sounds, but we ALL know what it feels like.
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Remember: if you have a question for me or the blog, send it in! Examples, more info and contact here. Have a good weekend!

Now With Added Twitter Action

Still not sure what the hell this is for, but if you want to follow me, here I am on Twitter. Better hurry, before I get bored of it ; )

Format Template

Would you like a FREE sample "template" page of what a spec script *might* look like, with instructions on what *best* NOT to include?

I've created one and shown it to a variety of my script reading contacts, including Scottish Screen. I often send it out to my Bang2writers to help clarify potential format "issues". Over on the Writersroom blog I offered one to a chap there asking about uppercase, so I wondered if anyone over here would like one too?

If so, send me an email at the usual address and I'll send you the file - it's just a Word doc.

Bang2write's Most Frequently Asked Questions

I get loads of emails from people and some get repeated quite frequently, from stuff about my reading services, to craft and even "agony aunt"-style advice, so I thought I would compose a list of my most frequently asked questions via email. Enjoy!
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Just so you don't go boss-eyed, I've listed and numbered the questions for easy referral. I wanted to link them so they went up and down the page so you needn't scroll too much, but I'm afraid I don't know how to do it. Soz! When I do, I'll change it for you. Enjoy...

ON SCRIPT READING:

1) Do you read novels?
2) Do you read treatments, shorts and synopses?
3) I'm a writer who absolutely hates writing treatments. If I tell you my story, can you write it for me so I can then go to script myself?
4) I can't get the hang of synopses or one page pitches AT ALL, but I've got a script ready to go. Could you read it and write my synopsis for me?
5) How long will the turnaround be on my script if I send it to you?

ON SCRIPTWRITING:

6) Is format, spelling and grammar really that important?
7) Which contests are worth entering?
8) Is it worth doing a university course in screenwriting?
9) What screenwriting books, if any, would you recommend I read?
10) Once you've read my script, can you let me know if I have any talent?
11) I've got a meeting/pitch and am freaking out. What do I do??
12) I don't know if I should send you my arty drama or rom-com since you like horror so much/ you've said you don't like SF much, you might not get mine.
13) What's in the best scripts?
14) I feel rubbish about writing and get nothing but rejections or worse, complete radio silence. Am I crap?


1) Do you read novels?

Yes I do! Demand is not as high it seems for spec novels as spec scripts, that's all (features and shorts are especially popular, though TV series get a look-in too these days). I actually started BY reading novels at a literary agent's many moons ago: the agent in question got a few movies, but mostly novels, so I had a crash course in a three month work placement. It was fun. Most of the novels I read were about women killing their husbands or fathers, weirdly - though I haven't had another like that in five years! Funny how it goes. Most of the novels I get these days are either fantasy or science fiction, with historical/romance a firm second. If you want to submit YOUR novel to a literary agent, then it's best to include the first three chapters (*roughly* 15,000 words, though there's no cap on this: I've read longer AND shorter) plus a one page synopsis to get them interested, rather than sending the whole caboodle. On this basis then, I recommend to novelists that I read their first three chapters and help them with their synopsis. I usually do this on my "Development Notes Plus" package, but of course can quote writers on what they want based on wordcount. Email me for more info.

2) Do you read treatments, shorts and synopses?

Again, absolutely to all three. My tariff for this is loosely based on £2 a page for shorts (or treatments) with a cap on £25, though this can depend on what kind of feedback and/or support the writer is looking for. I recommend the one page pitch of course, so I will read a synopsis several times for a writer and we can bounce it back and forwards for a time and fee we agree between us. Of course, writers who submit several shorts, synopses or treatments (either at the same time or come back to me) get discounts too.

3) I'm a writer who absolutely hates writing treatments. If I tell you my story, can you write it for me so I can then go to script myself?

No, sorry. I don't have time to write this kind of preparatory work FOR writers, because it's inevitable I'm going to see your story completely differently to you and it would take forever. Plus we might fall out and then I'd have to kill you and bury you under my patio and it's getting to the point where there's just not enough room!

4) I can't get the hang of synopses or one page pitches AT ALL, but I've got a script ready to go. Could you read it and write my synopsis for me?

Absolutely, I've done lots of these for people. If you email me your requirements and script we can agree to a quote that suits you.

5) How long will the turnaround be on my script if I send it to you?

You never have to wait longer than two weeks. It's usually a lot less than this. I can confirm ETA of your notes or report when you send it to me. If on the *unlikely* occasion I'm unable to undertake the work as I'm swamped, I will refer you to another reader - but always to one I've used (and paid for!) myself and been happy with.

6) Is format, spelling and grammar really that important?

Personally, I always think it's better to be safe than sorry - never let Nazi readers out there reject you for not "looking right" on the page or carelessness with spelling and grammar. However, I always the first to say it's the writer's prerogative. I also say to scribes: don't get "hung up" on format. If your script is REALLY good, it doesn't matter what it looks like. Also, I've never heard of a writer getting rejected for having just the one MONTAGE laid out incorrectly or a couple of words mispelt. I would however always recommend getting rid of the ultimate Reader Pet Peeve, the mixed tense.

7) Which contests are worth entering?

The big four for me for features has to be Final Draft Big Break, Bluecat, Scriptapolooza, American Zoetrope Screenwriting Contest. What I like about Bluecat above the others is you get written feedback and I've always found mine constructive. There's the British Feature Screenplay contest too now; I've never entered that, but I have entered their Short Screenplay Competition. Other short script competitions of note include Super Shorts and Virgin Media Shorts. There are plenty more worth looking at, however: just Google for others' experiences of these.

8) Is it worth doing a university course in screenwriting?

The market is flooded with MAs in screenwriting, so it's worth doing your research: ask people who have done the course how they rate it. It's also worth considering what you think you will get from it: if you think it offers a golden ticket into professional writing, forget it; it won't. If however you want to have a safe environment to hone your craft and have the money to pay for it, why not? If you don't have the money though, don't despair. I've actually learned far more from script reading than I ever did at university - plus there are loads of opportunities to add to your knowledge with short courses if necessary. Most importantly however you need to get yourself out there, making contacts, collaborating with people. No piece of paper can give you that, you do it yourself.

9) What screenwriting books, if any, would you recommend I read?

I've said it before and this is the last time! ; ) I can only tell you what I like, which are: Writing Drama by Yves Lavandier, Teach Yourself Screenwriting by Raymond Frensham, (he also has a blog, here) Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters (or get the old skool version for FREE, here). All the blogs too are invaluable. There's lots you can get from other screenwriting books and websites, but I'm personally a big fan of script reading: you can't go wrong with it AND it's free. Even a totally mad, rubbish script will teach you what NOT to do. For more info and links on this, read Danny Stack's great post about script reading here.

10) I don't know if I should send you my arty drama or rom-com since you like horror so much/ you've said you don't like SF much, you might not get mine.

Always send to a reader you feel comfortable with. I can tell you however I LOVE arty drama. Also I never go *against* a script on the basis of genre - in fact, I've read several rom-coms and SFs I've liked a lot in the last year. I've always thought it best to try and "turn" someone who isn't keen on a genre, which is why I always send my bloodthirsty horrors to a mate of mine who writes romance. If we like each others' stories, they must be okay!! Besides anything, you don't know who you'll get in the big, wide world. But as always, it's up to the writer.

11) Once you've read my script, can you let me know if I have any talent?

NO! I'm just a script reader, I'd hate to be the person who puts you off writing for life - it goes against everything I believe in. Whilst it's true I've read some terrible scripts over the years, I've never seen one completely devoid of anything good at all: even the most turgid narrative has a funny joke or interesting moment, however fleeting. Besides, when you start your scripts WILL probably be rubbish. I know mine were. You're learning, chill out. Besides anything, you should be your own biggest fan, there will be enough rejections without you rejecting YOURSELF as well!

12) I've got a meeting/pitch and am freaking out. What do I do??

Make sure you prepare. NEVER go into a meeting room knowing nothing about the agent or prodco you're meeting with. Also, make sure you remember what you sent them and if it's changed at all since sending it - nothing worse than talking about something and looking like a nutter 'cos it wasn't in their version. If you're pitching, do whatever it takes to feel comfortable: I always take index cards in case I forget what the HELL my story is about. It's okay to ask questions of people you're meeting with if you're not sure what they want - often a producer or whatever just wants to meet you to check you out. Let them buy you a coffee/pint/whatever - you're the impoverished writer. ; ) End of the day, just be yourself and know you're good - you wouldn't be there if you're not.

13) What's in the best scripts?

I wish I knew... But let's put it this way: in just under eight years of script reading, there have only ever been four scripts I've put on a pedestal as "the best". They were all by professional writers who've been honing their craft for many years and all quite brilliant in their way: one was a woman-in-peril thriller; another was a biopic; one was a Shakespeare adaptation and the other was a horror. The horror is responsible for a recurring nightmare I've had now since I read it, that's how good it was.

14) I feel rubbish about writing and get nothing but rejections or worse, complete radio silence. Am I crap?

You will get stacks of rejections and get ignored more times than you care to remember. I gave up counting when I got to one hundred. I must have got a hundred more since AT LEAST and will no doubt get hundreds more. The important thing to remember that everyone gets fed up about getting rejected - you'd be a right weirdo if you didn't! Another important thing to remember is that even professionals get rejected - it's not all dancing in the fields and fluffy bunnies once you get past a certain point. It's a tough life sometimes, but it can also be good: so to get the highs, you have to put up with the lows. Sometimes the lows seem to last forever, but the tide will turn. If you have consistent feedback on something that you need to change, it is a good idea to address it - but often it's just a question of preference. Don't try and change to suit anyone. Be yourself and trust yourself to get there. Harder than it sounds, but we ALL know what it feels like.
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Remember: if you have a question for me or the blog, send it in! Examples, more info and contact here. Have a good weekend!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

No Time For This

Got waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much to do today, so you'll have to sate yourself with this deliciously ridiculous and literal instalment of 80s music videos. Up for the treatment this time: one of my childhood faves, Tears for Fears. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Your Thoughts, Please

If you were trapped in a place and could only get out with a big key that was in a really inconvenient place, with stuff in the way that could kill you, what would be in the way of you and getting out? The scarier, bloodier and more difficult the better, please. Thanks!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Earwigs and Scissors

Why is an earwig called an earwig? Is it because they *can* live in ears? The reason I ask is because my son is sure there is one in his eardrum. I'm not too sure why he thinks this, especially since I have never seen an earwig in our house - or anywhere in the last eighteen years, now you mention it; not since I went to my mate Lucinda's house when I was eleven and we watched her older brother Jay chop an earwig in half to see what would happen (it died, in case you were wondering).

Going back to my original point however, if there is indeed an earwig in my son's eardrum, how did it get there? What does it want? I shone a torch in his ear to try and dissuade him of this notion but he reckons the earwig has (and I quote) "gone ballistic" in there now because it doesn't like bright lights. I suggested we posted Lilirose's Barbie ultracool (and super-small) shades in his ear too for next time, but he didn't fancy it.

What it is to have imaginative children. In addition to earwigs in ears, Lilirose came home from nursery the other day and announced her keyworker JoJo "chopped her head off with scissors" (Lilirose's that is, not JoJo's). When I suggested this might be the tiniest of fibs given that Lilirose's head is still very much on her shoulders, she said with great frustration, "You don't understand, Mummy!!!"

Evidently. Two writers in the making, perhaps? In other news, my Husband had a dream last night of an alien-induced apocalypse happening here on Earth very soon. You heard it here first. This public information was brought to you by Bang2write.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cover Letters: The Write Way And The Wrong Way

The marvellous Becky asks my thoughts on cover letters today. I've read a lot of cover letters over the years that accompany scripts. I know a lot of agents' assistants, readers, etc don't bother but I've always found them very illuminating. What a writer does (or doesn't) put in their cover letter can say A LOT about the script's quality, believe it or not, in that the weirder or more badly written a cover letter is, *generally speaking* the weirder and more badly written the actual script is. A simple equation, really.

So here's a quick breakdown of my thoughts on cover letters. Obviously I'm just one reader in a crowd of many, but this is how your cover letter *might* be perceived:

1) Do your research. There is no point sending a comedy script to a production company that specialises in drama; literary agents too can have preferences. The "write" way to approach the right people is by consulting agent and prodco's websites and resources like The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. Never skimp on research. Similarly, GET A NAME and send it to someone specific within the organisation. Stuff addressed to "Sir/Madam" looks amateur when you can get a name easily off the internet. The really clever writers RING PEOPLE UP and ask them if they're interested in reading their stuff. Very often they will say yes and if they say no, you haven't wasted your time.

2) Presentation is everything. A grammar and spelling check is a must in the "write" cover letter: you're trying to persuade someone to think you're a good writer. There's absolutely nothing wrong with using a bit of colour or making yourself a nice letterhead on your cover letter, but do not go overboard. Inspirational quotes, very bright coloured paper, photographs, daft fonts with super squiggly serifs, etc are a BIG no-no.

3) Recommendations, meetings, solicited works. If you have been recommended by someone to the person you're sending to, have met them before (however fleetingly) or this person has ASKED you to send your work in, for God's sake SAY SO in your cover letter. Chances are the agent or producer won't be reading the cover letter anyway, it will be their assistant; at some places you may get preferential treatment (ie. get read quicker) if you've been recommended, have met them before or been solicited. DON'T however kiss arse or tell gigantic fibs, you will be found out, it's a smaller world than you think.

4) Keep your letter brief and to the point. Tell them what you're sending them (a script, a novel, a treatment, etc), tell them the title and most importantly the GENRE. You'd be surprised by how many writers leave this information out!

5) The one page pitch. ALWAYS include a one page pitch or synopsis with your work (and that includes you, novelists!!). Readers HATE having to dive into a draft "cold" with no idea of what it is, plus this is an added opportunity to SELL YOURSELF AND YOUR STORY. Don't let it pass you by just because one pagers are a bitch to write. Go that extra mile. DON'T however include CDs of music that "go with" the script, photographs of characters, concept art or anything else. Once I read a script about a a family of girls who make a quilt and the writer thought it an excellent idea to include a piece of said imaginary quilt. That was just odd.

6) Don't be needy, weird or boastful. Gushing over someone via letter just creeps people out; so does going on about how VERY DIFFICULT you've found writing the script [for whatever reason], how much scriptwriting or other writers do your head in or what your deepest, darkest fears are. Similarly, there is a difference between bigging yourself up (after all, no one will do it for you - and if you've won a contest or have credits, say so!) and full-on BOASTING about how fabulous you are. Sounds an exaggeration, but I've read cover letters like all of these lots of times. I'll never forget one I read about five years' ago that came through a literary agent which, I kid ye not, said: "As someone of above-average intelligence, I have created a script that asks wise questions of its audience and provides them with the answers." Blimey, wish I knew all the answers. The funniest thing was, it was a very derivative comedy with very little to say in my opinion. However, my ultimate fave weirdo letter STILL of all time came to me just three scripts in to my reading career and said: "This script has received funding [from this initiative]. This means it is good. If upon reading it you disagree, please call [this number] and the writer will be happy to explain anything you did not understand." Arf!

Anyway, hope that helps - The Rouge Wave has some of its own thoughts on query letters. NOTE: query letters are different to cover letters in that a writer will send these out with a logline and NO SCRIPT, asking an agent, producer etc IF they want to read their script. This is a good idea - sending your stuff out cold is a mug's game because even if someone *does* get round to reading it, how do you know if you've targetted them correctly? It's a waste of time and trees. Send query letters, phone calls and emails people!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Slightly Concerned I Am Now A Grown Up

I had a kid when I was still a kid and got married in the space of five minutes and didn't live to regret it (even though sometimes I do wish I could kill my husband and get away with it), so all the normal GROWN UP STUFF is really not that scary to me. A friend of mine confessed he was terrified at the thought of his first child turning up (any day now... Three days overdue!) and my response was: "What's the problem? For the first year they cry, then they shout at you for seventeen years and in between that you do the school run, take them to the park, bribe them with sweets and occasionally send them to their room when they give you lip." Ah. Parenthood. Easyeeeeeeee.

So I've been kidding myself for a decade now that just because I am a Mum and though I may have been married for ages, does NOT mean I am in any shape or form a PROPER GROWN UP. I've always sort the company of people older than myself for some reason, so I've always thought of myself as a bright young thing because in comparison to most of the people I hang around with, I'm generally between ten and fifteen years younger.

But this self denial came to an abrupt halt just a couple of months ago when I started to notice a few disturbing things:

1) People call me "madam" in shops
2) I've begun to notice actresses and actors in films playing young people are considerably younger than me - even when they're too old to still be in high school
3) I've started making photo albums and scrapbooks of my children
4) I visit garden centres
5) I get ID'd in shops when buying alcohol by young whippersnapper teenage boys who think they're paying "an older woman" a compliment
6) I have wrinkles that I call "laughter lines" by my eyes

I'm going to be thirty next year. THIRTY. This is terrible. By the time I am approximately thirty seven, my son will be making his UNIVERSITY CHOICES (and he better go or I'll kick his ass - OH. MY. GOD).

When did I get old? Take today for example. I bought CURTAIN RAILS today and actually got a little bit excited about *finally* forcing the huisband to take down the horrible blinds the previous occupant of our house left behind. I wouldn't have noticed there were even blinds in the house, let alone how horrible they were, as little as three years ago. What's up with that??? Secondly, I found myself saying in the middle of the curtain rail shop:

"Do you sell knob ends for these?"

And wondering why the teenage shop assistant started laughing.

I'm doomed.

But until then, I know lots of you are still older than me, so thanks for that. It's the one thing keeping me going. Anyway, early night for me...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Stranger Than Fiction

So this morning on the way back from take The Boy to school, I saw something I thought existed solely in comic books and cartoons: a guy, right across the road from me, slipped on a discarded banana skin.

His arms didn't spin round and round; he didn't skate on said banana skin; there was no cartoon exclamation marks over his head; there was not that comical *crash* sound. He simply fell over and muttered, "Bollocks." Then he got up and skulked off, embarrassed. I wanted to say to him that it was only me who'd seen him and not to worry about it, but then realised I would likely embarrass him further by blogging about it, so didn't say anything. It's a cruel world.

This got me thinking - there are so many things you could NEVER put in a script because people would accuse you of stereotyping or general madness. Like the time when I was ten and bit into a spearmint chew - and it broke in half AND CUT MY CHIN OPEN. Or the time when the family cat Fidget jumped in through one of the small top windows and it shut on his tail, so he ended hanging by it and dislocating it in three places according to the vet. Or the time I put my then-five year old's shoe on and he complained there was "something" in it - so I turned it upside down expecting a stone and a LIVE MOUSE FELL OUT and ran under the sofa.

What mad, real-life things have happened to you that you could never put in a script 'cos no one would ever believe it?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New Intro

STOP PRESS: Feast your eyes upon my superb new intro and link page.

Yes I know it looks a bit cak-handed, web design has never been my thing, it's the best I can do! Not sure about the template yet, chose about three million off Google pages, but none seem to reflect my fantastic wit and general wonderfulness. Blame Google: I am but one woman in a sea of internet... stuff. My lad seems pretty (if depressingly) more capable on the web than me these days though, so perhaps if I bribe him with a new Bionicle he'll build me a new site. Until then, you'll have to put up with this one.

You will notice some good links on there though, even if you're a seasoned Bang2writer: I've linked to Robin Kelly's brilliant online Peer Review group, "Peerage" as well as posted some links to writing resource sites I've found only recently, including "Argosy Media" and "Freelance Writing Tips". They're on the left hand column. Enjoy!

Needed: Quirks & Edginess

Got an excellent question from the lovely Caroline:

I was at a pitching masterclass yesterday and [the company] mentioned in passing [prodcos, schemes etc] look for writers with ideas for films (or TV drama) that are "edgy, quirky, a bit different"... I realised that I'm not sure exactly what they mean by edgy or quirky or even a bit different. Obviously I have my own thoughts about what is edgy, quirky etc... but this seems to come up quite a lot at events and I wondered if you had any thoughts on what it is about a story that would be seen as edgy/ quirky/ a bit different?

Obviously what constitutes a "quirk" or "edginess" is up to interpretation on so many levels - personal, cultural, whatever. But as everyone knows, I'm not one to balk at a huge question, so I'll give it my best shot.

Seems to me as a reader the "edgiest" and "quirkiest" writing I've seen comes from those screenplays that take a message, an opinion, belief or issue right to their heart. In other words, the writer REALLY CARES about what they're writing about and strives to present it in such a fashion that they make the reader care too (or at least appreciate what the writer's saying). I would argue the spec "merchandised blockbuster" you've conceived to "fill a gap in the market" or "jump on the bandwagon" is neither quirky nor edgy. That's not to say either of these DON'T have a place by the way - they are just not quirky or edgy, because you're doing it with a view to the market, as opposed to pulling it out of YOURSELF.

I think being quirky or edgy is writing about SOMETHING IMPORTANT to you, that either a) no one has ever touched on before (very, very difficult) or b) the writer presents something in such a way no one has ever seen or appreciated before (more realistic).

One of my favourite films is ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. In essence, it's about relationships and a person's memories and sense of self - one of the *oldest* stories in the book, really. There are stacks of films like this on the DVD shelf at your local video store. What makes it different is Charlie Kaufmann's unique take on this "old" story, his way of seeing it and executing it, thus drawing us in.

Putting your own unique take on something is just as hard as it sounds - especially when sometimes loads of people have the same idea as you. This year, identity theft and terrorism are the big two subjects - which was why I wasn't surprised by what Northern Lights said in my rejection yesterday. Ditto mental health and vigilantes (particularly when it comes to stabbings and youth crime). Last year, it was vigilantes again (but with paedophiles), mental health, gay rights. Sometimes it's a particular arena: about three years ago I got lots of medieval stories for some reason. Another time, it's genre: SF (time travel in particular) bounces in and out of my tray at certain periods and several drafts nearly always come together, which is odd. Weirdly, in my history of reading I noticed one staggering fact when I trawled through my lists of titles yesterday: I have read only four Westerns since 2002; two of which (half!) contained cowboy vampires and 100% were set in the past. Very interesting.

But putting your heart and soul into a script doesn't guarantee quirks or edginess in my view; I think your script also needs to have something specific to say about your view of the state of the world. On this basis then, teenage pregnancy always comes up. Roman Catholic Priests falling in love with women - or men. Gay Priests, paedophile priests. Gangs. Adoption. Child abuse. Rape - particularly a woman's revenge on rapists. Transplants - particularly kidney, but recently liver has started to come up too, as have blood transfusions and Jehovah's Witnesses. Sometimes I will read about divorce (not often, surprisingly); other times cancer, usually Leukemia. Sometimes infidelity will make an appearance but not as often as I would expect.

Seems to me that anything deemed topical by the news will be a big "thing" in scripts of that year - that's why I'm not surprised I've had three scripts about the recession recently; I'm sure I will get more. Ditto on the youth crime thing and stabbings given the appalling statistics in London and other cities in the last year.

I've written about my most "successful" spec script on here a lot, Thy Will Be Done. It's been praised as "edgy", but it's *only* a serial killer narrative when you boil it right down. There are of course squillions of films about that have serial killers in them, but I wanted to co,bine this serial killer narrative with my own thoughts on how these people come about: how broken down and depraved our society is, where children and women are lost in the seedy underbelly of Britain's Vice Industry. I talked to a lot of prostitutes whilst writing Thy Will Be Done, not to mention mental health experts and pathologists. I discovered stories that sickened and inspired me and some elements of these made it into Thy.

But it's also important to remember what is "edgy" or "quirky" to one is not to another person. Lots of people have liked Thy, it has got me attention and even a couple of jobs and collaborations. However it wasn't enough to get me an interview at The BBC Writers' Academy last year (even though they wanted "edgy" scripts with "something to say" and I think it does, obviously!) and its first ten pages didn't make it past the first cut in Red Planet last year. You just have to hope others care for what you're writing about the way you do - and when they don't, you just have to let it go. That can be hard when you've poured everything into it, as I found when someone said to me regarding Thy: "Have you thought about using the traditional three act structure here and actually resolving this narrative?" Me... Think... Three Acts??? Besides, it WAS resolved!!! Grrr.

My advice then, if you want to be quirky or edgy:

1. Really care about your subject matter. This story could be true - yours or a close friend's - or maybe it presents a viewpoint that's important or special to you. Whatever it is, if it means something to you, chances are you can communicate that meaning to others.

2. Present your view of the world in a way we haven't seen before. This could mean challenging our expectations within the story itself via the characters or plot; it could mean the structure and how you present it that way. You could have a twist in the tale or maybe the most surprising thing is there is no gimmick at all. Whatever works, but don't force it.

3. Make sure your voice shines through in your writing. Don't copy writers you admire or do things that don't feel natural to you. If you're not the funny type, don't force yourself to write comedy. If you're not the type to write asides or quips, then don't. If romance makes you want to poke your eyes out, avoid it. If you don't like horror, don't write one just because you've read it's an low-budget indie producer's genre of choice. If you get INSPIRED and REALLY want to write one though - go for it!

4. Stay away from the main headlines. If you want to find inspiration, this is exactly what everyone else is doing - going for the front page news. I would search out headlines from medical journals and newspapers, specialist areas, that sort of thing. Talk to people who are REALLY involved in a certain issue you're interested in - that way it makes it feel more "real" and less as if it's come out of a newspaper, so if you end up writing about whatever everyone else is writing about (and it does happen), yours will be better.

5. Don't be preachy. This is one of the most difficult things to do, because if you're writing about issues of teenage pregnancy, religion, terrorism, whatever, the first thing you're going to want to do is impose your viewpoint on the audience. But sounding the alarm long and loud for your opinion may just end up having the opposite effect: your reader might just reject the story if you get up on your soapbox. Subtlety is everything if you have a point to make. You need to walk a very fine line when it comes to "issues" or inviting your audience or reader to make judgements on characters or their actions. I think SPOOKS *generally* does this very well - they present the Jihadists' case whilst still condemning it, so we never feel as if the antagonists are *just* bad guys; we can even see their point a little bit whilst still being repulsed by it. The Simpsons does this equally admirably (if not more quirkily) on many subjects, but with none more relevant in my view than the Judgement Day episode in which Lisa is insistent the "angel" she digs up is not an angel at all and a judge ends up issuing a restraining order between religion and science!

This contrast in stories like this is based on the concept of moral relativism, a philosophical standpoint that recognises our sense of "morality" as being subjective, dependent on where we grow up in society, the situation, who we are, etc. Recognising this can help avoid "comic book villain" stereotypes in particular: no "evil" character should wake up thinking they are evil or wrong in your spec - they should believe absolutely in what they are doing, even believe their motives are hopelessly misunderstood or their enemy (our protagonist) is the one who is "evil", even.

What do you think makes a spec "quirky" or "edgy"? Over to you...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

That's The Way To Do It

So I got rejected by the Northern Lights Film Festival Script Award this week. I wasn't expecting to get through - I heard literally *just* before the deadline and hacked a so-called "treatment" together from another one page pitch in a real FRANKENSCRIPT "better than not entering" kinda way.

I will definitely enter next year though (and plan ahead!). Not only did they bother to reject me (so many schemes don't), they did it nicely AND when they said they would. They even gave me a little insight into the contest itself, so I didn't even mind there was no individual feedback as I was interested to see I was only one of 6 who submitted a comedy treatment. Best of all, it was FREE.

Dear Lucy,

Thank you for submitting your project to the Northern Lights Film Festival.

We received 85 entries from across the UK, with drama proving to be the most popular choice of genre (43). Both horror and thriller made it to double figures, comedy came up with six and and we had a single western. The most popular story concerns were terror threats, identity theft and atoning for past sins. Thirty five of the applicants were women.

We very much enjoyed reading your entry but unfortunately it didn't make the long list. We wish you all the best with this project and your writing.

Best wishes,
The Script Award Team


What more could you want (apart from winning, natch)? Bookmark their page and plan your entry for next year... Get set... Go!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

... And So It Rolls On

Interesting response to the idea of repetitive threads on the SP Screenwriters' List this morning:

Golly Gee Boys and Girls, oops Men and Women or is it Women and men? If you don't like what's written in the bulletin, you, with a tad of intelligence, can just, well maybe, it is possible you know, to use your brain and consider skipping the read. Many newbees to the site just might like the read, so shut up, pass onto the next note and so forth until you have digested your meal, had your third beer and be done with it. Grow up and let those who might like the read, READ.

Funny how this poster forgets I made the point last Friday I was already "skipping the read" much of the time. Maybe he skimmed last Friday's bulletin though, lol.

Or perhaps this guy just doesn't like MY posts: he responded with this below when I posted in the dialogue section a short while back about The Power of Three:

Now, I want to make certain I have this straight! When a writer finishes his/her screenplay, he/she needs to get as many as nine critiques? Excuse me, but that is the most stupid idea I have ever heard in my life except "Let's get married." Find a great reader, writer or person who knows the art form and rely on that person for feedback, PERIOD! I have such persons; a writer, a director, a producer. OOPS, that's the power of three! Except, I only let one of them critique depending on the genre, length and their time availability. If you, as a writer, cannot tell when a script is ready for the world, then go back to school and learn the craft! That my friends is the power of ONE!

Even working on the basis that this fella likes a internet-based ruck, I find it quite depressing that writers are expected to just "put up and shut up" with dialogue they find repetitive or whinging on SP. Whilst one poster said she felt £30 a year wasn't good value to be "patronised" by people like myself yesterday, it does cut both ways. If I'm paying £30 a year, I would like intelligent debate that doesn't repeat itself or indulge in the type of thing we can see above re: Po3. Alternatively I have no problem being left alone in peace to read the jobs, the ads, the announcements, etc without a load of clamouring voices insisting they're RIGHT, so wonder if another list FOR dialogue might be appropriate.

I found it suprising that Andy said yesterday that those who don't like the dialogue rarely contribute and are the "Haters", because this is simply not true in my eyes. Just because someone does not want to get into an argument does not make them a "Hater": the way I see it, they actually want to spread LESS hate. What's more people HAVE complained about the list directly TO the list, they're not back-biting. I am (or was) an active contributor to the list and so have other people who don't sit on the sidelines of this scriptwriting malarkey - we could contribute well, but have found ourselves brow-beaten or feeling world-weary about the responses we get. Is it any wonder then we've thought, "Sod it" and now look elsewhere on the 'net for dialogue, like on the blogs or Twelve Point?

Andy did mention yesterday too that he would be doing a "Best of" posts to try and avoid repetitive threads. I think this is a good idea, but wonder if it goes far enough when people will inevitably bleat about being censored because their new posts about old stuff will no longer get through? Chip and Potdoll made the excellent point in Friday's thread here the list each day should be about "business stuff" like the WGGB newsletter, with a forum or message board for those people who want the dialogue that would have otherwise been on the SP List. Hell, maybe the Screenwriters' Bulletin could come less frequently - quality, not quantity: three or even two times a week if content is low on collaborations, unpaid or paid work, plus Andy would no doubt get lumbered with responsibility for the forum, so he would need to re-order his time, it's only fair.

In the absence of the above, why not a "new members" area of the list itself where it's understood they can talk about whatever they want, as many times as they want, but older members can skip without any fear of missing anything? This wouldn't address the "vicious responses" Dave Herman talks about yesterday of course, but maybe that will never change.

What do you think?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Facts of Life

In my twenty nine years, I have been treated to a few inescapable facts of life. These include:

1. Boys have cooties.
2. The older a woman gets, the more she likes pot pourri.
3. Never believe your teenage boyfriend when he says, "I'll look after you and the baby."
4. Married women are always the ones who load the washing machine, hang up the washing to dry, sort it out, put it in drawers - and yet your fella will always complain he hasn't enough socks because he never puts them in the laundry basket.

And finally--

5. There are actually some sensible people in the dialogue section of Shooting People:

Unfortunately I agree with Lucy wholeheartedly, and I often find myself thinking twice about initiating or contributing to a discussion because responses can often be pretty vicious.

Thanks Dave Herman! : )

But it seems some people still want to prove my original point:

Lucy, it is an exceptionally patronising view that all posters don't have a life so have time to compose these posts. I have a busy life. I also have decades of experience in education so if I am taking the time out to share what I think will be helpful and then not only do you, but the moderator, take patronising swipes at sincere posters, well then, your friends are right, this list does give people a hard time.

Love the idea I am actually the FLAMER here when this poster takes my generalised (albeit facetious) comment and then makes the kind of assertion I complained about in the first place! Lol.

Think I'll stick to the blogs. Starting with Dave Herman's today...

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Remember to Remember

It's Remembrance Sunday today and the eleventh hour of the eleventh month on Tuesday, so I hope you'll take a moment to remember the servicemen and women who have died and suffered in war. Like most hippy-types I don't technically agree with war and would hide my son in the attic or cellar rather than let him get conscripted into one, but I can still appreciate the massive sacrifices that have made on all our behalf, particularly in WW2. So please, at eleven o' clock, remember the fallen and those who've been affected by the kind of sights and experiences most of us will never encounter.

With Christmas literally around the corner, you may also want to remember others who aren't as fortunate. Personally, I absolutely hate the idea of a child waking up on Christmas Day with no presents to open, so think Operation Christmas Child is a fabulous idea. Basically, all you need do is find a shoe box, wrap it in Christmas paper and fill it with small gifts for a child - then hand it in to your nearest collection point.

Last year my son and I filled a box for a boy, so this year we've done one for a girl. Not got much money? It doesn't have to be fancy: we went to a bargain basement-style store and managed to get her all sorts of lovely things, including a lovely plush teddy bear for a £1. It cost about £7.50 in total. Visit the website for Operation Christmas child here and find your nearest collection point for your box here for more details on where the boxes go and gift ideas and guidelines on what to put in your box - but hurry, they stop collecting on Nov 17th because they need time to get the boxes to the children.

Lastly, it's easy to forget the obvious stuff at this time of year, so remember to pay your bills - with money and not with drawings of spiders.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Shoot The Blogger

Let's get one thing straight: Shooting People is a great resource for screenwriters, actors, filmmakers. I constantly recommend it to my newbie writing clients. It's helped me personally no end - I've got script reading gigs from it, got discounts on various stuff, made contacts, begun friendships and collaborations, not to mention had hours of interesting reading each morning (I always either forget to check forums, or spend every waking hour on them, so think the arrival of the list each morning is a great idea).

But as I've mentioned only recently and various Bloggers have discussed before around www.land and I have with various people in real life, the dialogue section of SP can turn tiresome from time to time. It seems that there are various subjects that boomerang back again, not to mention moanfests about how unfair schemes like the UKFC's "25 Words or Less" are. Script readers seem to be frequently under attack and Adrian Mead has even been called a "spammer". Insults and accusations are levvied at the work of directors Shooters dislike, such as the seemingly universally hated "Happy Go Lucky" that spiralled into a melee of name-calling and assertions about Mike Leigh.

I should mention at this juncture: none of this criticism is levvied at the moderator of the screenwriters' bulletin, Andy Conway. He does a fantastic job wading through posts from weirdoes like myself. He can only work with what he has and actually, a lot of the time dialogue is good when contributors are more focused. In addition, I reckon flame wars have gone down by approximately 90% (that's a statistical fact by the way, arf) since Andy started moderating the list two years ago and he DOES make an effort to stamp out those repetitive threads. Only this morning he posited the idea in his editorial that he should ban posts with certain key words in, lol.

So - looking at what I consider the "bad" dialogue on SP then, I wonder: is this REALLY the face we want to present as writers? Writers often complain they don't get taken seriously by producers and the like. Is this part of the reason why?

Andy mentions in his response to my post today that "no one gets flamed", but I don't agree that someone calling someone else a "spammer" is "a frank exchange of views". Shooting People is by no means unusual in this regard - The Hubster belongs to an angling forum (yes, I'm a fishing widow) and I'm always surprised by the level of vitriol they levvy at each other for not knowing what type of bait or hook to use on what type of fish (eugh).

Why is it that we say things on the internet we wouldn't dream of in real life? Because of the anonymity I suppose - but I think this desire to say exactly what we feel actually gets in the way of intelligent debate and us growing as writers. You'd talk to your mates in the pub about how crap a film is and how you wanted to punch the lead in the face: on a forum or list like SP, why can't we talk about what we would have PREFERRED to see in a film we didn't like, sans accusations, swearing and general assertions about how I AM RIGHT AND YOU ARE WRONG? It can be done.

Well anyway, that's just what I think. But I know I'm right and if you don't agree with me you're all doped-up halfwits : P . Arf.

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MY POST: I'm with Andy who expressed disbelief yesterday that the argument about screenwriting books has come round AGAIN. That, along with the questions, "can talent be taught?" and "what constitutes "good" grammar?", are just three notions that come up on this list with alarming regularity. Are we really sitting at our PCs and Macs with no other thoughts than what screenwriting book to read or burn, whilst worrying if we have God-given talent as we scour BBC Skillswise and "Eats, Shoots & Leaves"? I hope not.

I love Shooting People, naturally, but I have to admit I am skimming the screenwriters' bulletin these days. I would love to see some dialogue on here that surprises - no accusations or flame wars either, or slagging off contributors, directors, producers, or people we disagree with.

It's easy to point the finger, harder to create. Many of my Bang2writers confess they are "scared" of posting in to SP in case people "get on their case". I think this is a real shame. Let's stimulate some real debate and stop repeating ourselves. It shouldn't be difficult - we ARE writers.

Have a fab weekend, Lucy : )
www.lucyvee.blogspot.com

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ANDY'S RESPONSE

This is a little unfair, Lucy. We have lots of new members who might not be familiar with arguments that we haven't had here for over a year (August 2007, and even then only a brief flare up quickly stamped out). And those people who tell you they're scared of writing here just amaze me. No one ever gets flamed here. I don't allow it. But we do have the occasional frank exchange of views. If anyone is scared of that then I give up on them as a writer that has anything to say to anyone. I've been editing this bulletin for over two years and one thing I know for sure by now is that the people who bitch about it from afar are the ones who never ever write in or contribute, no matter how much you try to address their gripes. As you say, it's easy to point the finger, harder to create.
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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Doesn't Quite Add Up

There's a rule in my house that says the kids have until the count of five to do what they're supposed to be doing - whether that's turning the TV off and getting upstairs, eating their breakfasts or to stop throttling each other. It's a system that works pretty well and generally speaking, by the time I shout "Five!" said kid has ceased evilness and is good again.

However, because the youngest is a copycat of extraordinary measure, I heard her berating her brother with this yesterday:

"You got 'til five... One... Four.... Sixteeen... Twenty two.... FIVE!"

Non-linearity is *the* thing in our house, it seems.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Honesty The Best Policy?

This is a true story: it happened about two years ago.

Phone rings. I pick up.

Me: Hello?

PRODUCER: I'm going to kill you. And then I'm going to kill all your progeny to make sure your inherited evil does not infect the rest of the universe.

I'm unfazed, naturally. That's just how I roll.

ME: What's the problem?

PRODUCER: I have a writer here CRYING.

ME: Why?

PRODUCER: Because you said the character of the mother in the script was a shrieking banshee with the subtlety of being hit round the head with a hammer. And a brick.

ME: She asked me for my honest opinion.

PRODUCER: You weren't supposed to give it!

This is an interesting one. As one of the foundations of our society, it's always thought "honesty is the best policy" - but is it really? My writer here wanted to be told her character was brilliant, for it was based on her own (dead) mother. I didn't know this at the time of course - and actually, I hadn't mentioned how terrible I thought the mother was in the actual notes. I'd said instead that the mother "required some work" and made a couple of recommendations on how *I thought* best to do this, as is customary in note-giving. It was only later, when said writer phoned me on my mobile to ask me my "honest opinion" that I gave it. Well, she DID ask.

Seems to me that we put so much of ourselves and our own experiences in our drafts that it's hard sometimes to separate that from personal feelings about the notes we get. Notes are never an attack on the writer - it's how a reader feels about the SCRIPT, not you. We all hear about vitriolic readers making personal attacks but in my experience this is quite rare. Most readers want to help a writer, give them a springboard on which to get new ideas and new approaches to a draft.

Yet we all fall into this trap. We all want to use our scripts as an extension of ourselves - if the script is received well, we must be "good". If a script is received poorly (or an aspect of it is), then we must be "bad". But this is not the case. I will never forget the tears I shed over one script that was "ripped apart" by a reader when I was about twenty one. I was DISTRAUGHT. Now I revisit the script and that reader's report and see not a personal attack, but actually a very helpful set of recommendations on how to reapproach the story.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Your script is FROM you, but it's not actually YOU. It's a script.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Gore Galore

MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN: ***NO REAL SPOILERS***
Proof you can watch too many movies: I was on the tube the other day. It was late and pretty quiet. I'd watched The Midnight Meat Train a couple of days' before, so obviously I was somewhat concerned about general serial killer action. However the only people in my carriage was an old woman with a copy of weirdly, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit and a teenage Goth who didn't look as if s/he was possessed so much as by Satan, but My Chemical Romance. I was pretty safe I reckoned. Got to Waterloo, the doors open and......THERE'S VINNIE JONES!!!!

On a poster.

Phew.

Coming out in the same week as Bond 22 aka Quantum of Solace, Midnight Meat Train may not do so well on theatrical release. I don't *do* Bond darlink (I don't think I've sat through one since I was a child and it had Roger Moore and Grace Jones in, I don't even know the title and can't be arsed to trail through the list on IMDB because I'm too lazy), but I had figured I would like Midnight Meat Train. After all, I was a die-hard Clive Barker enthusiast as a teenager; I must have read Imajica and Weaveworld fourteen times each between the ages of 15 and 21. And I did ultimately enjoy it - there are some good things about MMT I thought. It has a cracking opener which bookends the film rather nicely (if somewhat predictably) and some superb gore in places, even if the film does work on the basis that the human body is as pliable and easy to cut through as butter. But hey: why not?! This is horror, baby! Let's see some hardcore and splatter-tastic DEATH.

Although being a horror fan, I've always been more on the "stab/slash/shining teeth then CUT" side, than actual gore. I've never really watched serial killer movies (bar the usual suspects, Halloween and the like), so I've been watching a lot of splattery movies lately for inspiration on my own Gore Horror. I'm struck with the fact that so many fall on the side of "This is a highly implausible situation, so the characters will thus behave implausibly." Characters can change so radicallty, so quickly: our protagonist in Mifdnight Meat Train for example goes from normal to mental in nought to sixty. That doesn't mean the gore isn't still good or the general flow of the narrative isn't satisfactory, but it does mean I can't get *wholly* on board because I can't believe in the journey of the character.

One thing I like about horror is the idea that I would behave in the same way if I was confronted with such a bad THING (whether it's a serial killer, a monster, an alien invasion etc). Of course, I have no idea whether I would be able to create fantastic and fanciful plans, make wise cracks or cry like a baby (most likely the latter), but in my head I would be as tough and honourable as Ripley with the ability to kick ass like Arnie. When a character changes radically then, I feel like a part of the film is missing - as if I've blinked and someone's switched the reels in a nanosecond.

Most of us will never meet a serial killer, never mind an alien, werewolf or other creature. Just because your character is in an implausible situation doesn't mean they can behave implausibly. The audience still has to believe a character will do and say the things they're doing, whether it's a nihilistic drama, a madcap comedy or a hardcore horror. It's not that they have to be REALISTIC either, movies are a representation of reality: if your characters' actions have logic within your narrative and go at a steady pace that builds up (even if they turn mad or bad), then you can do anything you want. It's when you switch them from one thing to another in the space of a few scenes that people can't invest in that character.

So: what other Gore Horror movies can I watch that will inspire me? They don't have to be great, they can even be horribly bad if they'll teach me what NOT to do in this genre. Over to you...