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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas [or equivalent], Everyone

If you can't do without me during the festive season, you'll no doubt be able to find me on Twitter or Facebook.

Have a good one... See you in 2010!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Year In Review 09: Going Forwards

As writers we often look to others who have *the success we want* and think, "If I could do what s/he's doing, I would be happy with my writing career." I bet you've done it, 'cos I totally have.

Yet knowing lots of what I call "grown up" writers now (ie. writers who consistently get commissioned in TV, on feature rewrites, etc and GET PAID FOR IT), I'm always struck by how they STILL feel the same, it's just their goals have changed slightly: "If I could get to Hollywood... If I could do a feature instead of all this soap opera... If I could get my novel published... If I could get into TV instead of movies... If I could direct a short..." The list goes on and on.

A conversation with a new writer pulled me up short this week when they said, "I'd love to do what you've been doing." My first thought was, "EH?" After all, "all I've done" this year is a bunch pitches and meetings, some script editing on a couple of movies, some training, development/collaboration with a couple of prodcos, a trial script for a TV show, some magazine articles, a couple of DIY films. I've earnt either a pittance to nothing at all. What the hell was this guy talking about?!

But I'm on my way, whilst he's just beginning - and we all remember what that's like: it's exciting, but incredibly daunting. Which is why it's important sometimes to think about how far we've come, rather than how much time has passed or how much we have not advanced at what we want:

Five years ago I had no portfolio. Now I have four polished features, a children's TV series, a half hour comedy and approximately thirty pitch documents and three or four other scripts in various states of development. That's got to be progress.

Four years ago I had no real understanding of the difference between a feature and television script. That's right - whilst I knew about structure for features, how it changes according to the various shows I was completely blind on: I didn't know about "story of the week" vs the "serial element" and nor did I twig soap operas had three or four strands in each episode. When I decided just two and a half years ago to get a trial script *somewhere* however, I had one within six months. It came to nothing, but started me on a journey I still haven't finished: I will get a soap commission, by hook or by crook. What's more it fed nicely into my script reading, because suddenly there was a BURST of TV specs doing the rounds, when before it was all features and shorts.

Three years ago I had never really done any pitching. I'd done some of course at university, but all the work I had done so far was for people I had been "hired" for on the basis either of samples, my corporate work or because of someone else I knew. I'd never really done any *real* pitching to prodcos or people I might be able to work with. And the first ten or so meetings "about me and my work" I had with producers or companies I completely cocked up. But I decided nerves weren't going to get me and I decided to hone my ability and really work at it.

And it worked, because people did start to respond to my ideas. My favourite pitch so far was one about two years ago on a Friday night when a director emailed last thing saying, "Do you know anyone with a script about _______?" I'd had a few beers and I cheekily typed back: "Yeah, me." (I didn't). He says, "Okay what's the logline?" So I gave him a logline I'd totally made up, expecting him to say "Okay, I'll get back to you." Instead he says, "Great, got a short treatment, say four pages?" I say, "Yeah, sure..." THEN he emails back and says, "Great, send it to me." ARGH. Luckily for me the Gods of Scriptwriting smiled on me, 'cos I get another email that says: "Forgot - I'm on holiday Monday. Can you send it to me when I get back?" HALLELUJAH!!! I ended up writing three versions of the treatment in the time he was away with the help of Scott the Reader. The director got back, read it and phoned me: he loved it. It's been in development ever since and a revised version has just gone in for iFeatures. We're both really committed to the project and I have no doubt it will get made eventually.

Two years ago I had never script edited an actual movie, rather than just a script As a reader or editor most of them I read, even for companies, sank without trace before getting into the can - and those that did make it were not really anything to do with me; I was a glorified reader/proofer, rather than a dedicated script editor. But this all changed with Act of Grace which went on to get me other work doing the same. AoG is still in the can, without a distribution deal, but I have faith it will make it - sometimes it just takes aeons. It's a great story with a massive heart and some fab actors. Watch this space.

One year ago I had never produced a short. It was exactly this time last year I rang Schuman Hoque and said, "You know we've been talking about making a short together for about two years? Why don't we just do it? And by the way I want to produce it." Instead of saying, "Are you NUTS? You've never produced anything!" He said, "Cool, let's do it." And in February we shot our no-budget short, Safe, about a young single mother who dies and as a ghost has to ensure her baby is found. It's not perfect, but I'm really proud of it - and it produced a fab response: it seems to have really spoken to people - especially the parents in the audience, some of whom wrote to me about how they had had a similar fear themselves which made me feel the film really hit the spot. Now of course we're in post-prod on our second, Slash, a spoof horror about a couple who go into the woods and die (but how? *Spooky music*) and which was in part funded by the wonderful readers of this blog.

That's not all of it - and of course the bad things happen too, to counter-balance. But next time you're tempted to say you *haven't really done anything* or you'd be happier if you could just do *whatever someone else is doing*, remember: you've done plenty. And you will do more... If you just keep going forwards.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Art of Rejection

As anyone who's ever been rejected by the likes of something like The Writers' Academy or the BBC e-Commissioning system knows, good news tends to come during the week in the middle of the day; bad news comes at approximately 5pm and ALWAYS on a Friday. This has prompted me to label such emails as "FFOFs": "Friday F**k off at five", something many other writers seem to understand and have their own versions of, so conversations can go a bit like this:

WRITER 1: How'd you do with your pitch/ treatment/ proposal /spec / whatever?

WRITER 2: Got the FFOF last week.

WRITER 1: Ah, bad luck.

When you first start writing, every single rejection half-kills you. This is because you're taking your first steps and every time someone says your script isn't right or good enough, even if they're nice about it, you won't realise and it *feels* like a personal attack. As the years go by, you develop a much thicker skin. You begin to realise that just because your pitch or script has been rejected, doesn't automatically mean you are a crap writer and should quit; you should just keep on and find the person or company who IS looking for a script or writer like you.

But even if you are experienced in the art of getting rejected, sometimes a particular rejection still cuts deep. Other times, you are able to shrug and say stuff like, "Oh well, I didn't expect to get through really, it was a cheeky submission" or "I didn't *really* like that idea/company/director/producer/whatever, it's a lucky escape"; but every now and again a rejection still has the potential to really get under your skin and give you the type of rage and hurt you were prone to when you were a newbie. Maybe it's because you worked extremely hard on something, then got moved off it by a philistine producer; other times it's because you've laboured over a spec and poured your heart and soul in, only to be met with "Meh".

Whatever the case, forget the hurt - but use that rage: use it to be better than you were before and make them sorry in retrospect they rejected you. Every successful writer has a veritable bagful of rejection letters, email responses and walls of silences about their work and most say, with gusto, "So and So rejected it/didn't like it/told me I was shit." That is your reward and your revenge - so get there and take it.

David has a brilliant take on dealing with his version of the FFOF, the "Friday F**K You" over at his blog, Vicious Imagery: read it here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Remember To Remember

I've written plenty on here about the huge amounts of mad spam I get, wrong phone calls and even wrong emails, but nearly every single week I get an item of wrong mail. Not because I have a particularly difficult address, either: there is no road name even remotely like mine for approximately 5 miles, but there are plenty of number 19s and it seems some oik at Bournemouth post office can't read because they sort plenty of wrong number 19s into our postman's run... Who is way too lazy to take it back and shoves it through our letterbox regardless.

The most interesting this year was a notice from Poole Court asking us to check in to have our tags reviewed (I'd opened it without looking); I've also had an entire year's subscription of a monthly marketing magazine (never found where *that* was supposed to go, it kept bouncing back every time I reposted it: took to reading the bloody thing after a whole); also copious amounts of tokens for things we could never use - denture cream was top of the list - and then there was a notice from Children's Social Services... No idea what *that* said, it was addressed to someone else, so I shoved back in the postbox asap: BEGONE!

And yet this is not the first house I've been through this sort of rigmorale. It seems to me a huge amount of UK residents are law breakers and loan defectors and if they're not, I seem to have had terrible luck with rented properties from the off: I'll never forget moving into my very first flat aged twenty and opening the door to a BAILIFF just a few days later. Apparently the previous tenant had run off with a telly worth 90 quid from Rumbelows. The total git then tried to convince me - a young girl - the debt was on the FLAT and I was liable for it! Thankfully not only was I wise to his games (I'd started and dropped Law A level), as a single Mum I didn't have two pennies to rub together, never mind ninety quid which might as well have been nine hundred to me.

Then there was the time I was newly married and Hub answered the door to the cops. They asked for "Suzanne": when Hub said no Suzanne lived at our address, they said they could see a woman at the bedroom window and could I come down, please. So Hub called me downstairs and I came to the door:

ME: Yes?

COP: Suzanne [whatever surname it was]?

ME: No, that's not me.

COP: What's your name.

ME: Lucy Hay... What's this about?

COP: Date of birth?

Okay, this was really weird. I told them and they checked a little notebook.

COP: You've never been married to Steve [Surname]?

ME: No.

COP: Because he's saying a Suzanne [whatever] lives at this address and he needs to see her right now... It's a very sensitive situation so I need your co operation immediately if you are her.

ME: I'm not... We've just moved in here... She must have lived here before us?

We never found out what this Steve had done or was doing - perhaps other cops were trying to charm him off a roof somewhere? I hope not. I never found out either, despite checking the local paper for any hostage situations or attempted suicides for several weeks afterwards.

Anyway, my point is - as we live our normal lives, going to work, going to school, writing our scripts, on blogs! - somewhere, someone is having a life or death situation... And it's not all in war zones like Afghanistan, either (though our soldiers are forgotten too much, no matter whether we agree with the cause). It could be literal, or metaphorical: they're losing their money, their houses, their spouses, their families; they're facing their freedom being taken away; they're peering off the top off a roof and wondering what life is about.

Every day we get through is someone else's tragedy.

As writers we exploit others' misfortune for our own ends at times: we hear the tragedy of others via the news and papers and don't always sympathise, but instead think "There's a story there." When I read the particular story of a father who murdered his family, I did just that and created a script that is doing the rounds now. We take the stories of others and claim the credit as our own, because we've invented the characters and the *rest of it*, but that seed of the story came from someone and/or something real. I don't think we should forget that, especially at this time of year.

Give to charity at Christmas - Find a charity to support here

Monday, December 14, 2009

Script Factor

I'm always confused by the amount of scorn and vitriol poured on shows like The X Factor. If you don't like them, that's fair enough - but to suggest people who do have special needs - as someone accused me on Twitter last night in fact - is not only laughable, non-PC and juvenile, it's plain ridiculous. If you think about it, it's quite obvious why such a show would appeal to me:

As a writer.

Here, painted in glorious technicolor, is a show which epitomises the struggle we go through every day in our bids to get discovered as writers. We're treated, first hand, to the fickleness of the public in choosing which they believe is *best*. Can't we learn from this? Let's take a look.

No matter who has the best voice, it's a popularity contest: who do we LIKE? This year, we loved to hate Jedward. We didn't like Danyl; we loved Olly, but it was Joe as the boy next door who is "the most talented". We saw a return to the bad old days pre-Leona and Alexandra in which women were sidelined as having little talent and/or likability and the likes of Stacey, a girl who could barely string a sentence together, was celebrated. Instead Rachel was one of the first to go - her boyish haircut blamed (WTF?) and Lucie lost out to the machine that was Louis who is so good at marketing, singing ability doesn't even get a look in, even to the chagrin of Dannii who kept whining "This is a singing contest" (Er no, it isn't: it's called X FACTOR).

Joe might have won the contest, but as always it was the runner up who really shone: it's Olly who is the performer, just as Rhydian was to Leon or Ray to Leona. Joe might have a fabulous voice, but he is a musical star and will do well on the West End where the majority of X Factor & Pop Idol stars seem to end up (I'm looking at you Ray, Brenda and Darius). Olly is like Robbie with a voice and the lack of addiction to painkillers and tattoos: if he keeps the fire in his belly - unlike Robbie! - he could have the kind of career in which he matures and changes, like the first of his kind Will Young, who I never liked in Pop Idol yet have found I have liked almost all his singles - grudgingly - over the years so much I bought his Best Of recently.

It's hard sometimes as writers to believe in ourselves: most of us won't win a major contest or get funding. That's just the way it is: there are too many of us and too few places - JUST LIKE SINGERS AND X FACTOR. Imagine all the good singers that were deemed *not right* for X Factor at all. Are they ALL those jokers in costumes or the tone deaf weirdos with odd song choices? Of course not. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people auditioned: SOME of them HAD to be good. But Simon and his posse have a particular vision in mind and those singers had to fit in with it.

But sometimes we WILL fit in with someone's vision.

And sometimes we will be runners up.

And sometimes we will be better than the winner and outlast them.

But you can't do that if you quit.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sales Agents: Just The Way It Is

Lots of Bang2writers believe the biggest *thing* to aim for is an option on their spec script. It's not: not only does your piece have to survive the development process with the optioning producer/company (for the script you option will NOT be the one that is filmed), the finished film then needs to be sold by Sales Agents to various territories - Europe and USA being the two biggies. Once these projects are sold this then means stuff like the film getting a theatrical release, DVD, etc, what is commonly termed as "distribution".

Distribution is not automatic, just because the film's been made. That's right - even when the film of your script is literally in the can, this does not mean you are home free. Hundreds of completed feature films end up shelved every year, simply because Sales Agents won't touch them with a barge pole. This can be for many different reasons, but I think it does help us as writers to familiarise ourselves with the QUESTIONS a Sales Agent might ask of a finished film (or one that is being packaged with a cast, etc with a view to shooting).

According to several producers I've spoken to or heard speak, there are three common questions Sales Agents ask when considering buying your feature for distribution:

- Who's in it?

- Who's directing?

- What's it about?

Er, hang on - shouldn't there be ANOTHER question there:

- Who's WRITING it??

Apparently not. Similarly it's hard to believe the CAST and DIRECTOR come above the STORY when apparently "Story is King". It might be with us screenwriters, but when it comes to the cold, hard marketplace it's third on the list.

We can get THE RAGE about this or we can't accept what we can't change. And really, if we think about it, it makes a kind of sense: how many films do you watch on the basis of STORY over WHO IS IN IT? As screenwriters, we probably choose the former over the latter more often, but I am guilty of watching films purely 'cos I lust after the star, like the deliciously hairy Hugh Jackman, I've even sat through ALL the X Men films when I'm well known for hating super heroes! In addition, I can't count the times my husband has said to me in the DVD store **something like**:

"Oh this is by the guy/gal who directed [THIS FILM]... You'll probably like it/hate it."

or

"[THIS ACTOR] is in this... S/he usually does good/bad films."

And don't we all have opinions on this? Morgan Freeman might be a great actor for example, but it seems to me he'll do absolutely anything - as will Samuel L. Jackson: them being in a film gives NO clue as to its quality story-wise. Other actors seemingly have a bit more discernment about the roles they choose: I've never seen Julianne Moore in a film I haven't liked at least a bit story or character-wise, for example; same more or less with Kevin Bacon.

So if we as screenwriters can be shallow, what do you think non-screenwriters do? Would they seek out for example "neo noir thrillers about the cold war" or they do look for stuff with RYAN REYNOLDS or SCARLETT JOHANNSEN in?

Knowing this can depress us: after all, "who is in it?" and even "who's directing?" will often be out of our hands anyway as screenwriters, even if we get an option.

Or we can work on the basis that WHAT IT'S ABOUT is all down to us at the spec stage and we can ensure we get the BEST CAST and the BEST DIRECTOR by writing the best damn STORY we can to attract them in the first place.

It's up to you.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Script Chat: Focus On Feedback

Writers, are you on Twitter? If you're not, you can't take part in Script Chat. Script Chat takes place on Twitter every sunday, at 8pm for us GMTers and 2pm for whatever the US peeps are (real stuff like time has never been my forte). All you need do is sign into your Twitter account and add the hashtag #scriptchat to dive straight in. Later the US moderator JeanneVB posts up a transcript of the chat up on the official blog. You really can't afford to miss out... even if you HATE the idea of Twitter, get yourself an account just for this each week. IT'S WORTH IT.

This week, the #scriptchat was about feedback on one's work. I won't reiterate what the others said - you can check out the transcript for that - but I thought I would expand on a couple of points I made myself in the chat. These were:

1) 2:03pm Bang2write: Too many readers & feedback-givers believe their PERSONAL PREFERENCES for the story are what's right for the story #scriptchat

2) 2:07 pm Bang2write: Too many readers "tick the boxes": why haven't we got a turning pt on THIS PAGE? Why isn't this character "likable"? #scriptchat

3) 2:25 pm Bang2write: Opinion is worthless in feedback - everyone has a different one, they cannot ALL be amalgamated into the screenplay #scriptchat AND 2:26 pm Bang2write: If, however they have a RESPONSE within the CONTEXT of the script - wld s/he do *this* 'cos of *that*? - that's different #scriptchat

So here goes...

Personal Preferences. I'm always amazed by how picky some readers are. In front of them, they have a script that MAKES SENSE ALL THE WAY THROUGH (as I've stressed numerous times, I can't tell you how unusual this is: so many scripts, even those that start well, go loopy or fall flat and begin to meander as the writer appears to lose their way in the story. It's just the way it goes). So I always delight the story in front of me is crafted well enough for me to understand everything. It's rare. Thumbs up to the writer, end of.

Yet some readers have such a sense of entitlement, they don't just want the story to make sense, they want it to be written THE WAY THEY WOULD HAVE WRITTEN IT/ EXPECTED IT TO BE. In short, they impose their vision on the screenplay: this character? Don't like her, she's not like me/my wife/aunt/sister. This event? That would never happen - I've done *something similar* and it didn't work out *like this*. This arena? Yes it's visual but I don't like it *because I don't*. This genre? Would be better as *this other genre*. Oh - and my real favourite: after a set of notes like this frequently comes - "but what do I know anyway?" or "I'm not really into [this type of story]."

Personal preference should not play a part in feedback. If you impose your own vision on a script, of course it can never be "good enough" - it will nearly always be found wanting, because the writer cannot predict - in advance - what the reader would want (or indeed who that reader will be sometimes!). Similarly, even on the off-chance that reader LIKES your work, how can it be useful if they have simply imposed their own vision? They might have forgiven you all kinds of logic problems in the story, simply because they like your character/ arena/ premise/ whatever.

A good reader understands a well-crafted script has its own internal logic: events happen because of the story the WRITER wants to tell, not the reader. If you make suggestions on where the story should go, it should be based on what is best for the story, not best for you. It's a subtle difference, but one a lot of readers don't realise. Imposing what YOU want then on the script when giving feedback is self-defeating at best (the writer will simply roll their eyes and discard your notes and probably never ask you again) or crushing at worst to the newer writer who has not yet understood that some readers do this.

Ticking the boxes. Ever got notes that say things like: "You SHOULDN'T use dream sequence/ non linearity/ voice-over/ montage?" Do they give you THE RAGE? You're not alone: they do me too. It took me seven days and nights to come off the ceiling when I got this note about three years ago:

"You use flashback with voiceover in the first ten pages. As a script reader yourself, you should know better than this."

WTF??? Oh, but let's not forget this one:

"In Act 1, your turning point doesn't come to page 25; as a result this pushes back your midpoint - approximately p 56 - and as a result this means your structure is lopsided."

No other notes about structure. Just that. My structure is LOPSIDED? What the hell does that mean?? I'll tell you what it means - that reader has spent too long counting pages and not enough time actually looking at MY story and how it works out in terms of the events in it and the characters' motivation. Listing page numbers is no substitute for actually considering the story, what goes into it and how it works.

End of the day, you can do whatever you want in a script. WHATEVER YOU WANT. The only caveat to that? As long as it's the best thing for the story. If a reader has a problem with your voiceover or whatever, it should be because your story DOESN'T NEED IT, not because they hate it. One of the most frequent notes I give is this:

Do you need non-linearity in this story?

The reason for this: lots of writers tie themselves up in a non-linear structure when their story would be SO MUCH BETTER told forwards: going backwards a lot of the time means we can't always invest in the protagonist's journey, the story ends up feeling "backwards looking" and forward momentum is compromised. On top of that, many writers are not clear about what makes up a non linear structure, so the story ends up feeling disjointed and confusing, when if they just told it forwards everything would "come clear". In short, they may be thinking more about STYLE than STORY. But whilst that MIGHT be one of the most frequent note I give, that doesn't mean my word is gospel - hence my note being a QUESTION and not an ASSERTION.

Opinion/Response. This point links into my first about preference, though this principally deals with character rather than story structure. Characters often promote an emotional response in a way structure doesn't - and readers too often let their feelings about characters and their journey influence their feelings about the script as a whole. For example, I got some feedback recently that told me they "really cared" about my protagonist, yet "didn't care" about the rest of my characters because none of them "were flawed enough". Yes, that's right: apparently my secondary characters were TOO NICE.

But what does this actually mean? Looking at the script in question, I see difficult relationships between ALL the male characters - yes that's right, all my secondaries were MALE. All the top "places" were occupied by FEMALES. One has to wonder how much this influences the reader's decision to ignore a fist fight; a feud and an attempted murder (doesn't seem that nice to me!) between all those male characters. But even if it doesn't play a part in that reader's decision, saying characters are essentially "too nice" is just that reader's OPINION.

The difference between opinion and response is again subtle, but important. I can think of half a dozen scripts over the years I have loved, despite their flaws in structure, story, character, dialogue, etc. That is my OPINION - the scripts appealed to me for *some reason* because they did. Maybe it was the premise, maybe it was the protagonist or antagonist, maybe it was one single moment that I felt was genius.Yet similarly there are dozens of scripts I've read where I've thought they're good, okay or even horrible - yet fantastic examples of craft.

Instead of thinking, "I hate this protagonist" (which always seems to be the main issue) based on opinion alone, as readers and feedback-givers we need to consider:

"Regardless of my hatred of him/her (because of what they are/do in the script), does this protagonist MAKE SENSE? Does his/her actions have LOGIC in this STORY?"

If the answer is "no", then you need to draw up exactly WHY those actions don't "fit" in the actual story. Don't start confusing these justifications with "truth" either - that's taking it back to you again, as what constitutes "truth" is different for everyone. I've lost count of the notes I've received that have said something like "I doubted the truth of this story because of HOW the character reacted to this PERSON OR MOMENT", only to have written something that is 100% true TO ME. If you want/need to talk about "truth" in feedback, you must have REALLY GOOD REASON AND JUSTIFICATION for doing so - ie. you are a woman and you feel women are being misrepresented in the script (with examples from the script and detailed reasons for your response).

If the answer is "yes"? Then hating the protagonist makes no difference to your feedback. It's perfectly possible to dislike a character, an arena, a premise, even the entire THING and give good (read "useful", "non judgemental") notes.

It's just difficult.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Last Call: Slash Fund

Just a short note today - and a begging one at that, soz!

We're off this weekend to film *those* pick ups for the daylight scenes we missed out on when filming Slash on Halloween. Thanks to everyone who donated to the original shoot and towards these pick ups, it really IS appreciated. You guys totally rock.

If you haven't donated and want to or have a spare fiver or tenner - tall order I know with Xmas on our doorstep - please consider clicking on the "Donate" button on the right hand side of this blog or going to your paypal account and sending it Bang2write"at"aol"dot"com. I can offer the script and a booklet on script readers in return. DON'T DONATE IF YOU HAVE ALREADY THOUGH! : )

Thanks!

x

Friday, December 04, 2009

Guest Post: Mastering Hollywood Seminar, Notes by James

James went to Doug Chamberlin's seminar, Mastering Hollywood last weekend and has very kindly written up some notes for all of us who couldn't go (sob). Enjoy...
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So I was lucky enough (read: my wallet hates me) to attend 'Mastering Hollywood for Writers' by Doug Chamberlin on 27th and 28th November. I thought I would share my thoughts with y'all. Whether you like it or not.

Firstly, I should address something here, as I feel it's something to consider: when one looks at Doug's imdb page, perhaps the only credit you'll recognise on there is a co-writing credit for Toy Story 2, ten years ago. That could be enough to put a lot of people off. 'How can a man who proclaims to know how Hollywood works have done so little?' you may be asking.

Well, Doug points out a harsh truth: one can spend all your life working in Hollywood and never have anything to 'show' for it. But that doesn't mean one is not a writer. Doug himself has pitched over 100 ideas, worked with Spielberg, Michael Jackson, Bruce Willis, Barry Sonnenfeld, Robert De Niro and others, as well as working at all seven major studios (not at the same time). It is air to say he has a good idea how Tinseltown works.

Now, let me mention that if you are looking for a good 'how to write' course, this is NOT that kind of seminar. This course is geared towards what to do AFTER you have that killer script, and the secrets you need to know if/when you wish to take it to Hollywood. And he lays no false pretense down: it's not easy. Even after winning his first writing competition, he did not work again for four years. Even those 'overnight success' stories we hear about don't really happen overnight. But it CAN be done.

Over the two days, the class was given no-holds-barred access to crucial insider info: easy ways to obtain VISAs, the right places to live in LA, mastering the art of pitching, how to get an agent, schmoozing the right and wrong way and (perhaps most importantly) creating your own 'myth' or 'heat'. Hollywood is obviously a fickle industry, where image is everything and the superficial rules. This is what Doug was very keen to stress most of all: you need to get people talking and championing for YOU. He likened it to High School: the new kid is trying to get in with the cool crowd; to do that, you need someone in that crowd to recommend you.

I must admit, a lot of it boils down to intuition and common sense– of course, everyone knows that it is a case of who you know and those who want to succeed will. But it is nice to have those point reiterated and given some context. Plus it was encouraging (on my part) to discover that I was already subconsciously putting into practice a number of things Doug suggested.

Doug is great at telling anecdotes, from his time working with Spielberg, to a rather unfortunate meeting with Michael Jackson, to his experience with working with execs and their unsual pitch requests ('what would a flea want?'), as well as how Hollywood has its own 'reality' (Did you know that in a crunch, with looming deadlines, an exec ALWAYS hires the more expensive writer of two equally talented pros?)

There were chances to participate in role-playing exercises, including pitching your own ideas and schmoozing with the other attendees (I met the 1st AD of the Phantom Menace– no jokes please). The other attendees all had interesting stories to tell (some were rising stars, others looking for a career change, a fair few animators, myself included). Everyone was friendly and easy to talk to, and I myself made a few new contacts.

The single most important lesson I took away from the two-day seminar was not the old mantra 'Don't quit' or 'Every no is a step closer to yes', it was rather that 'Hollywood is not as scary as it might appear.' Doug assured us that LA is nothing like 'The Player'– there are very few execs and producers out there looking to belittle or discredit you. They are just as scared of losing their job as you are meeting them. After all, it's their job to find the next big talent, and they're not going to spend their time making you feel small just to make themselves feel better. They genuinely want to know what you have to offer them, and will very rarely tell you you stink. And if they do... well, prove them wrong.

Anyway, I've rambled on long enough. I thoroughly recommend this course for anyone seriously considering attempting the Hollywood scene. The information here was an absolute godsend and is great for those who feel they need to have the business to sell their creative side.

James
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Great notes - thanks James!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Contradictory Characters

One thing I've noticed increasingly over the years is, once you've nailed down your structure, *everybody* wants a piece of your main character and what they get up to. If a reader does not feel they can say much about your actual craft, they'll make all kinds of assertions, both good and bad.

Here is some of my feedback on a particular character and her journey (note these are all about the SAME script):

"[She] is a compelling character - especially because she sabotages herself and is her own worst enemy."

"I couldn't relate to [her], because she makes things difficult for herself so much: I doubted anyone would do that."

"I found myself really caring about whether [she and the love interest] would get together."

"I didn't care whether [she and the love interest] got together or not: she seems a bit of a nutter and he a sap."


So who's right?

As it goes, none of them and all of them - because above are OPINIONS. Sure, some of them got what I was going after with this character; others didn't. But then, if the film were made, some people will like it and others won't. End of.

In this age of Po3, peer feedback, script readers etc we sometimes rely on the feedback of others TOO MUCH. We forget there is another very, very important part of this process:

Ourselves.

I *know* what I'm going for in this script and with this character. She does divide opinion. That doesn't mean she's a crap character - it means she is interesting enough to inspire REACTION. In this age of "don't care" characters - especially the female variety who are too often facilitators for male emotion or hotties who kick ass - this can only be a good thing.

So next time a reader or feedback-giver HATES your character, ask yourself this:

Is it because something is found wanting in the actual characterisation? If so, what?

Or is it because who that character is doesn't *fit* in that reader's worldview?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Structural Signposts

We've all heard of the writer who reckons they *know* about stuff like structure - and some of us might roll our eyes and say stuff like, "In that case, why doesn't your draft make sense?!"

But let's try and see it from that writer's point of view for a moment. They might have written several screenplays by this point - perhaps they've been well received *somewhere* or they've got good feedback from *some big name*; they've probably been to a fair few short courses/seminars; read the books; maybe they've gone the whole hog and even done an MA. So they probably do think they have a good grounding in stuff like structure - and in that sense, they wouldn't be wrong.

But guess what - all of that doesn't mean it actually comes through in the draft!

Of course, sometimes readers say stuff like a draft has a structural problem because they can't think what's *actually* wrong with it and it's a handy get-out-of-jail-free card. I'll never forget one who said to me a few years' back, "Have you thought about using The Three Acts?" Me, just think about using the three acts?? Um- JUST A BIT. But then this reader was giving me some informal, five minute over the phone feedback, having read through my script amidst a thousand others and barely having time for a coffee break.

But most of the time readers - especially those you pay for - will give you structural advice not because they can't think of what to say, but because your draft ACTUALLY NEEDS IT. Of all the scripts I read, week on week, month on month, the most feedback I give is on structure and character. That's not because I am lazy; it's because most scripts - especially in early draft form - need troubleshooting on structure and character. That's just the way it is. Get a selection of readers in a room together and ask them to two "big issues" and I absolutely believe every time they will say it's these two things.

No one, new writer or professional, is immune to the structural issue in the script, especially when rewriting. When you change events in a script, sometimes the very act of chopping or moving them makes a particular act or selection of scenes feel "lumpy" or "wrong". For example, I wrote a draft of one of my projects where there was no structural issue apparently according to my reader - but it had a character issue. So I changed the character issue in a new draft and that worked - but guess what!!! The same reader reported I now had a problem in Act 1 with my structure, it was completely top heavy: I had to find a solution that met somewhere in the middle to solve both. Sometimes screenwriting really is like one of those arcade games where you hit the little things that pop up with the foam hammer: hit one and another thing comes up.

Other times writers attempt to adopt an "alternative" to The Three Acts and believe this then gives them their OWN get-out-of-jail-free card: "Oh you didn't understand I was using the 22 steps/the Mini Movie Method method/the 5 acts/whatever." Not so fast, Buster. For one thing, if you want to use an alternative to the Three Acts, it still helps to understand or at least know what the Three Acts are about in terms of turning points, etc. What's more, if you really look into the likes of these alternatives, all they are is a "re-imagining" of The Three Acts anyway - why? Because we all understand stories to have a beginning, middle and end: it's universal. Chris Soth for instance insists his own Mini Movie Method is Aristotleian - and it is: it's taking the theatre-based concept and transferring it to movies.

Secondly, writers will tell me blithely structure is rigid, formulaic, a load of balls: sure it can be - IF YOU LET IT: some of the dullest films ever have ticked the boxes in terms of structure. But these writers go too far the OTHER way; they want to be "free" with their writing - to which I always reply: "Why CAN'T you be free with your writing, but also have some kind of structure?" Structure is something EVERYONE uses to make sense of the stuff in front of them, whether it's a story, a decision, an argument, an opinion, etc. It's what we do as human beings: we understand stuff on the basis of how we are able to order it. If it has NO ORDER, then there's more than a good chance we won't understand what it is. If you write a screenplay with no thought for its order, having your character jump wildly from situation to situation with no internal logic of some kind, then the likelihood of your screenplay communicating its story is very slim. I've lost count of the conversations I've had that go like this:

HUB: What did you read today?

ME: I have no idea.

HUB: But you read the script?

ME: Of course I did.

[If you are reading that and believe that isn't possible and I'm *somehow* sweeping scripts under the floorboards rather than reading them, I suggest you find your nearest slush pile and dig out some spec scripts to read.]

So, rather than thinking of structure as something that is "rigid" or "formulaic" or saying to yourself you "already know" about structure and your reader is CRAZY, what if you thought of this as a set of "signposts" for the story, ie.

Does my audience understand [this important bit of the story] by [this particular point]? If not, why not? And what can I do about this?

That last part is crucial. As writers, it's OUR responsibility to make people understand our stories. Yes, you might get the odd reader who is a nutter, but if feedback is delivered with broken down, justified reasons (rather than off-the-cuff remarks), detailing WHY the reader in question doesn't understand why you've ordered your story in a particular way, what's the most likely:

The reader is wrong/getting at you/too lazy to read the script "properly", etc?

Or you haven't been clear with your intentions?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Ch-Ch-Changes

Writers are a funny bunch. We get so attached to various *bits* of our screenplays, we often can't see the woods for the trees: what's more, this happens to any writer, new or experienced.

So one question I often ask Bang2writers is this:

What you lose/gain [if you changed/cut/moved etc this part of your script]?

In terms of losses when someone redrafts/rewrites (even just small elements of their screenplay), I'm always struck by how insignificant those losses actually are - ie. the writer might miss it, but readers (and thus the audience) rarely notice its passing, whether it's half a scene, a particular moment, a dialogue exchange, even a whole character. In short, making cuts (or losses) doesn't usually make a script worse in my experience.

However the gains of making changes can be massive. Suddenly character motivations might come clear; dialogue might seem less "fatty"; a structural niggle might cease - or another moment in your script might get the opportunity to shine instead.

Don't believe it? Consider Monty Python's Terry "wafffer theeeeen" Jones, who is the somewhat unlikely screenwriter of Jim Henson's Labyrinth. I was watching a "making of" recently and he makes reference to the famous moment where Sarah falls into the tunnel of talking green hands*, easily one of the best, most visual and interesting scenes of the whole film. Those of you who have watched it will remember the hands form faces with mouths and eyes in order to talk to Sarah, a moment that enthralled me as a child: "Which way do you want to go?"

But was it always like the way it ends up on screen? Absolutely not. In fact, Jones admits originally the hands were formed by some of them randomly holding lipsticks in order to DRAW faces on the other hands. When he presented the draft to Henson, apparently the Muppet Man himself said: "Why don't they just make the faces themselves?" To which Jones simply replied, "Oh yeah...."!!


*For those who have no idea what I'm on about, see the pic above... Also this 80s trailer is unbelievably high on cheese and doesn't do a great job of selling the film, but you can see the green hands about 27 secs in.

Monday, November 23, 2009

OPPORTUNITY: Calling All Laydeez in Media...

... Drunken Werewolf magazine is doing a one-off edition fanzine, featuring "Women in Media" and is looking for contributors.

I of course will be contributing to this important edition: women's representation in film (and thus the spec pile) has long since been a concern to me, but just recently I have been party to some extraordinary developments regarding the (lack of) understanding of female characters other (nameless) readers have exhibited, so I will be writing about that.

Do note you don't have to be a screenwriter to feature in the fanzine. If you're a novelist, an artist, a journalist, a development executive, a producer, a director, a graphic designer, a songwriter, a cartoonist, whatever - as long as you're a woman and you work in the media, they want to hear from you.

It's not paid, but it is an opportunity to get your voice heard - and we all know girlz how infrequently we get an open invite like this to "share and air" without being called out for it, so please: GO FOR IT.

CONTACT: drunkenwerewolf"at"hotmail"dot"co"dot"uk

Drunken Werewolf on MySpace

Drunken Werewolf Music Blog

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Guest Post: The TV Forum at The Script Factory by Hilary Wright

Two days at the Soho Theatre in Dean Street for The Script Factory’s take on TV drama. Mornings featured lectures by Rob Ritchie: four-act structure, handling multiple storylines, writing to immovable deadlines, dialogue vs. pictures, rules and conventions of British TV drama formats… and that was just the first morning. As ever with Script Factory courses, participants receive a helpful binder of notes covering the content in great detail. I’ve heard some Script Factory presenters simply read these notes out, which is dull, but Ritchie was far more adept, rounding out the printed content with explanation, anecdote and reminder, deftly using audience questions to segue to his next point. Informative, engaging; I’d certainly go to hear this presenter again.

The afternoons were given over to guests. On day one we heard from Emmerdale’s Bill Lyons and Kate Rowland from the BBC Writers Room. I was particularly glad to hear Kate as her presentation at SWF had been full to overflowing and I hadn’t been able to get in. Her advice was “be emotionally bold. Take us on a challenging, complex emotional journey.” For the submission of series ideas, write one episode only; a one-page synopsis of the remaining episodes will do.

Day two featured morning lectures on creating characters audiences will return to week after week, developing a precinct, story bibles, pilots, plus a discussion of sitcom. In the afternoon Michael A Walker talked about his role in co-writing Collision. At that time only four of its five episodes had been broadcast, so discussion of the series was limited to prevent spoilers. Finally, Tony Grisoni talked about adapting Red Riding and explored his collaboration with Samantha Morton on The Unloved.

The class, accessible and entertaining, is not necessarily for beginners. With the exception of Bill Lyons, discussion focused on the creation of an original series; but it is the rare writer who manages to get an original series greenlit without first gaining credits on Doctors and other continuing drama series, and these shows require a different skillset. The course is probably more useful to those who already have credits, and indeed one participant was a graduate of the BBC Writers’ Academy.
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Many thanks Hilary, some great insights there! I was very interested in this forum, but the price tag was just prohibitive for me so soon after SLASH and so close to Christmas. Did you go to the Forum as well? If so, let us know your thoughts in the comments.

REMEMBER: If you have been to a course or event like Hilary or want to share your thoughts on anything else scriptwriting or writing-related in a guest post of your own, drop me a line at Bang2write"at"aol"dot"com.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Nanowrimo Special: Julian Friedmann at the SWF 09 "A Novel Approach"

I've been saving this to post up when the wind went out of my sails on Nanowrimo - which is right now. If you are too, check out Julian's thoughts below, might give you the push you need!
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Novelists turn to screenwriting and vice versa, but this often fails. Why? We are all STORYTELLERS. But to write a 100,000 word novel typically takes 6 - 9 months, which can be very off-putting. Nevertheless, Julian believes writing prose is a very serious compliment to screenwriting.

Six Reasons to Write Books As Well As Scripts:

- You've probably read more novels than scripts - plus at school you will have done English Literature, at least until GCSE.

- You don't need all the structural stuff

- Easier to tell a story in prose than a script: there is an obsession with "scriptwriting", rather than "storytelling"

-Characters are allowed to THINK and FEEL in books in a way they can't in scripts

- Novels are excellent templates for producers who have more RESPECT for books; there is the myth adaptation is better than original works

- You make more money! Novelists typically make more than your average screenwriter; in the UK we publish 10,000 novels a year but make maybe 100 films. No contest.

Advice

- Find out where the market is - is there a market for your book? Who would read your book? Who are the publishers that produce books like yours? Do your research.

- You need to be able to pitch your book EASILY - just like films. It needs a clear idea behind it.

- Your choice on what to write should not be based on what you LIKE reading yourself

- Don't try something when the odds are stacked against you - create an illusion you KNOW what you're talking about

- Read all the high profile books in the genre you choose; look at the associations available for that genre, ie. The Children's Book Writers' Association

- It's very difficult to get a deal on JUST a synopsis and first three chapters

- Start getting feedback on your novel BEFORE you finish

- Decide which publishers you want to submit to and ring them up; never write "Dear Sir/Madam" in query letters, get a name. If you have credits as a screenwriter, tell them!! Get a recommendation if you can.

- Work out how to promote yourself and do it WELL. Remember there's loads of competition: be ahead of the game

- Lie about simultaneous submissions!

- Most manuscripts are rejected because they are badly written and/or written with no sense of the market.

What Happens When A Publisher Makes You An Offer?

- A book offer is an advance against the royalties (residuals for our American friends). This is usually anything between £500 and £2m!! The advance is usually for more than one book.

- Stages of payment are usually: signature, acceptance of manuscript (after rewrites) and publication (the latter is sometimes split into 2, hardback and paperback).

- What rights are they buying? There's lots to choose from! Serial rights, audio rights, languages ("English Lang World" is the USA; UK English is "British Commonwealth"), territories, film, merchandising, large print? "World rights" is all of them.

- What *kind* of royalties can I get? Hardback is typically 10% - 12.5%; paperback 7.5% to 10%.

- If you build an audience, there's a good chance your publisher will want you to STAY with that audience - very keen on franchise opportunities ie. Worst Witch, Horrid Henry or writers "known" for writing a particular genre: ie. Lee Child, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, etc.

Julian left us with the following sobering thoughts:

- There is a shorter chain of command to publishing in comparison to films once a deal has been done; there is less development hell

- Novels get published when you get an offer: films get options - YET DON'T GET MADE

- We're all storytellers: stop obsessing over format and MAKE MORE MONEY!
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Hell, I'm sold. Now back to Nanowrimo...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Can You Help Us Out?

So, the majority of Slash is in the can and very good it looks, too. If you missed the photos of the shoot on Halloween recently, then you can see them here.

If you have been reading the updates however, then you know the ghosts of Hallows Eve conspired against us on a massive scale, meaning we lost the light for the two daytime scenes. This was particularly maddening, because the scenes are very short - but we can't really do without them, since they are in the set up of the story. This didn't stop us having a go of course:

DIRECTOR: I've got it! They're the type of couple who go NIGHTWALKING.

ME: Who the hell goes nightwalking?

DIRECTOR: OK, OK... The boyfriend got lost on his way here and they're running late.

ME: And the girlfriend conveniently doesn't notice daylight has disappeared and he's walking her through a wood??

DIRECTOR: The script says she's blindfolded! You wrote the bloody thing...

ME: *Glowers*

DIRECTOR: Alright, alright: they've decided to re enact the scenes from Michael Jackson's THRILLER.

ME: We're just grasping at straws now, aren't we.

So despite our best (mad) ideas in the middle of the night, we can't do without those two very short daytime scenes. This means bringing back our two lovely actors and sound guy from London, our marvellous makeup artist from Gloucester and our fine DoP from Oooop North. Whilst we can't afford to pay these wonderful people who've devoted their time to our project, we obviously need to pay their expenses. And inevitably, we're broke.

The scenes will be shot on December 12th, all being well (especially weather-wise). We're asking if you can spare a few quid towards our completion fund - five or ten pounds maximum, there's no need to dig into deep, especially with Chrimbo round the corner. In return we can offer you the script, a copy of my 19 page "script reading secrets" booklet and our undying thanks. The "Donate" button is still active on the right hand sidebar of this blog.

Thanks so much!

NOTE: PLEASE DON'T give more if you've given already, we don't want to take the mick, you've been kind enough already - besides, I don't have have anything more to give you in return since this short has taken up more time than I imagined!!! BTW, if you donated in the first round of the Slash fund and DIDN'T receive your script as promised, let me know immediately!!!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Service: Not From Concentrate

Got an email from this website this morning - thought it looked interesting, so thought I'd pass it on. You should note it's a paid-for service, but given so many screenwriters are writing spec TV series, might be worth investing in: gotta speculate to accumulate and all that. Let me know if you do use this service and what you think of it.
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Hello and welcome to Not From Concentrate, the all-new ideas and talent agency, brought to you by former Channel 4 executives. We're here to help if you've ever had an idea for a TV sitcom, drama series, documentary, quiz show or any other programme you think will be a ratings winner.

To get things started, check out our comprehensive Starter Pack which includes:

- a unique Ideas Development Checklist to help you structure your ideas like the professionals
- a guide to the TV basics that puts telly jargon into plain English
- an overview of the commissioning and production world case studies and testimonials

Book a session with our Media Professionals who are on hand to:

- give you personalised feedback sessions
- prepare a written analysis of your idea
- spot potential gaps in the marketplace for your ideas to come to life

And log on to our website for details of:

- media trends and focuses
- industry call-outs and competitions
- live events and seminars
- jobs and career development opportunities

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Please Hold... Yet Again

Hi.

I know I haven't posted for nearly a week, I can tell you: everything's fine. Honest. (Well, fine apart from the fact Hub appears to have LOST the notebook with my SWF notes in!!!) Also:

1) I haven't given up blogging

2) I am not ill - nor is anyone else

3) No humans or animals are being harmed at my house (Unless Hub can't find said notebook)

I'm just drowning in a quagmire of work, script reading - and because I haven't enough to do, Nanowrimo too.

In the meantime, please feel free to catch up with me on:

Twitter

Facebook

Be back soon. Loving your work, darlinks. MWAH.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

SWF09 In Brief(ish)

I went to some really interesting sessions at the SWF, outlined for you below. Here are my immediate thoughts on the whole thing:

Women in film MUST be included next year. I was surprised and pleased to see loads more women than I expected and there was a consensus this needs attention next year. This made most obvious at the Son of The Pitch special when the fact there was only 1 woman out of 10 pitching was noted. Unfortunately none of the speakers from the floor complaining about it put the case particularly well I thought and I was unsure that was really the time for it. We need a proper panel, with various female filmmakers, writers and script editors, all dedicated to the idea of representation of women in film.

Speakers disappear in a puff of smoke. Despite the SWF selling itself to the writing public as an "easy access" to producers, agents and various other companies, these people's disappearances to the green room in-between sessions was obvious. One has to ask why there is a green room: is it because the producers et al fear getting mobbed? If so, I think they're imagining the average screenwriter is more "in your face" than I do - when I've seen speakers after sessions, both here and at other places, I've always been amazed by how much of a wide berth writers give them.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't. I heard more than once complaints about people "putting it about", especially one of the speakers that DID make himself available to writers constantly for the whole four days (WTF?!! That's great, surely??) - and I heard complaints not enough people were networking either. This is quite patently ridiculous. You're a writer, you have to hustle. End of. I've heard stories from more experienced writers saying they "tag team" and requesting cards politely as soon as they see people - if that's "annoying" or "obnoxious", then we as screenwriters have to ask ourselves where we fit in if we are deemed to be a nuisance just by trying to make contact with people and companies. On the other point then, as I've always said: it's not just about the actual script, it's about you too. That script's not gonna sell itself!

Now, the sessions...

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THE CALL TO ADVENTURE - Chris Jones

An inspiring talk from filmmaker Chris Jones, whose short film Gone Fishing was *nearly* Oscar nominated this year. He made the very good point there's no excuse as "no money"; there's money EVERYWHERE. You want to make a film? Get out there and do it, the money will come. These are brave new times, we have the technology to make a cinematic-quality feature, it's all about WANTING IT. In these times then, it's all about DISTRIBUTION - and "it's never been easier to get out there and produce something we can exhibit on a global platform".

HOLLYWOOD OR BUST - Doug Chamberlin

A very illuminating insight into Hollywood and its many myths, including "No one knows anything" (apparently not true in Hollywood, instead "reality is perception": it's like a giant high school - who are the popular kids?); "everyone hires their friends" (apparently majority know no one when they start out and *anyone* can break in, it's all about GUERRILLA MARKETING and getting someone to champion your work) and "everyone is crazy" (semi-true, it's "real world logic" vs. ""Hollywood logic"). Simplest and most important rule: DON'T QUIT. If you quit, you'll never break in. End of. Go for what you want.

MAKING A LIVING AS A WRITER - Janice Day

What is standing in the way of you being a writer? More to writing than talent - it's all about DESIRE. If you want to be successful, you WILL be. Are you afraid of failure - or afraid of SUCCESS? Are you sabotaging yourself? Positive thinking is key. Set your goals - make them concrete. What are the steps to achieving those goals? You have to be like the Duracell Bunny, facing down those rejections and getting on with it: Janice's book was rejected by over forty publishers. Plan your time well: Janice spends 60% of her time on her most lucrative projects; 25% of the next lucrative and 15% of her time on her "dream". Manage your financial situation properly - to do this you have to know what it IS. Don't stick your head in the sand.

THE SCREENWRITER AS DIPLOMAT - Simon Beaufoy (In conversation with Peter Bloore)

A really interesting look at one of Britain's high profile screenwriters: Beaufoy had the worst time of his life after The Full Monty for example, being sued left, right and centre by male strippers! After that there were two feature disasters, Blow Dry and The Waterhorse, which apparently taught him to approach his career differently. He says to remember producers and directors are powerful people with powerful opinions - they're not necessarily STUPID people, even if we are outraged at the notes we get and the changes we get asked to make. He used to be bitter about the development process; now he realises it's just a queue. Never say a straight "no" to suggestions you get - ask for more time to think about it. The CORE of the story is what needs protecting - "everything else is up for grabs". He had some interesting insights on DIY Filmmaking too: "budget constraints focus the mind". apparently he made a super low budget film where he was the cook as well as writer! DIY filmmaking EMPOWERS the screenwriter (I heartily agree). If you want your idea on film, JUST DO IT.

MORE OF 4 - Tessa Ross with Kevin Loader

I unfortunately arrived late, but some great behind-the-scene insights from Tessa Ross. Remember the networks are NOT a bank but part of the creative team. Slumdog Millionaire gave C4 a very good reputation - without it, they might be in a very different position. Whilst they want more success like this, they don't want Slumdog copies: C4 is about talent, risk, writing. She made the very good point the British public don't like paying for drama at the cinema because we get so much quality drama on television. C4, BBC et al also have to compete with other English Language channels like those in America. What C4 looks for: scripts that are resonant, contemporary, driven by the writer.

SCRIPT ASSESSMENT FOR PRODUCERS - Esther Wouda

A look at how people might read scripts and/or what they might expect of them. An inexact science - so much depends on emotional response - Esther nevertheless does her best to pin down some common elements, including the mnemonic "M.O.U.V.E" - "meaning, originality, universality, verisimilitude (zeitgeist/feeling of time), emotion."

WRITE IT, SELL IT, MAKE IT - Panel Discussion

Another look at "getting out there" DIY Filmmaking-wise, which certainly appears to be the "thing of the moment". Some really interesting thoughts, including Slingshot's Arvind Ethan David's thoughts on Sugarhouse: "If we HADN'T had a theatrical release, we might have made some money on this film." Also under the microscope: no budget Zombie flick Colin, Gone Fishing, the SW Screen iFeatures initiative and The Exam. Food for thought: "what is my strategic commercial objective?" And "Does my budget make sense?"
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BTW, I went to more sessions than this - but the things I learnt will form the basis of some other posts with my own thoughts on the matter too in the coming weeks.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

SLASH Shoot

Whoa. Think I may have died somewhere in the last 36 hours and no one has bothered to inform my body as I type this, Zombie-like. Had hoped for a 2am or 3am end to the shoot this morning - we actually left the site at 7am. Basically, the Halloween SPIRITS FROM SATAN cobbled us, again and again: I've never known such a plethora of bad luck in such a short space of time:

1) A broken generator culminating in a mad dash back to my house on the off-chance one of our neighbours had one - WHICH HE DID. (God Bless ya, Tony)

2) A forgotten kettle

3) A single wrong turn that made us go approximately twenty miles out of our way

4) A torrential downpour

5) FIREWORKS!!! Yes that's right - November the 5th is fireworks night EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE (or at least the UK), but not in The New Forest apparently

But hey ho, these things are sent to try us and we're not dead yet (allegedly). It certainly means I learnt about two years' worth of producer stuff in just a few hours 'cos NO WAY I am ever gonna let that sorta thing happen ever again (though having said that, I'll prevent all that and something else will EXPLODE UP instead, like a rat out a drainpipe -- did *anyone* tell me filmmaking was like this?? Oh they did?! DAMMIT).

Many thanks to an awesome team who took it all in their stride: our two actors Lucy Laing and David Black; DoP David Beaumont; stunt coordinator Elaine Ford; runners Eve and David (seen above stepping in as the serial killer); sound guy Udit (You were brought on to the project so last minute I never found out your second name!); makeup artist Jessica Stonechild and of course the director Schuman. Hats off to ya.

Want to view photos of the location and the shoot? Here you go.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Screenwriters' Festival 2009

"Is Jared coming? Where is he?"

These words have so far been frequently uttered, up to 100 times a day in the last three days... Factoid. But then I guess I should have known taking a fella with me who is allergic to ever turning up on time would be an issue. Luckily for me and the lovely Elinor, we have no qualms about leaving the bugger to fend for himself (rather in the same way we've both abandoned our children to fortune this week). Jared then turns up, out of the crowd, eyes wild with panic and booze-fuelled paranoia: "Where the hell did you go?? Didn't you know I'd be in the bar???" He's had a hangover every single morning we've been here! It's been rather fun in a perversely sadistic way, watching him over breakfast: he's been more and more grey in colour each day, shuffling food about on his plate before going off in search of the hair of the dog. FOR SHAME.

Observations so far: Cheltenham Ladies College looks like Hogwarts. Everyone started off saying things like "Walk with me" and "let's do lunch" and even, "But how do we monetize that?" as a joke and now everyone appears to be saying it for real. The SWF volunteers are awesome and know where everything is, even before you know you want to go there. Jason Arnopp appears to float on air in a Zen-like way, fluttering amongst everyone like a bird. Piers Beckley doesn't look like his blog picture and Phill Barron does. Julian Friedmann appears omnipresent, a bit like Jesus or Cate Blanchett. Oh and absolutely everybody appears to have an opinion on my sparkly eye shadow: 99% thumbs up, though one lady in the toilets asked me if I was a bit old for glitter. Nice!

I have been unable to rein in my uncool on two occasions - I GUSHED at one of my fave Corrie writers Damon Rochefort and randomly grabbed the awesome Olivia Hetreed as she walking past and told her even more randomly I'd read one of her scripts before running off again. *Le sigh*. Still I'm normally *ice cold super cool*(!), so childish enthusiasm has to surface every now and again >ahem<.

Got some fantastic notes for you all from some very good sessions and some more obvious tidbits too which never hurts to remind ourselves of. Not writing them now, 'cos we're off to the Rocliffe Forum reading, followed by yet more networking in The Queens Hotel. Tomorrow I have some producer speed dating, which just between you and me I'm DEAD nervous about, especially as all my friends with me have done it already. Apparently it's fine. I know that of course, but blarg -- scary. You know how it goes.

Oh is that the time?? Gotta dash... Speak soon my lovelies, wish you were here, let's do lunch. MWAH.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I iz not here...

Hi, I'm not here. Or rather, I am here but I won't be blogging for the next week 'cos I'm at The Screenwriters' Festival and then, next saturday I will be filming Slash. Who the hell decided THAT was a good idea? Slave driving producer, that's who... Oh, right: me. Well, come on: it's a horror film and it's HALLOWEEN next saturday. How awesome is that? Well it seemed awesome six weeks ago when I decided, now I'm wondering how the hell I'm gonna shove everything into the next week. Hey ho. Whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger, etc etc. I hope.

So it's gonna be radio silence from me for at least a week, but despair not: if you need your daily dose of rambling from yours truly, I can guarantee I will turn up on Twitter or Facebook during this time. Links below.

If you're at the Screenwriters' Fest too - come and say hello!!! Follow the sound of swearing and general interrogation of everyone and you're bound to find me. Alternatively, look for a brunette who's usually in purple or pink, a loooong black cardi and flared jeans who looks as if she's stepped out of a time warp circa 1977: that's me.

See you all soon!!!

Me on Twitter

Me on Facebook

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Let This Be A Lesson To You, Children ; )

I hear all the time from writers wails of confusion and irritation about how certain writers do well when they're yet to be discovered. "But they're so mediocre!" Said aspiring writers will say on message boards, forums and social networking sites. "If someone just took a chance on me, I'd do it so much better!!!"

Here's what I say: yeah right.

Check out John and Edward from the X Factor. Those guys SUCK at singing, but they're very entertaining. Both weeks the competition has run so far, much more talented singers have been voted off, yet those Irish twins are still there - despite repeated booing from the X Factor audience. I doubt they'll win, but I'm certainly not ruling it out altogether.

These guys have become the poster boys for what this competition is really about, what it's named for: X FACTOR. Not the Singing Factor. Not Dance Factor. Not Looking Really Cool Factor. End of the day, if you are rightly packaged - double trouble! How handy, not to mention memorable - it can work for you. You don't actually need that much talent. You just need to be in the right place at the right time.

And this can work for screenwriters too. Think about it: everyone goes on about talent, but what this means is so different to each person you talk to. It's unquantifiable. I've been called talented and I've been called a loser. We all have; we all will be again.

But PACKAGING - there's something that IS quantifiable. Being professional, knowing what you're talking about, pitching well, being polite, pleasant, someone to remember - we can ALL do that. But most of us don't. Most of us let self doubt crucify us - or believe erroneously the story we've dreamt up will do all the talking. IT WON'T. Preparation is key; remembering how you APPEAR is key. Sure you'll cock some stuff up and come across as a weirdo; learn from it, move on to the next one.

Basically it all comes down to this:

You are everything you have. So use it wisely.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Character Role Functions # 2: Movie Heroines - Who Gets Your Vote?

SPOILERS GALORE I often post here, there and everywhere about the veritable lack of decent female characters in movies and specs generally. So when my delightful stalker Jazz Juice emailed me this week and demanded to know who gets my vote as the "near perfect" movie heroine, I had no hesitation.... And you'd be surprised. It's not Ripley or any of her many imitators. It's not anyone played by Judy Dench, Maggie Smith or Meryl Streep, either. In fact, she's an oft-overlooked genre movie heroine...

... It's Julianne Moore as Sarah in Jurassic Park: The Lost World. Whilst far from a perfect film (how the hell DID that T-Rex kill everyone onboard the boat FFS??), I do actually think she's as close to a "real woman" we're gonna get out of Hollywood, especially in a genre film.

*I know, I know* -- WTF??? So let's consider the evidence:

She doesn't need a man - yet is all woman. Sarah goes to the island alone ahead of the rest of the party, so she clearly has balls of steel: there are BIG MONSTERS there, but she doesn't let that put her off. Refreshingly then, she doesn't act like a man as well. Despite putting up with no crap from the men, she has a maternal side, noted most when interacting with Kelly (Ian Malcolm's stowaway daughter) and is also a good girlfriend: whilst she chastises Malcolm for his belief she can't look after herself, she is also understanding based on his previous experience - and female enough to turn it ALL back on him: "If you wanted to rescue me, why didn't you rescue me from that charity dinner three weeks ago when you said you would? Or that dinner with your parents you didn't show up for?"

She draws on her predecessor, but doesn't mirror her. Ellie is Jurassic Park was not a bad heroine, but wasn't really involved enough in the main body of the action: IMHO, Laura Dern did what she could in a limited role, having only one real set piece to herself - the velociraptor in the electricity station - which was over very quickly and rather conveniently. In comparison, whilst Sarah shares some of Ellie's characteristics (her independence the most obvious), all manner of HELL is thrown at her: this enables us to look deeper INTO her character than Ellie's, since what Sarah DOES about it reveals what she is *really like*, a classic example of the screenwriting adage "characters are not what they say, but what they do".

She doesn't go to the island because she's stupid. Sarah takes a calculated risk, not a stupid one. She's experienced in her field and knows full well the island is dangerous, which is why she is so careful not to disturb anything - and it's worth remembering that UNTIL the men get there, she gets by completely undetected by the dinosaurs. In fact, had the mercenaries not landed there at all, she may well have made her target of "five or six days" to document the animals. In fact, the only stupid risk she takes is photographing the baby dinosaur up close -- which only goes wrong because she borrowed a camera from one of the men who didn't tell her it was almost out of film. As she says to Ian, "I've been working around predators since I was twenty years old: lions, hyenas... You."

She doesn't lose her head, even in mortal danger. There are a number of occasions in which Sarah's life is threatened throughout the movie - quite possibly more than anyone else, in fact. Yet despite this continual run of extreme bad luck, she never bewails her misfortune or does something *plain dumb* that marks her out as deserving to die like so many movie heroines (falling over and/or screaming a classic example). So whether she's being sniffed by a tyrannosaur (and having to protect a child at the same time), being chased by it or landing on a sheet of glass above a terrifying drop, or a velociraptor jumping on her back, she never once freaks out. This is in comparison to many of the men: Ian Malcolm stands by and watches, horrified, as the T-Rex goes in the tent and again when said velociraptor jumps on Sarah; another man FALLS OVER and is squished by the giant foot and of course most of the male hunting party run into the long grass and get picked off too.

She doesn't scream. I am so bored of movie heroines screaming in genre movies: there's a big monster, would you really waste time and breath screaming about it? Or would you simply leg it? Gotta be the latter. The only time Sarah even utters anything vaguely *like* a scream is when the velociraptor JUMPS on her back and I would categorise it more as a "yell of surprise", which is often involuntary. Again, much of the hunting party scream (even before they're eaten), despite being big butch men.

She uses her wits to get herself out of trouble. Women are not as strong as men: fact. That's why I get so pissed off seeing all these hotties kicking ass, there's no truth there for me - all we're doing is assigning traditionally "male" characteristics to women and whilst some women *are* as strong or stronger than *some* men, I think hottie-ass-kicking does little to further understanding of women as a whole. In comparison then, Sarah only faces danger down WHEN SHE ABSOLUTELY HAS TO, as anyone sensible (not just women) WOULD do. So rather than take on a T-Rex with the equivalent of Ripley's robot body armour in Aliens, Sarah mostly runs for her life - and Kelly's too, often hand in hand. I can get behind that; it's exactly what I would do, especially with a child in tow. She also relies on her own animal instincts, so it's a nice contrast in the barn when she and Kelly start digging for safety - as the velociraptors attempt to dig their way IN.

And perhaps most importantly:

She rescues herself, but accepts help when it is offered. I get really annoyed when I hear men say to women: "You're so independent, which is why I didn't help" and also when women say they DON'T want help EVER because they think to accept help from a man shows weakness. Just because a woman is independent does not mean she will not appreciate your help; she will always flock to your side when you need her (or should do!). Similarly, accepting help girls DOES NOT make you weak. This is shown up under the microscope here, because if Sarah can rescue herself - like in the barn - she will; if she can't (like in the truck over the edge of the cliff), she will accept a man's help gladly. Similarly, she will gladly take a distraction, like when Ian lures the velociraptors to the car, when she and Kelly escape into the barn. Why? Because she WOULD do the same for him.

So... What Movie Heroine does it for you - and why?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Tale of Two Readers

David has allowed me to indulge my John August fantasy by asking, "Do you think there is any value in sending a script to TWO readers at once? Or… Using a reader, re-write, then use a different reader?"

As with anything in this scriptwriting malarkey, I think it's principally down to the writer. I frequently use many readers at the same time on the same draft, because I'm a big fan of the Power of Three method. The way I see it, one reader might freak you out with a suggestion or observation (particularly story or structure-wise) two or even three others might NOT make - so what was a concern suddenly pales into insignificance.

A great example of this concerned a thriller spec I was polishing recently: I sent to four readers, all at the same time. One got back to me immediately with a damning report: he thought the story didn't work, he thought the characters weren't empathetic enough, the works - and he justified his reasoning well. But THREE other readers gave the story and characters the thumbs up. Suddenly I don't need to freak anymore: maybe he just DIDN'T LIKE the story or characters. Readers have their own opinions too (and rightly so). We all forget readers might not *like* a script, just like they might not *like* a movie, no matter how good it is and/or whether other people like it.

But there's also the point it can depend on the draft and where it is on the "rewrite scale". Personally, I don't tend to send very early drafts to multiple readers. I tend to send to one, trusted reader who can help me iron out the obvious stuff first - the lost opportunities in the plot, contradictory characterisation, dodgy dialogue, etc. We know, deep down, what our early drafts' problems are - but we're too close to the work, so we need someone to gently shove us in the right direction; I'm lucky in that I have several friends who I can rely on to help with this though. After this stage, I then start paying readers (and I DO get paid-for reads) for the more polished drafts, which I then compare and contrast with others' viewpoints on Po3.

So really: I'm afraid it just depends on your POV. I have Bang2writers who like to send work to me from the very first draft; others like to get Po3 and other peer feedback before paying someone like me to give the draft a going over. Similarly I know others who do the same as I do.

What do you do?

Monday, October 12, 2009

WTF? On Film: Guilty Pleasures

MEGA SPOILERSWe all have movies we're slightly ashamed to admit we love, particularly if we're screenwriters. Those movies might be unoriginal, hammy, badly executed with plenty of WTF? moments. Yet inexplicably these movies speak to us: we love them, watch them over and over again. We just can't help ourselves. I don't think there's a single person in the world who doesn't have at least one embarrassing DVD on their shelf.

For me, it's Underworld: Rise of The Lycans. The first movie was awful and the second even more so, but this one is great fun. I think it's because the *only* good thing about the first movie was werewolf king Lucien (Michael Sheen - he's "present" in Underworld 2, but only in flashback and only snippets from the first film, yuk!), so a whole movie devoted to him really floats my boat. Besides, I am actually in love with Michael Sheen, he's awesome: he could do anything, seriously, and I'd watch it. The fact then he spends most of THIS movie in near-states of undress or actually nude is a mega bonus, not least because I spend a lot of time stalking him on Twitter, the only celebrity I actually do (Hi Michael, run away with me, Kthxbye).

There's something delightfully Shakespearean about Rise of The Lycans: the vampire council sit every five minutes it seems and I was left in no doubt that if the Bard had written plays with vampires in, his scenes would not be unlike those, albeit perhaps a little more ironic and clever. OK, let's not forget *that* bit where Lucien watches his pregnant vampire girlfriend die AND THEN changes (WTF?? Oh he had a silver bullet in his shoulder... But this doesn't stop him AFTER she's dead??), but apart from that, it rolls along pretty smoothly, if predictably. Especially cos we've seen this story before... They actually tell the entire thing in flashback throughout the first movie. But hey! We get to see all the bits in-between and Bill Nighy gets to ham it RIGHT up and stalk about with a super-sour face on him, check this out: Rhona Mitra's in it playing herself of course as usual, but she actually fits in this movie. Steven Mackintosh makes a reappearance too and like the first movie, doesn't *really* do anything, but he riffs well with Nighy and there's that bloke from the first film who looks and sounds a bit like Ving Rhames, always a pleasure. (BTW, funny story: my son's father's girlfriend's MOTHER used to go out with Bill Nighy. Think I got that right... Small world).

So... yeah. I loved this movie: whilst my hatred of vampires is legendary, I love my werewolves, so this balances out nicely putting a werewolf in the protagonist's, instead of the antagonist's role (like the first movie). Some reviewers were very rude about the CGI here, but I thought it was fine: the running werewolves were good I thought and there's that great scene where the big spear things crash through the windows as the werewolf guys and Lucien were trying to escape the castle.... Though I am pretty sure they nicked the prison set straight out of Alien 3 and put the werewolves in it, but hey can't have everything.

So what's your guilty pleasure movie-wise? Don't pretend you don't have one, I KNOW you do....