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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

OMG

So I went to some uber-funky, "let's-pretend-we're-not-actually-doing-exercise-but-we-are-really" exercise class called DANCE JAM last night. I figured it wouldn't *really* be as fun as they made out in the brochure, but since THIRTY is looming on the horizon like a big fat black cloud (four months and counting!!!) I figured I needed it. The weird combo of high cholesterol and low blood pressure is rife in my family amongst the more "mature" members, so I might get started on fighting back THE SAG, especially as my delightful son said only last night, "You're not fat Mum, it's just your clothes making you look fat." Thanks son! (Yes, I know I tweeted that yesterday - while we're at it - subliminal message: follow me on Twitter! You know you want to! End of subliminal message).

So we took our places and I was delighted to find I wasn't the oldest OR fattest person there, by a long shot. I was somewhat freaked by the gigantic big mirror that ran the length of the place though - I don't tend to look at myself for longer than it takes to apply eyeshadow and a spot of lippy, so was tres weird. I could get over that though if it wasn't for the fact I was standing next to a super-fit Granny with the kind of body I would ACTUALLY KILL FOR. I consoled myself with the thought she probably hadn't had any kids though and was one of those freaks who ran up mountains and only ever drank those disgusting protein shakes, sleeping in some kind of oxygen tent at night. Gotta be.

The extremely pert, gorgeous Instructor however didn't have a hair out of place the whole time of course while the rest of us got hot and bothered. She also thought she was on Top of The Pops and took to singing some of the uber-80s choons we were dancing to: "Chaka Khan!" (I was reminded at this point, huffing and puffing, of Homer Simpson going over the pier in one episode: "SAVE ME, CHAKA KHAN!") She also took us through some of the most bizarre, yet strenuous routines I have ever taken part in. And some of them, frankly, were rather vulgar. I mean, we're supposed to be getting fit! Is it proper to be shaking our booties, shimmying and pelvic thrusting *quite* so much! Egad.

So, what felt like thirty million years later - it was actually fifty five minutes - I had fallen over onto my friend Cara, I'd elbowed a lady in green BEHIND ME somehow and a large, incredibly tall girl had windmilled into me and nearly taken me out. Delightful. And I'd paid nearly five pounds for the privilege.

I will of course be going back next week. I paid for the class in advance straight after finishing, otherwise I knew I'd find some excuse: "I've gotta do a script report", "The kids are ill", "I'm DEAD!!!" Blimey. The things you gotta do just stay on the planet.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Climbing Walls

SPOILERS AHOY: Toy Story 1 & 2, A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo

It's weird, but I often find myself talking to different people about the same thing screenwriting-wise, whether I'm writing my own stuff, reading other people's or having random conversations about writing. For example, this last week and a half I have had no less than six conversations about the problems people have in "keeping it going" in Act 2.

Very often in the specs I read, the Set Up may start very well, even catapult us right into in to the story - yet as soon as Act 2 kicks off, the problems surface. The protagonist's journey often becomes turgid, as if the character is dragging themselves through treacle in order to get to their goal. Sometimes, the journey even grinds to a halt, so said protagonist feels as if s/he is "running on the spot". In short, Act 2 - half the screenplay in real terms - has not got a sense of "progression", the narrative "sags" in the middle. When it comes to structure, we can rattle off the names of the Three Acts without any issue: Set Up, Conflict, Resolution. Thanks to the likes of the Ten Page Test, the newer scribes are at last appreciating the importance of hitting the ground running so Set Ups are getting better. Very often too, Resolutions are avoiding the more obvious pitfalls like the dreaded Deus Ex Machina. Yet the "sagging" conflict is a problem it seems for all writers, of all experience, it seems to me - whether new, professional or reader. In fact, I had a huge "sag" in GRACE to vanquish only recently.

So if it's not experience (or lack of it) that causes "sags", then what is it? Personally, I believe it's a wish to NOT inflict the most pain and/or difficulty on your character. I realised this with Grace herself, the protagonist whom my script is named after; I had literally been avoiding putting her in the types of situation that cause the most conflict. I bet you've done the same at some point, or will in the future: you've created this person, they are literally your baby and you don't want them to have to go through the worst of times. But guess what? Act 2 is called CONFLICT for a reason, because as we also all know thanks to Syd Field and the many other gurus out there, drama is conflict.

When thinking about good Act Twos for this article, it occurred to me Pixar movies are one of the best for putting their characters through "the worst of times". No matter what happens to their characters, things will ALWAYS get worse before it gets better. It isn't bad enough that Buzz Lightyear has bounced into the yard of a sadist kid who blows up toys?? Oh no -- he has to realise he is deluded, he's not a *real* space ranger at all!!! Buzz knows this in Toy Story 2, so when he's looking for his friend Woody who has been toynapped -- another deluded Space Ranger takes Buzz's place!! In A Bug's Life, Flik must inadvertantly sabotage himself, over and over again, so he gets thrown out of the colony, not once but TWICE. In Monsters Inc, not only do Mike and Sully have a little girl to send back to the real world, they discover a terrible plot to "steal" screams and not only that, their boss is in on it!!! In Finding Nemo, Marlin has escape after escape from the monsters of the deep and also must realise he's molly coddled his son (and is in part responsible for his loss) actually in A WHALE'S MOUTH!!! And yet not one of these 3D masterpieces has an unhappy resolution. If Pixar animations don't prove, absolutely, that drama is conflict, I don't know what does.One of the best explanations I ever read about "keeping it going" in Act 2 was from the mighty Yves Lavandier. In his book, Writing Drama, he likens Act 2 to a "a series of walls, each one higher than the last." In other words, a writer needs to provide specific events, with each one WORSE than the one that preceded it, in order to propel us towards the resolution. It's bloody obvious when you think of it in such terms: I now think of it as the protagonist having to climb a ladder, rung after rung, towards that all-important goal. Yet sometimes it needs someone to state the obvious before **one** can grasp the obvious.

So next time you're stuck in Act 2 Hell, ask yourself: what events can happen here, to ensure my protagonist has a wall to get over... And what happens AFTER THAT?!

Buy "Writing Drama" By Yves Lavandier here.
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FEAR UPDATE: Okay, okay, I still haven't pressed "send" BUT I have got a friend of mine to read GRACE who has over one hundred hours of soap writing under their belt... So once they give me the "thumbs up", I should definitely be okay about sending it... Hopefully, anyway ; )

Friday, April 24, 2009

More Lies To Tell Your Children

As regular readers know, I just adore telling big fat fibs - and if I can tell them to my children (or any child, for that matter!), then all the better. So when an opportunity for a porkie pie presented itself yesterday, I couldn't resist. Natch...

Stopping in a shopping centre yesterday, the Girl started badgering me for 50p to put in one of those machines which dispenses plastic eggs with a plastic present inside. I normally say no, as I don't often have change or even carry cash (except when I go to the pub, arf) but yesterday I had 50p for once, so I gave it to her. She put it in the machine, the little egg popped out and she got her brother to open it for her.

Inside? Another egg. That was pretty odd, so we messed about with it for a bit before realising it was actually an egg-shaped TOY - the little arms and legs folded out, a head, a trunk - it was an elephant, which folded down into an egg (I know: WTF??). She was pretty pleased with it though. My boy, however, was puzzled.

SON: That's a weird present.

ME: (straight-faced) Well, it's because elephants hatch from eggs, isn't it?

SON: Oh yeah...

We walk along for a bit:

SON: ... Hang on a minute, no they DON'T! Muuuuuuuuuum!

Ah, gone are the glory days when everything I say is accepted blindly, *sigh*. NOTE TO SELF: concentrate lying powers on Wee Girl only!

FEAR UPDATE: Still not pressed "send" and last night had a dream the entire BBC Centre on Wood Lane was taken over by Rottweilers and a school bus crashed into the building. A bad omen?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The FEAR

So I've drafted and redrafted the application questions for my Writers' Academy application. I've drafted, had readers' reports, cogitated, polished and re-polished my writing sample. I've gone through everything with a fine toothcomb. In theory, it's *got* to be ready to send out.

In theory.

I just know, as soon as I click the return button, the FEAR will strike. Have I done enough? Is the sample good enough? Have I picked the right one?? Is it emotional enough?? Can it be better? Have I missed something obvious? Are there typos or grammar errors? Can they smell my desperation emanating off the electronic form?! (Though in all fairness, they probably know already, on account of these blog entries).

Sigh.

The problem, when you want (really, really want) something, is that there's a good chance you go and wreck it. You sabotage yourself by saying or doing something really dumb. Or both. I've lost count of the number of times I've screwed up opportunities 'cos I want them - and conversely, got stuff I was way more chilled about. The key here then is to be relax, aloof, cool. Whatever will be, will be. C'est la vie. Etc, blah blah blah.

Yeah right!

I've loved continuing drama since I was a little GIRL. Though movies are fantastic and I love them, my DREAM was always to write for TV, not film. I always wanted to be the one whose name was at the end of Eastenders. Or Casualty, Holby City, Doctors. Corrie! Emmerdale! ALL OF THEM.

Has anyone got any chickens or goats I can sacrifice to Aunty? A beetle would do.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Did Someone Say Adrian Mead?!?

NEWS JUST IN:

Hi Lucy,

Great article and many thanks for the kind words... I can reveal an exclusive on your site. As you know we only get time to do a couple of classes a year, usually one in Scotland, one in London.

We will be staging our next class in central London on Sat 4th July.

THE SCREENWRITER'S CAREER GUIDE

The film and TV industry has changed massively in the last six months. Have you changed your career building strategy to reflect this, or are you plodding along employing an outdated and now useless approach? What should you be doing differently?

THE SCREENWRITER'S CAREER GUIDE will be jam packed with info about the very latest career building opportunities for screenwriters and filmmakers. No screenwriting theory, just how to build contacts, get a job, find money and build a career in the film and TV industry.

There has never been a better time to be a writer or filmmaker trying to get your break. Yet most of you are unaware of the kind of opportunities we will be discussing, many which have arisen BECAUSE of the economic downturn.

Details will follow soon and Write Here Write Now will be the first to get them!

Best wishes
Adrian

Adrian's website

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Thanks Adrian! Can't wait...

I've Written A Script. Now What?

A LOT of people write to me, asking me for ideas on where to send scripts they've written, so I thought it was time I put my thoughts on this in one place, once and for all... Enjoy!
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NETWORKING

Writers write. But that's NOT all they do. You simply must get YOURSELF out there as well - believe it or not, it doesn't matter how you do this either. You don't need to live in London; you don't need to be the most confident or popular person in the world either. Hell, you needn't even show your face (though it is advisable you do, more of that in a minute). In short though, if you've got a day job, a family, live in the North Pole or whatever - you should still be networking like mad. But how? Well, durr - on the INTERNET.

A blog helps, but avoid venting your spleen every five minutes. If you're the type of person whom blogging does not appeal to, fine: get a Twitter account. Can't think of anything witty or hilarious to say every five seconds? No matter - get a Facebook, LinkedIn or Icewhole or Talent Circle account. Hell, why not get all of them? Lots of people have all these internet connections covered (including myself - I'll add you) and they're FREE. Get your name about online, be funny, interesting or offer answers to people's questions. Whatever works for you. But don't lurk in the background while all the other kids chat - be brave, get talking!

If you have the money, join Twelve Point (it's £29 a year). They have a forum - and what's more, offer you the opportunity to upload examples of your work on your profile. In addition, there are industry leads on there to apply for; Q&As with REAL LIVE EXPERTS including literary agents; there are 600+ articles on the industry, scriptwriting, filmmaking and more. It really is exceptional value. What's more, there are plenty of bloggers there too, including me again - check out the profiles. What are you waiting for?

There's Shooting People as well: they don't have a forum but they do have an e-bulletin which goes out daily and which you can post thoughts, opinions and questions on. It's £30 a year. I was a member of this service for many years and found it invaluable. There are e-bulletins especially for screenwriters, filmmakers, casting, music video and more. Check it out if you haven't already. They have a pitching bulletin too where you can send in synopses etc. I've had clients who've reported good results here, why not give it go?

When it comes to showing your face out in the real world, I don't think you can beat an Adrian Mead class: they're reasonably priced and the people are there for the same reason as you: to have a good time, to learn and to meet people. You can't say fairer than that. If Adrian's not running a class near you, check out his book - HOW TO MAKE IT AS A SCREENWRITER - in the meantime.

If Adrian's not available or you're stoney broke, check out the BBC Writersroom: they often have roadshows in major towns and cities like Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff etc as well as London. Even if you're not sure you're *that* interested in what they're talking about, go anyway; the tickets are FREE. It's getting out and about that counts. The Writers Guild of Great Britain often has talks too - free for members or a nominal charge for non-members (sometimes as little as £5).

Finally, if there is a writer or someone you admire, write and tell them. Why not? Lots of writers are online and have email addresses readily available for fanmail. If you have a question for them, ask them. What's the worst that can happen? They won't reply. The best? They reply!!! I wrote to the God Jimmy McGovern when I was thirteen, asking him how I could be a writer when I was "grown up". He replied with the following:

Lucy, if you want to write? You will write. J

That was it. I doubt he'd even remember now, it was the best part of twenty years ago; but it left a lasting impression on me. I was amazed and inspired he had taken the trouble - and guard that (now grubby) bit of paper like the crown jewels!


PITCHES & FREELANCE WRITING JOBS

Lots of writers believe they have a "no go" if they pitch something and no one replies, so don't bother again: always pitch projects A LOT!!!! You wouldn't believe how quickly the situation changes. I had a project I thought was dead in the water; I must have pitched it to twenty producers all to be met with "meh." I left it to one side for six months and whammo - I ended up with two companies interested in it at the same time. How mad is that? Recycle everything!!!

Get talking to directors & producers - but be realistic. If you're someone starting out, chances are the bigwig prodcos aren't going to be knocking your door down. But that's cool; that'll come with time. Instead, find people the same "level" as you: in other words, find directors and producers who want (and/or have done) the same type of things as you and want a way in. Collaborate with them, set yourself goals, get stuff made together; you need each other. It won't be plain sailing; stuff will probably go wrong. You'll end up with scripts massacred and films that look and/or sound like crap. Again: chill. You're all learning and you're doing it together. You can find directors and producers everywhere online - and at film festivals, courses, events, etc in "real life".

Apply for any script/writer-for-hire calls you see, rule nothing out. But again: be realistic; if a script call asks for a writer who has won an award or placed in a script contest and you haven't, you may have only a slim chance at getting through to the next stage. I've never let this stop me however and ONCE I got a job by blagging furiously. I never lied, but I didn't strictly tell the truth either... Luckily by the time the director had realised my supposed "experience" was nowhere near as much he assumed, the script was written and paid for! Arf.

Paid-for services like Inktip & My Visual Pitch offer opportunities for writers to pitch their scripts. Write This Moment is a paid-for site which lists writing jobs; they have a free newsletter, as does Inktip which will offer in the region of 1-2 leads a week for nothing. Freelance Writing Tips is a blog and Facebook group which offer loads of opportunities and articles for FREE for writers. I've been a member of this group for a while now and think it's brilliant. Most on there appear to be corporate writing jobs rather than actual screenwriting, but believe me, you'll learn a lot doing these jobs: articles, CD Roms, games etc - and again, make plenty of contacts!!!

UPDATE:
Thanks to Raving Dave Herman for drawing our attention to TWO other websites advertising writing gigs: Craig's List and Online Writing Jobs.


PAYMENT

In the early days of your career, you'll be lucky to get paid - and even if you are, it will be peanuts. You have to weight up various elements to decide whether a job is worth doing or not. I decide by asking myself these 3 questions:

- What will it do for me, personally? (Monetary gain, experience at a particular type of writing, contacts?)

- Will it go against me? (eg. Sometimes working with someone who is very unpopular in a particular circle *can* be bad in a "guilt by association" fashion, though thankfully this has never been an issue for me or any of my contacts to my knowledge; other times, working with someone who is extremely difficult is simply not worth it, even for a lot of money: I walked from a well-paid gig once because the person in question had no understanding of social propriety: he would phone me at 1am, call in the middle of dinner and demand I'd come up to London for an hour's meeting or even cancel the moment I got there. I thinketh not!)

- Am I safe? (For example, working without a contract is a BAD idea IMHO. Every party needs to know exactly where they stand in relation to the material as far as I'm concerned, otherwise what's the point? Lots of writers are afraid of asking about contracts and payment even on a deferred basis, as they think it makes them seem pushy; but trust me, it's not. It's only fair. You're WORKING. Ok sure, it's for no money on a collaborative basis, but what happens if the producer can't get your treatment or script optioned/made/funded? When do the rights come back to you? Ever? You need to know.)

One last thing here: if you're asked to a meeting, think about what your daily rate is - and do some research into what is reasonable! There's plenty online about this, particularly on the WGGB. They also offer a "contract checking" service.


FEEDBACK

We all know we should NEVER send out first drafts -- but don't get complacent and think you *know* about things like character and structure either. In theory, we all *know* about these things, but in reality, on the page, it can work out very differently to what we intend, whether we're professionals, aspiring writers or even script readers. Keep your mind open to others' feedback. Without an open mind, what have you got?

Similarly however, don't try and please EVERY bit of feedback you get. Sometimes you will get great feedback, but you have to disregard it. You need to stay true to yourself and your story - and remembering what this is, through multiple feedback, can be really difficult. Just recently I was polishing GRACE and realised I'd done 32 drafts and had what I call, "feedback fatigue": I just didn't know what to do for the best! Some sage words from Danny Stack reminded me to look inside myself for HOW I wanted to tell the story - and concentrating on this, NOT fifteen or so lots of feedback, helped me do this.

Writers Circles are, I'm told, good ways of getting feedback (though the last one I was part of was at university and I think I only went three times or so 'cos I couldn't get a babysitter). If you have a similar problem or prefer remote communication, an online peer review group is a great idea I reckon: Robin Kelly has one over at his blog. Then of course there is my beloved Power of Three - though DO remember the principles behind this route!

UPDATE: Thanks to Adrian of I Blame Bleasdale, for drawing our attention to another online feedback group, Sharpshooters!


SHORT FILMS & FEATURES: UNSOLICITED MATERIAL WELCOME

There is always going to be demand for well-written short films: hundreds, if not thousands of film students EVERY YEAR need short film scripts to film for their final projects. A lot of writers look down their noses at this as an opportunity, but it IS a good one: the student filmmaker has just spent months, if not years, of their life investing in their degree! They will go out of their way to try and make a good film and get a good mark - and thus give you an excellent starter for your CV. Yes you will earn no money from it. But a film made is better than a short stuck on your desktop, surely?

What's more, shorts offer excellent practice for DIY Filmmakers. Schuman and I made SAFE because we'd wanted to do something together for ages - and in our books, only a nutter dives in head first into a DIY feature; we wanted to "work our way up" first (though nuff respec' to those that DO dive in!). So: if you were offered the opportunity of a DIY film, do you have anything ready? Do you?!?

Features are often labours of love for the aspiring and professional writer alike: there's a good chance they will never be made and we all have to accept that. HOWEVER these can really work as samples of what we can do - and we need to realise this more, sending them to the people who WANT to see what we can do! The BBC Writersroom is the obvious choice, as is the BBC Wales Writers' Unit. The production companies listed here (thanks Danny) and here (thanks Chip) also welcome unsolicited submissions.

Literary agents are tough nuts to crack and it seems now is one of the hardest times EVER to get taken on. Personally, in times like these, I think a writer's efforts are better spent NOT agent-chasing, but networking, collaborating & DIY filmmaking; chances are, a referral, award or option and/or commission down the line is far more likely to see you picked up in my opinion, but as with everything it's up to the writer. Check out Robin's excellent compilation of blog posts about agents here.
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If there's anything you think I've missed here or you have a specific question about something, let me know on bang2write"at"aol"dot"com or in the comments!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Writing Story, Pt 2: Beyond

So, as I said in the last post: I was done with writing, I was moving to Exeter, I was gonna be a teacher.

Ha ha.

I applied - too late as it turns out - for a PGCE that August, so I could start at uni the moment I got to Exeter in September. It didn't work out; they were full, though they said I could start September after. Brilliant: I had a whole year to fill. Being a single Mum though meant I had plenty to occupy my time; I had to find my kid a school, for one. I saw a bunch of them and ending up sending the boy to a school, though deprived, did fantastic projects for creative children. He thrived there and actually, it was the best thing for us at that moment; I had spent so long rushing here, there and everywhere when I was at uni, it was good for both of us to live a little more of a sedate pace for a while.

With that all in hand then, I needed a job. We'd relocated to an old factory town and I was offered a job as a supervisor in a seatbelt and parachute factory. I considered it for about three minutes (it was well paid) until I realised that every time I read about a fatal collision or a skydiver's parachute not opening, I would be wondering if it had originated on my watch in my factory. In short, I hadn't the stomach for that kind of responsibility. I declined.

I started work in a bargain store but the owners were insane so I only lasted a week before I got fired for dropping three hundred million boxes of kids' raincoats off the mezzanine (it was totally their fault). Luckily for me I'd forgotten to ask the Job Centre to take me out of the system and a supermarket phoned up and offered me a job in their cafe the same day I got fired. I accepted and everyone was fine with me - at first, because all the women in the cafe thought I was a single mother *like them*. When I let slip that I had gone to university just in the course of an ordinary conversation, attitudes distinctly cooled. Suddenly cakes got burnt - and it was blamed on me. I got shut in the walk-in freezer. I got washing up duty for four in every five rotations. Mops "accidentally" tripped me up. I obviously got sick of this very quickly and complained to my Boss. To my amazement, he accepted my side of events and moved me to the cash office. There I got to chill out on my own and bag up all the money. I also got better hours and slightly more pay. Bliss.

I did however get extremely bored in the cash office: there's only so many times you can count up the same bag of money or credit card receipts. I was still script reading for my *one* big contact and he started introducing me to other people, but at this stage it was all favours, no real money involved - though I did get to see some interesting pieces from what I thought of as "real" writers. The notebook I had created when my boy was very small surfaced again and I started to write, really without even thinking about it. They were just streams of consciousness really, character profiles, bits of dialogue - but crucially, this time they were fictional, instead of stuff I had overheard.

I created a bunch of characters who had no story, but would later become protagonists in Eclipse and Thy Will Be Done. I revisited what would become Grace, but again chucked it. I spent a lot of time on Friends Reunited - remember that site? - not because I wanted to revisit any of my old school chums, but because I wanted inspiration of what "real" people were up to. Surprisingly, a couple were into stuff like animation and filmmaking. I emailed them and managed to wangle a tour of where they worked. Result. Also, whilst I was at it, I did a certificate in teaching English as a foreign language. Why the hell not? I could be the most overqualified cash office assistant in the land, then surely. Arf.

I revisited the very bad, angsty novel I had written as a teen. Man, it was bad. It didn't make much sense and screamed "teenager!" all over it. I revised it, sent it to a few literary agents. A couple wrote back with some positive comments about my arena, prose, one even my "effervesent anatgonist" (!), though one lambasted me with this gold nugget:

"I suggest you ask some REAL single mothers what life is like for them, since this doesn't ring true at all."

Gotta laugh, really.

I decided I didn't *do* dark anymore, so went to the other side of the scale and wrote a Chick Lit. I had decided getting an agent mattered above all else at this point and sent it to every email address I knew. Two replied. One thought it was awful. The other thought it was brilliant. Did I have anymore? I got mega-confused about this and never replied to the one who thought it was brilliant. Shame. Later, my computer would blow up again and it would be three years and seven months before I found a floppy disk with it on there. For a laugh, I sent it to my current agent about eighteen months ago. He thought it was "vibrant and amusing but overwritten." My time had passed. Sigh.

I was halfway through the PGCE when someone contacted me about the script I had written on deferred payment the previous summer (which I mentioned in the last post). He had been working with said independent producer too and asked to see some of my stuff. I only had a treatment called Wish, but I sent it to him anyway. He called me, wanted to meet me. I took a trip to London - I wanted to see some friends anyway - and turned up at this studio and chatted with this guy. He seemed really into Wish, reckoned it would be really cool. He said he had a client looking to make a film and he needed a writer: was I interested? I said, sure - why not? I was so wet behind the ears I thought I was saying yes to a collaboration. Turns out the guy in question was Schuman Hoque and the client in question was a record label who wanted to make a short for the festivals and a feature with a "music-related theme". The short became The Design and the feature never got made due to various stuff, but it led to lots of other stuff and we both got paid. Always a bonus. And of course the rest is history.

Back *then* I had other stuff to do like complete the PGCE and somehow end up married (still trying to figure that one out) and it was the following April I suddenly realised there was a very good chance I would leave the PGCE without a job AGAIN. Devon is a great place for jobs in supermarkets, factories and bargain basement stores it seems; not so great for professional jobs. I hunted high and low for one, even got down to the final three for about seven of them, but each time I was blown out the water at the last minute. Double sigh.

Anyway.Then I made *that* post on shooting people about script reading. I got talking to some people and Bang2write was born. I figured I could do it on the side until I got a real teaching job - and got another teaching job for the summer at a TEFL school which ended up very suddenly going into administration and being closed down and boarded up when us teachers arrived for work one morning! Omigod I was a jinx, surely!!!! Peeved and sure the universe was out to get me - this HAD to be a sign I wasn't *supposed* to be a teacher?? - so I started writing again.

I sent what would become GRACE to the BBC Writersroom. I heard nothing for eight months, so got frustrated and sent it to a script reader which happened to be JK Amalou. He told me I wasn't realising my full potential as a writer and I could be *so much better*. As far as I was concerned I was wick by this point - I'd written a movie!! - but I was intrigued by this guy and went to meet him in London. He spent three hours totally dissecting my script and gave me the most food for thought I had well, ever had. This was compounded by the fact I had some feedback waiting for me from the Writersroom when I got back: they liked it, they wanted to see another script! I took the script away and sat on it for about two years, though I did do a partial rewrite which later got panned. During this time, I wrote an early version of Eclipse, called - you guessed it - Wish. I can't even remember why I thought this was a good title at the time; it wasn't.

Anyway, time moved on; I wrote Thy Will Be Done and I started the old AOL blog. I had no idea anyone was reading as I didn't have a stat counter, so imagine my surprise when I started getting emails from random people about other screenwriters who blog. I had no idea. I couldn't get the hang of Blogspot however and it took another writer actually sorting it out for me virtually. I was pregnant by this point with Lilirose and spent most of the nine months either script reading or writing and rewriting Thy Will Be Done, the biggest WTF? draft that possibly ever walked the earth. People told me it was brilliant AND awful, all the way through and I finished the very last draft just three hours before going into labour. Two weeks after giving birth I sent it all over the place: UK liked it, US hated it. C'est la vie. It was enough however, with another script called KINGS OF THE CASTLE, to land me an agent and get me a bunch of meetings at various places.

Anyway, the rest you know, more or less: I've chronicled on here my exploits with various prodcos, corporates and insane weirdoes. I've written college prospectuses; website copy; articles in magazines online and in print; games and toys; virals and whatnot. I fell into some of them; I actively pursued others. I've always felt privileged though to earn a crust for the last few years doing what I enjoy - script reading, editing and writing, with the occasional bout of TEFL. Can't complain. Plans for the future include making another short and finally breaking into TV, particularly my beloved continuing drama.

I'd love to say there's some *big* insight here, but in all truth everyone's writing journey is so different and heaven knows I'm not done yet!!! Who knows what will happen next...

What about you, then? How are you faring?

Monday, April 13, 2009

My Writing Story, pt 1: University

Miss Read has been writing about her own experiences at university doing a scriptwriting degree, which has got me thinking about mine. I've had a roundabout journey in scriptwriting, falling into script reading on the way and giving up on this whole lark more than once in pursuit of a more "sensible" job. But it seems I just can't keep away, 'cos I'm still going... Let us know how you got into it in the comments section.
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When I decided to become a writer, I was 18 and had dabbled with the creative arts my whole life. I'd done a journalism course; I'd written a very bad angsty novel; I'd done a photography course; I'd worked at a couple of newspapers and magazines on work experience. I was also pregnant and had lots of time on my hands, because there were not many places in my home town willing to employ a pregnant teen who liked to mope a lot and would only want maternity leave in three or four months. I also lived at the very bottom of a very leafy valley in the middle of nowhere, with the nearest bus stop three quarters of a mile away, so the more pregnant I got, the more difficult it became to clamber across stiles and fields in search of that elusive job.

My grandfather had an old computer with Windows 95 on it, so gave it to me. He wrote me a very patronising letter about how he got started at 14 as a barrow boy and rose to company director, regardless of all the hardship in his life at the time, but I got his point: just because I was about to be a single mother with no money and no job prospects didn't mean I had to be on the scrap heap forever. I was lucky enough to have half a brain and some A levels, I should bloody use them.

When I told my parents I was going to university and taking the baby with me, they were pleased I was living my dreams. When I said I was going to Bournemouth to do scriptwriting, they were slightly less enamoured. No one in my family really knew what a degree in scriptwriting was; I don't think even I did if I'm totally honest. All the writing I had done, at school and on the job, had been journalism. But I hated journalism; I had quit one post already when I'd had to interview a woman who had lost her son as the result of a bad tackle in a rugby match. Seeing her grief had made me realise journalism involved way too much real life for my tastes. What was more, the photographer with me had even delighted in the tears in her eyes in the photos he'd taken and that had disgusted me. Journalism was not the place for me.

So I had the baby. He was riddled with colic and for the first nine weeks he cried pretty much non stop and slept for ten minute intervals at a time. I thought I would die; if I hadn't been 18, I probably would have. During this time and the six months that followed, I wrote fragments in notebooks - snatches of conversation, moments, advertising slogans, whatever took my fancy at that moment - and kept them for a rainy day. I had a difficult time with his Dad (loooooooooooong story) and a lot of what he said went in there as well (I can't tell you how many antagonists in my specs say his words).

Fast forward a year or so; my boy had learnt to walk and I had started (but not finished) a selection of work; a crime story in which the twin sister did it (sigh); a space story in which it was all a dream (double sigh) and an interesting story that would later become the script I'm working on for my Writers' Academy application, GRACE. UCAS time came round again and I had to put my application in for a university place. I had to write an audition script to get into Bournemouth. I had taken A Level English Lit, so was suitably inspired by Alan Bennett's Talking Heads. Somewhat predictably, I wrote three monologues - one had an "amazing" twist at the end that it was the dog talking, not a human. Wow.

Somewhat unpredictably then, I got an interview at Bournemouth. The guy there talked to me for an hour and half: he want to know my thoughts on continuing drama, particularly the fact Channel 5 had just acquired Aussie soap "Home & Away" at that time. What a gift of a question for someone like me! I waxed lyrical about my love of continuing drama, finding myself talking about Corrie, Emmerdale and of course my beloved Eastenders - then noticed he wasn't taking any notes. Shit. I was blowing it. Feeling the doom surround me, I asked HIM a question: what did he think of British sitcom? As luck would have it, it turns out he's written for sitcom, so HE waxes lyrical about the state of British comedy. Anyway, to cut a long story short, he says we're done and did I want to start that September on the course? I didn't hear him somehow and asked him when I'd hear. He says, very patiently, he's just offered me a place RIGHT NOW; did I want it? I just squeaked, "Yes."

So I started at uni and thought I'd be hanging out with artistes, but we were all just regular students who got drunk too much and wrote amazingly crap first drafts and jealously guarded them from each other in case our ideas got stolen. My grandfather's computer had blown up by this point, so I'd spend most days in the library; I made the mistake of getting on the wrong side of one of the librarians there and she declared war on me, insisting most days all PCs were booked when no one was sitting there. When I'd point this out, she'd challenge me with proving it, to which I'd yell, "I CAN SEE IT WITH MY EYES!" This of course allowed her to throw me out for breaking the silence. I got my own back by smuggling an entire collection of Cahiers Du Cinema out of the reference section on her watch, then posting them back, one by one, to her supervisor.

As time went on at university, most of us began to realise we weren't as fabulous as we all thought and became more receptive to each other's ideas. Some of us even started to collaborate. I of course had to do *that* work experience placement at a literary agent as part of the course, which was how I fell into script reading. Time was moving on and I was getting better at writing, but more importantly decoding how scripts work thanks to the reading. I found myself meeting interesting people; some I'd heard of, most I had no idea who they were. But I still pumped them mercilessly for info and gossip; you never know when it might come in useful. And it has, even years later, but more of that in the next post.

I used my contacts with literary agents to get my appalling specs read and received some generous, excellent advice from most of those I sent them to, most notably on overwriting my scene description and on genre convention. I also spent a lot of time traipsing around offices, pretending I wanted to be such things as camera technicians, lighting people and development executives. My plan was simple: I would open my Writers' & Artists' Yearbook, pick a place - literary agent, production company, whatever - and write to them (a real letter, not an email). I would say I was a student and could they possibly help me with a project I was doing? I don't know if it was the time and they weren't that busy then, the tone of my letter or the fact they weren't asked this much (or perhaps a combo of these), but take up on this was high. Of course, many didn't reply, but I kept going. Even those that declined were very nice; some even phoned me and spoke to me. Others wrote letters back with advice. I still have most of them, in a little black box under the bed.

Anyway, I left university and found myself without a job again; I was doing a bit of script reading here and there, but it was not enough to get by. I had landed a script commission when I finished uni, but as always it was on deferred payment for an independent producer who still hasn't managed to raise funding to make the damn thing. I managed to land some corporate writing work for the LEGO company, but again it was a few days here and there, not permanent; I'd tried to get a day job, but every time I got to the bit where it said: "Any dependants?" on the application form, I just knew the 22 year old WITHOUT a kid would get the job over me - and guess what: they did, because I flunked interview after interview for jobs I was madly overqualified for. I'd been offered a place on the MA at Goldsmith's in Novel Writing in London, something I'd dearly have loved to take up but the fact I was a single mother with absolutely no money prevented me when the AHRB turned my application for funding down. I was still living in Bournemouth, but when my son lost his school place because of crazy-ass politics (another looooooong story), I found myself stuck in a one bedroom flat with no garden and a five year old with waaaaaaaaaay too much time on his hands. I also had bucketloads of mice in my cupboards and my cat wasn't eating them fast enough; there was also the mad neighbour with forty thousand dogs downstairs and the barking was driving me crazy.

So I did what *anyone* would do - I moved. But not within Bournemouth, because that would have been too sensible; I decided to move to the Exeter region and do a PGCE and become a teacher. Sod this writing lark, I was only kidding myself. Time to earn some real money and get a real job...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Happy Easter

It's pretty quiet here script-reading wise as it is every April (with it being the end of the tax year), so I've been taking the opportunity to spend some time with the kids as it's the Easter holiday. I've also been doing my Writers' Academy application: I've written a script especially for it this year and am taking my time, right up to the deadline - usually I write the application and send off a sample from my portfolio in the first week, but that hasn't exactly held me in good stead in previous years, since I haven't progressed to the next stage. This year I'm hoping that will change, but we'll have to wait and see. I want to write for continuing drama SO MUCH - and not just for the money, but because I LOVE continuing drama. I can't stand "soap snobs"; I've watched Eastenders, Casualty, Holby, Corrie, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks etc literally since I was a girl and can safely say they are every bit as real and demanding as those other dramas said snobs say are somehow *so much better*. What's more, audiences come to love and love-to-hate characters in them: my heart broke a little bit for Jac in Holby City last week; she's such a bitch but she does love Joseph and what's more, he loves her. Argh! And in Doctors, Ruth's increasingly fragile mental state leading to her sectioning and the fabulous episode "Hole" this week was just fabulous.

Anyway, I'm just passing through to say have a great Easter weekend, don't eat too much chocolate and if you're with the relatives, try and avoid any soap-style big revelations like your Mum is your sister; your Dad is your brother; ; running someone over with a car; your adopted child turning up on the doorstep; your adopted child turning up on your doorstep and then getting run over by a car; getting murdered by a jealous/obsessed work colleague; telling your parents you're gay; killing your husband and burying him under the patio; sleeping with your mother-in-law; an airplane falling on your house and/or village; a storm making a house fall on you; having a baby when you think you have appendicitis; getting kidnapped; having a massive car crash while attempting to dump toxic waste; having a massive car crash and running into the flames to save a crying baby; crashing INTO the hospital itself and making the doctors and nurses have to operate while having to try and survive themselves... Have I missed any?

Happy Easter!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Killer Premises: It's All In The Execution

BEWARE: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

Scribes seem to always bemoan the fact *their* premise has been used already in a film. Very often you'll read on an online forum a writer saying they "can't" pursue a script because a produced movie is *practically* the same. Other times a writer will press on only to be put off by feedback and/or their colleagues' insistence the idea is "too derivative" of a particular movie, despite the execution being quite different.

My take? THIS COULD BE GOOD NEWS. Whilst I would never advocate copying or writing specifically "for" the market spec-wise as I feel it *can* make scripts flat and try-hard, if you coincidentally feel passionate for a script idea that ends up en vogue at the time you're shopping it around, then perhaps it will win you some attention.

Someone said to me once "originality is overrated". After several years at this spec writing lark, I'm inclined to agree. I've been to not one, or two but THREE pitching sessions with producers now where my supposed ultra ground-breaking ideas have been dismissed with a "meh", only for my "emergency pitch" (ie. the pitch I hated cos I thought it was dull and derivative and left 'til last) has made them sit up and take note and ask me for more on that idea. Yes it might make you want to tear your own eyes out, but it seems producers really do want "the same... but different". Premises CAN be the similar or even identical: there's nothing wrong with that. What you want to stand out for is your EXECUTION - by that I mean your characters, who they are, what they do; the plot moves you choose to tell your story.

Some genres are even known for having the same premises - think of "body swap" comedies here: kid wakes up an adult. Adult wakes up a kid. Girl is a boy; boy is a girl. Rom coms? Boy meets girl or girl meets boy. At the root of it, they're all the same really. Can you ever *truly* break new ground? ALIEN shocked, sure, but it was the idea of the creature bursting from a host's chest that shocked, not the idea monsters could attack and eat humans: remember by 1979 we'd had all the paranoid invasion movies of the 50s and 60s thanks to Hollywood's concern over communism overseas and the start of the Vietnam war.

So here are my thoughts on six movies from three very similar ideas...Taken (2008) versus Spartan (2004). The thriller in which a woman is kidnapped and "there is only one man who can save her" is always going to be popular; women in the audience like the idea of a knight in shining armour and men like the idea of kicking ass and getting the girl (in whatever context: in the 80s it was wives and girlfriends like in Polanski's Frantic; recently it's been a focus on younger girls, often daughters).

In Taken, Liam Neeson must rescue his daughter from nasty Albanians who nick her for the sex trade; in Spartan, Val Kilmer is a government agent who must retrieve the daughter of a high-ranking government official who has been kidnapped, but essentially these two films share the same premise. What differs here is in Taken, the task is personal; Neeson shuns government help or interference, preferring to go it alone, so failure or success is his. In Spartan, for Kilmer it's an entirely professional thing: retrieving things - including kidnapped daughters - is this "thing", it's what he does. What's more, unlike Neeson's character, Kilmer has back up and utilises everything at his disposal to get the girl back.

Of the two, personally I preferred Spartan; not just because it was written by the God David Mamet, but because Kilmer's character appears to go furthest in terms of his arc, since he goes from a purely professional mission to one in which he actually cares what happens next. By contrast, there were more than a few moments which stretched credulity for me in Taken, not to mention Neeson's incredible luck in *just* being behind the daughter and her abductors, like when he sees her being dragged into a car when he'd been chained up for a while downstairs and escaped in the nick of time. What's interesting about Spartan however is I didn't even know of its existence until it turned up in a DVD baragin bin; the Hub brought it back one night when foraging for booze and crisps, yet Taken had a massive launch, it was everywhere and everyone seemed up for watching it. Perhaps it boils down the one thing that sticks out for me: Neeson is more appealing than Kilmer? Depressing really - the quality of your script means little; what star you have attached is everything.Death Sentence versus The Brave One (both 2007). Is there anything more hackneyed than the revenge movie? I'm struggling to think of one; it's difficult to know what to do with this idea; after all, the notion of "an eye for an eye" appears to have been done every way you can imagine - male and female protagonists, rape/revenge, murder/revenge, gang/revenge, historical revenge, supernatural revenge: you name it, it's been done in some way or another.

And for me, the revenge movie Death Sentence appears to try and make this point: despite some shocking plotting (in particular an interesting midpoint) and some good dialogue with occasional decent foreshadowing, this movie has one HUGE problem. It asks us to believe an ordinary, middle-class family guy who works in insurance can not only take on a bunch of harcore street hoodies (not once do we see Kevin Bacon working out in readiness), he ACTUALLY CHOOSES TO DO THIS OVER SEEKING JUSTICE. In the courtroom, Bacon isn't DENIED justice per se; he isn't offered the sentence he wants for the killer, so instead he actually says he "can't be sure" if the felon in question was the guy who killed his son. This is of course thrown out of court and instead he returns home and prepares to kill said felon, just like that. What's more, it's really difficult to relate to a man who puts his first born child's death ahead of his wife's, not to mention the maiming of his comatose second son; he even sits next to him and tells him how he could basically never love him as much as his brother as he was too like his mother. He then returns home and dresses in his son's leather jacket to go after those baddies once and for all, sealing the deal that his first born matters, leaving his second an orphan. And where were the police all this time you ask? Yes, where indeed. Despite mounting evidence, he's not once taken in, even for questioning. It's as if Bacon's character can do what he wants and to hell with the consequences. Whilst the point is made he has become the same as the Hoodies, this point is made with the subtlety of a sledgehammer and the only conclusion I am able to draw is that to be "good", he should have turned the other cheek for the first boy's murder, which seems waaaaaaaaay too simplistic for me for such difficult subject matter.

The Brave One in comparison couldn't be more different as far I'm concerned. It grabs the difficult, contradictory subject of revenge and embraces BOTH arguments: "revenge is wrong"/"Eat shit bad guys"! What differs in the execution is subtle, but it doesn't ask us to make giant leaps of faith in terms of Foster's character's motivation: because she is a believable, sympathetic character, we can relate to her, understand why she would do such a repugnant thing whilst never condoning it. What's more, the problematic issue of the police too is drawn into the story; Foster's friendship with the police officer makes us realise how she gets away with what she does, whereas in Death Sentence the police officer character is held at arm's length to the detriment of character and plot. If you're not sure how execution makes all the difference with virtually the same premise, then watching The Brave One and comparing it with Death Sentence is one of the best moves you can make I think. (I've written before about The Brave One on this blog: character journey here and a movie review here.)Resident Evil versus 28 Days Later (both 2002). Really this reads like the ultimate in movie wars, UK or US: we could call it, "Zombies: who does it better?" I'm gonna make a controversial move here and say, for me, it's a tie. I know, I know; I must be mad, I'm a traitor to my fellow countrymen, blah blah blah (a couple of my friends have got into heated debate with this in various pubs because apparently *of course* 28 Days is better, I'm apparently insane). But before you string me up, let me say a few words in my defence.

Both films have things which are interesting about them. I loved the idea the Zombies weren't actually Zombies in 28 Days, but "infected". The Rage virus was a new take on a tired idea - and seeing those Infected running up the tunnel as they're getting in the car was fab. The panoramic views of a dead London and its poignant Wall of The Damned in Leics Square - brilliant. Resident Evil in comparison cashed in on "cool value": everything was big, colourful, in your face - and it did it well. Its roots were in a computer game and it made no apologies for it. There was some great gore and set pieces: the moment JD gets pulled in to the lift and eaten alive creeped me right out and the next time I went in a lift, I have to admit I did check for Zombies first.

But both films have very obvious drawbacks too. For 28 Days, it was that dodgy prologue with the chimps (though it does handle the exposition quite effectively in its rather clunky way). For Resident Evil, it has to be the Set Up in general with the incredibly wooden performances of the marines as they enter The Hive, not to mention the Aliens references became a little much (as they did in AVP, are you listening Paul WS Anderson? We KNOW you love that movie!! ; ). Character-wise, neither film was up to much in my opinion. Jim in 28 Days was a typical Everyman, which would have worked had he had anyone particularly outstanding to play off on in his group, but for me none of the characters really stood out. Mr Curtis from Holby City dies very early on courtesy of his ruthless girlfriend, but unfortunately that marked the peak of HER character - from there on in she was just running about screaming or being rescued it seemed to me. In contrast, Alice had some intriguing things about her in Resident Evil - not least the question mark over her head with regard to her responsibility in releasing the T Virus - but overall, she seemed inherently male to me, even if she was wearing a sexy red dress. Her "Missing you already" when she killed fake husband James Dreyfus was *so* reminiscent of Arnie's murder of fake wife Sharon Stone in Total Recall, it felt rather on the nose for me.-------------------------------------------------------------------
So - "the same... but different": you CAN use the same premise, but execute it differently. It can even be desirable, as these films show... They all made it to the screen and DVD stores, despite being the "same". What was "different" was HOW they play out. Therein lies the challenge, of course.

Have you seen any of these films - how do you think they compare? Have you written a spec, then abandoned it in the belief it's "too similar" to a produced movie? Over to you...