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Monday, March 29, 2010

#Scriptchat: Reader Panel, March 28th, 2010

Just a quick one today... I was on Euro #scriptchat last night with Script Angel's Hayley McKenzie, answering tweeps' questions about script reading and script editing. Couldn't make it? Then check out the transcript here.

#Scriptchat is a FAB resource for screenwriters: even if you hate the idea of Twitter, it really is worth getting an account just for this event - every sunday at 8pm (Euro) or 10pm (US). Check it out!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Write With Passion!!!

Ah, gotta love it. My favourite "advice". NOT.

Because we writers never do *that*, do we? Instead we preside over our keyboards and say, "You know what? I'm going to write the DULLEST, MOST BORING SCRIPT in the ENTIRE UNIVERSE. I'm actually going to make the reader want to TEAR THEIR OWN EYES OUT, they're so F____ING BORED."

Scripts take a LOOOOOONG time. You've GOT to be passionate about your characters, the story, whatever - else it would never be finished. People make all kinds of sacrifices time-wise, money-wise, to finish these scripts. People find themselves torn up in knots over them!

So all this, "write with passion" advice, constantly recycled by [insert respected prodco/blog/initiative here] is I think, in real terms, redundant. Not only that, I think it's damaging and cruel. I've lost count of the number of GOOD writers I have had to coax off the screenwriting window ledge ("I'll never write again!!") because they've received the dreaded "you have no passion" feedback. Hell, I've even had to be talked off that same window ledge myself.

Of course, our scripts WILL bore readers from time to time. This might be because the script is badly crafted and meanders all over the place. But sometimes our scripts - no matter how well-crafted they are or how much WE love them - will be met with "meh". Sometimes those readers will get back to us and say, "You know what? You need more passion."

Really. Well, like all things, there's more than one side of the story - and more than one way of looking at this.

Contrary to the current popular belief, just because a reader is not AUTOMATICALLY ENTHUSIASTIC about a script, this doesn't mean the script is automatically crap/passion-less. I think this "write with passion" thing has become the latest GET OUT OF JAIL FREE card for readers. Why? Because that "boring script" depends not only on the writer, but also the RESPONSE of the reader, something a writer cannot POSSIBLY take into account 100% when they don't even know who will end up reading it!

Response is dependent on so many things: whether the reader is a good one, for a start; whether they are interested in the subject matter; whether they have a LARGE PILE OF SCRIPTS to get through by a particular deadline; whether they have prejudices against a particular type of story or genre; whether the reader has a HEADACHE... The writer cannot possibly nail 100% of them down.

The idea a writer can get a reader to believe in their story NO MATTER WHAT, based on this phantom "passion" (which, let's face it, means different things to different people anyway) I think is, actually, rather facile. It's like saying only ONE SIDE of the transaction matters - yet no one would say the audience response to the actual film or TV series doesn't count, so why do we say it's all about the writer in the actual script reading??

There are two people in this: writer AND reader. Reader response is underrated and misunderstood - and that's why there are so many bad readers and feedback-givers around. As a reader, you participate IN the work - and you bring various NEGATIVE things to the table, as well as the positive. Sometimes those negative things get in the way of your ability to appreciate an otherwise good script.

Of course, sometimes a good script is just hard to find. Whilst it's true more scripts actually LOOK like scripts now, those scripts in the spec pile have the same problems they've always had: mostly structure and character. 9/10 scripts in the pile have this problem. End of. In short, NOTHING has really changed in all the time I have been reading which is a looooooooong time now.

So next time you get feedback saying very little other than "write with more passion", DON'T despair. Don't cry, or freak out, or ring up all your screenwriting friends for heart-to-hearts about YOU as a writer and whether it's "worth" investing any more time in what is *surely* going to be a disaster...

... Instead, recognise it for what it is: a "get out of jail free" card. Pat yourself on the back: they couldn't think of anything else.
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Want to know more about reader response? As writers, knowing how readers *can* impose their OWN vision or POV on YOUR script, can make ALL THE DIFFERENCE: you needn't agonise over poor feedback ever again! We'll be looking at this - as well as the slush pile and each others' work - at my new class in April 2010 at Ealing Studios, London, with Guerrila Filmmaker Chris Jones. All the details and booking here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Guest Post: Good News From Adrian Mead

Hi Everyone

Lucy has very kindly allowed me to send this quick update for everyone who has purchased Making It As A Screenwriter.

I wrote this E book to raise money for the charity CHILDLINE - a free helpline for children in danger of distress.

The book continues to receive great reviews and on Friday I dropped off a cheque for £3,800 to Childline from the ongoing sales of the book. With your continued support it will continue to generate more funds.

So, on behalf of myself and Childline many thanks again to you all, hope to catch up soon and please recommend the book to others.

Best Wishes
Adrian Mead

If you would like to read reviews of Making It As A Screenwriter and order your copy here.

More information about Childline
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Brilliant news Adrian... And if you haven't downloaded your copy of MAKING IT AS A SCREENWRITER, what's keeping you??? Not only do the proceeds go to a brilliant charity, the book is fab - and endorsed by the likes of Tony Jordan, Ashley Pharaoh, James Moran, Danny Stack, David Bishop, plus others - including me!!! Just so you know, MAKING IT AS A SCREENWRITER is not a "how-to" book and nor will it give you a load of guff about what screenwriting is or how easy is it is to make it - instead it's a honest, realistic look at the job we have or want... I wish it was around when I started! So, what are you waiting for? Get it now.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Twit's Guide To Twitter

Some people believe absolutely the likes of Twitter are a WASTE OF TIME - it's mere procrastination, indulgence, maybe even a bit unhealthy... And certainly if I was tweeting what my kids had for breakfast and the colour of their resulting bowel movements I'd agree.

But like anything, it depends what you use it for. And though Twitter has meant a decline in quality "full-length" (oo er) blogging, it has OPENED UP THE FLOOR for all writers and those interested in writing, filmmaking and beyond, at ALL stages of their career.

So if you're already there - HELLO!!! - please follow me.

If you're NOT on Twitter however - and don't know where to start - then, as requested by various people, here's your Twit's Guide to Twitter.
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THE BASICS

1) Sign Up. Go to www.twitter,com and register. If you've done Facebook, it'll be easy. If you haven't, it's not still that hard.

2) Pick a username. I'd recommend a username that's NOT that long: something punchy is good, or can be your real name. No one minds what you call yourself though something like @JISMMONKEY or @ISUCKCOCKSINHELL probably won't get you the *kind* of friends that will help you WRITE (unless you write porno, of course).

2) Add detail. Fill in as much detail as you can and I'd recommend a picture of *some sort* - whilst Twitter recommends a "real" pic, there's plenty of Tweeps* there, like me, who don't. But if you don't have a picture of any kind, other people might think you're a spammer. There are various layouts you can choose too, or you can upload your own.

3) Say what? So now... Your first message on Twitter. It's easy enough - you have 140 characters. Write what you like. Think of it like those status updates in Facebook. Do note: a Twitter message is known as a TWEET, not a Twit. It's a good idea to write a few tweets before you go for the number 4, again just so other Tweeps know you are a REAL person, not a spammer or a bot.

4) Following. You will now have a profile and a few tweets written. Now you need to FOLLOW people. This is how you get noticed yourself and get others to follow you. If you know people on Twitter with large follow lists, get them to give you a "shout out" - ie. an introduction. So, for example, you could TWEET ME something like:

@Bang2write - hi, I came here via the Twit's Guide To Twitter! Plz give me a shout-out! Thx

I'll be happy to do so. Now, target those people you want to follow - find them on Twitter via their blogs, Facebooks, or if you know their email addresses, put it in the "Find People" tool at the top of the Twitter homepage. Again, it's rather like Facebook in that regard. Alternatively, find someone with a LONG list of followers and follow THEIR followers! That's how I started.

5) Here's Lookin' @ you. Every time you talk to someone on Twitter, you need to put @ in front of their username (or click their Tweet, as it will do it automatically). If someone replies to you, you need to look in your @ box. This is on the right hand side bar about a quarter of the way down your page. Click on it - and all your replies from people will be there. there is also a Direct Message - DM - function on Twitter.
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So: the above is all you really need to get going on Twitter. But it's only half the story, so here is everything I know in glorious technicolour (I'm sure there's more than this, too) for those who think they can tackle the

ADVANCED

6) Retweeting. Often referred to as the RT - "retweet", which is when you copy & paste someone else's words, though there is a specific function for this now, all you need to to do is press it and it will do RT it automatically for you. As far as I can see, you can retweet anyone, though it's poor show to totally alter people's tweets and/or not credit those who've come up with the tweet (so incl. their username). Here is a guide to retweeting.

7) Tw-what?? There are loads of online amalgams of words with the word "Twitter", ie. *"Tweeps" is "Peeps" & "Twitter"; you can join a group called a "Twibe" ("Twitter" & "Tribe"), etc. So in other words, if in doubt anything with TW in front of a word relates to something to do with/that is on Twitter. You can find a full run down of Twitter speak here. BTW: txt spk & abbrvn = fine & NE1 who sez it isn't is a Tw@t.

8) Mobile Go-Go. If you are an IPhone or Blackberry user, there are loads of Twitter-friendly apps for you to download and use directly from your phone, just Google them. But even if you have a phone of the non-fancy variety like me, you can still use the text function of your phone to send tweets directly to Twitter (as long as it's WAP enabled). Just go to Twitter's home page to set up this function.

9) Platforms. There are other ways of accessing Twitter from all around the internet without going directly via their website every time. The most popular appears to be Tweet Deck, with Twurl following a close second. I had Twurl for a while but found I could never leave Twitter alone as it delivered every single tweet to my desktop as I was working (and I'm pretty obsessed anyway) so that DID distract me, so I deleted it. But I'm sure plenty of you have more self control than me, so might be worth investigating!

10) #hashtags. Hashtags are for specific topics. So for example, if you want to talk about genre film, you would add the following #genrefilm. Put this in EVERY tweet - this way, other Tweeps can click on that hashtag to see EVERY TWEET in the thread, without people having to click "reply" all the time, which wouldn't always show up in everyone's @ box (if they're not all following each other). Quick and convenient. REMEMBER: Sometimes people use hashtags as a joke - like the pointless #earwig that crops up from time to time. Also, people might try and diffuse potential conflict with them, as in #justsayin or #justaskin. Other times, people might use hashtags to remind people what they were talking about in a previous tweet , ie.

He said I shouldn't have waited so now I'm really angry #gotstoodup

11) Twibes. These are groups you can create to talk about various topics. I've never used one though, so can't offer much advice. I managed to join the Scriptchat twibe so it must be easy, but now I've lost it!

12) Lists. Lists is another relatively new feature: it allows you to band your followers into various groups - ie. work, fun, random. I'm way too lazy to bother doing this however. What's great about this feature is you can piggyback on OTHER people's lists - I'm currently in 57 lists, one of which is the delightful @JasonArnopp's dedicated to "Scriptwriters". What's cool about it is I have found other people worth following in HIS list too.

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TO GET YOU STARTED:

Just type these names (NB. as they appear here BEFORE the italics, no spaces) into Twitter's "Find People" at the top of the page and click "follow"!!!

Bang2write - yours truly

JulianFriedmann - fabbo agent, he doesn't have enough to do running Blake Friedmann AND Twelve Point, get him!

Gibbzer - Andrea Gibbs, screenwriter extraordinaire

MichelleLipton - fab screenwriter and pyjama-wearer

HayleyMcKenzie1 - our very own Script Angel

Laragreenway - Writer. Producer. Director. Wonderwoman.

Robinkelly1 - Robin Kelly of course and UK's top link bringer

MMOnFilm - Mystery Man on Film, US bringer of fab links

UnkScreenwriter - The Unknown Screenwriter - more fab screenwriting links

mypdfscripts - awesome links to well, PDF scripts!

scriptcollector - has every known script in the universe, including those written by aliens

FilmUtopia - Clive Frayne, Italy's premier Writer, Producer, Filmmaker

Scriptchat - *the* place for writers on Sundays

DreamsGrafter - the lovely Mina, admin on Euro Scriptchat

Jeannevb - Jeanne watches over US Scriptchat

Dstack30 - Our very own marvellous Danny stack


Wlmager - likes to kill people... in scripts. Of course.


Splinister - Maura McHugh, my sister in arms

SarahDobbs - former journo and fellow feminist

John_Hunter - he likes all the films I hate, harangue him

Pete_Darby - a very naughty man

SoFluid - that's Michelle Goode to you and me, I think she's one of those into porno maybe?


DON'T FORGET: It's not just people on Twitter... watch out for the Twitter versions of various websites, magazines, charities, pressure groups, other organisations, films, TV shows, etc - most will have them these days, so if you want the latest lowdown on various things, FOLLOW THEM.
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Still unconvinced? Have a chew some of these, my top 7 reasons to join Twitter:

1) Ever have something on the TIP OF YOUR TONGUE - an idea, a word, the name of a TV show, whatever - but you just can't remember what the hell it is... And you can't get on with your script until you know? Then TWEET IT and ask!!! 9/10 someone will know what you're going on about and TELL YOU.

2) Need a recommendation on something - a movie you *should* watch because you're writing about *this particular concept*? A song that would work well in your short film *about this subject*? You need to find someone who will tell you about *their experience* of a certain subject, time or place - then don't wait, TWEET IT and ask - let people come to you.

3) Never sure what the *important* scriptwriting/movie-making subjects are? Don't go wading through copious amounts of magazines and websites, let those headlines, sales figures and "things of the moment" (ie. Josh Olsen, "I will Not Read Your F***ing Script" and its many answers/counter-arguments) come to you as OTHERS TWEET IT.

4) Keep up to date: similarly, keep up to date with what your peers think of certain movies, TV shows and games using #hashtags and take part in SPECIFIC discussions about the subjects you are interested in, in real time, like #scriptchat.

5) Need to tell others of your OWN news - ie. the short you're making, the pilot of your internet TV series, your first TV drama commission, the film you're showing at festivals, your new website, your new blog post? Then TWEET IT and let others send on the good news.

6) GET A JOB OR COLLABORATION. That's right. Jobs and opportunities are posted ALL THE TIME and writers and filmmakers are finding each other on Twitter constantly. Why miss out?

7) Be part of a community: lots of us are writing alone and even those who are part of duos are communicating via phone, fax and email. Twitter is our WATER COOLER. Why deny yourself of the simple human pleasure of communication?
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PREVIOUSLY ON THIS BLOG ABOUT TWITTER:

Character Types on Twitter - which are you?

#Scriptchat - focus on feedback

A Twitter Guide to Spec Writing

Know You, Know Your Competition

Many scribes are upset when production companies announce they are developing a concept identical to a spec said scribe already has in their portfolio. The scribes in question mistakenly believe this sounds the death knell for their own project: after all, they can't compete with a big prodco - or even a middle-sized one - so surely it's back to the drawing board?

No it isn't.

Newsflash: as writers - repped, commissioned or not - we are NEVER in direct competition with prodcos. They are always going to have the ideas before us - it's their JOB. Whilst writing might be ours, the likelihood of OUR ideas (rather than OUR writing) ending up on screen - TV or Film - is unlikely, especially without mega amounts of options or commissions behind us, but sometimes even WITH them, too.

We can look on this as a BAD thing... or we can say, "Hey. Our scripts are samples, it doesn't matter what the idea behind them is, it's all about the execution." Whilst nothing is ever 100% - there are are always ideas just too dull/filthy/crap for words and NOT worth writing - it DOES mean your script about *some popular historical figure* or *this science fiction idea* (or whatever) is probably safe and worth revamping in your bid to find work (even with THAT similar series or film in the public domain).

We are, however, in competition with other WRITERS. They want to see THEIR writing on screen just as much as you want to see YOURS instead.

This is why every writer needs an edge. Something *they* are good at, in comparison to their peers. Maybe it's a particular element of craft? Maybe it's an ability to take notes well? Maybe it's an ability to problem solve? Whatever yours is - do you know WHAT it is?

What's more, do you know WHAT your competition is? There are certain stories, characters or scenarios that turn up in the slush pile, again and again and again. Do you know WHICH do? Some are obvious - Zombies, Vampires and the like - some are NOT so obvious, even surprising. What's more, do you know how to DIFFERENTIATE yours from the rest?

If you're not sure on one or both of these, then come to my class, HOW TO BE A GREAT SCRIPT READER with Chris Jones at Ealing Studios, London on April 24th 2010, 10 - 5.

It's NOT just for wannabe script readers, but WRITERS wanting an insight of how readers work and how their scripts might be viewed. We'll also be looking at our OWN work and putting these new insights into practice.

At the moment, there's a £20 discount for people going through this link, making the course just £97.

Can you afford to miss out? All the details and booking.

ON THE BLOG BEFORE:

It's Not the Idea Jim, But The Execution: A look at 6 Films With Only 3 Ideas

Monday, March 22, 2010

Guest Post: Panel Discussion on TV by Jeremy Allen

The marvellous Jeremy Allen went to the awesome Writers' Day at De Montfort recently and very kindly wrote up the Q&A panel on TV for you all. Enjoy...
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Recently I attended the annual Writers Day at De Montfort University in Leicester. The college runs a highly respected two year MA in Television Scriptwriting Course, endorsed and supported by key industry figures. The Writers Day is held partly to promote the course but also as a forum for networking. Each year the day has a specific theme and this year the theme is comedy. What follows is a report from a Q & A panel that took place in the morning.

The panel consists of Neil Mossey (development producer with Talkback Thames), Simon Williamson (agent with Jill Foster Ltd), Keith Lindsay (sit com writer, most notably the Green, Green Grass) and Lawrence Marks (sit com writer, Birds of a Feather, Goodnight Sweetheart). The discussion is presided over by Julian Friedmann (Blake Friedmann Literary Agency).

The first question concerns the pros and cons of working with a partner. Lawrence Marks cites the benefits as being able to ‘bounce ideas off each other’ and the advantage of acting as each other’s ‘quality control department’. The ‘dark side’ is of course rows, fall outs and disagreements. It’s ‘like a marriage’, Lawrence reflects. Don’t ever sign a contract before you enter a writing partnership he advises: ‘if it works it works, if it doesn’t it doesn’t’.

The debate then turns to the state of British TV comedy and Simon Williamson points out that there has been a move away from traditional sit coms, especially with the BBC, who are now rushing into ‘BBC3 territory’ with stuff along the lines of Green Wing and Black Books. This form tends to favour newer voices.

Keith Lindsay recounts that John Sullivan paid for the pilot of Green, Green Grass from his own pocket (£250,000), even though it was a spin off from one of the most successful sit coms of all time- the BBC didn’t want to put money into it.
The discussion turns to the importance of having a professional attitude. Lawrence mentions that when he and Maurice left their day jobs to become full time writers they saw it as a ‘proper job’, not some ‘bohemian way of life’ i.e. they wrote from 9 to 5 with an hour for lunch. Many writers they meet simply do not see writing as a serious profession- ‘it’s as proper a job as any other job you could imagine’.

Having just started working on a sit com with a partner myself, I asked the panel how they wrote together, particularly with regard to the allocation of dialogue. It seems there is no single approach. You can e-mail each other scenes, work in the same building on separate scenes, then swap and re-draft, or collaborate together on every line. Whatever works. Keith Lindsay later told me that Marks and Gran used to sit back to back on separate computers, working on the same scene.
The question is asked: ‘Why are American shows so slick?’

Lawrence Marks, who has worked in the US, says that typically a team of eight writers will work for eight weeks on one script , compose endless re-drafts, and then to top it off a guy was paid $100,000 to make the script ‘75% more funny’- in other words his sole job was to pepper a script with gags.

Julian mentions that the burn out rate on US shows (not to mention ulcers) is enormous. Lawrence adds that when he wrote at a studio called ‘The Writers Block’, they employed a studio psychotherapist to address this situation. Lawrence told her: ‘I don’t need a psychotherapist, I come from England’. Six weeks later, he was seeing her twice a week.

An audience member enquires how ‘bad shows’ come to be commissioned in the first place?

Lawrence counters that ‘the question is: why does a show work? The odds of it not working are far greater than it working. You can put all the best components into a show...and it doesn’t work’. The main reason the show fails, he argues, is the quality of the script (deadlines are often behind this): ‘What comes beyond the script not being good enough is really quite secondary’. He then contemplates that ‘there is so much that go can go wrong with a script before you see it, what’s amazing is that there are any hits at all’. So the question to ask is not ‘how did this ever get on? The question to ask is why is Porridge so brilliant?’

Lawrence recalls that he and Maurice were asked to be Head of Comedy at the BBC by Alan Yentob, but they turned it down because ultimately they wouldn’t have say over whether a show got greenlit. He also mentions that he often tries to get hold of people at the BBC and is told ‘I’m terribly sorry, they’re in a meeting’, which leads him to speculate: ‘I wonder what they’re meeting about? What is life at the BBC but a series of meetings?’

On the subject of shows not working, Keith Lindsay looks at it from the actor’s point of view: ‘The studio sitcom is a hybrid...one of the most difficult things you will ever do in television, because you have actors who are acting for a television audience and an audience in the studio and the cameras are in the way and I have seen really good actors freaked out by not knowing which one to play to...the best ones know how to pitch it’. He describes it as ‘acting through the camera’.
At this point an audience member comes in with the age old question: ‘how do I get in?’ (to the profession).

Neil Mossey responds: ‘Most of the shows at the moment are closed shops...as well as the number of slots reducing, as well as...the number of broadcasters reducing...the number of doors to knock on has shrunk’. He suggests ‘buddying up...you’ve got to have providence as a writer, even if you have an amazing spec script’. To this end, he recommends teaming up with other writers and performers.

Another problem, according to Keith Lindsay, is the emergence of writer-performers: ‘especially sketch shows, there’s no (traditional) way in...’

The panel is asked if, in their experience, ageism affects commissioning decisions?

Keith Lindsay reveals that he was he was initially involved in a BBC3 show, but an executive decision was made to remove him from the project because it was supposed to be about, for and made by young people.

Julian adds that there is still a sense that advertisers are appealing to 15-25 year olds, but that this is beginning to change as the largest demographic are now ‘oldies’.

Lawrence Marks is quick to defend shows aimed at the older demographic: ‘The Green, Green Grass was a big hit...it might not have been the BBC’s favourite show (but) it was their biggest hit...and who were the people watching it? People about the age of the characters in the show...’. He highlights a basic flaw in this obsession to target youth: most people who watch mainstream television are ‘people between about 35 and 60...people that don’t go out as much as young people go out.’ There’s also: ‘so many ways of watching a show, I think the days of big viewing figures quite frankly are over’.
Neil Mossey claims that the one exception is the X Factor, which employs many of the techniques of television drama (e.g. reaction shots) to construct a narrative. Yet, it’s a lot cheaper to make. He then compares homegrown efforts with the perfectionism and quality control invested in US productions: ‘There’s a desperation in the US to make the script better and better’. This process involves endless rewrites: ‘ We’re not script led in this country, we’re actor led...instead of saying ‘can we get the best writer?’ ...they say: ‘can we get...an actress who happens to have been in a popular series last time out?’.
Lawrence affirms this: ‘The star actor is a recognisable commodity. Unless they have a star, they won’t sign the cheque’.
Recognising a good script is a problem as well and Julian Friedman rues that: ‘The training of script editors and their ability to read a script in this country is pretty non-existent’.

An audience member complains about television networks reliance on focus groups and attempts to target specific age demographics. How does the panel feel about that?

Lawrence is very forthright: ‘As far as focus groups are concerned what can you say? Fawlty Towers, Porridge, The Good Life, Birds of a Feather, Only Fools and Horses...the people who wrote them wouldn’t know what a focus group was’. Lawrence has one very clear arbiter of what makes a good script: ‘Are your characters the people that, if they moved in next door, you’d want to invite in for a drink once a week on a Tuesday evening, and if the answer’s yes, you’ve succeeded’.
Keith Lindsay also laments the BBC’s obsession with grabbing 25 year olds: ‘if we can get them in now, they’ll still be with us when they’re 70’. Lawrence quips that: ‘There won’t be television by the time they’re 70’.

Given the difficulties of getting your work seen, let alone commissioned, the panel are asked whether they have any tips for getting ‘under the radar?’

Simon Williamson recommends children’s television, where you ‘get to explore and learn your craft’. He also endorses team writing on shows such as My Family and Not Going Out.

Lawrence comes in with another critique of modern television culture. He bemoans that the only way to get started as a writer seems to be through soap opera: ‘could you do an episode of Doctors, could you do an episode of EastEnders? They’re all done in exactly the same way. It’s formulaic television and the authorial voice has gone’. He cites Jimmy McGovern as an example of an ‘authorial voice’ and rates him as the ‘best small screen writer we’ve got’. He mentions McGovern’s preference for not working with a script editor. He doesn’t ‘want anyone to come anywhere near his script’.

Keith Lindsay advises that you should ‘always take the job, it’s amazing how one thing leads to another’, however ‘circuitous’ the route.

Julian suggests radio. There are simply far more radio plays than television and they are open to new writers with less experience. However, he stresses that you have to ‘respect the medium’, in other words don’t just send them your ‘failed television script’. But Julian also defends soaps, however ‘snobby’ people in film can be about them. ‘It makes you write’, admits Lawrence.

What about short films?

Neil Mossey recommends this as a viable avenue. He also suggests writing for stand up. Although it doesn’t necessarily teach you narrative structure: ‘it is a good way of meeting other writers and becoming known and gaining that confidence and experience’ (Lawrence backs this up, one of the best learning curves for him in terms of learning narrative structure was writing monologues for Frankie Howard).

With regard to short films though, Simon Williamson warns that the trouble is, from a writers point of view, short films are more often about the director than the writer and can often be ‘anti-structure’. Therefore if you want to promote yourself through a short film, make sure it showcases your writing. Julian ‘hates watching shorts’ because he can’t tell whether a writer can write anything other than a short. He also suggests pitching a script to all the independents first before you go straight to the broadcaster. It’s better to be ‘rejected by six independents and then accepted by one’. That one independent can then pitch your idea to the broadcaster and it will naturally carry more weight.

Time is up and it’s coffee break i.e. networking. It’s been fascinating discussion and it’s always encouraging to hear your own thoughts and instincts validated by experienced hands, particularly with regard to commissioners reluctance to take risks and employ new writers (earlier in the day Lawrence Marks had opined that: ‘Generally speaking executives know diddly squit- you know as much as they do...what they want is a hit show... they wouldn’t know how to construct a hit show if it jumped out their desk and smacked them in the face’). It was also interesting to hear the panel’s consensus that actors often take precedence over writers in the decision making process, something I’ve suspected for a long time. Still, it was good to get those tips about how to ‘slip under the radar’ and Lawrence’s insistence that it ‘all comes back to the script’ has fuelled me to write yet another redraft of my spec. So, all in all, a positive, constructive morning.
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Fantastic - thanks Jeremy! Remember, if you have an idea for a guest post for this blog - about anything - DO get in touch. We've had all sorts - from course and seminar write-ups, to music, thoughts and opinions on the state of the industry, even a story about rescuing a duck! Check out all the guest posts out here.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Download VETO - A FREE Fanzine Dedicated To Women In Music & Media

Just a quick one to say VETO, a fanzine put together by the marvellous Tiffany Daniels of Drunken Werewolf magazine, is available to download as a FREE PDF here.

I love the "beaten up" look/design of the PDF and think Tiffany's done a fantastic job pulling together articles from contributors like myself. It's just a shame the web-hosting thing for the PDF has a semi-clad woman right next to the DOWNLOAD button - but then, that is the type of thing we're talking about!!

My article is second in the 'zine and entitled FUCK 'EM (OR WHY YOU SHOULD INCLUDE A STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER IN YOUR SCRIPT). So even if feminism isn't your thing (???!!), you can still get your dose of scriptwriting-related goodness from this PDF. And did I mention it's FREE????

PLEASE show support and download VETO today - and forward it to all your friends!!!

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Feedback Exchange - Round 2

Back in February, I launched The Feedback Exchange - a free, no registration required, searchable list of Bang2writers willing to swap feedback on their projects. To date, a whopping twenty people have signed up, all of whom have a variety of skills and genre interests.

So what are you waiting for? Let's get EVEN MORE Bang2writers signed up and make this the biggest, best free directory for peer review on the web!!!
Remember:

- Anyone, at any stage of their writing career is welcome

- Post your details in the comments section of this post only

You'll notice The Feedback Exchange is now on the right hand sidebar of this blog for easy access.

Sign up now.

Monday, March 15, 2010

STOP PRESS: "How To Be A Great Script Reader" class - in London, in April! BOOK NOW.

As regular readers of this blog know, I ran a one day class, "How To Be A Script Reader" in Bournemouth in September last year and it went very well. So well in fact, there is now a London class!!!

Taking place at Ealing studios, the marvellous Chris Jones of Living Spirit is hosting us and I for one CAN'T WAIT. It's a different set-up to last time; instead of looking at the "official report" and writing one ourselves, we will be focusing more on what constitutes *good* and *bad* feedback and what we, AS WRITERS, can do with it - as well as insights into what professional script readers (and the various agencies they work for) might EXPECT from your work and why we writers might not always give it to them.

Each participant will also be asked to bring in a ONE PAGE PITCH DOC and the FIRST PAGE ONLY from their accompanying script - we will be looking at these in the afternoon in pairs and small groups and putting our new insights to the test! In addition, please bring your business cards and network.

So, if you want to know how professional script readers might look at your script, this is the course for you!

If you've ever received feedback you just don't know what to do with - ditto!

If you want a day out in London, networking and learning new ways of looking at your script - ditto ditto!

So, what are you waiting for? Places are limited, so make sure you book here....

See you there!
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DETAILS:

When? Saturday 24th April, 2010 - 10am til 5pm

Where? Ealing Studios, London

Cost? £117 (inc VAT). Discounts available, click now

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Check out THE FINGERSPELLERS!

I'm pleased to announce Bang2writers Charlie Swinbourne and William Mager have been at it [creatively] again and produced the rather fabulous internet series, The Fingerspellers.

The series premiered as part of the deaf magazine show Wicked, which was made by the deaf production company Remark! The Fingerspellers is a fun take on the whole Godfather *thing*, with "Deaffathers" replacing the central role. 'Cos this is just any ordinary Mafiaoso family - these guys use fingerspelling, NOT guns, to protect The Family: whoever can get through the WHOLE ALPHABET gets the "final shot" and effectively KILLS their opponent. [For a run-down on fingerspelling in general, click here].

I'm proud to have been a small part of Fingerspellers as a script editor for Charlie: I think it's a really original, fun story and know there's plenty of twists and turns in store in further down the line. Mega props to William too, think the whole piece looks fab.

But then these guys are always great to work with; I was lucky to provide notes on their previous effort Hands Solo, funded by The Film Council in association with The Magic Hour scheme. Hands Solo is not only hilarious, poignant and interesting, it's my fave mockumentary script to date - and I read A LOT of those for low budget filmmakers as you can imagine! Nice one fellas.

What are you still here, for?? Click on the links... NOW!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Back Story: Past vs Present

When I was still a new writer, I read the fantastic advice somewhere "the antagonist never realises s/he is the antagonist; they think they are the hero of the story." It's something I've strived to include in my own writing; I wanted my antagonists to have understandable motivations, because I've seen too many "comic book villains" in the spec pile. Whilst writers spend oodles of time on their protagonists, writers seem to rarely confess they've spent as much time and effort on their antagonist, which seems a shame (though it can have its own drawbacks, like falling in love with one's antagonist and neglecting the protagonist, of course).

I've been having some issues script-wise with an antagonist of mine for some time. As it stands, his motivations are understandable per seand he's certainly a nasty piece of work for a particular reason, but because that reason is quite complicated and also hinges on back story, how I present it AT THE MOMENT feels a little too... well, neat. Basically, it FEELS LIKE A PLOT CONSTRUCTION - when really I want something that feels more *natural*, something more like supposed "real life" where people's motivations for doing things get messed up... But of course the problem with that is films ARE NOT real life, specifics are needed, else the writer gets accused of not nailing these things down.

Another issue of course is you don't want the antagonist's motivations to eclipse the protagonist's wants/needs either. End of the day, my script is about the PROTAGONIST; she must go up against him, for her own specific reasons - because the script itself is not just *about* his reasons. It's HER we'd go to see (or should do). He is an important participant obviously, but it's HER story, not his.

To cut a long story short: it's all one big, delicate balancing act.

Then I received some excellent advice in some notes last week about it. The reader saw the plot construction for what it was, as a couple of others had done. Other feedback I had received previously had recommended basically giving MORE to the antagonist, seeing his childhood, giving him moments on his own to reflect on his actions and resent the protagonist further, maybe even have other incidents happen to him that could JUSTIFY the line drawn in the sand between them.

In other words, really delving deep into his psyche and underlining WHY he has such a problem with the protagonist. I had already rejected these ideas - why? Not because they weren't good, but because they would TAKE AWAY from the protagonist and make her VIE FOR ATTENTION with him. That wouldn't work with the narrative the way it is currently, which for the most part works - barring this issue on the antagonist's motivation.

Instead, this other feedback-giver recommended giving the antagonist LESS in terms of motivation and MORE in terms of malevolency. Why? Because the more MALEVOLENT he is, the less he needs in terms of justification. After all, we ALL interpret things to serve our own belief systems. What if we are belief systems were warped? What if our versions of reality are twisted? What if, no matter what ANYONE does - especially out protagonist in her journey here - is misinterpreted? Suddenly the antagonist's motivation is freed up more and depends less on back story. It really is as easy as that.

Obviously a level of back story is important and I will certainly be keeping some of it here. But I had strived so hard in previous drafts to make my antagonist's actions understandable because of PREVIOUS events which had happened to him, that without realising, I threatened what is happening in the story NOW.

The past must NEVER eclipse (or even just threaten to eclipse) the present. The past in stories should always just be the past. Sounds obvious, but when it comes to character motivation, it's easier to tip the balance than you might think.

LINK

Which Horror Movie Anatagonist Are You?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

What A Coincidence!

As a general rule of thumb, having *something* in your plot happen as a coincidence is a bad idea. It's just not very dramatic and *can* lead to the dreaded Deus Ex Machina, especially if your protagonist needs some help on something, whether that's escaping jail, a maniac killer or the attentions of an overly-enamoured school teacher (or whatever, stay with me).

However, we all know films and TV drama use coincidence all the time and get away with it. So what's the difference?

Well, it seems to me that if your coincidence gets your characters OUT of trouble, then you will be found out... But if your coincidence gets them INTO trouble, you *may* just get away with it.

But please, please, please don't have your characters meet by coincidence... This seems to be the biggest use of coincidence in the specs I read and I am struggling to think of one that has worked:

CHARACTER 1: Wow, fancy seeing you here.

CHARACTER 2: I know! I haven't seen you in like, forever.

CHARACTER 1: Yeah, what are the odds? Now we have the excuse to get together and go on some kind of adventure, romp or octane-fuelled horror ride where we're hunted through the woods like animals.

EESH. It *feels* constructed. As do the characters who have never met before, but *bump* into each other:

CHARACTER 1: Hey! Look where you're going, will you?

CHARACTER 2: I'm so sorry... Can I buy you a drink? Y'know, just to say sorry.

CHARACTER 1: Okay, sure person I've never met before in my life who could be an axe murderer. Because unlike in real life where I'd just keep walking, I'll now stay here and get involved in your crazy schenanigans or let you kidnap me and sell me on the black market like the Luc Besson movie, TAKEN*.

So whilst coincidence *can* be okay, most of the time it isn't. Sometimes it feels like coincidence in your only option when it comes to plot construction; I've been there, too. But in reality: IT ISN'T. There are always ways of getting your characters where you want them. You're the writer, the puppet master. So get those puppets in the right place, STAT.

*Taken really was a looooooooong string of "unlikely coincidences" as one critic put it... Check out its much superior predecessor, SPARTAN (written and directed by David Mamet) to see how it's really done.

UPDATE: Hmmmm... WHAT A COINCIDENCE! A great post from Cracked.com about INSANE coincidences - you really won't believe some of these. Thanks to @Ditty1013 on Twitter.