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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Guest Post: Conversations With My Idea by Alison Bond

Novelist and screenwriter Alison Bond shares with us her wrangles with writing... Enjoy!
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I wrote my first book. It got published. Five stars in Heat Magazine and the tabs and some rather sexy posters on the London Underground. It sold nothing. If forty five thousand copies is nothing. Which apparently it is. I wrote another book, in fact I wrote two. More good reviews, blah blah blah. And now it is time to think about the next story. Luckily I have an idea that speaks to me.

WRITE ME.

I start writing it as usual and then I stop, then I start again and this pattern continues for a couple of years. I am forced to shelve this particular story and write a different one in order to meet my deadline, but the tricky little story still feels like a book I want to write. So I pick it up again.

I AM NOT A BOOK, I AM A FILM.

Now, I not a total screenplay virgin. I’ve got some form. I went to university for three enlightening, drunken, humbling years to learn how to write screenplays and I wrote one there. I remember being miffed when it scraped a 2:1. It was awful. I read it back now and I am mortified. Between books I wrote another, for money, for real. An Oscar nominated actress was attached for the lead. The film never got made. That script has many flaws. It’s obvious, a bit studio, which a non-studio film should never be. The structure is sound, the comedy is funny, but it doesn’t push.

DID YOU HEAR ME? I AM A FILM.

When I think about my new story I think of visuals and not crafty sentences, I see Kristin and Caine and Emily Blunt (and I don’t even really like Emily Blunt so that’s weird), I hear my dialogue, I see my inciting incident not my prologue, my stakes not my chapter breaks, my turning points instead of plot twists, rotating on action and existing on revelation. All these story habits which are instinctively useful to the prose writer but essential to the screenwriter. And I am scared.

GET A MOVE ON.

It has been five years since I wrote my last screenplay, and five years since I wrote the one before that. I have forgotten what I supposed to do. Am I really supposed to write my outline and my treatment and my scene by scene? Can I not just start writing and see where I end up a year later? How do I get my point across without writing it down? How do I squeeze six characters into ninety pages – do I give them fifteen pages each? With all that essential white on the page? My last book came in at 119,000 words. Final Draft doesn’t have a wordcount feature. What? No word count? So how will I know that I am done? Maybe I’ll just write it as a book.

I AM THE BEST IDEA FOR A FILM YOU WILL EVER HAVE.

Oh shut up.
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Thanks Alison!

Previously a literary agent with Casarotto and alumni of Bournemouth Media School where she currently lectures on its MA Screenwriting,Alison Bond is the author of three novels so far: Almost Famous, The Truth About Ruby Valentine and A Reluctant Cinderella. Follow her on Twitter here.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Writing Epiphany

So I was talking to someone this Friday just past (not a writer) and she asked me how my work was going. I confessed that after a considerable dry spell, I had made some sudden and unexpected inroads on a particular project and had high hopes. I then promptly poured cold water on these hopes, as so many writers are wont to do by saying:

"... But I'm not sure my work's good enough."

The other person then smiled and said:

"I don't think that's for you to say... That's for other people to judge, isn't it?"

Indeed it is.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Screenplay Tips # 1: Static Scenes

Scripts in the spec pile often suffer from static scenes. Very often this is due to exchange after exchange of dialogue, going on and on for pages ad pages. In cases like this, it's always wise to not let dialogue run away with you: just because it feels good to write lots of dialogue, doesn't mean it should ALL be there. As I always say -- ALL scripts have too much dialogue. Think of dialogue as a scriptwriting device like any other: HOW does it SERVE the scene? How does it contribute to the OVERALL STORY? If it doesn't do either, the answer is simple: CUT CUT CUT (no matter how much you like the lines themselves).

Other times, these static scenes are created because the writer is putting some kind of constraint on themselves, real or imagined. New writers often labour under the notion a "low budget film" is made up entirely of people within the same location, speaking (or that television is simply page after page of dialogue exchange with no movement). Sometimes short film directors will limit everything to a single location - a park bench, a lift, a basement etc - and not allow characters to move away from that place because they don't want to have to set up the camera and the equipment again. But limited locations do not mean static scenes - it just means you have to get CREATIVE within those specified place/s. This is something continuing drama does especially well, so even if you don't like soap it's worth having a good look for that in terms of craft.

Lastly, sometimes static scenes are created because the only "movement" within the scene relates to very specific body/placing movements, ie:

NICK puts his head in his hands. Sighs.

NICK: I don't think I can do it.

RACHEL approaches, hands on hips. Annoyed, she walks to the window, stares outside.

RACHEL: You always do this.

Nick erupts from his chair, turns her around - grabs Rachel by the arms.

NICK: Don't... talk to me like that.

Rachel shakes her head. She throws her head back and laughs.

RACHEL: I'll talk to you however I want.

This usually happens when a writer realises there needs to be more *to* a scene, but believes the only way they can do this is through ACTUAL PHYSICAL HAPPENINGS. Newsflash - it doesn't have to. What's more, as the writer strives to account for every action to "paint a picture" of that movement, it actually creates the opposite effect -- making the scene turgid. What about:

NICK: I don't think I can do it.

RACHEL: You always do this.

Suddenly, Nick grabs Rachel. She stiffens, threatened.

NICK: Don't... talk to me like that.

The threat evaporates: Rachel sneers - Little Big Man.

RACHEL: I'll talk to you however I want.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Decision Time: Television or Film?

Gone are the days in which television was derided as the inferior cousin of film. When I first started writing I recall many of my colleagues pouring scorn on soaps, drama series and even serial dramas, especially when I was still at university: there was no "emotional truth" there apparently; all the writers doing it were hacks; it was one big sausage factory, end of.

Yet in the last five years -- less, even -- all this appears to have changed. Once my spec pile would have consisted solely of shorts and features -- now I have spec television scripts coming out of my ears. Inevitably, top of the pile are spec returning drama series, with sitcom bringing up the rear and the occasional spec soap showing its face two or three times a year. In fact, the balance has tipped so much, some weeks I read ONLY TV scripts. That would have been unheard of pre-Red Planet Prize, yet now everyone wants a piece of the action.

This leads me to one BIG question:

Can you be both a TV and a Feature writer?

Now, of course anyone can write whatever they want... And certainly, I think it's a great idea to have some variety in one's portfolio. At any one time, I have at least three polished features, a TV series and a shedload of pitches in various states of development to send out. That's just common sense.

So let me rephrase the question:

Can you ever be as good at BOTH as you can at ONE?

Are there really people who can switch between the two at will, *just like that*? After years of reading scripts, I wonder if it's as easy as people like to make out. "Ah yes, I have a TV script and a feature script and they're both as good as each other." Are they? REALLY?

And I'm not sure every writer who wants to write for both is 50/50 -- they must have their favourite, even if one is just 51%. When agonising over a problem with two projects recently, a friend of mine wisely asked:

"You have a gun to your head.... television or film?"

Without hesitation, I replied: "Film."

Yes, with all its frustrations, problems, lack of money -- that is the one I would choose. So maybe I should choose it for real. Invest in it for real. Forget my dreams of seeing my name at the end of Eastenders or my choice of music and mad costumes in Hollyoaks. Maybe I should go against all the advice and REALLY PUT MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET... Maybe that's the only way I can excel at the one area I purport to love the most instead of making it fight for attention with something else?

Maybe.

What about you -- a gun's to your head: television or film??

Monday, May 17, 2010

Guest Post: The Story Engine 2010 pt 3 by Helen Bang

Here's Helen's final set of notes from The Story Engine. Enjoy!
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The Future of Shorts

Panel: Rebecca Mark Lawson, Samm Halliday, Dany Stack, Carol Machin

With the scheme-based model of short film making on the verge of changing, the panel discussed success stories and speculated on how the future might look.

Rebecca – has the shorts contract with the Film Council, Digital Shorts, etc.
Samm – producer of drama for cinema and gallery installations
Danny – filmmaker and screenwriter
Carol – Northern Film and Media

There was a bit of discussion on the history of shorts, eg. the 10 minute, £10K films. Other schemes were looking for ‘auteurs’ and sidelined writers.

Danny said that you should just get out there and do it as only directors ever get mentioned, not the writer.

The Film Council receives a huge number of applications, figures of 800+ were quoted. But if you can take care of your own patch they may come to you. Shane Meadows’ approach was mentioned.

The Completion Fund is for when you get to the rough cut – it’s money to finish your film, not to make a print.

Samm: engaging with the film industry at some level is important or you’ll end up on the outside. Thrown them a bone. Make sure it goes to festivals. Don’t be afraid to share stuff, the “my homework” syndrome. What’s your strategy – who are you going to show your film to.

Neil Marshall was mentioned – look up ‘Dog Soldiers’.

Now to the important stuff. Cuts. Decisions are going to be made on schemes this September. There will be cuts elsewhere too.

Think internationally as far as you can. Think big.

Be clear what you want to get out of making your film; is it for yourself? To play at festivals? To tell a good story? Think very big – BAFTA, Oscar-nominations etc.

It’s a tiny, tiny audience you need to impress. YouTube is full of too much rubbish – be cautious of placing work on here.

Ideally have a relationship with a producer or director before going into a scheme or you can end up getting bruised.

Beware of producers who really want to direct. You must write shorts if you want to make them.

Don’t limit yourself to your own region in terms of applications etc.

Try to get discovered, play a longer game. Hang around film sets and find out how it works.

A Writer’s Journey

Kate Rowland, BBC Creative Director of New Writing in conversation with Karen Laws.

Karen wrote a winning calling card script, The Powder Room, which didn’t get made but led on to other things.

‘Beware the kids’ was a radio drama she wrote dealing with the 21st Century family.

Writer’s Academy; writing on soaps is being a mind reader of the script editor.

Find your problem, then your metaphor, then the plots.

Keep developing your portfolio. Write, write, write.

Karen’s sitcom got to a reading but no further.

There was a description of the Academy experience – extremely full-on, hard work. Full days at Elstree followed by homework. All the writers’ efforts were projected onto the wall for everyone to see and were taken apart.

Advised not to put all eggs in one basket, ie. don’t rely on one script.

There was a question from the audience about plays with a rural setting – Kate agreed it is a problem because of The Archers so they have to be very different.

She said there was a moving away from grim to more comedy. And advised to think visually! She also said would be TV and radio writers should watch and listen to everything, lots don’t.
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Some good advice there. Thanks Helen for all your hard work. *Applause*

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Guest Post: The Story Engine 2010 Pt 2 by Helen Bang

Helen's notes from Day Two of The Story Engine 2010 - thanks Helen!

New Horizons

Andy Smith from Mere Mortals and Ian Fenton presented a case study of the alternative reality game "Let’s Make Mischief" and argued for screenwriters to think beyond a single platform.

Ian began with a brief look at the history of entertainment; first there were games like chess and hopscotch, then there was cinema and television, the new online games combine both and are a pioneering field for writers.

Examples included secretlewis.com (Lewis Hamilton has a double life as an art thief) and Nikegrid.com where people sprint around London claiming grids, using phone boxes and claiming real prizes.

YouTube, Blogs etc. already exist so setting up is relatively low cost.

The idea was to have a game tie-in with the film festival. The plot was as follows: the film reels for the closing film at the festival have been stolen by someone in a rabbit costume. The idea was to work out who had done it and why.

Characters were given pages on Facebook. There were clues in the promotional poster. No one could guess the password so other clues had to be given. The thing took on a life of its own, for example participants suggesting they should check out a real caravan site, so they had to keep tweaking the story to respond to the feedback.

The key questions were who had taken the film, why had they taken it and how were we going to get the film back?

The treasure hunt around Newcastle was arranged for the last night of the festival. Participants had to win a game of dominoes in order to get the next clue. They were then given a camera and had to re enact a scene from a film.

The event was very popular!

What’s this got to do with us?

The market is very noisy. Audiences are seeking new experiences. Technology allows you to build an audience and even develop an audience for a project before it is made.


Digital Connections

Panel: Malcolm Wright, Jason Arnopp, Paul Smith.

How can writers used new and emerging online technologies to collaborate and build audiences for their work?

Followers, friends or fans? Scott Kersner was recommended.

You have to be different in order to stand out. What are the opportunities for participation, ie talking with, not at? You have to understand your traffic (use Google analytics). How do people find you?

Understand the power of links.

www.signedstories.com - these are aimed at deaf kids. A project by Darlington Health Authority has now developed to reach over 200,000 deaf children.

Paul Smith – the twich Hiker – he travelled around the world using Twitter to get lifts, accommodation etc. He only used twitter so relied on the goodwill of strangers.

Jason Arnopp – Tempting Fates: an online drama. He said you should have a blog to increase your profile.

Commissioners – some blog quite heavily. Peter Salmon at BBC North is looking at ways to talk to writers.

Screenwritinggoldmine.com – a site to check out.
Also, dropbox.com, evernote.com and carbonite.com

Write or Die – this programme deletes stuff if you stop writing!

The short story market is growing because reading one fits handily into commuter travel time.

Funny People:

Panel: Gill Isles, Oriane Messina, Fay Rusling.

A look at how comedy is produced.

Gill from Baby Cow is producing her 6th series of Ideal with Johnny Vegas. She also produced the Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special.

Oriane and Fay write together. Green Wing, Pinky and Perky, Smack the Pony etc. They also work in LA.

What are producers looking for?

Baby Cow sell to BBC3. The audience is 16-35
BBC4 has one comedy slot. They like highbrow comedy and have little money.
BBC2 – female-led comedies with names attached.
BBC1 is for established comedy stars.
Channel 4 – Comedy Labs, showcases (for more experienced comics)
Sky 1 – are looking for comedy
Sky Arts – Doing Chekhov plays with comedians at centre.

There’s a big turnover of staff and projects get thrown out. What they’re looking for changes all the time. You need to have more than one iron in the fire.

Think of a vehicle for a comedian you like. What would they like to do?

Do treatments (one page) of an idea you can sell in one line.

Don’t put your heart and soul into something which may not get made, eg writing a full sitcom series.

Video pitches – can be a good idea. They express how funny an idea can be.

There was a general agreement in aiming for 3 jokes per page with a punchline at the end.

The point of a treatment is to get a meeting – not to get the project made.


In conversation with Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley

The very experienced comedy writing team talked about their career and working methods.

One idea in ten is any good. They recommended separating the creative and editing process.

Allow yourself to fail.

They use index cards to plot episodes. Then they move to the computer for the script.

Talking out loud with a writing partner helps eliminate clunky dialogue.

If you can rely on someone in the room to agree with you it’s a good idea!

Animation – the most collaborative thing you’ll ever do. They had 12 different storyboarders and things are redone over and over.

They did 18 episodes of Slacker Cats for American network.

Learn to pitch. It’s very important.

Also – beware, animation is always a buy-out, there are no residuals as with other scriptwriting.

Workshop

There was a choice of workshops on the second day, I opted to do Lisa Holdsworth’s TV’s Five Act Structure.

Lisa explained how an episode of New Tricks is structured.

It begins with a pre-title string. This is the grabber. It sets up the world, has a self-contained story, includes all four lead characters and introduces them to the case. It also sets the tone of the show.

Act I – the dreaded exposition scene. In the office with a white board is the simplest and it works. This scene is calm and analytical.

In the first draft Lisa recommends bunging everything in – a kitchen sink draft. It must be too long or you’ve probably not got enough story. It will be condensed down later.

Set up the red herrings. All the suspects. You must see the person who did it in this act (or you’re cheating). Set up motives. What can you fool the audience with? But you must pay off the set-ups (red herrings).

Set up the conflicts between the lead characters; their competing theories.

Try to find an interesting location (the example episode was about ice cream wars and included interesting factories). Think how it’s going to LOOK.

The Hmm moment… that doesn’t add up.

Remember characters can lie. But sparingly and be sure to uncover the lie and the reason for it.

Some old ideas, eg hidden homosexuality, corruption have been done to death and aren’t used so much now.

Act II. Confusion. You must gradually knock off all the red herrings. Drop the case-cracking info into LANE’s brain.

You have to solve the cold case and a current case too. But don’t have too much of a jump or be too obvious.

Set pieces? In this episode Lane blows up his kitchen.

Final scene – all bets are off. It’s not the prime suspect.

The Aha moment – Lane works out who it is.

Act 3 – all about action, doors kicked in etc. It is frantically paced, no time for standing around. There’s a little bit of why he dunnit, but not too much. Crack on and make the viewer excited about the present.

Ta da – the arrest moment. They did it.

It never takes more than 4 days to solve a case in New Tricks land.

Act 5 – the Coda. The conclusion. We never see the suspects again or the court case which follows. It’s just the principals saying how sad, good, what has been learned and ends on a happy/optimistic note (the tone of the show).

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Guest Post: The Story Engine 2010, Pt 1 by Helen Bang

The mighty Helen Bang has been off to The Story Engine again -- here's part 1 of her notes from this year.

State of the Nation

Panel: Malcolm Wright, ITV, Michael Chaplin, writer, Barbara McKissock, producer

The recession has affected television drama – advertising revenue is down and the BBC have had to cut because of the contribution required to the digital switchover. Much less is being commissioned and there have been cutbacks in development. Treatments are being commissioned, but whereas previously they moved rapidly to script, this is no longer the case.

Michael related how he had a 6 page treatment with a star attached. Barbara Mackie liked it so it went to Controller Peter Fincham. He liked it but said he wasn’t going to make it. There are rumours that he is considering the worth of the star to the network. Having a star attached is usually a good idea but can backfire.

There seem to be signs that commissioning is picking up again. ITV had a good year with ad revenue owing to the talent shows. Cancelleation of The Bill has freed up some money.

What do they want? Returning series. Short term serials running across a week. Eg Five Days, Accident (Horowitz). All are crime-based. A 3-5 day event with a big hook to bring the audience back.

Focus on story, story, story. It’s difficult to get character-led pieces taken seriously.

By and large you’re better off if you can attract a star to your project.

Michael is working on a returning series for Hat Trick starring David Mitchell, one of the ‘now’ comedians.

Single TV film – very, very competitive. They are expensive and have no guarantee of a big audience.

He was asked to adapt a book – it’s not enough just to like it. The protagonist is a 15 year old boy, which is problematic, but there are good parts for established stars as the estranged parents.

Is there a market for new writers with original ideas?

Contact a producer whose work you like. Write and say so. The indies may be a better bet.

The Academy, Doctors etc. The best way into television is still the soaps.

Also consider writing for other media; radio, stage, novels. KEEP WRITING.

Barbara McKissock: Monarch of the Glen, River City, England Expects….

She spoke about the film industry. 120 films were made last year. Cinema audiences are bigger than in the 1980s. In 2008 British films made £2.8 billion worldwide, an important industry.

Bringing films to an area is attractive for economic development. The UK film industry is still quite buoyant. 87% of jobs are in the London area as is 97% of the distribution. Writers have an advantage because they can live anywhere!

The big companies have Hollywood connections. Also television companies such as Company Pictures and Kudos are also making films.

It’s worth researching which companies are making low/micro budget films.

Advice? No more teen horror! But the best will get made.

Disstribution – very difficult for microbudget. 18% get a theatrical release, the rest go to DVD. Don’t second guess the market. The producer must be passionate about the work.
Get investors to back you, not for financial gain, but to help you in early days of career.

Most movies are still made in the USA. You need to get the film out digitally. There is shrinking public funding and distribution.

Be different. Aim high and make it your mission to find a producer to work with.

Learn to love your reader.

Panel: Barbara McKissock, Ludo Smolski, Danny Stack.

There are two types of reader’s report; coverage which is for the production company and anonymous and usually more critical, and feedback which is for the writer and makes suggestions for development.

Read lots of scripts. Learn to recognise good ones.

Have an original voice – be different from the other stuff out there.

Zoetrope.com has a feedback section where you can review other scripts and post yours for review.

Common problems:

Not saying up front where the script is set.

Having bulky paragraphs.

Being too chummy with the reader (can work but often doesn’t).

Biopics are good for spec scripts. Especially if the famous person’s story is told from a different POV.

If you want work as a reader, do sample reports of scripts and send to companies.

Ludo reckons he read 100 scripts before he really knew what he was doing. In one year he read 1000.

No guarantee given.

Panel: Lisa Holdsworth, Danny Stack, Gavin Williams, Claire Malcolm.

Danny: Had been doing script reading. He got rejected everywhere. Getting an agent was key but doesn’t define you. He recommends getting a profile going by having a blog. His first TV credit was the amazing adredeeny brothers in 1006. He had been freelance since 2000. In 2004 he won a new writing award. He was pitching on Doctors but his script wasn’t on screen until 2006.

You think the system will respond in a certain way but it doesn’t.

Gavin: He had written a fantasy novel. He was involved with New Writing North and got a bursary. He worked in Yorkshire TV drama dept on a shadow scheme. He was commissioned for Urban Gothic. Original work got commissioned but not made. He didn’t realise that this was a problem. Then Carlton merged with Granada and the projects died.

He met lots of people who liked his scripts but didn’t want to make them. At a low point he got sent to Dole School and dumped by his agent. He tried getting into computer games but it wasn’t for him. He continued networking and has just written a play which is being performed shortly.

He likens the industry to finding your way around London when there are problems on the Underground. Okay, so that way’s closed, but I can go up here and change there and so on!

Lisa: had worked in factual TV. Was a PA to a producer and got a break on Fat Friends. It took 6 months to write this, she was sacked as the PA and her house nearly got repossessed as her money ran ou. She took maternity leave NHS clerical work.

She didn’t have a body of work and the Fat Friends script was embargoed. Then she got work on Emmerdale. She was trying to earn a living while people were asking her to write for free.

Having now got a long list of TV credits she’s stopped working on Waterloo Road in order to write a new calling card script. You’re only as good as your last thing.

Danny: recommends having a practical plan. A goal for a year, two years etc. Eg, get an agent, be writing for Doctors by such and such a date. You have to sell you rself, it’s not your agent’s job. Networking – essential. Things come through strange connections. You must watch television and have an opinion of what’s on. Join the online community – it prevents isolation and can be like working in an office.

What kind of writer are you? If you don’t want to do TV then don’t. You must know if you love it or not, you can’t fake it.
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Good stuff there as always, Helen -- looking forward to part 2!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Loglines Are Not Taglines...

... Cannot. Stress. This. Enough. Every week I see scores of pitches - sent to my inbox, my ears or via script listing sites - and every week I see Loglines and Taglines being mixed up. PLEASE STOP.

TAGLINES

A tagline is the strapline you see on a movie poster or DVD box. These are thought up by the PR guys usually and have NOTHING TO DO WITH THE WRITER, it's well after the writer has finished his/her involvement. Of course, sometimes writers are asked to provide taglines - sometimes when looking for finance, other times when taking part in initiatives like the (now defunct) Eon Screenwriters Workshop. I've done both and coming up with taglines can be challenging and very interesting - AS LONG AS you don't mix them up with loglines!!!! It's one of the most obvious ways of turning the reader OFF your pitch.

Here are some taglines I found on a basic Google search:

"He lived the American Dream... With a vengeance." (Scarface)

"An epic of miniature proportions" (A Bug's Life)

"EARTH - take a good look. Today could be your last." (Independence Day)

"The Toys are back in town." (Toy Story 2)

"Whoever wins... We Lose." (Alien Vs Predator)

A complete listing of Hollywood film taglines over the decades listed chronologically

As you can see, taglines rely on puns and/or make reference to stuff the "average joe" already knows about -- ie. the fabled "American Dream", the notions of winning/losing, contrasting words or famous song lyrics (Busy Lizzy's "The BOYS are back in town"), etc.

The best taglines are SLICK and CLEVER -- the worst are obscure and forgettable. Weirdly, very often the WORST films have the BEST taglines if you read the list I've linked to above.

The three taglines I hear the most from screenwriters:

What would you do?

Every age/time/place/city/story/etc needs a hero/ine

and

One night. Three/Four/Five lives. [However many] problems/ stories.

As you can see, not one of these relies on pun, clever wording or anything else *of immediate interest* and are incredibly vague, so have little chance of "hooking" a reader. Of the three, the second is definitely the best, but lacks the ability to grab my attention simply because I've seen it SO MANY TIMES before.

LOGLINES

In contrast, Loglines are a basic DESCRIPTION OF THE PLOT of your script. This is your chance to SELL THE STORY of your script, so you want it to be dynamic as possible: you want to GRAB the reader and make them WANT to read your script.

The more HIGH CONCEPT your script is, the simpler (and more concise) your logline should be. For example, the logline for Alien Vs Predator might be:

The two mighty creatures slug it out underground using humans as bait.

Or Independence Day:

Only two men can save the world when Aliens attack and attempt to loot and destroy Earth on July 4th.

Immediately we KNOW what kinds of movies these are - there will be explosions, fighting, monsters, maybe a little gore. Right on! We can do similar with just about any other GENRE script -- if it can adhere to convention, has some kind of "pre-sold" concept attached -- ie. aliens, serial killers, a love story, a fight to the death, vampires, etc - then we can slot it into high concept territory.

LOW CONCEPT scripts are a more "complicated sell" as they are a little more difficult to describe, so require lots of attention to get right. Sometimes they have very original central concepts (which require lots of exposition); other times it's more DRAMA than GENRE territory - and the question of "how much is enough?" rears its head in terms of selling the story off the page.

I would argue lots of TV scripts fall under this category -- they are often more complicated/convoluted stories because they have up to six hours' of story to cover, rather than 1.5 hrs' worth. This is why I recommend my Bang2writers write TWO loglines on their pitch docs - one covering the series AS A WHOLE, the second covering the pilot that is enclosed with the series bible.

Writing loglines is hard -- which is why it should NEVER be approached lightly. Don't just dash one off and send it out -- get people's opinions of it first!!! Thanks to the internet, blogs, forums, etc it's never been easier to get someone's opinion on your logline... No one is going to balk at reading 25 - 40 words. So what are you waiting for?

LINKS

Here is a handout (PDF) comparing loglines of famous films and describing whether they are GOOD, BAD, or simply *okay* - well worth printing out and putting on your wall!!!

Loglines has its own CATEGORY in the Bang2write Required Reading List! Check it out.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Remember You're The Writer

So this weekend on Twitter, I found myself saying the following to the lovely John Kell:

As screenwriters we're massively picky and nothing is good enuff... There does come a point where we have to say, "this is to enable [such & such]"... TV /Film not for screenwriters: no such thing as plot perfection. There's always something to whine about.

Now, before we go ballistic and say I'm attempting to give to a "get out of jail free" card to all writers of crappy material, let's just nail one thing down. Obviously there will ALWAYS be weak/unrealistic plots and those that make no sense at all: this is NOT a post about those scripts, films or TV series that don't work due to character motivation and/or structural problems.

Instead, this is a post about those scripts, films and TV series that HAVE been well-developed and well-written - but we, as screenwriters, have a *problem* with a particular *element*... Usually along the lines of:

- Why would s/he do that [specific action]? That's stupid.

- Why would s/he NOT do that [specific action]? That's stupid.

- So, *this character* happens to see *this event/this other character* at *this particular time*? What a coincidence.


As scriptwriters, we often get hung up on "stupidity" or "coincidence" in a way non-scriptwriters and even readers do not. For example, a character's stupidity never seems to validate his/her actions in my Bang2writer's eyes. Yet stupidity can create conflict and of course, conflict IS drama. Sometimes a character being stupid over something - even just for a single beat - can be the BEST way of plunging them further into the shit. Yet scriptwriters will often not want to do this, citing it as being "bad characterisation". Yet think of all the heroes and heroines on screen we've had who are often stupid, stubborn or pig headed:

- John McClane in the Die Hard franchise. His pig-headed streak is what ensures he survives, time after time, no matter who attacks him. His reckless and even stupid antics include blowing up lift shafts when he is inside them, driving cars into lift shafts and not knowing the rhyme of "When I Was Going To St Ives" (FFS).

- Gene Hunt in Life On Mars/Ashes to Ashes. He is a thug with a badge, his desire for a ruck transcends all reason - and actual police work.

- Dallas in Alien. Thanks to Ash, Dallas takes Kane - and the facehugger - on board the ship. He knew full well he was infecting the ship - Ripley told him! - but his desire to save his crewmate (and the fact he's freaked out) overrides him listening to Ripley as he knows he should.

- Ripley in Aliens. She wouldn't go into the nest for Apone or Dietrich, but she was prepared to walk in for the sake of Newt. A stupid idea, justified ONLY by the fact Newt is a child ("She's ALIVE!") and the others were adults who had literally signed up for the danger.

- Jodie Foster's character in Panic Room. When threatened by the men on the outside of said panic room, she actually BLOWS UP the house using the gas hose and a lighter. A bloody stupid idea, one an educated woman would surely balk at - yet the level of threat justifies this stupidity. She even says, "Don't you EVER do that!!" to her daughter afterwards.

When it comes to coincidence, I always think it's a good idea to use it only to get characters INTO trouble, as people don't seem to notice it as much... AND THAT'S OKAY. In a spec script of mine recently I had a secondary character turn up out of the blue and confront the antagonist after having seen the antagonist's picture in a newspaper article. I agonised for hours over this: was it too "easy" that this character to find the antagonist??? But guess what: this character's role was simply to find the antagonist and threaten him - and nobody cared how he found him. Not a host of feedback givers, not three independent script reports, not even my agent. Sometimes what seems BONE-CRUNCHINGLY OBVIOUS to you, the writer, is NOT to other people.

There will always be shoe-horn plot moves, so badly constructed they make your eyes bleed. But sometimes a short cut via a character's stupidity or a tiny coincidence CAN create the conflict you need.

It's just knowing when to use it.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Influences: A Meme

It's been quite a while since I started a meme, so here's one to consider:

What single film or TV programme at some point in your life made you a) understand the filmmaking process and b) influence your own style of writing? [Then tag three people and reprint these instructions].

I tag: David Bishop, Elinor & Lara.

So here's mine... Beware, there be spoilers.

SEVEN (1995)

Director: David Fincher

Writer: Andrew Kevin Walker

It's hard to believe Seven has been around now for nearly HALF MY LIFE: watching it only recently, I was of the opinion it hadn't dated much. Funnily enough, Seven isn't one of my *favourite* films; I wouldn't imagine it would even figure in my top ten. There were far too many giant leaps in logic for it to *really* hang together for my tastes. For example: even knowing there's such a thing as plastic surgery, the woman accused of vanity would rather die of a paracetemol overdose? The gentleman accused of lust is able to fuck a woman to death with a knife strapped to his penis... really?! (Wouln't that be a mega case for erectile dsyfunction at this moment?? Oh and btw, he's the one who's lustful, yet it's the "tempting whore" who has to die? Niiiiiiiiiice - not). What's more, it would be a few more years before Fincher really proved what he could do in my eyes with the far superior Panic Room. As for Walker, what happened?!

Yet there I was, watching this film at the cinema when I myself was approximately fifteen years old. And it was like a thousand lightbulbs went on in my head. Here was a concept I was very familiar with - the seven deadly sins - and it was that concept that SHAPED the film and what happens in it. Though I was yet to read any books about screenwriting (or even so much as discuss it with anyone), I suddenly became away of the notions of central concept and how it can STRUCTURE a movie. Whilst this might all sound obvious stuff, many many specs in the pile actually don't do this... Nor did mine at first of course, practice makes perfect -- but I knew what I needed to be working TOWARD and I credit Seven totally for this realisation.

Similarly, it was Seven and Seven alone that influenced my love of thriller and desire to write something similar. I found subsequent thrillers of the 90s and 00s lacking in comparison in terms of suspense or its claustrophobic, threatening element. For a while I got swept up in the desire to write the *next* big Horror, but discovered the market was flooded - with prodcos and the spec pile. What's more, when it came down to it, I discovered I lacked the flair to spill blood on a grand scale, even on the page. So imagine my surprise when I churned out a rather generic thriller about two years ago and discovered, according to people's feedback and my own gut it was *the* genre for me...

So over to you!!!