Click the Pic N' Mix - past blog posts from Bang2write (click & scroll down for articles)

2leep.com

Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer Break 2010

ANNOUNCEMENT: Due to threats of divorce by my Husband and my subsequent agreement to go into rehab regarding my internet addiction, The Write Here, Write Now blog is on its very first summer break.

OMFG!! How will you manage?!! IT WILL BE OKAY:

Script Reading. Please note I'm still available for script reads during this time: get in touch via Bang2writeATaolDOTcom: all the details including links to a price list, here.

Peer Review. If you're looking for peer review, please look through The Feedback Exchange and add your own name too. Please DO NOT spam everyone on the list.

Social Networking. I will have [limited] use of Twitter and Facebook, so if you have any questions or want a link/news disseminated across the scriptwriting universe, contact me via one of those sites. If I am VERY good, I will be allowed to come to the odd Scriptchat. Not on Twitter? Check out myTwit's Guide To Twitter.

London Screenwriters' Festival. Want information about The London Screenwriters Festival? Check out the website or follow @Londonswf, @Livingspiritpix, @Dcwritesmovies or @JulianFriedmann on Twitter for more regular updates and links or "Like" The London Screenwriters' Festival on Facebook for more.

Want screenwriting advice? Check out the The Required Reading List, a free e-library of all the best screenwriting posts by various authors on the web. Bookmark it here.

Also, here is a round up of all the recent screenplay tips by moi:

SCRIPTWRITING DEVICES

Reversals - every good script needs a few surprises, yet so few specs actually have any. A look at what a reversal is and how to use them.

Montages - montages have a bad name - for good reason. How to use montage without boring the reader.

Non-Linearity - why a lot of non-linear specs in the pile don't work

Voiceover - why scripts don't have to die a death via this much maligned screenwriting device

SCENES, DIALOGUE & DESCRIPTION

Static Scenes - what they are, why the read can be slowed down by static scenes and what to do about them.

Scene Description - a short post on making every single word count.

Dialogue - a look at the usual points *for* lots of dialogue in scripts - especially TV vs. Film - and why we should all be writing LESS.

CHARACTER

Character & Plot - why a good character is only the sum of the plot they are in

Advanced Characterisation - : Beyond "Goodies & Baddies", in TV and Film

REDRAFTING & BEYOND

Titles - how choosing a title that REFLECTS your story and genre helps the reader get a "sense" of your script from the offset

Rewriting And Feedback - why getting feedback doesn't necessarily mean it will help your script and how rewriting lots is actually a good thing

Submissions, Rejections & Relationships - some Do's and Don'ts about submitting stuff, dealing with rejection and making things happen.
---------------------------------------------
See you in September!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Screenplay Tips # 12: Submissions, Rejections & Relationships

In the last of this series on screenplay tips, here are my thoughts on sending stuff out, dealing with rejection and making things happen:

DO: Plan ahead. With such a wealth of information at your fingertips, there is no excuse to NOT know what is going on in the writing world, especially things like The Red Planet Prize or The BBC Writers' Academy. Knowing how your "writing year" works against your "real life year" helps you make decisions on what you CAN and CANNOT do, realistically.

DON'T: Panic or tell yourself it can't be done. I'm a big believer in the old adage, "if you want something done, ask a busy person". If I looked too closely at my mega schedule, I'd probably die of fear, so I don't look too far ahead and take each day as it comes. Do whatever works for you to make sure you don't succumb to THE FEAR.

DO: Set goals. It doesn't matter how big or small these goals are. Some of them will work out; others will not. But as long as you're working towards them, that's all that counts.

DON'T: Tell yourself you're a failure if you do not achieve that goal. Sometimes things will happen that are not your fault and prevent you from getting that goal; other times, in working towards that goal you may realise it's not the be-all and end-all you thought it was at the beginning and you may SWITCH voluntarily to something else.

DO: Enter competitions and schemes. Even if you don't place, they are good practice -- particularly if you won't have deadlines/specific briefs to write to otherwise, but even if you are a professional or semi-pro, contests can give you a good idea of whether your latest spec has "legs".

DON'T: Get hung up on competitions and schemes. There is a strong element of chance to them -- think of the sometimes thousands of entries, all pouring in at once! Sometimes putting too much on such contests and schemes can destroy new writers' confidence and for the semi-pros and pros, contests and schemes can be a distraction from their paid or collaborative work.

DO: Research a company or agent -- don't bombard them with material that is not suitable for them. Most websites are quite specific about what they will or will not read, so make sure you know.

DON'T: Complain. I often read scribes on forums and message boards lamenting their scripts have been returned unread from various companies/schemes or that they've heard nothing. Get used to it: it might not be right, but it's the way of the writing world.

DO: Build up a dialogue with producers, agents, other writers, etc. Social networking, especially Twitter, means access to the kind of people who seemed so far off before, so don't waste your chance to get to *know* these people online.

DON'T:Complain to these agents, producers, writers etc how hard writing/ getting an option/ getting an agent/ getting something made, etc is! It's the one thing industry people seem unable to forgive because it's hard for EVERYONE.

DO: Stay away from the negative people. They are always there and just ready to suck you in.

DON'T: Try and justify yourself to the negative people. Sometimes we get caught out by people who offer help, then put us down; other times people who were previously our friends/colleagues get jealous or point fingers. Recognise that things change, don't get down about it -- but block them out your life, literally if necessary. There's absolutely no reason you HAVE to converse with them anymore.

DO: Get all the help you can. The obvious choice would be to get an agent, but if you can't -- make your circle of friends and colleagues your agents by TELLING EVERYONE what you're working on. That way, next time a producer says to someone else, "I need a horror script...", your friend/colleague can recommend YOU (and you would, vice versa, natch).

DON'T: Rely on everyone else to do your work for you, even your agent if you have one. The one who is going to make things happen is YOU.

DO: Have many irons in the fire. I find it really helps to have lots of things going on, it takes the bite off rejection, ie. "Well [they] rejected me, but I still have [this] and [this] going on."

DON'T: Put all your eggs in one basket. As above, really.

DO: Be realistic. You can only do what you can do -- there is an element of Lady Luck in all this. Our specs might be FABULOUS, but they also have to hit the right zeitgeist and be in the right place, at the right time, in front of the right person. Lining up those ducks is no mean feat and anyone who says it is a either a nutter or has been EXTREMELY lucky.

DON'T: Give up. You never know how close you came.

ON THIS BLOG BEFORE:

Are We There Yet? - A post about perseverance

Blame It On The Reader? - A post about looking at our work and why it gets rejected

When Is A Rejection, A Rejection If I Don't Hear Anything? - A look at how long it takes to get rejected and how we can speed it up without annoying anyone

Monday, July 19, 2010

Screenplay Tips # 11: Voiceover

Once upon a time, if a reader were to look in the spec pile, s/he'd find scripts BURSTING with voiceovers. Most of these voiceovers would, indeed, be rubbish. But then a huge proportion of the spec pile was rubbish, so really it was no big deal.

Then voiceovers started disappearing from spec scripts. I'm not sure exactly when this started. perhaps three or four years ago. I think I've perhaps seen five scripts this year with VO. Last year, I saw maybe ten, max. Of course we all know why - his initials are R M - but I think it's a great shame.

Voiceover can be a FANTASTIC tool for revealing character and pushing the story forward. Consider these movies that all feature voiceover:

Stand By Me
The Shawshank Redemption
American Psycho
The Brave One
American Beauty
Adaptation
Casino
Sunset Boulevard
The Piano
Badlands
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Taxi Driver
The Princess Bride
The Royal Tenenbaums
Raising Arizona
Goodfellas
Days of Heaven

... Need I go on?!?!?

Voiceover is NOT automatically "lazy writing" -- that's dross. If you want to use voiceover, YOU ABSOLUTELY SHOULD -- as long as it a) reveals character b) pushes the story forward. Oh -- like any other screenwriting device, then.

The only caveat to the above? There are readers out there who have swallowed RM's assertions whole and will write on your reports, "use of voiceover = no good". TAKE A DEEP BREATH when this happens, move on. End of the day, there will always be elements of your script that won't appeal to everyone regardless.

Recognise voiceover for what it is - a calculated risk. But then, most things are in this scriptwriting malarkey, right down to the story you choose.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Screenplay Tips # 10: Non-Linearity

Non-Linearity is big news in the spec pile -- I'd venture for every ten specs I read, at least three will be non-linear. When I say "non-linear", I mean the "beginning, middle, end" will not necessarily be in *that* order. Famous non-linear movies include Pulp Fiction, Memento, Twelve Monkeys, The Bourne Supremacy, Slumdog Millionaire and Premonition. Non-linearity sometimes finds its way into TV specs - particularly of the supernatural genre - usually in the form of flashback.

I love non-linearity. Done well, it can really add a new dimension to a story. But unfortunately the majority of specs in the pile do not do non-linearity well. Instead, the structure of the story becomes very confused, even hopelessly disjointed. The reasons for this are four-fold:

1) Scribes are attempting to run before they can walk. Traditional three act or sequence structure (or its variations) may seem deceptively straightforward, but if they were, then there would NOT be literally thousands of specs out there that make no sense. Add non-linearity as well and a scribe just totally blows a reader's mind.

2) There is no throughline. A reader needs to know WHAT is "present" and WHAT is "past" and WHY we're travelling between them, else the different time threads have no impact and everything that goes on just seems very muddled. A very good example of a recent throughline is Slumdog Millionaire: Jamal is asked a question in the game and then he remembers the answer and HOW he knows it - the game acts as an "anchor". In Memento, the main plot goes BACKWARDS, but the sub plot -- "Sammy Jankis" -- goes FORWARDS. In Premonition, every time Linda wakes up, she has something new to go through regarding her ordeal of the week from Hell -- a bit like Groundhog Day, only NOT funny. In short, there needs to be something - anything - to ANCHOR people in the story, a REASON why it's not in the "right" order.

3) Flashbacks need their own structure. If you watch The Crow or The Bourne Supremacy, you will notice the flashbacks all ADD UP together to form their OWN story. Flashbacks don't always have to do this, but it really helps otherwise we just don't know why we're seeing these fragments of the past. Other times, flashbacks need to "answer" something that is seen in the PRESENT, ie. the "oldy but goody" flashback of someone REMEMBERING something that happened because they see something similar in the present, a staple of crime drama, though this is not to be mistaken for the "version". CSI made the "version" popular -- ie. detectives rewrite what they THINK happened and we actually see a character do something crime-related, even if they didn't.

4) The story in question does not need to be non-linear. Whilst a scribe should always do whatever they want, I'm of the opinion there is a LOT of non-linear specs in the pile that do not essentially NEED to be non-linear and could work FAR BETTER in a traditional method of structure. If we consider all those uber-famous non-linear movies, they all have a specific reason STORY-WISE for using non-linearity; in comparison then, when I ask a scribe if their spec NEEDS to be, they frequently can't answer why other than saying it "would look cool". Yet we all *know* story is king/queen, not looking cool.

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS BLOG ABOUT NON-LINEARITY:

Scriptchat -- Focus On Feedback

Flashback -- Good Examples

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Screenplay Tips # 9: Advanced Characterisation

So, in the post about Character and Plot, I posted about the importance of having a protagonist with a definable goal and an antagonist with a need to get in the way of that goal. As mentioned in the post, those are the VERY basics - but all too often missing in the spec pile. If a reader hasn't a clue who to root for, their interest isn't going to be hooked; if their interest isn't hooked -- well, you know what happens. Applying the very basics then helps a writer understand where they could be potentially going wrong, especially with clarity issues when it comes to plot. Mina Zaher aka DreamsGrafter described this notion to me the other day as "pressing the reset button", which I think is an excellent way of putting it.

But as with anything in this scriptwriting malarkey, the notion of goodies vs. baddies is not just *it*. As appealing as it is to have two characters blatantly up against each other and slugging it out (literally or metaphorically), sometimes the type of story you're telling or the format (especially in TV) does not always warrant it. Here are my thoughts on what makes advanced character.

The protagonist is their own antagonist. The character who is their own worst enemy is always a treat to see, but inevitably an extremely hard sell. Miles in SIDEWAYS sabotages himself constantly, whether it's (not) kissing Maya or ringing up his ex drunk; he's a liar too -- lying even to himself: he tells his friend on the phone he's stuck in traffic, when the reality is he's HUNGOVER, he wasn't just "wine tasting", he was getting PISSED the night before. However, it's important to remember Miles can't *just* be on his own... He will feel self-indulgent and annoying. Contrasted against the carefree, irresponsible and downright cad Jack however, Miles suddenly seems a lot more reasonable. Also, having to "sort Jack out" (or at least get him back to his fiancee) gives Miles a sense of purpose - so whilst Jack is not the antagonist per se, he offers a force Miles must go up against, making Miles a more active character himself, whom we can empathise with more instead of reckoning he's a plain sad loser.

The protagonist is their own antagonist # 2. This bubble seems to have burst a little in recent years, but the idea of the protagonist BEING the antagonist, especially a murderer (what I call, "The Killer Is Me" stories -- if any of you are Alice in Chains fans?) is really a bit of a ruse. After all, in order to present the protagonist AS the antagonist, the scribe must create an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT character, otherwise we will SEE the protagonist performing both roles in the produced movie and thus the intrigue is lost -- what would the point have been in seeing Ed Norton as his character in FIGHT CLUB and Tyler Durden?? No point, really - which is why Brad Pitt was cast. So really, we're back in almost "goodie vs. baddie" territory and away from the slick characterisation of Miles IMHO.

Theme as antagonist. Sometimes there is no "actual" physcial antagonist in a piece - instead, its theme is the antagonistic force the protagonist must reckon with. An excellent example of this is Charlie and The Chocolate Factory (old version starring Gene Wilder), where the children must overcome GREED in order to get Willy Wonka's Factory. The children are constantly invited to BE greedy throughout and those that fall, are despatched. Even Charlie *almost* succumbs when faced with the uber-cool fizzy pop and Wonka's disappointment and hurt is obvious, so Charlie must redeem himself. In the John August version, I found Wonka much more creepy and less child-like; as a result I found him more of a traditional antagonist that Charlie is *made* to impress in order to "get" the factory.

Dual protagonists. A character device that seems to turn up once in a blue moon in movies - and when it does, it's inevitably done well, making us perhaps believe it's easier than it really is. When I first watched INDEPENDENCE DAY I was approximately fifteen years old and immediately struck by the fact Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith share almost the same amount of screen-time. In the 90s the "lone hero" in the likes of Keanu and Arnie was big news and I felt very confused, until I realised something: whilst the two characters had different journeys to get to the underground government safe place, they had the same GOAL: getting to to their loved ones. Once they had found their loved ones, their goal switched: DEFEAT THE ALIENS (and arguably, save their loved ones from them) -- and they did this together, too. Whilst Independence Day might be full of uber-American norms and values with some horrendous stereotypes (The British troops - "I say, the Americans have only gone and bloody done it!"), the dual protagonists were written well for the most part - and certainly provided the plot with some interesting manoevres that kept the masses happy, without a musclebound "lone hero". Quite a feat in retrospect. Dual protagonists should not be confused with Partners, seen mostly in crime drama on TV - Dempsey and Makepeace; Rosemary & Thyme; Miami Vice; Starsky & Hutch; Dalziell & Pacoe etc etc, where I would argue one character always eclipses the other, even when they appear on screen together, even if only slightly. If we consider a drama series like ASHES TO ASHES for example here, though Alex Drake was supposed to be our protagonist, it was always *really* the Gene Hunt show, even to the point the resolution was HIS, not Alex's at the end of the series. When it comes to television, I think the viewing public always vote their preferences early on and this ends up getting written in, if only subconsciously by the showrunners - television seems more participatory like that.

The Late Protagonist (in film). Generally speaking, these days we START with the protagonist, literally on page 1, usually even the first LINE of scene description. After all, WITNESS was donkey's years' ago now. If you watched PREDATORS, you'll know we literally start, falling through the sky with our protagonist. It's what modern audiences want: we have decided in recent years, like crocodiles and ducklings, to imprint on the first character we see as our protagonist - and can get very narked if it isn't that person, ie. "Why start with him, if we're supposed to be following this other guy???" I'd venture that most of the time, it is a good idea to start with the protagonist, especially in spec writing - it's the "norm" at the moment and writing follows fashion like anything else. However, if you have a good reason NOT to start with the protagonist, then make it a really COMPELLING reason, make us not care it's not the protagonist, divert our attentions well.

The Late Protagonist (in TV). There's a certain amount of leverage when it comes to television, usually in the form of the prologue. Cops n' Docs do it best: we START with a victim or patient dying/collapsing... Then the team come and investigate. The protagonist - or more crucially, the LEADER - doesn't always have to come out right away and TV audiences seem able to accept this pretty well. Having said that, I would always counsel caution to those spec writers who DON'T have their protagonist/leader of the team arrive within the first 5 pages at least. Rarely have I seen a REALLY late protagonist/leader arrive (eg. after page 6), as it feels as if we're "waiting" for the story to kick off.

The Ensemble Cast. When it comes to television OR film, the ensemble cast is never as big as the average spec writer seems to think. I'm often treated to what I call a Mer De Noms or "sea of names" - characters are introduced... and introduced... and introduced! I usually end up looking at approximately 13-15 names, though I have read scripts with even more. End of the day, the average story in a spec, whether 60 OR 90 pages, simply can't support this many *important* characters. Don't believe me? Let's look at the evidence:

A) Films Ensemble Casts. The usual fare has a protagonist and antagonist with up to three *important* secondaries each that HELP or HINDER their respective causes, right? Well it's pretty much the same in ensemble cast films - there is still a protagonist and antagonist, it's just the "gap" between the secondaries and those "first" two is much smaller or tighter than in a more "traditional" film. This might be because of the mission itself or because there is a designated leader, it doesn't really matter: *someone* is always in charge. Consider SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, which won The Screen Actors' Guild award for "best ensemble cast". Surprised? After all, it's really Jamal's story, right? Except loads of other characters - and versions of Jamal at various ages - lead the action too, especially the brother Said. But that's just it: there's always one character who is *top*.

B) Television ensemble casts. Consider TV favourites TORCHWOOD and HUSTLE (when they first came out):

Torchwood: Captain Jack, Gwen, Ianto, Owen, Tosh. Not part of the direct team, but often part of episodes - Rhys (Gwen's boyfriend) and Martha Jones ("visiting ally")

Hustle: Mickey Briggs, Danny Blue, Albert, Stacey, Ash. Not part of team directly, but often part of episodes - Eddie The Bartender ("friend")

These are the CORE ELEMENTS of the episodes if you like - though not all characters will appear in every episode, there is a good chance most of them will.

On top of these core elements is the ANTAGONIST OF THE WEEK - which more often than not refers to the "story of the week", the part of the show that needs to be resolved within the hour. In Torchwood that antagonist will be an alien, ghost or supernatural force of some kind - once it was even one of its own old team members back from the dead, Susie. In Hustle it will more often than not be the "mark" - whoever it is they are grifting that week, though occasionally there are ructions within the team itself, like the constant challenging for the top spot by Danny Blue against Mickey Briggs.

The Large Cast. OF COURSE it's possible to have a large cast; not all films feature ONLY 6-8 important characters. But 9/10 I think the idea of LOADS OF CHARACTERS is essentially an illusion. One example I hear again and again is the idea ALIENS has "loads and loads of characters". to some degree, scribes are right; before the characters go into the alien nest, there are indeed lots of marines. But nearly all of them die/get cocooned by the end of that sequence, leaving - guess what: a protagonist (Ripley); an antagonist (Burke); plus the important secondaries Gorman, Hudson, Hicks, Vasquez, Newt. Then there's the android Bishop and the pilot and her crewman still alive (though those latter two are despatched almost immediately). So in real terms, there are just EIGHT characters once the conflict really kicks in. It seems eight is the magic number in film.

The main issues then with both the TV specs and feature scripts I see? They not only have TOO MANY characters, the scribes in question spend so long introducing them, the reader ends up "waiting" for the story to BEGIN. Character and story - the situation they find themselves in - should be introduced hand-in-hand.
--------------------------------------
Can you think of any other instances of advanced characterisation?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Screenplay Tips # 8: Character & Plot

We all know *that* saying: characters are what they DO, not what they SAY. But what does it mean?

Characters all need to have a REASON to physically be in your script. It's no good writing someone in who is witty, vibrant or whatever, yet has no purpose. No matter how great a character is *is*, if they have no motivation or role function, they're going to stick out like a sore thumb - and not for a good reason.

As unfashionable as it is to say this, plot CAN exist without good characters, as long as they all have a purpose and your protagonist has a definable need/goal. Check out any 80s/90s action film with the likes of Jean Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal in. Do we care about his emotional journey? Of course we don't! We want him to open a can of whup-ass and karate kick a few incredibly 2D bad guys to death, thank you very much.

Most Hollywood films these days appear to pay lip service to the *idea* of character, giving us the barest minimum, investing heavily in plot. Anyone who watched Predators last week knows the characterisation of the NEW characters makes the Arnie version seem like Tolstoy. Television is known to make use of stereotype to make its point quickly, too: women in professional positions? They're all ball-breakers/bitches. Male cops are bent or saviours. Young mothers live in tower blocks and all have tattoos and piercings. Young black and hispanic men are all gang members but turn their lives around somehow and become youth workers or even the chief of police. You get my drift.

So no matter HOW GREAT your character is, if they have no specific motivation or role function, then the plot meanders and doesn't go very far. And guess what: the reader gets bored/confused. Yes, there have been films that are more like plays and nothing much happens and it's all very cerebral, blah-de-blah. Occasionally a completely BONKERS film like The Fifth Element turns up - I don't think Besson even TRIED to *really* hang that together - but the characters of Corbin Dallas and LeeLou pretty much carried it off. But these films are the exceptions, not the rule.

9/10? Your spec needs character + plot = to get read all the way through. That's just the way it is.

And yes, it's the same with television as it is with films. We NEED plot. It's what audiences want -- they do not go to the cinema, crack open the DVD box or turn on the telly to watch something "about a guy/woman"... They want to see a film or drama:

"About a guy/woman WHO [does something and this happens]"

This means:

- You need a goodie and a baddie

- We need a clear, obvious situation they find themselves in

- The goodie needs to want or do something - and the baddie wants to stop them

THOSE are the very basics. Anything else can be built on top of that. Yet too often these basics are what's missing.

Very often scribes want to keep us guessing in some way - and mystery is good. But we need to know WHO and WHAT we're dealing with FIRST in order to appreciate it is a mystery... Don't make us wait all the through to know that and put all the exposition at the BACK of your script. Mystery only works if we know who the protagonist is, what they're up against first and WHY. This doesn't mean you put all the exposition in the FRONT of the script either, but mete it out, dose by dose over the course of the narrative.

Check out any police procedural or crime feature and how they do it. The protagonist or team investigating starts off knowing NOTHING and throughout the course of the narrative goal posts are changed, red herrings introduced and blind alleys presented. Yet still, by the end of the piece, we usually know exactly who did it and why -- and it's hardly ever someone we've not seen before the bit they get arrested in the resolution.

So:

- Goodie

- Baddie

- Goal/Counter goal

Yes, yes... We all KNOW this. Yet it's so often NOT on the page.

So... What are you going to do about it?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Screenplay Tips # 7: Rewriting & Feedback

So a writer hires me to do some notes on their screenplay. I send their notes off and about thirty seconds later I get one of the following messages:

OMG! These notes are AMAZING, I'm going to put ALL OF THEM in the new draft!! You're AWESOME, I LOVE YOU, can you read the new version for me next week, gonna spend ALL WEEKEND rewriting it!!!!!!!

Or:

Really, really upset. I thought this new draft was the one I could send off/film but now I realise I have to REWRITE EVERYTHING, my brain is EXPLODING, maybe I shouldn't even BE a writer - I think I will go and live in Tibet IN SHAME scratching a living off the Earth. But before that, can you read it again if I rewrite it next week?

Or:

WTF is wrong with you, YOU DIDN'T GET IT AT ALL. I'm going to go through EVERY SINGLE POINT of your notes, one by one, just to re-explain why YOU'RE SO WRONG -- and then I'm gonna rewrite it and send to ANOTHER READER next week because you're so wrong!!! And btw, you're wrong. I HATE YOU.

OK, so I've exaggerated a little... on each one of them (though scarily not that much, sometimes).

But which response is the *right* response... Answer? When it comes to rewriting, NONE OF THEM.

That's right -- not even the first one. Much as I like being told how great I am or how fab my notes are, a good rewrite NEEDS TIME. Too many writers believe getting feedback means that WHAMMO -- they have their answer, their draft is good OR bad and they have to do *whatever* to fix it and hey presto! It's done.

Just ten years ago, there were a lot more first-first drafts in the pile and by jiminy it showed!! So it's good that these days, writers realise the power of feedback -- whether it's paying for reads or sharing drafts amongst their friends and colleagues.

However, this *new* way of working has its own problems. Writers are too often completely reliant on others' opinions, they don't PROCESS the feedback they get correctly, instead they ACCEPT or REJECT it *like that*, working on this basis:

"I've had feedback. My script is not a first-first draft. Therefore it must be good/okay/better than most of them out there."

If only it worked this way! Much as I believe ALL writers should get feedback from *wherever*, just because you've had feedback does not mean your script is great or that you will finish "quicker". Sometimes, by getting feedback from the RIGHT place, it will mean EVEN MORE rewrites -- as that reader/script editor encourages said writer NOT to take the quick route (ie. "FINISH THE DRAFT NO MATTER WHAT") and to really invest in the issues they have with actual STORYTELLING before looking at the actual story on the page.

I've encouraged many writers to do this, myself; those that have taken my advice, I've seen thrive and make considerable progress in what I consider a relatively short amount of time (usually roughly a year). They've done this by taking a single script to learn their craft and really practice on. "Practice" usually means getting reports and notes from a number of paid-for readers and making a proper comparison between each set; watching movies and TV, working out what they WANT to do and what they HAVEN'T got in their own scripts; paying for short weekend courses; reading books, blogs, articles; talking to other writers; paying for page-by-page consultations with script doctors. In short, they spend their hard earned cash and time on what I call their "foundation script", the one that unlocks their potential as a writer. That script will be rewritten over and over again, maybe twenty or even thirty times in the course of that year. It's their sole purpose and their sole goal -- and it's only over when it's over.

I learnt this way. I might have done a BA (Hons) in Scriptwriting, but a year or so after the degree, though I had been paid for my work, I was not making the kind of progress I wanted. So I did what I just described above and really invested in my craft. And it worked. Everything I did that year impacts on my writing on a daily basis.

In contrast, others who have declined my advice and said they DO want to "finish the draft no matter what" have come back to me time and time again with the same issues with storytelling -- they've quite literally held themselves back and ironically slowed themselves down by trying to be quick... In short, they don't know how to process good feedback -- and perhaps more crucially, they don't know how to recognise BAD feedback.

Yes, rewrites in the professional world that are being produced need to be quick. That's just the way it is.

But your spec? It takes as long as it takes -- to make it as good as it possibly can be, to stand its best possible chance.

Rewriting a spec is not quick -- whether you're a newbie, a seasoned writer or a pro. You do get quicker at rewriting however -- what once took me thirty drafts, now takes about ten to get a script in reasonable shape to show people.

That's right -- TEN DRAFTS. My recent thriller was on its tenth or eleventh before someone expressed an interest in it. Since that moment, I've rewritten it a further four times. If it gets produced and I'm lucky enough to stay on it, I'm willing to bet I'll have to rewrite it at least another four.

I started this spec when I was seven months' pregnant with my daughter... She starts school this September.

Don't rely on others' opinions to tell you what you're doing wrong OR right. Really KNOW yourself where you're going with a spec - process the feedback you get and give yourself plenty of time for the rewrite. Don't knee-jerk in your bid to finish.

It might not feel like it, but you have all the time in the world to make this the best you can. Don't blow it.

ON THIS BLOG BEFORE:

Approaching Rewrites - a blog from 2008 about my thoughts on rewriting

Scriptchat: Focus on Feedback - unhelpful feedback versus helpful feedback

You Are not Wasting Your Time - returning to page one/rewriting

The Feedback Exchange - a free, no-registration-required list of writers looking for people to do peer review with

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Linda Seger Tweetcast - London, 10/07/10 @ UCL

For those of you who missed my live Tweetcast on Twitter and Facebook yesterday... Enjoy.
----------------------------------------
CHARACTER

Dimensions of Characters: emotion, realisation, decision, action #fb #lindaseger

Different characters hav different emotional ranges. #fb #lindaseger

Characters' philosophies come out in their attitudes, wot they do and (sometimes) wot they say. #fb #lindaseger

A 3D character thinks, acts, feels. Character description shld not rely on physical traits. #fb #lindaseger


CONFLICT

It's difficult cos We're told to diffuse conflict in REAL LIFE - Yet hav to do opposite in screenwriting #lindaseger #fb

So many writers shy away form CONFLICT - Yet it is the lifeblood of ANY movie #fb #lindaseger

Wot characters need: motivation - action - goal - conflict #fb #lindaseger


THEME/AUDIENCE

Who is this for? Wot is ur demographic and how can ur movie TALK TO ur chosen audience? #fb #lindaseger

Themes are issues we deal with every day - audiences come to see movies about THEM. #fb #lindaseger

4 places u can find theme - dialogue (1 line, v memorable, concise); story (wot type of stories do I tell?); #fb #lindaseger

Theme 2/2. character - who they are, wot they are, how they DO; images - visuals hav meaning, diff to description #fb

I find specs with no identity/sense of audience rarely communicate much in terms of story/theme #fb #lindaseger

#lindaseger recommends lookin to psychology for help on audience and theme - esp Eric Erikson #fb

Teenage audience? Theme often individuality vs conformity - ie. Dead Poets' Society - plus adult audience rmbr facing that #fb #lindaseger

Want a child/family audience? There's a gd chance ur story needs to about self esteem - eg. ET #lindaseger #fb

Finding Theme - 'versus', ie. Conformity vs. Creativity as in DEAD POETS' SOCIETY. #fb #lindaseger

Drama is a verb, not a noun. Not, 'an integrity theme' - it's about FINDING INTEGRITY #fb #lindaseger

Solely thematic scenes often get cut - why it's important to integrate theme in ALL scenes. #fb #lindaseger


ACTION

U wanna make something of it? The answer is always YES. Develop the action of the scene, don't take easy route #fb #lindaseger

Gd, memorable movie scenes hav 3 acts of their own - ie. The murder in WITNESS, the train in THE FUGITIVE #lindaseger #fb

True INCIDENTS work better than true LIVES as stories. Most ppl don't live in 'right' dramatic order. #lindaseger #fb


SUBPLOTS

A good subplot or B story supports the A story, it is not separate #lindaseger #fb

A gd subplot or B story needs a 3 act structure of its own. V often a love story #lindaseger #fb

If u want lots of twists and turns in ur movie, one way is by creatin subplot/s. #lindaseger #fb

STRUCTURE

A story is a sequence of responses to a central question. #lindaseger #fb #in

#lindaseger doesn't just call act 1 the set up but also the CONTEXT. #fb #in

Ur characters CREATE EVENTS in act 2. V underestimated in spec pile, characters often runnin on spot! #lindaseger #fb

American movies v plot driven, why they export well. Gd Q to ask of ur own work - can ppl of other cultures get it? #lindaseger #fb

Most specs I see, it's hard to see wot the central question is - which impacts on those responses. The wtf? Draft! #lindaseger #fb


THE CREATIVE PROCESS

The creative process - preparation, incubation, illumination, verification. #lindaseger #fb #in

Incubation is am excellent pt - I see too many writers rushing to finish when their drafts just need TIME #lindaseger #fb #in

Evaluating work shld come LAST - don't write a page or a single draft and say 'it's awful'. It can only get better. #lindaseger #fb #in

Good feedback is positive and helps u find solutions. Stay away from negative ppl. Obvious but true - protect urself #lindaseger #fb #in
-------------------------------------
NOTE -- Notice how little Linda Seger says about dialogue!!!! Very interesting.

Like these tweets? Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Linda Seger in London This Saturday -- 10/07/10

Linda Seger is in London this weekend and hosting a course at University College, London (WC1H 0AJ), 10.30am-5.30pm.

Linda is the author of eleven books, the most prominent being MAKING A GOOD SCRIPT GREAT. This is one of the first books about screenwriting I ever read and one of the few I actually recommend to my Bang2writers. I'll certainly be counting up the magic beans in Bang2write Towers to see if I can go, 'cos I'd really like to see what she has to say in the flesh.

Tickets are £65 - £10 discount for those who can demonstrate they are "part of a writing community": that'll be us Bloggers and Tweeters then!!

What are you waiting for?? Hopefully see you there...

LINKS

All the details and booking for Linda's course this Saturday

About Linda Seger

About Making A Good Script Great - plus testimonials, buy it on Amazon

Linda Seger on Youtube

Screenplay Tips # 6: Titles

Titles are a reader's and audience's first port of call. Your title needs to be catchy and it needs to say *something* about the film and/or character at the heart of it. Pick a crap title and you put people off. Sorry to be blunt - actually I'm not sorry at all, it's true. We all make assumptions based on title! So here's my run-down of what makes a good title... Enjoy.

1)What is it? Yes might seem obvious, but there's a lot of genre scripts that sound like dramas and vice versa in that spec pile!

a) **General** rule of thumb - a first name as a title screams DRAMA, ie. Juno. Obvious exception to the rule? Crime scripts titled with the surname of the protagonist who is usually a policeman (esp TV): ie. Luther, Taggart. Other general drama refs would be first person in the title, ie. My Summer of Love, My House in Umbria or place/country names: Munich, Australia. Sometimes dramas will have a lengthy title like Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, but this seems less now and I certainly can't remember the last time I saw such a long title for a drama in the spec pile.

b) Genre features in particular need to be catchy but NOT TOO CLEVER. Think of all the best horror titles: they do exactly what they say on the tin, ie. Alien (originally called Starbeast!! 100% true), Predator, Jaws. Same with thrillers: Se7en (about the seven sins); Panic Room (they're trapped in a panic room); Red Eye (it's on the red eye flight to Miami), etc etc. Action-Adventures often describe exactly what's in them: The Running Man, The Core, Under Siege, Deep Impact. Comedies and Rom-Coms often describe the people in them (Ghostbusters, The Wedding Crashers, The Yes Man) or the situation (Just Friends, The Proposal, Meet The Parents etc.) You catch my drift. One or two words should do usually do it - personally I'm a big fan of the one word title for genre movies.

2) Naming it after the setting/job is good for TV, not so great for film.Titles like Eastenders, Coronation Street, Doctors, Casualty, etc works really well in TV and you'd do well to take a leaf out of TV Bosses' books if you're writing a soap or precinct drama. But for film? Doesn't really feel *vital* enough, Arlington Road strikes me as a bad title for a film about terrorism, for example - I recall getting it out on video way back and being really surprised. Better to go for 1a) or b) I'd say (dependant on what it is). Sometimes movies are named after job titles like TV scripts , but I'm struggling to think of one atm.

3. Don't use a song lyric/title. Please, please stop. Over the years I've had all kinds of lyrics from songs and they rarely work, usually because the scribe involved has picked something really obscure. Worst of all are the scripts that keep going back to said lyrics as if they reveal something about the plot, but being so obscure, they just can't. Better to write your OWN song that fits in with your plot -- a Ruth Rendell mystery did this really well with Some Lie And Some Die. Sure, sometimes song TITLES work - Sweet Home Alabama leaps out at me - but 9/10, if you haven't used an OBSCURE one, it just means there's YET ANOTHER script doing the rounds with the same title. YAWN. Biggest offenders? Teenage Kicks by a country mile, but also In The Name Of Love, Karma Chameleon and just recently I've had a rash of As My Guitar Gently Weeps. I even got a I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That) once!!!

4. If using a well-known phrase/specifc word, Google it. I wrote a script called WISH, but no one liked that title so I changed it to CRY WOLF. Then I discovered not only was that a song by A-Ha (hardly the audience I was going for), there was a movie by the same title starring JON BON JOVI ffs. So I changed it to Eclipse. Oh, alas, the bloody Twilight movies come out a couple of years later. Le Sigh. That script is destined to be title-less, I swear. Hey ho. For those still interested in this section, the title ALONE seems to be one I see most regularly on spec scripts and anything containing the word "blood" -- ie. BLOOD TIES, BLOOD RIGHT, BLOODLINE, etc. Other titles that crop up lots randomly are NEW YEAR, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DADDY, FATHER'S DAY, DEAR MUM.

5. Obscure Titles Need A Good Source. Sometimes a good title can stand a certain amount of intrigue, but you need to choose really wisely. The one that sticks out at me here is Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. I think this is a brilliant title, because it's obscure enough to give us a flavour of the film, but intriguing enough without being up its own arse. The title comes from Alexander Pope's poem, Eloisa to Abelard. Note: songs are not a good source, everyone is doing it. Also, here there's always the chance you WILL come off as a pompous ass, far better to go for 6).

6. If you want a fancy title, be prepared to really go for it. Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead and To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar immediately spring to mind. One script I saw floating about one year - I don't recall if I read it or merely saw it on a website, mind - had the title EVERY TIME I GO TO STATEN ISLAND SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS. That type of mad title would make me want to read the script, but beware: I'd be expecting at least a black comedy. NOTE: Don't make it a song lyric, as above.

Most importantly of all, don't get hung up on your title. 9/10 you will have to change it as the piece evolves - and sticking with it *no matter what* can hurt your ability to do this. For instance, I had a conversation about my woman-in-peril script, originally called RUN, that actually went like this:

AGENT: Does she have to run? Couldn't she just stay... couldn't the action in the resolution be contained?

ME: (Brain exploding) But it's called "Run". She has to run away??

AGENT: Well, couldn't you change the title as well?

ME: Um... yes.

Once he actually said that, I suddenly realised I'd been letting my title - a pretty crap one at that - get in the way of fixing the issue in the resolution. It was like a million lightbulbs turned on in my head.

And guess what - if you go through all that and are lucky enough to get optioned AND your piece produced?

I bet **they** change your title anyway.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Guest Post: Audrey Gillan's Notes From The BBC TV Writers' Festival in Leeds, 30 Jun - 01 Jul 2010

Couldn't get to this last week >GNASH GNASH< but the lovely Audrey Gillan has stepped into the breach to provide the blog with notes. Enjoy!
---------------------------------------
Whose voice is it anyway?

Have writers lost the initiative?

Nicola Schindler:
It does have to fit with what the channels want to make. It’s our challenge to push those boundaries and be a bit pro-active with what people think they want. The last two years have been really hard and a lot less drama has been made.
Top down commissiong is less prevalent?

Jed Mercurio:
There is life outside BBC/ITV/CH4. If you do just restrict yourself to the established drama market, it’s going to be very difficult. Doing Strike Back for Sky, I felt rejuvenated by that process and Sky is expanding its drama slate.

Jed and Nicola talked about their experience of their drama Lockerbie, which was commissioned by the BBC.
NS: “It was my first experience of no-one coming back with notes or problems with the script but that it “didn’t fit in with what’s wanted at the BBC”.

Tony Marchant said that since Mark of Cain, he had had four things turned down by Channel 4 “it just goes to show that Julian Bellamy is a complete twat”.

JM: “I haven’t got a series away on BBC since Bodies”.

There was great indignation at biopics and “other wastes of money”.

The Politics of Notes

George Faber
A great note is a transformative note. The key is to try and find the one thing that isn’t quite right about it. I like to be surprised. I am looking for something I haven’t seen before, something persuasively different – if that isn’t there then you’re on a hiding to nothing.

Tone is a very good place to start the conversation.

Polly Hill:
It’s about getting to the heart of the thing that the writer wants to write.

Paula Milne:
We are all slaves to the story.
She estimated that around 65% of her first draft survives the rewrite process.

General theme that there should be more single drama on but that it is very hard to get tem off the ground.
TM said the biopic such a waste. “We seem to be eschewing the examination of the lives of ordinary people. The manifestation of celebrity culture has caused it. There is a massive missed opportunity to have low budget drama on BBC4.”

Tony also lamented the penchant for tacking a crime narrative onto other serious drama, citing Lucy Gannon’s The Children and Five Days.

John Yorke’s Series Masterclass

A series needs to have:

Compelling characters

A self-contained story – either forming the whole structure or underpinning it.

A clear and renewable story engine

A rigorous point of view

A "one day” time scheme [wtf?]

They are “about” something.

Limited change – what changes in the classic detective series is knowledge

Uplifting – people don’t want to watch more than one episode of something that tells you life was shit … hence the lesson of Glee.

Self sacrifice [they never go home] – cops, doctors who will not stop dying for you

Optimism – fighting back, we will not surrender

Unfamiliar made familiar

Private world/ language made public

Defining sense of morality – Hustle or otherwise [he spoke of how in early eps, the Hustle characters said we are crims but goody crims, not the real baddies, but they dropped that after a while]

[Yorke said twice The Waltons/Shameless were essentially the same programme]

Empathy – unless you love them, you don’t want to watch them

Imitable characters

You want to be there – it feels like a fun, exciting, heroic place tobe

Clearly defined hierarchy/status

The enemy is without – something threatens the security of the group

Pressure from above – I’m giving you 24 hours or I’m taking you off the case

Gang – do you want to be in my gang? Yes.

Precinct based – good for cost

Precinct is important

Precinct is “home” – I want to see her in her workplace – that to me is home, where she lives

The regulars are “family”

Clear patriarchal/matriarchal structre

Disparate personalities – one person

He said the doyenne of all dramas was All Creatures Great and Small because it left a “warm, rosy glow”

Most importantly of all: CLEAR FORMAT

Whose story is it? If you cchange the point of view, you change the show.

Yorke then went on to talk about structure, but this was somewhat complicated and I don’t wish to transcribe it except when he quoted the time Alan Plater asked Peggy Ramsay what structre was and she said “Two or three surprises, followed by a bigger surprises.”


The crucial first episode

Ben Richards:
The thing it doesn’t need to be is chunks and chunks of expositions. The hardest thing is to introduce your world and set up your world without appearing to resort to blatant exposition.
You are aware you have a very short period of time to grip the audience hard and fast.
You have got to establish your characters and you have got to make your characters interesting.

Matthew Graham:
You must bring the audience into an amazing world with some amazing people.

Then I just noted their favourite episode

BR: The Sopranos
MT: Clockin
g Off, the clown’s face going through a series of emotions and he desperately wanted to know what had happened

Lizzie Mickery: State of Play and The Good Wife

Billy Ivory: Lost

BS then read a quote from Ray Bradbury: “Everything is
love. Love what you do, and do what you love. Go to the
edge of the cliff, jump off and build your wings on the way
down. Don’t think about writing; do it. It’s pure Zen. Only
write what you love. Do not write for money. Stay away from
people who want to give you money. If they pay you money
for your love already, that’s different. But it’s got to be your
love. That’s why I wrote my stories, my screenplays. That’s
why I love writing poetry, that’s why I love reading, period.
Everything has been love.”

from this publication

Thanks Audrey!
--------------------------------------------
ABOUT AUDREY: Audrey Gillan is an award-winning journalist and writer. Her drama about a female journalist embedded in Iraq, EXPOSURE, was commissioned by ITV. Check out her website or follow her on Twitter.

OTHER PEOPLE'S NOTES ON THE SAME EVENT

Mina Zaher - BBC Writers' Festival Day 1, Day 2 - John Yorke

David Bishop - Eastenders to Life On Mars, Writer For Hire, Casualty 2010 - The Vision, Tony Marchant, Paula Milne & Peter Bowker in conversation

Robin Kelly's round up of links to notes from this event - including Margit Keerdo's and Jason Arnopp's Tweetcast/Tweetpics. BOOKMARK NOW.

Got any notes on your blog or website? Get in touch and I'll link to them here.

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Scriptwriter's Life

Are you aware of The Scriptwriter's Life diagram? If not, you should be - it's been on the right hand sidebar of this blog for aeons!!!

But if not, take a look now. Designed by Tim Clague, this diagram breaks down EXACTLY what you need to be a SUCCESSFUL SCRIPTWRITER - and quelle surprise, it's not *just* write a great script! Those of you that are aware of the diagram will note it's been updated slightly in terms of the image that appears.

Check it out now and bookmark it.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

New Articles for the Required Reading Post

Not a member of Twelve Point? Are you nuts! Just £29 a year gives you access to a wealth of articles, info and other writers at the press of a mouse. But don't take my word for it -- take a look at their FREE articles, below. Like what you see? Then sign up, it's as simple as that!!!

I'll be putting them in the right sections of The Required Reading Post as soon as I get round to it. Enjoy!
-------------------------------------------------
FREE ARTICLE: The digital world 1 : How writers and filmmakers can use it to succeed, by Laura Wilson
This series of articles by Laura Wilson is about the rapidly changing ways of reaching audiences for independent films.

FREE ARTICLE: We are all responsible for the permanent crisis in the British film industry
Julian Friedmann takes an in-depth look at 10 key problem areas in British film development today, with each of their respective potential solutions.

FREE ARTICLE: Should scriptwriters write novels as well? Pt 1
Julian Friedmann is an agent representing both scriptwriters and book writers. In this article he looks at some of the reasons why scriptwriters should also consider writing prose, not instead of but in addition.

FREE ARTICLE: Creative development – writing an outline. By Phil Parker
The art of successful creative development is the ability to see the various potentials within a story idea and then to be able to pursue several options before alighting on the one that will work.

FREE ARTICLE: Writing drama for the multiplatform age.
Richard Bevan examines multi-platform drama as the new frontier for writers, which includes writing for mobile phones and the web.

FREE ARTICLE: Why we need the devil in our stories - the role of the antagonist. By John Brice
Previously John Brice looked at the protagonist. Here he suggests that unless the antagonist is properly set up, the drama will not work effectively.

FREE ARTICLE: Showrunning, by Dominic Minghella
At the Broadcast TV Drama Conference held in London in March 2008, Dominic Minghella ( Doc Martin , Robin Hood ) addressed the audience on the subject of ‘showrunning’.

FREE ARTICLE: Strong female characters, by Lucy Hay
Do writers tend to simplify and stereotype female protagonists, giving them masculine qualities rather than depth, making them less than realistic?
-------------------------------
NEXT FOR THE REQUIRED READING LIST: I'm looking for specific articles/write-ups about the TV Writers Festival #tvwriterfest in Leeds 30 Jun - 1st July 2010. If you know where I can find particularly detailed accounts about the sessions themselves or want me to consider yours for The List, then email me on Bang2writeATaolDOTcom.