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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year: Highs & Low

It's been a great year - London Screenwriters Festival was bigger and better than its first year; Deviation, the thriller I associate-produced, sold to Revolver Entertainment for distribution in the new year and BUT WHAT NEXT? my first YA novel, sold to Rowohlt Publishers in Berlin and continues to be considered by a number of prominent UK publishers. And of course there was the arrival of our beloved Wee Girl # 2, who has found her voice and makes her feelings known every chance she gets - just like her elder siblings, the Wee Girl and The Male Spawn, both of whom are also going strength to strength.

But it's also been a very sad year. Old Mrs C finally lost her six year battle with cancer. We didn't always see eye to eye and we "had words" more than once, but I have to say I admired Old Mrs C a great deal and loved her forthright manner and her cheeky grin when she'd suddenly say something completely out of the left field, like when she bought some play food for the WG:

"I took out all the sausages," She says in a low voice.

"Why?" I enquire, imagining she was going to say something like they were quite small and represented a choking hazard.

"Because frankly Lucy they looked like SOMETHING ELSE!" She exclaims with a grin.

Unfortunately Old Mrs C never got to see WG2 be born, which was the worst part. She knew of all our plans and hopes for our new baby however, asking what we would call her a few weeks before she died:

"Emmeline." I say proudly, thinking she will approve.

"Emmeline?!" Old Mrs C gasps, "That's an odd one."

"It's after Emmeline Pankhurst?" I say, sure *this* will get me the nod: no one could have been more of a feminist than Old Mrs C, even if she didn't identify as such.

"Oh, ONE OF THOSE." Old Mrs C says, "... No. Emma. That's better."

"No Margaret," I say slowly, "the baby's name is Emmeline."

But Old Mrs C lays back in her big armchair with her oxygen. "Yes, we will call her Emma." She smiles.

I'm afraid we didn't call her Emma, Margaret - but I think you'd like her just the same... Besides, you'd be disappointed if I actually agreed with you ; )

OLD MRS C - REST IN PEACE

Monday, December 19, 2011

5 Openers That Make Readers GROAN

We hear loads about the judgements made on our first ten pages, but spend even a short while as a script reader and you'll see in real terms many scripts don't even make it past the first PAGE.

Le shock! How can this be??? It's very simple. The writers whose scripts don't even make it past the first page are those who have made some cardinal sin: the wrong format is obvious, as is a plethora of black on the page. But perhaps more importantly, there are scripts with cliched, bad or just plain DULL openers.

First off, what do I mean by "opener"? Well, in this case I don't even mean the entire first page, but the FIRST IMAGE we see. Every script should open WELL, giving the reader some sense of the tone of the story and what's to come. Yet shockingly, a huuuuuuuge amount of writers open on random things, events and objects and confess to readers like me they "hadn't really thought" of that first image.

Yet the first image you choose to show us in your story is VITAL in gauging the reader's interest. On this basis then, here are my top 5 groan-worthy first images I see again and again which make me want to PLUCK MY EYES OUT:

5. The mirror. So... we have a FACE in a MIRROR. It's your main character, considering their own REFLECTION! Nice! It gives us the impression they have some kind of problem and aren't shallow Hollywood-type characters. Right?? Um, no. It's just boring. Particularly seen with female characters and dramas.

4. The windscreen wipers. The windscreen wipers, going full pelt as rain comes down might be atmospheric, but it's huuuuugely overdone in supernatural thrillers and horror. And weirdly, these wipers/rain are rarely connected to the problem that comes next - ie. an accident that propels the characters into the conflict, so the reader is left wondering: "Why start here with THIS image?"

3. Walking. This one - walking feet, usually on a pavement - can turn up in ANY genre. So your character's walking down the street. Yeah man: this is one cool dude. He's waaaaaaallking! Note to self writers: walking down the street gives the reader very little clue *about* your character. REALLY. Yes, that includes if he's meandering, striding, ambling, WHATEVER. Please stop it! Introduce us to your character doing something INTERESTING. If that *includes* walking, then great, but don't make walking the FOCUS 'cos it's DULL.

2. Alarm clocks. So here we go... Tick, tick, BOOM: alarm goes and character's hand appears, slamming the alarm. We then proceed to see said character get ready for the day. OMG REALLY?? This has been around for yeeeeeeeeears and though it *is* receding at last, it still pops up with enough annoying regularity to make me want to stab myself in the leg with a fork. The biggest offender here is comedy, but the alarm clock *could* turn up as a first image in just about ANY genre, particularly spec TV pilots.

1. Blackness. This has popped up in earnest in the last two to three years that I've noticed. Basically we start with a BLACK SCREEN. That's right! No first image AT ALL. Usually there is a voice-over the top, sometimes a sound effect, sometimes both. And what's wrong with that? Nothing really - it *could* be okay, but its main issue is its ubiquity. It is EVERYWHERE: spec TV pilots, features, shorts, you name it.

We all know first impressions count for a lot in this biz - sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly. Whatevs. We have ONE CHANCE to impress. But what's the likelihood of impressing if the first thing a reader does when they see your very first image is groan, "Seen it before, a million times?"

Always think of that FIRST image, let the reader know the tone of your story and give them an idea of what's coming next. And most of all, be original.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Want Some Blog Posts This Week?

... Then do me a favour. Join my Dropbox folder!

Yes I'm totally in need of space for some secretness I have planned for the new year for all my delicious Bang2writers, announcements soooooooooon! Watch this blog, the Facebook page and Twitter for more in January.

In the meantime, I can offer you three articles as PDFs that will NOT appear on this blog... they are:

A Full Breakdown Of The Three Acts - want to know more on how structure works, with real, RECENT examples applied? This short article aims to blow away the cobwebs and confusion.

"Reader-Proofing" The First Ten Pages - We all know the first ten pages are the most important in your script but HOW can you have your best chance of passing this first hurdle? I break down EXACTLY what you can do.

Script Reader Myths - Worried about sending your work "out there" to those Nazi readers?? Don't be... I tell you why.

And as a bonus:

"Lost The Plot" - this article talks about structure and how it impacts on plot and originally appeared in the fabbo Moviescope Magazine waaaaay back in 20008.

SO HOW DO YOU GET THESE ARTICLES?

Simply email me at Bang2writeAThotmailDOTcoDOTuk - and join Dropbox when you receive the link from me! (Because I've referred you I get some extra space you see).

These articles will only be available a short while, so make sure you tell all your writery friends!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Thoughts On The London Doc Summit (Dec 3-4 2011, Regent's College) by Kristen Vermilyea

I was GUTTED to be unable to attend Team LSF's latest offering at Regent's College last weekend - the brilliant-sounding Doc Summit, all about documentary. Luckily for all us Bang2writers, the marvellous Kristen Vermilyea has stepped into the breach to write it up for us. Thanks Kristen! And enjoy...

As I sat in my seat watching the room fill up and waiting for the first ever London Documentary Summit to begin, I decided I should visit the loo. Feeling ever so trusting of my new friends, I left my jacket and bag at my seat and ventured down the hall to find the ladies. No sooner had I pushed the door open did I hear, “All full” from a voice behind the door. As I turned back to wait in the hall, another woman came behind me and was about to open the door. I passed on the ‘all full’ message and we both stood there, but only for a moment as a very helpful and smiling face told us of a secret rest room down the hall, past the security desk, and down the stairs. We both thanked the woman with the inside scoop and headed downstairs.

It’s funny, because we’ve all been there - two strangers headed from and to the same place but not exchanging a word. For a brief second I thought to myself, ‘you really should say hello. She’s obviously here for the same reason you are and it never hurts to say hello...’ But I couldn’t be bothered and though we smiled and held doors for one another, we didn’t exchange any words.

Back in the stuffy little room, and after our hosts, Chris Jones and and Andrew Zinnes welcomed us, guess who was introduced as the first speaker? Yup. The woman from the loo. Her name is Jo Lapping and she is with BBC Storyville.

Over the course of the two day summit, Jo, along with 11 other speakers, spoke candidly about everything from what networks and producers are looking for, to how to find a distributor, write a solid treatment, increase your online presence, navigate your way through post production, how to pitch your idea, the difference between 24p and 25p, festivals to check out and how you might actually get paid for your film! (I could give you the answers, but that wouldn’t be fair, now would it? Come to next year’s event and find out for yourself!)

Here are a few things I came away with:

As a documentary filmmaker, you need to focus on narrative; this point was driven home by just about every speaker over the course of the weekend. Not only does one need to constantly ask oneself what the story really is, as filmmaker Geoffrey Smith brought up, one needs to realize that the film’s story is not the same as the film’s narrative. What is the underlying story? For example, his film, The English Surgeon is about an English Doctor traveling to Ukraine to do an operation, but the real story is about, in Smith’s own words, “one man’s struggle to do good things”.

While this may seem logical and second nature, it seems that it really may not be for some of us. So many films are just following the life of someone or an event or a specific history, but unless there is the thread of a narrative, just like in fiction films, the story falls flat and fails to deliver.

Chris Atkins, director of Taking Liberties explained by using examples from his films, the legal concept of Fair Use (Fair Dealing in the UK), something that perhaps not everyone will encounter in their filmmaking, but a very important tool nonetheless.

He emphasized the need for a good lawyer and that one that is expensive is not a bad thing, if they really know their stuff. If you hire a cheaper lawyer who is less experienced, it will take them more hours to get to the same place and in the end, end up costing you more money. (Duh.) He was so adamant about this fact that several audience members asked for the name of the law firm with whom he works. (Again, I would share, but this time my reason being that I cannot read my own handwriting - but the first name does look to be Simon or Simons, for what it’s worth.)

I also gleaned lots of helpful little nuggets from Chris Jones’ two presentations on post production and social media for filmmakers, and was quite pleased with myself for already being engaged in many of the platforms which he mentioned (though not as active as I need to be, so pat on the back withheld).

He asked this room of almost one hundred people how many people were on Twitter and only a smattering raised their hands. He then went on to ask how many were tweeting from the summit and there were only 6. (this time I did manage to pat myself on the back, but admittedly, it had been quite some time since I had tweeted and it was likely to complain about motherhood to the price of chicken at the grocery in Zurich.)

Tim Spark of distributor Mercury Media, went on at length about the distribution process which I found enlightening and frankly worth the price of admission. As distribution can often prove to be the most difficult part of making a film and so many of us don’t have a clue how it works, I found the info that Tim provided trĂ©s helpful.

In addition to the traditional distribution model, we heard about Distrify, a revolutionary way to monetize your film. I was so jazzed about this that I called my producing partner (from a film we shot seven years ago that we got distribution for in the states) and asked her to look up how long the contract was for. We never saw a dime and this would be a great way to reinvigorate the film and maybe even give the investors (my parents) back some of the money the invested in the film! (I’m not holding my breath, of course, but as they are never expecting a dime in return, wouldn’t it be great to give them a check for even 50 bucks?!)

The only disappointing thing about the weekend was that there was no official networking event, though I was told that they (Chris and Alex) repeatedly tried to have one and their plans were dashed for one reason or another. They did emphasize that we needed to introduce ourselves to one another and network (like grownups do, I’m told), but it was still difficult, as people tend to stay in their groups and without a drink in hand, it can be difficult (so I’m told).

I did force myself to sit with a group (of handsome men - can you blame me?) at lunch the first day and it turns out that one of them went to college in the states with my high school boyfriend and another may just be helping my produce my doc. And on top of that, due to our quick and fast bond, I was invited to drinks and dinner with the group and didn’t have to be all alone in a foreign city - lucky me!

So, to recap:

You never know with whom you’ll be headed to the loo so always at least hold the door. Even when there is no official networking event, do try to say hello. Even if you consider yourself shy. Create and maintain a presence on the web on everything from Facebook to Twitter to About.me and more. Write, write, write. Go out and make films you are passionate about. As is true with anything in life, your passion and enthusiasm for things is contagious and this is how things catch fire and move forward. Connect. Stay connected. Don't be afraid to ask for help and partnership.

Was it worth flying over from Zurich? Indeed. I look forward to continuing and creating more relationships in hopes of working in London and here in Switzerland. And if you’re looking for a great place to shoot ... come on over - we have Alps!
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Kristen Vermilyea is an actor, writer, producer, blogger, voice-over artist, film festival consultant and 'go-er', excessive ruminator and reluctant hausfrau. She lives in Zurich, Switzerland and you can see her website here. Follow her on Twitter here.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

What Is The Difference Between An NDA & A Release Form?

A couple of Bang2writers messaged me yesterday via email and FB chat, asking about NDAs and release forms, so I thought it might be of use to repeat it here for anyone else who might be wondering.

What is an NDA?

NDA stands for "non disclosure agreement". This is something PRODUCTION COMPANIES may send out with its scripts to readers like me. This is not because they are afraid *I* will steal their script, but because they are afraid rival companies will get the heads-up on their project... Essentially it's a note to me saying I shouldn't talk (or tweet, or Facebook, or write blog posts - as if!) about their project for a certain period of time (usually between 1 and 3 years, to allow for development/production). Projects with NDAs are usually "packaged" - which usually means they have a cast attached, a budget drawn up, maybe they've even started production or are in post production. Since SO MUCH MONEY can be involved in filmmaking (even "low budget" pictures can be upwards of two hundred thousand pounds to make), NDAs can be a good idea. That said, even packaged movies sometimes will not ask me to sign NDAs - it's just not good manners for me to talk about someone else's project, never mind leak details and I never would, anyway.

What is a release form?

A release form is a "permission to read" document and again, something a PRODUCTION COMPANY may ask a writer to sign before they will consider reading his/her script. Usually the release form will ask the writer to not hold the company liable for any SIMILAR projects they may develop that's NOT the writer's script in question, after it has been read by said company - or, in other words:

If we read your script... then make a film that's not your script but is *like* your script... You can't sue us.

A lot of new writers believe release forms are so ruthless production companies can RIP WRITERS OFF with abandon. This is not the case. The production company is instead merely protecting itself from lawsuits from those new writers who believe all prodcos are out to rip off writers. After all, given the amount of ever popular ideas and similar specs doing the rounds, there is a stronger than average chance a writer *will* see a similar idea to theirs go into production and then go off on one legally about it. Better to sidestep the problem before it becomes an issue - hence release forms.

As a writer, should I send NDAs out with my spec?

Absolutely not. For one thing, there's a strong chance people will not read it! It's considered paranoid and frankly, unprofessional. As a general rule, Bang2write does NOT read specs with NDAs attached from individuals as I believe it contributes to this bogus culture of paranoia regarding copyright. Whilst this has meant some writers have then said "Well I'm not sending my script to get read by you", I can honestly say I can't even remember when this last happened, so I think avoiding NDAs works - I'd wager many more writers are realistic about this issue NOW than say, five years ago.

As a writer, should I sign release forms?

The more release forms you see from production companies, the more you will see they're much the same: the language, what they set out, their intention. And certainly, if you want to be read in America, you will more often HAVE to sign release forms than not (they don't seem as big a deal over here). That said, if you happen to see a release form that sets alarm bells ringing in terms of being considerably different to what you've seen before, or if you've never seen one before and aren't sure what to expect, then simply ask someone who's dealt with them before - there are so many online groups on Facebook, LinkedIn and of course #scriptchat on Twitter, you will more than likely have your concerns answered before the day is out.

Good luck!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Creative Ways To Edit Outside The Box by Mariana Ashley

It can be really difficult just knowing where to start when it comes to editing our own work, so here are some GREAT editing tips from Bang2writer Mariana Ashley this morning - useful to us novelist types, but also screenwriters! Thanks Mariana! I'm fairly certain that editing is one of the most underutilized tools in modern writing, particularly for those who self-publish. I understand and sympathize with this wholeheartedly. It is difficult enough being expected to churn out great writing from nothing on a regular basis; add editing to this and you have a full plate. On top of all of this, editing is not the most enjoyable of activities in the first place. Luckily, there are some unique editing methods that might make the process much more interesting and effective. While editing is never easy (it is meant to challenge and test limits), hopefully these methods will at least make the process more appealing.

Edit Backwards
Try editing your work backwards one sentence at a time. This forces you to slow down your editing process by isolating each sentence with a hiccup, and also gives you a unique perspective of your work. You will undoubtedly spot some dull phrases that previously seemed to "flow" well enough in context; now you can tweak them and improve your piece overall.

Read Aloud
As much as this editing convention is advised, I still find it underused. Reading aloud makes mistakes seem more apparent and easily reveals the areas of your work that read awkwardly. You will also notice small grammatical errors like omitted or scrambled words.

Speed Read
While everyone seems to associate slow, meticulous reading with editing, I also find it helpful to give a very quick skim of your draft as well. Keep in mind the structure of the work and what each paragraph or section is trying to accomplish. This should give you a better holistic view of the work.

Micro Editing
If you have time to be extra thorough, you might want to try reading through the draft with focus to only one specific element of language. You could, for instance, only look at how punctuation is used or verbs (and verb tense). Micro editing is great when you have an idea what your weak points are in writing and language.

Take a Break
It's best not to edit a draft all in one sitting. If you work too long on one draft, you will start to have ideas and make assumptions about the draft that aren't actually written in it. Taking a break (I would say at least a few hours) will keep your view of the draft honest and accurate. Just be sure that your editing process doesn't consist entirely of breaks.

Change Document Formatting
After you come back from a break, to get a truly fresh perspective of the draft, you should perhaps try editing the document's formatting (font, spacing, etc.). This will psychologically distance you even further from your original draft, inducing a more objective editing process.

Get Someone Else to Read It
This obviously isn't the most unique of editing methods, but you may be surprised how much it isn't implemented by writers. Some may be nervous about sharing a fresh draft with critical eyes. Others may just be unsure of who to give it. I recommend giving it to other writers and educators; both should do a fair share of critical reading to give you effective criticism.
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Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to mariana.ashley031ATgmailDOTcom.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Can I Write A Sequel Of My Spec - Even If The Original Script Has Not Been Produced?

I've had this question a couple of times in recent weeks, plus I've dealt with it with Bang2writers more than once, so I thought it could do with a post of its own.

The short answer is: YES. Of course you can. You can do anything you want. That's Spec Writing 101.

But wait, wait...

Is it a GOOD idea to write a sequel of your spec?

Hmmmm.... Not really. And I'll explain why.

We all have limited time, whether we're writers, readers or BigAss Execs. Potentially, writing a spec that DEPENDS on someone having read the FIRST one may not be the greatest idea. What if they didn't like the first one? Or what if they don't have time to read two scripts? It might severely impact on whether either even gets out the envelope or email inbox.

"But this story/these characters have so much more mileage!" writers complain.

Great. Everybody loves mileage. So here's what you do...

... Don't make that second spec a sequel in the traditional sense - MAKE IT A COMPANION INSTEAD.

In other words, have the same characters, the follow up story, WHATEVER --- but just make sure it STANDS ALONE.

Now you have the best of both worlds: you get to write the characters you love again... But that reader, producer, director, actor or whomever you're sending it to doesn't HAVE to read the first script in order to "get it".

You really do get 2 for the price of 1.

Of course you could do exactly the same for a prequel... Or for a WHOLE FRANCHISE. If your idea really will run and run, why not? If it's the best idea in the world - and who says it can't be? - I don't really see a producer somewhere down the line saying, "Oh you know what? We *were* interested in this idea until I saw you'd written thirteen individual scripts all with their own arc and and great merchandise potential". AS IF. Worst case scenario is, they'll take the one they like and ignore the rest. So go for it if that's what you want! No rules, remember.

Good luck!

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Self Belief: Can Do Attitude

Once upon a time - not so long ago, actually - writers had TOO MUCH self belief. They'd send first drafts off the moment they wrote FADE OUT and were CONSUMED WITH RAGE when they go the inevitable feedback, "this needs more work". Who the HELL were these readers anyway???

Then The Scribosphere happened and writers started grouping together: blogs came first, then Facebook, then Twitter. Writers were no longer writing in quite the isolation they were before. First they simply chatted about writing. Then they started to share experiences. Then their actual work.

That's when the script pile started to change. Readers began to notice there were not quite so many first drafts in the pile; there were not so many obvious mistakes (especially in format) and characters and structure were not missing opportunities in the narratives they would have before. Readers looked upon it all AND SAW THAT IT WAS GOOD.

Except there was one thing that was not so good.

Writers began to lose their self belief.

It didn't "just" happen. It was a slow and stealthy process. Where once upon a time a writer could conceive of an idea and have the confidence to see it through to the end of the draft, these days they require the feedback of OTHERS - whether paid-for readers like me or their peers - to VALIDATE them. Slowly but surely, writers have come to RELY TOO MUCH on feedback.

(I'm sure your jaws have just hit the floor. I know: I'm a SCRIPT READER, I "shouldn't" be saying this. But then, as I've said before I'm not in this for the money, because there isn't that much. I do this job because I want to help writers. It is as simple as that. And of course feedback in GENERAL is good... but relying on it to inform your own belief on how "good" or "ready" your script is?? Noooooooo.).

And there's more. Writers not only began to rely too much on feedback, they began to rely too much on people's ideas of what makes "good" writing - either the finished product or the *way* of getting words on the page. In short, writers started to procrastinate over HOW they should write the "right" way, putting too much stock in "techniques" like those I mentioned in my previous blog post.

(Yes, I know there's a certain irony in writing a blog post about how writers rely too much on blogs about writing - but then the remit of *this* blog has always been: "There are no checklists. There are no formulas. There are no rules. There are no "ways". Do it YOUR WAY").

Writers could be a pain in the ass back in the early noughties, I'm not denying it. You try telling a writer who's given you a 328 page screenplay in Comic Sans that's leather bound with gold embossed lettering on the front you won't read it! Chances are, you'll be there three days later answering outraged emails. It's tedious and annoying.

But that nutcase noughties writer still had something too few writers TODAY have: self belief. A writer without self belief has NOTHING. Seriously. That writer might get words down on paper, but s/he will not get much further. Either literally, as s/he hides away from the *other*, just as important, element of scriptwriting, which is marketing themselves... Or metaphorically, because s/he CANNOT LET GO of their work, rewriting over and over, it's always a work in progress, it's never "finished". They work hard, but basically tread water forever. Two different ways of getting to the SAME OUTCOME. There are others too, but those are the two biggies.

There might be no rules to writing, but one thing I am certain of, having worked with copious amounts of writers over the years:

The writers that "make it" (whatever that means) are the ones with SELF BELIEF. They have the confidence not only to get the words down on paper, they get their scripts out there and actively pursue every opportunity and avenue they can in marketing themselves, too. They don't apologise for their work; they don't worry what others think of them, either - and they don't DEPEND on feedback to validate them or their scripts. They can recognise feedback with an agenda and they know their OWN motives for writing what they do. What's more, they have the confidence to abandon projects that are not working and do not haul themselves over the coals for "failing" - because it is NOT a failure to junk a project. It's just part of the process.

But most of all, the writers I see doing well tend to have this attitude:

"Why NOT me? Why CAN'T I do well at this?"

ANSWER: there is no reason they "can't"... so they DO.

Sure, all of us have dark moments when we wonder why the hell we bother, especially when there's a run of rejections: we wouldn't be human, else. But if you open every new file thinking negative thoughts of how you're never going to get anywhere with this writing lark, perhaps now is the time to move on to something different. Good luck!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How To Write Great Characters

It's oft-said that it's *all* about characters, so one thing Bang2writers ask me about over and over again is "how" to write a "great character".

Sorry, but there is no actual *way*. Lots of people advocate various techniques... But most are a variation on that fabled notion of "getting inside a character's head". Character questionnaires, talking to/visiting the very people you want to write about and what Dom Carver calls "method writing" are a good start in terms of representing one's characters... but that's all they are: a START. I don't think "getting in the character's head" is even HALF of the game, but more of that in a sec.

In the meantime, here are some recommendations I make to Bang2writers struggling with their characters:

No such thing. One of the reasons there is no specific "way" to write a great character, is because there is no such thing as a universally "great" one. Though some are more popular than others, ask a room of people who their favourite is and there is a strong chance every one of them will be different. That's obvious stuff. Yet what is not so obvious is how to create *a* character that "resonates" with someone, anyone - because writers are so busy chasing after that mythical notion of THE GREAT CHARACTER EVERYONE LOVES. Let this restrictive element go and suddenly you have the freedom to explore things you may not have conceived before.

If someone does not like your character, that is not a failure. Of course we want everyone to love our characters. They're our BABIES. But if someone HATES your character? STILL A SCORE. Any emotion is better than none. That's why, to me, even T2's version of Sarah Connor is a big SUCCESS - I might not like her, but what's that got to do with anything? I've NOTICED HER. Kudos to Jimmy C.

Contradictory feedback on characters happens. Deal with it. Because everyone's idea of what makes a "good" character is different, be prepared for contradictory feedback. Here's some I got recently:

[The character] is a strong enough personality to participate in the narrative, but not so strong the audience cannot imagine THEMSELVES in her place, allowing them to identify with her... Subtle and clever.

Whilst [the character] has an interesting arc, I didn't feel suitably "close" enough to her to be able to identify with her properly.


Who's right? Both of them, neither of them... I have to ask MYSELF what I was trying to achieve with that character and base my decision on THAT, not rely on what *someone else* says... That way madness lies.

Great characters need great stories. Whilst many people say it's "all" about the characters, I don't actually believe this. Story and character are a symbiotic relationship; you can't have one without the other. And I'm not sure a GREAT character (whatever that is) can be borne out of an underdeveloped story. So if a Bang2writer is struggling with their characters (for whatever reason), I often recommend they look to their story FIRST - is it "wanting" in some way? Is that *why* this character will not fall into line? It's surprising how many writers go round the houses trying to fix characters when it's the story those characters are within that needs fixing... You wouldn't simply put buckets down to catch the water from a leaky roof and forget about it; you'd fix the roof, wouldn't you?

So:

Going back to that notion then of "getting in the character's head" and it not being the full story... Working with writers over the years, I've noticed a reluctance from many to really pin down WHY they want to conceive the stories and characters they want to write about. In fact, they'll often do anything BUT that, whether it's obsess over dialogue and format or what a character has had for breakfast.

Yet knowing WHY you write the stories and characters you do is often KEY to breaking open those very characters those same writers want to "get in the heads of". The reason for this is very simple: your characters are essentially YOU. They cannot exist without you. They are the ultimate parasites. They are based on your own thoughts and experiences - how can they not? - and you REPRESENT those characters according to the agenda (or "point") your STORY has, which will also be based on your own thoughts and experiences. Alan writes a great post here about it, in fact.

In essence then, the "head" you need to get into is not the characters' so much, but YOUR OWN - and without understanding exactly why you've chosen *this* character and *this* story, I would venture you could be severely limiting your ability to "get into the character's head" anyway. All the character questionnaires and whatnot in the world is unlikely to help when a producer asks you *that* question they ask so often:

"Why this story?"

I've seen so many writers falter with that question or a variation of it. As a result meetings go awry and writers lose opportunities they may otherwise have been able to grab with both hands. It's a mega shame too, since these meetings often take place months or even YEARS after those writers started the script.

Stories are generally about journeys. Journeys can take absolutely ANY road. As a result, I would venture we as writers need to understand where we've come from, where are we are now and where we're going as it has a knock-on effect on our writing. If we haven't a clue WHY we have chosen a particular story and the characters within it, then it's like guiding our characters in the dark with a blind fold on... We're lost before we start.

So next time, when you're tempted to really try and get in your character's head, think of your own first. Do YOU know why you've chosen this story? Do you know what its purpose is, how your character represents that, who it would appeal to and WHY it deserves to exist *more* than others like it in the pile? Because if you don't, no one else will. Once you've nailed all that down, you can fill in as many character questionnaires as you like.... Go!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

EveryWoman: Where Is She?

I was at The Underwire Festival this weekend just past, celebrating women in film, behind AND in front of the camera, though my session was called "A Room of Her Own: Writing Leading Ladies". Here I am, with Underwire host Gemma Mitchell, fellow writer and director Ben Blaine & StarNow casting agent and actress, Jessica Manins... Hope to see you there next year!

I had thought I had heard every possible argument FOR including more female POVs in terms of characterisation, but an interesting insight came up during the session which even I had not considered in-depth before:

"Why is there only "room" for "extraordinary" women?"

This came from one of Underwire's founders, the fabulous (not to mention extraordinary) Gabriella Apicella, whom you can follow on Twitter here.

Let's rewind a minute, before I address Gabriella's query. If we look to leading men in film, the stamp "hero" is very much in evidence. These guys are fighters in a both literal AND metaphorical way, going for truth, justice or survival and dragging us all with them in their wake. They can be ACTIVE, INTERESTING and most of all VARIED... It doesn't matter what your "version" of a hero is, whether that's a guy, walking away from an explosion in a tattered vest or an understated, quiet lawyer or something in-between: film's got you covered, baby.

What's more, male protagonists even cover the ANTI-HERO - that guy who's not even remotely like the TRADITIONAL HERO type, someone who may even be a VILE HUMAN BEING, yet still an audience may get on board with him *for some reason* and NOT always for the "classic" reasons... ie. "vile human being learns to become decent human being".

In other words, male leads in film can be pretty much ANYTHING. And why not?

Yet despite this, female leads in film are not permitted the same scope to be as VARIED - instead they kick ass, are cold bitches or are victims. So when there IS an interesting, flawed woman, all the females in the audience are so busy saying "Oh! Thank God for that, for once I haven't had my brain sucked out by this representation of a woman" they forget to ask ANOTHER burning question:

"Why only one?"

Think about it. A male lead in a film might be his own man, but so are his buddies, henchmen and nemesis too. There is a veritable SEA of men in your average feature film.

Yet if we have an interesting, flawed FEMALE LEAD? Typically - it's JUST HER, either literally or metaphorically as she FORCES her head above the crowd.

The knee jerk reaction to Gabriella's query is obvious, then: ALL characters, regardless of gender, race or whatever should be extraordinary. Shouldn't they...?

Yes. And no. And the reason is just as obvious:

The EveryMan character.

Just like film has got the male HERO and ANTI-HERO character sewn up, The EveryMan Character is just as valid as a character arc. The Everyman is conceived as an ordinary character with whom the audience is supposed to be able to identify easily because it COULD BE THEM, only in extraordinary circumstances - immediately making a mockery of the notion that ALL characters MUST be extraordinary. Because they don't!

Think of David Mann in Spielberg's debut feature, DUEL. For me, David is the epitome of the EveryMan character - check out his surname!! He's a normal bloke, wanting to get home. We know relatively little about him other than that. It's been a while since I've seen the movie, but I recall a brief reference to the fact he has a family and he works in an office. End of the day, the movie is about how he, as a "normal bloke" deals with that seriously ABNORMAL trucker and the attempts made on his life.

On this basis then, where is EveryWoman?

DUEL is a great example of a strong genre movie that still delivers, despite not having an "extraordinary" character in the lead. Yet even in drama, it's not often we see EveryWoman, even if the female characterisation is GOOD. Instead, those women are LARGER THAN LIFE, no matter what.

It shouldn't be hard to conceive of an "ordinary" woman and put her in "extraordinary" circumstances, yet we see her with disturbingly far less frequency than EveryMan. Instead, if we ever see female leads (and they're not falling into stereotypical territory), then they are nearly always EXTRAORDINARY in some way, with "special skills" of some kind that set her apart. Though this *can* be a good start, is she automatically needed? Maybe an EveryWoman character in her place could give your script the edge in terms of getting an audience on board.

Perhaps Execs fear they are "talking down" to the female section of the audience by suggesting there is such a thing as an "EveryWoman"? Yet I am one. I tick various boxes on the "normal woman" scale: Married - check. Kids - check. Working - check. I do the school run, the shopping and the washing. I see nothing to be ashamed of, just because I am not kicking ass with my martial arts skillz, seducing superheroes or leading bank heists on a regular basis.

So next time you sit down to dream up a female protagonist, don't ignore the existence of EveryWoman. She could be just what your script and story needs, to make your audience relate to your journey.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

USP, PT 2: You, The Writer

So three or four times a year I have a conversation with a writer that goes like this:

WRITER: I've got this great script and I'm working with some great people, we're going to take it all the way and get it made.

ME: Brilliant, good for you.

WRITER: Are you interested in collaborations?

ME: Always.

WRITER: Well, I've got this Science Fiction TV pilot...

ME: ... Ah. I won't waste your time. I don't do Science Fiction. Or TV.

WRITER: Why not?

ME: Because I haven't seen a Science Fiction spec in about 5 years that's sold me on its USP for the audience.

WRITER: That's because you haven't read mine yet.

ME: I'm afraid I'm just not interested in a collaboration.

WRITER: But TV is ace and full of high concept Science Fiction stuff at the moment.

ME: Soz. I can't help you.

Note that I report on and help develop both science fiction and TV pilots when writers HIRE me - this post relates solely to me being part of a team to get a project MADE... And the above does NOT play out because I want to lord it over the writer in a "I'm more experienced than you" type of way - when it comes to TV, I'm completely inexperienced. Though I've had meetings with /pitched to indie TV prodcos, a few broadcasters and even done a bunch of trial scripts for TV soaps, I've never *done* TV in terms of getting out of development hell and onto the actual screen. Similarly, it's not that I DON'T LIKE Science Fiction as an actual genre; though I find it largely tired and familiar at the moment (even in commissioned shows), that's not to say I wouldn't like an idea just because it's Sci-Fi. I've enjoyed MANY shows and features under the SF banner.

No, it all comes down to this:

Science Fiction is not part of my USP's remit. Nor is traditional TV (outside the notion of "transmedia"). They're just not what I do.

So what DO I do?

The List:

Features

Female protagonists

Thriller

"Issues" - ie. women's rights, teenage pregnancy, drugs, poverty

Parenthood

Novels

Horror

Script Editing

Genre

Non-linearity

Romantic Comedy

Transmedia/Multi-Platform Content Delivery

Social Networking & blogging

... And I bet not ONE on that list surprised you much, right?

That's because I've spent a LONG time cultivating my USP, not only in my own work and type of work/teams I attach to, but in the way I represent myself at events like London Screenwriters Festival and online, via this blog, Facebook and Twitter.

But how can a writer develop his/her own USP, or identify what theirs is? Here's a few thoughts:

USPs don't arrive overnight. I spent a long time refining and adding to my USP. From the list I obviously began as a blogger, script editor and feature writer. I was interested in Genre, specifically Horror. My interest in female protagonists came next, specifically when I noticed how few in the spec pile there were, then how many female characters were subjected to gratuitous rape scenes. A lot of the rest came organically: for example, it was not until I joined Facebook and Twitter I noticed the surge in interest in my parenting tweets, specifically those about "Male Spawn" and "Wee Girl" - I had originally tweeted these as comic relief, nothing more. However other tweeters and Facebookers started to talk to me about their own children and then - oddly - even ask my advice! Before I knew it parenting, though not technically part of my ACTUAL work at that time, had become part of my online persona... Which then became part of real life: at London Screenwriters Festival last year I ran a session with Media Parents on being a freelancer, then I ended up writing a novel about teenage pregnancy and young parenthood, so it all came full circle. It probably will again somehow!

A USP is not a quick fix. A well-developed USP takes years and is always a work in progress. I would argue that as soon as you think you're "there" in terms of your USP, it will take a weird turn... To illustrate my point, if the writer in the example conversation on this post said, "I have a great URBAN sci-fi..." I might not have been so quick to tell him/her "I don't do SF". Why? Because of ATTACK THE BLOCK's success this year, which I also happened to think was pretty ace. Basically, if you work on the basis "anything can happen", you will be receptive to those opportunities that come knocking when you least expect it.

A USP may alienate, as well as attract people. Some writers are desperate to write EVERYTHING in the hope this will mean producers will find them more attractive. I have Bang2writers who have attempted every genre, in every format going. This isn't necessarily a bad strategy, but I do question whether those writers are in danger of becoming Jacks Of All Trades. Far better I think to pick something and do it really well, than try everything and do it OK. The one downer of the former however may be that some people will not consider you because of the perceived notion of *who* you are, which can be particularly problematic if you're a woman or part of a minority not well represented in the media, as it is very easy to become victim of a double standard. ie. opinionated men are apparently "legends", whereas opinionated women are apparently "obnoxious". But if you feel a more obvious USP could work for you, then you also need to be prepared to be rejected for it, as well as accepted for it.

A USP is NOT fake. Critics of writers marketing themselves as well as their work (often you will hear the lament, "the work should speak for itself!") will say writers are "faking it", especially online when it comes to social networking. I can't speak for all writers attempting to market themselves here, but can tell you that, whilst I strive very hard to refine and maintain my online persona in particular, there is not one single element of it that is out-and-out fake. I write so much online I simply would not be able to keep track!!! What you see is what you get with me - just the polished version, meltdowns included. I like to create a sense of drama; I won't apologise for it. It's what writers are meant to do, as far as I'm concerned... And which is why I don't *tend* to tweet about how ill feel; how depressed I am; how busy or stressed I am or what I'm cooking for tea. It's dull. Sure I feel/think/do all of those things, but I've CUT THEM OUT of my online persona, in the way a screenwriter edits out the boring bits of their script, like your protagonist needing to go to the loo!!!

A USP is your "Mission Statement". Don't get hung up on whether your USP is "good" or "bad" or "needed". I got some great advice once, which was "Go for what you feel YOU need and what you feel the INDUSTRY needs *from* you." There's no limit on what your USP can include, though I would argue a few key elements are what makes them fly. As someone said at London Screenwriters Festival only recently, "Can't think of "Lucy V" without thinking "female protagonists"!" And that's the whole point.

So what's your USP, as a writer?

Monday, November 21, 2011

USP, Pt 1: Your Project

DISCLAIMER: If you think screenwriting is all about art or originality, talent or simply "great writing" (whatever that is), then go away. You won't like this post. Don't say you weren't warned.

Still here? Right. Here goes.

... So, you've got a GREAT idea. What's its USP?

USP = Unique. Selling. Point.

*This* is the point of screenwriting. It doesn't matter how arty or original your idea is; it doesn't matter how talented you are; it doesn't matter how fabulously written your script is on the page. You could be all three of these things and if producers or financiers can't pin down your work's USP, they will not take a punt on it.

Think about it... Why should they? If your project hasn't got that "je ne se quois" we have not seen before, if it's not the same but different, if it isn't OBVIOUS as to WHOM this piece is for and WHY, those producers would be literally throwing a load of money in development, production AND marketing down the drain. That's a loooooooot of cash.

And this is what writers persistently seem unable to grasp: it is NOT just about nabbing a producer with your butterfly net: that is only half the story, maybe even a third. The battle STARTS when you have a producer - now you have to find your AUDIENCE.

And audiences are demanding bitches! Think of your place in one... 'Cos we're all in one. For example - I love Crime Drama and this love affair began with CSI. I do not tend to watch Law & Order. Why? 'Cos I like the CSI "versions" (not flashback) and I don't like the somewhat drier tone of Law and Order. Law & Order is actually a great programme, but end of the day, I don't actually care about the justice SYSTEM - when it comes to crime drama, I want to watch hero/ine cops doing cheesy one-liners and walking, slo-mo in arty camera shots. So it stands to reason I love NCIS just as much as all the CSIs. It has the jokey tone of the CSIs, but crucially doesn't try to **BE** CSI; it has its own narrative logic; its own character/group dynamic and it also tends to have much more explosive action or stunts every week, as opposed to being generally reserved to finales or season openers like in the CSIs. Crucially too, NCIS has the cool value of the CSIs' "versions" of the crime, but focuses instead on CHARACTER REACTION to what has happened/will happen next, those fantastic "black and white photo" moments, as opposed to the stories of the week... A subtle but HUGE difference.

That's how NCIS got commissioned when the CSI franchise was already in existence. They wouldn't have just said, "Oh, it's CSI - but in the military!" (though that would have been a great start). They would have focused on not just on the similarities, but on the DIFFERENCES, because otherwise an audience would ask (quite understandably), "Why watch NCIS when I can watch CSI already?"

Now let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, I worked on a script with a producer and director (the director had written the script, I was attached as a script consultant/associate producer). It was set in the future and people were mutating all over the place in weird and wonderful ways, so its most obvious reference point was The X Men, though there was shades of Torchwood as well. The plan was to make it an comic and animated web series.

To say I was excited about this project is an understatement. The script itself was a diamond; the dialogue in particular was something I hadn't seen before - knowing and funny, whilst NOT trying to be Joss Whedon. The storyboards were done by an AMAZING artist and as super-deluxe comic freaks, the producer and director were 100% committed to their story. They had a brilliant plan which included a fantastic social media strategy. They were speaking to a mega-talented animator who believed she could bring the 2D comic panels to life in 5 minute segments, which would be paid for via advertising and ideally distributed via social media networks and shared by users.

In short they had it all nailed down. Except one thing:

The USP.

What was different about this project, in comparison to the many, many X-Men-and Torchwood-like-projects that were doing the rounds about at that time?

Answer: nothing.

Every meeting we went to, every pitch we blew down various financiers with our foresight into *how* we would make this and get this done. But then, as is so often the case, would come that question:

"What is the USP?"

In short, the story was JUST LIKE The X Men... too like it. It was too much the SAME and not enough of DIFFERENT. Just how were we going to hook the audience and MAKE THEM WATCH? What was special about ours, in comparison to not only all the other specs out there, but all the other superhero stuff already in creation?

So we started combing through it in desperation. Female protagonist? Nope, science fiction has that all covered in a tradition that goes back thirty years. A Dystopian vision of the future? Nope, Sci fi has that in the spades. A Utopia? Ditto. Is it for children? Facebook and the like has an age limit, audience is compromised, especially in the under 10s - and kids don't tend to use Twitter. For adults? Nope, we already have sexy SF. We started to freak out and did some mad drafts, including one where we tried to go for the mythical "urban sci fi" and ended up writing a pornographic version of The Terminator meets The Matrix. What. The. Hell...

... We were screwed.

"We have a great script!" The director wailed.

And it's true - we DID.

"We have a great package, we've thought of everything!" The producer cried.

And it's true - we DID.

But it wasn't enough. It wasn't different enough. We couldn't find anyone to give us the cold, hard cash. And we ended up junking it.

So next time you think "originality is overrated" (which is certainly true), be sure to think NEXT:

What's special or different about MY project in comparison to all the others?

What will MAKE my audience watch?

NEXT: Why having a USP as a writer helps your career.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Relationships & Teamwork

We all know by now it's not JUST about the writing. We should all be getting "out there" and creating relationships, too. But what does this really mean, bar the obvious, like not hiding away out of sight?

I am not a religious person and nor is my family, but I went to a church school when I was a little kid. Obviously much was made then of various tales and parables in the scriptures, particularly ones about teamwork, like:

A father takes his son out to a forest and shows him a stick. He gives it to his son and tells him to break it. The son does so, easily. Then the father gives his son a whole bunch of sticks and tells him to break those instead. The son tries and can't. The message? "Strength in numbers".

Or perhaps the slightly creepier:

A man doubts if there's an Afterlife, so an angel comes down and says he will prove it to him. First, the angel takes the man to Hell. Far from being the firepit he imagines, the man is escorted into a large banquet hall. There is a huge table and it is filled with wonderful, sumptuous food. But everyone who is seated at the table is totally miserable. Why? Because they have to use giant chopsticks to eat the food, which they can't get into their own bowls and mouths - they are damned instead for eternity to look at this great stuff and not enjoy themselves. Ouch. Then the angel takes the man to Heaven - and the man is knocked over sideways when he sees EXACTLY THE SAME SCENARIO there. "How can this be?" The man says, "This is supposed to be Heaven!" But the angel smiles knowingly and sure enough, the people in Heaven pick up *their* chopsticks and instead feed the person OPPOSITE with their food, who in turns reciprocates the action for them, unlike down in Hell. The message? "Happiness is working together".

So, this is not a post about the rights and wrongs of the Bible (or indeed religion in general), but about the joys of teamwork.

I spend a lot of time talking to and working with writers and it always surprises me how few are receptive to the notion of teamwork. Instead, they often seem to think it's all about writing *the* great script, then taking it out into the world, then snaring an option, producer and development deal (and eventually production) with some kind of virtual butterfly net.

Of course, for some writers this does happen. But they are not the norm. And the likelihood of it happening? Must be millions to one. For one thing, your great script is probably not as great as you think it is. And even if it is, it has to be the *right* time for it. And there has to be money available (which doesn't suddenly disappear). And then you have to find a producer who doesn't want to make HIS/HER own ideas instead.

Talk about lining up all your ducks in a row!!! But the purpose of this post is not to depress you, so let me continue.

We all know the odds are against us. Some of us carry doggedly on... and good for you, if you're one of these people. After all, anything can happen. I really believe that. And if you apply and enter EVERYTHING in the known universe to do with writing, go to all the events and network your ass off, then by the law of averages something has to happen eventually. How can it not? As long as you can withstand the rejection and that worse feeling of "standing still" that sometimes comes for months or even years on end, it's the way to go.

But if you DO get depressed at throwing spaghetti at the wall like this, then I have a solution for you:

Don't work alone. Become part of a TEAM.

In this team, you're the writer. So get a director, a producer - and anything else you feel you need. What about a script editor? Editor? Cinematographer? Actors if you know them; if they have a "following" or are famous, even better. What about a person with *the knowledge* if you need it, ie. an advisor of some kind if you're writing about something specialist. Hey, have someone on board who's dead good at MORAL SUPPORT, why not? Those people can be worth their weight in gold when everyone else is freaking out and wanting to throw the project out the window.

Basically, get anyone. Anyone you can. But think about it and make sure you're all on the same page. Maybe one person is a combo of various things on the list - even better. Make your decisions wisely, be upfront, know the market, be passionate, let everyone know what you want to do and how you intend to go about it - and see if their ideas match with yours. If they do, you could be on to a winner.

So build this project from the bottom up. Or, in other words: create a team, identify a premise for a project based on real market research, get it written and made and sold. It CAN be done.

That's of course what so many writers cannot accept. Very often they are hostile or even antagonistic to the idea. "How do I find a producer? You can't get them *just like that*." They might sneer.

Um, yes you can. It's called The Internet and networking. You just do it BEFORE the script is written, instead of afterwards. If you post on various sites, meet people & go to events you WILL find producers. And if you just stop chasing after THAT BIG PRODUCER WHO DID THAT THING, you will probably find one standing right next to you DESPERATE to do a project with you...

... IF you ask them.

... IF you don't make it all about you - or more accurately, *your* script/idea which you just won't bend on.

... IF you are realistic.

... IF you make a team.

and

... IF you look to the marketplace, identify who your audience is and how you're going to get their interest (and thus sell the film to the distributors or in TV, networks).

But the naysayers start off again, "Oh no," they say, "I'M not working for free while the producer lives in his or her gold house, no chance."

But that producer will be doing all s/he can for the film, same as you, as part of a collaboration... Everybody's equal in this team. That's the point!

But still they argue: "Well if the producer is on the same level as me, I might as well work alone, because I want to step up to the next level."

And how will you do that, without or with few credits? And how do you know the producer you *could* be working with isn't the next BIG PRODUCER WHO DOES THAT THING - and you've been *in* with them from the beginning??

But STILL they continue: "I'm not writing FOR the marketplace. I have more passion/integrity than that."

Ignore the market at your peril. I'm NOT advocating being cynical about it: if Thriller is selling, but you believe 100% in your new science fiction world, OF COURSE you should go for the latter. But you also need to remember who your audience is and that without them, there might as well be no project. Sometimes you will have to junk ideas and scripts - it is not worth continuing, you must be realistic. But it makes the times things join up all the sweeter.

Yet: "There are no guarantees... it's not as easy as that."

Who said it was easy??? Working as a team doesn't mean you won't all have a hard slog on getting your work to screen. But it DOES give you more control over your own destiny. Given the amount of time writers spend complaining about not being taken seriously, I would have thought more writers would JUMP at the chance to make the kind of relationships that WILL get them taken seriously.

But: "I want MY idea, 100% - or nothing.".

Then friend, I cannot help you. Good luck on your solo journey. Hope you get to the destination you want.

But if you think there *could* be something in this idea of teamwork:

Two heads are better than one. Even more are EVEN BETTER. The more people who know you and your ambitions, the more chance you have of getting somewhere with it. This is how the film and TV industry operates. Sometimes the films and TV programmes are great; sometimes they are bloody awful. Sometimes it doesn't even matter how good OR bad they are because despite our best efforts they misfire and no one really watches them anyway. But they EXIST and are SOLD - which is a lot better than being 99.9999999999% of nothing in my view.

So why not start that way, from the beginning?

Make a team. Decide on an idea, based on good knowledge of the marketplace. Now... do it. Write it, get it financed, make it, get it sold to distributors or networks. You probably can't do it alone but choose the right people to work with and you WILL see your words as images.

See you on the other side. Or not. The choice is yours.

N.B. A great post from Film Utopia's Sunday Blog on the same subject, Why We Should Destroy The Spec Script Market

Monday, November 14, 2011

Writer Parents - Do You Know About These Services?

Top scribe and charity volunteer Adrian Mead has been in touch, wanting Bang2writer Parents to know about Parentline, a charity which gives online and telephone support to parents who need it:

"We all know how tough it is to get time, space and inspiration to be creative but add childcare to the mix and franlkly I'm just amazed you get anything done! Recently I've been volunteering for PARENTLINE, a great organisation that supports anyone who cares for, or has concerns about a child. If you are needing somewhere to get info, support or a place to vent your frustrations or concerns I can highly recommend them."

You can get in touch with Scotland's Parentline, here.

As everyone knows, I'm a parent and I've actually used the English version of Parentline, then called Parentline Plus but now called Family Lives in the past several times, especially when my Male Spawn was going through a particularly evil phase about two years ago that seemed to last forever. Like Adrian then I can recommend them totally - I was never judged, told I should pull myself together or "crack down" on the Male Spawn... Instead they worked very hard with me (in my case, via email... I was too upset to use the phone) to establish possible causes for the bad behaviour and come up with lots of potential solutions. It is no word of a lie to say they helped save my sanity, since there were many times I felt I was going around in circles and hitting a brick wall simultaneously, as I'm sure MANY parents feel sometimes!!

So don't suffer in silence... You don't need to!! Being a parent is so rewarding, but it's also HARD and it only gets HARDER as they get older. Get in touch with Parentline or Family Lives and take the first steps to dealing with any problems, issues or concerns you have with your family.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Copyright & Adaptation

Scriptpunk asked this on the Bang2writers page on Facebook:

A Q for You! Do you have any idea when book copyright goes into the public domain? ie. Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, Bronte Novels - would you need to get permission from the estate to adapt or are they in the public domain therefore open to reintepretation al a Autin's Emma as 1990s Classic Clueless?

UK copyright lasts the author's lifetime plus 70 years. So, the works of Shakespeare, Chaucer, The Bronte Sisters, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and all their mates are up for grabs. You don't need to ask anyone to adapt their stuff; you can just do it. It's pretty easy to see why Victorian Literature (and older) is so popular then when it comes to adaptation.

Dead authors don't necessarily mean you're home-free either then - for example, Roald Dahl may have been dead since 1990, but his work is still in copyright. Make sure you check how long your chosen author has been dead for!

By contrast, you MUST buy the film/TV rights of any living/recently deceased author before you can adapt their work. It is generally unwise to adapt something without the author's permission and try and seek the rights later - for all you know, the rights may already have been bought, then in which case you've just totally wasted your time if you actually want to take that script to the marketplace.

In addition, it's worth remembering film and TV rights are sometimes sold even BEFORE the book has published! Other times, the novelist wants to adapt their OWN work. That's not to say spec adaptations are blown out the water - sometimes novelists will enter into collaborations with screenwriters in a bid to take their work to film and TV, but you really need to do your research and like everything in screenwriting, create those relationships to get projects like that off the ground.

Another thing worth remembering - all this copyright stuff can depend not only WHEN it was written, but where you live, too! Here is a list of countries and their copyright laws that's worth looking at.

Good luck!

Monday, November 07, 2011

Don't Second Guess: Find Your Audience

Writer thinks, "I'll write a script. It's gonna be great." S/he completes the script. Sends it off.

Reader gets it at some initiative/contest/literary agent's/whatever. Reader thinks, "What a mess. This writer hasn't a clue what he or she is doing. PASS." Reader sends it back.

Writer decides s/he is going to ADVANCE next time - whatever it takes. S/he does a ton of research. Sees where s/he went wrong in the first instance when it comes to format. Thinks, "This must be it now". Sends it off.

Reader gets said script and says, "Craft is OK, but story/structure/character/dialogue/delete as appropriate is off. They don't know their Robert McKee/Syd Field/Linda Seger/insert Guru here (oooer)" S/he writes PASS again. Sends it back.

Writer CAN'T BELIEVE IT and is very upset. S/he reads McKee, Field, Seger et al. Decides to never use voiceover and to always hit their turning point on page 22 and to write ABOUT IDENTITY. Sends it off.

Reader receives the Guru-fied script and says, "Oh you know what? This script is predictable, it's like it believes in formulas. There's no heart here." Another PASS. Sends it back.

Writer gets CRAZY ANGRY. Goes back to his/her research. Notices there's a trend for vampires/angels/cowboys/period drama/etc. Decides to write THE NEXT BIG THING in that field. Sends it off.

Reader gets said NEXT BIG THING and says, "Oh this is very dated. Whilst vampires/angels/cowboys/period drama etc is the thing NOW, those movies/TV dramas have been in development for years. This has missed the boat." Yet another PASS. Sends it back.

Writer breaks down. Can't believe it. "Now what????? I'VE TRIED TO DO WHAT YOU WANT!!!"

MORAL OF THE STORY --

Don't try and second guess; there is no magic formula.

And that goes for readers as well as writers.

It's all about the writing. It really as simple - and as complicated - as that. Good writing: you REALLY DO know it when you see it. Frustrating. Harsh.

But guess what - if you're true to yourself and don't try and second guess, you're far more likely to find yourself getting those CONSIDERS and even RECOMMENDS.

And as a reader, if you let go of the notion of the "what SHOULD be done", you're far more likely to see the really good scripts, rather than letting them slip through your fingers.

There is only story. And understanding who it is for and why... The Audience.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

UK TV Spec Scripts

Vexentrix asked about TV Spec Scripts of existing shows this week on Twitter and it's something I've talked about with British writers many times in the past, so I figured it was time to write an official post about it.

In the US, it's common for a writer wanting to break into TV to write a spec of episode of that actual show and send it in, in the hope of grabbing the producer's attention and getting a commissioned episode. Here is a list of 2011 specced US Comedies and another list of 2011 specced US Dramas.

We don't do this in the UK. If you write a spec episode of Spooks, Corrie, Eastenders, Doc Martin or anything else, it simply will not get read. There's loads of reasons why, including the fact it can be a big fat legal headache in terms of copyright, but the short version: it's just not the way it's done over here.

In the UK, you send your ORIGINAL script in - ideally, it will be a script in the same *kind* of vein as the show you want to write for, but retaining your own voice. (Though that said, I've known people get into shows with scripts wildly different in tone, such as one lady who got onto a well-known soap with a slasher horror script which demonstrated how fabulous she was with character and dialogue, so you never know).

If the producer of said UK show reads your script and likes what s/he sees, one of two things might happen afterwards:

1) They ask you to write a trial script. THIS is when you have to write a spec script of the show, basically and is most-oft used in continuing drama. The show will send you a selection of storylines, you pick one and write *your version* of that episode (which frequently has been broadcast already). If they like that, that's when you get asked in for a meeting or story conference - and from there, you may get your commission (yes, it's still not in the bag!!! Argh!)

2) They ask you in for a story conference. This is usually for hour-long drama and it's the more experienced TV writers who've perhaps had quite a few half hours aired already that will jump straight to this bit, though not always. Story conferences are often the producers and all the writers - and storyliners, if applicable - all meeting up to thrash out the long running storylines of the year (if a soap) or the slow-burn serial elements of a longer one hour drama.

There are of course other ways of getting commissioned on a TV show - a simple meeting with a producer (especially for a completely new show, or a children's series) - but the above seems to be the most common route.

BTW, Lots of writers appear to think you can only work in British TV if you have an agent. This is not true. Whilst it is markedly easier to gain access to various shows *with* an agent, plenty of Bang2writers have worked their way into various schemes and shows without one. The question is, are you going to take no for an answer? Damon Rochefort told us a fab story at London Screenwriters Festival about how he decided he would work for Corrie and SIMPLY WOULD NOT ACCEPT the various rejections he got (which was a lot). Eight years later, the rest is history.

ALSO:

If as a British writer you're feeling hard done by that UK TV doesn't recruit its writers the US way, you may be interested in the following conversation I had last weekend at LSF with Finding Nemo writer David Reynolds, who started his career writing for The Conan O' Brien Show:

DAVID: You might want to spec for a TV show...

ME: ... We don't do that here.

DAVID: How do they pick writers, then?

ME: You send in an original script.

DAVID: They read your ORIGINAL work?? That's brilliant!!!!

I agree with David; I think it is brilliant - so if you want to write for TV, get writing... And take your lead from Damon: DON'T TAKE NO FOR ANSWER. There will undoubtedly be a lot of them, but if you keep going, logic dictates you've got to get there eventually. Good luck!!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

#LondonSWF 2011

... Whoa. How good was that???

London Screenwriters Festival 2011 was a.maz.ing! It's been a tough year - as Chris said in the keynote speech, most businesses fail in their second year of trading - but we not only hung on and pushed forward, we did EVEN BETTER than last year!

So much so in fact, I think I raced through the festival in a blur! If you saw me and I rushed straight past you or stopped for about five seconds - my apologies. I was hoping to catch up/meet more people than I did, but in helping arrange the LSF Advanced Mentor Programme for a lucky 18 writers; listening to speed pitches in my capacity as a script editor; running three panels AND interviewing TV ledge showrunner Ashley Pharoah, I somehow raced through the whole three days at the speed of light. Suddenly it was Monday - and I felt like I'd been hit over the head with a sledgehammer!

Super kudos to the team for making it such a great event - the volunteers were characteristically fantastic and the speakers were so generous with their time. I think Finding Nemo writer David Reynolds tried to meet every single delegate at the fest! He was brilliant, hanging out in the bar (though he didn't appear to like the Tiger beer I bought him! Hint for you there if you're in a position to buy him one yourself). Ashley Pharoah too was brilliantly generous and really seemed to care about inspiring us all: after our "In Conversation" session, he went up to the scriptchat for ages. Similarly my panelists offered up fabulous insights, whether it was Damon Rochefort on his obvious love of what he does at Corrie; TV Exec Kathleen Hutchinson on how Holby and ER used to swap body parts; Sophie Meyer from Ealing Studios & Ed Clarke on how good writing is obvious from the first page; or Athos Kyrus and Sarah Olley on how readers ARE committed to reading your script, but the writer has to fulfill their end of the bargain too - ie. don't be boring & don't go for formulas or quick fixes.

Many thanks to everyone who made the LSF possible this year and I look forward to doing it all again next year - in the meantime, I'll leave you with a photo of Ashley Pharoah & I looking rather shocked for some reason, let's hear your captions in the comments section... GO!


GO TO @Londonswf's WEBSITE

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Build It And They Will Come: Lucy V's Wager

Lots of screenwriters are fond of the Field of Dreams quote "Build It And They Will Come" - and good on 'em. I truly believe that if you keep going, no matter what, one day all will come good. I have to believe that, as it's pretty much the story of my life, not just screenwriting.

"Build it and they will come... " Is it actually 100% true?

Yes. And no.

Common sense dictates that if you keep going, something has to happen for you eventually. But by that same token, common sense also says there are no guarantees either.

So instead of wondering IF it will happen for you, consider yourself a success ALREADY.

That's what I said.

If you are writing, never mind about the sales; there are many people already jealous of your success at just getting words on the actual page. Never mind saying you *only* placed in a contest, or you've *only* got [this number of credits] or you're writing TV when you'd rather write features or novels or whatever. Creative people are put down by others in society left, right & centre; let's not put ourselves down AS WELL.

If you're writing, you're a writer. You are a success. End of. Liken screenwriting to the notion of Pascal's Wager, but instead of imagining God exists, imagine that elusive notion of "screenwriting success" exists for you instead. Let's call it Lucy V's Wager!

After all, you have absolutely nothing to lose and absolutely EVERYTHING to gain.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Frauds & Parasites! (Or Why There's ALWAYS More Than One Way Of Looking At This Scriptwriting Lark)

WRITER 1: There's this person, right. S/he's written a book/a blog and/or designed a course/put on a conference and reckons it'll help writers understand writing. WHAT A FRAUD.

WRITER 2: (quietly) Actually I read it/did it and found it quite helpful.

WRITER 1: Yeah, well, I don't so I'm gonna tell you: YOU'RE AN IDIOT.

WRITER 2: Well, that's not very nice.

WRITER 1: Sorry, you're forcing my hand. If you believe in all these formulas and whatnot for success, you're an arse.

WRITER 2: Except, I never actually said that did I? I said I thought the book/course was quite helpful. I didn't say I believed it 100%. William Goldman said no one knows anything and I get that. But I also think there are people who might have something interesting or useful to say, especially if they're actually doing what I want to do. Why is their experience not worth anything?

WRITER 1: Um, I never said that.

WRITER 2: Um, yes you did. You said they were frauds.

WRITER 1: Well ... that's all and good, but for every *sensible* person like you then, there will be HUNDREDS OF NEWBIES taken in by this crap and they will be left horribly disappointed when their work doesn't sell and they're left living in THEIR OWN SWILL.

WRITER 2: But shouldn't we be looking at our OWN work and thinking it about in our OWN way - which includes reading books and blogs and whatnot - if that's what we want to do, individually? Personally I like looking at everything I can and deciding what I think does AND doesn't work.

WRITER 1: Except it's just procrastination! It takes us away from the real stuff - ACTUAL WRITING. If it was as easy as these supposed Gurus and bloggers reckoned, we'd all be doing it, right?

WRITER 2: Well, quite a lot of us are. If there wasn't a market for it, they wouldn't write the books. Or the blogs. Or hold the courses. Right?

WRITER 1: See, you're getting it now! They're like PARASITES, sucking away at our talent! If these story guys were SO into story, they wouldn't be doing it for MONETARY GAIN.

WRITER 2: Right. 'Cos when you work in the media, you don't have mortgages or rent or childcare or food or hall rental or anything like that. And anyway, Bloggers don't get paid for the most part. They give hundreds of posts of info away for free. By the way, have you actually read or done any of these books or courses you're attacking?

WRITER 1: No. I don't need to. *I* can recognise them as THE FRAUDS THEY ARE.

WRITER 2: I give up.
----------------------------
LINKS

Dear Writer

Free e-book, Screenwriting Tips (PDF)

The Required Reading List

My interview with Yves Lavandier (part one: On Scriptwriting and part two: Script Reading, Gurus & Philosophy ), author of my personal fave book about writing, Writing Drama - buy it here.

How To Connect with Other Writer 2s (and hopefully avoid the Writer 1s)