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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!