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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Writing The Low Budget Screenplay

Seems to me there's two ways of doing this scriptwriting thing:

1) The Sample Route

and

2) The Making Route.

Writers following Route 1? WRITE A SCRIPT. That's it. Of course it has to be ace and they have to have a strategy ("TV/ Radio/Film + stacks of networking" in the very least) but the story CAN be anything: high budget, low budget, whatever. The name of the game is IMPRESSING someone with your writing enough to take you on to SOMETHING. People following Route 1 will typically wait a good while before their own ideas are made.

In comparison, writers following Route 2 have some decisions to make before they even get off the blocks and put a word on the page, like HOW BEST to a) tell a story in a way that will get them noticed and b) tell it in such a way it will be viewed as a VIABLE SCRIPT TO MAKE on a low budget.

So, in conjunction with Chris Jones' Guerilla Film Masterclass, running Feb 18th/19th 2012 in Tuke Hall, Regent's College, London - if you're reading this, you can get £50 off with discount code BANG2WRITE - here are my thoughts on micro-budgetmovies and making them work:

Locations/Studio work. One of the first thing script calls for "low budget screenplays" mention. Finding and getting all the necessary permissions etc for locations is hard and expensive. Location work can be cheaper than studio work, depending how you use it. Certain cities are very expensive for example, but then so is building an actual set. That said, obvious compromises and short-cuts can be made to bring expense down: ie. shooting ALL your city scenes in one day or building a set that can be re-dressed so it looks like different places very easily. Remember: interiors are nearly always cheaper to shoot than exteriors: light hire might be expensive, but unless you're very unlucky and there's a massive hole in the roof, rain or snow is not going to screw up a day's shooting if you're INSIDE.

Typically, a microbudget movie will be ONE LOCATION ONLY. The favourite is the "one room", usually an interior, which became a staple in particular of the so-called "torture porn" genre in the early noughties. Sometimes writers will be asked to write "for" a particular exterior location however - for example a spooky derelict house.

- Horror. Horror is a firm favourite for microbudget movies - trapping people in one place is a really obvious thing to do, but not necessarily the best thing to do... Especially when the market is flooded with Horror movies still in the can. That said, when they work, they can really sing. Favourites of mine in this genre include CUBE and the first SAW.

- Thriller. Thriller doesn't jump to mind when it comes to one-room movies, but there's no reason it shouldn't. Stuart Hazeldine did a great job with EXAM, showing us that battles of wits can be every bit as nerve-wracking as being locked in a room with a serial killer. What if... Your characters were held hostage in a bank? Or outside was toxic, so inside was "safe"? There are LOADS of non-serial-killer, non-monster ways of doing this and making the action about the group tearing itself apart.

- Comedy. Believe it or not, Comedy too can lend itself to the one room/one location scenario. Imagine this: your whole family, brought together by a single event, even though you actually all hate one another ... Sounds like: ooooh, CHRISTMAS! Or a WEDDING!!! None of you want to leave and be the bad guy. So again, the group implodes. BAM!

- Action. Action/Adventure is difficult to pull off in the one-room scenario, though in this age of remote communication, I bet a writer with real class could pull it off if the characters had access to all kinds of technology: after all, a good proportion of American cop show NCIS plays out in MTAC, which is satellite communication between Gibbs' superiors and him... What if that were replaced with threats from an unknown terror group, on the other side of the world? If one location like a supposed house, spaceship or prison, or there could be room for the obligatory running and jumping and fighting the action genre requires.

- Drama. Drama may not be favourable to sales agents at the moment, but a well-written, insightful one can still play well at film festivals and if your film has enough *to* it to get "star appeal", then you may get that distribution deal. Just because it's drama does NOT mean you are home free in terms of your characters being "unable" to leave - your audience is not watching a play, even if they don't mind drama being that little bit more theatrical than genre. I read a Dean Koontz book, MIDNIGHT, yeeeeears ago: in it, there is a character who is disabled. When Armageddon hits, his friends are forced to leave him behind - at his behest - in order to save themselves. They hide him in the attic and give him a gun so he can decide whether he wants to kill himself or not when his house is inevitably overrun by the threat outside. Now, this was just ONE MOMENT of the entire book, yet it's stayed with me since I was literally about 15. The very human emotions that go with it - the terrible decision, knowing you must sacrifice one to save many, the guilt for the friends, the fear for him, alone at the end of the world - something like that would make a BRILLIANT one-room drama, focusing not on the threat outside, but the people inside the room... You would effectively be turning the problem on its head: it's not that your characters CAN'T leave, but the fact they CAN and ARE, but must leave one of their number behind.

And of course, looking at the above, with the exception of drama, any number of genre mash-ups could work here: Romantic Comedy, Horror Comedy, Action Thriller, etc or genres that splinter off from the main, such as Kids' or Family, too.

SO: The key here is in giving us a VALID REASON as to why characters can or cannot leave the location; trapping by force is just ONE way of doing this. Think carefully about the world your characters live in and their motivations to find the best way of representing this.

Characters. The second most-asked for in script calls: NUMBER OF ROLES. Usually a director or filmmaker will be interested in approximately 5-7 characters with no peripherals, though occasionally a couple of peripherals will slip through unnoticed which can either be cut or played by the teaboy.

With small casts, understanding of character role function is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL. Every character must play its part to perfection in terms of keeping the plot moving forward, whilst still revealing its own character motivation. I like to think of characters "helping" or "hindering" the main goal of the protagonist or antagonist, though I think the best films remember each character is an INDIVIDUAL. No mean feat.

SO: Ten roles MAXIMUM is usually the most any "truly" low budget screenplay can handle, though the rule is - the fewer, the better.

NEXT POST: Part 2 - what else might you need to think about when writing your LOW BUDGET screenplay?

That discount code again - get £50 off Chris Jones' Guerilla Filmmaker Masterclass with BANG2WRITE.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Giving Them What They Want Without Selling Out

I like tea tree shampoo. It's cheap, smells nice, gives your scalp a pleasant wake-up tingle in the morning AND it keeps nits at bay... Which as anyone with kids knows, is a VERY BIG DEAL.

(Yes, I *know* this is a screenwriting blog, bear with me).

So anyway. I always used to buy my tea tree shampoo at a big-named store around the corner from my house. Then suddenly, inexplicably, they stopped stocking it. I asked them why. Apparently I was the only one who bought it. Harumph. No matter though, 'cos a discount store across the road from the big-name store started stocking it, so I bought it there instead.

Fast forward three months... And I hadn't bought anything in that big-named store. NOTHING AT ALL.

Y'see, this would not have been a big deal to them if I had *only* bought the shampoo. At 79p a bottle, a big chain like that could probably have afforded to lose my business. EXCEPT I didn't *just* buy the shampoo... Just being in the store, I discovered other things I needed to buy as well, like cotton buds, nappies or baby wipes. Not just essentials either: I would buy chocolate, lipstick, body spray and once, a hair dryer.

In other words... That 79p would typically turn into £10, £20 and occasionally: BEYOND.

Then yesterday I was walking past the big-named store and the manager happened to be outside. "Hey," he calls after me hopefully, "We have tea tree shampoo now?"

He noticed I didn't come in the shop anymore and figured out why - and solved the problem. It worked too: yesterday I bought some shampoo and £13 of other stuff I remembered we needed while in there. Score.

I think screenwriters and filmmakers can learn a lot from this retail manager. Go on Twitter or Facebook and very often you will find writers in particular talking down the notion of audience, claiming they're lazy, spoon-fed or stupid. Audiences just need to step out their comfort zone, right? Let's throw off the shackles of genre, let's fragment the narrative and de-categorise all this shit! We can GROW AS ARTISTES and the audience can GROW WITH US!! W0000T!

Um, no.

Audiences KNOW WHAT THEY LIKE - and they like to be ENTERTAINED. Underestimating this is any writer's or filmmaker's fatal flaw. Audiences are not lazy and they're not stupid; if they're ever spoon-fed, it's the writer or filmmaker's fault, not theirs.

So GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT, like I wanted my tea tree shampoo - and they will get on board with you, like I bought all that other stuff. But that DOESN'T mean you have to sell out to do so! There's so many ways of presenting your story, you CAN dress up even the worthiest of themes or messages in ways an audience will find palatable and ultimately enjoyable.

You don't HAVE to "dumb down" and the audience doesn't want you to. That's a fact. Of course, if you WANT to write dumb, crazy fun shit, why not? Just give the audience what they LIKE, not what *you* think is "worthy" - save that for the layers underneath.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Your Character's Motivation

I get that writers work very hard to differentiate their characters in relation to one another within their ACTUAL SCRIPTS. So when a writer gets the head-scratching note "differentiate characters more", I can empathise with their confusion. After all, they've already done that... Right???

Probably not. Sorry.

You see, script readers see certain characters OVER AND OVER AGAIN, regardless of who has written them, what genre script they're in or what format, TV, movie, radio. Really. I'm not even talking about stereotypes or so-called "stock characters" either: those familiar characters even laypeople might notice (ie. the "tart with the heart", the depressed mother, etc. And yes, it *is* more frequently the female characters that get stereotyped like this).

We all have perceptions of what "certain people" are like, especially "certain people in certain jobs". It's not even prejudice half the time, just plain wrong. For example: a friend of mine's husband is a sheet metal worker. I have no idea what this is really. In my mind, he goes to work with a large hammer and hits a a massive piece of corrugated iron all day. I know for a fact this isn't true and he's even tried to explain that he is involved with the manufacture of cooling units for air conditioners for large buildings. But nope: my treacherous mind's eye insists he's hitting that big sheet of metal with a hammer instead. I guess I can just visualise it better!

Of course, sometimes we have to sacrifice facts for drama. This is why in scripts nurses might give injections with abandon or cops might beat up suspects whenever they feel like it. I get that. What's surprising though is how many writers write said nurses or cops into their scripts the SAME WAY. Nurses are frequently ANGELS OF DEATH or SCAPEGOATS. Cops are good or bad with little room for the middle ground. In short, it simply gets a little dull - hence the "differentiate characters more" note.

Yet what about thinking about the character's PERSONALITY more than their job? After all, we are all more than what we do; we are not defined by it. What KIND OF PERSON is this - and has it impacted on WHY they've chosen that job? Or maybe they couldn't think of anything else? Or perhaps they're following a beloved relative on the same career path? All of these things are the tip of the iceberg and can literally break open your character, without the need for long monologues or confessions.

Let's go back to the notion of the nurse character: nearly always a female character - occasionally a gay man - the nurse I see in specs usually breaks down like this:

- She hovers in the background
- is usually down-trodden in some way
- she's quiet and resentful; or quiet and heartbroken

This appears to be how the average writer "sees" nurses according to the specs I see with this character in. Female, put-upon, just waiting to be exploited or to have her revenge! Yikes.

Now let me think of the nurses I know in real life - there are two in my immediate family, in fact - and the ones I have met on my own various medical adventures...

... Yeah. Not one was like that. NOT ONE.

We need characters to have a MOTIVATION that drives them... A REASON they have been brought to life by the writer. Now of course they have to earn their place in the narrative and everything they do (or don't do) must play its part in the story. That's a given. Beyond that however, you're home free... So why write the same character everyone else is writing??

Let me illustrate. When I was 21, I got beaten by a mosquito or similar on my ankle. I scratched it and drew blood, bad Lucy. Then I left it. Even naughtier. It was the height of summer but everything was OK more or less.

Then randomly, the then-three year old Male Spawn stabbed me in the ankle with a green marker pen when he was colouring.

It was very painful, 'cos he got me right in the bite. I told him off, splashed some water on it and a waterproof plaster... and you guessed it, left it again. Cue two days later and I've got a pus-filled nightmare on my ankle the size of a GOLF BALL. OUCH!!!

So I hobbled off to the doc's to see the practice nurse who told me off with much gusto and then proceeded to tell me this: she became a nurse purely to deal with cases like mine.

That's right. This nurse told me she LOVED PUS. Her idea of a good day's work was lancing boils, cleaning pus-filled wounds and basically dealing with anything in this ick-related area. Yes, she wanted to help people blah-blah-blah (and anyone who has ever had a wound or boil go bad will say it's a BIG HELP to get rid) but ultimately she didn't really care, as long as she got some great action. A BAD DAY WAS A DAY WITHOUT PUS, as far as she was concerned. That was her motivation.

So what is your character's motivation? It doesn't have to be as mad as that nurse's - real life is always stranger than fiction I reckon - but it DOES have to be different to all the others in the spec pile. So next time you need to write a character, think of the people you've met in real life *like* that character... What can you use?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hollywood: Mighty Machine

It's very fashionable at the moment to denigrate Hollywood movies. And as screenwriters, it's not difficult to see why this has occurred. Hollywood is a gigantic machine with a HUGE output, so liken it to a sausage factory and really, you're not far wrong.

Yet the difference between Hollywood movies and indie output, apart from sheer volume, is not really that big: Hollywood has many, many misfires - those films no one would touch with a barge pole. Yet their hits are SO big, this distracts us even as filmmakers. After all: who *really* cares if no one went to watch Disney's $175m flop Mars Needs Moms when everyone in the known universe is buzzing about Paramount's $170m Hugo? (Wow, $175m?? Oh yeah... the budgets. That's a HUGE difference. Anyway).

It's easy to feel angry with Hollywood. It often feels as if it literally sells the fans out. PREDATORS had a "twist" in it so mind-numbingly obvious that any fan of the franchise, never mind a script editor, could have fixed it in a weekend. Yet it was still paraded in front of us as a supposedly tantalisingly morsel for the resolution. Even worse, its female character, a supposed assassin capable of taking part of Black Ops, walked straight into it through... compassion??? Sorry WHAT? Talk about pissing off the Fanboyz and the entire female population of the audience (never mind just the FanGrrrlz) in one fell swoop.

There's an endless array of remakes and reboots that frustrate even the most hardened fan of any franchise as what was good about it is diluted, over and over again so the films become almost unrecognisable *cough* MIMIC 3 *cough*. Then of course there are the Hollywood filmmakers who just won't leave their OWN franchises alone, repackaging with new technology (I'm looking at you, George Lucas) or relaunching ancient characters with leading actors in their 60s (yeah, George Lucas again).

There's also incestuous casting, where the actor or actress of the moment is cast in everything going, over and over until we're sick of the sight of them, no matter the genre, how good the actor's performance or even how good the film is.

And then of course, so often story is MISSING ALTOGETHER - and no filmmaker gets this levvied at them, rightly, as much as Michael Bay. It's almost as if he says, "Script? Don't worry about it... HAVE THIS BIG FUCK-OFF EXPLOSION INSTEAD."

So, it's easy to see why scriptwriters and filmmakers despair of Hollywood, telling their peers and their students Hollywood is gigantic sausage factory. They tell their peers and students to ignore Hollywood, that story is king/queen and that we MUST HAVE MORE INTEGRITY than that gigantic machine that churns out movies.

Except... I love Hollywood movies.

Yeah that's right.

LOVE THEM.

I think there's a LOT to be learnt from Hollywood. Like:

Story might be king/queen, but spectacle comes a close second. Michael Bay, whether you like him or not, has a career for a reason: he is the KING of spectacle. And AUDIENCES LIKE SPECTACLE. Even us screenwriters and filmmakers. It's impressive to see something like the tilted set in TRANSFORMERS 3: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON. Laypeople in the audience might be thinking, "Ooooooh no, Shia and his friends are going to fall out the window!" They're getting involved. OK I wasn't - I found the lack of storyline dull TBH - but I tell you what I WAS doing: I was thinking, "Blimey, I wonder what kind of organisation and Health & Safety protocols and whatnot went into that scene? I wonder how long it took? I wonder if any stuntpeople hurt themselves?" I was involved too - just in a different way. I was impressed too - just in a different way.

Hollywood *can* create something out of nothing. We hear loads about Hollywood starting productions without finished scripts, two of the most famous ALIEN 3 and JURASSIC PARK 3. Just recently MEN IN BLACK 3 joined the list apparently (seeing a trend here?). We can wring our hands and say how terrible it is the script is undervalued like this, or (regardless of whether we like the finished product) we can MARVEL that they can create coherent works like this out of well, literally, nothing much. How many indie filmmakers can do this? I've seen my fair share of indie movies with underdeveloped screenplays and the contrast is MASSIVE. I haven't seen MEN IN BLACK 3 yet, but I have to say that ALIEN 3 (the theatrical version, minus Paul McGann) is, controversially, my favourite in the franchise (so shoot me). I also genuinely enjoyed JURASSIC PARK 3: it hit all the right notes in terms of dinosaur scares and a Spinosaurus kicks the ass of a T-Rex. Gotta be a score. Oh: and they even managed to stick a LITERARY ALLUSION to Peter Pan in there too with the crocodile/clock with the Spinosaurus and the satellite phone! OK there's a massive Deus Ex Machina at the end but you can't have everything and I never expected a perfect movie.

Hollywood knows the importance of "the same, but different". Most franchises get BIGGER every time. The original DIE HARD was what modern scriptwriters would call a "contained thriller", so by the time we get to DIE HARD 4.0, the action takes place in the ENTIRE CITY. The original Resident Evil was the same: contained in The Hive in the first movie, Alice ventures into Raccoon City for the second, the world and beyond for the subsequent movies. We can trace this throughout any successful franchise. Audiences want the same, but they want it DIFFERENT ENOUGH to have a new experience of those same characters. Hollywood knows this and does it well - and we've all seen sequels - yet I read a lot of sequels, especially in the spec pile, that don't seem to appreciate this in the same way.

Hollywood knows about packaging. Hollywood KNOWS how to pique potential audience's interest... They put the "right" people together: not just actors, but directors and even producers too ie. "From the team that brought you..." They know people are interested in films not just at face/story value and don't apologise for it. Many indie filmmakers in comparison say it should ALL be about the story and are perplexed when their audience want to know more about what created it, yet this is an opportunity, not a threat.

Hollywood misfires are nearly always closer than indie misfires. Of course it's possible that Hollywood movies *just* stink at times, but often, when Hollywood movies flop, surprise is expressed. After all, there was a "great" cast; great photography; an intriguing logline - whatever. Sometimes those flops come into their own years later, with critics saying a film is way ahead of its time. In comparison, often indie films never see the light of day - they don't even get out of the can. Even if they can get distribution, those movies rarely see even the modest return they might expect because they have completely underestimated what their audience wants or needs from a movie (next).

Hollywood knows its audience. Whilst Hollywood sometimes underestimates the FANS, it rarely underestimates its audience. Whatever the genre, Hollywood can usually produce output that will appeal to SOMEONE, because even if the movie flops you can usually find it on network or cable a few years' later.

So whilst STORY might not always be king/queen in Hollywood, you can bet your ass AUDIENCE IS. Whilst this sometimes feels like a bad thing - especially as a filmmaker or scriptwriter - is it? I'm unconvinced. I think there's a lot we can learn from this mighty machine in making our own projects fly. That doesn't mean to say we have to create things we feel are vaccuous and of course we don't have the budgets to match Hollywood's, either. But we can take the bits that work.

So what are we waiting for?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Guest Post: Postcard From La By Jared Kelly

As regular Bang2writers know, my good friend Jared (yes THE Jared that went to the WRONG pub that time) won Julie Gray's Just Effin' Entertain Me screenplay contest. As you may NOT know, Jared nearly didn't enter his fantastic horror script DESCENDANT into the contest... Luckily for him he decided to heed my hysteria and threats and made it just in time. It seemed Julie loved Descendant's DEVASTATING ending just as much as I did and Jared's only won an AMAZING all expenses paid trip to LA to schmooze with Hollywood bigwigs, which he's undertaking right now! Of course I couldn't let the opportunity pass without him letting the blog know how it's going, so here you are. Enjoy!
-----------------------------
Dear Frau Schreibenf├╝hrer,

I thought I'd drop you a brief missive from Los Angeles (before I end up buried in the Nevada Desert with my cock stuffed in my mouth) to say thanks for suggesting/encouraging/ordering/threatening me to fire my horror script across the pond to the land of genre.

As you well know, I had no interest in ever entering any script into any competition, yet here I am writing to you from my sunny hotel on sunny Beverly Boulevard, in the sun, with the sun shining down in its sunny way, making everything a lot more sunny and warm and also a bit more sunny. The sporadic gentle wafting of maple syrup and desperation adds to the delightful accompaniment of roaring V8s, rock music, and the cries of sun-kissed avocados being mashed to a viridescent pulp. "Holy guacamole, Batman!" (You can have that one for free, Christopher Nolan.)

The lovely Julie Gray collected me from the airport yesterday and drove us straight to a wonderful little bar in Hollywood. Famous for its decor, cocktails and beautiful t?e?e?t?h? staff, I proceeded to drink them dry of a well known Irish cocktail called Guinness. Muchos boozing later, Julie decided to continue celebrating the horror genre that brought me to these sunny shores by taking me to the Mexican restaurant where Sharon Tate ate her last meal before being brutally murdered by Charles Manson. Nice. I avoided the salsa.

This afternoon I've got a meeting with an industry giant at a giant company (when I say "meeting" I obviously mean "grinning constantly and rapidly rotating my thumbs while enacting impromptu little tap dances") and later tonight Julie has arranged a celebratory 'winner' thing at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, which involves dining with a legendary writer of SNL, Simpsons and King of the Hill fame.

Julie's been amazing and has got me doing all sorts of brilliant industry stuff, culminating in a meeting at Dreamworks. Between her and my brilliant, intelligent, clever, smart, handsome and very astute agent (does he read your blog?) I'm going to be so ball-deep in Hollywood these next few weeks I fully expect to come back with friction burns, plastic breasts, several therapists and engaged to a toy dog called Choo-Choo-Lou-Lou the Third.

Give my regards to Blighty and many thanks for the push. xx

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Deviation Trailer - ONLINE NOW

The title had it all really... The trailer for the dark thriller I associate-produced, Deviation, is online now!

You can watch it here on its distributor Revolver's Youtube Channel. Please forward this link to all your friends and followers and support British Film!

Remember to lock your car door...

Told in one night, DEVIATION is a chilling, taut psychological thriller that follows one woman's horrifying abduction by a psychopathic stranger.

Amber (Anna Walton) a young nurse, intent on getting home to her family after a long shift. Frankie (Danny Dyer) is a dangerous psychopath on the run. When he takes her hostage in her car, she realises that she must rely on her own wits to survive and soon a deadly cat and mouse game ensues through the long, nightmarish night.

By morning, only one of them will be left alive...


IN CINEMAS FEBRUARY 24TH 2012.

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What's In A Name? Some Thoughts On Formatting Characters' Names

Many thanks to Bang2writer Ross Holland, who has this quick query:

I'm currently writing a script which has a character 'masquerading' as someone else. How do I show that in the script once the reader sees this in the text?

As with most "advanced" and particular format queries in screenwriting, there is no "set" way - and like most things to do with format, we're talking CLARITY - ie. making it as easy as possible for the "flow" of the read.

Here's how I've seen it done:

1) Starting with the Character's fake name - for example, JOHN - and then adding the "real" name after the reveal s/he is not who s/he says s/he is, ie. JOHN/JAMES. You should stick with JOHN/JAMES from that point onwards I think, it just makes it easier for everyone. This is easiest when the fake name is JUST THAT - the name itself, rather than someone pretending to be someone ELSE (see next).

2) If your character is pretending to be ANOTHER character that's actually in the script (or is a different version of *that* character), this is when it gets a little more complicated. On this basis, I think the easiest way to do this is by making it clear which is "real" one, ie. for example your character JULIE realises someone is pretending to BE her, you might want to call the "other Julie" FAKE JULIE. In an early draft of NATURAL BORN KILLERS, there are two characters "playing" Mickey and Mallory in a movie version of their lives and they are referred to as MOVIE MICKEY and MOVIE MALLORY. I have also read scripts when protagonists realise there are clones of themselves - ie. "KEVIN regards CLONE KEVIN in confusion".

There are of course other ways of representing this element - these are just the simplist IMHO. Whatever you end up doing though, just remember the reader needs to keep an "anchor" on who-is-who. This leads me on to a further point, raised by a couple of scriptwriting students I was speaking to last week. Basically this point came up in conversation:

Don't choose names for different characters that are too similar.

I can't stress this enough. As an example, I had a script once with two leads: ROSE and RORY. To me it looked fine but everytime anyone read it, they always got Rory's name wrong. Constantly. It was a real issue for notes in particular and actually screwed up Rory's arc! I couldn't believe it. At first I tried to fix Rory himself... Still, problem after problem. Then I changed Rory's name to JAKE. Suddenly, magically, my readers' problems with Rory melted away! It was basic semantic noise. Also:

Watch out for your own issues with characters' names.

As careful as we can be, sometimes *we* get our OWN characters' names wrong! The most common I see:

i) Characters speaking twice in a row in dialogue (for no discerning reason and usually because the second time it's *supposed* to be someone else in reply)

ii) Different characters having the SAME name (sometimes we fall so in love in with a particular name, we give it to a main character AND a peripheral by accident)

iii) Choosing outlandish names (usually a character has an outlandish name for a STORY reason... If yours doesn't, ask yourself whether you truly "need" it... The same goes for names that "mean" something - is it subtle and clever? Or affected and weird? Or worse: is it a name readers see ALL THE TIME, like Edmund for the "treacherous son", like in KING LEAR?)

iv) Spelling names wrong (I have actually read scripts where there's a different spelling EVERY SINGLE TIME! Honestly!)

What's in a name... A LOT. It's how your reader will relate to your character - SO CHOOSE WISELY!

Got a format query like Ross? Check out The Format One Stop, a run down of the most common format errors I have seen reading literally hundreds of screenplays.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Tip Of The Iceberg

Once upon a time, not so long ago, we might have heard something on the radio or TV or read it in a newspaper and mentioned it to our spouse or housemate when they got home. Perhaps we might mention it at work and have a brief five minute conversation, before moving to do something else.

It's all different now.

Never before have we been able to share opinions so quickly and so widely. With the like of Twitter and Facebook, we can send something to someone on the other side of the world at the touch of a button. Sometimes we forget our opinions are not facts. We forget interpretations are just that - and that our versions of reality do not match other people's. Why would they? We do not live the same lives as those other people. But then, we forget that, too.

I call it The Age of Ego. Thread after thread is dedicated to our opinions: some good-natured; some enlightening; some genuinely thought-provoking. Others are full of vitriol, anger and resentment. It's not just the internet either: TV and radio programmes, newspapers and magazines fall over themselves to include "Vox Pops": the voice of the people. What do you think of [this TV programme]? What do you think of [this government cut]? What do you think of [this tyranny on women: how they look? How they dress? How they eat?] And so on and so forth.

People say this is a good thing. Those who never had a voice, now do. And if your problem was that you were never heard, perhaps those people were right. The internet is certainly democratic. For me though, it comes down to this:

Yet how *useful* are our opinions and POVs, if we are merely shouting into the wind?

I believe there's a huge void between what we THINK and what we DO. And I look around me and see people TALKING a lot, but not necessarily DOING enough... And then wondering why they are not progressing. Bang2writers frequently come to me and say, "How do I progress?" but really they want me to say: "You're doing all the right things, keep going."

But that's not for me to say. Are you DOING enough... like this:

... How many new contacts have you made in the last year?

... How have you maintained your existing contacts?

... How many projects have you read about in the last six months - do you know who is making what?

... How many people have you helped?

... How many agents have you met?

... How many new things have you learnt/read up on - ie. new tech, distribution, web series?

... How many scripts have you read?

... How many networking events have you been to?

... How many meetings have you tried to get?

... How many scripts have you sent to various opportunities - contests, schemes, initiatives?

... How many ads and call-outs have you answered?

... How many industry people have you met for coffee?

... How many pitches have you made?

... How many queries have you sent?

And all that's just the TIP of the iceberg.

So don't ask me... Ask yourself. And listen hard to the answer.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The "Great Writing" Myth

Like most new writers *way back when*, I started out convinced that as long as my scripts were GREAT WRITING (ie. ORIGINAL and WELL-WRITTEN), I would get there in the end. After all, that *had* to be what the AUDIENCE wanted?

As a new script reader then, I was LEFT AGOG when what **I** thought were derivative, crappily-written scripts made their way to screen. But then I decided it was just a freak occurrence and toddled off on my way...

... Then it happened again.

... And again.

... Over

And

Over

... Again.

I started to notice that originality was NOT a pre-cursor to success. In fact, not only was originality overrated, it could actually HAMPER whether a project saw the light of day! OMFG, how could this be?

EVEN WORSE: being a GREAT WRITER was not necessarily the key to getting made... As I noted, again and again - especially in contest or initiative piles - the "best" writers were not necessarily the ones who won or made it through to the other side ... It was the ones whose projects had the BEST FIT, which of course was entirely open to zeitgeist, interpretation and any number of other intangible things that writers have no control over whatsoever. And THEN they had to make it out of development! ARGH HOW THE HELL DID ANYONE MAKE IT WITH THESE ODDS?!?

I think it's fair to say I had a meltdown. Of dramatic proportions. For about a year my writing life was in turmoil. Everything I had always believed about so-called "great writing" was clearly wrong. I became ENRAGED and then I became very very SAD. "Goddamn this industry that rewards mediocrity!" I lamented, to anyone who would listen.

"Younger" writers would nod sympathetically and either agree - "there's too many rewrites and reboots!" was a common response, though that was not actually what I was talking about - or say quietly I was clearly bonkers: "Doesn't she know that all you have to do is write something well enough?" They'd no doubt say to each other behind closed doors (obviously once they'd checked I wasn't outside with a listening device and a shotgun).

"Older" writers would smile however and say this: "It gets worse before it gets better."

I had no clue what they meant. I just raged and wailed and went round in metaphorical writing circles... Instead, I began to think I was INCAPABLE of writing anything "well enough"... And became convinced others thought so too. And then, suddenly:

EPIPHANY.

I don't know when it hit, exactly. And it doesn't really matter. All that counted was a HUGE weight lifted off my shoulders, because I finally joined up what I had always known, but never truly felt in my heart until that moment:

It's not about *just* about the writing.

Scripts do NOT speak for themselves.

It's about you, the writer, more.

It's hard to accept the above, I get that. I couldn't accept it for a long while. We are taught to believe that if we write something "well enough", then this great story will literally JUMP OFF THE PAGE and get us a deal. We've all heard of this happening to *someone*, so we reckon, quite rightly, "Why shouldn't it happen to me?" But on the flipside, why SHOULD it happen either? Great writing is a hard slog and not easy by a long shot, so why are writers encouraged to put their entire DESTINY in whether something is written "well enough" when we ALL KNOW the notion of "great writing" means different things to different people anyway???

It all comes down to this:

I can think of perhaps two writers I've met in my entire scriptwriting life who've literally been plucked from obscurity to go on to BIG, consistent success. TWO. How many other professional writers have I met now? Gotta be in the hundreds. So what did they do? They climbed the ladder, one rung at a time, slowly, painstakingly, sometimes falling and having to get back up again. They BUILT their career, one difficult inch at a time, making sacrifices and difficult choices behind closed doors that others don't get to hear about.

So much in this writing lark depends on "outside elements" we cannot control. Don't let yourself be nobbled mentally by The Great Writing Myth, which says a well-written script is "all" it takes. Get building instead.

ON THE BLOG BEFORE ABOUT CAREERS & BELIEF:

Creating Your Career

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

It's Not About Luck... And It Totally Is

Friday, January 06, 2012

Short Films Event: Panel on Writing Screenplays for Short Film & Screening

This looks like an interesting event for all the short screenplay writers and filmmakers out there - unfortunately I can't make it, so if you go, let us know your thoughts!
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To celebrate the launch of Short Films: Writing the Screenplay by Patrick Nash, Kamera Books invites you to a panel discussion as part of the London Short Film Festival on Friday 13th January at 4pm at RADA.

The Panelists are author Patrick Nash, LSFF filmmaker Douglas Hart (Long Distance Information), agent Julian Friedman and Edward Hicks, Head of Film, Television & Radio at RADA. Chaired by Hannah Patterson.

Under discussion will be the entire screenwriting process from story, structure, character and dialogue to loglines, treatments and screenplay competitions. Copies of the book will be available to buy at the special price of £10.

The launch is followed at 7pm by the screening of new short films - please note that this is a separate, ticketed event.

New Shorts 18: Fathers & Sons

Experience a selection of powerful dramas as this short film programme zones in on the fraught relationships between father and son. Includes Peter Mullan in Douglas Hart’s Long Distance Information, and the new short film by award-winning director Simon Ellis in Jam Today. For further information visit the site

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Prequel To Cannes Networking Event, Feb 8th-9th, 2012

One question I get asked A LOT by Bang2writers is, "Where can I network?"

So... What are you doing February 8th and 9th, 2012?

Come to the Prequel To Cannes Networking Party at the Lighthouse, Poole!!

The party brings Dorset's scripty types out in force - including TV writer Danny Stack, as well as filmmakers Tim Clague and Suki Singh. And of course little ol' me!

There are masterclasses and events on offer during the day, too: I will be offering a class on pitching, before chairing a pitching event where participants will be invited to pitch their projects to win a "pitch pot" (guaranteed minimum £50). Leave your nerves at home and showcase your pitching talents - who knows, you might win CASH or even the attention of any filmmakers in the room... What have you got to lose???

This is a great event in a GREAT venue and it's not just for Dorset-types either: it's open to ALL. Whether you're a writer, filmmaker, actor or anthing else, we want to see you there!

Check out this link for the full programme and ticket prices, starting at just £5. See you there!

Monday, January 02, 2012

Should I Do A Scriptwriting MA & Which Courses Are Good?

With the start of a new year, many people's resolution may be investing in their writing career in some way, so inevitability a question I get frequently at this time of year is this one from Bang2writer Kate Lally:

I was just wondering if, in your professional opinion, an MA in screenwriting is worthwhile. And if so, do you think certain unis would be better than others?

Is an MA "worth it"? Well it's important to remember only YOU can know for sure - but disclaimers aside, I have many articles on this site about university courses, just click the label. For the record though, the short version is I DO happen to think going to university to study scriptwriting (or similar) is worthwhile. It's what I did and I gained a LOT from it. For my in-depth thoughts on why I favour uni courses, check out this post. You may also be interested in Bang2write Intern Ellie's thoughts on why MA courses can be worthwhile in this article she wrote last summer.

That said, lots of things have changed in the last ten years. When I was at university, there might have been courses to do but there was no real internet content about scriptwriting, a very limited online community and social networking in the form of Twitter and Facebook hadn't even been invented yet! (Ack, feel sooooo old). I do think it's VERY important to decide on your own motivations for going to uni to learn writing, though. If you think uni will make it "easier" to "break in" - I can tell you for definite: it WON'T. It's hard for everyone no matter where they start, uni or not. I have very successful friends who didn't go and very successful friends who did... It really does depend on the individual. University is not a golden ticket. If however you want to learn and write as much as you can and utilise your uni experience to gain as much work experience/contacts as you can tho (sooooo important), I think it can be a brilliant place to start as a writer. Uni is expensive but I think having that amount of time to devoting to finding your "voice" as a writer and developing a portfolio is invaluable.

As for MAs that are supposed to be good... I think it's important to remember there will be never be the "perfect" course, designed to meet every last one of your needs and ambitions. If however you can find a course that suits approximately 60% or more of them, I think you're doing pretty well. Please note I never recommend specific MAs because I don't have one (I did the BA (Hons) in Scriptwriting For Film & TV at Bournemouth University instead).

With all that out the way then:

I have met many of the Bournemouth MA students past and present on the Bournemouth full-time MA course who report a positive experience for the most part. It's also worth noting Bournemouth also runs a Distance Learning MA in Screenwriting which several of my Bang2writers have reported has worked well with them while juggling family life.

For those of you who want to write for TV, I hear great things about Leicester De Montfort's MA in Television Scriptwriting. London Screenwriters' Festival has run at Regents' College, London the last two years and their students frequently volunteer with us, many of them reporting good experiences on their scriptwriting and filmmaking courses. Friends of mine have done courses in creative writing at East Anglia and at Edinburgh Napier University too and have reported good experiences. David Bishop of Vicious Imagery did the course and now works on it, in fact!!! I have also heard friends and Bang2writers recommend Royal Holloway and Goldsmith's.

By the way, if you are a mature student (ie. over 21) and have no prior qualifications, you may be interested to know it is still possible to get on a MA course. It depends on the policy of the individual university, but as an example, here is Bournemouth's MA Scriptwriting, which says:

If you lack the formal academic qualifications needed to enter a postgraduate or post-experience degree, there are several alternative routes to follow - some based on experience. Contact the AskBU Enquiry Service for more information.

If you DO want to get some qualifications that are the equivalent of A Levels (and thus gain you a definite place at uni somewhere), you may be interested in The Access To Higher Education Course. This is a course for adults over 21 specifically designed to fast-track you to higher education.

End of the day, university or not, as writers we make our OWN opportunities - there's a free to download MA course available from Falmouth College listed in my "Required Reading" List if you wanted to try that first to get a "lay of the land" on what might be expected of you.

My main advice would be tho: don't let money worries get in the way if you really want to go. There is always a way, even if it means thinking RIGHT outside the box. I really believe money (or more accurately, LACK of it) should never stop your education or dreams. Easier said than done of course - I had to think long and carefully about the debt I was signing up for as a 21 year old single mother - but I can tell you, I'm so glad I went and completed the course (because it was touch and go at one point!). I honestly believe my life now would not have happened without it.

So:

Do you want to go to uni - what are your main concerns? Did you go to university and do any of the courses listed here, or perhaps another MA? Add your questions and thoughts to the comments section here or over on the Facebook page and I'll add them here... Over to you!