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Saturday, September 29, 2007

7 On Structure: Top Heavy

SPOILER ALERT: 28 Days Later / Resident Evil/ 28 Weeks Later

Forgive me Bloggers, for I have sinned... It has been FIVE days since my last post on structure... How can you ever forgive me, especially you Dublin Dave?! :P


Have I mentioned this screenwriting malarkey is like a house of cards? Oh yeah, I have. And also one of those tile puzzles where you move 'em around to get the pic. Oh, I've likened it to a jigsaw too, right right. I could say it's also like a dress: get your measurements wrong and you aren't going to the ball Cinderella -- but hey, "We get the point Lucy!" I hear you all scream: it boils down to this - get one thing wrong, everything else goes wrong. Wow. Sure glad we had this talk, cleared all those issues I was having with my draft right up...

...What you mean there's more?! Damn right. So I've already talked about structure meandering, which is heavily related to what I call The King Lear Draft in particular but also (and maybe even at the same time) The Top Heavy Draft, which just like Dolly Parton, has so much up top that it falls flat on its face (maybe it should be called the DP draft? Hmmmm).

In direct contrast to those drafts then where Act One is brilliant but the rest runs out of steam (we could do with a name for those too btw: any thoughts?), The Top Heavy Draft does not tend to start well. Usually there is a mountain of black on the page and usually (but not neccessarily) the reader will be introduced to a plethora of characters, story threads, observations of arena and dialogue that does not really go anywhere, sometimes disappearing altogether. Sometimes The Top Heavy Draft on this basis will dive, head first into WTF? Territory; other times it will just be confusing or worse, deathly dull. Whatever the case though, there is just one reason why a draft like this happens.

The writer has started too early.

Like all screenwriting terms, "start late and finish early" has become so much part of our collective consciousness via the osmosis of the teach-yourself-screenwriting industry via internet, books, TV and whatnot that we writers think we're doing it even if we're not. One reason for this I think is that writers don't know what their story is properly, but I've posted about that before here. The other thing however is, I think writers fall in love so much with their characters and/or premise that they are no longer fit to rule the world they have created and must abdicate immediately for fear of bringing death upon their draft. (Finally: this is what this post is actually about. Halfway down the page you find this out - start late and finish early? Ahem. But please stay with me.)

The writer who produces a Top Heavy draft (usually) mistakes the notion of Act One's "Set Up" as "setting up character" when really, "Set Up" refers not only to characters but the situation/s they find themself in. If you consider a film like 28 Days Later, we hit the ground running first with a little prologue with the Animal Activists letting out the infected chimpanzees to establish how the virus got out into the open; we never see those Activists or indeed Chimps again and nor do we need to - in short, that bit was solely about plot. We then cut to Cillian Murphy's character waking up in hospital to find he is alone in the world. Or is he? As he wanders through destroyed London, we the audience are taking the journey with him: what the hell happened? As the audience we are privy to the information about the virus which he isn't of course, but even so, we're unsure of what that prologue *exactly* means until he is faced by the mentalist Priest in the chapel and is rescued by the girl with the parang knife and Mr. Curtis from Holby City. Niiice.

I think this is an excellent set up and it's something its American counterpart Resident Evil shares. A similar premise but based on a computer game, again we are taken on a journey with the characters at the same time as plot: the marines enter The Hive, we are introduced to the Umbrella Corp, The Red Queen, the fact that Alice cannot remember if she is the spy who betrayed the cop's sister and is she *really* the wife of James-Black-Beard-Whatsisface when her wedding ring is "property of The Umbrella Corp"? Whether you like Resident Evil or not, I believe like 28 Days Later (a film I eminently prefer) it presents a very neat set-up, bringing forth everything that is needed to pay off later, so as soon as you hear the zombie dragging the axe behind him when the marines open the doors to the labs by re-setting The Red Queen, you just "know" we're being catapulted head-first in Act 2.

Compare both these set ups then with 28 Weeks Later. Apparently this film had some considerable difficulties from the outset in terms of development and I think it shows. In contrast to the first film, we're treated to a lengthy prologue and meant to think that this film is about Robert Carlisle's character. And I suppose in a way it is, since he ends up the main antagonist going after his children (even though the rest of The Infected are entirely indiscriminate whom they go after IN BOTH FILMS but hey ho), but why do we need that prologue to go on so long? We need to find out that Robert's character is a coward. Okay, but couldn't we have done that in a much shorter time? Or did we even need to, especially since he lies to his children later about their mother's "death" WITH flashbacks AND their mother is found in their old house and speaks so could counteract his story?

In comparison then to both 28 Days Later and Resident Evil, I believe 28 Weeks Later starts way too early. This not only affects plot (in that we're wondering "why" certain things are happening), it affects pace (how can a scene in which the army is firing on civilians and Infected be dull? Yet I thought so), it also bleeds into character: why does the wife say she still loves Robert Carlisle when he left her to die? Or was it on purpose so he would kiss her? Equally, for me the sacrifices Scarlett and Doyle make to save the children lose impact, since we haven't spent enough time with them to care about them - or even know who exactly they are. Why is Scarlett so honourable? Why does Doyle desert his post? Had the lengthy prologue at the beginning been chopped off, all of these instances could be addressed. Without looking back into the past, we could still see Robert Carlisle's character is a coward, thus meaning forward-looking momentum is established, so pace picks up; without loads on the past in the first instance, Doyle and Scarlett could be established as characters, so their sacrifices resonate.

The Top Heavy draft. Start too early and bore your reader or audience.

So Now You Know Boys

As I've posted before, I get great spam. I get a lot of rude stuff in particular (I'm told 'cos "bang" is saucy in The States) and there's nothing like adverts for Viagra etc in broken English to cheer you up in the morning.

However, this is probably my favourite to date, subject line "Wanna Know Secret Success Relationship?":

Gals never leave guys who give them great orgasm.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Mercurio Tutorials Up Online

Good news my pretties. Courtesy of the wonderful Jim Mercurio (even in the middle of his hard drive hell), some of the tutorials included with the marvellous drama Hard Scrambled are up online for you to view IN FULL, FOR FREE.

If you recall, I really rated these tutorials since the insights included give you a really important insight into the filmmaking process, even if you're more of a writer and not principally interested in filmmaking itself. I particularly like the Working With Actors one - you'll see why when you watch it! Plus Eyal Podell is hot laydeez. Check him out.

View the tutorials and trailer for Hard Scrambled here.

For my June review of Hard Scrambled plus links to other related stuff, click here.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Raindance Film Screening: MAN WHO WOULD BE QUEEN

Busy, busy, busy yesterday! Spent the day in Londonium for a meeting, though I managed to squeeze in the marvellous Elinor for lunch dar-link and James Moran for afternoon drinkies. I'd not met James before in "real" life and it was quite a revelation my friends: it's quite sad really, he obviously misses his straight jacket from his years of incarceration; he keeps hugging himself in this sweet, yet ultimately futile manner. Curse Care In The Community.

I also got to see JK Amalou (did I mention I was busy?) whilst I was in The Capital and he tells me his new feature, The Man Who Would Be Queen is showing at The Raindance Film Festival this Sunday. A dark comedy about the English upper classes, I'm privileged to know this film already and can assure you it is a veritable barrel of laughs, with one of the most hilarious (and rudest) one-liners I've heard in years. Definitely recommended. It's playing at 2.15 pm this Sunday (September 30th) at Cineworld. There will be a Q&A afterwards too! I can't make it on Sunday, so please go and throw awkward questions and possibly rocks too in my absence. Book tickets here.

Monday, September 24, 2007

7 On Structure # 5: Reel Writing

Many thanks to the marvellous Chris Soth who agreed to play a part in my series on structure by allowing me to reproduce one of his articles on his famed Mini Movie Method of film structure on this blog. Enjoy!

Don’t you love movies about the movies? I’m not talking remakes of movies that were far better the first time around, or even worse, creatively bankrupt works that don’t purport to be remakes but ARE, inferior, watered-down versions of stories have already been done well. I mean movies like SINGING IN THE RAIN, THE STUNTMAN, A STAR IS BORN and the lesser-known BOY MEETS GIRL, THE EXTRA and WHAT PRICE, HOLLYWOOD? And sometimes, there’ll be a scene, like the beginning of SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS that’ll show some incredibly exciting situation, then the screen goes white, turns out we’ve been fooled -- it was a “movie-within-the-movie” and that film just ended. The screen will flicker, lights will turn on --

-- and then they’ll pull back to reveal we’re in a Hollywood screening room and some cigar-chomping, hard-nosed SUIT, who’ll say something like:

“We still got a problem in the third reel”.

What does he mean? A film reel, of course. It seems like this movie insider character, a studio head from Hollywood’s Golden Era, back when such people “lived over the store”, as William Goldman puts it – back when the people who ran studios made it their business to understand quality product, quality STORY, it seems he was using jargon that touched on how he thought about story. Here, in an artifact from the period, is a clue as to how those greats, Samuel Goldwyn, Darryl Zanuck, Harry Cohn and Jack Warner, approached narrative and structure. And since he’d be talking to a director character in the screening room, maybe even a SCREENWRITER character, we’ve got to assume this language and understanding was common to those types as well. He said:

“We got a problem in the third REEL.”

He didn’t say:

“We got a problem in the third ACT.”

Or the second or first act for that matter. He didn’t even think in “acts”. So, the fact that films were shot on, edited onto and ultimately projected on “reels” influenced how the filmmakers in Hollywood’s Golden Age thought about story. That was how they approached it.

But when you went to learn screenwriting, all you were exposed to was Three-Act Structure, right? Isn’t that playwrights learned? Where were the REELS?

Or maybe you’ve been watching a movie and a terribly dramatic, gripping or otherwise “important” scene will happen. Something that changes the story entirely and sends it off in another surprising direction. And MUSIC SWELLS, maybe the camera goes up into one of those dramatic crane shots, looming over our protagonist, pulling up and away until they are looked down on from God’s perspective, seemingly weak and ineffectual against the freshly expanded problem posed them by this story.

Something has just ended. Something else is about to begin.

But it’s not an “Act Break”. Those of us who check our watches in the movie theater know. It didn’t happen at 30 minutes. Didn’t happen at 90 minutes.

It’s like end of a chapter in a novel, a discrete chunk of story that propels the main story forward until it organically exhausts itself, then hands the suspense off to the next chapter. Could that something be a reel?

Could it be that a reel just ended? And another reel is about to begin?

The earliest films were only a single reel long, and silent film after silent film showed in nickelodeons, back-to-back, all day long. At first, they were only “documentary” subjects, the mere fact that moving images had been captured and could be projected in their absence was fascinating enough to hold a crowd. Then, we adjusted, as we always do, and filmmakers wanted to tell fictional stories.

And at first, they did so on a single reel. The first narrative films, most famously THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY, were only 10-15 minutes long. This extends to the early silent comedy work of Chaplin and Buster Keaton, the Little Rascals and Mack Sennett’s Keystone Kops as well.

I’m not including this as a lesson in film history – what’s important is this is how story evolved to where it is today. And if we are to be students of story, shouldn’t we know why it is the way it is? When Chaplin, Keaton and DW Griffith – when the filmmakers of the early 20th century wanted to tell longer stories, like their brothers in the theater, what were they to do?

Use the tool they already had. The film reel. They divided up the story they wanted to tell into smaller components, each discreet, smaller chapters that would fit nicely on a single reel of film. They shot the story and edited it onto similar reels, and added them up, sequence-by-sequence, until they had the full story.

This is how stories were told and movies were made in “The Golden Age of Hollywood”.

So what happened? Aren’t we screenwriters filmmakers as well? And don’t we still want to make films as good as they were back then? Shouldn’t we be thinking like they did back then? So why is this method lost to us now?

Because somewhere along the way, the Warners and Zukors and Thalbergs died or sold their studios or got into other businesses. And the people and corporations they sold to, at least here, a few generations later, don’t come to the business through a route that exposed them to story. They’re MBAs and businessmen who know more about marketing and the bottom line than they know about quality of story. So movies are incredibly well marketed, better than ever before, with Happy Meals and tie-ins and toys and product placement and HBO “Making Of” specials while the quality of story falters.

And why else?

This method of telling stories by reels has been lost. And why is that?

Because, like the studio heads before them, the people who made movies this way have moved on or passed on – in any case, they have not managed to pass on the knowledge. And the first screenwriting books were not written by screenwriters. Like so many how-to books they were written to fill a public desire for knowledge and mandated by publishing companies and writers who saw that need. They were not necessarily written by writers, directors or editors who were making films using these methods.

And so the first books on screenwriting used what had come before, Aristotle’s Poetics, and other books about playwriting. And they’re very good as far as they go, nothing has beaten Aristotle in more than 2000 years. But the fact of the matter is film tells story differently than it’s told on the stage, or in a novel. Movies, along with the technological innovation, changed how story was told forever.

But a generation of writers read these books and were convinced that three-act structure was the only game in town. That the two plot points at the ends of Act One and Two were the only guideposts available in the grueling journey from idea to FADE IN and on to FADE OUT.

And those studio executives? The ones that bother to learn story are exposed to the same thing, three-act structure. Yes, even those in the loop are insufficiently educated now.

So, in a way, the language of story has been lost. We set out on our journey from Fade In to Fade Out with the vast desert of Act Two staring us in the face, and every flicker of the cursor mocks us with our own mediocrity, each blink saying “YOU SUCK, YOU SUCK, YOU SUCK!”

But they used to know how to do it. They didn’t have 60 pages without a landmark stretched out before them in the middle of their screenplay. They were never more than 10-15 pages from a plot point, and guiding them from one such point to another, the story they’d decided that reel would tell.

But even most working screenwriters of today don’t have access this method. So, are there good movies, good stories? Occasionally, but a lot more rarely than once there were, and much more by accident than by design. A writer who lucks his way through act two once may not be so lucky a second time.

Is there any way then for us to recover this method of telling stories in “reels”? Adding up each reel, chapter by 15-minute chapter, until we have a full story of 6-8 of these “Mini-Movies”, totaling 90-120 minutes in length.

There is. Thankfully, Frank Daniel kept this method from being forgotten and passed it on to another generation of screenwriters through his screenwriting programs at Columbia and USC. The method is discussed in Paul Gulino’s THE SEQUENCE APPROACH, David Howard’s BUILDING A GREAT SCREENPLAY, and in my own seminar, ebook and dvd set, MILLIONDOLLARSCREENRITING.COM.

Try this method with your next screenplay. Be a “reel” writer.

Write a real story.
Thanks Chris! Buy Chris' eBook and DVD set on The Mini Movie Method here.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

You Couldn't Make It Up

Some of my childless friends tell me they are apprehensive about talking to children. What do you say? Well, talking about toys, TV and sweets are usually good ways "in" with kids, but so are questions like, "If you had a million pounds, what would you do with it?", "If the world was made of chocolate, how much could you eat before you throw up?" or "If Dr. Who had to save you from certain death, what would he have to save you from?" usually do it. But how do you say it? Now that's the minefield. Never, ever affect a "baby" voice for anyone over 2. They will hate your guts and plot your downfall forever. I'm not even joking. I have a friend who will forever be known as "Baby Tom" by my son on the basis that ONCE he talked to him like he was 2 when actually man, he was 4. It's now five years later. Heinous crime or what.

The most important thing I've learned however in the last nine years is, no matter what a kid says, don't bat an eyelid. Because then they will learn your weakness - that you're just an adult and actually have no idea what is going on any more than the kid does. This is especially true when talking to kids who are not yours. It is your responsibility not to "um" and "aah" people, since if you do, you will make said kids realise all us parents are just feeling our way here, making a mess of it and pretending That Was The Plan All Along. You might not be a parent of course, but don't let the side down.

So anyway. My husband's brother and triplet Rob (are they twins if only two of them are in the same place at the same time? That's a question for you. They don't know either) came over yesterday. The males in my family have some kind of psychotic addiction to crazy golf, so as usual we went down to the putting green. I don't play crazy golf, I'm above that kind of thing... But I do like to stand about and sigh a lot, whilst encouraging the baby to steal balls off the green on the sly (I'm the perfect wife).

During one particularly boring hole then, (I think it was called "The Switchback" - your ball goes over a wiggly part of the green, or at least that's the plan: it more than likely comes back to you, what fun - that's sarcasm in case any of you missed it) a random little girl came and sat next to me while I moped on some elfin-sized wall.

LITTLE GIRL: What's your baby's name?
ME: Lilirose.
LITTLE GIRL: So she's called Lili?
ME: No, she's called Lilirose.
LITTLE GIRL: But that's two names.
ME: That's right.
LITTLE GIRL: But you're only supposed to have one name.
ME: But she's got two names.
LITTLE GIRL: Is that because she's a princess?
ME: (pause) Yes.
LITTLE GIRL: Where's she a princess?
ME: In a land far away.
LITTLE GIRL: Why's she here then?
ME: Because there's a war.
LITTLE GIRL: Like on the news?
ME: Yep.
LITTLE GIRL: Does she have a castle?
ME: Dunno. It's probably blown up now.
LITTLE GIRL: Oh yeah. 'Cos of the war. Does she have a Polly Pocket glitter factory?
ME: She's a princess. She can have anything she wants.

I love lying to children. One of my favourites is telling kids that if you put a McDonald's chicken nugget in a matchbox and wait two months, it will turn into a real chicken. But it has to be McDonald's, mind. Doesn't work with Burger King.

Or the time I told my son that it's so cold in Scotland, the UK has to be turned around once a year on a giant crane (they do it while we're asleep, which is why we don't feel it). The south then is in the north and the north is in the south - they have winter whilst we have summer and vice versa. He bought into this 100%, even writing about it in geography at school as if it was fact, telling his overworked teacher that if his Mum said it was true, then it must be. His teacher wrote in his book, "Your mum really needs to look at an atlas Alfie!"

Oh come on... What are you looking at me like that for?! We all do it, we're writers. How can you resist? A child is perfect testing ground for stories - if they don't believe it, then it MUST be crap.

So...What have you told your son/daughter/niece/nephew/friend's kid?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Who You Gonna Call?

So, since the treacherous Andrew called me The Dragon Lady on the SP Screenwriters' Bulletin this week, I thought it best to dispel this myth that I will scorch your script into ash. I won't.

But I will chop it into little pieces.

Why? 'Cos a script is the sum of its parts. It has to be. I might always bang on about stuff like structure (much to the chagrin of the mysterious DD it appears! Loving your work darling btw, MWAH), but a good script is bomb-proof. A reader should slice and dice your script, stick it back together and see if it stands up - and a good script brushes itself down and says, "Is that all you got punk?!" However, if you're left with a pile of mush instead of a script, you know you have a problem. If it's standing, but weak and in need of a cup of tea and a sit down, you still have a problem. But hey: it's better to know, right?

And there are always scripts that resist my very special script axe. I might be able to chop a finger here or a toe there, but at the end of my treatment they're still very much alive and LAUGHING IN MY FACE, DAMN THEM!

And I've had the scripts that have fallen to mush myself. I know what it feels like to get coverage, look at your screenplay, sees its flaws in a whole new light and say, "You know what? I don't think I'm going to pursue this story after all." It's disappointing at the time, but worth it in the end since you can move on to a more worthwhile story to tell.

But that's why I am never one of those vitriolic readers you hear the horror stories about. A script is someone's dream, printed on paper or wrapped up in a PDF. I respect that. That's why Bang2write will never tell you your script is crap. Because, guess what? No script is crap. Every script is part of someone's journey as a writer - whether that's to option, funding or improving one's craft, thus all are worth something. Even if many never see the light of day.

So think of me not so much as a script doctor but your very own script buster. Now's a good time if you want me, else I might actually get time to write something of my own. And we wouldn't want that, would we boys and girls!?

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Friday, September 21, 2007

New Updates On List of Wonder

It's been a few months since The List was last updated and we have some sad news: Jim Mercurio's fantastic web resource How To Write A Screenplay has gone to the great webstream in the sky. Nightmare! Our condolences to Jim - he says if ANYONE out in saved any chunks of text from his website, PLEASE get in touch with him: send any emails to me and I'll pass them on. Let's hope he can get his website up and running again ASAP since that was one of my faves on the list.

So, congrats to Scott The Reader, Ellin Stein and Robin Kelly as they all have new articles that have made it to The List! We've also got some interesting articles, like a satirical look on how crap movies make it to screen and a listing of cinematic terms for those of you who might not know your montage from your mise-en-scene. The List also has a brand spanking new section on Writing for Radio... Bang2writers seem to have embraced this wholeheartedly since the BBC's script call back in June for The Royal Tapes and I'm seeing more and more radio scripts nowadays. I'm particularly interested to hear from people who know of links to interviews and "how to" guides for radio that AREN'T on the BBC's site if you find any. It also occurred to me that it would be really nice to have a section on The List dedicated to short film. If you find any links for interesting articles on this, get in touch.

Veteran readers of The List will find the updates listed in bold - most are in the "miscellaneous" section. If you haven't cast your eye over The List before though, what are you waiting for? Click here.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Dialogue Is The Least Of My Problems

Writing a spec screenplay is difficult. Writing a spec screenplay that someone will say, "Bloody hell! This is brilliant! I'm going to pay this scribe well and not change this concept beyond recognition!" is akin to making it up Mount Everest on rollerskates. You may make some headway, but chances are you'll slide all the way back down and collapse in a bloodied heap.

Any movies that are made of your script will be changed drastically from what you first conceive. That's the fate alloted to all scribes. Why fight the inevitable? With a bit of luck, the movie made of your script will resemble what you came up with in the first place - albeit with a load of extra stuff put in and a bunch of stuff you really thought was cool and/or important cut out. And oh yeah: let's not forget others' interpretation. You saw that scene as green and the set dresser's gone for yellow. You saw that character as black yet the casting agent's gone for white. Oh and...those lines you thought spelt out the whole ethos of this story suddenly sound as wooden as the table in your living room.

I think of dialogue as the area as in need of least attention in a spec draft (notice I didn't say least important). Why? Because even if your beloved spec does get optioned, that's the first thing that's going to go. Why? 'Cos messing around with plot points when the director says, "Wouldn't it be really cool if..." demands it. Or they don't have enough money to do this or that or the other, which means whole scenes may have to go. If the scenes go, the dialogue goes -but crucially, anything you've revealed through dialogue in other scenes also has to go. In short, sort out various things (like structure), and dialogue *generally* falls into play with them.

Yet I notice scribes obsessing over their dialogue. I have had clients who've wanted to keep even the most flawed chunks of their scripts on the basis of just one "clever" line. Whilst on-the-nose stuff is never desirable, in early drafts who cares exactly what your characters are saying to each other? You'll change it later and even if it gets sold, it'll get changed again... And as soon as it's spoken by the actors it will change even more! What's more, I have never, ever plastered a "consider" or "recommend" on a script that has only good dialogue. Yet I have put through scripts with bad dialogue if they have something like good structure and/or an original premise. Here's why.

There is no such thing as "nailing" dialogue as far as I'm concerned, just the best approximation you can make in any given draft dependant on where you are with it. The reason for this? If your script is a house, then perhaps a spec is a house of cards, with the dialogue cards aas its roof. You can take them off and the cards won't fall down. Take the ones at the bottom though - the structure cards - and you're screwed my friend. Your draft won't stand up. After all:

You can have the best dialogue in the world, but if your structure sucks, then well--your script sucks. Who's going to buy something where they have to lay the foundations to start with? They might as well write it themselves.

Not to mention--

You can have the best dialogue in the world, but if your scene description is heavy on black, then who's ever going to read on past page 10 and find out?

You can have the best dialogue in the world, but if your characters are stereotypical and 2D, how is it going to resonate?

You can have the best dialogue in the world, but if your arena is non-existent, then surely the same goes for that notion of resonance?

You can have the best dialogue in the world, but if your story is ill-advised, boring or unoriginal, then why would anyone remember that dialogue?

You can have the best dialogue in the world, but if no one does much in your screenplay you might wow a few people with your observations, but does that mean your script is an interesting read or top heavy on telling it?

You can have the best dialogue in the world and whilst we might remember snatches, is this the only thing we watch films for, or the fact that we can relate to characters, stories, ways of life?

Dialogue. It's important. But not the be-all and end-all as far as I'm concerned.

Digital Shorts: Q&A

Judging by the amount of emails I've received regarding this scheme, many blog readers are going for this so here's a few quick questions I fired at scheme director Sarah-Jane Meredith at the beginning of this week:
What's the mission statement of Digital Shorts?
To support short innovative ideas which present new ways of telling stories.

How did you get such great companies like Aardman, PVA, The Engine Room etc involved in Digital Shorts?
Because it presents a good opportunity for them to work with both the RSA and the UKFC on a nationally recognized initiative; because there is money on the table; but most importantly because it is a way for production companies to work with new talent.

Have you had a particular favourite project come through Digital Shorts? If so, why did you like it so much?
I don’t want to answer this. All films are viewed subjectively. I do have my favourites and they have in common a cinematic approach, a particular approach to telling a story, are personal, look great.

At the July Roadshow you mentioned that "the shorter the better" for pitches, saying "one sentence" would be great, yet on the application form I notice it stipulates a 2 page outline (including a short synopsis) with quite a lot of detail, including budgetary considerations and potential audience. Can you give us some more information on this?
I believe I said one sentence as a way of trying to say don’t go on. One sentence is of course not long enough but is preferable to endless waffle. What I like to see is one sentence which can sum up the proposal with more detail to follow.

Also at the July Roadshow it was mentioned that though some people might be able to write a great proposal and/or pitch well, they *may* not be able to write a great script to back it up, so writing samples might be asked for. Will they be asked from shortlisted candidates only, since there seems no mention of them on the application form?
We have decided not to go for scripts as in further discussion with the partners we felt this might discourage those without a script to apply.

A few people are confused about eligibility - though it is understood you must live in the SW, it was said at the Roadshow you didn't have to be 18-25 years old necessarily to enter, but on the application form at one point it says you do have to be this age. Which is it?
You have to be 19 – 25 to enter one of the strands but for all the others you can be any age (over 18 and not in full-time education).
Thanks Sarah-Jane: some good stuff there, particularly re: the application form. Good luck to everyone entering!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Metlab: All The Details

As some of you know I was involved in The Metlab Scriptwriting Training Course in conjunction with London Metropolitan University last year. I had a lot of fun meeting peeps like Elinor, so I'm pleased to announce that I will be participating again!

It's a completely different affair this year too: it's 100% FREE. That's right, gratis. You read that right. And here's how it's gonna work.

Metlab is looking for four (perhaps five) people to come on board in order to develop a screenplay over the course of *roughly* 9 months [TBC]. You will meet with Metlab every 6-8 weeks about the progress of your screenplay and submit drafts at scheduled intervals.

This is not a traditional taught course: in other words, you'll get development notes and meetings on your script as opposed to tutorials on your personal progress, format issues etc.

This is a great opportunity and free - did I mention that? - though the university will take 2% if the script gets made. Considering agents take a much bigger whack, I think this is fab. Working on the basis that filmmaking is driven by commerce just as much as art, Metlab wants to see your script made - it gets paid that way! Pretty big motivation to get your project up and running, with no initial outlay for you. Nice one.

So the aim is for Metlab to be as close to "real" development as you can get - if you can't deliver then, just like in real life it's all over. If you can however, then here's the best bit: Metlab has a veritable stable of prodcos lined up who want first look at your screenplay.

So, what next?

1. You need a great idea - preferably a strong genre piece: horror, action, romance, comedy, adventure, thriller. No arty dramas please. (Crossed genres - comedy-horror/rom-com/action-adventure etc are fine)

2. It needs to be commercial and shot on a relatively low budget (£800,000 maximum) -but crucially it needs to look GOOD on this low budget. We don't want cheap-ass special effect stuff, even if it *might* get cult following later. So big CGI set pieces, stunt choreography, etc are OUT. Think Shaun of The Dead vs. Resident Evil, London to Brighton vs. Children of Men, that kind of thing.

3. You need to write a pitch document outlining the idea (2 pages maximum).

4. And you need to send it here: DO NOT SEND THEM TO ME, I don't participate in the selection process, any synopses for Metlab sent to Bang2write will be deleted unread, sorry.

Chip has already applied and you can see his post about it here. I know Elinor plans to re-apply too, so best of luck to her and any other previous Metlabbers: you're all welcome.

NB. There has been a small extension to the October 1st deadline: it is now October 17th 2007. Best of luck to everyone and look forward to working with you!

Monday, September 17, 2007

7 On Structure # 4: Narrative Logic


I've suspected for some time now that my nine year old lad is really an impostor. Approximately three weeks ago (around the time we moved, in fact) my all-rocking, Hells Angel son (he'd have a mullet if I let him - when he grows up I'm sure he will look just like the boyfriend in ERIN BROCKOVICH, or at least I thought he would, *sob*), suddenly started listening to The Prodigy instead of Tool and Nine Inch Nails and even started chastising ME for swearing. Like all good mothers however I told myself it was just a phase he was going through and I would have my foul-mouthed little baby back very soon.

Then I had it confirmed: he has indeed been captured by aliens or at least had his personality changed drastically by an unwise experiment with a power tool out in his stepfather's shed. How do I know this?

He tells me he likes James Blunt.

The shame knows no bounds. It's not that I dislike Mr. Blunt personally (except for the fact he bears an extraordinary resemblance to an Ex of mine whose eyes I would like to put in with a red hot poker), nor even the fact that I find the timbre of his voice particularly whiny (hands up whose Mum is a music teacher??). No. It's the fact that, as a screenwriter, I 100% object to the narrative logic behind James Blunt's smash hit of 2005, You're Beautiful.

Why? Well, it's not the fact that James makes stalking/obsession sound okay (you see a girl on a bloody train, go on and on about it AND kill yourself in the video? Have some self respect man!) because of course Sting did the very same twenty-odd years before him (bar the suicide if I recall correctly) in Every Breath You Take and got away with it (though I must confess I don't like that song either now you come to mention it. Let's just say I'm very hard to please.)

So anyway. What do I dislike about You're Beautiful? Join me in the first verse my friends and examine the evidence:

...She smiled at me on the subway.
She was with another man.
But I won't lose no sleep on that,
'Cause I've got a plan.

Right, okay. So He's seen this girl, she's seen him. She smiles. But oh no: she has a boyfriend already. Bugger. But hey! Not to worry, he will dispatch of the boyfriend and ensure he gets to go out with her instead. Right? RIGHT?

Oh actually-- no:

You're beautiful. You're beautiful.
You're beautiful, it's true.
I saw your face in a crowded place,
And I don't know what to do,
'Cause I'll never be with you.

But hang on one goddamn cotton-picking moment sir! You just said in the last verse you had a BLOODY PLAN. Now you don't know what to do because you won't ever be with her? WTF??? Did I miss something here - like him confronting the boyfriend, trying to win this lady's heart, what?! Where's the rest of that story!!!

But never mind. Songs do this to us sometimes - set up and then f*** up, you might say. And does it really matter when all people remember is the bloody chorus anyway? I'm always struck by how little people comprehend the meaning of songs: only the other day I heard a listener on the local station dedicate a song to her husband, the "love of her life", a soul mate whom had made her complete - her choice? Careless Whisper! A bitter song about guilt and betrayal. Hmmm.

Narrative logic in film however is more important than in songs. From the outset, you are asking your reader (and thus your audience) to suspend their disbelief and in effect, come on a journey with you. And you can do anything. Why not? I'll never forget an arthouse script I read about two years ago in which people would lie down in the road and run each other over in their cars, it was mental, but one of the reasons it worked was because it set it up from the start. And this is where narrative logic and structure are indelibly linked - or should be.

It boils down to this: if you're going to do stuff, you need to set it up. That's how you get narrative logic. However, setting up does not refer solely to HOW people get in the places or situations they are, but rather as starting as you mean to go on (more on this in the next post). Don't change the goal posts. The more mental the stuff it is you're doing, the more you need to set it up - but you'd be surprised by how many scripts there out there that start as one thing, change to another and are completely different again by the end. Genre is usually the biggest offender: I read a lot of thrillers that turn into horrors for example, or dramas that turn into thrillers or vice versa. Now, no one is saying that you can't mix genre - why not? - but if you're going to, you need to invest in a device that will set this up from the start. A lot of horror I see for example will SUDDENLY TURN supernatural, just like that. If we're dealing with the supernatural, even if we don't see it right in the very first instance, we need some clue that this is what we're going to be dealing with. One way of doing this is investing in your Arena and symbolism, as I've outlined before here.

Another way of setting up from the start to ensure smoother transitions in your structure is through your characterisation. I recall being annoyed by SPIDERMAN and Harry's character: throughout the film he had been an admirer of Spiderman's, yet when Spiderman brings Norman's body back, the first thing Harry says is not "Omigod Spiderman, what happened?", he says,"What have YOU done?" and gets a gun out of the drawer. This totally betrayed the logic of Harry's character in my view: if you admire someone, would you automatically think ill of them? After all, just because you bring a body back does not mean you killed them. But of course they needed to set up Harry as some other nemesis so they shoe-horned that in. But why not have him AGAINST Spiderman from the outset? Bizarre.

Then there is your scene construction itself - how they string together. I'm always surprised by scripts that have scenes in that seem completely "out there" in that they serve no purpose, yet clients want to keep them, usually because there is a "good line" in there. Some even make it to screen. Consider ALIEN and Ripley's visit to Parker and Brett in the steam-filled corridor where they "can't" hear her. What's that scene for? I have no idea. As Brett even says, "What the hell's she coming down for?" Apparently so Ripley can deliver the lame line, "Don't worry Parker... You'll get everything that's coming to you." Oh right, so he's going to get eaten by the big monster? This is a monster movie ffs. Everybody bar one or a few will die, so why include it?

Narrative logic. It's a killer. I think of scripts as those little tile puzzles where you have to make a picture - just one tile out of place can screw it all up and make your reader lose faith in the story. NIGHTMARE. The best specs start as they mean to go on - without becoming predictable. Yes it's as hard as it sounds. But did anyone say this screenwriting shit is easy?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Digital Shorts Opens

For those of you in the South West who might have missed it, Digital Shorts is open for applications. Don't miss this opportunity to sell your idea to South West Screen - it's a fantastic scheme and has already produced some stellar work in previous years.

So if (like mine!) your heart yearns to produce your very own short film and you live in Devon, Dorset, Cornwall or Somerset, now is the time to get an idea together. I went to the Digital Shorts Roadshow back in July where I got the lowdown direct from programme directors Arilda Tymko and Sarah-Jane Meredith and you can read some insider info on the scheme again here. But hurry - closing date is October 12th 2007 so you haven't got oodles of time. Download an application pack here. Best of luck to everyone!

N.B. Don't despair if you live outside the South West - every region has a similar short film making scheme. Check out your local screen agency for more details.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

7 on Structure # 3: Keeping It Up

Some writers are getting better at presenting themselves: they are realising that first impressions count. They've noticed that, to get taken seriously in some of the bigger circles (or even medium-sized ones), they need to start well in order to have a good stab at overcoming the sizeable competition they are up against. So they're stating their intent; they're setting up their protagonist and his/her goals; they're formatting well and their script sails past page ten and into a full read. In short, their Act One rocks. Nice one. So what's the problem?

They can't keep it up.

I'm seeing more and more scripts where Act One is great, yet the moment - and I'm talking literally as soon as that first turning point comes in between page 22 and 30 [approximate] - things go wrong. There can be a number of reasons. Usually the plot begins to meander, though I've seen several go off at King Lear tangents and several others that have changed their plots and/or genres entirely.

How does this happen? I believe it's because the writer is looking at their script more as a product - ie. getting it past the reader - than as a holistic story and subsequent plot in its own right. Many clients I read for don't truly know what their story is about and this, plus that concentration on "beating" the reader is what is ensuring scripts "sag" like this.

I've spoken to some writers who say, "As long as I can get past the first ten pages and set up well, nothing else matters." I would counsel caution on this approach however. The scripts that are set up well, yet go awry from Act 2 onwards are one of the biggest disappointments a reader can get. Only recently I read what started as an AMAZING script from *somewhere outside* Bang2write. Eighteen pages in, I was still going. I was hooked. Got to page 25...And everything stopped. It limped in at 92 pages of aimless journeying thereafter, making me wonder what had ever excited me about it in the first place. I even wished it hadn't been so good at the beginning, so I might have not been disappointed. It was kind of like finding a hot guy, taking him to bed with you and discovering that actually, whilst he might look like an Italian Stallion, he has more in ahem, common, with a mouse. Damn!

Of course us Readers would sooner have the Hot Scripts just like us laydeez would rather have the Hot Guys. But we'll settle for the "perfectly serviceable", even if it doesn't push all our buttons. Far better that then not wanting to finish and making a run for it out the bathroom window... And we've all done that, right girls? Oh. Just me then.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

7 On Structure # 2: Plot Construction - Meandering

SPOILER ALERT: Children of Men and Harsh Times

Plot construction is something a lot of "official" script reports look at it in detail. If you send your script to an initiative in order to apply for a course or for funding for example, there is a very good chance the reader will be asked to look at this and comment on how the writer has built up his/her narrative. There are two main problems that I usually flag up in this section of official script reports; there are of course many more, but it's surprising just how many scripts have similar issues with plot construction and these usually boil down to either a plot having "too much" in it - or it meanders from event to event with little "keeping it together". Now we've spoken a lot about the former, the "less is more" idea on the course of this blog, but we haven't discussed the notion of meandering structure as much, so here goes.

It's said that protagonists or groups of characters need some sort of goal, mission or arc to achieve dramatic satisfaction. Audiences want to see something put "out there" and drawn to some sort of conclusion. It's how we work as human beings, we strive for order, we pigeon hole everything. Of course, "real life" doesn't work out like this. You can go for days, weeks, even years before something is resolved; sometimes it never is. But movies are not real life. They are a ninety minute or so chunk of a representation of real life. And therein lies the key difference.

You can roll out all the usual "sayings" - drama is conflict, characters aren't what they say but what they do, show it don't tell it, push the story forward, blah blah blah - but knowing all these off by heart does not mean it actually happens in your draft, since how we interpret conflict, characters' actions (or not), what pushing the story forward actually is, etc etc makes all the difference here. So if your screenplay comes back with feedback saying "structure meanders", rather than justifying the action in your draft, I find thinking about this question is more useful:

What is action?

Putting your characters in different places, having them walk about, go and visit people etc is a great start and a vast improvement on having them sitting in the same room for pages at a time, but it isn't neccessarily action. Action does not have to be explosions or running about, but action does mean you have to keep the story - that main goal, in essence the plot - "ticking over" the whole time. The moment your story takes a backseat is the moment your structure starts to meander. Okay, so your character has gone to a cafe, then the newsagent, then he saw the bomb being planted... But if this is a story about terrorism, why does your character need to go to the cafe and newsagent first? Think of Clive Owen's character in Children of Men... The first we know of that bomb towards the beginning is when it goes off, but it adds to the plot construction, it gets Clive Owen's character's attention (and feeds into the moment where Julian has him abducted), plus adds to the arena's notion that this is a dystopian future, one where terrorism is the norm and suicide packs are given out by the government in case it all becomes too much for despairing citizens.

When I first started writing I put a lot of faith in my characters to push my story forward. I think it's the way screenwriting is taught in this country: start with the characters first, find them a story. It'll all fall into place.

Yet it doesn't. Instead often we have an aimless character, who wanders from one thing to another in the course of a feature script. Yes we get the gist of what they're doing. Yes we may even understand what is going on. But the real heart of the matter here - do we care about this character? - does not figure as much. Why? Because part of why we're watching that character is because of their mission, goal or arc - we want to see them win, lose, have to do something else, fall in love, get killed, turn into a vampire, shoot their best friend in the head or walk into the sunset.

In short - it's plot that drives the movie character.

Books are generally character-driven. There could be a successful argument made that TV follows this rule too: you've got a place, job or whatever and characters dip in and out of it, which is why it's so easy to replace them when certain actors move on. Cops n' Docs is the obvious choice, since it brings in politics, scandal, relationships, issues and so on. Same goes for soap opera: one street is all you need as an "umbrella" over the heads of many different types of people, personalities, careers and aspirations and all the storyline threads that appear and disappear because of them.

But films are not the same. We're watching a particular chunk of a character's life for a particular reason. It's ninety to a hundred minutes or so that make all the difference to those characters, thus plot figures more prominently. I often ask Bang2writers, why are we watching THIS BIT of this character's life? Why is it important to THEM and therefore us, as an audience? Why is this the movie and not say, their lives last week? A year ago? A decade from now? In movies, we are essentially voyeurs and watching characters make decisions but crucially, we are watching them follow a designated path as particular events unfold.

Let's consider Harsh Times. I didn't like everything about this movie, but what I liked about it was as a classic "rise and fall" story, Christian Bale's character Jim had a clear path whilst still keeping us guessing about what this psychopath was going to do next, much to the surprise of his best friend who was riding with him. We know, right from the outset, that Jim is headed for self destruction. We know that by the end, he will wind up dead. However, the path in which he gets from A (he is a respectable member of society) to B (it's becoming much more questionable to the point of criminality - though he could still turn back!) to C (he is a full blown murderer and is murdered himself) is so convoluted as to keep us engaged as an audience. What's more, all of what ensues is as a direct result of Jim's expulsion from the LAPD training course. He would never have stolen the drugs if he hadn't been chucked out; if he hadn't been smoking the drugs, he'd never have faked his piss test for Homelands Security; if he hadn't faked that, he wouldn't have been found out and told he would be sent to some godforsaken place as a "soldier of the Apocalypse", meaning he couldn't marry his girlfriend after all, in turn meaning he would never have rejected news of her pregnancy... And so it goes on.

Plot should be about cause and effect in movies - one thing feeds into the next thing. This does not mean it needs to be entirely plot-driven at the expense of character of course, but character should never obfuscate what we're really watching this for, which is plot. We would never say, "I'm going to watch a film about a bloke", we say, "I'm going to watch a film about a bloke who is: transported back in time/is destroyed by the government/is falsely accused of killing his wife/attacked by psychopathic burglars etc." A plot's structure then needn't always be obvious, like in Harsh Times, but there should be a thread that follows throughout your action so as to ensure your structure does not meander. Start as you mean to go on, without major detours on the way.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Q+A: Marc Pye, TV Writer

Regular Readers of the blog in its previous AOL incarnation should remember this post about Marc just before his episode of Jimmy McGovern's The Street was broadcast last year. If you've never heard of him however, Marc is a veteran writer for UK TV drama and all-round top bloke. We met in reality for the first time this year at Adrian Mead's Long Distance Screenwriter course in Edinburgh, but I first heard from Marc himself when I read his feature screenplay The Mole for him way back in 2005, though I had actually read his stuff before in 2002 through a literary agent! As I always say, those scripts get around! Enjoy...

What are you working on at the moment?
I'm on 3 eps of River City, each at different drafts. I've got an ep of Echo Beach shooting at the moment and am making tweaks to that as and when required. I'm half way through a commission called The Sisters, which is about witches, and I'm putting the finishing touches to a comedy drama treatment I've been developing with Max Kinnings for Granada before we go to script, then I'm doing a second draft of Act of Grace, a feature I'm co writing with Alan Field, who also wrote on The Street.

You've been very successful in TV, what's your recipe for success?
Hard work I suppose. Being persistent and never giving up. Also enjoying the work. You've got to be passionate about and enjoy what you're writing. This script I'm writing at the minute, The Sisters, really has me fired up and I'm dying to get back to it.

Tony Jordan is very vocal about people he calls "soap snobs" - those who say TV is beneath us as writers. What's your take on this?
He's absolutely right. They probably say that because they can't do it or they lack the discipline. We'd all love to write features, but how many features get made compared to hours of TV? Yes, it must be a fantastic feeling to get a feature made and see your name on screen, but knowing that five and a half million watched my ep of Holby Blue, The Street or that eight million will be watching The Royal on Sunday night does it for me.

You're a family man, how do you juggle family life and writing when this isn't a 9-5 job?
It's hard. I try and do as much as I can when the kids are at school. That's like four and a half hours undisturbed work. Then I'll usually work at night too, till around midnight, but I'm trying to cut back on the amount I do at night now, as I need a bit of a life.

How many programmes do you get commissioned on a year? How did you get these commissions? (not by sleeping with the dev execs presumably?? ; )
Last year I think I did about 10 River Cities, an ep of The Royal, an ep of Holby Blue and I wrote a play. The Royal is produced by Ken Horn, who produced The Street, so he asked me on to The Royal, which was great. Tony Jordan saw my ep of The Street, liked it and offered me a gig on Holby Blue, which was also great because it was a new show. It was an exciting time, being part of that.

Money or respect - which is more important to you as a writer?
I think if you just do your job well and enjoy what you do you find that you get the respect and the money along the way. I'd have to say respect - being known for a quality piece of work comes first. If you go into this business purely to make money I think that's wrong. It can be quite an insecure industry - one minute you're up, the next you're down. I've found that out. If your motivation is to make money rather than put your heart into your work then you'll be found out. You have to care about the stories you tell. The better you tell them the more respect you get as a storyteller.

Will we be seeing any of your own series on TV soon?
Hopefully. I've got 2 things aiming for the commissioning round in October. It's been a lot of hard work, but hopefully it will pay off. Ironically, going back to your last question both these things, if they get made, aren't going to bring in a lot of money, but will require my full attention for the next year. Also the feature, Act of Grace is hopefully on target to shoot early next year. We've got a trailer out and have had investors put quite a bit of money into the film so far, so that's looking good. Again, it wasn't about the money with the film, it was the idea we loved and we just had to tell the story. Everybody who's involved feels the same way about it. We've got Leo Gregory, David Yip, Jody Latham and Jennifer Lim all commited to this because of the story. You can see the trailer on You Tube.

You're dead. What's written on your tombstone?
What a scary woman you are. No, not that - I'm just saying you're giving me the fear. Probably 'I told you I was stressed.' Actually 'what a scary woman you are' would be a laugh, wouldn't it?

Thanks Marc! If you want to see Marc's work in action, watch The Royal this sunday (Sept 16th) on ITV1 at 8pm.

Monday, September 10, 2007

7 On Structure #1: Preference

Structure. We all know it, we all do it... Don't we?

Well actually, structure is probably the most talked-about element of screenwriting since it's probably the element that is most maligned, misunderstood and misused. Certainly it's the element that I write most about in my coverage for private clients in particular, but also in reports for writing initiatives, funding cos and indies in terms of whether a script is "ready" or not for development (the usual assertion being that, if a structure is bad - or as my favourite non-technical term goes, "lumpy" - it isn't).

So, here are the first of my seven posts on structure: what it is, why it's useful, how you can approach it, what constitutes good/bad/indifferent... The list is endless as to how we can tackles this. And it needs tackling. I get a whole heap of questions on this from my Bang2writers and there are so many interpretations, assertions, implications and whatnot, that I feel it would be a really useful exercise to get some thoughts together, in one place, about it - otherwise we could all be going round in circles forever more. But first I'm going to talk about preference and structure.

It's not secret that I am a Three Act Girl. It makes the most sense to me. You got your Set Up, Conflict and Resolution - a beginning, middle and end if you will. You then have your two turning points, one at the end of Act One, the other at the beginning of the Resolution, kicking off the run-up to that all-important ending. Then you have the midpoint - which is, unsuprisingly in the middle and (usually) heralds that moment your protagonist makes a momentous decision or act and stuff starts to change - either for good or ill, towards an "explosion" metaphorical or literal. Pretty simple stuff.

To me. But not to everyone. I read for Lizzy some time ago who says, "I just don't get The Three Act Structure. It's so big, it's daunting."

Anya says, "We don't look at life holistically, we look at it sequentially, so why can't you utilise that whilst constructing your narrative? There has to be some use in that?"

Or we have Eat My Shorts who says, "Subplots help balance out your main plot - you're always going on about the power struggle thing vs. the monsters in PITCH BLACK - so where the hell does that go on your Three Act Structure??"

And as we know there are plenty of alternatives to The Three Acts. Whilst I see them only as a re-imagination of those initial Three Acts, others see them quite differently - as a complete and whole set of NEW rules in their own right. And if it works, why not? Surely all we want here is a coherent story - that is all that counts? Or is it?

We've heard so much about "structure is good/bad, useful/useless..." What about those questions that surely go through all our heads when sitting down and composing our stories, those like those posed above but also--

Which version do you use? Why?

Do these "alternatives" muddy the waters even more?

Do they offer false hopes to scribes when the industry only ever talks about those Three Acts?

Are five acts something only Shakespeare ever did successfully?

What about commercial breaks in TV scripts -- do they affect your structure? Should they, especially in spec pilots?

Why is it some writers put thought into structure only to be told their structure is bad, meandering or lacks pace?

Why have say, 22 Steps when you can have much fewer? On the flipside, why have less when you can have more?

And is bad structure the main reason why scribes are unable to tell that "coherent" story and why there are so many scripts doing "the rounds" that will only ever be unsuccessful no matter how many times they are read?

Over to you...

Friday, September 07, 2007

If You Want A Job Doing...

I wash the baby in the kitchen sink 'cos it's nice and big, means I don't have to bend over the bath to put her in it (bad back!) and also 'cos it makes me feel ecologically friendly since it uses less water. This is why a bottle of grapefruit baby bubble bath is next to my Cillit Bang, Washing Up Liquid and other such cleaning products. If you lived in my house, you would surely know this.

Apparently not. When I asked my husband to bath the baby last night, he used Morning Fresh Oxygen Washing Up Liquid.

But at least he didn't use Cillit Bang. And she did come out lovely and clean.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

End Of The Pier Film Festival

Busy-busy-busy this week, so Many thanks to Bryan Gartside who sends this in for your attention:

Submissions for the 5th End of the Pier International Film Festival are now open. Forms can be downloaded from the web site.

The annual event held in the seaside resort of Bognor Regis is rapidly developing as one of 'the' events on the film calendar to attend.

The opening gala night, a star studded event held in the wonderful new conference centre in Butlins, Bognor Regis, kicks off the festival on April 25th. Thereafter it is eight days of cutting edge screenings and crazy workshop events - whatever your level of interest or involvement in film making, there will be something for you... And the parties? Every night is party night at The EOTP, with drinks sponsors galore!

Send your film in now to beat the rush.... And if it is nominated as part of the competition programme you will see you work on the big screen. And, the top films from each year go on to be screened at a number of film festivals throughout the EU and - the big and - they go up on ITV networks after the event... You can't miss this opportunity...

See you at EOTP 25th April - 3rd May 2008. Bognor Regis, West Sussex, England.

Bryan Gartside
Festival Director

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Red Planet Wager

UPDATE: ALL ENTRIES CLOSE AT MIDNIGHT TODAY (05/09/07). I will not be taking any more guesses except those from tmw's SP bulletin dated 6/09/07 since they would have had to post today (5/09/07). Since Red Planet have now announced they've received in the region of 2000 entries, all those who bid UNDER this number have now not made the shortlist - soz guys. So, those who have bid over 2000 are still in the running. And no you cannot re-enter if you didn't make the shortlist. To re-iterate, this is the number of SCRIPTS entered, not people, my bad, etc etc. Fire darts at me, go on I dare you - I have a hardcore husband with an axe.)
Many thanks to Andy Conway, the sole entrant thus far to my Red Planet Wager competition that I posted about on yesterday's SP screenwriters' e-bulletin! It's a simple one: being a gambling gal, I've challenged all my blog readers and shooters to come up with a guess as to how many peeps have entered The Red Planet Prize. The closest wins a free overview script report from moi. What have you got to lose, hey?

Leave your guess in the comment section of this post or email it to me.

Or the bunny gets it.

When One Door Closes...

If any of you peeps out there are piffed or meeved about not making the cut of the second round of The BSSC, here's a timely post from this morning's Talent Circle:

Namalay is a new production company looking for short film scripts from new and aspiring writers. For the next month is open for submissions. Scripts that meet the required standard will be produced over the next 12 months. Scripts must be no longer than 15 pages and presented in an industry standard format. Reply to Richard Messenger: email"at"namalay"dot"com.

As always, let us know if you decide to go for this and what happens next!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Top 5 Scripts We Can Learn From

I've been meaning to write this post for a while, since one of the most often asked questions I get is "What script can I read that will help me improve as a writer?"

My answer? There is NO one script that will help you improve as a writer, for no script is perfect. Also, our ability to obtain scripts - whether it's a transcript, the "right" draft (ie. the one that made it to the screen), etc - is limited largely to the internet. Then there's your personal preferences, from genre right through to whether you like/dislike certain elements like the camera being referenced, etc etc. Also, how it is on the page often differs wildly from how it actually ends up on screen. As I always say: it's a minefield.

However I do think there are scripts out there, readily available, that we can learn from if we're willing to accept that they're not a "fix all ailments" cure to writing problems we're having. I've gone for some obvious screenplays here, but by all means add your thoughts on others you think offer up some useful tips in the comment section.

1. For a good example of character being set up as the same time as plot, read Sideways By Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. Of the many scripts I read, often character is set up ahead of plot, when it's often more desirable to have them go hand in hand. Sideways doesn't start with a bone-shaking hook, just a sad, hungover man who has to move his car for a neighbour, but it illustrates how put-upon he is and how he lies to himself: he didn't get ratted last night, he was wine tasting. Yeah. Whatever.

2. For a good example of dialogue that presents characters' differing world views, read Tremors by S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock. Val and Earl might be brothers, but their dialogue illustrates their differences not only in age but personality too without ever overstating the case I think.

3. For an example of a great adaptation, read American Psycho by Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner. Regular Readers of the blog will remember this conversation thread that we've already debated regarding this movie, but whatever you think of it, I think it's a shining example of book to film with regard to appreciating they are NOT the same, whilst still retaining that original seed of the story.

4. For a good example of "hitting the ground running" and presenting a protagonist's problem from the outset, read The Bourne Identity by Tony Gilroy. Another adaptation and quite different to the book if I recall correctly, but still a great start with an interesting hook.

5. For a good example of structure and how the subplot can feed into the main plot, read Pitch Black by Ken and Jim Wheat. What I like about Pitch Black is its main problem - the fact that all of them could be eaten by aliens - is not their only problem: Johns and Riddicks' struggle for supremacy over each other and thus the group is an admirable subplot (if a little reminsicent of Burke's treachery in ALIENS!). But subplots can't last forever and when it ends and Riddick wins over Johns with the fight in front of the sled, the Resolution kicks off. Nice work. This script's not quite the same as the DVD, but it's very close.

Got any others? Let us know - and if you have any links, then all the better...

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Rights And Responsibilities

WARNING: Major Spoilers for Wolf Creek are present in this post towards the bottom.

My husband works with kids who have behavioural difficulties. This ranges from kids who have a basic attitude problem because they're finding growing up hard, right through to kids who have been abused and/or neglected and kids with special educational needs such as Asperger Syndrome. I don't think he's paid even half what he's worth, especially since he loves working with these kids. And who else wants to? Not very many people. But that's a soapbox moment for another time.

One thing that my husband is required to do by law with these kids is have them work out, for themselves, what their rights and responsibilities are. Teens are notoriously self-obsessed, so they can pinpoint their rights with relative ease: I have a right to be listened to, to be an individual and so on and soforth. Yet what are their responsibilities? What is a responsibility, who should it be a responsibility to, why should it be one?

I was thinking last night about this very same subject with regards to what our rights and responsibilities are as writers and filmmakers then. On the blogs, bulletins, message boards etc we *seem* to have pinpointed our rights with that same ease as those recalcitrant teens (online people have demanded the right to write whatever we want, a right to courtesy from those producers et al who still don't reply to us, a right to training that is value for money, etc etc), yet in my view the notion of responsibility seems to have been somewhat disregarded. What ARE our responsibilities as writers and filmmakers? Why should we have them - or not? What constitutes a responsibility anyway and to whom??

FrightFest has just come and gone in London and it seems quite a furore has erupted over one particular film, Teeth. Sarah of The Dead has been most vocal in blogland over her disgust at this film, not only writing about it on her own blog but Jason's as well.

Now I haven't watched Teeth but I can tell you one thing: I am sick, sick, sick of reading scripts with rape in or any scenario where a woman is punished for enjoying and/or experimenting with sex. I've been quite vocal myself in the course of this blog about rape scenes and not just those on women either, but men too: what are they for? Are they horrifying? Yes. Are they needed in your storyline? 9/10 - no. In my view, if you really *must* include a rape scene (really? Are you SURE??), a suggestion of this horrifying act is far, far more effective than seeing every last gory detail. And please, please don't think you're "out there" whilst writing them and that it'll get you attention for being controversial either. Over the course of my script reading (roughly 5/6 years now, on and off), I have read loads of rape scenes, especially in the horror and thriller genres. They. Are. Not. Original!!!

In short though, I think rape scenes in scripts and the punishment of women in particular for enjoying sex is irresponsible. There are enough sickos in the world who will believe this sort of shit anyway: do they really need a new platform to indulge their fantasies? I don't believe those filmmakers or even writers are those sickos, it's just, by chasing sensationalism in this regard, are they adding to an already sick society and keeping a vicious circle going? Giving people what they might want is not always what they actually need, after all and whilst censorship is a pain in the bum to all artistes, are there not some subjects or elements where we might think, "Hhhhhmmmm...better not"?

I sat down to watch Wolf Creek last night. To say I was bored is an understatement - its lack of pace and meandering structure did my head in royally - but at the same time, I was disturbed by its insistence that it was based on actual events and that these were real people that this had happened to. Not because the film was actually any good I might add, but because at the end it flashed up in the credits that the two girls had never been found and their killer never brought to justice. Immediately I thought: their poor families had to put up with not only a badly-written film being made about their missing daughters, there was this hideous speculation as to what had actually happened to them - ie. they had been murdered in guresome fashion by this mysterious Crocodile Dundee character - which of course we couldn't possibly know, since the only "survivor" was completely omitted from the whole of Act 2 and not present when either of those two girls were killed!

But of course that survivor was not real, a Google search this morning reveals - and neither were those two girls. We're just supposed to think it was real so as to add to its visceral, cinema-verite angle. In short, it was cheating. Yet every single review you'll see is "based on actual events". What events were these, then? I'm thinking Peter Falconio's murder seems the most obvious, yet other than the fact he was murdered in The Outback (his girlfriend got away), there bears little other resemblance.

In any case, in order to utilise that "based on actual events" tag, surely there has to be a little responsibility employed here: if you're going to make a movie about real people, facing real hardhsip and/or suffering, you need your movie to have some kind of point? Wolf Creek had some nice scenery and some gory bits including the torture of one girl and the paralysis of another, culminating with the male character waking to find himself nailed to a cross. None of the characters worked together or learned anything about themselves, let alone vanquished the beast. What was this film trying to say? That nasty, terrible things can happen? We know this already from watching and reading the news - though Peter Falconio's family have it etched on their hearts forever, as do any other family who has suffered a loss as shocking as that. So why was Wolf Creek a movie? I have no idea, but I daresay there will be some fans out there in re-educate me!