28 May, 2006

Rom-Com Challenge

I'm following Ops's lead and joining the 14 Day Screenwriting Challenge.

Too many people are doing it now for me to chicken out - although I badly want to. I mean, the World Cup is on for most of those days for flip's sake!

But let's face it, we can multi-task if we want to, so we can think through a scene while we wait for the bus, feed our baby or sit in a boring business meeting. And then write the scene up while watching a soap or the footie.

If we can't multi-task then, I hate to say it, but we may have to make sacrifices. Sometimes to get what we want, to be a good screenwriter, it may mean cutting back on other things we like and enjoy. Do you really need to watch every episode of Big Brother and the Big Mouth and the Little Brother? Will one hour do in the pub instead of five hours? Can you make love to your partner for five minutes instead of an hour? I've cut down sex to one minute. It's easy!

The most important work anyway, is now, in the planning. Normally my pre-writing stage takes ages and the actual writing is quite quick as I've worked all the problems out before the dialogue stage. This is an opportunity to just give myself a week for that first stage and just get cracking. The plan isn't written in stone and so can be changed for the better as the 14 days roll by but some sort of structure is important or you're more likely to get stuck in the middle and give up. If you know where you're going it's easy. Well relatively. It's the difference between finding a place you've never been to before with a map or without one, I think.

The main reason why we may be reluctant to try is the fear of failure but who says your first draft has to be perfect? Even if, in the unlikely event, that first draft is the worst thing ever written the experience and knowledge you would have gained from planning a script and finishing a script will be immense. We learn by doing. Sure books and brilliant websites like mine are useful but there's nothing like quill meeting parchment for gaining skills in screenwriting.

I've printed off all the good preparation stuff on the 14 day site and I'm going to print off some of what Billy Mernit has said on Living the Romantic Comedy and just work hard on getting a good story together. It hasn't got to be best thing ever and I'm going to try not to give a flip about other rom-coms and how they worked or failed. I want this script to be about what interests me not what I think will sell.

Good luck everybody!

26 May, 2006

Home Again


The test of a good comedy is if you can dip into it mid-series and you’re still able to understand the premise, the characters and find it funny. And so I watched last week’s episode of new comedy Home Again.

“Failing time and time again to get onto the property ladder, newlyweds Ingrid and Mark are forced to move into her parents' spare room.” The British Sitcom Guide

The premise is a good one which captures the zeitgeist in that grown children are returning home (having flown the nest) for financial or other personal reasons. I suspect many people had that idea but each would have come up with a completely different sitcom.

However A list comedy veterans James Hendrie and Ian Brown got there first. They write for - and then eventually took over running - My Family – the most popular BBC sitcom in years and have years of experience and expertise. However, Home Again has weak foundations and needs re-building if not demolition.

Although it’s a pre-watershed sitcom about a family in family viewing time, it has, surprisingly, lots of jokes about sex and sexuality. According to one review it had an actual unmistakeable blow-job in an earlier episode but surely the critic was mistaken. It somehow feels like cheating as sex jokes are easy and writing something the whole family can watch is difficult. Don’t get me wrong, I love sex jokes but I could do without questions like “daddy, what’s she got in her mouth?”

There was a whiff of desperation about the gagging up – where they try to make a scene funnier. For example, the young couple are in bed and you’ve got to leave the scene on a gag. The gag they came up with was the woman switching off the light and the man complaining that he couldn’t see the lolly he was eating. That’s it. As a gag it didn’t work as even in the dark, in a long-shot the audience could see the lolly and so we don’t quite believe he couldn’t see it right in front of him – or even need to see it to eat it.

The plot creaks around an extremely contrived misunderstanding about the children thinking the father’s dying and the parents thinking that their children are planning a secret party for them.

Throughout the episode, the story requires the characters to make giant leaps in conclusion without any proof. As a trait for one character that’s probably amusing but as a crutch for bad storytelling, less so. Perhaps if the plot had revolved around a character issue – something true and real - rather than an unlikely misunderstanding then it might have been more interesting.

While the daughter’s husband bears some similarity to Nick from My Family (nothing wrong with that as Nick is very popular) it’s a shame that there wasn’t something more distinctive with the other characters and some depth to all of them. At the moment none of them are ‘relatable’; I just don’t care about what happens to them.

One of the first things I learnt was “arguing is not conflict”, that goes for pointless witless bickering as well. I feel there needs to be some proper on-going conflict. But that would mean making it less cosy. But would anyone call the most popular BBC pre-watershed comedy of all time “Only Fools and Horses” cosy? Cosy isn’t a pre-requisite for pre-watershed.

As new writers our natural inclination may be to write edgy post-watershed things but BBC comedy development have been encouraging new writers to try pre-watershed family friendly things.

Rather than be bitter that our weak scripts aren’t produced when the BBC produce other people’s weak scripts perhaps we have to simply get better and try harder.

The next episode is tonight at 8:30pm, BBC1. I recommend watching it critically, writing down what you like and what you don’t like. Do you agree with my points or disagree?

25 May, 2006

The 14 Day Screenplay


"Welcome to the 14 Day Screenplay, the NaNoWriMo for screenwriters.

In the 14 Day Screenplay we challenge you to write a feature length screenplay (90-120 pages) in just 14 days. It may sound crazy but that is less than 7-9 pages a day, each day for the 14 days. With a little preparation it should take less than two hours a day. Most people can find bits of time through the day, and what’s getting up early for a fortnight if you have a screenplay written at the end?

This is a competition, however there are no prizes. You are competing with yourself and the grand prize is the satisfaction of knowing you too can write a script. The point is simply this - finish a screenplay!

It doesn’t matter if your script is no good. If it’s your first then odds are it won’t be, however consider it a first draft. Consider it proving to yourself that you can writer a script and use your new found confidence to continue writing. After all, a lousy first draft is better than no draft at all."




24 May, 2006

FilmFiler.com � Blog Archive � Beat Writers Block!

FilmFiler.com � Blog Archive � Beat Writers Block!

Includes a cool ideas generator based on combining two random films. Try it. Some attempts will suck real bad but it may spark a good idea.

The Writing Show � Blog Archive � Podcast: Writing the Romantic Comedy Film

The Writing Show � Blog Archive � Podcast: Writing the Romantic Comedy Film

The Dan Brown Code. Article By Bryan Curtis

The Dan Brown Code. By Bryan Curtis

Slate article revealing the secrets of the Da Vinci Code author's success.

Announced today screenwriter Akiva Goldsman has signed up to adapt the prequel (which might be done as a sequel instead) Angels and Demons.

23 May, 2006

The Da Vinci Code - Movie versus Book


According to Mark Kermode, a turgid and boring book has been made into a turgid and boring film. Harsh but fair. However props need to be given to the screenwriter of the film, Akiva Goldsman, for doing so well given the source material.

Goldsman is best known for his majestic Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind screenplay – although as with the Da Vinci Code , there was controversy regarding the truth and what really happened.

Many new writers approach writing screenplays as they would writing novels but this adaptation highlights the differences. Firstly the Aristotelian dramatic principles have been brought into effect. By minimising locations, losing unnecessary characters, deleting repetitive plotting, and contracting time, Goldsman makes Dan Brown’s story easier to digest. What Goldsman can’t change too much are the ingredients of the novel’s plot but he can try and make them more palatable.

For example, a bad guy is captured and transported hundreds of miles from ‘A’ to ‘B’ for no reason whatsoever in the book - except to help the plot later. In the movie Goldsman gives a reason, ‘we might need him’. No, you bloody well won’t! For what? Eh? For what possible reason on earth could he possibly be needed for? Just dump him in the woods for god’s sake! Problem solved! But at least Goldsman tried.

It’s the improved characterisation and motivations of the characters where Goldsman really shines. Dan Brown wouldn’t know a character arc from Noah’s Ark but Goldman’s throughlines are clear and satisfying.

The success of the book is that it is a page-turner despite the plot being quite convoluted and contrived. Although I was happy to suspend disbelief while reading, it just got too annoying by the end and the film magnifies the flaws. Too much of it consists of plot coming before character when plot should arise out of character.

While the thriller aspects were ultimately disappointing, like most readers, I was quite happy to suspend disbelief due to the sheer audacity and originality of Brown’s story. I prefer stories to be about something, whether it's the saving of the world or the saving of a relationship.

Brown’s ‘something’ is so big that countries are calling for a ban; churches and mosques are calling for a boycott. Its Christian Feminist perspective is something that challenges the religious patriarchy and points out that the misogyny they enforce isn’t god-given but man-made.

I really loved the ending of the film. Not in a “thank god, it’s over” kind of way but the ending in the book has the resurrection of people previously thought dead. That was just fake feel-good foolishness. How cheated would you feel if Harry Potter’s parents were really alive after all and had no reason whatsoever for pretending to be dead?

Goldman keeps the essence of that storyline but ignores the dumb details and makes it more poignant and true to the characters. You just know Brown was kicking himself thinking: “Of course that’s much better. What was I thinking? What an idiot I am. An extremely popular and rich idiot but an idiot nonetheless. I wish I was a proper writer like Goldsman rather than just a novelist. Screenwriters rule, I merely drool.”

Akiva Goldsman interviews:

Toronto Star

LA Times

18 May, 2006

Grownups


Grownups is the new sitcom from Susan Nickson, the genius creator of Two Pints... It airs on BBC3 on Sundays, 10:00pm with repeats through the week and you can watch all the episodes online.

However I've found it very disappointing so far. You can tell it's by Nickson because of her wonderful way with words but I just don't believe the stories or characters. Truth is essential for comedy.

In episode 2, for example, Mike was scared of the dark and Natasha Kaplinsky. I can believe that, I'm sure lots of people have those phobias but he didn't react consistently and believably to that fear - and the business with the doll was just too stupid for me to even bother trying to explain here.

Characters still have to act like real people. Even if they are larger than life and their stories are outrageous they need to be psychologically true.

I also find Mike and Michelle's sibling relationship to be deeply disturbing. Men wearing women's underwear is a standard gag passed down through the centuries which will never get old but when it's a brother wearing his sister's underwear and talking about his bits to her with no explanation and no reaction from her then it's something different, surely. Unless I'm missing something. Is it common? I've worn my girlfriend's undies - obviously, nothing wrong with that - but is it OK to wear my sister's undies and talk about how they feel on my privates? Ugh! No, sorry. Just writing that sentence made me feel very dirty and unclean.

Sorry, I was going to write more but I've just got to go and have a shower. No, not a cold shower, you cheeky get, but a hot cleansing one with lots of scubbing with a wire brush to purify both my mind and my body.

Feel the Force


Episode 3 of new single camera six-part comedy Feel the Force by comedy veteran Georgia Pritchett airs on Monday, 9:30pm on BBC2.

There's an interesting interview with Pritchett and her producer as part of the BBC press pack.

I'm a Pritchett fan from her S Club days but I'm finding this show very disappointing so far. So why am I suggesting you watch? I think it's worthwhile to try and work out why it isn't as successful as the creative team would have liked.

Talent Circle Re-launch


Talent Circle is the process of a re-launch and it is looking mighty fine so far. If you write for film and you haven't signed up yet then why not do so now? It's free.

15 May, 2006

Comedy Lab 2006

"Have you got a comedy idea you’d like to see on TV? Channel 4’s Entertainment Department is looking for submissions for the 10th series of Comedy Lab, which will be broadcast in Autumn/Winter 2007.

What it is: A late night comedy slot on Channel 4 to provide a showcase for new writers and performers. Comedy Lab takes an original approach to traditional comedy and features experimental pieces that don't fit any of the established entertainment strands. Channel 4 is now looking for submissions for the next series to be broadcast in Autumn/Winter 2007. Ideally, projects will be submitted via a production company – but if you don't have the necessary contacts feel free to submit direct to Channel 4. You'll need a full script and whatever supportive material you can compile – such as artwork, show-reels, cast suggestions and sample content on VHS/DVD.

What you get: The chance to showcase your comic talents to millions of people on national television.

Then what? Having shown your talent to the nation, there's no stopping you. The Comedy Lab has launched the careers of performers including Dom Joly, Peter Kay, and Jimmy Carr with series such as Trigger Happy TV, Phoenix Nights, Los Dos Bros and The Last Chancers. As Jimmy Carr says: "The Comedy Lab is godsend for comedians who would never otherwise have a half-hour slot on television. Dom Joly, Peter Kay and myself all owe a lot to the fact that it nurtured our talent at an early stage."

Deadline: Friday 1st September 2006.

Please submit your ideas to:
Comedy Lab, c/o Shane Allen, Comedy Department, Channel Four, 124 Horseferry Road, London, SW1P 2TX.

For details about this year’s Comedy Lab go to: www.channel4.com/comedylab

"Thank the Baby Jesus for Channel 4's Comedy Lab, the only real showcase for original comedy on terrestrial television." – The Observer."

Last year's pilots aired last week and if you missed them then keep an eye out for repeats on E4. Good luck!

12 May, 2006

How I Met Your Mother

Premieres Sunday 19.35 BBC TWO

"US sitcom about how a young Ted (he's now old) met his (now) wife (in the past) told in flashback (obviously) to his kids (they didn't exist then) in a way that's hard to describe in one sentence." (BBC Comedy Newsletter)

I was lucky to get a preview of this show. We may struggle to come up with a good enough gimmick for our new sitcoms and How I Met Your Mother is certainly an interesting one. It basically has a framing device of Ted talking to his kids and then flashing back to 2005. However, the gimmick so clearly hasn't got 'legs', I wondered why no-one else had noticed.

  • Each story has to be about how this guy met his wife - it's in the title. That's incredibly restrictive.
  • The introductory bit with the kids has to be in each week and there's little variance you can do with it, it's going to be samey.
  • At some point you have to show the 'mother' of the title. Pretty darn soon as well, I'd say, or it just gets annoying.
  • But when they do show the mother then the whole 'will they, won't they' suspense is completely gone

In the States they are aiming at 22 episodes a season for five years and I couldn't see the gimmick lasting a season. It might work better for a short run British show but even in the UK production companies and networks are looking for longer runs for comedies.

Don't get me wrong, it is one of the best of the current season sitcoms but you're sort of waiting for them to abandon the gimmick and just be a comedy about friends and dating. Which they eventually do later in the series.

I personally don't think you need a gimmick or some amazing twist no-one has ever seen before. Good characters involved in strong stories, saying and doing funny things may be all you need.

East London Comedy Writers Group: 16 May

Tuesday 16 May 06, 7pm
Old King's Head Pub (upstairs), Kings Head Yard,
45-49 Borough High St, London, SE1 1NA Tel: 020 7407 1550. (LONDON
BRIDGE TUBE - BOROUGH HIGH STREET EXIT!)

7 PM - 9 PM (get there before 7 to take advantage of the
pub's "happy hour").

New members always welcome!

Membership is free and most meetings involve a reading of a member's
script, followed by feedback on said script, plus sharing of industry
news/gossip with like-minded people. You will not need to wait long
for it to be "your turn" - normally a couple of meetings or so.

On Tuesday we will be reading and feeding back on Kulvinder Gill's
half-hour comedy script. Contact me direct for a copy in advance.
Furthermore, we will be getting a talk from the editor of Penny
London, a new paper for London that is looking for comedy writers and
contributors.

Tristan White (tristan.white(at)gmail.com)

11 May, 2006

Screenwriters' Festival

More details of the festival have been announced, including the New Writers' Day

09 May, 2006

Manchester - comedy writers' meeting - Saturday 13 May.

The inaugural meeting will start at 1pm on Saturday 13 May
in the upstairs room of the Town Hall Tavern, on Tib Lane,
in the centre of Manchester. (some of you will know this
venue as the regular home of "The Smirking Room" comedy club).

Access is easy by train, bus, tram, rollerblade, etc.

You can see further details at
http://www.nucleon.co.uk/comedy/

Please contact david (at) nucleon.co.uk to let him know
that you will be attending.

08 May, 2006

MediaGuardian.co.uk | Broadcast | McGovern's Street gets longer

MediaGuardian.co.uk | Broadcast | McGovern's Street gets longer

Lucy Lumsden interview

Media | Game for a laugh

Interview with Lucy Lumsden, controller of comedy commissioning at the BBC

"I see the biggest challenge as being a return to laugh-out-loud comedy [...] Because if they're not laughing you're in real trouble."

04 May, 2006

Propeller TV

"Dear Screenwriters,

You may well already have heard of Propeller TV, but we are keen to bring you up to date with the opportunities that this exciting new channel offers to new talent filmmakers like yourself. We are actively working with independent filmmakers and your regional screen agency to ensure that the widest possible opportunities to promote your work are made available to you.

Propeller is the national channel for new film and television talent and is developing at a fast pace since we launched at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television in February. We now have over 1600 film submissions in the first 10 weeks of broadcast, from a wide range of new independent filmmakers, helping them to gain commissions, a broadcast credit and an increase in their own commercial DVD sales.

There have been some exciting developments over the past few months. Propeller has linked up with the UK FILM COUNCIL, SKILLSET and the regional screen agencies, to decide how to re-invest income in productions funds, bursaries, training programmes and sponsorships schemes. We've also linked up with the BBC FILM NETWORK to help showcase new talent. Remember, propeller is a not for profit organisation and can offer a free a platform to air on SKY. We ask for a 3 year non exclusive licence agreement, which can be terminated by you at anytime.

What can we offer?

  1. propeller will be able to offer a free European platform for filmmakers to showcase their work on SKY.
  2. propeller can also offer a broadcast credit for new talent seeking to further their careers
  3. propeller offers an opportunity via the website for perspective buyers, sales agents, commissioning editors to contact filmmakers direct and to vote and rate films online
  4. A board of patrons, including key broadcasters, funding agencies and regulators

What you need to do?

To submit your film send a copy (on Mini DV, DV CAM or DVD) to the address below with your name and contact details. We will then forward paperwork to you, which you will need to read through and complete. In keeping with OFCOM regulations we cannot broadcast films without the relevant clearances therefore, failure to return paperwork will mean your film cannot not be broadcast.

Finally, please do keep an eye on www.propellertv.co.uk, the site is being further expanded and shortly you will be able to vote for your favourite films online. Also, have you had chance to watch propeller yet? What do you think? Propeller is on air 8pm to 1am 7 days a week on SKY channel 195. We always value any feedback you might have about our programming content and/or our website, so please drop me an email john @ propellerTV.co.uk if you have any ideas or comments.

If you have any specific queries please don't hesitate in contacting me directly at propeller (john @ propellerTV.co.uk)

Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours faithfully,

John Offord
Propeller TV
C/O Screen Yorkshire, 46 The Calls, Leeds, LS2 7EY www.propellertv.co.uk

the national channel for new film and tv talent"

02 May, 2006

Sugar, We're Going Down




And so, to no great surprise, the mighty Blues have been relegated. What lesson can we learn from this to help with our writing?

Well, you had a bunch of millionaire footballers on long contracts who had no incentive to try. They had a manager and various coaches to try and give them that incentive but it didn’t work. It has to come from within. You have to want it and not be afraid to get it. As new writers we often don’t even get the luxury of a manager and coaches so that makes it doubly difficult. We need to set realistic and achievable goals and not let anything stand in our way.

What else? The players suffered from over-confidence and arrogance. They were called the best squad the club has ever had; they did quite well in the previous seasons and so thought they would do the same again with no effort. It’s quite easy to delude ourselves that the script we are about to submit to producers is not only good enough to pass a script reader’s inspection but is ready for production. Especially as the alternative means working a bit harder on it.

One of the worst things in script reading is reading a weak script by someone who is extremely confident it will sell and be a ratings hit. When someone’s so high, it’s difficult to let them down gently. Many writers have refused to re-write, refused to take on board any comments and submitted their script as is. When the scripts were rejected, for the very reasons I pointed out, the effort it took to not say, “I told you so, nah nah nah-nah nah,” nearly gave me apoplexy.

Of course, conversely, don’t beat yourself up and call yourself crap but I recommend trying to get a little distance from your work and try and see it with the eyes of someone who doesn’t know you and doesn’t know your work so you’re a little more clear how well your script will play in the big bad world.

I’m aware Villa fans read this so I’ll clarify that last point. When I say “get a little distance from your work and try and see it with the eyes of someone who doesn’t know you” I don’t mean that you should send your script on a bus to a far-off town, pluck out the eyes of a stranger and use them to try and read your script from miles away. I mean, leave it in a drawer for a few weeks and try really hard in being objective