29 August, 2007

Why producers so often have the toughest role

The Guardian:

"Film finance: Want to make a movie? The British film industry is booming and there is no shortage of talent: the hard part is finding funding,"

Gore Is Less: Videogames Make Better Horror Than Hollywood

Wired:

"The fact is, I like to be scared out of my wits. I'm one of those wimps who is easily spooked yet generally enjoys the sensation. So ever since I was a kid, I've loved good horror movies -- I'd turn out the lights freak myself out with classics like Halloween, Friday the 13th or The Exorcist.

Yet here's the thing: For several years now, I've found that my favorite horror experiences aren't coming from movies any more. They're coming from games.

Why? Partly it's because films have become much less artistically interesting. With a choice few exceptions -- like the superb The Ring -- I've found that modern horror movies have been offering less and less suspense, and more and more gore. Maybe it's due to the rampaging success of Saw, which gave birth to the current trend toward torture-chic and metric tonnage of blood in scary movies.

In contrast, the best scary-game designers have quietly perfected the interplay of tension and release that makes for a truly cardiac horror experience. They have, in a sense, become even more faithful interpreters of the horror tradition movies than Hollywood directors."

28 August, 2007

From MM's “Secret” Script Reviews

Mystery Man on Film: "

A good friend of mine told me something recently:


WHAT

plus
WHY
equals
WHO

“If we know WHAT a person does and WHY they do it, then we know WHO they are.”

Playwright Fights for Congolese Women

Fox News:

"Eve Ensler has just returned from hell. That's how the author of "The Vagina Monologues" describes her trip to Congo, where thousands of women have been sexually attacked and mutilated in the African nation's civil war."

27 August, 2007

How I Got into Sundance

Matt Friedman, Film Traveller:

"In 2003, I was selected for the Sundance Screenwriter's Lab. The Sundance Institute does not just put on a massive film festival every year; they have fabulous all-expenses-paid artistic development programs in film, poetry, theater, and more, and provide a kind of fertile creative soil which I never knew existed and might not have believed had I not been lucky enough (and believe me, it's more luck than talent) to get planted in it.

You're housed for a week in the Sundance Village in Utah, surrounded by woodfire cabins, forested mountains, and Academy Award-winning screenwriters. The airfare is paid, the expenses are paid, and there are three grade-double-A buffet meals a day plus social events and–if you stick around a few days beyond the Lab–some free Film Festival tie-ins. There is no industry talk except around informal dinner tables, no producers, no worries, no focus on anything except the art and craft of screenwriting."

Playwright searches in darkness for hope

South Bend Tribune:

"There's a lot of rules for playwrights that instructors still teach in college. It's the way plays have been written. All of that is sort of going away in today's theatre. One of the major differences I see is moving away from the fourth wall."

26 August, 2007

Anti Pacman

Newgrounds:

I hated Pacman and always wished I could play the ghosts. Now I can.

World Stats Clock

Poowaddle.com

Various statistics are updated by year, month, week, day or instantly.

Soundtrack

I'm down with the kids (but not in a Chris Langham way) so I know about the resurgence of the underage music scene in the UK which culminated in the Underage Festival in London a couple of weeks ago.

Although I love all types of music, I am at heart a straight edge punker and so I am chuffed that so many young people are going to gigs for the music not to get pissed. And more importantly so many have been inspired to create their own bands rather than just passively consume whatever corporate crap is fed to them.

To be honest I haven't had time to check out the bands in the UK but I've been a fan of the following two youngster bands from the USA for a while.

I was initially sceptical of kids playing music as they don't have the life experience but the following two indie bands are not just good for kids but good full stop.

Smoosh


Chloe and Asya are sisters from Seattle and they are quite brilliant. I alternate between being amazed at their talent to being jealous of their talent. They've provided two quality albums.

"Find A Way":



Official
Myspace
Wikipedia


Tiny Masters of Today


Ivan and Ada are a brother and sister from Brooklyn. While not as accomplished in songwriting ability as Smoosh are still worth checking out.

"Bushy"




Offical site
Myspace
Wikipedia

24 August, 2007

Marchant blames TV execs for ‘lame’ dramas

The Stage:

"Screenwriter Tony Marchant has criticised the majority of UK television dramas as “badly written and unoriginal”, claiming commissioners are restricting the development of imaginative and innovative scripts.

Speaking to The Stage, Marchant complained writers were suffering because executives were dictating content, rather than allowing them the creative freedom to devise bold scripts and challenging storylines."

23 August, 2007

Back in biz, Zackham turns to TV

Hollywood Reporter:

"Zackham had struggled to make it as a feature writer for years, working on projects that were never made. But before closing that chapter in his career, Zackham decided to give it one last shot with an idea he had about two terminally ill men who escape from a cancer ward and go on a road trip. He penned "Bucket List" in two weeks, only to see it turned down by every producer in town until it ended up in Reiner's hands."

21 August, 2007

Writing for Actors (Or: why writers should win the Best Acting awards)

Karel Segers, The Story Department:

"Until recently I was only a producer and story consultant. I can now add 'writer' to my credits. Well, in spirit that is. The credit will never be on the screen. It was a rewrite-for-hire job and although in my humble opinion the story is now 200% better, the original writers will get the praise, if any. In any case, it is exciting to know after my rewrite the script was deemed ready for consideration by a Hollywood Studio (Fox) where it is at the time of writing.

But all that is beside the point. The project in question is supposed to launch the career of a particular actor, which I could hardly believe after reading the draft I received. The actor's character was NOT the story's protagonist, he had limited screentime and worst of all: he was given the most unspeakable dialogue.

Which set me thinking. How do you write dialogue for a beginning actor? You don't. You write emotion. And emotion the actor will not need to perform. I have had this conversation a dozen times over the past month so I apologise in advance for those who have heard me preach about this before.

Let's go back about eighty years (or ten blogs) to the work of Lev Kuleshov.

"Kuleshov took unedited footage of a completely expressionless face [...] and intercut it with shots of three highly motivated objects: a bowl of hot soup, a dead woman lying in a coffin, and a little girl playing with a teddy bear.

When the film strips were shown to randomly selected audiences, they invariably responded as though the actor's face had accurately portrayed the emotion appropriate to the intercut object.

As Pudovkin recalled: "The public raved about the acting of the artist. They pointed out the heavy pensiveness of his mood over the forgotten soup, were touched and moved by the deep sorrow with which he looked on the dead woman, and admired the light, happy smile with which he surveyed the girl at play.

But we knew that in all three cases the face was exactly the same." (from David Cook's splendid A HISTORY OF NARRATIVE FILM.)


These results are known today as the 'Kuleshov effect' and it explains why often actors win awards for performances they didn't give. When Russell Crowe broke onto the Hollywood scene with his nomination for THE INSIDER, it had IMHO nothing to do with his acting skills but everything with Eric Roth and Michael Mann's terrific writing, which effectively projected the feelings we share with the Jeffrey Wigand character onto Crowe's blank face.

A more recent example is the late Ulrich Mühe's performance in THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Das Leben der Anderen), which won him numerous best actor awards including at the European Film Awards. The second half of the movie is an emotional powerhouse, yet the actor's face is near blank.

Conversely, great actors have been blamed of bad performances where the only culprit really was the screenwriter. The actor could have avoid the blame by politely passing on a screenplay that was not worthy of his attachment.

Bottom line: if you want to write great drama for any actor, irrespective of the experience level, don't describe the emotion you want to see on the actor's face. Make the audience feel the emotion before the character has to respond to it. Great drama does not have visible emotion; it makes you, the audience feel it. If you must, write a tear on an expressionless face.

Hitchcock would say: "I need actors who can do nothing well." He understood perfectly that it was the writer's job to convey the emotion, not the actor's. He also perfectly understood the power of the Kuleshov effect and consequently: the power of editing.

Great actors are not those who can be express sadness, anger or desperation better than others. Great actors are those who can pick great scripts."

How Hollywood fell out of love with romance

The Times:

“It’s Hollywood’s fault,” says Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, who consistently creates wonderful melodramas and intriguing female characters. “In the last decade you can count the number of Hollywood dramas that have revolved around women. The studios have forgotten that women are fascinating.”

ITV Local looking for short fiction & factual film - Yorkshire

ITV Local is ITV's broadband TV service on the internet providing a collection of channels including daily news, sport, weather, What's On and a more specialist channel featuring high quality films by local film-makers.

ITV Local is launching in the Yorkshire region at the end of August and we are looking for short fiction films or community based factual features to be submitted to us for consideration. We would like to see films from regional film makers, or ones that have a strong regional identity for Yorkshire.

If you have a short film that you would like to be considered, please contact yorkshire@itvlocal.com for further information.

17 August, 2007

Conservatives are less creative than liberals

British Psychological Society:

"People who hold conservative views tend to lack creativity relative to more liberal-minded people, according to a new psychology study."


I didn't say it, please don't shoot the messenger. Literally, because all you conservatives love guns.

16 August, 2007

A very British cop-out

The Guardian:

"The BBC and the Film Council can stop congratulating themselves on their Summer of British Film. It's nothing less than condescending propaganda, argues Alex Cox "

15 August, 2007

The People's Play 2008 - North East

New Writing North:

"New Writing North and the People’s Theatre Company are proud to announce the launch of the 2008 People’s Play Award. The award is run to find an exciting new play that will be produced for one week in the studio theatre at the People’s Theatre in Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne, in May 2008. The winning writer will receive an award of £2,000.

The competition aims to discover and develop new writers for theatre and is only open to writers who have not yet received a professional production of their work on the stage.

The People’s Theatre is one of the largest, oldest and most prestigious amateur theatres in the country. Many of its members go on to professional theatre work. The theatre has always been keen to promote new writing and the People’s Play is now a well-established event in its calendar. New Writing North is the writing development agency for the north east of England. New Writing North works with writers in all genres of writing, from plays and screenplays to fiction and poetry, to develop new opportunities and projects.

The award is funded by New Writing North and The People’s Theatre and is open to writers who live and work within the Arts Council England North East region (Tyneside, Northumberland, Tees Valley and County Durham)."

Deadline: Monday 5 November 2007

Fox gives top writers gross points

Variety:

"In a highly unusual move for a major, 20th Century Fox aims to entice a dozen top screenwriters to bring original spec scripts to the studio in exchange for gross participation if the pics get made.

The writers, who'll take small upfront payments and will get only their usual fees on films that go into production, will also be guaranteed input as producers and protection from being rewritten without their permission. Fox production co-presidents Emma Watts and Alex Young are spearheading the effort.

Fox's push centers around a collective scribe venture dubbed Writing Partners, which is comprised of Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio ("Pirates of the Caribbean," "Shrek"); Michael Arndt ("Little Miss Sunshine"); John August ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"); Stuart Beattie ("Collateral"); Michael Brandt and Derek Haas ("3:10 to Yuma"); Tim Herlihy ("The Wedding Singer"); Simon Kinberg ("Mr. & Mrs. Smith," "X-Men: The Last Stand"); Craig Mazin ("Scary Movie 3" and "4"); and Marianne & Cormac Wibberley ("National Treasure" and its sequel).

Fox's deal requires that each scribe or team generate at least one spec within four years."

14 August, 2007

Top Ten Tips Towards Writing Better Scripts

Jase mentioned Yvonne Grace and her new site called Script Advice, so I checked it out.

Yvonne has an article with the above title which she sends out by email that is worth requesting and you can sign up for her newsletter at the same time.

13 August, 2007

What the Papers Say: "Empathy"


Andrew Billen, The Times

"A nasty case of the flashbacks

Jimmy Collins, an ex-con, kept having visions about other people’s pasts. Funny that. Watching Empathy, BBC One’s Saturday night supernatural thriller, in which Jimmy was the empathy-non-inducing hero, I had visions about the future. I spooked myself that I’d know what would happen next. Mind you, you didn’t have to be psychic to predict the plot of a police drama that owed much to Patricia Arquette’s Medium and everything else to Stephen King’s Dead Zone.

Jimmy (Stephen Moyer) was released from jail after being banged up because of an understandable instance of male-revenge violence. On the way out he shook the hand of one of the screws and, wow, it looked like the guard had one of those electric shock handshake gadgets in his palm. In fact, a nasty case of the flashbacks (and not even his) had been induced by the flesh press. Further plot devices confirmed that this tactile man did indeed have second sight or, as we doctors say, temporal lobe problems. But then he touched the coat of a murderer and, bang! He “witnessed” a girl being clubbed to death.

The police, predictably sceptical about his powers, arrested him for the slaying but, after an inordinate amount of time, were won round. The first to succumb was DS Jo Cavanagh, whom I surmised at once to be the sort of sassy female copper likely to have sex with someone who has served time for manslaughter.

What else did my visions tell me? That Jimmy would be arrested but there would be another killing, so he would have to be released? That the killer would turn out to be the grieving dad who gave one of those emotional yet articulate press conferences that grieving dads do on police dramas? Yes, they did. The only thing I didn’t see coming was that when Jo and Jimmy got it together in the film’s final moments, their first kiss would reveal to Jimmy her own traumatised past. I don’t mean that the “twist” caught me by surprise. I just didn’t imagine the production team would have dared hope that this farrago could have series potential.

The dialogue was blissful, however, its every other line fished from a slow-moving stream of police procedural clichés. My favourites: “Can you imagine if the press get hold of this?”; “You could have compromised the entire investigation”; “This stops, NOW!”; “You can’t possibly think I had anything to do with this?” “You two are off the investigation”; and “You’ll pay for what you have done.”

The script was cliché-perfect, however, when Jo, dressed in a generously low cut jumper, visited the wounded Jimmy in the closing scene. “You had me worried there,” she said, to which there was only one reply – the one Jimmy, of course, gave: “Nice to know you care.” Empathy was allegedly written by Steve Lightfoot, although I have an eerie feeling that in fact he left his Google search engine on over night having typed in “murder plots/dialogue” and this is what it came up with."

----------------------------------------------------


Michael Deacon, Daily Telegraph

"Freed from prison at the beginning of Saturday’s one-off thriller Empathy (BBC1), violent Jimmy Collins (Stephen Moyer) was determined to shake off his past. Unfortunately for him, he was soon lumbered with everyone else’s.

The nightmare started the moment he left the prison gates. Every time Jimmy made physical contact with another person, he found himself plunged into a vision revealing that person’s most unsavoury memory.

He shook a prison officer’s hand and WHOOSH! A vision of the officer beating his wife. He bumped into a chav in the street and WHOOSH! A vision of the chav pinching a purse. He went to bed with a hotel landlady and WHOOSH! A vision of her chubby husband in nothing but a vest, his face puffing amorously above hers.

But there was worse to come. On the news one night was a report that a teenage girl had been murdered. Colliding with a thuggish-looking youth outside a train station, Jimmy was confronted by a vision of the murder. He told the police. They thought he was a fantasist. So he rattled off an impressively detailed description of both the victim and the crime scene. That changed their minds. Now they thought he was guilty.

This was quite a fun set-up: quirky and creepy with lots of room for twists. You were always intrigued to learn what was coming next. If not exactly edge-of-the-seat, it was at least leaning-forward-expectantly.

The trouble was the dialogue. Jimmy was of the strong-but-silent type. Sadly, he wasn’t quite silent enough. Most of the time he was content to grunt and glare, but in argument, whether with the police or lawyers or fellow murder suspects or his ex-wife, language was Jimmy’s tool. A big clunking car tool.

His ex-wife (Amanda Douge) started a row with him about his refusal to shake her new lover’s hand (“What the hell was that all about?”), but he effortlessly matched her cliché for cliché. It wasn’t her fault, it was his. He’d divorced her because he didn’t deserve her. She didn’t know what he was turning into. Did she think this was what he wanted?

Jimmy had a prepubescent daughter, who was in the sole custody of his ex-wife. Because of his years in prison for battering a neighbour, supplemented by a few more for the manslaughter of a fellow inmate, he’d been absent for almost her entire life. But she’d still managed to inherit his gift for the verbally hackneyed, as well as boasting the kind of patient maturity unique to children in television drama.

“Mum still cares about you. She worries,” piped the nipper consolingly, during an unaccompanied visit to her brutal criminal father’s poky new flat. “Dad? I’ve really enjoyed today.”

In the end, Jimmy proved he hadn’t murdered the teenager, and used his visions to help the police find and arrest the man who had. The visions, decided a surgeon, were caused by a peculiar tumour in Jimmy’s brain. In the final scene, Jimmy asked the surgeon to remove it, but there was still time for an awkward embrace with a grateful (in fact, visibly rather randy) policewoman.

WHOOSH! A flabbergasting vision of the policewoman tied squealing to a chair in what was plainly some kind of dungeon, with a tall and shadowy figure lumbering towards her, wielding chains.

It was too dark to tell if it was Jamie Theakston."

----------------------------------------------------


Zai Bennett, Broadcast

"To any producers reading this, I apologise for not having responded to what will almost certainly be excellent proposals and scripts, but I've been busy watching TV. To be exact, I've watched three hours 49 minutes and 11 seconds of TV.

That may sound like a long time, but watching BBC1's Empathy makes it feel like a really long time. I must admit this programme sounded like the kind of supernatural procedural romp that I might enjoy. The idea behind the show - an ex-con gains the ability to see people's thoughts and then helps the police solve crimes - is spookily reminiscent of Patricia Arquette in Medium, but that's where the similarities to the slick US drama end.

I knew the summer had finally arrived when I tuned in to this, as it's only then that BBC1 would think it's okay to broadcast something as lightweight, grey and dull as this programme on a Saturday night at 9pm. Stephen Moyer was lifeless as lead character Jimmy, the writing was pedestrian and I felt as if I'd seen the same story 10 times before."

Zai Bennett is controller of ITV2

----------------------------------------------------


Danny Fenton, Broadcast

"More CSI in style than Prime Suspect, BBC1's Empathy was another incredibly stylish supernatural crime thriller and featured a level of special effects not normally associated with British drama.

The idea of the programme is that the protagonist "sees" the secrets, good and bad, in other people's lives simply by touching them. It's a classic premise that has bags of potential, a bit like being invisible for a day, seeing dead people, or having X-ray specs at a supermodel convention.

Empathy seemed such a soft title, but the show was far from it, going from passive to brutal and back in seconds and the flashbacks, crash zooms, point-of-view shots and speeded-up camerawork gave the show a frenetic pace. But I thought the style distracted from the somewhat pedestrian script and storyline, though that was probably a good thing.

The end result was a drama where style once again won over content, and resulted in a show that could have been an episode of The Bill on magic mushrooms."

Danny Fenton is managing director of Zig Zag Productions

11 August, 2007

Red Planet Prize Project - 10


I hope your project is going well, I'm now going to look at re-writing.


FORRESTER
No thinking - that comes later. You
write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite
with your head. The first key to writing is... to write,
not to think!
Finding Forrester by Mike Rich


According to Jim Brooks,
The Simpsons Movie went to 166 drafts. But half that amount will probably do. I kid. That film was in production for 18 years and if it was being set for release next year instead it might have gone to even more drafts. In the professional world, re-writing doesn't usually stop until the film or television programme goes into production.

Outside of competitions, we have to set our own deadlines and decide when a script is developed enough to venture off into the world on its own. Underdeveloped scripts won't gain friends but they will be ignored or called cruel names like 'rubbish' or 'pants'.

When the underdeveloped script comes back rejected, the unconditional love can be so strong that some of us will send it right back out again, unable to believe that love isn't shared by the rest of the world. Some of us will shun it and lock in it a cupboard as they try and give birth to a more loveable script. Some of us will decide it's worth saving and aid it's development and help it to mature.


I think we need to get used to re-writing and get used to doing it quickly. Even if we sell a script then the liklihood is it will go through a couple more drafts, at least, before it is produced. Script editors, producers., directors and actors and other members of the crew will offer valuable contributions. They'll also offer pretty stupid contributions as well but you will be grateful for the valuable ones because it will improve your script and everyone will think it was your idea.

I am aware of people who have entered their first drafts into the competition more than a month before the deadline. Perhaps this is just a "different personality traits" thing as I always leave it until the last week. But I just think the extra time is useful, at least, to put it in a drawer and get some distance from it before looking at it again with fresh eyes.

It's probably fair to say that when most of us do re-write we tinker and don't really change anything significant. By doing pre-writing the re-writing will be easier but it's a vital part of the process.

Sometimes you can make things better with minor changes in the odd scene here or there but sometimes it may require major changes in lots of scenes. There's no point in using a band-aid on something which needs surgery.

So why do most of us spend so little time re-writing? I think one reason could be to just get the script out there and sold as soon as possible. Another could be that if we don't know it's broke, then we don't know it needs fixing. However, one script-reader pointed out that most people who send scripts back to him, after reading his notes on the previous version, haven't addressed the major problems at all. So he suggests the main reason has got to be laziness.

There is of course an alternative point of view, which I have read in quite a few interviews over the years with British writer-directors who often say something like, "I write the first draft in the week before production starts. I never re-write because all it does is drain the life out of your script, the first draft may not be polished but it is more authentic and real and raw and that's what true cinema is all about."

I think it’s simply that pre-writing and re-writing is harder work and because it’s harder work we’re reluctant to do it and will find any excuse to avoid it. I'm a firm advocate of it and totally committed to the cause but even I can't be arsed sometimes.

Previously I’ve managed to convince myself that any problem, which will mean I have to change the plot to fix, is probably not all that big a problem really. While I was happy to dialogue tweak all day as that's a piece of piss.

When checking my scripts looking at re-writing them I would often skip boring dialogue and dull descriptions. It was done on a subconscious level but once I noticed I was doing it I had a new rule, "if I'm bored by it, the audience will be bored too."

Of course, you might have read a script a hundred times and the audience will only be seeing it once, but I think the rule still applies. There’s things I’ve written I never tire of reading over and over again because, false modesty aside, they are so utterly and completely brilliant. (No, I’m not going to post examples, you’re just going to have to take my word for it.)

That boring dialogue tended to be speeches that were too long or exposition that was badly done or unnecessary. Now I try and cut or split up long speeches and try and make the exposition interesting.

As David Trottier said, you have to listen to your inner guide:

“The single most helpful key to revision lies within yourself. Joseph Conrad called it ‘the inner voice that decides.’ The most common comment I hear after one of my script evaluations is this: ‘Dave, I kinda knew it all along but I needed you to tell me.” What is it that they knew all along? How did they know?

When we are honest with ourselves, we get a feeling that something works or something doesn’t. We may not know intellectually exactly what the problem is, but there is something silently nagging at us from inside.”

He believes the voice of truth is an intuitive feeling that comes after the writing is done, it’s not emotional, it’s not intellectual but it’s reasonable.

--------------------------------------------

Rather than try and look at everything with each read through of the script or pass, what I do is take a different pass looking for something specific:

Dialogue pass -
I read it out loud to see if it feels as natural saying it as it does reading it. A friend used to be embarrassed and refused to do it. Who cares if your family or your neighbours hear? This is too important a step to wimp out on. To quote Harrison Ford on the set of Star Wars, "George, you can write the shit, but you can't say it" Incidentally George learnt nothing and the dialogue for his last three films have been diabolical. But he can do what he wants.

Action pass -
I know what I mean by the description but will everyone else? Can it be clearer and more concise? Have I broken up descriptions so it doesn't go to more than four lines? Have I used descriptive verbs to help convey the images?

Format pass -
While I don't believe this is as big a dealbreaker as some make it out to be, as it's so simple to do and helps the reader, it's worth doing it properly. You have to decide for yourself just how many of the specific 'rules' are worth considering or not.

I think the latest was: "Thou shalt not use more or continued." Who says? Was there a meeting of all the script readers of all the agencies and prodcos and networks in the world where they decided this? Who really gives a toss? While it means less black on the page, it's not going to throw the reader out of the story and you will not be rejected for it. Not in the UK anyway. That kind of fussing and worrying about format is better spent on story and characters.


Character pass -
If I covered up the character names would I still know who was speaking? Or do they all sound the same?. Developing good characters before I start would help me avoid that but it's something that I can superficially adjust afterwards by changing their speech patterns and vocabulary.

But I also have to check the names of characters as well. I have sent off stuff where it's the wrong character speaking and I didn't notice because I was concentrating on the dialogue when I read it through. You hope the reader will realise but why should they have to?

Spelling pass -
I've read scripts where some writers haven't even bothered to use a spellchecker which has baffled me. I use the spellchecker and also manually check the draft as well.

Once I clicked the wrong button and didn’t realise the spellchecker had changed ‘aubergine’ for ‘aborigine’ which made a lame gag into a lame racist one. A homophone, for instance, will be spelt right but can completely change the meaning of what I intended. If a character says "he didn't know witch one was wrong", the reader might be thinking "who the hell is Witch One?"

If you have a form of dyslexia then hopefully your family or friends or work colleagues can be roped in to check for you. Don't let that be a barrier to you trying - Guy Ritchie, Stephen J Cannell and Lynda La Plante have dyslexia as did Agatha Christie and Roald Dahl.


Logic pass -
Where I've strayed from my outline and incorporated new characterisation then I have to make sure each character's motivation and behaviour still rings true.

Sometimes it’s only at this stage that you finally notice something witch doesn't make sense that seemed OK at the pre-writing stage. Time lines are a bugger for this as people can't be in two places at once. Unless it's a science fiction, obviously. This even extends down to something simple like the time it takes to make tea or eat dinner.

I saw something recently where there was this stuff about drinks being made for visitors but then the drinks weren't drunk and they weren't intending to stop long enough to drink them anyway. Simple solution: "Do you want a drink?"/ "No." Problem solved. Instead I'm watching the scene shouting, "but it was made in next to no time and they're not even drinking it. WTF?"

Because lack of logic is one of my main hates in drama I feel compelled to try and ensure I do something to avoid it.


Locations pass –
I know what they are meant to be but is that what I put in the slugline? In checking it's easy to skip it and focus on the dialogue or the action and not notice you've got too much of the same dull location or put the wrong location in.

Scene pass –
Are the scenes necessary to the story? Are they too static? If the characters are just talking and not doing anything, I need to either cut the scenes or find the characters something to do.

Fact check pass –
Is what I've written accurate? No matter what level of education we reached there are going to be gaps in our knowledge or simply things remembered wrong.

For one script I was so sure of a particular fact I didn't even bother checking it while I checked everything else. I did eventually check it and it was totally wrong and if left in would have brought me shame and embarrassment.

In ye olden days fact checking and research meant a hazardous and arduous journey to the library but with the Interweb there's no excuse really.

--------------------------------------------

I recommend a quick re-write of your first draft to fix the obvious simple problems. Ideally once we have finished that second draft we would put it away for a while - at least a week - to try and obtain some distance from it before looking at it again.

An alternative, especially if you’re in a rush, is to get someone else to read it either through peer review, power of threes or a professional script reader. Family, friends and lovers are your potential audience but they’re only useful for pitching the concept in the first place, not for reading the script.

When you give feedback try and be honest and try not to be personal, if you receive feedback try not to take it personally and be defensive. Always thank the reader straight away even if the truth hurts. Unless you're paying them for the read. Who bothers to thank staff?


I think the reading process is most useful when you present a script that you cannot see anything wrong with at all and not when you see lots of problems but hope the reader won’t notice them so you don’t have to re-write.

In the links below there are checklists that script readers use and lists of their pet hates. You need to know your enemy. Your script is a weapon and it has to be equipped with enough deadly power to breach their defences.

Hmmm...That metaphor was a bit militaristic and violent wasn’t it? Hold on a sec. Got it.

You need to know the gate-keeper. Your script is a car which has to be equipped with the right passes to enable the gate-keeper to lift up the barrier and wave you in with a cheery smile.

Nah. I prefer the first metaphor. More conflict.

The thing to remember is that - with all the feedback you get and the opinions offered up for free or for fee - it is your script. Be open to advice but don’t accept everything said to you automatically. Only you can write your script.

One idea is to make a copy of the original script and incorporate changes to that copy. If it’s rubbish or far from your original vision then just go back to the original script. It’s important that your passion for the project and what made you want to write it in the first place remains.


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Summary

We wanted to write a new character driven script of 30 minutes or an hour to use as a calling card to get work on continuing drama for television.

This project was designed primarily to help new writers break out of the plot-driven, dialogue focussed approach to screenwriting with no pre-writing or re-writing. David Bishop said recently:

“Some genius [William Goldman?] divides writing a screenplay into 60% preparation, 10% spent writing the first draft and 30% rewriting.”

So far we have:

  • identified our own passions and interests.

  • thought of ideas and themes based on those passions and interests.

  • thought of the best characters and stories to explore those ideas and themes.

  • thought of the best structure and outline for those characters' stories.

  • looked at writing the first draft and those all important first ten pages

  • looked at re-writing.

Having gone through the process you can see what works for you, what doesn't work for you and what works if changed a bit. Over time with more experience you will find that the pre-writing stage will get shorter as you develop your own shortcuts and techniques.

I think the key is to strike the right balance between art and craft. Writing screenplays by winging it and hoping for the best can work only to a limited extent if you haven’t learned the basic principles of screenwriting. Equally, it would also be a mistake to think you need to read and learn every single theory and article about screenwriting before setting quill to parchment.

Aristotle said, "What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing." As I've said before, while that basic grounding in the craft is crucial, you develop good instincts and ability by watching lots of drama critically, reading lots of scripts and writing lots of scripts. Anyone can do it but you have to have the right aptitude.

If the thought of writing a script which you’re unlikely to get paid for and is unlikely to be made horrifies you then maybe it’s not going to happen. If you’re writing for the fun of it and because you know that each script is a step nearer to you becoming good enough to get paid and produced eventually then success is more likely to happen.

I believe that while something like the Project provides a short-cut - as someone else has already made the trials and errors – it’s also important to make your own trials and errors.

"There is a kind of script in that slush pile, much more prevalent since Syd (Field) and co started visiting us. A sort of equivalent to the Well-Made-Play - the Well-Presented-Script. Where the formatting is to-die-for. Where the plot-points fall with military precision and the second act swells to its climax and the central protagonist fights the obstacles and... they're dull. It's like the writer has fallen back completely on technique and forgotten that what makes him/her special is what they have to say.

So I'm not saying that new screenwriters don't need to learn technique, far, far from it. They just need to remember its a means to an ends. The ultimate aim of screenwriting is to fuse technique with magic. Or what Yeats called "Blood and intellect" running together." Ashley Pharoah

Writers write.

Good luck.


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Links


Finish What You Start - David Anaxagoras

Organized Worry - Jane Espenson

Respectfully Disagreeing - Jane Espenson

Your First Page Sells Your Script! - Hal Croasmun

What is Dialogue - Bill Martell

Character Moments - Bill Martell

Voice over - Bill Martell

Does bad work spoil mine? - John August

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Writing Is Rewriting - Charles Deemer

How Do I Critique My Own Work? - Leigh Michaels

Bulletproof your Script against Reader Rejection - Derek Rydall

The Reader’s Backflip - Richard Walter

Don't Waste My Mutha*$%*^* Time! - Lucy

Is this scene necessary? - Bill Martell

Cutting Scenes from a Screenplay - Martha Alderson

How do you delete your favourite scene? - Vasco Phillip de Sousa

Re-writing - Danny

Rewriting your Screenplay: The Road to your Audience - Gordy Hoffman

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Handy Checklist for Script Assessment

Death to Readers - Terry Rossio

Studio Reader’s Checklist

Screenplay Evaluation Checklist

Structure Checklist

Scene Checklist

Is your Script Really Ready for Market? - Lenore Wright

TAPS script editing course • Day 1 notes - David Bishop

Script Questionnaire #1 - Before You WRITE a Script

Script Questionnaire #2 - Before You MARKET A Script


NEXT

10 August, 2007

Women's Impact Report

Variety:

"In Variety’s 10th annual spotlight on the industry’s femme movers and shakers, we examine how the accomplishments of these individuals have reverberated beyond their own spheres of influence and illustrate why we consider them at the top their game."

09 August, 2007

Blue Cat Report

I had a script knocking about for a couple of years, a real passion project that I hoped would change the world. But there was something wrong with it and I wasn't sure what. So I did a minor rewrite and entered it in the Blue Cat Screenwriting Competition as you get feedback.

Even though I knew it was wonky in some way, I was still surprised that it wasn’t shortlisted, at least. I thought maybe there was too much English slang for the American reader to understand and they would be biased against Brits. And then
Pill got shortlisted and got to the semis.

When I didn’t get my report at the same time as everybody else, a more obvious explanation came to mind: they hadn’t actually read it.
I emailed Blue Cat saying I hadn’t got my report, hoping to get my money back as well as my pride. But, instead, they sent the report.

Scott the Reader believes bad admin messed up his chances. Lucy shows that readers can misunderstand and there might be a difference between US and UK readers.

Unfortunately, my feedback was fair and I have no complaints.


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What did you like about this script?

You have written some very nice scenes between Eddie and Bess as they begin to get to know one another. From the start, it is a bit hard to grasp onto the two characters and the relationship between them – but some of the conversations they have later on are very well written and give a good deal of character information. Page 32, for example, is a great example of well written and very functional (in terms of serving the end of advancing your characters) scene. As a general rule, the second portion of your script is much stronger than the first: after page 40 or so, things seem to calm down and relax, allowing us to actually get a good look at the characters and situations. You make it possible for the viewer to watch the relationship between Eddie and Bess grow naturally and effectively – which is a nice accomplishment in its own right.

Your scene between Eddie and his son is nice and quite touching. Though Eddie clearly does not have much time in this screenplay with his son, this scene is effective and seems to provide all the necessary information.

Your choice of subject matter is very strong, interesting and compelling – and gives you the opportunity to investigate some interesting issues and characters throughout.

What do you think needs work?

As a general rule, the first half of the script feels very rushed, cramped, and scattered. You introduce things and characters very quickly, and we never seem to get a chance to really latch onto things and catch up. While there is certainly no reason to make a script longer just for the sake of being longer, this early section of your screenplay could really benefit from some fleshing out. Slow down the scenes you have (and possibly add a few more) and allow us to absorb information more slowly – the relationships you build in the first half of the screenplay will pay off by being useful in the second half.

Throughout, there is some generalized confusion about who is who. There are a large number of characters in a fairly short period of time, and it can be hard to grasp onto who is who and what the relationships are between each of them. Slowing down the first half of your script will help – but make sure you pay careful attention to each character and give us as many clues as possible to help us follow along. Find ways to differentiate them.

It feels like we (the reader/audience) need more information about Eddie's criminal activities. You have done a great job of outlining his family situation, and we understand that he is on some sort of probation. What is not necessarily clear are the details of his criminal past and what he has to do know to make up for them or avoid further trouble. How high are the stakes for Eddie?

Along that vein, it seems fairly odd that there is not time given at the end for any retribution for Eddie's rampage. Sure, he killed all those people in the name of justice and truth and light and what have you – but might he face some sort of trouble based on his actions? He never has to answer for or speak to what he has done – and moving from scenes of general carnage to a wedding seems like a big, confused rush.

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I was going for pacy, lean and mean but the audience is going to need some hand-holding in those early stages especially. I know the story and characters because they were in my head for ages, the reader can only go by what’s on the page.

I know about the introducing too many characters thing, I’ve known it for ages but I didn’t think I did it in this script. In retrospect I did and I was too close to the script to notice.

Of course now I've read this article about minor characters (that I found as part of the Project) I realise part of the problem was in naming all the minor characters as well as having too many of them.

Eddie’s criminal activities were deliberately vague and the ending deliberately abrupt and nihilistic. That's a subjective point I can argue with but I will have to look at it again. Just because it was deliberate it doesn’t mean it was good.

I would hope I’ve learned a lot since I wrote that script, and doing the Project has helped me learn new things, remember things I had forgotten as well as reinforce the things I already knew.

The New York Times Blows It

I'm sort of embarrassed posting that New York Times article about the forthcoming contract negotiations and even more embarrassed for wondering, if only for a moment, whether the ignorant journo was right. Craig Mazin sets him straight.

The Artful Writer:

"So far, the WGA-AMPTP negotiations have gone pretty much how I expected. Both sides started very far apart, and any perceptible motion seems to indicate a widening of the gap. No one seriously expected a deal to be brokered; everyone’s working under the assumption that the WGA will work past expiration, and the AMPTP won’t really start bargaining until they have to face SAG or the DGA.

Still, that doesn’t mean there’s no room for journalists unfamiliar with our industry to lob Molotov cocktails of fiery ignorance into the breach. Ladies and gents, I give you Brooks Barnes and his artitorial on residuals in the New York Times."

Chicks directing flicks: Where's the love?

CNN:

"Flicks from female directors are flooding today's theaters more than ever, and the movies are as diverse as the women themselves. Yet the struggle for equality, recognition and respect continues."

07 August, 2007

Comedybox


"Comedybox is a brand new online comedy channel launching in September 2007.

It is the brainchild of legendary producer John Lloyd (Blackadder, Not the Nine O'clock News, Spitting Image and QI) and Warner Music Entertainment.

Comedybox is designed to be THE place on the internet where you can get a decent laugh any time of the day (and night), anywhere in the world. It will feature original sketch comedy, animations, stand-up, and everything else from the greatest comedy minds in the world today.
Who is Comedybox Commissioning From?

You.

Comedybox is constantly developing and commissioning original content from our favourite stand-ups, writers, directors, animators and general funny people who we've come across online, met in the pub or seen on television."

PlotShot

PlotShot:

"Random plots with random shots (from flickr)"

A better than the average random plot generator. While it's just for fun, one of the generated plots can maybe spark a useful idea.

06 August, 2007

New plays incubate at Sundance

The Salt Lake Tribune:

"Playwrights, directors and actors find a fertile creative environment in a setting far from the Broadway stage at the Sundance incubator".

Writing Workshops - Bowness-on-Solway

A series of workshops are being held next month by award-winning television and radio scriptwriter Jim Eldridge.

The script workshops will cover writing for film, TV and radio and examine the creation of a story, characters, dialogue; writing for location filming and studio;different script formats, and team-writing, which is used on a large proportion of UK and US TV serials.

Each workshop will deal with the business side as well as the creative side of writing.

Workshops will be held in Bowness-on-Solway on
  • Saturday, September 1, writing for film and TV (advanced);
  • Sunday, September 2, writing for film and TV;
  • Saturday, September 8, writing comedy and drama for radio;
  • Sunday, September 9, developing characters and stories;
  • Saturday, September 15, writing comedy and drama for radio (advanced);
  • Sunday, September 16: teamwriting;
  • Saturday, September 22: writing books and getting published.


Jim Eldridge has been a scriptwriter for 35 years and had more than 500 scripts broadcast in the UK and across the world. He has also had 60 books published and tutored scriptwriting for the BBC.

The workshops, which cost £29 per person per day, are limited to 10 people per workshop in order for everyone to receive individual attention. For more information contact Jim Eldridge at jimeldridge *AT* jimeldridge.force9.co.uk, call 016973 52246 or visit www.jimeldridge.com.

Stephen Svoboda, Playwright, interview

NY Theatre Cast:

"In this episode of nytheatrecast, Martin Denton speaks to playwright/director Stephen Svoboda about his new musical Reconstructing Mama. This is an intimate piece about four siblings coming to terms with their mother’s mental illness, and it’s based on actual events in Svoboda’s life."

'Honour killing' screenplay changed after Iranian complaints

The Guardian:

"A scene in a major new film starring Harrison Ford and Sean Penn in which an Iranian character murders his sister in a so-called "honour killing" has been changed after complaints."

Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio on 'Dead Man's Chest'

Box Office Mojo:

"During a recent interview about Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean series—including next year's installment—writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio demonstrate clarity, intelligence and a flash of the randy humor that's made the franchise a hit."

In Hollywood, a Sacred Cow Lands on the Contract Table

New York Times:

"Studios want to junk the residual payment structure, which dates to the early 1950s, when the fledgling TV business borrowed it from radio. Under their proposal, unveiled with unexpected zest in early July by Barry M. Meyer, chief executive of Warner Brothers Entertainment, so-called creative employees would get residual checks only after the studios have recouped their basic costs."

02 August, 2007

The new British movie moguls

The Independent:

"The British film industry is going through its biggest boom in years. According to research last week from the UK Film Council, it added £4.3bn to the nation's economy in 2006. Arifa Akbar profiles the biggest players in the business."

01 August, 2007

Red Planet Prize Project - 9

Once you're happy that your outline works it's time to start your script. "And about time too", I hear you cry (with the swearing omitted). Just to remind you, if it makes you feel any better, if you follow the project you will automatically be in the top 10% of entries.

The ideal situation is to be rejected based on subjective criteria such as concept or story appeal and not based on lacking the screenwriting basics covered in this project. Not that rejection can ever be an ideal. And those basics are not something you learn once, you have to keep reinforcing them until they become second nature.

There is a consensus on those basics and I haven't just plucked them out of thin air. Even though there might be differences about how you create good characters or which type of structure works best there's no dispute about the need for good characters and structure.

If you had writer's block, as I mentioned at the beginning, then you should now be cured. Hallelujah! It's a miracle! Except it isn't. You've already done the hard part, working on your characters and outline, and now it's just the dialogue to do and who gets blocked doing that? That's the fun bit. You get blocked because you don't know where you're going and lack confidence that it will make a good script.

For those of you worrying if you have enough time, the writing can now be quite quick and it should be possible to do at least 10 pages, if not 30 or 60, in a couple of weeks.

Some things to bear in mind for your scenes:

  • start late and get out early
  • each scene should advance the plot and develop the character
  • show don't tell
  • end your scenes at the dramatic highpoint
  • every scene should have well-defined conflict

The characters have been gagged for so long that they can't wait to speak and because of the gestation period they will speak like themselves and not you. One of the most obvious signs of the new writer is that all the characters speak the same - not just the same worldview but the same vocabulary and the same cadence to their speech.

Some things to bear in mind for your dialogue:

  • consider the character's age, education and background
  • consider the emotional changes i.e. how they speak when they are angry or happy
  • don't use boring and unnecessary dialogue
  • it should move the story forward
  • characters shouldn't explain their feelings but act it out

Regarding your descriptions these should be simple, clear and active. Instead of 'We see Malcolm pick up the green garbage bag which is tied with a yellow ribbon and takes it outside using his left hand where he puts it inside the black bin for collection the following day by refuse collectors who work for the city council', use 'Malcolm takes out the garbage'.

The most important thing is to get your first draft finished. I repeat, get your first draft finished. Do not stop. Not even for food or sleep or sex. Once that's done we'll look at re-writing the first ten pages.

You have two weeks to do this. If you're not confident about writing the full 30 minutes or 60 minutes in that time then just do as much as you can - the rest can be completed in September, don't worry about it.

Finishing the first draft in two weeks is to allow another two weeks for re-writing and peer review but by using the project method there will be a lot less re-writing to do and you might not need as long. So focus on what you need to focus on and don't worry about the schedule I'm suggesting.


You know where you're going now, so get going already! You can do it.

If you're a new writer without an agent and you still have doubts about your ability, here's some words of encouragement - not from the wonderful Paris this time but Oliver Dennis from when he was a producer at Hewland:

"99% of scripts have come through agents. Frankly I was staggered by how poor the majority of these scripts were. The main problem with them was that they were very hard to get into. The script might introduce ten characters or more in the first few pages or there would be no apparent story. You need to hit the ground running with the story; you want a page turner. I have read so few that are page turners. I have to force my way through them.

"I'm looking for someone who can write snappy, witty dialogue and a story. I see very few examples of that. I'm looking for writers who can give their characters a voice, who can introduce characters in such a way that I don't have to keep returning to the first page to check who is who. I should be able to tell from the dialogue who is speaking. I also want the writer to give me a story, to get me hooked. It's all very obvious stuff but it's amazing how many forests have been cut down to send me useless scripts.

"Producers don't want to ask for huge changes to a script for the sake of it or in order to make their mark on a script. They do so because either there's a flaw in the storyline or a flaw in the writing. Now if there's a flaw in the storyline, the writer should probably have noticed and made more of an effort to change the storyline before they wrote it. Alternatively, if it's a flaw in the writing then it's the writers fault."

Yes, that was meant to be encouraging. Even if we don't win the Red Planet Prize then having a good calling card script will still stand us in good stead for other opportunities. It's in our own hands. Good luck.

Links

The Incompetence of Others Makes You Comparatively Better! - Jane Espenson

Be the Writer You Want to Be Now - Michael Lent

Dare to Dream - Write Anyway! - Marilyn Beker

The Writer's True Self and Success - Howard M. Gluss

The Six Essential Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters - Karl Iglesias

13 Things Bad Screenwriters Commonly Do - Brad Schreiber

Six Opening Moves - Bill Martell

16 Steps to Better Description - Bill Martell

Minor Characters Don't Need Major Introductions - Christina Hamlett

Does Your Script Smell - Bill Martell

How to Keep Your Story From Stalling - Jonathan Dorf

Create Scenes That Sizzle – 7 Essential Elements - Martha Alderson

The New Spec Style - David Trottier

What a Writer Doesn't Write - Danny

What Not to Write - Ellin Stein

The Most Serious Screenwriting Mistakes - Charles Deemer

Scene Description - Yankee Classic Pictures

Subtext - Robin

Dialogue - Danny

Write Better Dialogue - TW

Point of View - Terry Rossio


NEXT

Back Up Your Files Day


It's the first of the month which means it's Back Up Your Files day. Since its official scribosphere inauguration last month the government emailed me and asked for permission to use it in a national campaign for non-writers. I told them to take a hike.

Those of us who have finished our Red Planet Prize scripts, or busily revising old ones or even those who haven't started yet but have a few research, character and story notes should be backing up the files. Wouldn't it be funny if there was a crash just before you were about to email your entry off? Perhaps 'funny' isn't the right word.

Potsy mentioned last month about sending an email attachment to herself which is a good short-term - or even long-term - method in this age of unlimited web email storage.

When I'm working on a script, I save every ten minutes and I back it up daily - simply by copying it across to my USB flash drive/memory stick. Actually I have two flash drives and sometimes copy it across to both, if I'm feeling especially paranoid. Takes much less time than writing it all out again from scratch. But what about finished scripts, notes, research bookmarks, articles and photos of Paris Hilton?

There is back-up software - both shareware and otherwise - which does it automatically, but just burning it all to a DVD will do. Ideally you should keep the copy in another room or at work or in the car or at a relative's or in your bank. It can save so much future hassle for so very little present-day hassle.

I think that ideally should your computer crash or be nicked, the emotional impact should be negligible as anything important should be on a CD, DVD, flash drive or external hard-drive and can be restored easily.

While I ensured I have my iTunes backed up on my computer I didn't back up my iPod and so when it died last week I had lost everything. Luckily, I had a copy of all the songs elsewhere anyway and can re-rip the CDs if necessary.

In case you don't though while Apple make it difficult to back-up iPod files (you have to burn the music to a CD and then rip the CD) there is specialist software which can do it like iPodRip.

Don't delay, do it today. It's Back Up Your Files Day, hooray!

How to decide what data to back up

Back up manually or use Windows XP Backup utility

How to choose an external storage format for backup files

Mac OS X: How to back up and restore your files