12 July, 2008

Guest post: Gordy Hoffman on Ideas

This is a guest post by Gordy Hoffman, the award winning writer./director who runs BlueCat. I asked him to write something about ideas. He is running some courses in the UK in August and the details follow below the article.


How will my great idea stay great? (I hope.)

by Gordy Hoffman

It’s always the same. The feeling I get when I think of something and see a movie idea. It’s a wonderful warm pull inside that probably is very similar to prospectors spotting gold in a stream. Sometimes, in an instant, upon momentary review, it collapses, measured against my own quick sense of whether I’m willing to live with it for the lifespan of a feature length screenplay. If I pass that filter, then I grab something and write it down, later transferring the new gem to my running list of jackpot movie ideas.

What stays with me from that list? Why are there ideas I save for years, never to be started? Usually I maintain a belief in their value, their promise, and more than likely they will stay on that list when I die. I have so many ideas now as it is. But I don’t run them off simply because I’m not compelled to start. I have no idea what leads to another, and now that I’ve written for almost two decades, I see old ideas finally coming to life in a beautiful new light in another idea altogether. Keep your ideas, the ones you have a fight for, and you’ll see why.

But what makes for the great idea that will light the way through all the drafts, production, editing and release to audience? For me, film ideas can never be only solid to my practical eye or rational brain. I see this in writers all the time, writing scripts over and over like term papers or Sudoku puzzles. They follow patterns, refine habits and crank many a page, deriving their satisfaction from completing drafts and successfully executing their outlines, beat sheets or treatments.

But is the heart involved? This is the difference between a great idea and a great idea that turns into a motion picture: falling in love. On more than one occasion, I have started off on something with great excitement, knowing I have a very commercial and/or original idea in my hands, and I get going. But there are questions, and the initial pieces of the writing might be boring or borrowed. I have started the marathon and I’m on mile seven.

What has to happen? For me, I have to find myself in the writing. I have to fall in love with my story. I have to share a common emotion with my characters. I become intimate with what I’m trying to say, and my story becomes honest.

My idea has become truly great. I have taken a personal ownership of my story, as it now has started to become a reflection of me.

Now this might sound very arty or independent, but this happens when I’m writing commercial specs of high concept. Why? Because it has to.

It has been said before that we are in the feelings business. So when I invest my own generously, I support and sustain an idea to fruition in a produced movie. Until this emotional ownership of a concept takes place, it might as well stay in a file on my hard drive, as a very interesting list.


The BlueCat Screenwriting Workshop: London

12-17 August 2008

Birkbeck, University of London
Malet Street, Bloomsbury
London WC1E 7HX

Gordy Hoffman, the award-winning writer/director (LOVE LIZA, A COAT OF SNOW) and founder of the BlueCat Screenplay Competition, will travel to the UK this August to lead a week of screenwriting workshops at the University of London.

The creative principles of the workshops were borne out of over a decade of experience of judging the only major script competition in the world helmed by a produced screenwriter, a writer who continues to write today.

The BlueCat workshops help the writer develop the authentic, original voice behind every story that impacts the emotions of the audience, the essence of all commercially and artistically successful films.

If you care passionately about your script and story, this week will provide the tools to transform your commitment and concern into a compelling film.

The BlueCat Screenwriting Workshop

The screenplay is creative writing. It is imagination in action, the heart of every experience of the writer speaking truthfully and generously.

Writing creatively for the screen has no method, no formula, no rigid worksheets to comply with or enforceable rules hanging on a wall somewhere. Every conformity or formula determined and “discovered” by the screenwriting establishment can be blown apart by some of our most beloved movies.

But what cannot be argued away is that every classic movie we love has affected us emotionally.

This is always true.

There are principles of authentic storytelling. Yes. But these are not learned, but remembered from our own experiences of living our lives. The ability to tell a story lies inside every human being.

These questions, among others, will be examined at length at the workshop:

  • What makes for a robust idea for a feature length film? How should I consider this idea? Where do ideas come from? What is planning vs. imagination?
  • What are the various approaches to the first draft? Does an outline hurt or help? What is the true value of research? Can I just start writing now?
  • What is the tone of rewriting? What are the goals of revision? What are the tools of de-constructing your first draft? How many rewrites is healthy?
  • How does dialogue affect my audience connection? When is dialogue not cinematic? How does dialogue improve?
  • How does description hurt your ending? Does description help an audience care about characters?
  • Do all characters have a genuine place in my story? Can I write about people I hate? Can I write about things I imagine and never do? Does that mean I’m not "writing what I know"?
  • Who is qualified to give me feedback? Are some notes simply worthless? What does praise for my work do?
  • When do I become a screenwriter? Can I make movies where I live? How do I find the real film industry and make relationships?
  • Are there other reasons why I’m stuck? How do writers write on a daily basis? How do I trouble shoot when I'm drawing a blank? Why do I get bored?
  • Why is pitching my movie important? Do I have to be good with pitching? When does a pitch work?
  • What does the personal voice have to do with box office grosses? What is my audience and how smart can I be? How will the audience identify with my own life experience?

Writers will engage in writing and pitching exercises designed to flesh out new ideas or rework existing scripts. Please bring your laptops and/or paper and pen.

If each person is indeed unique, it follows simply that each writer is unlike any other, and can write a story no one else on Earth can. This purpose is the mission of this workshop.

16-17 August

09:00 - 17:00
Cost: £150

The Ten Page Workshop

These workshops will consist of 5 writers each submitting ten pages of a work in progress in advance. We will go over each work individually, discussing the specific, unique challenges each writer is facing on the page.

This discussion will include the technical aspects of description and dialogue, the depth and reality of the characters, and how the ten pages reflect where the entire story goes.

The intimate, focused interaction with fellow writers in the workshop will provide all with a greater understanding of the work that lies ahead on their screenplay, and more importantly, a detailed sense of how they might develop as writers themselves.

12 August
13 August
14 August

18:30 – 23:00
Cost: £125

" BlueCat workshops are all about honing your skills to write the story the exists in your imagination, and how to make that story engage the audience in real time. That begins with the first person to read your script and the first ten pages. Lead her into the world you've created, engage her, page by page and your story is one person closer to getting made.

Gordy helped me do this by pointing out the things I had missed and had gotten right, things an audience would need to know and feel before they could delve into the world. His enthusiastic, experienced and forthright assessment is just the kind of feedback I needed to hear. He captured everyone's attention by showing his commitment to making our work better.

The level of writing and feedback from other attendees is something that's so very important in a workshop experience. And at BlueCat, everyone was serious about the craft of writing and that's also what makes this workshop extremely productive.

At the day's end, my head was full of new ideas which brought about a renewed enthusiasm for the story. As if road blocks had been knocked aside, creating new pathways for my character's journey.

If only there were weekly or even biweekly BlueCat seminars here in NYC - that would be fantastic!

If BlueCat comes to your town, please, don't miss it."

Julie Gribble, NYC

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