31 May, 2008

Bruntwood Playwrighting judge calls for more female entrants

The Stage:

"Richard Wilson, chair of the judging panel for the Royal Exchange’s Bruntwood Playwrighting Competition, has bemoaned the lack of female writers who entered the 2007 contest and is urging more to participate this year.

Last year’s competition attracted nearly 2,000 entries. However, only one play by a woman made it into the final shortlist of ten, and according to actor and director Wilson, this balance reflected the overall number of submissions.

He said: “Theatre should be telling the stories of the whole range of people, from all walks of life. We want to encourage female writers, writers from black and minority ethnic communities, people who have never written for the theatre before the competition and share their ideas for the stage.”

The closing date for entries is June 13.

Article in full

"Surviving Hegemony: Manifesto for a Theatre of Viscera"

The Latino American Experience:

"My work has on occasion even provoked rage. At a reading of one of my works the actors (all Latinas) were clearly having a wonderful time. When it came time for feedback, one of the actors referred to me as an “actor’s playwright.” When I asked what she meant, she responded: “Your writing trusts our intelligence and you don’t stereotype us.”


A director in the room, who had ostentatiously gotten up from his seat several times throughout the reading to adjust the air conditioner, admonished me through gritted teeth: “You need to learn Aristotelian play structure: blah, blah, blah, your play has no arc.” I corrected him. “I do know the Eurocentric rules of playwriting. I made a mental note: (Act One, Protasis, Act Two Epitasis, Act Three, the Catastrophe: exposition, complication, resolution and blah, blah, blah you left out Kissmyassis).” That was the slow motion mind movie that preceded my verbal response: “I find that one arc, like one orgasm, is not enough for me. It is my intention to take the audience on a ride. My plays are meant to be experiential, to elicit a visceral response not an intellectual one.”

The actors, who unlike this King of His Own Legend understood the historical and cultural context of the play, laughed and clapped, as this Mr. Man with more clout, access, and privilege than any of us in the room, was rendered speechless and Twizzler red. He had decided that if I didn’t play by the rules of the Great White Way (and I don’t mean just Broadway) that I was somehow deficient in craft and inept in discourse. I offered him a Hershey Bar as a peace offering and we moved on."

Article in full

30 May, 2008

Summer Challenge

Summer Challenge

RISE films and Casarotto Ramsay & Associates, together with Sight & Sound, bring you the ultimate film challenge:

write a script this summer and then get it made.


We will bring your film from the page to the screen and give you the opportunity to secure representation from a leading literary agency. Entrants must not already have literary representation and must have the right to work in the UK.

Whether it’s comedy, action, horror, sci-fi, or thriller, we want to read your work. So, if you’ve been carrying around that big idea but don’t know where to put it, unburden yourself this summer.

We will select one script and develop it further with the writer, eventually to be financed and produced.

Download the application form here

Deadline: 26 September 2008

Good luck.

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

via BBC writersroom

Added to Deadlines Calendar

29 May, 2008

Which Medium is Driving Science Fiction...Books or Film/TV?

SF Signal:

"Science fiction presents itself to us through different mediums, most notably through the written and visual. Have you ever wondered who owns it? Lou Anders has, and he submitted the following question:

Q: Although science fiction was born on paper, sci-fi presented through visual media (film and television) has significantly higher audiences. Which medium, then, is the driving force behind what science fiction is and where it's headed, and who is driving it?"

Article in full

28 May, 2008

Paul Mullin, playwright, interview

Seattle Times:

"It's indicative of American arts funding that Mullin, despite his many prizes and credits, works a day job as "a glorified secretary" at the biotech firm Amgen to pay the bills.

But he swears he's at peace with that. "I had my times of feeling bitter and angry that people didn't recognize my 'genius' and offer me a hundred grand to write a movie. Now I think, 'Hey, my stuff gets produced.' In the realm I'm playing in, things are great.""

Article in full

27 May, 2008

Marshall Herskovitz, screenwriter, interview

Space Shank Media:

“There are no undiscovered great writers. There is such a hunger for great writing, and there are so few good writers out there. I actually have a Darwinian view of writing.” He continues with some direct advice: “Write three scripts on spec, and if by the end of that third one, you haven’t felt that energy coming toward you—that excitement, that enthusiasm about finding a new voice—you should find something else to do, because you should feel that. The good writers do. It’s harsh, but it’s just true. You can get somebody to read your work. So, just try it. Just write and see who gets excited about it.”

Full article

Connecting with Creativity - Nottingham

What if there were other approaches to creativity than the ones you’re familiar with? What if living more creatively had impact on your working life, your future plans, your relationships?

People talk about creativity a lot without thinking much of the processes that go into it, and what makes the difference between someone who is averagely creative and someone who is highly creative.


Adrian Reynolds has spent years understanding creativity, both from his experience as an award winning screenwriter and copywriter, and as someone who’s trained with some of the leading names in the practical psychology of creativity. Along the way, he’s been running workshops in screenwriting, script editing films, and coaching people in the corporate and creative sectors about making what they do more effective and more fun.


On Saturday 12 July 2008, Adrian will be running a one day workshop called CONNECTING WITH CREATIVITY which introduces fresh thinking on living creatively: this is about living life to the full, seeing and capitalising on opportunities that pass others by.


The course is a way to further develop some material that’s already been trialed with people developing new businesses on a course on social entrepreneurship, and will shortly be tested with a group of businesses being nurtured by Nottingham Trent University. You can discover the potential of this material, and other new ideas too, whether you’re interested in just enjoying the day, or would like to work with Adrian and his colleague Annie in helping you or your organisation develop your creative capacity further: the more responsive you are in the moment, the greater potential you have to perceive and realise profit.


The event will be run in central Nottingham, and the full price is just £75. Pay before June 12th, and the price comes down to just £60. Either way, it’s a remarkable fee to pay for the day. Get it now while it’s this price! To indicate your interest, and find out how to pay, email Adrian at adrian.reynolds{AT}ntlworld.com


TESTIMONIALS


"After researching the industry I came across Adrian. I’ve been struck not only by the creativity of what he does, but by the creative way that he perceives situations before he acts. This I knew would be invaluable to me. Adrian’s ability to see and do things differently sets him apart from the rest of the pack, and I can guarantee it’ll make a difference when he’s working with you.”

David Yeoman, Managing Director, Roots Shoots & Fruits

www.rootsshootsfruits.com


"I didn't know what to expect from the coaching and was more than a little sceptical. However, after less than an hour with Adrian I can now easily slip into a much more positive and easily accessed mindset that's forming a great foundation for future achievement, and will help me develop my career to the next level."

Dr P Hennessy, Software Development Manager


“I was amazed at how Adrian helped me to rethink my approach to a major organisational restructure. Even though he knew next to nothing about the content of what I was dealing with, his creative questioning got me to focus on issues that were at the heart of the matter. His intervention formed a key part of the final solution.”

Darren Bourne, Director of Education, Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies

www.confettistudios.com

26 May, 2008

Linkage

The Starving Artist

In the unlikely event you haven't read this yet, then might I humbly suggest you get over to Phill's, pronto, and do so forthwith? The rest of the page will be here when you get back.

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Gorn ... my dream of being an EastEnder

Catherine Johnson on being turned down after trial scripts.

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Casualty Casualty

Writer's Academy student Paul admirably shows a lack of ego and manages to see the positive side of his disappointing Casualty experience.

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Notes

Amanda gives her tips on how to take notes and also links to Holly Lisle's article How to Tell Who WON'T Make It in Writing (and How Not to Be That Writer which is a bit novelist orientated but worth reading.

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Title-ating

Blake Snyder has a logline competition, deadline 1 June 2008. The prize is copies of his books. If only I had review copies. If only, if only, if only... (At least I'm not ashamed that I have no shame)

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Danny Strong interview

You may recall him as an actor from Buffy and Gilmore Girls but he recently wrote a TV movie for HBO about the election Bush stole from Gore which probably didn't work out t0o well in the end, all things considered. I'm spending way too much time at The Kos and The Huff reading about the current election, I'm going to have to use it as "research" for something.

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The Drama Before the Drama


Jennica uses Cloverfield as an example of character-driven action - although the comments show that there will always be people who just want to watch special effects.

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What is the difference between a situation and a story?

Julie Grey explains and it's that crucial character-driven thing again:

"A situation is that I walk into a bank and it gets robbed. A story is it is being robbed by an inept man who needs the money for his lover's sex-change operation. A situation is I cover for my dragon-lady boss while she's away. A story is I cover for her, I do better than her, her boyfriend takes a shine to me and then she comes back, furious. A situation is I decide to put my child up for adoption. A story is that the couple adopting starts to fall apart from the inside out and meanwhile my due date is coming up fast. A situation is I decide to escort a criminal to the train station. A story is when his gang is close on my heels and then he escapes."

UK TV indie exec Nicola Shindler actually explained it in a similar way here, years ago.


**********************************

What Does Your Audience Want?

MaryAn: "Do you know what your reader expects from you when he picks up your screenplay? Can you be unpredictable without being erratic? Can you be erratic without seeming accidental? Screenwriting lessons come from the most unlikely places. The latest? Don't laugh. Wrestling. Go right ahead and roll your eyes but there are real and effective object lessons in our everyday lives. All we have to do is watch audiences, not just in movie theatres, but wherever we go."

**********************************

Indy in Peril: An Action-Scene Breakdown

With a hat-tip to Laura who considers this scene from Raiders one of the best action sequences ever filmed.

Indy 4 will be loved by millions and earn billions but really? I mean, really? That's the ending? It makes no fracking sense, for frackity frack's sake!

**********************************

Rewrites

Dom shares his 10-draft plan.

**********************************

What happens when a toad gets hit by lightning?

Tom looks at how a funny line on the page became a sucky line on the soundstage.

**********************************

The Art of Screenwriting: Dialogue and Description

International Screenwriting Award - Irish only

WRITE HERE, WRITE NOW

INTERNATIONAL SCREENWRITING AWARD 2008

The Dublin International Film Festival in association with Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (Ireland) have come together to recognise the centrality of the writer to the filmmaking process in a brand new screenwriting award, Write Here, Write Now.

“Ireland is rightly famed world wide for its storytelling ability – and for its love of cinema.The Dublin International Film Festival’s innovative work is vital to the growth and development of writers and filmmakers in Ireland. The Walt Disney Studios have shot many fine films in Ireland. We have also acquired and distributed many Irish-originated films, which gives us particular pleasure in the Irish office. In teaming with DIFF, WDSMP Ireland is happy to have found a new and exciting way to further encourage quality Irishscreenwriting and filmmaking with this award”. Trish Long, Vice President & General Manager. WDSMP

This substantial award will acknowledge and support the creation of original and innovative scripts, through a combination of development funding, as well as extensive promotion withinthe film industry.

The winning script will receive a cash prize of €7,500 / $12,000.

ELIGIBILITY

The competition is open to all Irish born writers / Irish citizens / Irish residents. Unproduced feature length scripts only. Writers must be over the age of 18 and there is a limit 2 script per writer or writing team. Applicants must notify Dublin International Film Festival if their script becomes optioned or sold, while under consideration for the competition.

DEADLINE
Submissions will be accepted between July 7th and September 19th 2008.

ENTRY FEE
An entry fee of €100* (about £80 ) per script submitted must accompany each application.

pdf application form

Word application form



* Note: This makes it twice as expensive to enter than any other competition I've ever seen - including all the American ones. Plus you get no feedback and there's no email option so add the cost of sending three copies through the post.

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

Added to Deadlines Calender

25 May, 2008

Soundtrack

New
*****************************

The Subways - "Alright"



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Five O'Clock Heroes feat. Agyness Deyn - "Who"



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Flashback
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Stina Nordenstam - "Little Star"

23 May, 2008

Sharps 2



There's no greater motivating factor to finishing a script than pontificating in public that - "writing a 30 minute script for Sharps is easy and everyone should do it". But it worked for me and my first draft is complete.

I had the idea for my story when the competition launched and I could have started writing it then but my story involved using a common medical procedure used in drama and so I needed to think about the characters more and come up with an organic twist that the reader won't be expecting.

It all came together a week ago and the outline just poured out like a water from a busted dam . The characters had been kept quiet for so long that they wouldn't stop yapping and I was adding dialogue as well. I did wonder if I should just fire up the computer and start writing but I needed to be sure of where I was going and what the ending was. Rach also posted about how she was similarly tempted but it didn't work out.

My outline wasn't a detailed scene by scene and was more like an incomplete beat sheet. I knew the ending but I wasn't sure of the scenes leading up to that. Partly this was because I hadn't done the research. I started writing but had to pause for a couple of days to do the research towards the end.

Before starting I did research on the medical issue so I knew the basics but finding out the specifics I needed took much longer than I thought it would. I was actually on the verge of phoning up the condition's support group, when I finally found the info online. I could have blagged it but there was no rush.

In the end the truth of what happens made the story much more dramatic than what I was thinking of. I suppose it's about knowing when you are researching for proper purposes and not procrastination purposes.

Although, having said that, we are making fiction and we have some dramatic licence - as long as it's psychologically true and we're not making up stuff most people will know to be bollocks:


DOCTOR
You have hair cancer and need chemotherapy.
Here's a tube of chemo, rub it on your head and
the cancer hair will die and new hair will grow.


My first draft is 31 pages and about 5000 words. In my previous post I said that if it's under 6,500 words it's too short as that's what a pro TV writer told me. Micheál Jacob says that 6,000 words equals half an hour for comedy. It has 6,000 syllables. Does that count?

I never really understood the word count thing and always went on page count - please note the writersroom only go by page count as well - but the TV writer told me that television drama does typically have about 30% more dialogue than film and that might account for the discrepancy between the formats and word counts.

I will be moving scenes about and adding and deleting scenes in the re-write but I don't see how I could add 1500 words, even if I tried. I'll see what the final draft word count is out of curiosity but I'm not going to do anything about it as long as it's under 35 pages. Besides, my word count would work out at about 5 minutes under time which isn't worth worrying about anyway. The actors can just talk a bit slower.

What I will be worrying about is the content of the second draft, and the theme in particular. I had a vague theme when writing but now I've finished, it's much clearer what my story is about. In my re-write I need to focus on that clarified theme.

There are nice things which happened in terms of character later in the script that were pure accident but make me seem like I know what I'm doing. So I need to go back to the beginning of the script and change the characterisation to match the cool stuff that happened later.

Having an outline and character notes doesn't mean you have to stick with it exactly, it allows for flexibility when writing and re-writing, but you do have to make sure it's consistent and you make global changes.

The application form took a while appearing on the writersroom. Without that form you can't enter, so I thought it was deliberate, as I said on a messageboard last week:

"Puzzlingly, there's always a large percentage of entrants who think the quicker they send off their entry the better chance they will have.

There's four weeks left to the deadline and this might encourage people to re-write rather than sending in their first draft when the form is ready."

Piers also says something about this at the writersroom.

There's still time to put something together if you haven't started. For instance, Friday and Saturday thinking of the idea, Sunday creating the characters and outline and Bank Holiday Monday to start writing it. That leaves us three weeks for finishing writing, re-writing and peer review.

As I said previously, rather than bearing in mind the likelihood of winning, it could be seen as a chance to build or rebuild our portfolios.

If you're stuck for a story just go to BBC Health News or BBC News for literal or metaphorical 'health of the nation' stories. Behind the headlines are real dilemmas and big issues for individuals. It's just a matter of finding the right characters and right story.

It's a broad remit and they're being very careful not to restrict us in our choice of subject matter too much while at the same time giving us a little focus.

Some of us have had longer to write something but someone else could start writing now and come up with a better idea, story and characters and storm it.

This also applies to those of us who have had a false start. Don't walk back to the paddock and give up or keep flogging a dead horse. Get back in the saddle and ride a new horse you're happier with to the finishing line.

Sharps Tips - BBC writersroom
Sharps FAQ - BBC writersroom

21 May, 2008

"Brick walls are there for a reason: they let us prove how badly we want things"

Randy Pausch gives his "Last Lecture". Something to put competition rejection into perspective:





The original Last Lecture in full.

20 May, 2008

Getting Better versus Getting Angry

The reaction from some of those who didn't make it into the Comedy College has been a tad silly. Read the discussion at the end of Micheál Jacob's last post, if you don't believe me. Phill has written a must-read response regarding the right attitude for us all to have.

According to Jacob, "A few people expressed their disappointment quite forcefully, which is understandable". I reckon a reaction like that suggests what they'd be like to work with. If someone can't imagine there might be other scripts better than theirs then how will they take notes? "It's perfect as it is, just fuck off and produce it!"

One way of channelling that aggression is through an anonymous blog which is closed for comments. That's the Bitterness Speaking by "Failed Comedy Writer" suggests that even the pilot of Fawlty Towers would be turned down by Micheál Jacob/Lucy Lumsden.

That seems unlikely as it is a comedy classic but James Henry reminds me that it was actually turned down once in similarly negative terms. However, let's not pretend Fawlty isn't faulty and couldn't have done with a damn good script editing. I bought the box set excitedly to study the magic and learn from it but it simply wasn't as good as I remembered it was.

This was partly due to the 'reality' thing "Failed Comedy Writer" would like producers to ignore: there is no logical explanation why Basil hasn't sacked Manuel or Manuel hasn't resigned. Their relationship was to enable easy funny foreigner jokes and easy slapstick gags. Would it really have been less funny if they made up a reason why Manuel continued to work there or made him less obviously unemployable? Fawlty Towers is popular in spite of the logic flaws and the obvious contrivance and not because of them. We should still try and get rid of them in our own scripts if we can.

Anyway, I got into the top 40 of Comedy College and was chuffed to get that far. I believe I was number 21 and so just missed out on the shortlist but no-one has told me that officially or unofficially or hinted at it in any way. I just know.

I chose to submit sketches for my application because I had more chance of making them laugh with six different comic premises then with the first ten pages of one sitcom. I actually read a sitcom which didn't make the top 40 but which was very funny and ticked all the other boxes too. It's got the writers a meeting at the networks but the first ten pages didn't really do it justice and needed punching up and being clearer as to what was going on. It was still better than the first ten pages of most comedy scripts but there only had to be forty better out of 1400 to stop them progressing in the competition.

Jacob believes that you can't teach funny. I believe you can teach it as the first draft of my sketches was shite and people can learn how to make things funnier. Even now, I can still see ways of improving them which might have got me one place higher and into the top twenty.

It's true that 'funny' is subjective but only once you get to a certain level. There are no comedic masterpieces rejected at a lower level with a first, second or third stage writersroom letter. We might be able to write witty lines which make us chuckle every time we re-read them but are there several laugh out loud moments a page? Is there a good story and good characters that viewers will want to spend time with? Does it honestly have the potential to be a returnable comedy series worth investing millions of pounds in? Or is it just funnier to you than [insert name of sitcom you don't find funny]?

As clever as I thought I was, for next year's college I'm submitting a sitcom but ensuring a high gag rate as I reckon that will impress more. Nothing slow burn and too subtle that could be mistaken for a comedy drama or a drama - which I've done in the past.

Sometimes with competitions people want to see what the scripts that progressed further than theirs were like. It's only natural. We're hoping that they'll be much worse than ours so we can blame the readers and rest easy. Understandably, Jacob won't publish submissions "because I will not expose writers to trial by Internet, even if they were willing".

While you can't see the top 20, here's what I submitted, number 21.

18 May, 2008

Soundtrack

80's special!

New


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Mystery Jets - "Two Doors Down"


From the highly recommended second album.

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The Wombats - "Backfire at the disco"


This video pays homage to Cliff Richard's finest 3 minutes


*********************


Flashback


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Duran Duran - "Save a Prayer"


The greatest bass-line ever of all time in history. Well, I like it.

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Roxy Music - "Avalon"


The title track from, arguably, one of the best albums of the 80s.

17 May, 2008

Augusto Boal, playwright, interview

Socialist Worker:

"So I believe that political theatre and culture is much more alive than it was before. Before it was acceptable to go to the proletariat and say "do this", or to the peasants and say "do that". Now we try and stimulate people to do what they are able to do and what they want to do."

"TV scribe to lend help to would-be writers at library "

Toronto Town Crier:

"Although there is not one right way to write a successful script, Varughese believes scripts that have a personal voice and involve life and death situations are more likely to succeed than scripts that are copies of already popular films.

“We love to worry when we go to the movies,” he says."



16 May, 2008

Deadlines Calendar - New Entries

Deadlines Calendar


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dumbFounded Comedy Sketch Writing Competition

Theme: Man Vs Woman

dumbFounded

Deadline: 23 May 2008

/ Free /


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Pygmalion Plus

The European programme for the development of projects for child and family audiences: Feature Film, TV Drama Series, Animation, Interactive and Cross-platform Media.

Pygmalion

Deadline: 2 June 2008

/ Free /

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‘Protect the Human’ Playwriting Competition 2008

iceandfire and Amnesty International UK launched the 2008 ‘Protect the Human’ playwriting competition on May 6th 2008. By pairing up to create the competition our aim is to harness theatre's ability to make real and relevant the impact of human rights on our everyday lives. To do this we are looking for insightful and engaging plays that imaginatively interpret this aim.

iceandfire create compelling theatre exploring stories of displacement and conflict. They are interested in

imaginative and excellent theatre, but are not seeking scripts that are didactic, preaching or dogmatic.


iceandfire

Window for submissions: 28 July - 1 August 2008

/ Free /

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The Alfred Fagon Award


The Award of £5000 is open to any playwright of Caribbean or African descent, resident in the UK, for the best

new stage play in English, which need not have been produced. Each entrant may submit only one play.

(Television, radio and film scripts will not be considered.)

Applicants for the 2008 Award should send two copies of their play (plus a Stamped Self-Addressed Envelope for

return of scripts), accompanied by a CV which includes the writer's Caribbean or African connection and a

brief history of the play, to:

The Alfred Fagon Award
The Royal Court Theatre
Sloane Square
London SW1W 8AS.


The Alfred Fagon Award


Deadline: 31 August 2008.

/ Free /


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The McLellan Award for Play Writing

1. Your play should be written in Living Scots .
It may be set in any period
It may be written in any form of Scots or Scots dialect urban or rural.
2. Running time should be a minimum of 40 to a maximum of 60 minutes.
3. The play should be for up to 3 actors with a maximum of three settings.


The McLellan Award

Deadline: 30 September 2008

/ under £10 /

The TV Comedy Forum

TV Comedy Forum

"Now in its second year, the TV comedy Forum brings together top decision makers and outstanding talent for a day of contentious debate, inspirational insight and entertainment.

The forum will help you to unlock the creative and revenue opportunities in comedy, leaving you educated and full of fresh ideas.


Chair: Jon Plowman, Producer, BBC

Duncan Hayes, Agent, United Agents;

Lucy Lumsden, Controller Comedy Commissioning, BBC;

Jimmy Mulville, Managing Director, Hat Trick;

Andrew Newman, Controller Comedy & Entertainment, Channel 4;

Henry Normal, Co-Founder, Baby Cow Productions
and many more!

18 September 2008, Central London Venue"


14 May, 2008

"Intelligent Screenplay Development"

Filmmaker Magazine:

"Recently I was talking to the script readers in my production office about script reading and development and remembered an article we published years ago by filmmaker and former development exec Barbara Schock. It was a great piece that looked at the screenplay development process with a critical eye, examining why the traditional method so often fails to generate great work. Along the way she offered a series of sensible tips on how to make that process better.

I went home and rummaged through my old issue of Filmmakers trying to find it and then thought to try the web. And there it was for me so here it is again for you: Barbara Schock on Intelligent Screenplay Development."

"Secrets divulged by a scribe behind eminent lines"

The Australian:

" "Craft can be learned," ( MichaelHauge) says. "I think everyone has talent. Some seem to instinctively have an easier time understanding the principles of story in general, and particularly the principles of film storytelling."

Other people find it more difficult, he adds, because they may have been reared on other kinds of story or think in other terms.

"Beyond that, it's craft," he says. "And if you look at what the successful screenwriters have in common, the No.1 thing they have is just tenacity. It's just that they stuck with it, past rejection after rejection and draft after draft, until they got it together." "

"Ex-bus driver pens a box office smash"

Newcastle Chronicle:

"HE SPENDS his life putting words into the mouths of others, but a Newcastle scriptwriter was left speechless when his work won a prestigious award for Best European Film.

Martin Herron, 49, of Waterloo Road, Newcastle, turned his hand to writing less than 10 years ago after working in photography, filming and at one point, driving buses. He never imagined it would lead to a glittering array of international gongs.

But his newest work, Irina Palm, starring 60s icon Marianne Faithfull, has already scooped three major awards – two at the Berlin International Film Festival, and Best European Film at the David di Donatello awards."

11 May, 2008

Soundtrack

New

The Pigeon Detectives - "This Is An Emergency"



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Elbow - "One Day Like This"




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Flashback

Four Tet - "Smile Around The Face"




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Max Sedgley - "Happy"

10 May, 2008

Killing the Hero


Spoilers ahoy!

The reviews of Midnight Man were mostly pretty bad and a common theme was the obvious way the exposition was given. I actually didn't mind that too much but what concerns me is that none of the reviewers mentioned the lack of logic which is much more important.

As a fan of thrillers I worry that logic-free plot-driven thrillers have become the norm in this country. The ending of the first part of Midnight Man had the most overused annoying British thriller cliché of all time: killing someone innocent to frame the hero when killing the hero is the most obvious thing to do.

There is a school of thought which says that thrillers have to be plot-driven but the reason Midnight Man failed for me was due to the lack of authenticity in character behaviour. Even if you think of the plot first you then have to retrofit character motivations to it. Well, you don't have to but you should if you want to make something good.

There have been suggestions that the other recent TV thrillers, The State Within and The Last Enemy, lost half their audience by the second episode because they were too clever when I believe they failed because of the same reason: emotion-free over-complicated plots where under-developed characters did things which made no sense.

The State Within used that most overused annoying thriller cliché of all time. I gave up on The Last Enemy early on due to it using the second most annoying thriller cliché of all time (the hero discovers a dead body and plays with the murder weapon so the police will think he's the killer), but I would be shocked if that series didn't use the number one cliché as well at some point. Enough is enough. I'm begging you, please.

I thought this type of thing was restricted to low-budget movie thrillers by inexperienced writers and I don't understand why I'm seeing it in high-budget television thrillers by A-listers. I'm a little paranoid that's it's me being too picky but Paul Abbott managed the action packed character-driven thriller in State of Play, didn't he? There was nothing too obviously stupid in that, was there? I don't think my man-crush on Paul Abbott blinded me to its faults, he just has a different approach and attitude as a writer.

As a fan of thrillers, I'm not asking for something difficult such as the moon on a stick. These are my actual demands which I must insist writers of thrillers have to comply with. There's no point emailing me asking for concessions, they're non-negotiable. I know script editors, producers, commissioners and a lot of the audience don't care but I do care and that's all that matters and all you should be concerned with:

1) Heroes can be brave but not stupid unless there's a good reason. if the hero is threatened due to their enquiring into stuff then they should at least try and be more discreet - even if the baddies are ultimately better than he thinks and catch him ignoring the warning. As a viewer trying to identify with the hero and care what happens I can imagine me brave but not stupid

2) Baddies should always try to kill the hero early. I admit that would make for a very short thriller so you put obstacles in the way of the baddies doing that. Typical is that the hero has some information or a Macguffin that the baddies need. Working that out may be hard but it has to be done. Alternatively, the hero is just too good at getting away.

An alternative is not the baddie keeping the hero alive and killing someone innocent instead to frame the hero. In one low-budget tax-dodge British film I saw, the baddie kept killing loads of people to frame the hero just because he hated the hero so much. I screamed at the screen, "Just kill the fracking hero then, you stupid bastard!" Baddies can't be thick either. Why let the only person who can foil your dastardly scheme live when you have no qualms about killing innocent people?

The audience of Midnight Man should be on the edge of our seats and chewing our nails anxiously fearing that the hero could be killed next week but that threat has gone - instead we're asked to care that he might go to prison for about five years. (Actually with a good lawyer he might get off completely by thrashing the dead woman's character and taking into account his psychological problems)

3) Minor characters are the star of their own story and also need to have proper recognisable human motivation. In Midnight Man, a bloke knows his cousin was killed in mistake for him, and yet he carries on as normal, as if he wasn't in danger, until he's killed. If it was me I would run away or at least go to the media. And I would have got the evidence proving this was happening immediately and not wait until the hero, some random stranger, asks for it.

Death has to matter to the characters or it won't matter to the audience and a thriller won't thrill.

4) The moon on a stick. OK, I lied, I am asking for this as well as it would be really really cool.

The overall story about a death squad operating in Britain is brilliant, scary and raises loads of issues. Would people just not care, as the hero's hack friend believed? How can an ordinary bloke with serious issues overcome something like that? But I wasn't made emotionally involved enough to care what happens.

Midnight Man had an intriguing premise, OK dialogue and a fast pace with things happening. That will be enough for a lot of people who don't care if it makes sense or not but surely we can aspire to higher.

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

Links:

Genre or Die, pt 3: Thriller

[RTF] Writing the Thriller Film

Thriller Screenplays - 3 Question Checklist

Thrller Writing Techniques

Rules of the Thriller

09 May, 2008

What the Papers Say: "Midnight Man"


Sam Wollaston, The Guardian

I'm a journalist, I work for a newspaper, and I'm obviously thrilled by the way my profession is portrayed in television drama. We're generally seen to be reliable, highly principled, well-dressed, teetotal, motivated people who wield the sword of truth with honour, and go to the gym at lunchtime or just have a salad at our desks. Oh, hang on, that's not true; quite the opposite in fact. And it's a disgrace; we're not the reprobates we're made out to be. I mean, looking round the office here ... Well, you know what, perhaps we deserve our reputation. No sign of Rusbridger: still at lunch most probably, and it's 4.30 in the afternoon. Freedland's over there, unshaven in an old mac, fag hanging out of his mouth. He's got a sack of someone's trash on his desk, which he's going through. Smells awful.

And there's Toynbee, head on her keyboard, snoring gin-flavoured snores. Maybe telly's got us about right.

The latest heroic celebration of newspaper journalism is Midnight Man (ITV1). James Nesbitt plays a scruffy and thoroughly disreputable newspaper journalist with all sorts of baggage and issues. He's a loner with a broken marriage and a troubled past - you know the sort (though to be fair, this character's normally a cop, not a hack). Jimmy has the additional problem of phengophobia. (Come on: fear of daylight.) He's a fox, basically, because he comes out at night to go through rubbish bins. Maybe he makes love loudly in other people's gardens at 3am, too - most journalists like to. I know I do.

Anyway, while sifting through someone's rubbish, Jimmy stumbles upon a massive story. The government is bumping off people it disapproves of, willy nilly. People of Arab and Middle-Eastern origin mostly - naturally. Iranians are being dragged off football pitches in west London and beheaded. On the 'ead, Naneen! Off the 'ead, Naneen!

Trouble is, no one wants to listen. If it was Woodward and Bernstein, maybe, but not Nesbitt, whose character is also a big conspiracy theorist.

And even if Jimmy turns out to be right, the editor doesn't want to know. That's not right: yet another outrageous slur on my profession. Any editor would die for a story like that. Well, if he wasn't still at lunch he would.

Anyway, Jimmy sticks at it, and takes on the world with his trusty (rusty, surely? - Ed) sword of truth. Go Jimmy! Not just for the sake of justice, but for the reputation of our noble profession. You show 'em what we're about.

The whole thing's as bonkers as a pair of amorous foxes in the garden. But quite jolly. And Jimmy Nesbitt is very good at being thoroughly reprehensible and disreputable. Funny that.

*******************


Tim Teeman,
The Times

It’s night-time, the city’s a horrible place, James Nesbitt’s stubble is bristling and he is rifling through bins looking grumpy. For one depressing second, it looked as if Midnight Man (ITV1) was going to be Murphy’s Law, the offcuts. This time Nesbitt is not a cynical, flawed, but fundamentally good policeman. He is a cynical, flawed, but fundamentally good journalist called Max. It’s strange to find journalist heroes on TV: we are rarely portrayed as seekers of truth, but rather scumbags.

Max only roots through rubbish because his glittering career in words is (temporarily) over. He revealed his source in a government scandal, who killed herself. Ever since, to keep the cash flowing, he sends scandalous (and very literal) rubbish to his editor, who is more the amoral journo scum-bag we’re familiar with – wouldn’t it be terrible if journalists were ever portrayed as human beings?

Because this is a Nesbitt drama, Max is also a cynical, flawed but fundamentally good father (he would probably be a cynical, flawed but fundamentally good buyer of Rolos if time allowed) with a physical flaw that throws all the other flaws into relief: he cannot stand daylight, a condition somebody called “finger-phobia”. Being a cynical, though fundamentally flawed journalist I laughed when I heard that, thought I’d make a cheap gag in print, then looked it up and discovered what I was meant to hear was “phengo-phobia” (it’s also called eosophobia, but where’s the lame gag potential in mishearing that?).

If only journalism was as exciting and easy as it was for Max. He was tailing a lap dancer who was meant to be having an affair with a Cabinet minister. They were conducting this affair, supposedly discreetly, in a mews house – except that the Cabinet minister opened the door and greeted his adulterous paramour with a hug and kiss in front of the cab driver. Implausibly, all the disparate stories and leads joined up to make one giant story. Why does television portray print journalism so lazily?

Max, in his floppy sunhat, asked people questions, got direct answers and great quotes. He bribed a lap dancer not with cash but a sandwich. No obfuscating police press officer for Max – the desk sergeant at the cop shop sung like a canary: “My inspector thinks it looks like one of those honour killings.”

But of course the death of a young man called Majid (was he Muslim?) wasn’t an honour killing; ITV wanted us to be educated, so we were treated to a worthy few minutes of a grieving family insisting that Majid wasn’t “a fanatic”. We hadn’t thought he was: he was a kid who was shot in the head after playing football. It’s odd having a drama imputing a kind of bigotry on to its audience, a bigotry it didn’t hold. If, as the drama insisted, so many people of a certain group and political persuasion had been killed, a newspaper – many newspapers – would be investigating it.

This was clearly another drama straining to say important, predictably crowd-pleasing things about our post 9/11 or 7/7 world: echoes of David Kelly’s suicide, Islamophobia and the encroachment of a police state were stirred in. There was a bizarre credence given to the conspiracy theories to which Max subscribed (and imparts to his daughter as bedtime stories): the State was killing people it sees as undesirable.

Max’s big lead (possibly in the bedroom too) is the lady who works for the shadowy defence policy organisation, who is having an affair with her married boss. “I’m in it for the sex, not the washing,” she trilled – such an egregious line confirmed that this was one of those dramas in which characters spoke and behaved in no way believably.

Still, if you accept its ridiculous plot Midnight Man is gripping (if only to see where the next credibility-stretching twist is going to come from) and no one does wry and tortured like the talented Nesbitt. The evil state assassins have ripped off the same technique as Javier Bardem’s lumbering killer in the Coen brothers’ brilliant movie No Country for Old Men, with guns that pump whooshingly quiet bullets into foreheads (as poor Max’s wife suffered at the end of part one). The denouement will surely see Nesbitt placed in danger in paralysing daylight. But I bet he’ll still file a first-class front page – and overcome his fingerphobia.

*******************


Gerard O'Donovan, The Daily Telegraph

Exposition, or the teasing out of a character’s back story without being too obvious about it, is a fascinating craft. Some scriptwriters will go to extraordinary lengths dotting in tiny touches of colour that eventually add up to the TV equivalent of a pointillist masterpiece. Then there are those such as David Kane, who, for Max Raban, the washed-up hero of his new three-part thriller Midnight Man (ITV1), seemed to say to hell with it, let’s just get all the people he knows to tell him lots of stuff he should know about himself already.

Thus the problem of conveying Max’s cartload of peculiarities and past tragedies was resolved by such classy exchanges as this, a couple of minutes in, where he was moaning to a grubby tabloid editor:

“I want my old job back. I’m sick of raking around in bins.”

“But you’re good at raking around in bins. Anyway, what about your phobia? Be realistic Max, a fear of daylight is a handicap in any career, even journalism.”

Wow, how many bases did that cover? And if you didn’t get the most obvious one, an encounter with Max’s wife (separated but still yearning for him, irresistible scruffbag that he was) spelt it out still more clearly.

“You have a condition, Max. You can’t go out in daylight. It’s called phengophobia, or had you forgotten?”

Blimey, how unsubtle was that? But Midnight Man was a drama that scoffed at subtlety and in some ways was the better for it. For Max (James Nesbitt in characteristically full-on mode) was a man about to trip over a government conspiracy involving anti-terrorist death squads. And once that helter-skelter ride got underway the broad brush strokes ensured we knew exactly where we were in terms of the maverick good guy, and so could spend our time, like him, trying to figure out what the baddies were up to.

Fortunately for Max, dragging around half a ton of clichés didn’t seem to slow him down much. But then fate did intervene on his behalf rather a lot. Such as when a bunch of youths beat up the spook who was stalking him, and then sold the man’s phone and ID to him for 50 quid. Then to add to his luck, the head baddie came up and introduced himself in a café – which certainly saved Max the trouble of having to track him down.

If all this sounds terribly obvious, make no mistake, it was. But it was done with such shameless bravura and breakneck pace that it was also very watchable. It remains to be seen whether this can be sustained over two more episodes. I’m inclined to think that one hour in the frenetic but sadly predictable world of “trashmeister” Max will prove enough. But I’d be happy to be proved wrong.


*******************



Robert Hanks, The Independent

Time was when every TV crime-solver had some easily identifiable little eccentricity. There was Ironside (stuck in a wheelchair), McCloud (really a cowboy), Kojak (bald, sucked lollipops, kept saying, "Who loves ya, baby?"). But with the rise of maverick cops and team-based crime dramas (Waking the Dead, CSI, NCIS, Law & Order...), the quirks got ironed out. Cracker (overweight, gambling addiction) was a late addition to the genre.

There are signs of a mild resurgence, though, but now, in keeping with the mood of the times, the quirks are psychological, neurotic. So, in recent years, we've had Monk, whose quirk is obsessive-compulsive disorder. And now, in Midnight Man, we get Max Raban, played by James Nesbitt. Max is an investigative journalist; literally, a muckraker, who, since he was disgraced (he named a source, who then killed herself), makes a living from scrabbling through people's rubbish, searching for carelessly discarded receipts from paedophile porn sites and so forth. But he also has a big quirk. As one of his contacts, the only newspaperman who will condescend to talk to him, helpfully asked him, "What about your phobia? Be realistic, Max, disliking daylight is a slight handicap in any career, even journalism." There's quite a bit of this sort of helpfulness around. Raban's estranged wife, for example, tackled him about his condition. "It's called phengophobia, or have you forgotten?" Forgotten? I'm flattered you think I might ever have known.

As quirks go, this one feels strained and, so far, superfluous to plot requirements. To be fair, though, it's quite nicely executed. On the one occasion in the first episode when Max actually did venture out by day, bundled up in shabby hat and rather effeminate shades, the camera caught him paralysed in a shaft of light. This lacked the force of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (in which vampires, on the odd occasions that they were forced into the sun, would scurry into the shade, smouldering around the edges), but it did the job.

Max had been tossed the bone, by his editor pal, of a trawl through the bins of a politician's mistress. Among the rubbish, he found a discarded pregnancy-testing kit, and a mysterious piece of paper in Latin, with a reference to a headless man. Intuitively, he tied the latter into the discovery of a headless corpse in London, a hunch amply confirmed when mysterious men in leather jackets, toting guns, started shadowing him. Despite everybody else's advice, he kept looking, and ended up at a right-wing think tank, Defence Concern, run by a slippery-looking Rupert Graves and his lovely, devoted assistant, Catherine McCormack. From here on, everything ran pretty much according to the book: Max got warned off by heavies, everybody told him he was wasting his time, the security services and the Americans were vaguely implicated in some over-arching conspiracy, and the devoted assistant, despite her initial dismissals, began to suspect he was on to something. We even got an old friend: the scene where she downloads information from a computer against the clock, as the baddie heads back towards his desk (cf Mission: Impossible and the recent Iron Man).

Right at the end, things perked up with the arrival of Reece Dinsdale, cold-eyed and charmless, as the man behind all the gruesomeness: a government security man who reckons that a few headless corpses are a small price to pay to keep the public safe from terror. He made a call on his mobile, and next thing you knew, Max's missus was being shot through the head. You had to say that this was keeping the public safe as we usually understand it.

It is, you'll gather, nonsense knocked off from any number of conspiracy dramas, from Bird of Prey and Edge of Darkness in the Eighties to State of Play in this decade. But it does have the huge advantage of Nesbitt, a terrific and mostly misused actor, whose downbeat, sarcastic charm makes Max's neurosis far more plausible and more palatable than it might be.


*******************

Ratings: 3.8m (18%)


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Official site

08 May, 2008

Sharps FAQ



BBC writersroom:

Should I send a medical drama? Not necessarily - we want writers to explore 'health' in its broadest possible terms and are keen to see writers tackle the subject with originality and a fresh perspective. So use your imagination – be bold, be surprising, and make sure you put strong, engaging characters at the heart of your idea.

I’ve had a 10 minute short on TV, can I apply? If you have no previous TV network broadcast credits above 15 minutes in length, then you are eligible to apply.

Can I apply if I live overseas and do I need to be British? You don't need to be British but you can only apply if you are currently resident in the UK and Eire.

I turn 18 in the summer, can I apply? You must be 18 or over on the 28 July 2008 to be eligible.

Can I send more than one entry? No, only one submission per writer – we prefer you to focus your attention on one script.

Can I email my script? No, you must send a hard copy through the post to Sharps at the BBC writersroom address, together with a printout of our online application form. If you wish us to return your script after the selection process, you should also enclose an SSAE.

Do I simply send in a script? No, you must also complete the online application form and attach it to your script, making sure we have your name and contact details. The online application form will be available next week.

What kind of drama should I send? You can send a single, one-off drama or the first episode of a proposed series/serial – but you should still aim to tell a self-contained story in your script, even if it is designed to have further potential episodes.

Can I send a comedy? We are not looking for sitcom submissions – but comedy-drama is fine, and we are delighted to see work which displays a sense of humour and a light touch.

What should the script look like? It must be legibly typed, formatted and printed single-side A4. The best script format to use is classic film/television screenplay, which is roughly one page per minute. See our script formats page for more details.

How long should it be? Using classic screenplay format, it should be between 30 to 35 pages in length.

When is the deadline? Noon, Monday 16 June. We will accept scripts postmarked up to and including the 14 June.

What will happen next? A team of readers will sift the first 10 pages of all eligible scripts. A longlist of sifted scripts will then be given a full read. Longlisted scripts will be discussed at a consultative meeting and a shortlist of twenty writers will then be invited to the masterclass/workshop day on Monday 30 June 2008. If you are shortlisted and wish to be considered for the subsequent July residential, then you must attend the masterclass/workshop day. At the masterclass/workshop, we will introduce writers to BBC drama and run creative sessions to help us in the selection process. Subsequently, we will select eight writers for the final July residential.

When will I hear news about my submission? Shortlisted applicants will be contacted by Monday 23 June 2008. Successful applicants will be invited to the final residential by Monday 7 July 2008.

"6 Tips For Getting Yourself To Do Something You Don't Want To Do"

Huffington Post:

"How many times each day do you try to work yourself up to tackle some undesirable task? If you're like me - several.

For example, right now I'm trying to figure out how to send a monthly newsletter. I felt overwhelmed by the various sub-tasks involved, but by using the techniques below, I'm inching toward the finish line of hitting "send" for that first newsletter. Here are some strategies that I've used:" Link.

07 May, 2008

Writers' Guild meeting in the West Midlands

Scripting the Future?

The Writers' Guild of Great Britain invites you to a meeting to discuss the future of new writing in the West Midlands following the Arts Council’s decision to cut funding to Script, the agency for developing writers in the region.

The meeting will be opened by a panel discussion between Nicholas McInerny, chair of Script, Caroline Jester, Literary Manager of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Jonathan Davidson, Director of Midland Creative Projects Ltd and the Birmingham Book Festival, chaired by David Edgar, president of the Writers’ Guild. Representatives of West Midlands ’ theatres, television, radio and film producers and arts agencies will be at the meeting.

All writers are welcome to this FREE event. Following the success of our first meeting in March, the West Midlands branch of the Writers’ Guild will be officially launched, and celebrated with a glass of wine.

Venue: The Birmingham Rep ( St Paul ’s suite), Wednesday 18 June, 7.30pm
Our last meeting was oversubscribed so please RSVP as soon as possible to WMidWritersGuild(AT)aol.com. For further information about the Writers' Guild, see www.writersguild.org.uk


06 May, 2008

Sharps



In the aftermath of the Red Planet Prize I said I'd like to see a competition where people had to write a specific half hour and send in that whole half-hour rather than just the first ten pages. The readers still have the option of reading only the first ten pages.

Now the BBC writersroom has done just that with their Sharps competition.

The Red Planet Prize Project was really a How to Avoid Complete Rejection at the BBC writersroom Project. Embarrassingly, I put people off doing anything different to typical TV contemporary drama and the winner was a non-typical historical biography. Perhaps the RPP can be for our write-whatever-we-want-passion-spec.

Why I suggested this competition format was that it creates a level playing field and leaves us with no excuses. Our original writers voice can still be heard loud and clear and it echoes the real world experience. Almost all produced film and television starts with an idea by a producer or network. If we want a career, we have to get used to writing what other people want us to write and making it our own. Toby Whithouse's Being Human is uniquely his but according to this interview by Jase the setting was the producer's idea and it was a collaboration.

The other thing I think is important is the limited time scale. I've heard of people who started writing their Sharps script the day it was announced and also people who are adapting old projects which may be completely unsuitable. If we're serious about writing we should be able to write something new in the next month, it's only half an hour. (Please don't remind me of this should I fail to make the deadline. I might swear at you.)

You can still go through my RPP Project to try and find the useful stuff (good luck with that!) but I'll put it in a nutshell:

The BBC writersroom are going to get loads of scripts and they reckon they can shortlist to the top twenty in a week. They read the first ten pages but in reality you can usually tell much earlier than that if a script is worth reading or not. We need to capture their attention from the start and hold it for 30 pages. It's tough but it's doable if we have the right approach and attitude.

I reckon there is one way to avoid that early cull and that's in the pre-writing stage.

  1. Thinking about the best idea and mulling it over for a while
  2. Thinking about the best characters to use for that idea and ensuring they are psychologically true
  3. Thinking about the story and structure

That way your idea and story are more likely to be unique and interesting. Also consider my two mantras:

  • Simple story and complex characters not complex story and simple characters
  • Character driven plots not plot driven characters

I know many people don't believe me but writing a really complicated twisty plot in a half an hour story isn't impressive, it's tedious as it leaves no room for character development and story.
The dialogue stage is the easiest to do but the least important. With all competitions I'm relying on people who rush to write dialogue and then send it off without re-writing. If you pre-write and re-write then you're automatically in the top 10%.

I'm not saying good dialogue isn't important but it comes from good characters and a good story.

I'm going to quote Jase again:

"the hard part is the discipline to sit down and write ourselves a portfolio of brilliant, shiny scripts. Any talk of how it's "who you know, not what you know", in my view, is just an excuse for not having reached the right level of excellence, discipline and/or attitude."

According to agents, we need half hour, hour and two hour spec scripts. We can use this competition as an opportunity to begin building or re-building our portfolio. (And then do an hour for the Red Planet Prize?) Even if we don't win, we'll still have a useful script that can be re-written and improved.

There's now two real routes to a TV drama writing career. There used to be only the Doctors/Holby one, effectively, but writer-friendly writer-producers like Red Planet, Monastic and Tightrope are now a serious alternative with a possibility of writing for their series as well as selling an original series.

But it all starts with that portfolio.

One thing which may catch people out is the format. They say the scripts should be no longer than 35 pages but that can only be achieved using the screenplay format. If you use TV production formatting it will be twice as long. They prefer the screenplay format because it saves paper and with the page a minute average it's easier to work out. Although we also have to bear in mind that a half-hour script should be around 7,000 words. If it's less than 6,500 it's too short.

What was good about the RPP was the mutual reads we gave each other. If you're not a member of a writers group or can't afford readers fees then network with each other and arrange a swap of a whole draft or just the first ten pages. Of course it works best when you think the draft is perfect and not when you've spotted the problems yourself but are just hoping no-one else will be able to.

Good luck!

Update:

Sharps FAQ