Wednesday, October 18, 2017

TAKING NOTES

I get excited when I receive notes. I love to see what others think of my work, what they like, more importantly, what they didn't like and I can't wait to get into my next draft. But not everyone takes notes well. Here's how to do so.

Now some of this will be familiar, especially if you read my previous blog about seeking criticism. But it doesn't hurt to reinforce what I've said before, so here goes.

MINDSET

Firstly, notes are not a personal attack on you as a writer. They are not even a personal attack on your screenplay. They are simply a guide. This is how they should be viewed, as a helping hand and not a nuisance or unwanted invasion you have to put up with. Embrace them.

Never react badly publically to your notes. You might scream and swear vengeance in the solitude of your office, but don't do it in front of the script editor or the reader and certainly not on social media. Be polite and gracious at all times.

THE TWO TYPES OF NOTES

1 - Script Editor - A script editor works for the producer of the show and will work with several writers at a time. It's their job to make sure what the writer is delivering what the producer wants, that it not only fits with the tone of the show as a whole but also the characters and their motivations as well.

A bad script editor will try and rewrite your screenplay for you, even down to individual lines of dialogue.

A great script editor will tell you something's not working and ask you to take a look at it. Maybe a scene doesn't pack the punch the producer was expecting. The script editor will ask the writer to take another look and see if they can boost the scene's impact.

If you get bad, intrusive notes like the first example then contact the script editor, politely inform them how you would prefer to receive your notes and ask them about each of their notes and the reasons and thinking behind them. If they've rewritten a fight into one of your scenes because it lacked conflict, then go back and take another look at it and see if you can find another way to bring the conflict in.

Of course, these are the two extremes and you'll probably find most script editors fall somewhere in between the two.

2 - Reader - A reader works for the writer. It's not their job to impose their version of the writer's idea on them, but to understand what the writer is trying to do and help them toward that goal. They do this by pointing out things the writer might have missed and suggest alternatives for the writer to make their own changes. They will let the writer do the work and will just point them in the right direction.

WHAT SHOULD YOU LISTEN TOO?

As previously discussed in the seeking criticism blog, it's advisable to pay close attention to the issues that pop up more than once and to deal with them. The issues that are only mentioned once might not be so important and if you feel they don't work for your screenplay then you can drop them.

Whether you're working with a script editor or a reader it's up to you what you choose to implement and what you don't. Don't be too eager to action every single note. Also don't be too eager to dismiss them all as well. Read them, read them again and then pick the ones you think will work. But remember though, if you're working with a script editor you had better have a valid reason for why you don't agree with some notes and it's always best to discuss these reasons with them before you start your rewrite.

Happy writing!


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

ACTIVELY SEEKING CRITICISM

Why would you want to actively seek criticism? Why would you want to listen to people telling you where you went wrong and what they dislike about your work? Wouldn’t it be better to focus on the positives? Actually, it wouldn’t and here's why.

If you want to improve as a writer you need to know where you’re going wrong. Actively seeking criticism helps you to achieve that. But it needs to be the right kind of criticism and from the right people. Here are some handy tips to getting the best feedback for your work.

THE RIGHT PEOPLE

That’s right, I said people, as in more than one person. Why? Because when you have more than one person giving you feedback the serious problems with your screenplay will be highlighted by at least two, if not all of them. It’s those issues that crop up more than once which are the ones that urgently need fixing. But who do you ask?

Avoid family and friends. Why I hear you ask? Because they won’t be objective and objectivity and honesty are what you want here. The people you should be asking are your writing peers, those with a bit of experience or training. Three should be sufficient.

YOUR APPROACH

Contact them and first offer to read and give feedback on their work. They will be more inclined to help you if you offer to help them first. Second, tell them you only want to know what’s WRONG with your screenplay and not what is right. Ask them to be brutally honest with you and assure them you can take whatever they throw at you.

IT’S NOTHING PERSONAL

Whatever they say about your work don’t take it to heart. It's not about you, it's about your screenplay. The aim here is to find out what doesn’t work, not to stroke your ego. So keep a clear head and look at what they’ve said and what they mean with an objective eye.

If someone says they hate something, go back to them and ask them to explain why. The more information you have the more prepared you are when you settle down to get on with your rewrite.

COLLATE FEEDBACK

Read through the reports at least twice and on the second time take notes of the points that crop up more than once. These are the main problems with your screenplay and have to be dealt with. Ignore them at your peril.

What you do with the minor points, those that are only mentioned by one of your readers is up to you. I’m not saying they’re not important but they may have only been highlighted because of the reader’s personal preferences, rather than because the screenplay is worse off because of them. However, my advice would be to look at all of your notes, decide which ones you think are relevant and action them.

REWRITE

When you’re finished do it all again. Try to repeat this at least three times, more if you can. The more you rewrite the better your screenplay will be. Don’t be a fool and send it out to producers before it’s ready, it won’t do you any favours.

IMPROVEMENT

Do the same for every screenplay you write. Don’t become complacent with this. If you do this religiously you’ll soon find the problems with your screenplays lessen and the quality of your work will increase rapidly.


Happy writing!

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

SPINNING PLATES

I'm busy. Very busy. I'm working on four projects, three for producers and one for a competition. All are due this month. It would be easy to tie myself up in knots. But I'm getting stuff done. And it's all down to planning.

The first is due by the 9th. Well actually it's due by the 10th, but I want it done the day before so it's ready in time and there's no last-minute rush. The second, a rewrite of a feature, is due on the 31st. The other two can be done anytime this month, as long as they're handed in by the 31st.

The most important one is the one due on the 9th. This is the one I have to spend the most time on this week. So 50% of my writing will be concentrating on that. That's my mornings taken care of then.

The next most important project is the feature. So 50% of my afternoon after lunch is set aside for that. The other 50% I'll work on one of the other projects, the one nearest completion, to keep it ticking over. There's no point working on all four at the same time. It's difficult enough working on three at the same time. I don't want to be running around in circles worrying about four projects and not actually getting anything done.

When the script with the earliest deadline is done, I can then spend my mornings working on the feature and my afternoons on the final two projects. Job done!

However, if it's obvious I'm not getting enough done on the first screenplay, then I'll drop the third and spend 75% of my day on it and 25% on the feature rewrite. It's important to be adaptable.

So if you're struggling with several projects at once, all with impending deadlines, work out a simple timetable, putting the most urgent ones first and spending the most time on them. All that work doesn't have to be daunting. It's all about priority and not overloading yourself.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

PITCH

If you're a new or unproduced writer pitching can be very daunting. I've written previously about how to best prepare for a pitch, which you can read all about HERE.

But what if you're a more established writer and you have a great idea but don't have the time to write it up? Can you pitch your idea even if you don't have a one-page pitch, series outline, treatment or pilot episode ready?

The quick answer to this is yes. If you're at a stage in your career where you are regularly taking meetings, or if you have formed a particularly good relationship with a producer or production company, then it's OK to pitch an idea you don't have written down.

Let's face facts if you're a working writer your time is at a premium. When you get a new idea you might write down a quick paragraph outlining the essentials, but you probably won't have time to work on a ten page plus treatment before you contact producers and production companies. In this instance, it's OK to take a meeting and pitch the idea without anything to leave them.

If the idea is a hit and you're asked if you have something for them to read you can easily promise to send them a treatment in a couple of weeks, which should give you plenty of time to write something great. The advantage here is that you won't have to do the work until you actually have to, leaving you free to focus on paid or more pressing projects instead.

Another advantage is if the idea isn't quite a hit you can work on the contentious points again before your next pitch. Someone else will always see holes in your well thought out, polished idea when you can't. So when the time comes to actually put words on the page your project will be a finely honed work of genius and much harder to turn down.

A word of WARNING though - this is really only OK for those producers or production companies you have strong relationships with, those who have made it clear they are happy for you to contact them with any new ideas you have and who you keep in regular contact with. It's not OK to do this with people or companies you only have a casual relationship with or someone you haven't contacted before. In those instances, it's still best to make sure you at least have a one-page pitch or even better a treatment or pilot episode or a good draft if a feature.

Just make sure your idea is well worked out even if you have nothing written down because any holes in it will quickly become obvious when you pitch it. The better prepared you are the better the chance you have.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

WRITING DIVERSE CHARACTERS FOR FICTION TV OR FILM - LUCY V HAY

Writing Diverse Characters for Fiction, TV or Film is a thought provoking, informed and well-presented book and Lucy's most assured to date, one you cannot do without. And I don't say that lightly.

Writing & Selling Drama Screenplays was a great debut and very informative, but as a writer, I got more from her follow-up Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays. Diverse Characters eclipses both of these and is where Lucy really comes into her element. But why is it so good?

It's good because Lucy knows her stuff and does her research. Did you see our 'debate' on Facebook recently about the Doctor being female? She really pushed me hard, countering all of my arguments with cool logic and well thought out points (even though I still maintain I won the debate). It's not easy debating with Bangers and certainly not for the faint hearted. It's precisely because of the amount of research she does that makes her so knowledgeable and there's an absolute ton of it in those pages, all of it used to great effect.

A quick question. If the spec pile is full of white male protagonists saving the world and your screenplay is diverse, which script do you think is going to stand out? That's exactly why this book is a godsend as it explores why so many screenplays are overlooked, even if the writing is great and how you can make yours stand out. And who doesn't need that kind of help?

The book is split into five sections so you can jump in where you want to and come back at a later date to refamiliarise yourself with whatever you want or need. Those sections are - WHAT IS DIVERSITY? - HEROES, SHEROES AND VILE VILLAINS: THE PROTAGONIST AND ANTAGONIST - SECONDARIES, SIDEKICKS AND SUBORDINATES - PERIPHERAL POINTERS - LAST WORDS.

Instead of waffling on like some books on characterisation I've read, Lucy is kind enough to keep sections short and sum up after each insight with a handy 'IN A NUTSHELL' or 'THE SHORT VERSION' paragraph. It's a great way to recap what you've just read and reinforces the information and her arguments. I find reading large paragraphs of information difficult as I get distracted quite easily. If I have to put a book down for some reason I have to go back and reread some of it to pick up the thread again. So it was refreshing to find Lucy has written this book in little bite-size chunks I could quickly read, leave and come back to when I liked, without losing any of its impact.

I also love the 'HOW TO FLIP IT' paragraphs that look at ways to avoid stereotypes and tropes, to help us writers find the 'same but different' producers are crying out for. These sections are especially thought provoking.

Lucy covers every angle as she explores her subject, even taking a look at the origins of story telling to understand why so many spec piles are full of screenplays with tired, overused stories and populated with the usual overused characters. She also explores what diversity isn't as well as what it is. And she doesn't just argue for more diverse stories and characters but also warns against positive diversity, as she advocates normalisation and banishing stereotypes and familiar plots. Writing Diverse Characters is much more than just talking about introducing characters of a different race, colour, gender, sexual orientation or disability into your work.

After finishing the book I had to go back over my old spec scripts that either haven't done so well or which weren't liked as much as others. With some simple changes, I can now see how I can easily improve those screenplays and make them fresh and appealing. It's also helped me look at the stuff I'm currently working on differently, providing me with new angles to try and helping to increase the chances of my specs being picked up. Most of all Lucy has shown me the importance of researching the types of characters and stories I want to tell, to identify those that have been overused, so I can avoid them.

I have to say, I enjoyed Lucy's book so much I've immediately started reading it again.

Diverse Characters isn't about telling the writer how and what to do, it's about making the writer think about how they approach their screenplay, the story they want to tell, the characters they choose, the reasons why they choose them and why some screenplays are successful and why others fail. Lucy often asks, 'Is there another way?' or 'Is there a better way?' There always is and Lucy guides the reader to find their own solutions to the questions she poses. In short, Writing Diverse Characters for Fiction, TV or Film isn't preachy but incredibly informative. Do you and your writing a favour and buy the book.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

FOCUS

You might have heard of the saying, 'don't look back, look to the future'? I've certainly always been told never to reflect on the past... but sometimes looking back is exactly what you should do.

Listening to the UKSCRIPTWRITERS PODCAST LIVE on Monday evening I was reminded of how important it is to remember where I have come from.

DANNY STACK and TIM CLAGUE were chatting about feeling down about lack of career progress or being unhappy at the slow progress of certain projects and how as a writer you shouldn't focus on negative things like this. Instead, they advocated looking back at previous achievements to see how far you had come and using that as a measure of your success.

A few weeks ago I had a minor setback and to be honest it hurt. I moped about it for a few hours and questioned why that particular project wasn't going forward as I thought it deserved. But after listening to Danny and Tim I took a retrospective view of the last twelve months and realised that despite the occasional setback it's been a fantastic journey full of marvellous opportunities. I've made the last ten of two competitions, placed in the quarter finals and semi-finals of several others, was interviewed for the BBC Doctors shadow scheme, been recommended to two big productions companies and championed by two wonderful writers. One minor setback pales in comparison. It's all a matter of focus.

Sometimes we spend too much time looking forward at our targets, dreams and goals and forget how far we have actually come. Remember the BUZZ JAR? Making note of my achievements is exactly why I keep a Buzz Jar on my desk so I can dip into it when I'm feeling a bit down about my writing and motivate myself to crack on. I looked for it Tuesday morning and found it hiding behind my wi-fi router. I grabbed it and put it dead centre in front of my computer screen so I can see it all the time. I'm determined to not let it slip out of sight again.

If you've had a rejection or things aren't going quite as you planned, have a look back at the last twelve months and how far you have come, how much writing you managed to do, how many competitions you have entered and how many connections you have made. I guarantee you things will look a whole lot brighter.

To hear exactly what the lads said about looking back HERE.
you can listen to Danny and Tim's live podcast

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

INTERVIEW - DANNY BROCKLEHURST

In September 2016, thanks to the London Screenwriters' Festival's TV Drama Writersroom, I was lucky enough to spend a whole day with legendary TV writer Danny Brocklehurst. You can read my blog report about it HERE! Danny was just brilliant, very patient with us and very giving with his knowledge and advice. It seems only fitting then to fire off a few questions for Danny, which he was more than happy to answer.

How did you get your first screenwriting job?

I'd been writing plays and scripts for years without success. I was working as a journalist for City Life magazine in Manchester and went to interview Paul Abbott for a feature. We ended up getting pissed together and I bravely told him I was a wannabe writer and would he read a script - he did and thankfully passed it onto Nicola Shindler at Red productions. She loved the writing and asked me to pitch for Clocking Off 2. I spent a week working up three stories and they bought two of them. I was staggered. But I have cut short here the many years of knocking on doors and being rejected.  It wasn't a quick process and took an enormous amount of will power to not give up.

Have you ever been fired from a job and what was the lesson you learned from it?

I'm pleased to say I haven't ever been fired. But people do and when they do they need to reflect on what went wrong and whether they were to blame. Sometimes it's just a bad fit, not everyone can write every kind of show. Doesn't mean they are crap.

Was there a specific rejection during your career that still hurts today?

Rejection hurts every time. Even now.  If you put your heart into a project and someone turns it down, it hurts. But I endlessly got rejected by channels for a Black Mirror type idea BEFORE Black Mirror, so that one is still painful.

What is a typical writing day and week for Danny Brocklehurst?

There is no typical.  But I write EVERY week day. I usually start out with coffee, perhaps in a cafe and then go home to work in my office.  Sometimes I'm just storylining and go for long walks and think out problems, other times it is nose to grind writing the script. But I always allow a little time for my mind to wander and reflect on the work - so that might be a swim or a walk or a beer!!!

What was it like working with legends Paul Abbott on Shameless and Jimmy McGovern on The Street and who were you the most intimidated by?

They were both amazing.  I worked with Paul for years - on four different shows (Exile, Shameless, Clocking Off and Linda Green) so I stopped being intimidated and just enjoyed the chaos.  Jimmy was a real hero of mine so that was more intimidating but he's a genuinely lovely man - and very collaborative so I enjoyed my time on The Street and Accused.  Even if he did cut out my jokes.  It has been a dream to work with them both.

What’s your favourite genre to write?

Social realism.  BUT I do also love high concept stuff.  I just don't write much of it.

Have you ever been tempted by Hollywood?

Yes. In fact, I'm currently working with Amblin. On a sci-fi show.

Of all the screenplays you’ve written which is your favourite and why - produced and unproduced?

Exile - such a hard show to get right. It's a thriller and a family drama and a show about Alzheimer's.  People wrote to me afterwards to say it moved them very deeply.

The last few shows you’ve written have been solo efforts, do you find it easier or prefer working on your own, or is that just the way it happened?

I like collaboration because I like talking out ideas BUT sometimes you need a singular vision.  It depends on the show.  It's good to jump between the two.

If you were to give new writers one piece of advice what would it be?

Keep going.  Keep writing.  Find your voice.  Read scripts.  That's four pieces of advice.

What's next that we should be keeping our eyes peeled for?

Come Home next year on BBC1 and Safe on Netflix with Michael C Hall.

Thanks, Danny.

Episode 1 of IN THE DARK is available on iPlayer until 22:00 10th August 2017. Catch it while you can.

Happy writing.