Wednesday, March 29, 2017

CHALLENGE YOURSELF

Forgive me, for I have sinned. This is my first blog in a month... naughty Dom!

The reason I've been so lax is because I have decided to challenge myself. But it's no ordinary challenge, oh no, I've deliberately made it hard on myself and come up with something that is going to push me to the limit as a writer. The challenge is this...

Each month I will start a brand new project and write it from start to finished first draft within the calendar month. Some of the projects will be TV pilots and others feature screenplays. When they are done I will rewrite them alongside a new project during another month, until they are as polished as they can be.

So now you're thinking I'll be writing two projects a month, one new and one rewrite... but I'm not stopping there, oh no. To add to the above I will also be replotting my young adult fantasy novel and finishing the first draft by the end of the year. Looking a lot more difficult now, isn't it? But that's still not all of it.

I will also be dealing with any paid work that comes in and even though it will have priority, my aim is to continue the spec work alongside it. Yes, I can see some late nights, early mornings and long, lonely weekends in my future.

So to recap, that's one first draft of a new project, a rewrite of a previous first draft, continuous work on my novel and any paid work that comes in. But why?

Well, last year started out with the best of intentions, as most January's do. I had a paid feature ready to begin, but as the year dragged on and the feature and life issues got in the way, I let my spec work fall away to the point I was only working on the feature. Silly!

This year I'm determined to complete as many finished projects as I can. I might not do all that I have planned, but I'm going to give it a damn good go.

In January I wrote and rewrote a spec TV pilot with my writing partner Anne-Marie Caluwaert which we entered into the Stage 32 Happy Writers TV Pilot Competition. We are so proud it made its way as far as the last ten.

In February I rewrote a sitcom I created with my other writing partner Lee Helliar, as well as plotting a new TV crime drama pilot to start writing in March. And that's where I am now, I have over half my novel replotted and I'm busy with my head buried in the first draft of the TV crime drama spec... which isn't going too great I have to admit (only 25 pages in), but which I'm determined to finish by Friday.

I had better get on with it then.

Don't forget to challenge yourself this year, push the boundaries of what you think you are capable of and then push them again. You can't afford to sit still... no one else will be.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

RECYCLE

"You really should turn this idea into a feature."

Every writer has their favorite story, the one they spend months or even years developing, the one they still get a kick out of every time they read it. It's even better when others read it and fall in love with it too. But it's incredibly frustrating when the screenplay isn't optioned and ends up gathering cyber dust on the hard drive of your computer. Don't despair, no project is ever truly dead.

A screenwriting friend once described projects as roundabouts; eventually, they'll come around again. What he meant by this is that someone somewhere at some time in the future will be interested in that project and option it. It may not be today, tomorrow, or even next month, but at some point, the subject of your screenplay will suddenly be in vogue again. "Have you got anything with happy dancing, pensioner gnomes in it?"

That's why it's always worth revisiting your work now and again and bringing it up to date, so it's ready to go should the market change in its favour.

Then there's recycling your ideas. In a meeting with a TV company last month I was told they loved the sample of work I sent them, a pilot episode of a spec TV crime drama series. When they suggested the idea would make a brilliant feature I initially dismissed the idea. But the more I thought about it the more it actually made sense.

It's not the first time I've changed the medium of one of my projects. One of the features I was commissioned for has changed from British Drama to American Crime Thriller to British TV Crime Drama. The idea has been recycled, turned into something else, giving it more chances of being
made.

So go and take look at your work and see if any of it could translate to another medium, whether that be a feature, a radio play, a piece of theatre or even a novel.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

LONDON, MEETINGS AND POTS OF TEA

Because I live on the busy South Coast of the UK it takes between two and three hours (depending on whether it's the fast or slow train) to travel up to London for meetings, which usually means a whole day away from my desk. So when I do travel up I like to make sure I have a packed day ahead of me.

I arrived at Waterloo at 10.00am yesterday, ready and raring to go. My agent was waiting for me under the clock and we hurried off to find a cafe, desperately dodging rain showers as we negotiated the London traffic. It was just a brief catch up over a latte before heading off for the main meeting of the day, discussing what I planned to write over the next few months and the various stages my current projects were at. And good news, my agent loved my new spec drama pilot episode and the series bible for a new crime drama idea. So after agreeing on a strategy for sending them out, I hopped on the tube for my next meeting.

It was cold and wet, so I was glad the lady emailed me to let me know she was already at the agreed meeting place and waiting for me inside. No standing outside in the rain like a lemon for me.

This was the big one, the reason for my trip, a major TV production company with offices all over the world and they wanted to meet with little old me. No pressure then... HA! In fact, it was a very relaxed chat. I sat down, ordered a pot of tea, she discussed how their company works, what they are looking for and what they are currently working on. Then we discussed my projects and I agreed to send her three of them. A great meeting. But after the latte and the pot of tea (Breakfast tea, three full cups) the pressure was starting to build, so I had to make a pit stop and grab a sandwich to go on the way to my next meeting with the brilliant Phil Mulryne, script editor of Doctor Foster series two.

Our meeting was just a little catch-up, two people with a love of TV and screenwriting chatting about what they were up to and what they were currently loving on the goggle box. It's always good to keep in touch with people and keep abreast of what they're working on. Another pot of tea later (this time lemon and ginger, another three cups) I scurried off to my final meeting of the day with my good friend Tom Kerevan... and he bought me a large latte.

The trains were delayed on the way home. Two people had been hit by trains in separate incidents. A lot of services had been cancelled and were only just getting up and running again. It was chaos. A lot of people were angry and could only see the two suicides as an inconvenience. It saddened me that our race can be so uncaring at times.

As I waited patiently for my train I thought about those two unfortunate souls, who for whatever reason had decided their lives were not worth living. I realised I'm a very lucky person to do what I love, to have others who love what I do and to be surrounded by those who love and support me.

So as I sat on the crowded train home, my bladder full to bursting, I said a little prayer for those two lost souls and promised myself to always be grateful for the opportunities presented to me.

Happy writing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

HARVESTING THE BUZZ

There are moments in life that are just so amazing they leave you with a buzz, that feeling you're on fire and everything is right with the world. For writers, especially those starting out, those moments can be few and far between. It's important to make the most of them, to use them to help keep you going through the lean times. But how?

I went up to London yesterday for a general meeting with a production company whose dramas I've been a fan of for many years. The meeting went extremely well. On the way home I was worried the high I was experiencing would evaporate after a few hours and the motivation it created would be diminished. I began to wonder if there was a way to harvest the buzz I was feeling to use another day when the doldrums were upon me. In the past, I've kept a feedback folder, where I used to put all those lovely emails of praise to refer to when I needed. I have no idea where it is today, probably somewhere in the black hole that is my office cupboard, tucked somewhere at the back and now home to a family of spiders.

So what could I do? It was an idea of my wife's that helped to provide the solution.

A jar full of goodness.
A couple of years ago my wife Susie told me about an idea called the Gratitude Jar. She kept a jar in the kitchen and instructed me and the boys to write down anything that happened that we were grateful for and put it in the jar. Then on New Years Day we would open the jar and reflect on all the great things that had happened to us as a family over the previous twelve months. But as usual with these things we did it for a few weeks and eventually forgot about it.

As the South-West train zoomed through the countryside to Poole I thought, "Why can't I use a Gratitude Jar to keep a track of all my highs as a writer, so they're there when I need them the most?" So I've nicked one of my wife's empty jars she was saving up to make jam with and I've put it on my desk where it will be in view every time I sit down to work. When something good happens I'll write it down on a Post-it Note and pop it in the jar. By the picture, you can probably tell there are three BUZZes in there already. January is already proving to be an awesome month.

The next time I'm in a slump I'm going to grab that jar, pulls out some of those BUZZes, read them and perk myself up. You might like to try it too.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

THE YEAR THAT WAS AND THE YEAR THAT WILL BE

2016 was a roller coaster of a year. There were ups and downs, twists and turns and at a couple of points I felt so sick I wanted to get off. I didn't though, I stayed on board until the bitter end. I'm glad I did, because late November early December everything flipped upside down.

But before I get to that, let me tell you more about my 2016.

THE LOWS - Every writer experiences them, even the well known and well paid ones. That brilliant idea you love gets rejected by everyone you send it to even though they love it, the promise of work never materialises and you constantly find yourself butting your head against dead ends.

I had a couple of really big slumps during the year and found myself questioning whether I should quit and go and find something more stable to do instead. I didn't of course, I never do, it's just not in may nature to walk away when things get tough. Successful writers are resilient buggers and besides, the highs would be nothing without the lows. So after each slump I sulked for a couple of hours, took a week off to do wonderful non writing related stuff and then went back to things refreshed, with a renewed optimism and enthusiasm.

Disappointment is inevitable, so if you want to be successful make sure you brush it aside as quickly as you can and carry on. You just never know what's waiting around the corner for you.


THE HIGHS - They fell in to three categories; 'Well That Was Nice', 'Flippin' 'Eck That's Awesome' and 'Mind Blowingly Epic'!

Here are just a few of the 'Well That Was Nice' and 'Flippin' 'Eck That's Awesome' highs that happened over 2016 - I finally found the time to finish two spec features I'd been tinkering with on and off for a couple of years. I made it into the quarter-finals of several screenwriting competitions, including with the two new features and I even made the semi-finals of one competition. A feature I wrote with one of my writing partners in just twelve days made the quarter-finals of every competition we entered it into. I had several general meetings and I was invited to the BBC TV Drama Writers' Festival, went to LSWF 2016. Over the year I was lucky to meet many wonderful directors, producers, script editors and of course fellow writers

It was the 'Mind Blowingly Epics' that really rocked my world though - The feature written in twelve days made it down to the final ten of the FINAL DRAFT BIG BREAK SCREENWRITING COMPETITION. I think if we had entered it in another category it could well have gone further. My spec TV drama pilot WONDERLAND made it through to the final ten of Idris Elba's Green Door, Green Light Initiative. It didn't make the final three and it didn't matter, just knowing Idris himself was reading my screenplay was enough. I'm on his radar now! But best of all something truly amazing and unexpected happened, a real boost to my career. It's really fantastic when all your hard work is recognised and rewarded. So what is this mind blowingly epic thing..?

Well... all I'm going to say is things are looking up on the TV front.

So for 2017 I already have two big meetings set for January and I'm looking forward to telling you all about them and what I get up to for the rest of 2017, this time next year.

Happy New Writing Year!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

NOTES

You've spent weeks writing your latest draft, tightened the structure, nailed the characters, hit the arcs, refined the dialogue and you're finally happy with your screenplay... time to send it out.

Notes, feedback, or whatever you want to call them, are vital before sending your script out to producers, directors or agents. It doesn't matter how many years you've been writing, how far you are along with your career, everyone needs feedback on their work... EVERYONE!

The main reason for this is what I call 'Shite Blindness'. When you've been working on a screenplay for so long, reviewing, rewriting and working through several drafts, you are going to be too close to your work to be objective enough to see what's wrong with it and make the hard decisions. You might have an inkling something is wrong and not be able to put your finger on it. You might be completely blind to the screenplay's obvious faults. What you really need is an objective opinion on your work. And not just one persons, but several if you can.

I would recommened sending your screenplay out to at least two professional readers and three peers, for their thoughts. It's always better to have a fresh perspective on your screenplay than to go it alone and realise you have a gaping hole in your plot, just after you've pressed send on that email. If you don't actively seek feedback to help improve your screenplay, the producers, directors and agents you send your work to are going to notice its faults and you're just giving them an easy excuse to say no to you and your work. Get those problems with your screenplay sorted first, then send it out knowing it really is the best it can be.

Don't be tempted to rewrite your work while you're waiting for those notes. If you think of something make a note of it for later. Wait until everyone has come back to you and then read through those notes in one sitting. Leave them alone for a day. Cogitate on them. Then come back and read them once more.

Now's the time to compare each set of notes. If more than one person makes the same point, or mentions the same problem, then you can be sure that point is something you need to look at closely and deal with. There will be other issues raised, but if only one person mentions them you don't necissarily need to change them. It's up to you if you choose to or not. The only concerns you must address are the ones mentioned by more than one person.

Happy writing!


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

SUPPORT

Tim Clague ponders his next feature.
Being a writer can be incredibly isolating at times. It's even worse when you're starting out and it's just you and that blinking cursor and a half baked idea.

It's essential to connect with like minded people who know the pain of being a writer, people you can ask for advice, practice your pitches on, or just simply get drunk with, people you can trust to give it to you straight and tell you when your idea stinks like three week old halibut. Why? Because writing is a specialist skill with its own unique set of problems and only those who do it can understand and sympathise. Who else is going to understand the agony of spending three hours staring at a blank page, or the unbridled terror and panic when you realise your second act doesn't work an hour before a deadline?
Danny, Debbie, Steve and Adam.

Online connections are great, but there's nothing quite like meeting face to face with your peers and just chatting shit with them. They are vital not only for your mental health, but also to your career. So where can you meet these like minded people? Creating your own writers' group is one solution.

Me, Scott and the Tims.
Early this year I met up with fellow scribes Danny Stack and Tim Clague for a few beers and eventually the conversation came around to how many screenwriters there were in Bournemouth. Tim immediately suggested a Facebook group would be a great idea to bring us all together. "I've thought about one before," I piped up. "Brilliant," said Tim, and in his typical get-up-and-go style told me to "get on and organise a page then!" So I did... the Bournemouth Screenwriters Group was born and we now have sixty-three members.

So far this year we've met up three times and all three occasions have been extremely enjoyable, relaxed affairs. We even had two new members join us last night; a new writer Wayne and the Hollywood legend that is Tim John, author of Adventures in LA-LA Land and screenwriter of current box office smash A Street Cat Named Bob.

Wayne, Tom, Me and Scott.
So if you're sat at your computer on your own and need a little fellow writer company, or even just a hug, search out your nearest writing group and if there isn't one, start your own. Trust me, there are plenty of other writers out there equally eager to meet up with like minded people and share their experiences. As Tim would say... make it happen!

Happy writing!