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!

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

UK SCRIPTWRITERS PODCAST

I've said it before and I'll say it again, writing is a lonely profession... but only if you let it be.

Those total legends and all round lovely chaps Tim Clague and Danny Stack have hit the nail on the head again with their latest UK Scriptwriters Podcast (which you can find here and here). Their monthly (or when they get around to it) podcast is always essential listening, fun, informative and something every one of you writers should be tuning in to.
The legendary Danny Stack and Tim Clague

Not only do they cover the basics, delve deep into a vast variety of screenwriting topics and concerns (some you may have never even thought about before) but they also conduct fascinating interviews with a wide range of important media people. Recent highlights include interviews with writer/producer Tony Jordan, writer/producer Chris Chibnall and agent Jean Kitson.

But it was this month's podcast that struck a chord with me, as Danny and Tim talked about writers' mental health and the importance of not isolating yourself. It was odd as I've been in a bit of rut lately and couldn't for the life of me figure out what was up. It wasn't until I listened to their podcast that I realised I had accidentally isolated myself and hadn't even noticed.

I've been so busy over the last few months, some weeks running around so much I was feeling a little like a headless chicken, that I had slowly cut myself off from my support network and real life , living breathing people. My communication up until yesterday pretty much entirely consisted of electronic communication and I had to really power up the little grey cells to figure out the last time I actually went out with my fellow writers or even my friends.

That's the problem you see, it's easy to get so involved in what you do, thinking you're time is at a premium and you need to spend as much of it in front of the computer as you can, that you can easily let human contact slip down your list of priorities, without even knowing you are doing it. It's a dangerous thing. Writing is a bloody difficult enough job as it is without making things more difficult by cutting yourself off from the world. I think a good proportion of writers are by nature introverts and even at the best of times it's difficult to get out there and mingle with like minded people. It's something that has to be done, not only for the progression of your career but also for the stability of your mental health.
Mmmm coffee

So Tim and Danny's podcast came as a timely reminder that I need to get out more, which is why I'm going to organise a Bournemouth Writers' drinking session for as soon as possible and when I've finished posting this blog I'm going to ring a writing friend who's just moved back to Bournemouth and arrange to meet her for a coffee next week.

Go and download Danny and Tim's podcast, phone a friend, arrange to meet for a coffee and don't let yourself become isolated. It's not good for the soul.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

LSWF 2016 PART 4

SUNDAY 4TH

The morning after the night before. I don't recall what time I went to bed... it was late and I had pickled myself in networking juice. Still, I was up at the crack of dawn and raring to go after a large, strong coffee and something to eat.

Sunday was all about making the most of any potential networking and going to that session I'm not allowed to talk about.

Script Editors
First up - A Day In The Life Of A script Editor. Great session. I really enjoyed listening to each of the speakers and how they dealt with notes and giving them to writers. Always good to get opinions from other points of view. I've had plenty of notes in my time. Some good, some bad, some utterly bonkers, but I've always sat down with the producers/directors/script editors, worked through the notes, come up with alternative suggestions where I can, agreed on changes everyone is happy with and then implemented them in an orderly and stress free manner... which was basically what the above session was about. Remember kiddies, a good script editor is for life, not just for (insert seasonal holiday here).

Second - Subtext; Writing For Depth and Impact. I'm hoping the video for this session is up on LSWF Connect soon, as I'm embarrassed to say the weekend's overload of information took its toll five minutes into this session and I fell asleep. Oops... sorry, Mr Pope, hope I didn't snore too loudly. However, I'm reliably informed it was an excellent session.
My Heroes

FIGHT CLUB!

Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant! I want to watch the  film again! I'm planning on doing so with my dear lady wife ASAP. Jim Uhls' commentary was a lot different to Peter Iliff's Point Break approach. Jim kept the majority of his comments focused on the screenplay, the difficulty of adapting a novel (honestly never knew it was an adaptation... I know... book on order), the changes he made and the reasons behind them. Obviously, I can't go into more detail about these, as I'm not allowed to talk about it... shhhhhhhh!

Peter Iliff having a quiet pint or two.
The rest of the day was spent in a blur of networking, swapping cards, promising to email out more screenplays and trying not to drink the right amount of beer to make me an incoherent mess. I can't stress the importance of networking at LSWF enough. It's vital if you want to find work as a writer. Yes, I skipped a few session that day, but you can't beat quality networking.

And so ended this year's festival. I vaguely remember an overly excited guy shouting at me from a stage, telling me I was fucking awesome and to go out into the world and make it a better place... or something. I also vaguely remember standing outside The Globe on Baker Street, drinking beer, promising more people to send them my screenplays and marvelling at the fact Peter Iliff was getting pissed with us. Everything else is a little blurry. Maybe all that lovely information over the weekend was way too much for my grey matter and a bit of it dribbled out of my ears when I wasn't looking?

Happy writing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

LSWF 2016 PART 3

SATURDAY 3RD SEPTEMBER

The brilliant Hayley McKenzie
I woke up early and made my way to the Ackland Lounge for Hayley McKenzie's Crime/Mystery/Thriller Script Lab. I learned a great deal in those three hours from 9am to midday, not just from discussing my own project, but also from listening to what Hayley had to say about all the others' projects too.

Specific points I learned in this session:
  • Set the genre expectation.
  • If it's a thriller, is it exciting on the page?
  • If it's a mystery, will we want to spend six hours to find out the answer?
  • A 60-page thriller - turning points every ten minutes, five in all.
  • For a six hour TV serial, you need enough story to last. Most writers try to instinctively stretch their plot rather than put more in.
  • Give your characters more problems, more obstacles to overcome and send them to more places to find more clues.
  • A thriller has to have a threat to life.
  • Thriller - the protagonist is always firefighting the antagonist's plans. What is the antagonist's goal and plan?
  • Don't be afraid to force your antagonist into a corner. Let it happen and then worry about how to get them out afterwards.
  • You must make the tone of the show obvious and consistent. It can't change from episode to episode.
I came out of the session absolutely buzzing (and not because of the coffee), full of ideas and motivated to the maximum. I really wanted to jump on a train, get home and start writing... but I still had part of the weekend left. For me, this was definitely the best session EVER!

Ashley Pharoah - one of my writing heroes.
Next up came Showrunners: Staffing Up The Room and How You Can Get A Seat At The Table.

Again a brilliant session and very informative. It was great to get two differing points of view of what exactly a showrunners' job is and how Kim Revill and the legend that is Ashley Pharoah approached the job.

Then came the script to screen session of Point Break. I bloody love that film so I had been looking forward to its screening all weekend. It didn't disappoint!

Peter Iliff not only kept us entertained with details of how the screenplay evolved from his original idea, but also with his anecdotes of the people he worked with; James Cameron, Partick Swayze, Lori Petty and Tom Sizemore. He was insightful, funny and honest about his work on the film.

Chris Jones introduces the legend that is Peter Iliff.
Peter was actually a revelation over the weekend. Unlike most speakers who quickly return to the green room after their session, Peter hung about all weekend. He could often be seen mixing with fellow writers in the Final Draft Marquee and even came for networking drinks with us at the Globe on Sunday evening. Best of all he was very approachable and was more than happy to chat and answer questions. Peter, as far as I'm concerned, is an absolute legend.

By the time the evening came around I was brain dead from all the information that had been thrown at me. I had earned my bed by the time I finally crawled into it at 11pm.

Happy writing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

LSWF 2016 PART 2

FRIDAY 2ND SEPTEMBER

As usual with the festival opening, Chris Jones delivered his high octane, positivity reinforcing, highly motivating speech that had everyone on their feet whooping and hollering, whipping them up into a frenzy without the aid of caffeine or mainlining hard drugs. It was just the wake up I needed after a very long and busy day the day before.

I was totally ready for Pitchfest. Normally I would have prepared the hell out of this day, but because I had been working on a new commissioned feature, had a weeks holiday in Cornwall and spent the Bank Holiday weekend up at my parents, I didn't have any time to prepare. I found it strangely liberating.

I did research the pitch exes who were going to be there and I did decide which projects I was going to pitch to which pitch exes before hand, but I didn't practice my pitches one bit... not even the loglines. In fact, the only real preparation I did for the session was a few quick stretches to warm up and wake up before I entered the room.

Last year I learned all my of loglines off by heart but found when I pitched them they sounded flat and rehearsed. I even got badly tongue tied on one of them and fluffed the pitch magnificently. This year I was calm, relaxed and when I delivered my pitches I delivered them with passion. And I didn't do too bad. Out of the six execs I pitched, I had two positives and one possible and more importantly I had way more fun than last year.


The standout session of the day for me was Getting Commissioned in 2016: What the Broadcasters Want. It's always great to here what broadcasters are looking for and as soon as I got back home after the festival I made sure I followed up on every juicy morsel of information from this session.

And I even got to meet Karl Iglesias, who's book Writing For Emotional Impact I reviewed on my blog back in January 2015. He even signed my copy for me. You can read the blog post here.

Networking drinks. Always fun and a great way to meet many new and exciting people. Cards were swapped, friends made and beers sank. I was hyped at such a good day and could wait for day three.

Happy writing!






Wednesday, September 07, 2016

LSWF 2016 PART 1

WOW!

JUST WOW!

What a weekend. I'm still buzzing. The adrenaline is still pumping. And I'm still striking that superhero pose.
Strike the pose.

Four days of awesomeness that's like mainlining a barrel of caffeine while taking a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart.

I fucking love my tribe.

THURSDAY 1st SEPTEMBER

Up at 5am. On the train at 6.11am. Arrived at Waterloo at 8.16am.

That gave me 44 minutes to navigate London to Regents University for the inaugural Drama Writersroom session with the amazing Danny Brocklehurst. Sweaty, out of breath and lugging two heavy bags I staggered up to reception and found myself arriving at the same time as Danny. I said hello, told him how much I was looking forward to the day and quietly snuck off for a quick caffeine fix.

The Drama Writersroom was amazing, even if the room we were allocated was like an oven and we were wilting within minutes. Being the first ever writersroom we were all, even Danny, a little unsure as to how things should work, but we soon got into our stride. We had been asked to watch Danny's BBC drama Ordinary Lies and come up with a character, a lie, or a true life story we could turn into an episode idea. We all pitched our idea and one was chosen.

What's my name?
The team then set about plotting the episode together. I found this a fascinating exercise. Immediately it was clear who the outspoken characters were in the room and which ones were quieter. I fell somewhere closer to the quieter end of the spectrum, mainly because a 5am start doesn't agree with me. But it didn't matter who was loudest, or who was quietest, everyone's opinion and ideas were listened to and slowly, after much debate, we began to piece together an episode.

There were times when I thought we would never agree. There were times when I thought we had nailed it, only for someone to highlight a gaping hole in our plot. But by the end of the day and with Danny's expert guidance we created a believable and coherent episode outline two of the team pitched to a panel of experts.

I was really proud of what we achieved.

I learnt a lot about myself, my ability as a writer and my place in the world I've chosen to inhabit. All valuable insights.

I hope they do the writersrooms again next year. I'll certainly be applying again. I'd also be happy to sign a waiver so whoever the showrunner is can use the idea created in the session as an episode of their show, while we the creators receive a thank you in the credits. I would get quite a kick out of that.


Other things I learned on Thursday:

  • Danny is an awesome chap and very approachable.
  • Danny drinks a lot of coffee.
  • Everyone loves nacho Pringles.
  • Protein bars are yummy.
  • The halls of residence at the university are actually not that bad and are very handy for staggering exhausted into bed at 10.30pm after consuming several bottles of networking lubricant.
  • I missed my friends.
  • I need to get involved more.
  • I fucking love my job.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

THE ELEVEN FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS

It's always great to receive positive feedback about the blog and it's especially humbling to be asked to read screenwriting books and review them here. And I've read a lot of books. My bookshelf is full of them.
For me, The 11 Fundamental Questions: A Guide to a Better Screenplay eBook would best suit those new to writing, but can also act as a refresher for the more experienced writer. Presented in a handy, easy to read sections, it makes a great reference tool to checklist your idea before you begin writing and to check you've covered everything when you have finished. Anyway, I'll let it's author Aaron Mendelsohn tell you more about it.
My name is Aaron Mendelsohn. I’m a working, produced screenwriter, a professor of screenwriting at Loyola Marymount University, and an elected officer and lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America West. 
I know there are a lot of screenwriting how-to books out there – I’ve read many of them – but I think I bring a unique perspective and angle to the table.  The perspective is that of a produced, employed writer who has worked consistently in all formats and genres for over 20 years. Currently, I have a feature film, a drama series and an MOW – a rare trifecta – in development at major studios and networks around town. 
As for the unique angle, The 11 Fundamental Questions: A Guide to a Better Screenplay is based on a story-breaking method I came up with a decade ago to help me craft and “stress test” my outlines, pitches and scripts. A couple years ago I started teaching my method in classes and seminars around the world, and the response I got – from professional and emerging writers alike – was “you gotta turn this into a book!” 
So I did.  
Hot off the presses is my first eBook, The 11 Fundamental Questions: A Guide to a Better Screenplay.  Breezy, intuitive and grounded in classic storytelling principles, the book lays out my method in eleven simple steps and offers loads of helpful tips and examples (and at 41 illustrated pages it’s a quick read).  Here’s another nice testimonial – 
"Just when I thought I'd learned everything about writing and running a show, Aaron's Fundamentals method super-charged the way I approach a story. Clear, concise, and practical, this is a must for screenwriters everywhere."
– Chris Brancato, Co-creator, writer and executive producer of the Netflix series "Narcos" 
You can find the eBook at www.11questionsbook.com 
Enjoy the read.

Happy writing!