Wednesday, February 03, 2016

SOMETHING FOR NOTHING


I came across this advert last week.


"Apply to: XXXXXXXXXXXXX 
Type: Screenwriters/Scripts 
Location: London Duration: 
Starts shooting in September, starts ASAP 
Salary: Expenses Paid: This is a unpaid job 
I would like you to write and edit the 500 page teleplay, treatment and synopsis of the limited feel good young adult friendly ensemble drama series 'In Between the Lines' It's a very special project and it's expected to shoot on location in London. The plot goes like this: A group of eight friends – Charlie, Stuart, Derek, Raymond, Frances, Jane, Amanda and Lesley are trying to navigate through life while maintaining their friendships in their young adult lives. 
Title will appear in the beginning and credits will appear in the end of each episode. The film's overall target budget will be medium. 9.00 pm would be suitable for this programme. You have got 8 weeks to write the 500 page television script, treatment and synopsis and this will be done. 
I still need to secure financing for this programme. I'm a writer of story ideas. I didn't produce anything in the past so I'm not a producer. When the script is done you'll send the script to me so that I can read it. Then I'll send it to the producers once I read the script. I haven't got a plot to follow just stay as it is. 
What do you think? 
The expenses will be covered for screenwriter. This is a unpaid job. The expenses cover credits, travel expenses and food. The shooting will take place on 10th September-20th November 2016 in London in the UK. 
Contact me if you are interested."

When you're a new writer without a credit it's very tempting to snatch up the first writing gig offered to you. I'm not saying you should never work for free when you're starting out as a writer, but there's a difference between progressing your career and being taken advantage of. The above is a very clear example of the type of project you should avoid. The reasons..? The clues are in the ad - the publisher admits he has no experience as a producer, there's a large amount of work required by the writer, the time frame for the work is unrealistic, he hasn't raised a single penny towards the production and there's a distinct lack of any offer of deferred remuneration. In other words... AVOID AT ALL COSTS! Sometimes however, things may not be so black and white.

WHEN TO WORK FOR FREE.

Finding directors willing to make short films is easy, identifying the ones that will actually get them made and to a professional enough standard is a little harder. Here are two examples of times I was asked to work for free.

My first short film AGN was written specifically for a group of young filmmakers, who I knew all worked for their local television station. They had access to the equipment they needed and they also informed me the film would be broadcast on TV once it was made. It was the exposure I was looking for and after the film was aired, I was able to use it as proof of a broadcast credit when I came across competitions, courses or schemes that required one to participate in. The film makers benefited too, ending up with a project professional enough to showcase their talents to their bosses and any future employer.

Another director, a student, approached me via email asking me if I would write him a short film screenplay, which he would pay me for. I wrote the screenplay to the brief he gave and emailed it to him. He was delighted. I then invoiced him for my time only to receive a reply informing me he wasn't going to use my screenplay and therefore wasn't going to pay me. I Googled his name and after five minutes of research I discovered he had placed adverts on several websites in the previous week offering to pay other writers under similar circumstances. It was quite clear he never intended to pay all of the writers that applied, maybe not even the one he whose project he eventually used. He was simply trying to get as many screenplays as possible about the subject he wanted to film, so he could choose the best one for his project. I should have checked him out first and never got involved with. Lesson learnt.

It's a good idea before agreeing to any unpaid work to ask yourself, 'what are they aiming to do with the finished screenplay and what, if anything, will they gain from the finished film?' If it's obvious they are going to gain monetarily from the film, or that's their aim, and they insist you'll get a credit and rave on about how it will be great exposure for you without offering you a penny, then alarm bells should already be ringing.

If you're unsure about whether you should work for free or not, it's always wise to do an Internet search on the person asking (beforehand), or politely email a friendly, more established writer you know on the interwebs, and ask for their opinion on what is being proposed. You will make mistakes, as I have, and you will learn from them, to the point where you will be better at differentiating between the con artists and those who are genuinely offering you an opportunity.

CONTRACTS

Always have a contract... ALWAYS! And if you're not sure about the contract get it checked out. The Writers' Guild of Great Britain offer a contract vetting service

MONEY UP FRONT

Every writer, regardless of experience, should be to be paid for their work. Always ask if there is development money. If there is some available try to get most of it up front when you sign your agreement and the rest when you hand in the finished work. If you're told there isn't any ask them if they would be willing to pay you a small amount up front to cover your cost of living expenses while you're writing the screenplay. This is a reasonable request and one most people won't object to. If they do you have to ask yourself why that is?

DEFERRED PAYMENT

Deferred payment is an acceptable solution, but only if the project has an excellent chance of being made. It's no good having a deferred payment if the film is never going to go into production. In this case ask the following questions of the project - Is this project commercial? Does the producer/director have the connections to get this made? Are they experienced? Do they have a track record? Do they have a distribution deal in place? Are they planning to enter the finished project into festivals and competitions? If the answer to all of these questions is no it's a good bet the offer of deferred payment is not worth the paper it's printed on. Politely turn them down and get on with your next spec.

SHARE OF PRODUCER'S PROFITS

This one is also dependent on how commercial your project is, the distribution deal and how likely the film is to make money, if any. This share will be in addition to your deferred payment, so be wary of people offering you this as your only form of payment. Remember if the film doesn't recoup its costs you won't see a penny. It's better for a writer to agree a deferred payment, the bigger the better, with a share of the producer's profits as an additional payment, especially if the film's budget is low, as your deferred payment will usually be a percentage of this and therefore won't be very much.

DON'T BE AFRAID TO SAY NO

If you're not sure about an offer you've been made don't be afraid to say no. I know you may think if you turn this opportunity down you may never get another, but I can assure you, if your writing is good and you network enough, you will. Don't take on an unpaid job just because you are desperate to kickstart your career and it's the only opportunity that has been offered to you. Only take the offer if you are 100% sure it's the right one for you.

If in doubt... ask. There are plenty of writers out there on the interwebs making a living from their words, who would be more than happy to give advice born of their experiences. But again if you are going to follow their advice make sure you check their credentials first.

The simplest way to check if it's a good project to work on is to politely email an agent from a smaller agency (not a large one, because if you're not being paid mega bucks they won't be interested)  and ask them if they wouldn't mind checking over the contract with a mind to representing you on a one off basis. If they agree to and turn you down after they have read the contract, it's a good bet the project isn't one worth getting involved with. After all if they think you're not going to earn any money then they aren't either.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

PROCRASTINATION

I have to be active on social media to promote my business and I also have to actually sit down and write on occasion, or I won't have anything to promote. But when does being active on social media start to become procrastination? If I spend too much time on social media I feel guilty I'm not writing enough and if I ignore it I feel like I'm not making enough of my networking chances. Sometimes my head hurts thinking about it all.

I try and work to a schedule and my latest one looks a little bit like this:

Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
09.00 - 09.30 - social media.
09.30 - 12.00 - writing.
12.00 - 12.30 - lunch and social media.
12.30 - 15.00 - writing.
15.00 - 15.45 - pick the boys up from school.
15.45 - 16.30 - writing.
The rest of the day - social media.

Wednesdays
09.00 - 09.30 - social media.
09.30 - 10.30 - weekly (or fortnightly) blog.
10.30 - 12.00 - writing.
12.00 - 12.30 - lunch and social media.
12.30 - 14.00 - writing.
14.00 - 15.00 - maintaining relationships with contacts.
15.00 - 15.45 - pick the boys up from school.
15.45 - 16.30 - writing.
The rest of the day - social media.

Saturdays and Sundays
Spend time with my family and friends... unless I'm behind on a deadline, then it's get my head down time. Even at the weekend I can sneak in an hour or two here or there, thanks to a very understanding wife.

The thing is it's easy to get distracted. This morning for example, instead of starting the blog at 09.30 I actually watched film trailers until 10.00 - Suicide Squad is looking pretty blinkin' awesome! That's half an hour of my writing day wasted... and normally I would beat myself up about it later. I know it's all down to motivation and discipline and I also know pretty much every other writer procrastinates just as badly, but I still feel guilty if I waste even a second of writing time. I guess I wouldn't be motivated if I didn't.

To help me procrastinate less I finally downloaded FREEDOM for Mac a few days ago, something I've been threatening to do for months - yes Mr Stack, it is finally on my hard drive. It's brilliant as it shuts off the internet for programmable lengths of time - my favourite is one hour stints - so I can get on with my work with no distractions. I've written shed loads this week because of it.

But... there's always a 'but'... the occasional procrastination isn't actually bad for me. As a writer I need time away from my work to let my creative brain relax, chill and work problems out unconsciously rather than being forced to do so. I find some of my better solutions have presented themselves this way.

So my advice is this. Don't be too hard on yourself if you find you procrastinate a little when you feel you should be writing. Set yourself daily goals. If you don't meet them one day, make sure you do more the next. Don't punish yourself and equally don't become too complacent. Like the Force, balance is key.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2016

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL! This is my 500th blog post... yay me... and is the perfect way to ring in the new year.

So how was 2015?

To be honest the first six months was a bit pants, somewhat of a struggle and I didn't get much writing done. However, I soldiered on through adversity and things got better. I had a couple of small commissions in April and by August things were beginning to look pretty awesome again.

Because last year started off so slow I'm determined to hit the ground running this month, make the most of 2016 and get as much writing done as I possibly can.

2016 AIMS:

As you may remember a TV episode was my goal last year. I went to several more TV meetings and again they love my work, but that TV episode still remains elusive. So this year my focus is 100% on getting that first episode of TV. To facilitate this I'm going to write one new pilot episode of a TV drama, three treatments of further TV ideas, all by June, and watch my favourite returning dramas religiously to aid me in my quest.

This doesn't mean however, that I'll be neglecting my feature writing duties. There's a first and second draft of a feature to complete by April and a feature rewrite to complete sometime in February or March. So as you can see the first six months of this year are going to be manically busy... but that's how I respond to a bad year, I get up and work even harder the next. Adversity will never kill me, it will never dampen my spirit and I'll always, always bounce back more determined than ever before.

So tell me, what are your writing goals for 2016?

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

ENTERTAINMENT

Along time ago in a galaxy far, far away....

First there was the speculation. Then the dissection of the trailers. Then the the film itself. And now the analysis and debate of every single frame. All obsessively shared on social media whether we want it or not.

Sometimes I forget I'm in the entertainment business. It's easy to do so when I go through my latest screenplay with a fine tooth comb, checking each scene, every character arc, every line of dialogue over and over and over and over and over until it's perfect... and then once more for luck. This over critical eye does not just apply to writers, but directors, producers, actors and pretty much everyone involved in making film, TV and other mediums. When did we lose our innocence, that ability to just sit, watch and enjoy a film without pulling it apart afterwards?

Over the last few days I've seen web articles discussing such topics as '20 plot holes in The Force Awakens' and why Rey is a 'Mary Sue'. I skipped over them and will continue to do so when I see others. I enjoyed The Force Awakens, not from a writer's perspective, but from a fan's. For me watching the new film recaptured the excitement I felt when I saw the original back in 1977. It reminded me of why I became a writer, of the love I have for film, story telling and good old fashioned entertainment.

I don't care whether it's perfect or not. I don't care if there are plot holes, or if characters fall short of people's expectations, or what the critics might think. Why can't we just sit back and enjoy the hard work of others and take it at face value, for what it is... entertainment?

I'm determined I'm going to take a regular step back from my writing next year, appreciate it for what for it is, for what I'm trying to do and not analyse the fuck out of it. If I enjoy it then others should too.

Chill!

Relax!

Step back!

Enjoy!

Merry Christmas one and all.

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

SUBTEXT - HOW IT WORKS

Subtext (noun) - a hidden or less obvious meaning.

To use subtext correctly takes a great deal of skill and plenty of practise. It took me several months to learn not only how to use it wisely but also what a valuable tool it is if used correctly. Make it too obvious and you lose its effectiveness. Don't make it obvious enough and your audience will be wondering what the hell your characters have just been talking about.

Here's a scene from one of my commissioned screenplays - COWBOYS CAN FLY. Toby is 14 and lives in an isolated cottage with his mother, Nurse Betty, in the New Forest during the 1960s. They have been discussing Cy, a sickly boy from London, who is staying with them while he recuperates. Nurse Betty has just spotted Dodger, the garden gnome, sat atop a molehill.

Nurse Betty nods at Dodger. 
NURSE BETTY (CONT’D)
I see Dodger’s keeping those moles away. 
Toby stops mowing. 
TOBY
I think he might be planning on escapin’ again. 
NURSE BETTY
Why, doesn’t he like it here? 
TOBY
Of course he does, just... well he’s got to thinkin’ there are more gnomes out there. 
NURSE BETTY
I’m sure he’s got plenty of friends around here. 
TOBY
None of them are gnomes though, are they?  Dodger sometimes thinks he should be with his own kind. 
Toby picks Dodger up, looks him square in the eye. 
TOBY (CONT’D)
Don’t you, mate?
(to Nurse Betty)
Besides, what’s he got to do now all the moles are gone. 
NURSE BETTY
Oh, I’m sure they’ll come back at some point. 
TOBY
Dodger knows this, but he’s not sure it’s enough to stay around.  There’s a ton of other gnomes out there he’s never met, a whole world of adventure to be explored. 
NURSE BETTY
I could bring him home a new companion?  They were selling ladybirds in town the other day. 
TOBY
And he would thank you for it, but it wouldn’t be the same. 
Toby puts Dodger down on top of the molehill, back on watch. 
NURSE BETTY
Aren’t you going to stamp that one down? 
TOBY
No, that’s Dodger’s hill now.  He loves the view. 
Nurse Betty stands and kisses Toby on the top of his head. 
NURSE BETTY
I hope Dodger stays, it wouldn’t be the same without him.  And when Cy gets home take it easy on him for a while.  Don’t go pestering him to go on walks with you. 
Toby nods.  Nurse Betty kisses Toby on the top of the head again, enters the cottage.  Toby goes back to the mowing, going over what he’s done already.

Did you get all of the subtext? Here's what I'm conveying with this scene. 1 - Toby is a very lonely boy and his mother is obviously concerned about this. 2 - Toby is gay and in a time when practising homosexuality was illegal and punishable by a prison sentence, he is unsure exactly how to tell his mother. 3 - Toby thinks he has to move away to be with like minded people. 4 - His mother knows he's gay, is telling him it's OK and that he doesn't have to move away to be who he wants to be, even if he doesn't quite get the message.

The best way to practise subtext is to write a scene as you really mean it to play out and then rewrite it so your meaning is hidden in something else entirely, still keeping the essence of your original scene within the new one. You won't get it first time, or the second, probably not even the third, but you will eventually. It's just down to how much work you put in to it.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

2ND DRAFT IN 4 DAYS

Last week I rewrote a feature screenplay (92 pages) in four days. It was an epic 2nd draft and by the end of it I was exhausted. On Monday Gary Thomas asked me, "Can you do a blog on how you did it? (If you haven't done so already?) Did you not sleep at all?" Yes, Gary, I can and no, not much. But let's start at the beginning.


Ninja fingers of fury.
...lived a lovely Belgian lady called Anne-Marie Caluwaert. She came up with a brilliant idea for a feature, worked on the characters, plotted an outline, and even wrote the initial fifteen pages, but ultimately put the idea in a drawer and went off to work on other things. Then one day she received an email offering her free entry into a screenwriting competition. She didn't have any feature screenplays available at the time so had a quick scan through the drawer and found that old unfinished idea she had been working on.
Anne-Marie refreshed the character backgrounds and reworked the outline, before spending six mad days writing the first draft. Six days..! That really is madness..! My best has been twenty-one days from concept to finished draft, but six days (OK, so she had the characters and outline, but still...), six days is a major achievement. That left seven days to get the screenplay rewritten and entered into the competition.

Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away...



Worried that she'd rushed the screenplay and her English might be lacking Anne-Marie asked me to have a look. I read it and instantly fell in love with it. It was a brilliant story of hope from the ashes of loss and I complimented her on a great job. It needed work, the structure was out, a couple of character arcs needed sorting and the antagonist needed to be stronger, but otherwise she had done an excellent job.

Anne-Marie asked if there was too much work to be done to get it rewritten and enter it into the competition by the end of the week. There was. So Anne-Marie made me an offer; rewrite the screenplay, correct her English and I could have a co-credit. I loved the idea so much I said 'HELL YEAH' without thinking.

It wasn't until I realised exactly how much work it would involve, with only five days to do it in, that I knew I might have bitten off more than I could chew. But not being one to let people down I decided I was going to give it a damn good go, or have mental breakdown trying. But to make an already tough task even harder I decided I was going to finish it in three days, not the five I had, as I wanted to spend the weekend with my lovely wife and kids. 

For those of you who don't know I have a little part-time job working at my local arts centre on stage door. I love that job, not only because I get to meet so many wonderful actors and performers, but also because it affords me the occasional bit of time to work on my own stuff while the shows are on stage and things are quiet. During the time I would be working on the 2nd draft not only would I be out for two of the writing days during the day, but I would also be working every evening at the arts centre. What was looking like an impossible task was now looking insane.

So I did what any professional writer would do and got my head down and got on with it. It wasn't easy. There were a lot of interruptions - both at work and from the kids while I was at home - and every time I reached a landmark (say five pages) there was the temptation to say, 'five pages is a good amount, you can relax now.' But I couldn't relax, it had to be done and I had to push past my normal daily page targets, the interruptions, the fatigue and plod on, even when my eyes felt like they were full of grit and all I really wanted to do was put the damn thing down and get some sleep.

On the Thursday night at work we had a company award ceremony. I didn't get into bed until 2.16am the next morning. I was behind drastically on my page count as the first act of the screenplay needed the most work and by the time I got towards the end of the three days I was only on page 48. I knew I would have to work the Saturday as well.

Saturday night was even busier than the Thursday, as we had a charity event in. I knew it was all or bust because I had promised my wife I wasn't going to work Sunday. That left me with 44 pages to do in one day. I managed to get 16 done at home, leaving 28 in the evening. It was really difficult as I had to stop the rewrite numerous times to deal with queries and sort out problems at work, all part of my job. But at just before 2am I reached FADE OUT on the screenplay and gave a great sigh of relief. It was done! Finally! I had made it! I still don't quite know how.

Once I had locked up at work, driven home, I finally dropped into bed at 3.20am. Over the previous three nights I had slept a total of 16 hours. Thankfully my wife let me sleep in until 10am on Sunday morning, but still I was dog tired when I got up. I was really proud I had managed to get the rewrite done, when to be honest I actually doubted I was going to.

So the moral of this story is 'GET IT DONE'. There are no, 'I don't have time to write,' excuses. If you want to write you'll find the time. That's the difference between a professional writer and someone who only wants to be; the professional writer gets it done! If you don't, there are thousands of other writers out there who will get their work done. It's those writers you're competing against. Don't let them beat you.

Happy writing! 

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

WRITING AND SELLING THRILLER SCREENPLAYS WITH LUCY V HAY

LUCY: "I haven’t seen one (a thriller screenplay) I’ve liked as much as this since JK sent me UNTITLED HITMAN THRILLER (aka REDEMPTION aka ASSASSIN) back in 2008. That’s a loooooong time and I’ve read a loooooot of these scripts in-between!!!"


Once I had regained consciousness and picked myself up off the floor I congratulated myself on a job well done and got on with the second draft. It's not easy to please Lucy so I was pretty ecstatic that she liked my spec thriller ELEVEN. But it wasn't by luck I got this response, or by accident, but by design.

You see in 2013 Lucy wrote a book called WRITING AND SELLING THRILLER SCREENPLAYS, published by Creative Essentials and I reviewed it for my blog just before Christmas (find the review here). So when I sat down to write my first spec screenplay in four years I decided to use the brilliant advice in Lucy's book and write a kick-ass thriller.

OK, so now you might be thinking if I followed her advice in the book of course she's going to like the resulting screenplay. The thing is everyone else who has read it, in its various drafts, has loved it too. This is because Lucy knows her stuff and her knowledge is not only born of watching thousands of hours of film and TV, but from her work as a reader over many years for both established and new writers. She knows what works and what doesn't.

To celebrate the completion of the final draft of ELEVEN, I've managed to get hold of a free ticket to Lucy's two day WRITING AND SELLING THRILLER SCREENPLAYS workshop at Ealing Studios on the 28th and 29th of November, which I'm going to give away to one lucky writer. All you have to do is Tweet me with your thriller longline as illustrated below:

@DomCarver 'Enter Longline Here' #comp

You have until 9 AM on Tuesday 10th November to get them in and the winner will be announced by midday. Any entries received after this time won't be counted, nor will entries not following the template above. My decision is final. So there!!!

Good luck everyone.

Happy writing!