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!

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

WORKING AROUND THE KIDS AND SCHOOL HOLIDAYS

At a recent writers' event, I was chatting with a lead writer on a continuing drama who was telling me he and his wife had just had a baby. "How the hell do you get any writing done when you have kids?" he asked as he yawned so hard his jaw nearly dislocated.

We're already two weeks into the school holidays and I'm surviving... it can be done. Working from home with the kids on holiday, getting under your feet, asking for snacks every five minutes, begging you to take them up the park, screaming at the top of their eardrum shattering little voices a millimetre from your face demanding attention, moaning that they're bored and constantly trying to kill or maim each other, can be very frustrating for a working writer.

The ideal solution would be that you're earning enough money you're able to hire a childminder to keep them out of your way while you write your masterpiece. However, if you're like me and you don't quite have the money for that and you don't like palming your little terrors off on other people, then the school holidays can be a very daunting time. You're not allowed to tie your children up and stick them in a dark cupboard until school starts again, sell them to gypsies or even use chloroform to keep them quiet... I know, I've checked... apparently, the police and social services get a little cross with you if you try. So with those options restricted I've had to adapt my writing style over the years to ensure I can get my work done, keep the kids occupied and happy and retain my sanity. Here's how I do it.

Goals! What, sticking one in the back of the net for your team? No... just as your characters have goals in your screenplays, you have to have goals in order to survive the holidays without running the risk of a mental breakdown. That's goals for you as well as for your spawn. And there's one rule... we'll come to that in a second.

First things first. As a responsible parent, I will constantly monitor my children, check what they're up to and that they're safe. Dumping them in front of the TV with a bag of sugar is not good parenting. It's the school holidays. The kids are meant to be having fun. They're meant to be having that fun with you. And yes, you're meant to be enjoying it too. They've worked hard all year and now it's time to spend quality time with their parents, doing the crazy shit kids love to do. They're not really interested if you have a deadline. They are not an inconvenience. They are a privilege. They are your responsibility and you have to ensure they are safe and entertained at all times. So... to the rule!

The Rule: My boys know if I'm in my office working, or I'm on my laptop, I am not to be disturbed... under any circumstances... unless it's an emergency, or they've accidently set fire to the dog. Of course, the one rule is not really a rule as it's going to be broken a billion times a day anyway, but as long as the children KNOW and UNDERSTAND the rule, they are aware they run the risk of encountering Shouty Daddy if they interrupt me. You also have to be aware and accept that even with this rule you are going to be disturbed, but hopefully, it will only be for important things and less often. The rule is there to help make things a little easier.

Goals For You:

  • Set yourself writing targets, smaller ones than you would normally, so they are easier to achieve. When my boys were younger I aimed to write in five-minute sprints when they suddenly went quiet. Now they're older I can write for longer periods.
  • Set times for lunch and dinner and stick to them. Routine is a great help.
  • Aim to spend quality time with them for at least two hours a day, either taking them out somewhere special as a treat or enjoying a quick kickabout in the back garden. Whatever you decide to do, make it an adventure... kids love adventure.
  • Stay off your phone and actively enjoy this time with your kids. They'll enjoy it too and then they'll be more likely to leave you alone while you writing.
  • Prepare to be flexible and try and change your routine. Work in your office one day, in the back garden/down the park on your laptop the next.
  • Get your kids to help you prepare lunch, engage them and then sit down and eat with them. Talk to them while you do. Ask them what they would like to do in the afternoon, or the next day and what they enjoyed doing that morning.

Goals For Them:

  • Set up a points system. Give them a point for good behaviour and take away a point for bad behaviour. I start every day by giving them ten points each and then taking off points for bad behaviour during the day. At the end of the week if they've had more positive days than negative ones they get to spend a day or half a day, depending on how busy I am, with me uninterrupted doing exactly what they want to do.
  • Give them tasks to do during the day. At the moment I'm giving my boys one task a day they have to complete between 9am and 10am, which gives me an hour of solid writing every morning. Yesterday's task was to draw an invention. Alex (8) drew a factory that made rainbows. Today's task was to build a rocket out of lego. Dylan (5) built a sports trophy instead.
  • Ration their TV and games devices to two hours a day. I find one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon sufficient. If they know how long they have it avoids arguments. Make a big issue of how you're such a great parent when you give them an extra half an hour because they've been really good that day.

The holidays are survivable and you can get writing done with children around. Remember, children are for life, not just for Easter

and happy children will mean you'll get a surprising amount of work done.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

BBC TV DRAMA WRITERS' FESTIVAL

On Monday I battled train cancellations, hydrated myself against the heat and dodged many over excited Pokemon Go players to make my way to London and the BBC TV Drama Writers' Festival. And what a brilliant day it was.

As it was my first invite to the festival I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I was delighted to find it was a much more relaxed environment than other festivals I've been to. The speakers weren't hidden away in a green room and were very approachable. It was just a bunch of writer friends getting together to talk about what they love.

I even got to meet and chat with one of my writing heroes Jed Mercurio, without making a complete gibbering tit of myself... I think.

But the best bit, besides meeting Jed and the free food and wine, was the great advice from the speakers. Because everyone there was an established writer with at least one credit, the speakers didn't need to cover the basics and were much more informative. It was exactly what I needed.

As someone who meticulously plans what he writes, I found it very refreshing, and also a little scary to hear Jed Mercurio talk about how he never knows the ending of the series when he begins the writing process. On series three of LINE OF DUTY, Jed even went back and rewrote the first episode to kill off the planned series villain, played by the brilliant Daniel Mays. When I heard that my writer OCDs screamed at me not to listen anymore and run out of the room. I ignored them and I'm actually going to try and write a pilot episode of something new (without planning it... eek!) and just see where it goes... I may, however, end up dribbling in the corner of the room staring blankly at the wall, mumbling over and over to myself, "there must be a plan, there must be a plan, there must be a plan." We'll see how it goes.

Here are some of the other many valuable bits of advice I took from the day.

  • Unheard Voices: Kay Mellor - Drama is writing about people in society who don't have a voice.
  • Authentic plotting is very sought after. Research is key to this.
  • Pitching: Don't over prepare or you'll lose the punch to your pitch and it will be in danger of sounding flat.
  • Pitching: They want to hear what has driven you to write this story. What is it about the project that makes you passionate?
  • Children's TV: Good drama. International. Push everything further.
  • Returning series: Think the unthinkable and see how that changes things. Be bold.
If you have a TV credit, make sure you apply for next year. It's a brilliant and extremely informative day out.

Happy writing.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

AM I TOO OLD?

When I hit middle age I got a tattoo, started working out, took up karate, lost a stone and a half and worried far too much about my future and how little of it there was left. My biggest concern was career progression... would I drop dead before I managed to break into TV?
Oscar winner Julian Fellowes -
Photo copyright of AP

My first thought - Was I too old to have a writing career in TV? My second thought - TV producers are mainly looking for young writers eager to learn and easy to mould, right? My third thought - Why do I have hairs growing out of my ears?

Then I read this quote on one of Bangers's (Lucy Hay - Bang2Write) many informative pages:

It’s never too late!

"Bang2writers tell me all the time they fear they’re “running out of time”. But Julian (Fellowes) has a brilliant SECOND career as a screenwriter and only started in his middle age. As he says of GOSFORD PARK, “I was this fat, bald actor nearly fifty, suddenly writing a Hollywood film!” This could be any one of us, IF we keep going and keep ourselves open. 
Lucy Hay, 2016
He'll be sixty-eight this year and he's still writing. Blimey! Suddenly I didn't feel so old. There was hope for my creaking bones and failing memory. Maybe, just maybe my life experience, maturity (ha!) and wisdom were a valuable commodity in the world of TV production.

Then from the depths of my dodgy memory, I recalled a moment last year when a writer came to me asking me to give him feedback on his TV pilot. He had a couple of TV people interested in reading it and wanted to polish it before he sent it off. He showed a great enthusiasm for his work, a willingness to listen to alternative ideas and was open to constructive criticism... and he was seventy-three years old.

So I guess the lesson I learnt here is not to categorise myself. It doesn't matter who you are. It only matters what you write and how you approach your work. Age, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc, are labels. Great writing is great writing and eagerly sought by producers, directors, script editors and development executives alike.

Here's another great link from Bangers... enjoy! - Why It's Never Too Late To Start Writing Your Masterpiece.

Happy writing!