Tuesday, October 21, 2014

ONE SHEETS

I've been reading a few discussions online recently about One Sheets, or as I call them One Shits, as people prepare for this year's LSWF. You can probably tell by my pet name for them I'm not a fan. In fact I think they're a giant waste of time and effort. Here's two very good reasons why...

Reason One -  What are producers and directors actually looking for from a one page pitch? Are they looking to see how talented you are as a graphic designer? Are they looking to be cheered up by a nice visual? Or do they want to know if the person sending them the one sheet can write?

That's looking at it simply, they really want to know three things; can you write, is the idea any good and can they work with you? And that's all they want to know. That's all you should be concentrating on. Forget designing one sheets, the only thing your reader is interested in is the pitch, not how prettily you can draw. The picture isn't going to sell your idea, your pitch is. If the pitch isn't up to standard, or more importantly of interest, then the picture isn't going to sway things. So why include it?

Reason Two - What does adding a picture to your pitch actually say to the producer or director? It says you're probably trying to hide a poorly written pitch, or a terrible idea, with an illustration intended to distract. It's saying to them that even YOU don't believe your writing is strong enough to stand out on its own without a picture to accompany it. If they think you don't believe in your writing then why should they? After all if your pitch is to do its job it'll put pictures of your idea in the readers mind anyway, they don't need a visual prompt to help them out.

It also says you have specific visual ideas of how you want your project to eventually look. And that's not your job. That's what directors, set builders/designers, etc, are employed for. Illustrating your pitch only tells the producer/director that you have very strong ideas about how you want your work look and it may put them off working with you. After all they are looking for someone who will be easy to work with, who will happily take on board their ideas and be OK with the fact their original idea will eventually change and evolve as others add their input. A picture can easily say you know exactly what you want and you're not willing to change.

From my experience a one page pitch, with your idea written on one side and blank on the other, is the best way to go. I've been offered feature commissions, been invited in to chat to TV people, who are now earmarking me for episodes of their shows, all because my one page pitches did their job. And there wasn't an illustration in sight. A good one page pitch doesn't distract from your idea, shows the reader if you can write or not and tells them you are serious about your writing and ideas.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

BLOG REWIND - NETWORKING

Here's a quick blog rewind looking back at networking, especially helpful for those of you going to LSWF this year... and I might have edited it a little to update it ;-)

Pimp Yourself


NETWORKING

I have found by years of trial and error that the best way to get work is to put yourself out there and by that I mean you need to network like a fanatic, getting to know everyone and showing genuine interest in what they are doing. When I say everyone do I mean just producers and directors? No...I mean everyone, everyone even remotely connected to the entertainment industry, actors, casting directors, script editors and fellow writers at all levels. And you have to show a genuine interest in their work, because if you don't they will know and think you're sucking up to them just to further your career. I don't have that problem because I have a passionate love of film and TV and a general curiosity about people, so I find it a pleasure to talk to others (even if it does terrify me sometimes) and find out what they are working on. Remember it's about them, not you, so never, ever go begging for work. Remain helpful, polite and never pushy. If like me this comes naturally to you, then it's a great advantage, otherwise you'll have to work very hard at it.

I find it helps to keep a spreadsheet of the people I meet detailing when we last talked and what about, as it can get quite confusing when you have met literally hundreds of people, especially if you are as rubbish at remembering names as I am. Some days I even need help remembering my own name.

Signing up to social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn help with the process, but you must remember everyone will read what you write so keep a separate account for personal use and gobbing off, and one for professional. You are what you write after all. Personally I chose to only have one account on each site, as it would take too much time to keep up with separate accounts. Therefore I have to be very careful not to Twitter or Facebook when I come home from the pub and think it's funny to post a picture of my bum. General personal stuff is fine, it makes you appear human, just as long as it's not offensive.

Writing ten or fifteen short scripts and offering them free to up and coming directors is a great idea to get your name and work out there. Plus if any are made it will give you something to be proud of and a credit on your CV. A good place to find directors is on Shooting People. Always remember to check out the directors previous work first to see if it's of the quality you want your short to be and if they are intending to place the finished film in festivals. That last bit is important as this will increase your exposure. Remember collaboration is always good.

If you've done your job properly people will also be genuinely interested in knowing what you are up to and might ask to read a script or one page pitch. If they like your writing they might even offer you some work.

It's really all about building relationships and an awareness of your work. Do this and eventually people will come to you when they need a writer and one day you might even get paid for it.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

THE COFFEE BREAK SCREENWRITER - Pilar Alessandra

I've read a lot of great books on screenwriting over the years, all with their own unique take on format, structure, characters and dialogue, but I've honestly never read a book quite as good as Pilar Alessandra's THE COFFEE BREAK SCREENWRITER. Why is it so good?

First of all, and most importantly, it's because Pilar breaks down the art of writing into smaller, more manageable chunks, ten-minute sections you can work on in your coffee break, hence the book's title. Pilar does this by asking questions and prompting the writer to write down their answer, which does initially give the impression of being formulaic, but really isn't, as you'll discover when you get further into the book. Pilar is very conscience of the fact her approach could be formulaic and ensures the writer is as flexible as possible as they build their characters and plot, actively encouraging them to play around with structure to discover for themselves if there is a better way of telling their story. The questions are also designed to work and rework the writer's idea, refining it and adding layers, pointing out the common pitfalls of structure and story and helping the writer to avoid them.

Unusually though Pilar doesn't begin with developing characters, as I prefer to do. Instead she starts with story, structure and outline before getting to character. I was a bit dubious at first but after reading those three sections I understood why Pilar did this. One of the first things discussed is character flaw and emotion, something quite often missing from new writers' screenplays. Character flaw drives the conflict and emotion is what draws an audience in. Without these important elements a screenplay would be dull, flat and uninteresting.

Once the story, structure and outline are done then Pilar investigates character, importantly including the antagonist and secondary characters - who are quite often under developed - so they're all fully realised and very real to the reader.

Then comes the first draft, or the speed draft as Pilar calls it - rougher than what most writers would call a vomit draft - building up the initial rough draft outline, adding new scenes and layers to existing ones, until the full first draft is finally complete. Again, unusually, dialogue is explored after the first draft section, not during, which is great because dialogue is deserving of its own chapter and a separate focus on it really helps a screenplay to stand out.

The section I found most helpful was the approach to the rewrite process. I have trouble with rewrites as I always try and do too much in one go, but Pilar splits things up into different passes - concept, structure, story, scene, character, dialogue, format, element and holistic - stressing that most writers won't have to work their way through every pass. It certainly cuts down on the amount of work and concentration needed for rewrites and is also extremely helpful if like me, you are constantly being interrupted as you work.

Pilar also talks about craft, again not up front but after the initial rewrites, so the writer can look at action lines, fight scenes, emotional action, scene transitions, character and setting descriptions and tonal writing amongst other areas, before getting to work on the final edit.

Finally Pilar discusses screenplay presentation and opportunity, exploring networking, marketing materials and pitching, with her own unique and valuable insight. There are no long, plodding chapters to read either, only short sections, lessons and insight, so the book can be read in ten-minute bursts, making it easy to handle, especially if you can't devote the time to read the book from cover to cover in one sitting. This is the best screenwriting 'how to' book available for new writers at the moment and also has practical sessions for the more experienced writer. It's a book you'll want to refer to again and again. All in all Pilar's fantastic, incredible, useful advice makes THE COFFEE BREAK SCREENWRITER the only book that should be a 'must have' in your collection.

Pilar Alessandra will be at the LONDON SCREENWRITERS' FESTIVAL (LSWF) later this month from the 24th to the 26th of October, so if you're going make sure you attend all of her sessions. And if you don't have a ticket... why the bloody hell not???? Get one today, don't delay!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

LSWF 2014

October approaches, as does the annual networking event LSWF. Have you got your ticket yet?

Unfortunately, for various reasons I won't be going this year, the most important of which is because it's my son's birthday that weekend and I've missed the last five attending the festival. He might forgive me if I'm with him for this birthday. I'm gutted not to be going, to hear all those informative and inspirational talks, to miss all the networking, meeting new friends and old, and quaffing a few beers at the bar every night in good company. I will be there next year though... for certain!

To help those who are going on the 24th of October here's my definitive guide on getting the most out of the festival.


How To Get The Most Out Of The London Screenwriters’ Festival - Dom's Ultimate Guide

Preparation

LSWF is just over five weeks away and by now, if you're serious about being a writer, you should be preparing for the event. Here’s a brief outline of what you should be doing in the weeks running up to the festival:

  1. Buy your ticket if you haven't already.
  2. Sign up for the speed pitching. It's a wonderful chance to get five minutes face-to-face with an agent or producer, and not an opportunity to be missed.
  3. Make sure you have accommodation close to the festival. If you have to travel a fair distance every day you'll miss out on valuable networking time.
  4. Practice, practice, and practice your pitches so you know them off by heart. You never know when you'll be asked to pitch and if you're not ready then you'll blow your chance (more on this later).
  5. Check the list of speakers every couple of days, research them, choose the ones you want to listen to (or even approach to have a chat) and have a list ready for when the schedules are published. That way you can plan which sessions you want to see in advance.
  6. Go on to the Private Delegate Network Page (only accessible when you've bought a ticket), research everyone on it, highlight people of interest you want to talk to and send them a preliminary email and arrange a meeting if possible. Remember though the delegate list will also have people on it from previous years who may not be going to this year’s festival, so it is well worth asking if they are. LSWF will send you a delegate book nearer to the time with a comprehensive list of all those attending, but don't wait for this, get ahead of the game.
  7. Choose your projects wisely. I would suggest that you choose no more than three and make sure they're finished, proof read and the best you have.
  8. Order at least 250 business cards, you'll need them. Make sure they're blank one side so people you speak to can write notes about you on them.

How To Prepare In More Detail

You've bought your ticket, printed off ten copies of your screenplay and now you're ready for LSWF... right? Wrong!

It's not a matter of just turning up; you really need to plan for the festival to get the most out of it. If you don't then you might as well roll up your ticket, insert one end into your anus and light the other. No producer is going to see the genius of your screenplay, no agent your obvious talent, unless you approach the festival professionally and with at the very least a little forethought. You will only get out of the festival what you put in to it.

Research:

Above I talked about how you need to research your fellow delegates and speakers. This is very important. You’ll have an advantage over most of your fellow writers if you know who is going to be at the festival and what they are currently working on. There’s nothing worse than trying to talk to a well-known producer and not knowing what their last film was.

To give you an example I actually managed to get work from the 2011 festival simply by scouring the delegate list. I discovered one producer who was looking for a writer for his project so I researched him and his company and then sent him an email to set up a meeting at the festival. To cut a long story short the screenplay is now in Hollywood and the buzz around the project is getting everyone excited. If I hadn’t done my research I would have missed the opportunity.

Pitching:

You should have already decided on the three projects you want to take with you to the festival, remembering to print off one page pitches for these to hand out if requested. Don’t take full screenplays. If a producer is handed twenty screenplays and one, one page pitch, which do you think he’s going to read first? I saw someone hand a very well known and successful TV writer a full screenplay and a pitch in a large folder a previous year. He didn’t take it home with him. Would you want to be weighed down with all that paper for your train journey home? Stick to one-page pitches…trust me!

Your one pager should be written in the style of your project, so if it's a comedy then it needs to be funny, and remember to make it visual. If you don't know what I mean pop down to your local book store, pick up a few random novels and read their back covers. Their story is summed up there and you need to sum up your project in a similar manner. Like your screenplays; write, rewrite and rewrite again until they're as perfect as they can be.

What you also need to do is work out a sixty-second pitch for each project. Why sixty seconds? Anything longer and you risk sending the recipient of your pitch to sleep. Keep it short and then if they're interested they'll ask you questions about your project. If you drone on all they'll want to do is to get away from you as fast as they can.

The pitch should be split up like this:

  • Title - relevant to the script.
  • Format - film, TV, etc.
  • Genre - If you don't know what it is how can they?
  • Compare it to something else that has gone before (It's similar to Quantum Leap, but with robot rabbits.)
  • Then..."This is a story about... who...'

Once you've worked out your pitches for all three projects go and practice them. Pitch to friends, family, or to a video camera, so you can play it back and see for yourself how it works. Then practice some more, and more, so they eventually become second nature to you and you could even pitch them in your sleep.

Networking:

Business Cards: The most important tool you're going to take with you and the one most frequently overlooked. I took 250 with me last year - you can never have too many - and handed out a good proportion of them. I couldn't believe there were delegates at the festival that didn't have business cards and were writing their email addresses and phone numbers down on scraps of paper. It shows a total lack of professionalism not taking any with you. There is absolutely no excuse not to have any. Get them now!

Get at least 250, they don't have to cost much, don't have to be fancy - all they need is your name, what you do, your phone number and email address - and should be blank on one side. Why? Good question and the answer is simple.

When you collect cards from other people and you've finished having a conversation with them, write down the highlights of that conversation on the back of the card. Why write this information down on a separate piece of paper and risk losing it? This information is important for following up your new contact after the festival. You'll hopefully be talking to a lot of people and it will be difficult to remember every conversation. I have one card from 2010’s festival that simply says 'fork man' on the back and is still even now more than enough to jog my memory of who he was, what he did and more importantly what we talked about. Remember to keep the cards you collect safe. Hide them away in your bag so you don't risk losing them.

I made a conscious effort in previous years not to hang around with people I know. I wanted to meet new people and forced myself to go out of my way and talk to as many strangers as I could. This is your best option to make new, and possibly valuable, contacts. I did check in with my friends now and again and I'm glad I did, as one of them introduced me to a producer who offered me work at the 2010 festival.

I'm not naturally social so I know how difficult it is to walk up to a complete stranger and start talking to them, but I did it and now I really enjoy it. Push yourself to talk to people and try and remember they are probably just as nervous about talking to you as you are to them.

There are a few simple rules that will help you with this:

  • Everyone likes people to show an interest in them. Ask them questions about their work and experience, rather than just barging in and telling them everything about yourself including your last trip to the doctor for that unexpected rash. If you show an interest in them, they'll naturally want to know about you and what you're working on.
  • Listen carefully, make eye contact, smile often and make sure you show an interest. There's nothing ruder than answering someone's question only for them to start playing Angry Birds on their phone while you do. I usually walk away at that point, or stop talking until they start paying attention again.
  • Always check the body language of the person you've met. If that person looks like they may be getting bored, stop talking about yourself and ask them a question about themselves to get the conversation back on track. If you keep yabbering on about you and your work they'll easily forget about you, or at least do their best to do so.
  • Get there early and stay late. Network while you eat. Network at the bar. Network while you're having a quick ciggy. Network in the canteen queue. However, don't try and network in the toilet. Someone who is taking a private moment in a cubicle to empty their bowels might not take too kindly to you popping your head over the cubical wall and saying, 'Alright mate, how's your festival going?' Make the most of your networking time, because if you don't then others will.
  • There will be a bar at the festival, but I suggest you don't drink, or if you do then just make it the one. People don't like being cornered by a slurring drunk waffling on about utter bollocks for several hours, giving them a hug and telling them they're their new best friend. Stay sober.
  • Buy drinks for others, especially producers and directors. It's OK to get them drunk, as you might find them more open to your 197 page factual TV drama about the woman down the road who looks after stray cats, if they have been well lubricated in advance.

When the festival is over leave it a week before you start following up on those conversations. Send polite emails to everyone you met and talked to. There are no bad contacts so don't leave anyone out, as any single one of them could turn out to the one that helps move your career forwards.

Essential Items You Will Need To Take:

  • Your LSWF ticket - DUH!
  • Your 250 business cards - remember these are your most important tool.
  • An empty business card box - to put all those valuable business cards in which you will collect from other people.
  • A copy of the schedule - print one off from the website the day before you go and highlight the sessions you most want to attend. The schedule will most likely change anyway, but at least you'll have a basic one to refer to (There is a fantastic phone app you can download that has the schedule, a map and a list of speakers included to help cut down on the things you need to carry. Download it now.)
  • A map of Regents Collage - you need to know where you are going for each session.
  • Several pens - in case one runs out, you lose one, or some thieving little git 'borrows' one.
  • A small notebook - for the making of detailed notes about possible collaboration. You should always carry one anyway, to write down any ideas you might have.
  • An A4 pad - for the writing of notes while listening to speakers.
  • Ten copies only of the one-page pitches of the three projects you are going to take with you.
  • Your three sixty-second pitches - do not read these out from your notes, they are only for back up.
  • A fully charged spare battery for your mobile phone - you'll be surprised how quickly it will run out.
  • Your thoroughly researched speaker and delegate list - with pictures so it's easier to spot people while you're there.
  • Mints - no one wants to talk to someone whose breath smells like a camel's bum.
  • Money - for the buying of sustenance and plying producers and directors with liquid 'YES' juice.
  • A can of Red Bull - for the drinking of to keep your mind sharp should you suddenly find yourself flagging.
  • A smile, a cheerful disposition and an eagerness to soak up every ounce of information and milk every networking opportunity.

Summing Up

  • Remember your business cards, you'll need them.
  • Remember your one-page pitches, but only hand them out if asked for one.
  • Don't worry too much about missing a session if networking is going well, as most sessions are filmed and will be available on the delegates network after the festival.
  • Don't hang around people you know, go and mingle, talk to as many new people as possible.
  • Be brave.
  • Ask them about what they do and what they're working on, show an interest in their work and don't rabbit on about yourself.
  • Take every opportunity to network.
  • Stick to one drink in the evenings at the bar, so you can continue to network and don't come across as a dribbling drunk.
  • Buy people drinks; they'll love you for it.
  • Turn up early, go home late.
  • Make as many notes about what you learn as you can - remember to write these out in longer form as soon as you get home from the festival, as they won't make any sense in a months time.
  • Be polite, friendly and professional at all times. You're promoting yourself here.
  • Follow up any chats after the festival with an email.
  • Listen, learn, absorb.
  • There is no such thing as luck, only hard work and persistence pays off.
Start preparing now, you want to be able to be a step ahead of everyone else. Good luck, enjoy your festival and I'll see you next year.

Monday, September 08, 2014

THE ART OF SCREENPLAYS - A WRITER'S GUIDE by Robin Mukherjee

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:

Not another 'how to' screenwriting book I thought, when it was sent to me to review. But Robin's approach isn't 'just' another writers' template to follow, but rather an insightful guide that prompts readers to think for themselves.

A CLOSER LOOK:

Surprisingly Robin doesn't begin by writing about structure but takes things back to that little spark that fires the imagination. After all the 'idea' is just as important as how you write it and it is often overlooked in other guides.

'Stuff' - as Robin calls it - is to writers as wood is to carpenters. Robin explores how to gather, ferment and communicate story, with 'stuff' providing the building material. But what is 'stuff'? Stuff can be anything from a snippet of conversation to how someone acts, those small observations of real life that ignite ideas.

Robin illustrates his idea of 'stuff' by relating the tale of how an incident in a pub, when he was a writer/director/producer working in theatre, informed a scene in an episode of Eastenders he wrote years later.

Robin does cover the usual stuff - structure, character and dialogue - but even here he restrains from suggesting ridged rules, instead preferring to explore ideas and encourage readers to think for themselves.

The book does feel a little academic in places - not surprising as Robin has taught screenwriting in the past - and I found myself going back over a few sections just to make sure I was correctly inturpreting Robin's message. I did come away assessing anew how I create and tell my stories and with a strong sense I had learned a great deal from Robin's ideas and suggestions.

Robin, like a few other authors, also sets tasks, encouraging readers to explore and evaluate their own ideas, as well as providing plenty of examples of his own to illustrate his points.

SUMMING UP:

A great book for beginners, with plenty of ideas to inform even those more experienced writers. A little academic in places, it can take a few attempts to fully absorb Robin's message, but none the less it's a useful volume to have in your collection.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

PRODUCTION

As two feature projects I've worked on, one as the writer and the other as script editor, gather momentum towards production early next year, I couldn't resist reflecting on how both these projects came about and how quickly they have progressed over the last month or two.

BROKEN BOYS

Having already adapted COWBOYS CAN FLY for producer Sean Langton of Trebuchet Film Production, from the novel of the same name by Ken Smith, I was asked if I could help out and work closely with the writer Julie Grady-Thomas on BROKEN BOYS, guiding her as she wrote the next draft. To her credit Julie really got stuck in and wrote an awesome script she can be very proud of.

Since then the project has landed a multi-award winning director in Jan Dunn and has attached an awesomely talented cast in Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones), Suranne Jones (Scott & Bailey), Thomas Turgoose (This is England) and Reece Douglas (Waterloo Road). BROKEN BOYS is due to go into production in January and this is all down to the talented people who have worked so hard to make the film happen.

CONDITION

David Luke Rees and I were originally attached to a feature project (as director and writer respectively) which unfortunately didn't work out. However, ever the optimist, I didn't let the opportunity go to waste and contacted David to see if we could work on something else together, after being very impressed with his award winning short film TO MEET IT WITH AWE. Then in February he came to me with an idea. We both loved what we came up with and it grew to the extent that in May I handed him the finished screenplay.

Thanks to David's magical networking skills CONDITION was received incredibly well and it wasn't long before David was able to set a date for production in February of 2015. He is now stupidly busy setting about pulling everything together for his feature producing and directing debut.

It has been a fantastic year thus far and the first two months of 2015 are just going to be AMAZING!!!!!!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

HOLIDAY

On Saturday I'm off on a well deserved holiday. And I need one.

As I was deciding what to take with me to North Cornwall I thought I'd do a quick little experiment on Facebook. I asked whether I should (a) just take a notepad and pen with me to jot down ideas, (b) take a notebook and the laptop and work on one of my specs, or (c) take nothing, leave it all behind, clear my head and come back refreshed.

I was quite surprised with the results. There were seven votes each for A and C, with a mix of writers and non writers across the two. Personally I though all the writers would have said A and the non writers C.

What really surprised me though was that only one person said B. Yes he is a writer and obviously understands fully the addiction that is developing stories. There is no break from it, not on holiday, not when you're asleep, not even when you're on you seventh pint of beer in the pub with your friends. Writing is more than a passion and more than a job. It's what you have to do everyday, because if you don't it would send you mad. So why did only one writer insist I take my laptop?

Could it be that life gets in the way of writing for most people? I can't speak for anyone else, but I do believe writing has to come first in your life, if you want to be a success at it, if you want to be more than just good and more importantly if you want to make money. Nothing else can be allowed to get in the way, despite how much you would like to go off and do other things.

Having said that if I don't spend time on the holiday with the family I will be in a great deal of trouble with my wife. So as a compromise I'll just take my notebook and pen, after all I don't need the laptop as I have a writing program on my iPhone. I'm sure I can sneak a few pages of writing in here and there while I'm hiding out in the loo from the kids ;-)