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 ;-)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

READ LOTS

Do you read screenwriting books on a regular basis?

You might think that as I have five features under my belt as a screenwriter I wouldn't really need to read screenwriting guides? You would be wrong. Every writer, however experienced, should be reading as many screenwriting books as they can lay their hands on.

I don't know who the quote 'knowledge is power' is attributed to, but they knew their stuff. Knowledge is power! As a writer I don't want to get complacent. I can't afford to, there are far too many up and coming writers out there eager to step into my shoes. I need to keep on top of my game, constantly improving, refreshing my skill set and making sure I'm reading as widely as I can.

At the moment I'm reading THE TV SHOWRUNNER'S ROADMAP by Neil Landau. Even though it's written around the US system of writing teams there is still a lot that's relevant to the British TV writer. It's a cracking read and I'll review it when I finally find the time to finish it. I have also loaded up  several screenwriting guides to my kindle, so when I'm on my travels I can still fill my bonce with writerly goodness.

I think it's important as a writer to find your own way to work. There are plenty of books that tell you exactly how you should write a screenplay and they can vary quite considerably in their approach. Over the years I've read a good few of them and taken a little from each to find my own writing style. However, I won't stop there. I'll keep on reading, keep on revising how I write my screenplays and I'll never stop doing this. Anything that improves the quality of my work has to be a positive thing.

So don't be shy, pop down to your local book store, or log on to Amazon, and get your head in a book. When you finish it, get another. When you finish that one, get another... and so on. Don't worry about cost, you can always trade them back in at Amazon. Now go and fill your head with as much writerly advice you can get your hands on and I promise you your writing will benefit from it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

PITCHING

I'll be the first to admit I'm not the best at pitching, which is why, as with everything I want to get better at, I have to practice, practice, practice.

First things first...

RESEARCH - Without it you'll be shooting blind. Who is the individual you'll be pitching to and who are the company? Google them. Find out as much as you can. Does your pitch match the type of programs/films they have made before? Have you watched some of their previous output? If so, it's good to talk about what you love about them.

When I researched someone I pitched to earlier this year I was delighted to discover I had actually met him a year or two before and mentioned it at the beginning of the pitch. It was an instant connection as we found we had something in common. It put me instantly at ease and I was able to deliver a confident pitch.

PRESENTATION - Be happy, interested, friendly and enthusiastic, especially about the projects you're about to pitch. Be professional, never diss yourself or sound unsure, never slag anyone or anything off and if they ask you a question you don't have an answer for then and there, be honest and offer to email them later with an answer. They won't mind.

When I'm pitching I'm very conscious I don't want to babble, to continue waffling on and on until the producer or director is fast asleep, snoring their head off and drooling down their chin. It's best to keep a pitch short, to around about a minute or less, and be succinct in the words you use. Here's how I pitch.

TITLE - This is important as a good title can sell a film. Remember SNAKES ON A PLANE?

GENRE - What is it? Is it action? Is it a thriller? Is it a comedy? Or is it a coming-of-age drama? This is also very important so the producer/director can tell if it's a good fit for their slate or not.

LOGLINE - This is one to two sentences roughly describing what your idea is about. Basically a small single paragraph of information stating who the protagonist is, what their goal is and what's standing in their way of achieving that goal.

And that's it...

OK, so you might think that's too short, how are they going to know how utterly brilliant your project is from this small amount of information? Don't worry, all you want to do is give them a taste. The worst thing you can do is give them too much information, an overload, especially if the majority of it is irrelevant.

If they're interested in the idea they'll ask you more penetrating questions about your project. Then you will get the chance to expand on what you've already spoken about. If they're not interested you can quickly move on to the next pitch and you won't have wasted your precious time, and more importantly theirs, waffling on about a project that isn't a fit with them.

PREPARE - I would recommend memorising four or five loglines, to the point where you can recall them at any moment and are confident enough to slip them into a conversation casually. They shouldn't sound as if you've rehearsed them, they should slip of your tongue easily, like an everyday conversation.

Remember, if you don't know the ins and outs of your idea how are you going to be able to get it across to the person you are pitching to? If you're not sure about your project, then they won't be either. You only get one chance to pitch so make the most of the opportunity. Practice every day if you can, to your partner, to your friends and even your kids (if they'll listen), so the pitch becomes second nature.

Good luck...although if you prepare and practice enough you shouldn't need it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

DELIVERING

One of the most important aspects of being a writer staring at FADE IN: of a commission is making sure you deliver, not just on time but also exactly what you've been asked to. Failure is not an option.

If you promise to deliver a screenplay by a certain time always try to finish it and hand it in early. It makes you look good. I alway like to use the example of Scotty from Star Trek, who always gives an over estimated time for the repairs to be completed, so he can finish them earlier and maintain his reputation as a miracle worker. The same should apply to you.

When I was asked recently to make significant changes to a screenplay at the last minute, roughly about  a third of what was written, because of notes the director had received from the money men, I promised him it would be finished in no more than four days. I actually worked my butt off to deliver a rough draft by the end of the very same day. The thing is I knew the director wanted the changes fast, I knew they were big, and I knew they were necessary, so I cleared my desk and got my head down and got it done in a day. I could have taken my time, handed it in, in the four days I had promised, but I wanted to get it done and do a good job. A final check of the script the same night by the director and I was given the go ahead to tidy it up and proof read it the next day, before handing it in. That's two days, not the four I had promised. I delivered exactly what he wanted and I delivered it early.

Before I write a word I always ask the producer or director when they want the next draft by. Even if they say there's no rush, or in your own time, I still push them for a date. That way I can plan ahead and make sure I finish early... every time! I like to impress. I don't skimp on the quality of my writing, I just work harder, faster and for longer each day to deliver an early draft. Director and producers are always pleased when a script lands in their inbox a few days before they were expecting it and then they're more likely to refer me as a writer to others as well.

Make sure you deliver too.