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.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

THE LIST

Lots to do? Struggling under the weight of it all? Then you need a list!

Some days I don't know whether I'm coming or going I've got so much to get through. It's hard to decide where to start, what to work on first and what to ignore (at least for a few days). The answer is simple and I don't understand why I struggled on for so long without thinking of it - make a list!

All you needs is a numbered bullet point list (easily created in word) so you can list out all the things you have to work on. Put the most important project at the top - for me anything that is commissioned and has the nearest deadline - then put the least urgent projects towards the bottom of the list. As you work through them cross them off... simples!

You'll be surprised at how such a simple thing can motivate you so easily. It's especially satisfying for me to cross off the work I've done and I'm really happy to see my list with black marker pen through several lines. It tells me I'm making good progress.

Sometimes I even go further. If I've got several projects that are important I'll make another list, organising my day so I can give some of my time to each of them. It's a great help clearing urgent work quickly.

It's also a good idea spending 10 minutes every day, before you sit down to work, to quickly go through your list and update it if necessary. I find my list can change quite often and I always want to try and keep ahead of myself.

Another list I find useful is one for goals. No, not the goals in the World Cup, but in the achievement sense. Set yourself goals for the year, pin them up on your wall behind your computer screen, where you can see them easily. As you achieve these goals cross them off. Top of my list at the moment is to get one of my features at least into preproduction by Christmas and another to be commissioned for a TV episode. Remember though, setting unrealistic goals will only leave you frustrated at the end of the year when you don't meet them. The idea is to motivate, not disillusion.

Spending ten minutes a day to organise your lists, will make your day go a lot easier. Good luck!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

DANNY STACK - CHILDREN'S TV & NELSON NUTMEG

Danny contemplates his next gem of advice.
Last weekend I spent a lovely couple of days at Kingston Lacy in the company of other writers, listening to the wise words of Danny Stack. The occasion - Writing for Children's TV, all thanks to the organisational skills of the lovely Rosie Jones.

After two days stuffing myself with the sweets, biscuits, coffee and fruit, I came away with a greater knowledge of the world of Children's TV, a bigger belly and ten A4 pages of notes. Some of the things Danny covered over the weekend were:

  • The UK Tax Credit for animation.
  • Which channel was looking for the most writers.
  • The one page pitch.
  • How to approach production companies.
  • How to get a commission.
  • The breakdown of age groups.
  • The breakdown of episode length.
  • Beat sheets.
  • Scene by scene.
  • Fees.
  • Series bibles.
  • Brainstorming ideas.
  • Pitching.
  • Writing an episode.
  • Get voice over artists on board to help pitch your show and characters.
Danny shows us they way.
It was a wonderful learning experience, in delightful company, and Danny even made time to listen to our ideas one-to-one and give feedback. If you ever wanted to write for Children's TV then it's really something you shouldn't have missed.

Luckily for you Danny is doing another course on November the 15th and 16th, again at Kingston Lacy. You can find the link HERE.

In other news from Danny, the Kickstarter campaign for 'Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg?', a children's mystery feature he wrote with Tim Clague, due to shoot later in the year, begins next week (keep an eye out for it). There are also auditions being held at Lighthouse, Poole's Centre For The Arts on Saturday 14th for the child parts in the film and you can find the details HERE.

While I was locked in a room with Danny over the weekend I took the opportunity to interview him
about his up coming feature and here's what he had to say.
DOM: Where did the idea come from for 'Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg'? 
DANNY: Tim was keen to do a kids’ film, and what with me writing a lot of children’s TV, it seemed like an ideal way to team up and make something. We brainstormed a few ideas until we came up with a murder mystery set in a summer camp where 4 misfits kid investigate the apparent murder of the camp’s mascot. Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? was born! 
DOM: When are you planning to begin shooting? 
DANNY: We start at the end of August, and shoot mainly weekends over September and October, before finishing with a full week’s filming during October half term. This is due to children’s availability, plus our low budget needs. 
DOM: How much are you looking to raise and what will it be spent on? 
DANNY: Our Kickstarter target is £12,370 which is to cover our day-to-day production costs: transport, food, filming with kids, insurance, etc. We’ve got two stretch target goals in mind, one to cover our Kickstarter commission fees, and the other to secure a cameo from a well-known actor so that we can broaden the appeal of the film even more. 
DOM: Is the Nelson Nutmeg costume up for grabs for whoever donates the most? 
DANNY: Not at the moment!  But that’s something we could look into once the film is finished! 
DOM: Where can people go to be kept updated about 'Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg?' 
DANNY: We’ve got the main website http://nelsonnutmeg.com and we’re on Facebook http://facebook.com/nelsonnutmeg as well as Twitter http://twitter.com/nelsonnutmeg 

DOM: Where can people go to volunteer to help out during filming?
 
DANNY: We’re lucky to have a great local crew helping us for the film so we don’t need any volunteers as such. However, if you’re interested in being an extra, then check out the Kickstarter page for that particular perk, or contact us for more info. 
So there you go. Good luck Danny and Tim.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

ACT 3

Act 3 is where the following should happen...

The final battle.

Where the protagonist and the antagonist have their climatic struggle, where they face off for one final time before the champion emerges victorious. It's worth noting here that the protagonist doesn't have to win all the time. Sometimes it can be far more interesting for the antagonist to win, or the protagonist to win only to find his life still changes for the worst. Don't ever be afraid to mix it up, to play with the audience's expectations, to give them something they'll talk about for ages after. This is what will make you stand out form all the other writers out there. And above all, whatever direction you decide to go, your ending should always satisfy.

Tying things up.

All your plot threads must be resolved by the end of the screenplay. There's nothing worse than walking out of the cinema and thinking, 'What happened to that tall guy after he popped out to buy some garlic bread during the final battle scene of the zombie apocalypse?' Tie up all those loose ends. Again they don't have to have a happy ending, they just need to be resolved. Your act 3 will look messy if you don't and will be very unsatisfying.

New world order.

I've read a lot of scripts that end just after the final battle between the protagonist and antagonist, especially with thrillers and action scripts. However, I like to add two or three scenes more to show the protagonist's new world, how he's changed and how that change has affected his immediate environment. How has the protagonist grown? What has he learnt? What has changed? What is his new world view? How do his friends/family/work colleagues react to the changes in him?

So there you go, three acts split into four easy sections. Remember though, there are no hard and fast rules about what you should do. You should always be flexible, adapt ideas to fit your own writing style and not be afraid to experiment with new ones. All the things I do when writing a screenplay have been honed from literally thousands of hours of discovering what works for me and what doesn't. I'm always eager to listen to other people's ideas, just in case there's something there that will better my writing.

Happy writing people.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

ACT 2 PART 2

So what happens after the midpoint? Well this is where I throw everything and the kitchen sink at the protagonist. The fun stuff is at an end and now I get down to the meat of the screenplay. This is where I make the hero suffer.

In this section things should get gradually worse for the protagonist. Really bad in fact. Bloody awful and desperate for him, if the truth be told. I pile the shit on and watch him suffer. What doesn't kill him, makes him stronger. It should be so bad for the protagonist the audience should be wondering how the hell he is going to get out of this a) alive and b) triumphant.

The hero should be at his lowest point just before the break into act three. He should be broken. He should be defeated. He should be at the point where he cannot see any way, logical or illogical, to get through the problems facing him. This is where the antagonist rises to the height of his power, on the verge of triumph.

In a thriller this is the section the hero begins to take the fight back to the antagonist, instead of just reacting to what happens to him. Now he must be proactive. Now he must make the antagonist react. He will still fail at what he attempts, maybe even have the odd small victory here now and again, but fail he must if he is to be the broken person he needs to be by the end of the act.

As I said above, just before the break into act three, when the hero is at his lowest point, everything has gone wrong, the antagonist has the upper hand and the hero stares defeat in the face. Here he must learn a truth, something about himself, or others, or a situation, so he has the tools, mental or otherwise, to finish the job in act three. Call it a revelation if you want, but it must allow the character to grow into the person he 'needs' to be.

As I write strong character driven screenplays, for me the hero always has to learn something important about himself. He has to realise it was a fault within himself, a personal flaw, that has prevented him from succeeding. Only when he realises this can he move on, grow and step into act three.

The final part - ACT 3 - next week.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

ACT 2 PART 1

The 2nd act is usually the toughest for writers to get their head around and personally I struggled with it a great deal in the early days of my career. That's why I now split the act into two parts at the midpoint. By doing this I have found it a great deal easier to plan and execute what happens and I now rarely find myself in the terrifying position where my writing grinds to an agonising halt.

The first part of act two is where I have some fun, explore the theme of the script through the interactions of the characters and let the protagonist explore his new world. I like my protagonist to learn the things here that he'll use in act 2 part 2 and act 3, when things get a lot tougher for him, although he may not necessarily know he's learning anything at the time. But as I say above the main aim of this section is to have fun, a couple of set pieces, lots of snappy action, very little character musing and only a smattering of character development.

All that will come later on. It's also very important to make sure there is enough conflict going on in amongst all that fun. My hero will try to achieve mini goals and fail, he'll gather what he needs for later on and he might even think he's actually getting somewhere. If only he knew what I had planned for him in the next section of the script, he wouldn't be so smug.

It might help you to think of each of these sections I have talked about, and will be discussing, as mini screenplays, with their own beginning, middle and end. The first part of the section being the set up, the second part the confrontation and the third and final part as the resolution. It's a lot easier to break things down into smaller chunks than struggle with something as a whole.

In a thriller the first part of act 2 is the section where your protagonist should be running away from your antagonist, flight not fight, where the hero reacts to the actions of the antagonist and isn't proactive. Part 2 of act 2 is where the hero finally fights back.

Then we come to the midpoint.

The midpoint is lie, in as much as it's where the hero thinks he has made progress or has failed in his goal. Blake Snyder calls it the the False Hope or the False Defeat which turns out not to be the case in act 2 part 2. For example in a thriller the hero runs from the antagonist and at the midpoint either believes he has escaped from him or that he's dead. This is the False Hope because if it was true the film would be over. In reality the antagonist isn't dead or been throw off the scent of our hero and comes back even strong for the act 2 part 2. The False Defeat is the exact opposite where the hero believes he has failed only to have his hope renewed after the midpoint. Used wisely the midpoint is a powerful tool to catapult the protagonist into the rest of act 2.

Next week act 2 part 2.