Wednesday, March 25, 2015

SUPPORTING SUCCESS

Chris Lunt, nominated for a BAFTA
This week, after learning on Facebook of two friends recent bad experiences with producers, I was going to write a slightly downbeat blog about how to protect yourself against those minority of industry people who think it's OK to take advantage of us writers... then I checked my Facebook feed this morning and discovered the lovely and talented Mr Chris Lunt had been nominated for a breakthrough talent BAFTA. Sweet! An upbeat blog it is.

I always look forward to hearing about my fellow writers' successes. Let's face it, it's all too easy to focus on the negatives when you're stuck in front of a computer screen for days on end, so it's a genuine delight to hear someone is doing well, or are finally being recognised for their work. We're a community after all and any success, no matter how big or small, should always be recognised and celebrated by us all. Not only does it give us hope, but it drives us to be better writers, to get that TV pilot/feature film/ short film script we've been sitting on for the last six months finished. It stops us dwelling on the negative and spurs us on to bigger and better things.

So poo poo to the minority of industry people who take advantage of our talent and good nature and huzzah for nominations and recognition. Today is a great day to be a writer.

Jolly well done, Chris.

Happy writing.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

HOW TO NETWORK LIKE A PRO PART 2: MEETINGS

Sooner rather than later in your career you'll be invited to meet with TV development execs. So what do you do? First of all you need to know what kind of meeting it is. These meetings usually fall into two categories for.

MEET & GREET:

They've already read your work, like it and simply want to put a face to name. They want to know what kind of person you are, what programs you like and if you're going to be easy to work with. When I say easy, I mean someone they're going to be happy spending a considerable amount of time either in person, or communicating with.

What they're looking for is a polite, intelligent person, who is open to ideas and not obstructive or precious about their work. It's a collaborative process after all and they want to know if you'll take their notes as they are intended and use them to improve your script. You can object to notes, but only in a polite way, while giving valid reasons for why you think the note, or notes, won't work. Hopefully you'll be able to come up with a great alternative they'll absolutely adore. If you can't and they insist you make those changes, they need to know you'll do so.

PITCHING:

They've read your project outline, like it, but don't think it's for them... however, they want to hear more pitches.

Personally I think this is the most nerve racking meeting of the lot and this is how I suggest you go about things.

Prepare around six brief pitches. Keep your pitch to under a minute, giving the development exec the essentials; TITLE, GENRE, FORMAT and the project's LOGLINE. After that, if interested in the project, they'll ask you questions. If a question throws you, be truthful and say you don't know and ask if you could think about it and come back with an answer later. Guaranteed the answer will pop into your head the minute you step out of the door, so a quick email later with the answer, will solve the problem.

If the development exec starts fidgeting, rolls their eyes, fiddles with their phone, looks bored or distracted, bring them back into the pitch and ask them a question; "What do you think of the main character?" or something similar. Engage them. Don't lose them.

Don't forget to breathe. Try and speak calmly and clearly, not in a rush and garbled. If you find yourself rambling, take a quick sip of the lovely drink they offered you when you arrived and take a moment to collect yourself.

THE PROJECT PITCH:

They like your idea and invite you in to discuss it further. They want to know more. They want you to sell it to them. You do this by preparing.

If you don't know your project inside out then how are you going to pitch it well enough that the development exec gets the full picture? You need to not only know your characters as well as you know yourself, but you also need to know your premise and have closed all those potential loopholes in your project. I know this sounds simple but it's easy to be too confident before a meeting and not prepare fully. If they ask you a question you need to be able to answer it there and then, but if not, ask them if you could come back to them with an answer, as above.

And most importantly show enthusiasm for your project, show them you believe in it, and more than likely they will too.

Good luck.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

HOW TO NETWORK LIKE A PRO


I'm off up to London tomorrow for a day of meetings with TV types, so I thought it would be a great idea to look back and revise a previous post on networking and how it will benefit your career. So here we go...

NETWORKING 

I have found by years of trial and error that the best way to get work, and make great strides in my career, is to put myself out there and meet and connect with as many people as possible. Am I just talking about 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 it's not good enough to just show a passing interest in other people's work, I believe you have be genuinely interested in what they're working on. If I'm not genuinely in them and their career then those people I'm talking to will soon start to suspect I'm sucking up to them  simply to further my career. Luckily 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 talk about what they are working on.

Remember it's all about them, not you, so never, ever go begging for work. Remain helpful, polite and never pushy. Talk to them, ask questions and avoid talking about yourself as much as possible. If you're asked a question try and answer it as briefly as you can, before you ask them another question. 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 used to keep a spreadsheet of people I made connections with, now there's a handy little app for the iPhone called CONNECTED that reminds me who I've had contact with, when and what we discussed. I couldn't live without it, as it can get quite confusing when I've have met literally hundreds of people, especially as I'm rubbish at remembering names. Some days I even need help remembering my own.

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.

There are plenty of other places to go and meet like minded  professionals including festivals, such as the London Screenwriters Festival, held every October in London. Not only will you meet a ton of writers at various levels, but also producers, directors and script editors. LSWF has now become so big it is now the most 'must attend' event on the calender. If you're thinking 'I can't afford to go', and you're serious about your career, then what you should actually be thinking is 'how can I afford NOT to go?'

There are also many other festivals, workshop and other great opportunities to network, set up by various well known and respected media bodies you should be looking at. You might even want to consider going on courses aimed at up and coming directors and producers... why? Because you'll probably be the only writer in a room full of hungry people who can get you screenplays made.


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, Twitter and Facebook. 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.

THE CALLING CARD SCRIPT


This is the one that best showcases your writing. It is not designed to ever get made (you're lucky if it does) but to show others what you can do. Make sure it is the best it can be before you send it out, as a sloppy, poorly written script will not impress anyone. And you need to send it out...to everyone - production companies first and places like the BBC Writersroom and Industrial Scripts, and then to smaller producers and directors and actors and just about everyone, but with this second group of people only if they request to read it first.

And this is where the networking comes into its own. 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 your script. If they like your work they might even offer you some work.

It's really all about building relationships, making friends and creating 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, February 18, 2015

PLAY NICE

The media business is a small world.

Behave badly, or develop a reputation for being awkward and people won't want to work with you. Hand your screenplays in late, or in an unacceptable, unfinished state and you'll be deemed unprofessional. People talk to each other in this business and reputation is everything.

It amazes me then that there are some people out there who still behave badly towards others. Luckily I've only met a handful of people like this and it's no surprise that in the majority of those cases I've never heard their names mentioned again, in relation to media career progression.

Don't be a plum! Don't sabotage your own fledgling career! Don't piss on people you might have to work for in the future! Here are a few of my simple rules to help you on your way...

  • Always be polite, even if you don't like the person.
  • Always be flexible where you can.
  • Never be rude if you don't agree with something. Present your case in a calm and logical fashion and if they still don't agree with you, move on.
  • Always honour your agreements.
  • Always hand your work in on time (earlier if you can).
  • Always make sure your work is the best it can be.
  • Never continually bother people when you approach them. If they don't reply back immediately they might just be busy.
  • Never be rude or derogatory about other people's work.
  • Always be professional.
  • Never be angry or vengeful.
  • Never rage against rejection.
  • Always remember it's never personal.
  • Always double check what you put out on social media.
  • Always have a smile on your face.

If you want to get far in this business if pays to play nice.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

There have been times in my career when I've seriously considered packing it all in and walking away for good. Where the promise of a regular income and a steady job seemed a whole lot better than the continuing struggle to get anyone to like my work, surviving on nothing but a few pennies a week.

Yesterday I read Lisa Holdsworth's excellent blog on rejection - read it HERE - where she nailed what it's like to be a writer and how we deal, or fail to deal with rejection. Every one of her points hit home and at the end of the blog post I was actually sniffing back tears.

She actually got me, got what it means and feels like to have my work rejected, and for once I felt I wasn't alone. That's the hardest part I think, the feeling of being alone and isolated with your 'shame' and 'anger', knowing that your family and friends, even though they mean well, don't really understand the crippling effect of being told 'NO'.

All writers face rejection, it's an occupational hazard. Every writer will at one time or another have to face it. But whether it's a project you've been working on for months that gets rejected or you're dumped from a project in favour of someone else, the mark of a great writer is that they learn to deal with it and move on. Yes the bad times can hurt as much as a kick in the fluffy bits - I've even had to sell my book collections and DVDs just to be able to eat on a couple of occasions when money was so tight - but I've learnt that nothing is forever.

Sometimes as writers I think we set up ourselves for most of our falls, happily telling everyone that will listen about a possible new project that physically and emotionally excites us, only later for it not to go ahead. It's hard not to share our excitement over possible projects with others. We see people so rarely that when we're asked what we're up to the temptation to blurt out every little detail is overwhelming.

Some writers are better at keeping things to themselves than others. Personally I'm crap at it and I'm sure it makes the rejection harder to deal with when you're asked..."What happened to your Vampire vs Robots project you told me ITV were interested in?" and you have to inform them ITV decided not to go ahead with the idea.

But it's not all bad. Us writers wouldn't do this for a living if it was.

There are days when you feel like nothing can dent your amour, that you're invincible and everyone loves you and what you do, when you just want to sing from the rooftops and tell everyone how well things are going. Those precious moments when a development exec says, "we really love your writing and we'd love to work with you," are the highlights that have us punching the air, strutting down the road as if we own the world. And for those few treasured moments, we do.

We are giants! We are superheroes! Our words are platinum! Our ideas genius! And the world is a beautiful place once again..!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

ROCLIFFE NOTES: A PROFESSIONAL APPROACH FOR SCREENWRITERS & WRITER-DIRECTORS by Farah Abushwesha

At last a screenwriting book that doesn't dedicate itself to the act of writing, but to the art of career building and survival instead, a rarely touched upon but much needed subject in my opinion.

It's the simplicity of this book is what makes it a winner for me.

How many other screenwriting books have you read where you get the author's knowledge and experience thrust upon you as if their unique way of doing things is the right way and the only way? Farah avoids this route, instead relying on advice from a multitude of industry professionals - including my awesome agent Christina - allowing for an easy read that is comfortable, informative and never preachy.

Farah poses relevant questions about all aspects of a screenwriting, or writing-directing career, briefly expanding on those questions with a quick paragraph, before posting the answers the industry professionals she interviewed gave. All the answers are precise, insightful and are mostly kept to a short paragraph. Farah then follows this up with helpful bullet pointed notes summing up the subject discussed in each section.

What this gives you is less the feel of an educational tomb, but more of a friendly chat in the pub over a few beers, making the information a great deal easier to digest.

It'll also give you an insight into what some production companies and producers are looking for currently. I've already highlighted the most interesting sections in my copy.

However, this is also a downside I can see with this book. Some of the information from producers and development execs, especially about what they're looking for, will soon be out of date, especially as development executives move on to different companies, as they often do, and their genre focuses change. But for me, that's a minor niggle. There's still plenty of information in between those pages to make a new writer weak at the knees and they will always be interested in great writing.

Subjects covered include; the job of a writer, what directors do, what producers do, other decision makers, the writing process, ideas, the many ways in to the industry, new talent, where new talent is hunted for, genres of writing, rejection, finding a producer, procrastinating, networking and a million other vital questions that need answers, far too many for me to list in this already very long blog post.

I was fortunate to be able to interview Farah and pick her brains. So in the style of the book, here's what she had to say...


DOM - Can you tell us a little about your background, how you got into writing and producing?

FARAH - Well I’ve written stories for years but I came late to writing, I grew up in Libya and the schooling system was different there. I spoke Arabic and English fluently but, arriving in Dublin at 7 years of age, I was basically illiterate. My grandmother, a school teacher, taught me to read and write to the level of my peers over two months. As I was separated from my parents, I used to write them letters and tell them stories. Both my father and my Irish uncle are poets and writers so it was in my blood on both sides, I recall going to many poetry readings and book launches. At my friends’ birthday parties I would make up plays and put on a show for when it came to be picked up and go home. Throughout senior school I would direct plays. When I moved to Paris, my friend Antonio and I made short films. Then responsibility set in and I realised a roof doesn’t stay over your head from ideas alone and I had to get a day job. I temped in the city and learned a little about business. I set up the Rocliffe New Writing Forums and that then led to producing my first movie No Deposit, No Return. It was about a desperate woman who broke into a sperm bank - so my two producing colleagues and I went to Cannes and asked everyone we met to donate their sperm and give us the proceeds. We raised £60,000 in sponsorship… first of the crowd funders! We were fools not to make a feature there and then. I guess I thought there was a right of passage — that we had to get in line and apply for permission to make ‘grown-up’ movies after we’d made a short. Believe me, looking back I’d be saying don’t hold yourself back.

DOM - Tell us about the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum and how and why you founded it?

FARAH - I came out of drama school, I found it so hard to get roles for women in their mid-20s. I had this great training across different types of scripts and was gagging to work. I had an agent but I was one of many queuing for those roles and everyone felt much prettier, more talented, thinner, crazier, more of everything I wasn’t. I wanted more than what was on offer. So a friend suggested getting writers together. I advertised on Shooting People which had exploded on the scene and united filmmakers, actors and writers left right and centre.  It was new and fresh. I advertised for writers to send in their work, printed them off, courtesy of the day job, and eight people turned up to do read-throughs.  I advertised again two weeks later - 30 people turned up to a small room above a pub. The idea was play reading, discussion and networking.  Pubs are great for networking. Then it kept growing and growing - we featured the early work of writers like James Dormer, Claire Wilson, Jack Thorne. It’s been amazing really. It started as a way to get my hands on material, support writers and create a network - I didn’t know any directors or writers back then. It was great. The real turning point was when we partnered up with BAFTA, who had a learning and events strand that it fit into.  It’s a mutually collaborative partnership, where we work together in the best interests of the writers, each bringing our skills to the table. What I love about it is that it is very personal, hands on; people get treated as individuals.

DOM - How did the idea for the book come about?

FARAH - I’d written a version of the book in 2010, then the Libyan Revolution came along and my father and family were there so I became a human rights activist and the book was forgotten. Then in 2013, I had been answering so many questions from writers that I decided to put them all in one place so I started the blog - using elements from the draft of the book. I was getting more than 1000 hits a week. I realised too that I’m not afraid to ask people for advice or their thoughts on the different mediums. So I asked Chris Sussman to write a blog for me about comedy writing. I realised how great it is to get advice and opinions from others. I had, at this point, thought no more of the book. I was speaking at the BFI London Film Festival in 2013 and having a coffee before my talk on line producing at Think-Shoot-Distribution. I bumped into Hannah Patterson and we were talking about the blog and she asked had I thought about making it into a book. She then explained she was a commissioning editor and asked to see the book proposal.  And it came from that.

DOM - What's the biggest mistake you see writers and writer/directors constantly make with regards to the growth of their careers?

FARAH - Overthinking can kill your confidence.  I believe, too, that some people I meet spend too much time being angry about things not happening for them or why other people have got the opportunities rather than making things or making things happen.  A writer needs to write. Many writers I meet don’t read enough or write enough. It’s all at your fingertips, go out and make something even with a phone - some great films out there. You have to commit to a career not a single screenplay. You need something to show for yourself. My biggest mistake was holding myself back; like with learning to read and write, I was a late developer.

DOM - As a producer can you tell us what you look for in writers and writer/directors you wish to work with (besides their projects of course)?

FARAH - What I would say is don’t work with people just because you are flattered by them asking you to work with them - it’s really a personality game and you need to feel you can work with them and really believe in the project or it will be hell or high water. Trust your instincts.

DOM - Should writers consider becoming writer/directors?

FARAH - It’s not a tick box - it’s a craft. Do it if you want to direct? If you want to direct, go do it! Don’t wait for permission.  Know what directing is - go on set, talk to cinematographers, lighting teams and sound recordists. I tried directing - I was so naive - I’d approach it differently today because I’ve been on set - when I did it first, I hadn’t a clue. I hadn’t run the film enough times in my head filmically.  I loved the edit though.  

DOM - As a writer, what's the one thing you can't live without and why?

FARAH - Facebook! Everyone needs to procrastinate. Seriously though, my notebook and pencil case - I’m always making notes.

DOM - Which screenwriting book from your own collection would you recommend and why?

FARAH - Hmmm… I think this is going to sound a little left of centre and not quite screenwriting but I would say the Artists and Writers Yearbook. Writing is writing and rewriting and knowing your craft and there are too many GREAT books out there. What do you do with that talent? You need to know where to send your script/book/work out there and the best start is that book.  It lists everything you need for a career.

DOM - Do you have any plans for future screenwriting books?

FARAH - Not necessarily screenwriting books but there are more in the Rocliffe Notes series. I’ve written an outline for a book about growing up in Libya, another about the relationship my grandmother had with the revolutionary Maud Gonne and a novel. Let’s see what happens next.

I've just thought of another downside to this book... it's too damn good! There's going to be far more, well informed writers out there competing for the same jobs as me from now on. Bum!

Happy writing!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

WRITING FOR EMOTIONAL IMPACT by Karl Iglesias

This book has been in my 'to read' pile for a while now. Curiosity finally got the better of me.
Do you emotionally connect with your audience?

As a writer/reader I've read a ton of scripts for clients over the years, some good, some bad and some indifferent. It's the indifferent screenplays that have been the biggest disappointment for me, as clearly the writers had talent, their ideas were solid, but their work lacked any emotional depth and therefore lacked appeal. No emotional impact = no connection with the reader. Very frustrating!

A new writer recently sent me the first two screenplays he had written and while they lacked any technical ability, I could clearly see the emotional core in each piece. The fact his writing lacked technicality in structure, plot, character and dialogue didn't matter, as I could tell he was writing from the heart, and his stories drew me in. I know for sure that when he learns the technical side of his craft he's going to be a very powerful writer indeed.

I've always been of the opinion that an emotional connection with an audience is something that comes naturally and can't be taught. I find it easy to write with an emotional eye, creating ideas and characters than move me, most of the time without even thinking about it. Surely it couldn't be taught? Karl's book was to prove me wrong.

Unlike other screenwriting books Karl's focuses entirely on how to emotionally connect with your audience, to involve them in your characters' journeys and have the audience hooked from start to finish, which sets it aside from pretty much every other screenwriting book I've read previously. At the most other screenwriting guides have only briefly touched on the subject.

Karl doesn't just talk about high concept, he delves deeper, investigating what makes an idea appealing in the first place, going beyond the story to discuss genre, ways to improve your idea's appeal and how a screenplay's title can be used to draw an audience in. He doesn't stop there. Theme and uuniversal meaning are also explored, empathy with characters, their situations, the obstacles they face, what they say, what they don't, rising tension, mesmerising moments, engaging the audience and most importantly, how every scene plays a part in building a memorable experience for the audience.

In fact since reading Karl's book I've been trying to remember reading another book that goes into so much detail and examines so microscopically how every written word can have an emotional impact, and I have to admit I came up blank.

The biggest idea (and revelation, if I'm honest - why I never thought of this before I have no idea) in the book for me was Karl's insistence that we, as screenwriters, are only writing for one person and one person only. That person is the READER. And he's right. We're not writing for those movie goers sat munching their popcorn in the cinema, or those couch potatoes sat at home watching TV, we are writing to please the READER - who will be the one deciding whether our screenplay is worthy of progression or not. When you think of it like that it truly helps to focus the mind and helps make the whole process seem that little less daunting.

If you haven't got a copy of this book go and buy one right now, your writing will be a lot richer for it.

Happy writing.