Wednesday, April 02, 2014

AN INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS LUNT


I recently got the chance to interview Chris Lunt, writer and creator of PREY, a new three-part crime thriller coming soon to ITV. Here's what he had to say...
      
DOM - When did you first know you wanted to be a writer and what was it that influenced you?

CHRIS - I've wanted to be a writer all my life. I can remember writing plays about a character called KNAVE when I was about seven (I didn't know it was a real word or a jazz mag at the time). Knave was a sort of Han Solo character, I might have to dust him off. I started taking writing seriously about ten years ago, and turned professional in 2010 following redundancy. I love movies, I read books, I'd like to say that either are particularly arty or intellectual, but they're not.  I love STAR WARS, STAR TREK, INDIANA JONES. I read biographies to inspire characters in my writing, but beyond that I'll read sci fi novels, or stuff about UFO's which I love.

DOM - What was your first screenplay and what valuable lessons did you learn from it?

CHRIS - It was a thing called G2, which started out as a possible DOCTOR WHO spin-off set in the 1800's that got knocked back. At the time I didn't have the confidence to write it myself, so the company I was working for brought in another writer. I realized pretty quickly I could be doing a better job, so I think the important lesson was 'give it a go'. I spent a lot of time pitching that, and learned A LOT about how the film industry works. I'm pretty good at spotting the blind alley's now.

DOM - How long have you been writing and what were your achievements before you got your big break?

Chris Lunt - writer/creator of PREY
CHRIS - I've been writing professionally since April 13th 2010 - the day I was made redundant. I thought "it's now or never" and had a bit of redundancy money to act as a buffer. Things happened very quickly after that, and I think part of it was not having a safety net. Talk about focusing your mind. I'm not sure I'd have ever made it if it hadn't been make or break time, and, as terrifying as it might sound I'd recommend it to any writer - lose the safety net. Before the writing took off I worked for a CGI company doing sales and client handling, and before that I was a camera man for the Discovery Channel. I was 'The Eye' on a series called TWO'S COUNTRY you'll never have heard of. I think both those roles, the camera work and the CGI, gave me a practical understanding of how stories work through the lens - obvious for the camerawork, but in CGI the whole shot exists in those frames and that gives you a perspective on what works and why it works. My writing is very descriptive, and I think that's through those two threads of experience. Another bit of advice I'd give writers is get an overview of how things work.

DOM - What was your big break and how did it come about?

CHRIS - Meeting Nicola Shindler at Red Productions. I wouldn't be anywhere without Nicola and Richard Fee and Caroline Hollick, my script editors. I had no right to say I was a writer when I met them, but Nicola saw something in me and never stopped pushing me forward. The best thing that has ever happened to me professionally is getting PREY greenlit and having Red Productions make it.

DOM - What motivates you?

CHRIS - My partner Catherine, and not being able to pay the mortgage.

DOM - Who have you enjoyed working with so far and why?

CHRIS - Honestly, I've enjoyed working with everyone. Early struggles gave me a pretty good bull-shit detector, so now I know when to avoid even stepping off down that route. Apart from the brilliant Red Productions, I've worked with Hartswood, Wall 2 Wall, the BBC, ITV, many more - Elaine Cameron, Eleanor Greene, Polly Hill, Phil Collinson, among many others, and they've been nothing but supportive. Right now I'm working with Drama Republic on two script commissions, and they're great people, and Kindle Entertainment on another and I'm really enjoying that. I'm very much a collaborator, so I think that helps, you know, when they realize you'll take criticism and do your best to work with notes etc. Also, and this is really important to realize, getting knock-backs is a major part of this game. If you're not getting a knock-back a month then you're not working hard enough. You have to take them, brush yourself off, then get on it with a smile of your face. You can never see your arse or sulk! If you're good to work with, then the people your working with will be too and they'll want to work with you again. You have to be that person they want to be in the room with. Maybe I'm lucky, but there's no-one I've worked with that I wouldn't work with again post going professional. I have been working with the Guvnor, Jed Mercurio, on one job, and that's just been great. He's brilliant and a top, top bloke.

DOM - Who would you most like to work with in the future?

CHRIS - Honestly, I don't know. I do have a very specific plan - something I want to do, and my agent knows this and we're working towards it. It might not happen, but even if it doesn't I know I'll be somewhere on the road towards it. Some people - a very famous Showrunner in fact - said at last years BBC Writers Festival  that he didn't have a plan, that writers can't have a plan. I totally disagree with that. My plan is a ten year one, I'm four years into it right now, and I think I'm heading in the right direction. So long as your heading towards something, surely that's an achievement, even if you don't attain the actual goal. Besides, this Showrunner had ended up running the one gig he'd been a fan of since he was two-years-old. No plan?! Then it was a hell of a fucking coincidence!

DOM - Describe your working day?

CHRIS - None of this "I write till 2pm and go for a walk" bollocks. My hours are 9 - 6, 9 - 6. 9 - 8. 9 - 1. 9 - 6.... I'll work Sunday for a couple of hours if I've fallen behind on something. If I don't have a gig I'm being paid for then I'll work on new stuff or spec stuff. I have two spec scripts doing the rounds at the moment, one of which is being optioned.

DOM - How did you land your agent?

CHRIS - Ironically, his agency owned the rights to that character my spec script was about, so I contacted him asking if they were available, he liked the cut of my jib and signed me. We since moved to Casarotto together. My agent, Rob Kraitt, is brilliant. We're a great team as I'm fine in the room and knocking on doors and being mouthy and he's a brilliant agent. He's a good mate now.

DOM - What things can you not live without in your work space?

CHRIS - Right now I'm looking at an Ipad, an arcade machine, a TV with Xbox360, PS3 and Atari 2600, a coffee machine, two comfy chairs and a lot of movie posters. My office is damn fine. I write to music, so I need that too!

DOM - Coffee or tea, and how much while you're working?

CHRIS - Coffee, espresso, five or six a day. I have a Dolce Gusto coffee machine, the one that looks like a duck. It's red.

DOM - What one piece of film and TV do you wish you had written?

CHRIS - Oooooooh... I love The Shield, and I'd kill to be smart enough to write something like Modern Family. I'd love to write on a series like Star Trek if it ever comes back. And there's this one movie franchise... I've said too much!

DOM - What are your five top tips for new writers?

CHRIS - Work hard, I do and I'm the competition... Be a team player, you're not always going to have your own way, but the best idea's will win, so have them, don't spit your dummy out if you don't get your own way... do your best with notes, no matter how much you might disagree with them, one of two things will happen - they'll realize they've given you a bad note, or you'll realize they didn't. What they will know for certain is that you tried your best to make it work.... Build relationships, but only with the right people. Trust your instincts and avoid the bullshitters even if they're promising you the world, do research, don't mither, work on being good in the room, that means being able to pitch, people buy into 'you' as much as what your pitching... Finally,  and to my mind most important - focus! When I started four years ago I quickly became part of a peer group of similarly emerging writers. The majority of them were also producing short films, directing, or doing this and that, that's absolutely fine, but I was a writer - it's all I do, all day, everyday, and it took that focus to achieve anything. A lot of those guys are still producing short films, or directing or this and that. I'm still writing. But now I'm getting paid for it. Ironically, I'm also being offered exec production and Showrunner roles (although I much prefer the idea of Lead Writer to Showrunner).

The awesome John Simm giving it moody!
DOM - Tell us about Prey?

CHRIS - It's a three part ITV drama about a copper, Marcus Farrow (played by John Simm) who gets accused of a crime he didn't commit. I can't say much more than that. But I will say that I'm very, very happy with how it's turned out. It was directed by Nick Murphy, and he's done an incredible job. There's a screening for the RTS and Indie Club on the 23rd of April, so if anyone goes to that they should say hello.

DOM - What else are you working on at the moment?

CHRIS - Bringing Down the Krays for Drama Republic and the BBC, Dreamland for Drama Republic and ITV, Division for ITV in-house, The Famous Five for Kindle and ZDF, and Driven for Slim Film and TV, BBC and AMC... they're the script commissions, there's a pile of other stuff in development too. 

DOM - Any last words?

CHRIS - Writing is absolutely the best job in the world. There's no feeling like being on a big set and knowing this is all down to you. Seeing your characters brought to life by serious actors, and the vision realized by the director and producers is fantastic. To achieve that it has to really be what you want, and perhaps most importantly, you have to really be honest with yourself and believe you can do it. In my experience there are two types of emerging writers - those that in their heart of hearts think they can do it, and those who actually, if they were being truly truthful, don't. You can go from one to the other. For me, it was redundancy. It went from a nice dream to something that HAD to happen, or I'd have to go and find something else to do to make a living. You have to cross that bridge. Oh, and yeah, you'll know you're a pro when other peoples success stops feeling like your failure. Don't let those who lampoon your ambitions bring you down. It is in the nature of monkeys to throw shit.

Brilliant stuff, thanks Chris.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

LOW BUDGET - POOR QUALITY?

I bought a DVD of a low budget film last week. The cover looked good, the trailer looked great, the cast looked fantastic... but for all the production value obviously poured into the film there was still something lacking... a decent script.

There are some great, well written and very entertaining low budget films out there, but there is also a lot of dross. I can't understand why this is because I know for a fact there are a lot of up and coming, very talented writers out there desperate for a break, so why are low budget films still being made with substandard screenplays?

The one I watched last week was written, directed and edited by the same person. The visuals were excellent, something you would find on a film with a higher budget, it was well shot and acted yet the plot didn't match up to the rest of the effort put in. Why? Was it an ego trip on behalf of the director, that he felt he needed to write the screenplay too, to keep control of his vision? Surely he knew the screenplay was lacking? I can't believe for a moment he didn't care, not when he had taken so much time and obvious effort over the rest of the film. So why not put the same effort into the screenplay?

The thing that bugged me most about the film was the fact there was about thirty minutes of scenes repeating exactly the same thing, getting over the same point again and again with different characters and introducing new characters late on to hammer home the same point. And the worse thing is it did it all with dialogue and not with action. In truth only one of those scenes were needed. Just one. That's roughly twenty-seven minutes of film wasted on nothing.

I really don't understand why anyone would risk making something that is less than brilliant when it's their reputation on the line. There really is no excuse, there are plenty of writers out there who can produce a script worthy of your efforts, so why not use them?

It's what we do.

It's all we do.

Give a new writer the opportunity to show you what they can do. I'm sure they will surprise you. At the very least have a professional reader take a look at your script and give you notes on how it can be improved, then work on it.

Directors, don't just settle for any old script just because you wrote it and want to retain control. That way you're spreading yourself too thin. Concentrate on what you're good at and let us writers do what we do best, then there will be many more high quality low budget films to come.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

SUPPORTING YOUR PEERS

I have always considered the film and TV industry, and especially fellow writers, as a community, one massive family, a support network I can rely on when I'm having an off day. As creatives we all jump over the same hurdles to get our passion projects and visions up there on the screen and experience the same pain and frustration when we don't quite make it, so when someone I know has overcome all obstacles to actually finish something, then I'm damn well going to make sure I support them in some way or another.

Recently there was the DVD and Blu-ray launch of STALLED, directed by Christian James and written by and starring Dan Palmer, a superb comedy horror that knocks the socks off pretty much anything else out there at the moment. So to support Dan and Christian I not only bought a copy of the DVD I also posted this picture of me with it on Facebook.
My hilarious attempt to help promote the STALLED DVD release. 

My wife thought I was mad! Christian said I went above and beyond the call of duty! To be honest I don't mind embarrassing myself to help promote something I thoroughly enjoyed. Dan and Christian did an amazing job and I can't wait to see what they come up with next.

Then last night I went to see DRUNK ON LOVE, screened at Lighthouse Poole, as part of Indie Screen Dorset. Even though I've already seen the film once it was great to see it again on the big screen and see how others reacted to it, and of course support producer Ben Richardson and writer/director David Bryant. I'd previously spoken to them via email and Messenger and it was wonderful to meet them in the flesh and have a good natter about their work, how it's being received and what they are working on next.

So if you have a feature due for cinematic or DVD release, or you have a TV episode due to air, email me about it, as I'm always interested in seeing what other people are up to.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

DEFERRED PAYMENT


You're offered your first feature commission. You're super excited. Then the producer tells you it will be on a deferred payment basis. Do you panic, throw your dummy out of the pram and demand payment up front? No... and here's why.

I've seen plenty of new writers on the web tell other new writers they should never work for free and they should always ask for payment upfront. Absolute nonsense! They are probably still wondering why they have yet to land a commission themselves.

As a new writer it would be almost impossible to get paid upfront for your first commission. Your writing might be awesome and the best they've ever seen, but you're untried and you don't have any box office figures to back up your talent. Therefore you're considered a risk and no one is going to pay you upfront because of this.

Most features are paid on a deferred payment basis, especially low budget features. The producer doesn't want to pay out his own money if the project never makes it to production. And why should he? Doing this for even just one project could lead to that producer being bankrupt.

So for a writer it's a gamble to write a screenplay for a deferred payment. If it doesn't get funding or go into production you'll never see a penny. It's also a risk for the producer, relying on the strength of your talent to provide the funding to get your words shot. But it's a risk worth taking.

Writing that first commission on a deferred payment gets you off the ground. It gets you a credit. It launches your career. You can put it on your CV. So what if it doesn't get funding and never gets made, producers know projects fail to get funding, or get made, all the time. You were commissioned to write something, that says something about you. Fingers crossed your screenplay gets funded and goes into production within a couple of years and you get paid. Happy days if it does!

Sometimes though it won't get funding and you won't get paid, but at least you'll still have the experience of writing to a brief and a deadline to fall back on for your next commission. You could always ask the producer for a small payment up front, a couple of thousand maybe, just to help with your living expenses while you write the screenplay. Most producers will understand and won't mind you asking. You might even get lucky and find they do pay you an advance.

Remember it's easier for the producer to get funding if he has a script ready to go and a lot more difficult if he doesn't. Would you part with your money for just an idea? Then why should they?



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

GUEST BLOG - THE DECISION


THE DECISION: LIZZIE’S STORY
A prochoice-orientated novel & transmedia series,"Lizzie's Diary" playing out in real time on Twitter & FacebookCOMING IN MARCH 2014!!
 
A 17 yo young woman with a bright academic future discovers she's pregnant and is faced with ALL of the possible outcomes of her decision: abortion; miscarriage; single parenthood, etc.
 
WHAT IF … you could play out everything that *could* happen next in your life?
 
The bright Lizzie, 17, has big plans, but can she have the life she wanted, with a baby in tow? What will her family and friends say? And what will the baby’s father choose to do: stay out of it, or stand by her? 
 
Working on the notion some moments in time are unchangeable, Lizzie will find herself pregnant, then have to choose what to do next. Lizzie will be presented with ALL of the possible scenarios and discover some are not as bad as they seem and others worse than she imagines.
 
It’s 2014, but the issue of teenage pregnancy is STILL stereotyped and oversimplified by the media and politicians"On average, we think teenage pregnancy is 25 times higher than official estimates:  we think that 15% of girls under 16 get pregnant each year, when official figures suggest it is around 0.6%[i]." SOURCE: Ipsos Mori 
 
The novel will be available to buy at Amazon & all good bookshops. Find THE DECISION: LIZZIE'S STORY in the German Language,  BAUCHENTSCHEIDUNG (“Gut Decision”) & Hay’s previous books, here.
 
Don't miss out on this online event … Follow Lizzie: she is tweeting as @LizziesDecision. "Like" the official Facebook page for Lizzie's Diary, coming soon.
 
MORE INFORMATION: Contact Julian Friedmann on Julian@blakefriedmann.co.uk or Lucy Hay on Bang2write@aol.com

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

OPPORTUNITIES

It's not enough to just have a talent as a writer to get ahead, you also need to recognise and take your opportunities when they are presented to you. If you don't, several years from now, when you're sitting in your freezing cold bedsit, you'll still be wondering why your career hasn't gone anywhere.

Every opportunity has to be grabbed and made the most off, because if you don't take them then someone else will. There are tens of thousands of writers out there all trying to grow a career and you have to make yourself stand out from the crowd. You might overload yourself with work at first but as you grow as a writer and become more experienced, you'll get to know which opportunities are the ones to pursue and which are the ones to politely decline.

Of course opportunities very rarely appear out of thin air and the vast majority have to be worked for. Making connections, collaborations, occasionally working for free and making yourself invaluable to other media types will go a long way towards this. If you get a reputation for being helpful, polite and good to work with, the opportunities will soon flow your way. You don't need to go looking for them.

A successful writer grabs every opportunity and makes the most of it. An unsuccessful writer doesn't. Which are you?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

TIME AWAY

Just finished a draft? What do you do now?

Send your script out to two or three people you trust to give you constructive feedback, then save it and forget about it. That's right, forget about your screenplay. When you get your feedback hide that away too. Whatever you do don't send your script out, it's not ready despite how well polished you think it might be. New writers make this mistake far too often and here's why it's a bad thing to do.

You've been working hard on your script, close to it for weeks, maybe even months. The temptation to say, 'Ah, it's done,' is overwhelming sometimes, but because you have been so closely focused on the screenplay you have become blind to any faults it has. You need time away, to have a breather and get a fresh perspective on things. Too many new writers, and believe me I've done this myself, see a competition deadline coming and start writing a few weeks before it, rushing to get the screenplay completed. By doing this they don't give the work enough time to grow and they often wonder why the don't do well in competitions. The reason is simple; your screenplay isn't ready and though you may be blind to its faults, the reader won't be. It's better to start several months before the deadline, not a few weeks. Give yourself time to get your work to a stage that is going to impress.

I'll give you a recent example of a feature I had been working solidly on for about eight weeks last year, from the first rough draft to a second more complete version. I was really pleased with it and I left it alone for three months and last week sent it to a director I know for his feedback. What he had to say was invaluable and I quote...
"I think it’s a little too idyllic for the subject matter. Everything seems to be a bit too perfect and easy for someone who’s gay and coming out in the countryside in the 60s. The only real tension comes from the two bullies. Everyone seems pretty accepting of Toby. His real obstacle seems to come from himself accepting, but there doesn’t seem to be too much soul searching."
And because I've had that space from the screenplay I can also see that now, I even saw it when I reread it, before I even looked at the director's notes. His feedback just confirmed what I was already thinking. So of course the next rewrite will concentrate on the point he raised.

So once you've had a gap away from your screenplay say after a month, maybe two, open your document again and reread it, making notes as you go. Write down where you think the screenplay is weak and what you can do to improve it. Then, and only then, read your feedback notes, at least twice. Compare those notes to yours and make further notes if you need to. Then put it all away again for a couple of days.

When you come back to your screenplay read it again and the notes. By now the notes would have sunk in and you should have a very good idea of where the screenplay falls short. The rewrite will now be a lot easier. When it's done you'll have a well rounded script. Of course the more times you can repeat this the better your script is going to get. I would suggest doing this at least three times. When you see the amount of constructive criticism reducing then you know your screenplay is ready.

Have fun and happy writing.