Wednesday, August 26, 2015

MY FIRST SHORT FILM

I had a pleasant surprise when I opened up Facebook this morning. Right at the top of the most recent stories was a post from my good friend Arne Reidar Mortensen with the simple words... 'Remember this one?'
And there it was the link to the You Tube video of my very first short film - you can watch it here - shot by Arne and his friends and broadcast on TV Vest in Norway way back in 2008. It also made the local Norwegian papers. It brought back some great memories, specifically the excitement of production and the anticipation of seeing my words translated to the screen for the very first time. A lot has happened with my career since then, but I'll always look back at AGN with a great deal of fondness and pride.

Short films are a great way of showcasing your writing talent and they're easy to make. Have you got a smart phone with a camera? Then you can go and film something. Rope some friends in to help you make it. Upload it to You Tube. Get yourself and your writing out there. Proactive people get noticed. There's simply no excuse for sitting on your backside and doing nothing.

It doesn't matter if the first one you make is rubbish, you'll learn from it. The next will be better. And the one after that will be even better still.

Go make a short film. What do you have to lose?

Happy Writing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

BLOG PAST - SUBTEXT

This blog was originally posted on Wednesday, June 05, 2013


Writing subtext in dialogue should come automatically to writers, but I still see a lot of on the nose dialogue in the scripts I'm sent to read. So how can you prevent obvious dialogue creeping in and make sure your screenplay is layered with rich subtext?

The way I do it may not work for everyone but at least it will give you an idea of how easy it is to weave subtext in. For me it's like building blocks, you start at the bottom and build up. When I write a first draft I always write the dialogue in plain English so I know exactly what is happening in any particular scene. I don't try and hide what is being thought by the characters, I just write it plain and on the nose.

GEORGE
I was just wondering how are you and Sam getting along, have you patched up your differences yet?

RUTH
No, I hate him... in fact I wish he was dead.

When I sit down and do another pass on the first draft I will look at the dialogue in every scene and decide how I'm going to get rid of the obvious dialogue and replace it with subtext.

GEORGE
(careful)
I saw Sam the other day.

RUTH
(abrupt)
I fancy a tea. Want one?

This is why subtext is important. It's not what the characters say, it's what they don't say and what they imply. The first example is too obvious while the second shows how reluctant George is to mention Sam and equally how much Ruth is determined not to talk about him. Ruth's reaction illustrates just how she feels about Sam without stating the obvious.

So if you're stuck on how to write subtext then just write it plain English to start with, then go back and try to hint at what you want to say, without actually saying it in an obvious way. Your screenplays will be richer for it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

TITLES

A good title is important. Get it right and it helps to sell your screenplay. Get it wrong and you risk losing your audience before they've even turned to page one of your screenplay.

Here are some some examples (including a couple of my own) to help you see what works and what doesn't.

'SNAKES ON A PLANE'

 Short and to the point, you know instantly you're getting an action movie set on a plane full of snakes. It practically sells itself. A marketing dream in fact. Bet they didn't have to spend much money at all on marketing the film. I remember the excitement over the title, the internet buzz and the word of mouth. It had an inbuilt audience even before the film had finished shooting. Snakes on a mother frickin plane!!!

'THE ROARING FORTIES'

The original title of a football sitcom about six men in their forties, written by Brendan O'Neill and myself. My agent hated the title, said it conjured images of a historical drama either set during or after WWII. She was right. Needless to say the title has now changed to something more suitably footbally.

'WHO KILLED NELSON NUTMEG?'

The brainchild of my friends Danny Stack and Tim Clague. 'Who Killed' instantly lets you know this  is a mystery waiting to be solved and the name 'Nelson Nutmeg' can only mean one thing... comedy! As a low budget film it won't have much of a marketing budget, if at all, so the title is important in hooking the audience in from the get go.

'THE ENGLISHMAN WHO WENT UP A HILL BUT CAME DOWN A MOUNTAIN'

I tend to keep my titles short, one or two words if possible. Although this title tells you exactly what the film is about I do feel it's too long and might have put people off going to see it. Let's put it this way, if you're queueing at the cinema, with loads of people waiting impatiently behind you itching to get their ticket and popcorn, you don't really want to have to spout this mouthful when paying for your seat. What title do you think would have worked better?

'JUMANJI'

Complicated or unusual titles can be confusing. Being a little dyslexic I hate having to ask for a ticket to see a film I have trouble pronouncing. Also you can never really be sure of what you're getting with a cryptic title. For those of you who haven't seen the film, what does this title conjure up for you? Those of you who have seen the film will know it's the name of the board game that sucks the players into a real-life jungle filled with dangers, from which they have to escape. For me it doesn't really say 'children's adventure film', because unless you know the title refers to a board game you might be left scratching your head wondering what the hell it's actually about. If you make your title ambiguous or cryptic you've already lost part of your potential audience. Don't make it difficult for them to choose your film.

'PLAYGROUND'

This is the title for a thriller feature I was commissioned for, set in the world of African child soldiers. The title suggests innocence and its loss, friendship and bullying, joy and sorrow and all those emotions and challenges evoked when we remember our own childhood in school playgrounds.

So as you can see titles are very important. Some work. Some don't. So don't always go with your first choice, like your first draft of your screenplay play around with it, change it, think on it and make it better.

Happy Writing.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

FIRST DRAFT - PART THREE

So here are the rewritten opening pages of my thriller feature.
FADE IN:
EXT. CITY - NIGHT 
A myriad of coloured lights twinkle across the bustling metropolis.  Always busy.  Never sleeping.  Eight and a half million strangers sardined within its boundaries. 
It appears deceptively peaceful.  It won’t be for long. 
EXT. INNER CITY HIGH-RISE - NIGHT 
A tall, ugly concrete high-rise that may have once been called luxury, but is now just old, worn and dirty, like its inhabitants. 
From a distance we see a WORKMAN, tool box in hand, stride towards the graffiti scrawled front entrance. 
INT. LIFT - NIGHT 
DEXTER (53), the workman we saw moments ago, stands expressionless in the far corner of the lift. 
He wears a blue workman’s overall, baseball cap, brown hair underneath, glasses and a tool box.  A screwdriver in his breast pocket.  An ID card hangs from a strap around his neck. 
Tinny Muzak plays.  The halogen light exacerbates Dexter’s pasty skin and the dark circles under his eyes. 
A ping as the lift arrives at Dexter’s desired floor.  He exits into... 
FOURTEENTH FLOOR CORRIDOR 
Automatic lights flicker on, illuminate the pale green walls in a eerie glow.  The colour reflects off Dexter’s skin, makes him look like one of the living dead. 
Dexter walks to the far end of the corridor, halts in front of apartment one-four-five.  He knocks with a latex gloved hand.  A long moment... 
...then the door opens a crack. 
THOMPSON (33) peaks through, flashes a questioning look.  Dexter shows him his ID. 
THOMPSON
‘Bout time. 
Thompson opens the door wide, leads the way into... 
THOMPSON’S APARTMENT, HALLWAY 
Dexter closes the door behind him. 
THOMPSON
Bloody thing’s been playing up all afternoon. 
Dexter pulls the screwdriver from his top pocket to reveal a cleverly disguised syringe... 
THOMPSON (CONT’D)
Fuckin’ freezin’ in here. 
...and stabs Thompson in the neck, depresses the button. 
Thompson half turns, surprised.  He tries to grab the now empty syringe but his legs give way.  He’s unconscious before he hits the floor. 
THOMPSON’S APARTMENT, BATHROOM - MOMENTS LATER 
Dexter enters, deposits his tool box on the floor, opens it, takes out two empty pill bottles and one half full. 
He lines up all three on the lip of the bath. 
THOMPSON’S APARTMENT, HALLWAY - MOMENTS LATER 
Dexter slips his hands under Thompson’s arms, hoists him upwards, with a gargantuan effort hefts him onto his shoulders in a fireman’s lift. 
A momentary stumble, Dexter steadies himself then carries Thompson carefully towards the bathroom. 
THOMPSON’S APARTMENT, BATHROOM - MOMENTS LATER 
Dexter settles the unconscious Thompson in the bath.  He reaches into his tool box, extracts a bottle of Jim Beam and a funnel, presses Thompson’s fingers to the top, the body of the bottle and to all the pill bottles. 
Dexter discards the Jim Beam bottle top on the bathroom floor.  He opens Thompson’s mouth, uses the funnel to pour the whiskey and a few of pills from the half full bottle down his throat. 
A dying Thompson gags, pure reflex, vomits a little back up. 
Dexter sprinkles a few of the pills on the floor, then places the bottle into Thompson’s hand and steps back to admire his work. 
Satisfied, the funnel goes back in the tool box, the lid closed.  A phone vibrates in Dexter’s pocket.  He checks the screen. 
C.U. ON PHONE: A message from a contact listed as ‘BITCH!!!’ - “Have you REPLIED to the letter yet????????” 
Irritated, Dexter deletes the message, drops the phone into his pocket, picks up the tool box.  Ever the professional Dexter takes one last look around and then exits.
Besides the tidying, condensing and general improvements, there are two major changes in this version. The first is the absence of the YUMMY MUMMY.

Originally she was there to highlight the fact Dexter was trying to remain anonymous, by dipping his head so she couldn't see his face. However, on reflection I decided she really didn't serve a purpose. I feel the scene is significantly better without her and far more menacing than the slightly comical original.

The second was no longer having Dexter collapsing in pain. The original idea was that he was ill and motivated to take one last big job because of this. In the end I decided terminal illness was too cliche and swapped it for a intriguing text message instead. Again there is still the mystery - Who is the text from? What do they want? Why does Dexter ignore it? - this time I feel the answer isn't so clear and hopefully the reader will be further motivated to stick around and learn more.

I hope you've enjoyed this little exercise and it's helped you understand how another writer might construct their scenes.

Happy Writing!

Friday, July 10, 2015

MANCHESTER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL UK COMPETITION

The Manchester International Film Festival UK are running a competition in the run up to the festival  and there's a very helpful and sought after prize up for grabs. Get your entries in quick.

5 COPIES OF FINAL DRAFT 9 TO GIVE AWAY

In the run up to the festival JULY 10th – 12TH we have five copies of final draft 9 (or alternatively V.I.P. all access passes for U.K. residents/visitors) as prizes for anyone who can answer our advanced screenwriting question.

We didn’t want a simple generic question so we asked our mystery screenwriter to come up with something special and particularly difficult.

ADVANCED SCREENWRITING QUESTION:
       
What is the MORAL of the Oscar winning film BABETTE’S FEAST?
         
Answers to be sent to programming@maniff.com  (Subject line:  screenwriting question)

Winning answers (or as close to it) will be announced on JULY 12TH.

Good luck!

Happy Writing!

Friday, July 03, 2015

FINAL DRAFT WRITER APP FOR IPHONE

I don't own an iPad so it's been frustrating to have to carry a laptop with me on my travels if I wanted to work on my screenplays. Now thankfully the lovely people at Final Draft have come to my rescue and provided an app for the iPhone. I am with joy!

It has the same functionality of the full version of the software, only simplified for my mobile. I love the fact I can ignore the majority of the functions, allowing me the freedom to just write while I'm out and I don't have to worry about anything else (unless I want to) until I get home and I can upload it to the full program on my computer. I find this an advantage as there's less opportunity for destruction and it really helps to focus my mind.

For those of you who want a little more you can still add general notes, lock pages, add and remove scene numbers, set up your page just how you like it, use character highlighting, smart type, headers & footers, title page and you can even change your page view.

Files can easily be uploaded or downloaded and you can work on files direct from your Dropbox account too, so you can take any of your screenplays, or other documents to work on at your leisure, anywhere you want. It's smooth, easy to use and comes with handy instructions on how to use it, not that'll you'll really need them it's that easy. And the best thing is it doesn't cost much.

However, I do have one niggle... on the iPhone 5/s typing is a little awkward, especially if you have large fingers, but with the larger screens on the iPhone 6 I suspect this won't be much of a problem. As I said it is only one niggle and a little one at that. Otherwise it's a fantastic app and one you should be downloading today.

I really don't know how I've survived without it for so long. Thanks Final Draft!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

SUMMER WRITING

It's hot! The sun is out! All your mates are going up the pub, having BBQs, or going down the beach! You want to write, but the call of the summer is too strong.

At the best of times it's hard to motivate yourself to spend a few hours each day sat in a dark room in front of a computer, putting words and punctuation together to form your latest screenwriting masterpiece. You don't need summer getting in the way of your career and equally you don't want to miss out on all that vital vitamin D. So turn this sunny weather to your advantage.

Load up what you're working on onto your laptop, grab your notes, get a nice cold drink with plenty of ice and go and work outside. Don't forget the suncream. Find a nice cool spot in the garden, in the local park or even at a table outside a coffee bar and get ready to write like your life depends on it.

Turn your wi-fi off on your laptop so you can't connect to the internet or email. Even better leave your mobile at home. Give yourself a page/word target for the day. Make sure it's just you and your work. Then get your head down and get on with it.

You'll be surprised at how much you can get done in such a short space of time. Without the internet and your email there to distract you, you should fly through the pages. Then when you hit your daily target you can pack up and bugger off to enjoy the rest of the day.

Don't punish yourself! Don't force yourself to sit in a dark room when you'd rather be outside. Go on, get out there and enjoy the sun while you write... you deserve it after all.