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.

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.