Wednesday, January 30, 2013

REWRITES REVISITED

Yesterday, Claire Yeowart answered one of my Tweets when I posted I was working on two rewrites at the same time.
@ClaireYeowart One feature rewrite. Major overhaul type. Never done such a massive rewrite in one sitting so finding it difficult!
So I thought it was time to link back to a couple of old posts about rewriting to help those who are struggling to get it done. Here's the FIRST, a little comedy blog about how rewrites are so hard, and here's the SECOND, a more serious blog about how to split the workload down so it doesn't overwhelm you.

Happy reading and writing.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

YOU ARE WHAT YOU WATCH

I find watching TV and films regularly is a must if you're a writer, even stuff you don't like. You have to know what works and what doesn't, and more importantly why it works or doesn't.

Somebody told me not long ago (sorry, can't remember who, but thank you anyway) that British TV producers hate it when writers reel off a list of their favorite programmes, only for all, or the majority of them to be from the US. It makes a lot of sense really, if you think about it.

When you're sat pitching your TV detective drama idea to a British producer and you're asked what other TV programmes in that genre you like, it's going to look odd if you reply with CSI, Hawaii Five-O and Murder She Wrote. It shows a total lack of interest in, and disrespect for, British TV. The producer is going to wonder why on earth you want to write for British TV when you obviously love US TV so much. It's like saying 'I love all these programmes and want to make something similar, because there's nothing of note on British TV.' You've probably just insulted someone who's made several critically acclaimed and successful detective TV dramas. It wouldn't be a great surprise then if you failed to get a commission. So the motto here is, 'If you want to write for British TV, then watch British TV.'

If you are working on a project in a specific genre then it's a great idea to watch as many films and TV programs in the same genre. It'll give you the chance to see how other writers have used their skills to a better or worse effect, how the shows or films are structured, the type of characters they are populated with and how the set pieces play out. This will help you in two ways; to become familiar with the genre and to avoid cliché and common pitfalls.

It's also worth mentioning that refreshing your skills by reading screenwriting books or articles is not a bad idea too, even for established writers. You never know when you will be reminded of something you have forgotten long ago, that will help you become a better writer.

Now go and watch as much British TV and features as you can over the next week and see how much you can learn from them.

See you next week.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

FREE vs PAID

@Mockwriter: "How much 'free' work should you complete, if any, before requiring/demanding payment for a project? When building a relationship with a producer you send material, they have ideas, you suggest/write ideas, but how much of back-and-forth before you have to say 'contract/remuneration?', without souring the relationship?"

An excellent question and a difficult one to answer. This depends on many different factors such as where you are with your writing career, who the producer/director is, how much money they have, the film's budget and what they're asking you to do. In an ideal world you should be paid for all the work you do, but sometimes you have to make compromises.

Firstly never demand, always ask politely, and firmly if you have to.

The most important thing I would say is never do any work without some kind of agreement in place, at the very least for a credit, and preferably with a deferred payment and an agreed percentage of the producer's profits. If it's down on paper, and has been signed and agreed by both parties, then the details can't be argued. Any producer/director on the level shouldn't have a problem with this, it's how they work and they're used to it. Don't be afraid to ask. Equally, if they say no don't be afraid to walk away because it's your only writing opportunity to date.

Why should you have an agreement in place? I've been caught out two or three times by student filmmakers, who have promised a credit and payment for short films, only for them to vanish when the finished script was forwarded on to them. I had to contact one particular student director's tutor to stop him using a short film script of mine for his coursework after he failed to pay the agreed fee. Unfortunately for him he failed his final year assignment because of it. Make sure an agreement is in place and signed BEFORE the writing begins. Never hand over any work you don't have an agreement for. You are only asking for trouble if you do.

Low budget films are where I would expect a writer to do some work for free. When a project begins the producer/director will initially be spending their own money, so there might not be much, if any at all, for the writer. Costs have to be kept to a minimum if the project is to make it to production. This is where the deferred payment agreement comes into its own. It allows the project to move forward until funding is found (this is usually when the writer gets paid), so it can eventually go into production. What you don't want to happen as a writer is to demand money, get a token amount begrudgingly from the producer/director and then find the project fizzles out because the producer/director has run out of money and can't afford to take it forward any further. The aim here is to get the project made and to get paid.

With mid to high budget features and well known, established production companies you can expect to be paid upfront and on delivery for your work. The bigger companies/producers/directors will have money behind them and will be able to pay you as you work.  However, if you are a new writer with little or no track record they may ask for a first draft of your idea before an agreement and payment is forthcoming, simply because your work isn't yet proven. Why would they spend thousands of pounds out on an idea only to find you can't actually write?

Should you ask for payment when a producer/director options your low budget screenplay? Again it depends on whether the producer/director has any money or not. I've seen writers without a single writing credit give advice on Facebook and Twitter insisting a writer should always be paid upfront, even for an option, and should never accept a £1 option from anyone. And they wonder why they don't get commissioned. As a writer you have to build your profile and low budget features and short films are the way to do this. It is perfectly acceptable for a new or unproven writer to accept a £1 option on their screenplay and then do any requested rewrites for free. What should it matter if you have an agreement in place where you know you'll get paid when the project gets funding? Isn't that yours and the producer/director's ultimate aim, to get the project made? If the project fails to get funding no one will be paid anyway and if the project derails because of your unrealistic demands you will get a name for yourself for all the wrong reasons.

Having said that if the producer/director can, and is willing to, pay you a small amount upfront, or on delivery for your work, with the rest on deferred payment, without putting the project at risk, then this would be the idea option. It'll help you with your bills while you're writing, or rewriting the screenplay. Remember, if you don't ask, you don't get.

I heard a perfect example of how tight money is with low budget film making a couple of years ago, from a well known producer with several successful low budget British feature films under his belt. On this occasion he was paying a writer he had worked with before upfront from the project's initial meagre, budgeted funds, only for the writer to fail to meet the final script deadline by a couple of weeks, sinking the project entirely as the money ran out. Money is very tight everywhere, especially at the moment, so as a writer you have to make a choice about whether you are going to insist on payment up front for a low budget feature, or a deferred payment.

Every project is a gamble and you have to make your own mind up on which of those you think will have the better chance of eventually being produced and are worth working on, initially for free, to get that deferred payment you have agreed.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

STAGNANT SCENES

One of the biggest traps writers fall into, new writers especially, is writing scenes with just two people sitting, or standing, and talking their way through large chunks of exposition. In other words stagnant scenes. They are not visually appealing, slow and heavy to watch, and in most cases very boring. So how do you make scenes like these more visually interesting?

Here's a scene from an earlier draft of a TV detective drama pilot of mine.

EXT. CANAL - NIGHT

Dan and Gary stand by the canal and check out a warehouse on the opposite bank.


GARY
Malcolm Price is a serious villain.  It’s rumoured he was in on the Brink's-Mat robbery.  He wasn’t even fingered by the police because the others were too scared to give him up.  The police have been trying to put him away for years without success.  How well do you know this Mick?


DAN
Pretty well.  We grew up together.


GARY
Malcolm Price has managed to stay out of the law’s reach this long for one reason only.  He’s the kind of person to take action, not bother with questions.  If he thinks someone is looking too closely into his affairs they tend to disappear.  If I start looking for Mick it’s going to draw unwanted attention.  However, if an old friend decides to look him up?


DAN
Malcolm Price is less likely to take an interest.


GARY
Or something like that.


DAN
So why are we here?


GARY
About a year ago I was working for a local business man whose partner emptied the business account and did a runner.  He let slip he’d had dealings with Malcolm Price and had bought the warehouse in front of us on his instruction.  Malcolm Price owns it even if the official paper work says otherwise.  It might be nothing but it’s a start.  You’re going to keep an eye on it until the morning to see what you can learn.


DAN
And you?


GARY
I’m going home for dinner with my family.


Gary saunters off smiling to himself.  A long night awaits Dan.



Not very dynamic, is it? It will certainly be dull to watch. Here's how I made it more visually appealing in a later draft.



EXT. CANAL - NIGHT

Dan and Gary walk along by the canal, check out the rear of a  warehouse behind the wall.


GARY
Malcolm Price is a serious villain.  It’s rumoured he was in on the Brink's-Mat robbery.  We couldn’t finger him for it because others were too scared to give him up.  How well do you know this Mick?


DAN
Pretty well.  We grew up together.


Gary jumps, clings onto the top of the wall and pulls himself up until he can see over.  He has a good look around at the back of the warehouse, then drops to the floor again.  They continue walking.


GARY
Malcolm Price has managed to stay out of reach this long for one reason only.  He’s the kind of person to take action, not bother with questions... And he covers his tracks well.  If I can find out what he’s up to and let the boys at the station know, maybe they can finally lock him up for good.  I’m going to need help though.  If I start looking closely into his affairs it’s going to draw unwanted attention.  However, if an ex-con decides to look up an old friend..?


DAN
Malcolm Price is less likely to take an interest.


GARY
Or something like that.


DAN
So why are we here?


At the other end of the warehouse Gary jumps up at the wall again and peeks over.  Seconds later he drops to the floor.


GARY
About a year ago I was working for a local business man whose partner emptied the business account and did a runner.  He let slip he’d had dealings with Malcolm Price and had bought the warehouse on his instruction.  Malcolm Price owns it, even if the official paper work says otherwise.  You’re going to provide that help I mentioned by keeping an eye on the warehouse for the next twenty-four hours, logging the comings and goings.


DAN
And you?


GARY
I’m going home for dinner with my family.


Gary saunters off, smiles to himself.  Dan glances up at the warehouse.



So much better, isn't it? With just a couple of extra lines of action the scene instantly becomes less stagnant and more dynamic.



Think how you can make each and every scene more visual, more appealing to the viewer, more dynamic and interesting. Your character doesn't have to do anything big, indeed they can be doing something as simple as trying to find the right channel on the TV, checking the oil level in their car, picking up their dog's poo while out on a walk, just something to ensure two characters aren't just stood there stock still talking for one or two pages.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

2013 - THE YEAR THAT COULD BE...

Happy New Year everyone and welcome to 2013...and yes, Johnny, it is Wednesday ;-)

It's a new start. We can forget the negative things that happened in 2012 and plough head first into a new year with renewed enthusiasm. 2013 will be what we make of it, so we'll work hard, meet lots of fascinating people and make many opportunities for ourselves. Let's hope it'll be a great year for all of us.

My goals for 2013 are as follows:
  • To write a shadow script for Holby City and be commissioned for at least one episode.
  • To write two new spec features.
  • To sell one of my TV series.
  • To see one of the existing features I wrote in 2012 filmed over the next 12 months.
It's important not to take my foot off the gas after a successful 2012 and it's worth remembering smaller, more immediate goals, are just as important as long term ones.

Leave your goals for 2013 here in the comments and we'll check at the end of the year and see how many were achieved. Good luck everyone and happy writing :-)