I used Grammarly to grammar check this post because my usual proof reader is too busy stuffing a sausage and bacon sandwich in their face to check it for me.
I was discussing the pros and cons of sending out unfinished work with a few people last week, and how I felt it was a big mistake. In past employment, I've seen job applications where the only correct spelling was the applicant's name. Even if you're not very good at spelling, or grammar, isn't it a good idea to spend the extra time to make sure everything is spelled correctly? Would you employ someone who couldn't even bother to check their application before they sent it? I know I wouldn't.
The same goes for screenplays, enquiry letters and even emails. As a writer, everything you send out says something about you. I fully admit that my grammar and spelling is below par which is why I get everything proof read before I send it out. If you're a writer people expect you to be able to spell, they expect you to be professional in everything you do. If you send them something unfinished they are going to think you are lazy, don't take pride in your work and can't be bothered, the complete opposite of what they are looking for.
You might think it's OK to send unfinished work to friends, or people you've know for a long time... wrong again. Everything has to be the best it can be, even a first draft. The only exception to this rule is a proof reader, who won't mind if you send unchecked work their way because that's what they're there for. So to stop you making such basic errors get in the habit of making sure everything you send out, no matter what it is, or whom it's to (even if it's to your mum), is checked, checked and checked again.
If you're not luckily enough to have someone to read your work like I do, there are some great resources on the interwebs you can use, like Grammarly, which will check your work for you. Grammarly is extremely helpful. It's a little more involved than I actually need, but it's done the job I asked of it and now you are reading this (hopefully) error free blog post. Enjoy!
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
When it comes to competitions, I usually have the luck of a horseshoe en route to the glue factory. I could win the lottery and they’d lose the ticket. I could be picked for a once-in-a-lifetime cruise aboard the Titanic. Indeed, the only contest in which I’d truly fancy my chances, is Russian Roulette.
And so it was with no shortage of liver-damaging surprise that I greeted my win in the www.thescriptwriter.co.uk competition in April. The prize – a storytelling course with the great John Yorke. The worry – that I would finally give the great John Yorke sufficient legal grounds to take out a restraining order. Or hitman.
Please understand, I don’t make a habit of stalking scriptwriting gurus. Robert McKee, Syd Field, Linda Seger – rest easy in your Egyptian cotton beds. But I have had the great pleasure of hearing John speak several times during my nascent scriptwriting career and have always admired his energetic expertise. The man knows his onions. And he knows how to make you tune in to them four times a week.
|Mary Evans tries not to faint when she meets the legendary John Yorke.|
For those of you unfamiliar with his work (I can lend you my scrapbook), John cut his TV teeth in continuing drama, single-handedly storylining EastEnders for a spell before moving to Casualty. He was soon lured back to The Square and can pride himself in killing Ethel Skinner, shooting Phil Mitchell and landing Zoe Slater with Kat for a mother. He has been at the cutting edge of drama commissioning and production for Auntie, C4 and currently Company Pictures, gestating such pearls as Shameless, Life on Mars, The Street and The White Queen before they hit our screens.
John is possessed of the rare knack to make you feel as if you already knew his teachings – or at least should have done. His book, Into the Woods, is a quite unparalleled exploration of storytelling, not prescribing how to tell a story, but asking why so many settle into a recognisable and psychologically satisfying shape. In short, he’s just bloomin’ marvellous and as the course approached last week, I found myself conjecturing if, when faced with the real deal, this self-possessed woman in her mid-thirties might start behaving like a Harry Styles fan with a fistful of knickers.
I needn’t have worried. From the very beginning, John put aside all legal concerns to be incredibly generous, not only to me, but also to the other six lucky golden ticket winners with whom I shared his time. I’ll confess that previous encounters with fellow writers had me a little worried about this one. All too often, aspirant writers are either uncomfortably pushy, or frankly, certifiably insane.
But the group was simply fantastic and the talent and banter truly made the three days an exhilarating experience. We hearken from a variety of backgrounds – Jon, Mike and Gareth are filmmakers, Nic a director, Sean is a playwright and Piers and myself are TV writers. To varying degrees, all of us are on the nursery slopes of our scriptwriting careers, looking for the ski-lift to success. Everyone was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to mine John’s scriptwriting knowledge. And that lunch was included.
Day one was all about back-to-basics. This is an exercise I would heartily recommend to any writer, regardless of where their career has landed thus far. John talked about the bare bones of storytelling, some of which were very familiar, others sent my brain off in new directions. Is your protagonist active? Does your story create anticipation and then defer gratification? Are you giving your viewers enough to do to join in the dots themselves? Do you love your characters? And of course – does your script show not tell?
We then delved into story archetypes and the brass tacks of telling a tale. Who is the protagonist and who or what is the antagonist? What does your character want? What journey will you send them on and what gets in their way? Do you have a clear inciting incident? What is the crisis and how is it resolved? If these questions are unfamiliar to you, make them your best friends. But even if you’ve heard them a million times before, post-it them back to the front of your brain. It’s bread and butter stuff, but it sure as Snyder makes a more filling sandwich.
Day two was structure day. I confess that I approached this with the equivalent enthusiasm for haemorrhoid surgery. Like many writers, I have had a slow and painful fight against the need for structure. I came to regard structure like I regard my mother – annoying and interfering, but ultimately necessary. And is the case for both, that didn’t mean I had to like it.
But by going over the five-act paradigm time and time again using examples from film and TV, John slowly encouraged us to take the stabilisers off and have a go ourselves. I found myself not only tolerating structure, but really enjoying the structural scaffolding it provided. We took examples of arguably weak stories from continuing dramas and had a go at rewriting them ourselves, using our character revision and newfound structural know-how to improve them. And by Jove, it worked.
Day three was comprised of a single exercise: to watch a docu-drama and turn it into a movie treatment, before pitching it to the group – in just two hours. This project had been advertised earlier in the course and I had already been considering which particular feminine complaint or terminal grandparent would keep me from attending it.
But armed with some new weapons in my scriptwriting artillery, I found myself not only feeling able to have a go, but really enjoying the experience. Intense – certainly. Successful – not entirely. But considering how I’d have tackled the task just 48 hours previously, I was really rather chuffed with what we’d created. Like all my colleagues, I left that day feeling very sorry I wasn’t returning the next.
I cannot adequately express how fantastic an experience I enjoyed, courtesy of the www.thescriptwriter.co.uk. There wasn’t a moment I didn’t enjoy. The camaraderie of my classmates, to whom I wish every bit of their inevitable success, was joyous. The chocolate digestives were apparently inexhaustible. The benefit to my scriptwriting career… here’s hoping. If it helps others, here are the top five things I took from the course:
- Is my protagonist always active (good), or is s/he reacting to events (baaaad)?
- Do I have clear and plausible turning points at the end of every act, which throw the drama in a new direction?
- Do my characters have tangible desires, regardless of whether or not I plan for them to achieve them?
- Am I making my audience work hard enough?
- What forces my protagonist to change?
It is of course to John Yorke that I must extend my warmest and most heartfelt thanks. In my day job as a journalist, I often interview the supposed great and good of celebrity and learned a long time ago never to meet one’s idols.
But I could not have found a warmer, more generous, supportive and knowledgeable guide through three wonderful days. I can’t wait to apply these new ideas to old scripts and watch them straighten up at the spine like they’ve been pulverised by a Norwegian chiropractor. And I hope, for his sake, that John doesn’t have a snowy car accident anywhere near my house. For John, I steadfastly remain, your number one fan…
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Last night saw the debut screening of Lighthouse, Poole's Centre For The Arts' latest initiative INDIE SCREEN DORSET, with a showing of writer/director Suki Singh's debut feature Emulsion, shot entirely in and around the Poole and Bournemouth area.
|Lighthouse, Poole's Centre For The Arts|
The concept for Indie Screen Dorset was created by my wife Susie Carver, a marketing executive for the Lighthouse, and was introduced to showcase the best of Dorset's film making talent and to give filmmakers with a local connection a platform to screen their low budget features. Lighthouse has previously screened The Harsh Light Of Day and Verity's Summer, two films with a strong local connection, and it now seems that indie film will become a regular feature of the Lighthouse cinema programme.
"Suki was one of the first guys I met when I moved to Bournemouth. I was immediately impressed by his talent and ambition, but also his honesty and generosity. He's gone on to be a real inspiration, especially with Emulsion as it just goes to show what can be achieved when you just get out there and do it, not to mention Suki's down-to-earth attitude. We could all learn a lot from the Sukimeister!" - Danny Stack - Screenwriter.
|Writer/director Suki Singh's Emulsion|
Last night's film Emulsion was shown to a packed cinema, having sold out an hour before the screening, after which people were still arriving looking to get tickets to see it. Introduced by local Screenwriter Danny Stack (Doctors, Eastenders, Octonauts and co-creator of The Red Planet Prize) the film was a huge success and the Q&A conducted with Suki Singh after the screening proved extremely popular and insightful.
"I was very proud to screen EMULSION at the Lighthouse to a sold out crowd, as everything was filmed locally. It was great to share the film with the people who helped make the film happen and also to inspire local film makers to make a start and encourage them to make their films right here, in Dorset! We have some of the most prestigious media courses in the United Kingdom, so it makes sense we grow talent locally. So thank you Indie Screen Dorset for choosing EMULSION as your first film." - Suki Singh - Writer/Director
Want to see if your film qualifies? You can find the terms and conditions for submitting your low budget feature HERE.
I'm already looking forward to finding out what the next indie film to be screened at Lighthouse will be.